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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 14
Momemn

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

Many have condemned those who joined the Holy War for mercenary reasons, and doubtless, should this humble history find its way into their idle libraries, they will blast me as well. Admittedly, my reasons for joining the Holy War were “mercenary,” if by that one means I joined it in order to procure ends outside of the destruction of the heathen and the reconquest of Shimeh. But there were a great many mercenaries such as myself, and like myself, they inadvertently furthered the Holy War by killing their fair share of heathen. The failure of the Holy War had nothing to do with us. Did I say failure? Perhaps “transformation” would be a better word.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Faith is the truth of passion. Since no passion is more true than another, faith is the truth of nothing.

AJENCIS, THE FOURTH ANALYTIC OF MAN

My Thoughts

Well, we know what that greater reason was for Achamian, the purpose of the Mandate. And in this very chapter, the harbinger that Achamian has been dreaming about his appeared. He further eludes to the fact that something goes wrong with the Holy War. Something causes it to transform? What? Perhaps Kellhus? Another great point is on mercenaries. Just because they’re fifing for reasons other than faith doesn’t mean they’re not helping. But people like Proyas clearly have an issue with it. It makes them uncomfortable and yet he will use them because he has to.

The second passage goes to the argument between Achamian and Proyas. Proyas even quotes it, though he leaves of the last part of the passage about faith is the truth of nothing since Proyas believes his faith has all the truth he won’t acknowledge the possibility it has not truth. It contrast with Achamian’s faith where he’s willing to doubt and question.

Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Finally, Xinemus leads Achamian to see Proyas. They enter Proyas’s pavilion, Xinemus cautioning Achamian to be formal. Proyas is seeing Achamian just to get Xinemus to shut up about it. “You wielded too much influence over him as a child, Akka, left too deep a mark. Zealous men often confuse purity with intolerance, particularly when they’re young.”

Achamian is surprised that Proyas’s pavilion is only half-unpacked, remembering his student as “fastidious to a fault.” Xinemus explains it as the stress of dealing with the Emperor and his indenture. Proyas has his men out on busy work, “counting chickens” as the Conriyans put it. Things are bad because Proyas is losing the game. Akka has second thoughts, not wanting to further burden Proyas, but they are swept in to see him by a slave. Proyas’s greeting isn’t as welcoming as Achamian hoped.

Undeterred, he presses on. The talk turns to the Holy War and Achamian asks if it is true that Proyas is raiding the valley. Proyas isn’t happy that Achamian is questioning his tactics. Xinemus also isn’t happy that Proyas is raiding, but the Emperor has left them little choice. They hardly have enough grain to eat that they are now raiding Inrithi. Xinemus angers Proyas by objecting to the raiding.

Proyas scowled and waved his hand. “Enough! You says this, while I say that, over and over again. For once I’d rather hear Achamian speak! Did you hear that, Zin. You’ve irritated me that much…”

From Xinemus’s grave look, Achamian gathered Proyas was not joking.

So changed… What’s happened to him? But even as he asked this, Achamian recognized the answer. Proyas suffered, as all men of high purpose must, the endless exchange of principles for advantages. No triumph without remorse. No respite without siege. Compromise after anxious compromise, until one’s entire life felt a defeat. It was a malady Mandate Schoolmen knew well.

Proyas is frustrated by dealing with all the stress of feeding his army, keeping them in line, and trying to outwit the Emperor to deal with “the niceties of jnan.” Achamian realizes this meeting was a mistake, but he presses on and asks his student if he remembers what Achamian taught him. Those recollections are the only reason Achamian is here, answers Proyas. Achamian guides the conversation to why the Mandate would be in the Holy War, why Achamian would be here.

This was the question. When one warred with the intangible, convolutions were certain to abound. Any mission without purpose or with a purpose that had evaporated into abstraction, inevitably confused its own means as its ends, took its own striving as they very thing striven for. The Mandate was here, Achamian had realized, to determine whether it should be here. And this was as significant as any mission. But he could not tell Proyas this. No, he had to do what every Mandate agent did: populate the unknown with ancient threats and seed the future with past catastrophes. In a world that was already terrifying, the Mandate had become a School of fear-mongers.

“Our business? To discover the truth?”

Proyas is not happy to be lectured about truth and have his faith challenged. Achamian merely wants to temper it, reminding Proyas when “we’re most certain, we’re most certain to be deceived.” They move into discussing “troubling possibilities,” Proyas full of sarcasm. Achamian realizes that the Mandate have been crippled by become stale. He doesn’t know how to regain credibility. He opens the possibility the Holy War is not what it seems. Proyas immediately launches into a rant about the Emperor’s lecherous desires to regain his Empire, others who lust for glory, and he has no idea why the Scarlet Spire is involved. Proyas has prayed that the Holy War was more than it seemed, because it seems so base.

But prayers are not enough. Despite that, Proyas clings to the possibility that the Holy War is divine and a good thing. He asks if that is so hard to believe. Achamian concedes it is not. Proyas anger retreats and he apologizes for his outburst and admits this isn’t the best time since “I fear the God tests me.” Achamian questions and learns that Galeoth troops under Coithus Saubon massacred a Nansur village. Achamian asks if Maithanet knows.

Proyas grimaced. “He will.”

Suddenly Achamian understood.

“You defy him,” he said. “Maithanet has forbidden these raids!” Achamian could scarce conceal his jubilation. If Proyas had defied his Shriah…

“I like not your manner,” Proyas snapped. “What care you—” He stopped, as though struck by a realization of his own. “Is this the possibility you wish me to consider?” he asked, wonder and fury in his tone. “That Maithanet…” A sudden gallows laugh. “That Maithanet conspires with the Consult?

“As I said,” Achamian replied evenly, “a possibility.”

While Proyas respects the Mandate mission, knowing about their dreams, he will not allow Achamian to drive a wedge between him and the Shriah. It is blasphemous. Proyas asks if Achamian has any proof. All Achamian has is poor, dead Inrau, which Proyas dismisses since spying would be punished by death. Achamian then says that Maithanet is one of the few, but Proyas already knew and doesn’t care.

What of it?” Proyas repeated. “What does it mean other than he, unlike you, chose the path of righteousness.”

Achamian turns to talking about the intensity of his dreams and how he feels something is happening. But Proyas points out that they are at in impasse. What Achamian believes of the Consult is what Proyas believes of his God. All Achamian has is faith, like Proyas. “Faith is the truth of passion, Achamian, and no passion is more true than another.” Achamian is hurt, realizing he can’t convince his student anymore. Proyas has grown too certain in his faith. He loves his God more than a blaspheming sorcerer. Proyas says they will not speak again.

As Achamian leaves, he asks Proyas to inquire to Maithanet about Paro Inrau and learn if he committed suicide or was executed for spying. Achamian has to know. Proyas asks why. “Because you loved me once.” Then Achamian leaves, grieving for his lost students. Once Achamian is gone, Proyas asks what Xinemus disapproves of this time, his tactics or proprieties in dealing with Achamian. Xinemus disagrees with both.

Ask yourself, Proyas—for once set scripture aside and truly ask yourself—whether the feeling within your breast—now, at this very moment—is wicked or righteous.”

Earnest pause.

But I feel nothing.”

That night, Achamian first dreams of Esmenet and then Inrau crying out “from the Great Black: ‘They’re here, old teacher! In ways you cannot see!’” But then the dream turns to the nightmares. He is on the Fields of Eleneöt and witnesses the Celmomas Prophecy once more, hearing that an Anasûrimbor will return at the end of the world.

Esmenet is shopping in the Kamposea Agora, the great market of Momemn, accompanied by Sarcellus’s two slave girls, Ertiga and Hansa. She had bumped into a handsome officer of the Eothic Guard, and finds herself subtly flirting with the man as he watches her sharp, bending over, revealing parts of her body. But she is irritated by the two body slaves with her.

Sarcellus’s Cepaloran body-slave, Ertiga and Hansa, had spotted the man as well. They giggled over cinnamon, pretending to fuss over the length of the sticks. For not the first time this day, Esmenet found herself despising them, the way she had often found herself despising her competing neighbors in Sumna—particular the young ones.

He watches me! Me!

The man is very handsome, and she can’t get him out of her thoughts as he loiters, watching her. She grows annoyed with the slave girls, and they get petulance when Esmenet asks them a question. The spice-monger grows angry with the girl while showing deference to Esmenet, taking her for the wife of a humble caste noble. Easement realizes that the two girls do not obey her out of jealousy of her relationship with Sarcellus. Instead, she suspect Sarcellus has ordered the two girls to watch her. They wouldn’t let her leave the compound alone. She tries to order the two to go home, but they refuse until the spice-monger beats Ertiga. Hansa pulls Ertiga to safety and they flee.

Esmenet realizes this is the first time she’s been alone since Sarcellus saved her. He was always around a great deal to her, often taking her on trips to see the sights of the city, including the Imperial Precincts.

But he never left her alone. Why?

Was he afraid she’d seek out Achamian? It struck her as a silly fear.

She went cold.

They were watching Akka. They! He had to be Told!

But then why did she hide from him? Why did she dread the thought of bumping into him each time she left the encampment? Whenever she glimpsed someone who resembled him, she would instantly look away, afraid that if she did not, she might make whoever it was into Achamian. That he would see her, punish her questioning frown. Stop her heart with an anguished look…

The spice-monger asks her what she’ll buy, but she has no money on her. Then she remembers the man and feels stirring inside of her. She glances at him and he nods to an alley. She follows, eager to be with the strong man. The moment she reaches him, he’s on her, pinning her, eager for her, but she stops him.

“What?” He leaned against her elbows, searching for her mouth.

She turned her face away. “Coin,” she breathed. False laugh. “No one eats for free.”

“Ah, Sejenus! How much?”

“Twelve talents,” she gasped. “Silver talents.”

“A whore,” he hissed. “You’re a whore!

The man hesitates then agrees until he notices her tattoo marking her as a prostitute from Sumna. He realizes that she’s a “bruised peach” and will only pay twelve copper talents. She agrees, eager for him. They have sex, hard and fast, and she revels in it. He spills in her and then feels guilty, stumbling away and not able to look at her. She takes a moment to find composure, or to fake it, and then she feels dirty. She remembers the syntheses and his black seed. She dropped the money. “Then she fled, truly alone.”

She returns to Sarcellus’s camp and finds him waiting for her. He’s missed her, asking where’s she been. She finds it curious that he smells her. Then he seized her, so fast she gasps. He rips up her gown. She tries to stop him from having sex with her. She wants to wash, aware of the other man’s seed staining her thighs. He then sees the evidence of her encounter in the market. He demands to know who she was with.

“Who what?”

He slapped her. Not hard, but it seemed to sting all the more for it.

Who?

She said nothing, turned to the bedchamber.

He grabbed her arm, yanked her violently around, raised his hand for another strike…

Hesitated

“Was it Achamian?” he asked.

Never, it seemed to Esmenet, had she hated a face more. She felt the spit gather between her teeth.

Yes!” she hissed.

Instead of hitting her, he looks broken and begins to weep, begging for her forgiveness. She is shocked. Then he embraces her, crying and she relents and relaxes. She doesn’t understand how such a confident man could weep after “striking someone like her.” She’s treacherous, adulterate. Sarcellus says he knows she loves Achamian, but she isn’t so sure anymore.

Proyas is joined by Achamian as he watches the sun rise on the edge of the Holy War. Proyas is excited. Everything changes. The debate “of dogs and crows, crows and dogs, would be over.” Achamian is surprised, a week after being told he would never see Proyas, to be summoned to his side. Proyas chastises his teacher while Achamian is grumpy and cut, which Proyas attributes to the the Dreams. Proyas hasn’t summoned Achamian, but a Mandate Schoolman to fulfill the treaty between them and House Nersei. Proyas needs advice, not to be needled. Not today. But Achamian brings up their last discussion, what he had learned form it, and lectures about faith.

“There’s faith that knows itself itself as faith, Proyas, and there’s faith that confuses itself for knowledge. The first embraces uncertainty, acknowledges the mysteriousness of the God. It begets compassion and tolerance. Who can entirely condemn when they’re not entirely certain they’re in the right? The the second, Proyas, the second embraces certainty and only pays lip service to the God’s mystery. It begets intolerance, hatred, violence…”

Proyas scowled. Why wouldn’t he relent? And it begets, I imagine, students who repudiate their old teachers, hmm, Achamian?”

The sorcerer nodded. “And Holy Wars…”

Proyas is unsettled, but he counters by quoting the Tractate about submitting to faith and having no doubts, which only annoys Achamian. Proyas feels he resorted to a shoddy trick, which shocks him since he used the Latter Prophet’s words. Proyas is angered that Achamian judges him.

Achamian asks why he was summoned. Proyas explains about the fugitives that Iryssas, Zin’s nephew, found a few days ago, which include a Scylvendi (yes, Cnaiür, Kellhus, and Serwë). They should arrive at any time. Achamian is shocked that a Sclyvendi would want to join the Holy War, since they see the others as sacrificial lambs to their dead god. The Scylvendi claims to know how the Fanim make war.

Achamian understands why he is here. Proyas hoped to use the Sclyvendi to defeat the Emperor. He presses Achamian if it is possible that he knows how to fight Fanim, and Achamian talks about the Battle of Zirkirta and concedes it is possible, but he still finds it doubtful that a Scylvendi would join.

The Crown Prince pursed his lips, looked out over the encampment, searching, Achamian supposed, for a sign of his dashed hopes. Never before had he seen Proyas like this—even as a child. He looked so…fragile.

Are things so desperate? What are you afraid you’ll lose?

“But of course,” Achamian added in a conciliatory manner, “after Conphas’s victory at Kiyuth, things might have changed on the Steppe. Drastically, perhaps.” Why did he always cater to him so.

Proyas gives Achamian a sardonic grin, realizing what Achamian is doing, but then he spots them and grows excited. Achamian fears Proyas will make a dangerous king because of his ability to go from despair to eagerness so fast. Achamian dread makes him realize with so many warriors round, a lot of people will die, including himself. He spots Xinemus in the approaching group and wonders if he will die. Then Achamian spots the Scylvendi and is shocked. He looks just how they did in his dreams and for a moment, Achamian is confused, thinking he is in ancient times, speaking about how the Scylvendi road for the No-God and sacked Sumna. He finds it so bizarre to see a Scylvendi here, especially after all the drams of Anasûrimbor Celmomas.

He urges Proyas not to tryst the Scylvendi, but all Proyas can see is the enemy of the Nansur, and thus his potential ally. They bicker because Proyas does not like the counsel he’s getting and his words sting Achamian when he realizes Proyas meant to injure. He wants obedience right now.

Proyas then greets Cnaiür congenial. Achamian is worried about Proyas’s ability to change emotions so swiftly, fearing it “demonstrated a worrisome capacity for deceit.” Things are rocky at first, with Achamian whispering advice to Proyas about how to treat with the Sclyvendi. When Achamian learns Cnaiür is Utemot, he is unnerved since an Utemot led them during the Apocalypse.

Proyas nodded. “So tell me, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, why would a Scylvendi wolf travel so far to confer with Inrithi dogs?”

The Scylvendi as much sneered as smiled. He possessed, Achamian realized, that arrogance peculiar to barbarians, the thoughtless certitude that the hard ways of his land made him harder by far than other, more civilized men. We are, Achamian thought, silly women to him.

Cnaiür first claims to be a mercenary, but Proyas doesn’t believe it. Then Cnaiür spins a tale about how his tribe was destroyed by others after Kiyuth. His tribe is no more. Proyas still doesn’t believe that he would join them, but is too eager to find out what the barbarian knows about fighting Fanim to press Cnaiür on his true motives.

Cnaiür, after a little verbal sparring, admits that he fought at Zirkirta and nows how to defeat them. Achamian fears that Cnaiür tells Proyas exactly what he wants to hear. Despite that, Achamian starts paying attention to Kellhus and realizes he is the answer to why Cnaiür Achamian hopes Proyas figures it out, but the young man is too eager to hear about Cnaiür’s fighting ability. Cnaiür is cautious, which Proyas prays, then explains why Cnaiür can trust him. Because Proyas needs the barbarian. Proyas explains about the politics keeping them in place and why he needs Cnaiür as an alternative to Ikurei Conphas leading the Holy War.

When Cnaiür laughs about being “the Exalt-General’s surrogate,” Proyas is puzzled. Achamian sees an opportunity and points out because of Kiyuth, the man must hate Conphas. Proyas asks if Achamian thinks Cnaiür wants revenge. Achamian tells Proyas to ask Cnaiür why he has come and who the others are. Proyas grows chagrined for letting his passion almost dupe him into trusting a Scylvendi without any hard questions. He asks the question and Kellhus steps forward. Everyone stares at him.

“And just who are you?” Proyas asked the man.

The clear blue eyes blinked. The serene face dipped only enough to acknowledge an equal. “I am Anasûrimbor Kellhus, son of Moënghus,” the man said in heavily accented Sheyic. “A prince of the north. Of Atrithau.”

Achamian is stunned, almost at a panic, the Celmomas Prophecy echoing in his head as Proyas questions why Kellhus would be here. How he could have even heard of the Holy War all the way in Atrithau which barley has in contact with the Three Seas.

Hesitation, as though he [Kellhus] were both frightened and unconvinced by what he was about to say. “Dreams. Someone sent me dreams.”

This cannot be!

“Someone? Who?”

The man could not answer.

My Thoughts

Xinemus always has sage words to tell. He has much practical wisdom and is a great foil to Achamian’s more book learning. He is also a very moral person, more so than Proyas for all the man’s piety and faith.

The chicken counting proves very important for Kellhus and Cnaiür. Without that busy work, they would be dead right now.

I feel bad for Proyas as Achamian realizes how compromise is destroying him. He wants to be that good man, but he has to play politics. Having strong principals doesn’t make it easy to compromise them to make necessary deals.

The mandate sound like the our modern media, needing to populate the world with half-truths, to make us afraid so we’ll keep watching. Without fears, whether they have any truth or are blown so out of proportion to make them interesting, the media wouldn’t have anything to report. It is such a toxic cycle.

I think we have our first mention of Coithus Saubon here, the blond beast. His troops causing a massacre is not surprising. Don’t forget about him. Come Book 2 and on, he’ll be playing a far larger role in the story.

Achamian’s jubilation that he might have an opening between Proyas and Maithanet is quickly squashed. Proyas’s faith is very strong, not easily shaken. He is too certain that what he believes is right, and that is a very dangerous thing as our own history has shown. And it doesn’t have to be a religious faith. Any belief, political, economic, social can lead to those ends.

Poor Achamian. He’s just trying to get Proyas to think instead of believe and is getting so much flack. Faith is fine, but it needs to be tempered by rational thought.

Xinemus is not happy about how Proyas treated Achamian, but Proyas is ambivalent. He has gone beyond his tutor, or so he thinks.

I think that Inrau might have actually cried out from the Great Black, from beyond, and spoke to Achamian right there. “In ways you cannot see” is too specific to skin-spies, something Achamian doesn’t know about yet. Given the info of the Great Ordeal and the speculation that something chooses which dream a Mandate Schoolman sees, it is interesting that Achamian has the Calmemunis Prophecy dream right after. Bakker is both reminding us of the dream and possibly setting up a reveal on how the dreams work and the significance of their timing.

Fear of rejection such a powerful motivator, especially when someone’s self-esteem is so low. Poor Esmenet left Sumna to find Achamian and now is too scared of the consequences if he doesn’t want her. Not when she has the comfort of Sarcellus’s camp, which still bewilders her. Of course, she doesn’t know she’s being watched by the consult.

Esmenet can’t help playing the whore. And it sickens her when she’s done. She’s been traumatized by the syntheses’s visit. She doesn’t see herself as having any value. When she returns to Sarcellus, she notices skin-spy Sarcellus’s inhuman properties, though dismisses then. He has to control himself, almost losing it before remembering he supposed to keep an eye on her, not beat her, then he breaks down crying. It works, it makes her keep questioning her love for Achamian. Her self-esteem is very low right now. Explains why she is displaying such self-destructive behavior like provoking Sarcellus.

The irony of Proyas not liking to be judged when he is famous for judging others made me chuckle.

Proyas is shocked that Achamian, a blasphemer, had been to Shimeh. But to Achamian, it was just another place, nothing special like Proyas had made it become. Proyas has obsessed about it so much, he transformed it into something it’s not. And then we’ll see how he acts when he gets to Shimeh.

Achamian is shrewd enough to know that a lot of people have understatement Cnaiür by noticing the number of swazonds adorning his arms.

Cnaiür figures out Proyas’s plan before Proyas can explain it to him, pointing out that, essentially, the Shriah is turning the holy war into a band of mercenaries by “selling” them to the Emperor.

Kellhus speaks in “heavily accented Sheyic” which has to be him faking it because he speaks flawless Sheyic to Serwë. He’s already begun his seduction of the Holy War. He’s planted the first seeds. He has been sent dreams. He’s special.

Achamian is reeling from the revelation. The prophecy that his order has been obsessed with for two thousand years was just fulfilled. The harbinger, which I can safely say is Kellhus, has arrived. The end of the world is upon them. But is Kellhus the end or just the signaled that it’s started?

Click here to continue onto Chapter 16!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 4
The Warrior
Chapter 14
The Kyranae Plain

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

Some say men continually war against circumstances, but I say they perpetually flee. What are the works of men if not a momentary respite, a hiding place soon to be discovered by catastrophe? Life is endless flight before the hunter we call the world.

Ekyannus VIII, 111 Aphorisms

My Thoughts

Isn’t that they way of life. Trying to get ahead on bills. Worrying when the next problem is going to happen: the car break down, injury, or losing your job. Just when you think everything is fine then, bam! Of course, it also speaks to Cnaiür, Serwë, and Kellhus fleeing the Kidruhil in this chapter in a very literal sense.

Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Nansur Empire

Cnaiür and Kellhus have started to travel at night across the Nansur Empire. For the first time, Serwë wakes up in the afternoon sleeping next to Kellhus. He had resisted her joining his sleeping mat for a while, but this morning had relented. Serwë enjoys the feel of Kellhus sleeping form against hers and marvels at how much she loves him and how he loves her despite her past.

Cnaiür is up and washing in a stream and Serwë watches him and fells no fear for the fist time, just pity at his loneliness. She notices a boy on the other side of the river and in her mind pleads with the boy to run. Kellhus, awake, whispers to Cnaiür in Scylvendi. Cnaiür sees the boy, and tells him to come close. Serwë yells at the boy to run and begs with Kellhus to spare the boy as Cnaiür chases him. Kellhus followed Cnaiür and Serwë realizes he also means to kill the child. Serwë follows.

As Serwë follows, it occurs to her she is no fugitive in the Nansur. This is her home and and she would not have to suffer Cnaiür anymore. However, she thinks on how Kellhus loves her, the first, and returning to the Empire would just mean more Gaunum wives and more blue babies. Serwë is pregnant and has convinced herself it is Kellhus’s child.

Serwë has lost Cnaiür and Kellhus and can’t locate the camp. She hears horses and believes it’s Kellhus come looking for her but instead runs across two Kidruhil cavalry of the Imperial Army. She is fearful, thinking the Kidruhil have been warned by the boy and that Kellhus may be dead because of her.

The older of the two Kidruhil sees her fear and thinks Serwë must be “with them.” The pair of soldiers argue, the younger saying they don’t have time for this while they older says there’s always time for sport with a girl as pretty as Serwë. The man advances on her and she begs for him to spare her. The man drives his dagger into the ground as he begins to grope her.

There is a sound, and the younger man is decapitated by Cnaiür. Cnaiür asks Serwë if she was hurt, and the scarred Kidruhil begins to beg to Cnaiür, apologizing for touching Serwë.

The officer moved away from Serwë, as though to disassociate himself from his crime. “C-come now, friend. Hmm? T-take the horses. All y-yours—”

To Serwë it seemed that she’d floated to her feet, that she’d flown at the scarred man, and that the knife had simply appeared in the side of his neck. Only his frantic backhand knocked her back to earth.

She watched him fall to his knees, his bewildered hands fumbling at his neck. He threw an arm backward, as though to ease his descent, but he toppled, lifting his back and hips from the ground, kicking up leaves with one foot. He turned to her, retching blood, his eyes round and shining. Begging her. . .

Cnaiür grabs Serwë and places the knife she killed the Kidruhil at her temple. She begs for her life and Cnaiür warns her never to betray them again or he will kill her. Then Cnaiür cuts her forearm, giving her a swazond, the ritual scaring of the Sclyvendi for kill the Kidruhil and calls her by name for the first time.

I don’t understand,” Serwë whimpered, as bewildered as she was terrified. Why was he doing this? Was this his punishment? Why had he called her by name?

You must suffer him . . .

You are my prize, Serwë. My tribe.”

Cnaiür and Serwë find Kellhus at camp and she raced to him and hugs him fiercely and he comforts her as she cries like a father. Kellhus confronts Cnaiür and tells him that Serwë is no longer his prize. Cnaiür laughs, and says more Kidruhil come, we have killed only a dozen out of fifty. Serwë apologizes to Kellhus for warning the boy.

Cnaiür laughs, and says the boy warned know one. “What mere boy could escape a Dûnyain?” Serwë is horrified and looks at Kellhus. She sees grief welling in his eyes and she feels shame, forcing Kellhus to commit this crime. Cnaiür announced they will ride the Kidruhil horses to death first.

For two days, the trio had eluded the Kidruhil thanks to the forest and Cnaiür’s skill. Serwë find the next two days an ordeal. At the end of the second day, Cnaiür thinks they may have lost the Kidruhil and they make camp. Cnaiür explains that the Kidruhil would think they went west, like any raiding party would after making contact with the Kidruhil. If they found their trail heading east, the Kidruhil would think it a ruse.

They ate a meal of raw fish, and Cnaiür explains they are safest in the western provinces, long abandoned because of Scylvendi raids. Once they cross the Phayus River, it will be a different matter. Serwë wonders why these two would risk this journey. The next day as they traveled, Serwë finds herself hungry. At midday, Kellhus stops and asks her is she’s hungry.

How do you know these things?” she asked. It never ceased to thrill her each time Kellhus guessed her thoughts, and the part of her that held him in reverent awe would find further confirmation.

How long has it been, Serwë?”

How long has what been?” she asked, suddenly fearful.

Since you’ve been with child.”

But it’s your child, Kellhus! Yours!

But we’ve not yet coupled,” he said gently.

Serwë suddenly felt bewildered, unsure as to what he meant, and more unsure still whether she had spoken aloud. But of course they had coupled. She was with child, wasn’t she? Who else could be his father?

Serwë starts to cry and Kellhus apologizes and tells her they will eat soon. Kellhus rides up to talk with Cnaiür and Serwë studies Kellhus and realizes she didn’t speak and he sill knew her thoughts and she begins to think he is a God. She remembers in the time of the Tusk, the Gods communing with Men. Serwë begins to think that her beauty was given her because one day her betrothed, a God, would arrive.

Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

She smiled tears of rapturous joy. She could see him as he truly was now, radiant with otherworldly light, haloes like golden discs shining about his hands. She could see him!

Later, as they chewed strips of raw venison in a breezy stand of poplars, he turned to her and in her native tongue of Nymbricani said, “You understand.”

Serwë nods, and answers that she is to be Kellhus’s wife, and Kellhus promises her that it will be soon.

That afternoon, after crossing a valley, they catch glimpse of pursuers. Cnaiür leads them on, telling the group that these pursuers will not stop till they hunt them down. Their only advantage is reaching the plains ahead and using their extra mounts by running them to death and reach the Holy War ahead of their pursuers.

They ride until it is too dark to see, then lead their horses on foot. Serwë finds the pace almost more than she can handle. At dawn, they are able to ride their horses again and gallop over pastures. Serwë finds it exhilarating. They enter cultivated lands, passing slaves working in fields and small villas were minor nobles lived. They rode down roads know, passing teamsters who cursed at them and forcing people to dive out of their way or be trampled.

At mid-afternoon, they stop and Serwë falls off her horse in exhaustion. Cnaiür curses and Serwë looks behind them to see a dust cloud trailing them. Cnaiür asks Kellhus what he sees, and Kellhus says the same sixty-eight men, except know they have different horses. Cnaiür didn’t expect them to get remounts and asks Kellhus if they could take them at night. Kellhus is unsure, but says they should press their lead and continue riding.

They continue riding into twilight when Serwë’s horse, “her prize for having killed the scarred man” dies and she falls hard to the ground. Cnaiür urges them to abandon Serwë. To their pursuers she’s just stolen property. Kellhus, however, will not leave her.

This is not like you, Dûnyain… Not like you at all.”

Perhaps,” she heard Kellhus say, his voice now very close and very gentle. Hands cupped her cheeks.

Kellhus . . . No blue babies.

No blue babies, Serwë. Our child will be pink and alive.

But she’ll be safer—”

Darkness, and dreams of a great, shadowy race across heathen lands.

Serwë regains conscience on Kellhus’s horse, her hands tied around his waist. The three are still being chased. She looks around and realizes they have no spare mounts and the Kidruhil were closer. Cnaiür cries out a warning, as another group of horseman force the three to ride up a hill.

Three horseman erupt from some trees to intercept them, one felled by Cnaiür’s bow. A second hurls a javelin at Kellhus who easily catches it out of the air and throws it back, killing the man. The third raised a sword and prepared to attack Kellhus, but was disemboweled by the faster Dûnyain.

At the top of the hill, they find a sharp drop and abandon the horses and they skid down the drop. At the bottom, Serwë hits hard and is surprised by Cnaiür concern when he gently helps her up and asks if she’s fine. Kellhus is the last down and reports that they won’t follow them down the slope. Cnaiür fears that others have already started to go around the hill and Serwë begins to panic because they have no horses, now.

Kellhus knelt before her, his heavenly face blotting out the sun. Once again she could see his halo, the shimmering gold that marked him apart from all other men. He’ll save us! Don’t worry, my sweet, I know He will!

But he said, “Serwë, when they come, I want you to close your eyes.”

But you’re the promise,” she said, sobbing.

Kellhus brushed her cheek, then wordlessly withdrew to take his place at the Scylvendi’s side. She glimpsed flashes of movement beyond them, heard the neigh and snort of fierce warhorses.

A group of horseman, not Kidruhil, burst out of brush and surround them. Each wore mail skirts and had white-and-blue surcoats. Silver war masks cover their faces and Serwë thinks these men are here to save them, “to shelter the promise.” The leader identifies himself as Krijates Iryssas, one of Xinemus’s knights. Iryssas asks, “Have you seen any fugitive criminals about?”

Stunned silence. At last Cnaiür said, “Why do you ask?”

The knight looked askance at his comrades then leaned forward in his saddle. His eyes twinkled. “Because I’m dying for the lack of honest conversation.”

The Scylvendi smiled.

My Thoughts

Serwë has a moment of peace with Kellhus. It seems like Serwë’s lot is improving slightly with Kellhus taking an interest. Sadly, Serwë is suffering some serious Stockholm Syndrome here. She’s even starting to feel pity for Cnaiür.

So, Serwë is pregnant and thinks Kellhus is the father even though this morning was they only time they’ve shared a bed and they didn’t even have sex. Serwë is delusional, but I don’t blame her for wanting the man she loves to be the father than her rapist.

I am wondering how long they’ve been traveling. It doesn’t seem more than a week or two since she was captured. She might just now be missing her period. Seems a little early for her to jump to pregnancy just yet. Unless they’ve been traveling longer.

Gah! Just when she’s thinking she’ll be fine if anyone from the Empire finds her, they do and try to rape her. Their is a great amount irony of Cnaiür, her rapist, asking if the other rapist hurt her. Cnaiür is a dick.

Go Serwë! Stab that asshole. Great description here. The shock hasn’t worn off and she just finds herself killing the guy. By killing the Kidruhil, Cnaiür seems to think of Serwë as Scylvendi now. Its like in his mind she’s one of his wives know. Didn’t know women in Scylvendi could get a swazond. But then, Cnaiür does think outside of the norm for a Scylvendi. I do want to draw attention to what Cnaiür says about the swazond:

The man you have killed is gone from the world, Serwë. He exists only here, a scar upon your arm. It is the mark of his absence, of all the ways his soul will not move, and all the acts he will not commit. A mark of the weight you now bear.”

In light of what we learn in The Great Ordeal about the gods, damnation, and souls, this is a very interesting statement. I won’t say more, but try to remember it when you get to the end of The Great Ordeal and what is seen in through the Judging Eye. It might answer why the person seen is damned more than other men.

Kellhus can even cry on demand. Poor Serwë, now she feels guilty for forcing Kellhus to kill the boy. Don’t, Serwë, don’t. You gave the boy a chance to live, don’t feel guilty about that. You were the only decent human at that camp. Don’t let the Dûnyain take that away from you.

Serwë is amazed that she could not only eat raw fish, but enjoy it. Hunger is the best seasoning, they say. She is a resilient character. She doesn’t complain when she’s hungry, she does her best to keep up. She thinks she is weak, but I see strength in her.

And Serwë now thinks Kellhus is a God. And why not, he seems to read her mind, he’s kind to her. She has contextualized her years of rape and suffering as preparing her for the arrival of Kellhus. Why else was she given the gift to be so beautiful that every man who comes across her, wants her. “She was also something too beautiful for the world.” So convinced is she, that halos appear about his hands. And Kellhus allows this delusion to continue because it most benefit him. Can’t blame Serwë, though. Who doesn’t want to think that their suffering mattered, that all that pain wasn’t in vain.

Kellhus doesn’t want to abandon Serwë, even though it would increase his and Cnaiür chance of success. It’s hard to say what’s going through Kellhus mind right now. He must see some greater advantage with Serwë, unless seeing her tormented night after night by Cnaiür has actually affected him. He was stirred to some emotion in the last chapter and was surprised by it. I’m siding with seeing a greater advantage. After all, she has proven very useful in dealing with Cnaiür. Kellhus is seeing how men view Serwë. And, as we’ll see, Kellhus will use that over and over again.

Don’t know if its Serwë’s concussion or delusion (probably both) that makes her think Kellhus is communicating in her mind with the “our baby will be born pink and alive.”

Kellhus comforts Serwë, an unnecessary thing to do. I think pity has moved Kellhus. Even a Dûnyain doesn’t see a way out of their predicament. There’s just too many hunters. And then they are saved by Xinemus’s men. Even by proxy, Xinemus continues to be awesome. This was quite an exciting chapter. Luckily for them, the Man of the Tusk really hate the Nansur Empire.

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 4
The Warrior
Chapter 13
The Hethanta Mountains

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

Even the hard-hearted avoid the heat of desperate men. For the bonfires of the weak crack the most stone.

Conriyan Proverb

So who were the heroes and the cravens of the Holy War? There are already songs enough to answer that question. Needless to say, the Holy War provided further violent proof of Ajencis’s old proverb, “Though all men be equally frail before the world, the differences between them are terrifying.”

Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the Holy War

My Thoughts

Stay away from people who are desperate. They will do stupid stuff and drag you down with them. It’s a good Proverb. These Conriyan are full of good advise. Of course, it is a warning to Kellhus, too. Cnaiür is a desperate man. Will Cnaiür crack Kellhus’s hearthstone and ruin everything? By the end of the chapter, Kellhus has plenty of reasons to kill Cnaiür, but stays his hand.

Achamian quote is obviously about the politics behind the Holy War, the differences between Cnaiür and Kellhus are terrifying to Cnaiür (and me). Glad I don’t have to deal with a Dûnyain.

Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Central Jiünati Steppe

Cnaiür and Kellhus encounter fewer tribesman then they would have before the disaster of Kiyuth. Those they do encounter are typically made up of youths. As they travel, Kellhus presses Cnaiür for information on Shimeh. Cnaiür informs him it is a holy city to the Inrithi but the Fanim captured it. The Fanim believe it is their mission to the destroy the Tusk and thus have been at war with the Nansur Empire for many years. Cnaiür tells Kellhus of when he lead the Utemot in battle against the Fanim at Zirkirta to the south.

Kellhus asks about the Tusk and Cnaiür explains it is the first scripture of Men and the Scylvendi followed it before the birth of Lokung, the Scylvendi’s now dead god. Kellhus asks about Lokung, and Cnaiür reveals that Lokung is the Scylvendi name for the No-God. Kellhus then asks if the Fanim will tolerate their presence. Cnaiür thinks that he is unsure because of the Holy War. The Fanim were supposedly very tolerant of Inrithi pilgrims to Shimeh before the Holy War. Because of this, Cnaiür has chosen to head to the Nansur Empire to learn more about the situation instead of striking southeast across the Steppes to Kian. Cnaiür tells Kellhus that Fanim are tolerant of pilgrims.

As they travel, Cnaiür constantly thinks of murdering Kellhus in his sleep, but fears he would never find Moënghus without him. Occasionally, Kellhus would break the silence by asking about sorcery, and Cnaiür, thinking it was harmless to speak of, would indulge Kellhus. After a few days, Cnaiür realized that Kellhus used the subject of sorcery to carefully guide the conversation to more important topics.

That night, Cnaiür tries to murder Kellhus but a “paroxysms of self-doubt and fury” seized him and he went back to his blankets. Weeks pass like this when they encounter the camp of that Akkunihor tribe in the shadow of the Hethanta Mountains. Xunnurit, King-of-the-Tribes, was the Chief of the Akkunihor. The camp was abandoned, dead. Kellhus asks what happened, and Cnaiür states “Ikurei Conphas.”

Then, with unaccountable certainty, he realized that Kellhus would kill him.

The mountains were looming, and the Steppe swept out behind them. Behind them. The son of Moënghus no longer needed him.

He’ll kill me while I sleep.

No. Such a thing could not happen. Not after traveling so far, after enduring so much! He must use the son to find the father. It was the only way!

We must cross the Hethantas,” he declared, pretending to survey the desolate yaksh.

They look formidable,” Kellhus replied.

They are . . . But I know the shortest way.”

They camped in an abandoned yaksh and Cnaiür ignored Kellhus and pondered his circumstances and question his own motives. He realizes how foolish it is to use a Dûnyain and crawls out into the Steppes to cry and beat the earth in fury while howls of wolves seemed to mock him.

Afterward, he put his lips to the earth and breathed. He could feel him listening from somewhere out there. He could feel him knowing.

What did he see?

It did not matter. The fire burned and it had to be fed.

On lies if need be.

Because the fire burned true. The fire alone.

So cold against swollen eyes. The Steppe. The trackless Steppe.

The next morning, they enter the foothills and encounter a group of Scylvendi returning from pilgrimage. A group breaks off to ride towards them while others guard a group of captives. Unlike other groups, these are young men, not youths, of the Munuäti tribe. Cnaiür remembers the Munuäti being decimated by the Imperial Saik. Their leader appears arrogant and Kellhus warns he “sees us as an opportunity to prove himself.”

Cnaiür tells Kellhus to be quite. The man introduces himself as Panteruth urs Mutkius and is distrustful of Cnaiür. He tells him there are rumors of Scylvendi spies for the Empire, which explains how they were defeated. An argument ensues and the man mocks Cnaiür. Cnaiür strikes Panteruth and then a fight breaks out.

Some charge at them while others fire arrows which Kellhus easily swats out of the sky. Cnaiür draws his own bow and uses his horse as cover and fires back while Kellhus faces eight charging Munuäti. Cnaiür momentarily thinks Kellhus is dead but Kellhus kills all of them. In the end, Cnaiür and Kellhus killed or incapacitated all the Munuäti save one who prepares to charge Kellhus.

Leaning into his lance, the horseman howled, giving voice to the Steppe’s fury through the thud of galloping hoofs. He knows, Cnaiür thought. Knows he’s about to die.

As he watched, the Dûnyain caught the iron tip of the man’s lance with his sword, guiding it to turf. The lance snapped, jerking the Munuäti back against his high cantle, and the Dûnyain leapt, impossibly throwing a sandaled foot over the horse’s head and kicking the rider square in the face. The man plummeted to the grasses, where his leathery tumble was stilled by the Dûnyain’s sword.

What manner of man. .?

Anasûrimbor Kellhus paused over the corpse, as though committing it to memory. Then he turned to Cnaiür. Beneath wind-tossed hair, streaks of blood scored his face, so that for a moment he possessed the semblance of expression. Beyond him, the dark escarpments of the Hethantas piled into the sky.

Cnaiür kills the wounded until only Panteruth is left. Cnaiür beats him and yells at him. “Spies! … A woman’s excuse!” Cnaiür beats and kicks the man, who weeps and cries out in pain before Cnaiür chokes the life out of the man. Kellhus watches and realizes that Cnaiür is mad. When Cnaiür finishes, Kellhus tells him the captives are all women. Cnaiür states that the women is “our prize.”

Serwë, one of the female captives, begs for Cnaiür’s help as he approaches. The other women huddled in fear behind her. Cnaiür just slaps her to the ground. Cnaiür and Kellhus make camp and Cnaiür claims Serwë as his prize because she reminds him of Anissi.

Kellhus feels a sense of outrage as he watches Cnaiür rape Serwë and wonders from what darkness the emotion came from. Kellhus believes something is happening to him. Kellhus observes that Serwë has suffered much and has learned to hide it. He watches as Cnaiür speaks to her in a foreign language that sounds like a threat. Then Cnaiür frees her.

You’ve freed her, then?” Kellhus asked, knowing this was not the case.

No. She bears different chains now.” After a moment he added, “Women are easy to break.”

He does not believe this.

Kellhus asks what language they spoke, and Cnaiür answers, Sheyic, the language of the Nansur Empire. Cnaiür says he questioned Serwë about the state of the Empire and learned that there is a Holy War against the Fanim to retake Shimeh. Kellhus instantly wonders if this is why his father summoned him. Kellhus asks what’s Serwë’s name. “I didn’t ask,” answers Cnaiür.

That night, as Cnaiür and Kellhus slumber, Serwë grabs a knife and goes to kill Cnaiür but is stopped by Kellhus who disarms her and pulls her away. He tells her his name and she replies with her own and starts to cry as he covers her gently with a blanket. She falls a sleep sobbing.

The next morning, Serwë’s continues to feel the dread she’s felt since she was capture by the Munuäti. She’s even more scared with Cnaiür. She felt utterly alone and thought her Gods had abandoned her. She watches Cnaiür walk to the other women, who, like Serwë, came from the Gaunum household. The women begin to plead with Cnaiür, including wives of several nobles who had hated Serwë. One had an ugly bruise on her face and asked Serwë to tell Cnaiür that she was beautiful. Serwë pretended not to hear, too scared.

Cnaiür draws his knife and the women think he means to kill them. He uses his knife to pry open their manacles and sets them free. He tells the women that others will find them and that he will shoot any who follow. Now the women begin to beg for him to stay. Others are envious that Serwë was staying with the Scylvendi and Serwë felt glad.

Barastas’s wife marched forward, shrieking at Serwë to stay, that she owns her, and Cnaiür causally fires an arrow and kills her. Serwë feels a surge of terror and thinks she might vomit.

During the day, Serwë passed the time talking to Kellhus, who seemed to exude trust to her. She that she was a Nymbricani and was sold as a concubine to a the Nansur House of Gaunum. The wives of the Gaunum nobles were jealous of her beauty and how they strangled her first child when it was born. She was told “Blue babies… That’s all you’ll ever bear, child.” After three days, Kellhus had mastered Sheyic, a tongue that took Serwë several years to learn. At night, Serwë belonged to the Scylvendi.

She could not fathom the relationship between these two men, though she pondered it often, understanding that her fate somehow lay between them. Initially, she’d assumed that Kellhus was the Scylvendi’s slave, but this was not the case. The Scylvendi, she eventually realized, hated the Norsirai, even feared him. He acted like someone trying to preserve himself from ritual pollution.

At first this insight thrilled her. You fear! she would silently howl at the Scylvendi’s back. You’re no different from me! No more than I am!

But then it began to trouble her—deeply. Feared by a Scylvendi? What kind of man is feared by a Scylvendi?

She dared ask the man himself.

Because I’ve come,” Kellhus had replied, “to do dreadful work.”

Serwë begins to wonder why Kellhus doesn’t take her from the Scylvendi, but she knew the reason. “She was Serwë. She was nothing.” A lesson she learned early on. She had a happy childhood. Her parents, particularly her mother, doted on her. When she was fourteen, her father sold her as a slave to the Gaunum family, and she had much of her delusions knocked out of her. Her life as a concubine was full of anxiety, she was trapped between the wives, who hated her beauty, and the husbands who lusted for her. She begin to take pride in seducing the husbands. It was all that was left to her.

Once, she was taken to Peristus’s bed with his wife. Peristus’s wife was an ugly woman and Peristus was using Serwë to get him ready to impregnate his wife. Serwë, out of spite, excited Peristus too much and stole his seed. She became pregnant, and Peristus’s wife spent the entire pregnancy tormenting her about her child’s impending death. She went to Peristus who just slapped her for bothering him. Serwë prayed to the gods for mercy but her child was “born blue.”

Serwë begin to pray for vengeance on the Gaunum, and a year later all the men rode off to join the Holy War. Then the Scylvendi raided the villa, and she learned a new level of suffering with the Munuäti. It filled her with outrage.

Despite all her vanities and all her peevish sins, she meant something. She was something. She was Serwë, daughter of Ingaera, and she deserved far more than what had been given. She would have dignity, or she would die hating.

But her courage had come at a horrible time. She had tried not to weep. She had tried to be strong. She had even spit in the face of Panteruth, the Scylvendi who claimed her as his prize. But Scylvendi were not quite human. They looked down on all outlanders as though from the summit of some godless mountain, more remote than the most brutal of the Patridomos’s sons. They were Scylvendi, the breakers-of-horses-and-men, and she was Serwë.

But she had clung to the word—somehow. And watching the Munuäti die at the hands of these two men, she had dared rejoice, had dared believe she would be delivered. At last, justice!

When Cnaiür raped her after killing the Munuäti, Serwë realized that there was no justice, just the whim of powerful men. Serwë thought she was nothing, that was why everyone hurt her. Even Kellhus abandoned her at night.

After crossing the Hethantas, Cnaiür confronts Kellhus, telling him he brought him to the Empire to kill him. Kellhus asks if Cnaiür actually wants to be killed by Kellhus. Kellhus had known for days that Cnaiür feared that Kellhus would kill him once they crossed the mountains. If Cnaiür could not kill the father, he would settle for the son. Crossing the Empire with a Scylvendi will just get them killed and Cnaiür knows there is nothing but the mission for a Dûnyain.

Such penetration. Hatred, but pleated by an almost preternatural cunning. Cnaiür urs Skiötha was dangerous. . . Why should he suffer his company?

Because Cnaiür still knew this world better than he. And more important, he knew war. He was bred to it.

I have use for him still.

Kellhus knows now he must join the Holy War to reach Shimeh. Kellhus doesn’t know enough about war to properly harness it and needs a tutor. Kellhus points out to Cnaiür his father has had thirty years to build his power base. Kellhus has need of a man who is as immune to Moënghus’s methods. Cnaiür thinks Kellhus is trying to lull him into lowering his guard.

Kellhus decides to demonstrate his skill and attacks Cnaiür with his sword. Serwë cheers for Kellhus to kill him as the pair trade blows. At the right moment, Kellhus grabbed Cnaiür sword arm but is not quick enough to stop Cnaiür landing a punch to Kellhus’s face, and he realized he misjudged Cnaiür reflexes. Kellhus drops his sword and catches Cnaiür blade between his hands and disarms him. Then Kellhus proceeds to beat him on the ground on the ledge of a cliff. Kellhus subdues Cnaiür and holds him out over the edge.

Do it!” Cnaiür gasped through snot and spittle. His feet swayed over nothingness.

So much hatred.

But I spoke true, Cnaiür. I do need you.”

The Scylvendi’s eyes rounded in horror. Let go, his expression said. For that way lies peace. And Kellhus realized he’d misjudged the Scylvendi yet again.

He’d thought him immune to the trauma of physical violence when he was not. Kellhus had beaten him the way a husband beats his wife or a father his child. This moment would dwell within him forever, in the way of both memories and involuntary cringes. Yet more degradation for him to heap on the fire.

Kellhus hoisted him to safety and let him drop. Another trespass.

Serwë is weeping because Kellhus spared Cnaiür. Kellhus asks Cnaiür if he believes him now. Cnaiür finally answer that Kellhus thinks he needs him. Kellhus is perplexed and thinks Cnaiür becomes more erratic. Cnaiür points out that he is a heathen, no better than a Fanim. Kellhus tells him to pretend to convert. “…the Inrithi think they are the chosen ones… Lies that flatter are rarely disbelieved.” Cnaiür points out the Nansur won’t care.

Kellhus doesn’t understand Cnaiür reluctance to find Moënghus, and then Kellhus realizes that Cnaiür despaired and had abandoned hope. Kellhus had missed this. He momentarily contemplates disposing of Cnaiür but knows he must posses the Holy War to succeed, but he would need instruction on how to properly wield it and thinks the odds of finding someone else with Cnaiür experience are slim. For now, he will stay this course unless crossing the Empire with a Scylvendi proves to difficult. Kellhus tells him their story, that Cnaiür is the last of his tribe who found Kellhus, a prince traveling from Atrithau to join the Holy War.

Though Cnaiür now understood, even appreciated, the path laid for him, Kellhus knew that the debate raged within him still. How much would the man bear to see his father’s death avenged?

The Utemot chieftain wiped a bare forearm across his mouth and nose. He spat blood. “A prince of nothing,” he said.

The next morning, the trio finds the spiked Scylvendi’s heads that Conphas had lined the road to Momemn with. Serwë urges Kellhus to kill Cnaiür before the Nansur find them and Kellhus tells her that she mustn’t betray them. Serwë would never betray Kellhus, who she has fallen in love with. Kellhus tells her she must suffer and she weeps bitterly. Cnaiür tells her “Hold tight this moment, women… it will be your only measure of this man.”

Cnaiür gestures to the road line with spiked heads and says, “This is the way to Momemn.”

My Thoughts

Fanim are tolerant of Inrithi pilgrims. I bet the economy of Shimeh is dependent on these wealthy Inrithi coming to Shimeh, buying supposedly holy trinkets. Even in horribly dysfunctional fantasy worlds its funny to think the tourist trap exists, and that it bridges religious differences. Historically, Muslims have been tolerant of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Lands at times.

Kellhus relates his encounter with the Nonman from the prologue, trying to learn everything he can about sorcery. However, Cnaiür is so distrustful of Kellhus that even when Kellhus tells a true story, Cnaiür doesn’t believe him. Kellhus, this is the same problem people have with politicians. I just assume there lying whenever they speak, which is the same policy one should take with a Dûnyain.

What do you see?” is a question Cnaiür asks himself as he studies Kellhus. This is a significant question. In one of Achamian’s dreams, he relives the Battle of Mengedda (taking place on the same plain where the Vulgar Holy War was destroyed). Here, the No-God was struck down and defeated 2000 years ago. The No-God, through the mouths of thousands of Srancs, asks “What do you see?” It’s a mystery that Bakker hasn’t yet revealed (though I’m hoping the Great Ordeal coming out Tuesday, July 12th will hold answers). When Cnaiür asks this question several times and it pops out of me.

When they approach the mountains, Cnaiür suddenly realizes his danger. Cnaiür is right, once his usefulness is over, Kellhus will discard him. However, Cnaiür, just because Kellhus doesn’t need you doesn’t mean he’ll kill you. However, given how much Dûnyain philosophy that Cnaiür knows, it might be a safe bet. It is great how he use Dûnyain Logos to continue his usefulness by pointing out Kellhus still doesn’t know the paths through the mountains. “I know the shortest way.”

But Cnaiür is beginning to crack beneath the pressure. His outburst in the raided village will not be the first time he screams and gibbers. It’s no wonder Kellhus has trouble understanding Cnaiür. He is irrational, which is what makes him such a great foil to the Dûnyain.

The name Ikurei Conphas stirs nothing in Cnaiür know. He has abandoned his people for vengeance. He is focused on killing Moënghus even as he lost all hope that he’ll succeed.

When they enter the foothills, Cnaiür thinks of it as Dûnyain country because anything could be concealed around the corner but one might also climb a summit and see. It’s a nice analogy that is proven right as they wonder right into the hostile Munuäti.

Cnaiür’s battle madness and Kellhus’s inhuman Dûnyain training allow the pair to destroy the Munuäti. Another thing to note, it is a staple among fantasy that the nomad/barbarian archetype has a great bond with their mount. Cnaiür never names his horses and here uses his horse as cover. It is wounded by an arrow and no doubt put down or left to roam wounded on the plain. In the next chapter, we’ll see the practicality again. Horses, while important to the Scylvendi, are still just tools to be used and discarded when they break. Cnaiür has no fear in the battle. As we see later on in the chapter, Cnaiür has a death wish. When Cnaiür beats Panteruth, he starts to beat him more harshly for crying. Cnaiür is beating Panteruth for displaying Cnaiür’s own perceived weakness, that he cries.

Poor Serwë. Your life sucks. I’m so sorry.

Kellhus, its called compassion. That’s what you feel when you watch Serwë’s rape. Maybe embrace this feeling of caring for others instead of being a damned robot. We are starting to see these little bits of humanity in Kellhus, particularly with Serwë. Also note how Cnaiür says Kellhus thinks he needs him.

Kellhus instantly recognizes that the Holy War and his summons are not a coincidence.

As Serwë works up the nerve to kill Cnaiür she remembers his warning, “If you leave, I will hunt you, girl. As sure as the earth, I will find you… Hurt you as you have never been hurt.” It gives her the courage to attempt to kill him. Shame Kellhus stopped her. Kellhus begins his work on Serwë that very night. Don’t be fooled, Serwë, the man will use you and discard you. Yes, he might have some vestigial outrage at your rape, but notice he does nothing to intervene.

The other captives are faced with a terrible choice. To be abandoned in the wilderness or staying with your rapist. Living is better than dieing, even if that life isn’t very great. Interesting that the only one Serwë names is a fellow concubine, the other’s she just thinks of as So-and-so’s wife.

Wow, starting not to feel so bad for Barastas’s wife now after Cnaiür followed through on his threat and killed her. Not cool killing babies. All Serwë known her entire life is rape. Sold by her father to be a concubine, which is nothing more than sex slave. No wonder Serwë is a little glad that they got left behind, up until Cnaiür put an arrow through Barastas’s wife’s throat.

You are worth something Serwë!

The Cnaiür-Kellhus throw down is a great fight. Cnaiür holds his own for a while and even lands a blow, much to Kellhus surprise. In the end, Kellhus pulls off the ninja blade catch, which Mythbusters had a great episode on. It also is a reference to the D&D class, Monk, which Kellhus is so clearly represents from the way he can catch arrows (another ability) to his superb martial arts.

Serwë has fallen in love with Kellhus so the Dûnyain seduction is well underway. Now, Kellhus is starting to get her to understand that being raped nightly by Cnaiür is important and that there is a promise at the end of it. She is still bitter that he won’t rescue her from the Sclyvendi. Cnaiür even tries to warn her about Kellhus, letting her know that tears is all she’ll really get from the man. Poor Serwë. She’s trapped between two despicable men.

Click here to continue onto Chapter Fourteen.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 4
The Warrior
Chapter 12
The Jiünati Steppe

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

I have explained how Maithanet yoked the vast resources of the Thousand Temples to ensure the viability of the Holy War. I have described, in outline, the first steps taken by the Emperor to bind the Holy War to his imperial ambitions. I have attempted to reconstruct the initial reaction of the Cishaurim in Shimeh from their correspondence with the Padirajah in Nenciphon. And I have even mentioned the hated Consult, of whom I can at long last speak without fear of ridicule. I have spoken, in other words, almost exclusively of powerful factions and their impersonal ends. What of vengeance? What of hope? Against the frame of competing nations and warring faiths, how did these small passions come to rule the Holy War?

Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the Holy War

…though he consorts with man, woman, and child, though he lays with beasts and makes a mockery of his seed, never shall he be as licentious as the philosopher, who lays with all things imaginable.

Inri Sejenus, Scholars, 36, 21, The Tractate

My Thoughts

So, eventually the knowledge that the Consult is back must common knowledge, else Achamian wouldn’t be fearful of speaking of them without ridicule. While this passage is foreshadowing for the events to come we should ask why Bakker put it here. At no point is the Consult discussed. So why does Bakker reveal the consult is unmasked. Who does it. Well, this chapter reintroduces Kellhus. Our young man who is descended from kings and setting out on a traditional Campbellian hero’s journey. Only he’s not an innocent youth but a cold, calculating, unemotional man. A man who sees far more keenly than “world-born men.”

The Tractate is like the New Testament to the Tusk’s Old Testament. Apparently, Inri does not like philosophers. There is something to what he says about philosophers, but they are trying to tackle the great mysteries and truths of life, logic, morality, religion, society, etc. Inri makes it sound distasteful, and Bakker seems to be saying that religion and philosophy are mutually exclusive, or, I should say, between rigid, fundamental thoughts and asking questions and seeking answers wherever those thoughts lead. Which provides a parallel in the chapter on how the Dûnyain work and how Cnaiür is seduced into betraying his father.

Early Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Northern Jiünati Steppe

Cnaiür is riding across the steppes north of the Utemot camp. Since the disaster at Kiyuth, the Utemot have become a “thin people.” They lost more men then their neighboring tribes and while Cnaiür had accomplished much, the Utemot are still close to extinction.

On the horizon, Cnaiür spots a vulture circling in the air and goes to investigate what has died. He finds a dead man, felled by arrows, and signs that Sranc had killed the man. But they did not have a chance to mutilate his corpse. Cnaiür examines the body and sees it is a blond Norsirai but learns nothing else.

He follows the tracks and finds another dead man, murdered in Sranc fashion, strangled by his own bowels. Cnaiür continues on and finds a dead Sranc at the base of the large barrow where Utemot chieftans are buried. When Sranc die they become “rigid as stone.” This one was felled by a Sranc weapon. Cnaiür grows more confused. The summit of the barrow is covered in vultures, and Cnaiür begins to climb. At the summit, Cnaiür finds the summit covered by corpses of Sranc.

The last stand of a single man. An impossible stand.

The survivor sat cross-legged on the barrow summit, his forearms resting against his knees, his head bowed beneath the shining disc of the sun. The Steppe’s pale lines framed him.

No animal possesses senses as keen as those of vultures; within moments they began croaking in alarm, scooping the wind in great ragged wings. The survivor lifted his head, watching them take flight. Then, as though his senses were every bit as keen as a vulture’s, he turned to Cnaiür.

Cnaiür could discern very little of his face. Long, heavy-featured but aquiline. Blue eyes, perhaps, but that simply followed from his blond hair.

Yet with horror Cnaiür thought, I know this man…

Cnaiür is stunned with disbelief. He recognizes the man and raises his sword. “Bloodied, pale, but it was him. A nightmare made flesh.” The man calmly studies Cnaiür. Cnaiür advances, sticks the point of his sword into the man’s throat. “You are Dûnyain,” Cnaiür states. The man continues his study of Cnaiür, then passes out from blood loss. Cnaiür, bewildered, realizes where he stands, the hill was his father’s barrow.

Later, Cnaiür lies in bed with Anissi, “the first wife of his heart.” Anissi is reporting to Cnaiür what the man, now revealed to be Kellhus the son of Moënghus, said to her. Kellhus had set out from Atrithau with followers.

A pang of apprehension clutched his heart. Followers. He is the same . . . He possesses men the way his father once possessed—

What does it matter,” Anissi asked, “the identity of dead men?”

It matters.” Everything mattered when it came to the Dûnyain.

Kellhus revealed he is looking for his father and Cnaiür hopes to use Kellhus to find Moënghus to get revenge, to see him die at his feet the way his father, Skiötha, died at Moënghus. Cnaiür is fearful of Kellhus possessing him like Moënghus did once.

Cnaiür remembers when he was sixteen and Anasûrimbor Moënghus was found on the steppes, captured by a band of Sranc. He was “rescued” by the Utemot and made a slave, given to Skiötha as tribute. For several weeks, Moënghus played the role as slave perfectly and only revealed himself on when Cnaiür returned from the Rite-of-the-Spring-Wolf, an Utemot coming of age ritual. Cnaiür was light-headed from blood loss and collapsed and Moënghus stanched his bleeding.

You’ve killed the wolf,” the slave said, drawing him up from the dust. The shadowy encampment swam about Moënghus’s face, and yet his glistening eyes seemed as fixed and immovable as the Nail of Heaven. In his anguish, Cnaiür found a shameful reprieve in those outland eyes—sanctuary.

Thrusting aside the man’s hands, he croaked, “But it didn’t happen as it should.”

Moënghus nodded. “You have killed the wolf.”

You have killed the wolf.

Those words captured Cnaiür. The next day, as Cnaiür recoveres from his wounds, Moënghus returns and abandons all pretense of being a slave. Cnaiür is outraged that a slave would look him in the eye and beat him. All the while, forgiveness shows in Moënghus’s eyes. The second time Moënghus look Cnaiür in the eye, Cnaiür beat Moënghus badly and was shamed by how he reacted.

Only years afterward would he understand how those beatings had bound him to the outlander. Violence between men fostered an unaccountable intimacy—Cnaiür had survived enough battlefields to understand that. By punishing Moënghus out of desperation, Cnaiür had demonstrated need. You must be my slave. You must belong to me! And by demonstrating need, he’d opened his heart, had allowed the serpent to enter.

The third time Moënghus matched his gaze, Cnaiür did not reach for his stick. Instead he asked: “Why? Why do you provoke me?”

Because you, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, are more than your kinsmen. Because you alone can understand what I’ve to say.”

Cnaiür was captured fully and Moënghus begin to teach him about the Logos. Moënghus carefully leads Cnaiür to the realization that the traditions of his people limit them, they there are more than one way to accomplish something.

The ways of the People, he’d been told, were as immutable and as sacred as the ways of the outlanders were fickle and degenerate. But why? Weren’t these ways simply different trails used to reach similar destinations? What made the Scylvendi way the only way, the only track an upright man might follow? And how could this be when the trackless Steppe dwelt, as the memorialists said, in all things Scylvendi?

For the first time Cnaiür saw his people through the eyes of an outsider. How strange it all seemed! The hilarity of skin dyes made from menstrual blood. The uselessness of the prohibitions against bedding virgins unwitnessed, against the right-handed butchering of cattle, against defecating in the presence of horses. Even the ritual scars on their arms, their swazond, seemed flimsy and peculiar, more a mad vanity than a hallowed sign.

Cnaiür learned to ask “why.” Moënghus teaches him on the trackless steppes there are “no crime, no transgression, no sin save foolishness or incompetence, and no obscenity save the tyranny of custom.” Moënghus asks what Cnaiür wants more than anything and Cnaiür wants to become a great chieftain. Moënghus promises this to Cnaiür, “I shall show you a track like no other,” and seduces the youth. Months later, Skiötha was dead, Cnaiür was chief, and Moënghus was free to continue his journey.

Two seasons later, his mother gave birth to a blonde girl and was murdered by the other women for adultery Cnaiür realizes that Moënghus seduced his mother to get access to himself and that he was used as a knife to win Moënghus his freedom. Cnaiür is stunned by Moënghus’s betrayal and that Moënghus never loved Cnaiür.

In bed, Anissi breaks Cnaiür from his reminiscing, asking him why he refuses to see Kellhus. Cnaiür replies that the man has great power. Anissi tells Cnaiür she has senses his power and is both frightened by Kellhus and by Cnaiür. Cnaiür demands to know why he frightens her.

I fear him because already he speaks our tongue as well as any slave of ten years. I fear him because his eyes . . . do not seem to blink. He has already made me laugh, made me cry.”

Silence. Scenes flashed through his thoughts, a string of broken and breaking images. He stiffened against the mat, tensed his limbs against her softness.

I fear you,” she continued, “because you’ve told me this would happen. Each of these things you knew would happen. You know this man, and yet you’ve never spoken to him.”

She reports that Kellhus asks why Cnaiür waits. Cnaiür asks if she has said anything about him to Kellhus, and she says she hasn’t. Cnaiür realizes that Kellhus sees him through Anissi’s actions. Anissi thinks Kellhus is a sorcerer. Cnaiür disagrees: “No. He is less. And he’s more.”

The next day, Cnaiür finally meets with Kellhus, who has already mastered the Sclyvendi language. Cnaiür tells Kellhus his wives think he’s a witch and tosses a Chorae at Kellhus who catches it and asks what it is. Cnaiür replies it kills witches, a git from “our God.” Kellhus asks if Cnaiür fears him.

I fear nothing.”

No response. A pause to reconsider ill-chosen words.

No,” the Dûnyain finally said. “You fear many things.”

Cnaiür clamped his teeth. Again. It was happening again! Words like levers, shoving him backward over a trail of precipices. Rage fell through him like fire through choked halls. A scourge.

Cnaiür tells Kellhus that he knows that Kellhus had learned much about him from his wives. Cnaiür tells him he knows exactly who he is and Cnaiür will be purposefully random. Cnaiür tells Kellhus to explain his purpose and what he’s learned since arriving or Cnaiür will have him executed.

Kellhus has deduced his father passed through here and committed a crime and Cnaiür seeks revenge. Kellhus knows that Cnaiür wishes to use him to this end. Cnaiür is trouble by this then becomes suspicious. Kellhus continues, saying Cnaiür fears that Kellhus is catering to his exceptions, like Moënghus did. Cnaiür becomes angry and decides to act like a Sranc and has Kellhus tortured till he appears to break. Cnaiür believes it to be an act.

After the torture, Cnaiür interrogates Kellhus again, starting out by telling Kellhus he doesn’t believe he has been broken, that Dûnyain can’t be broken. Kellhus agrees and says his mission is all that matters. He has been sent to kill Moënghus.

Silence, save for a gentle southern wind.

The outlander continued: “Now the dilemma is wholly yours, Scylvendi. Our missions would seem to be the same. I know where and, more important, how to find Anasûrimbor Moënghus. I offer you the very cup you desire. Is it poison or no?”

Dare he use the son?

It’s always poison,” Cnaiür grated, “when you thirst.”

Cnaiür’s wives minister to Kellhus’s wounds and until he recovers. When he and Cnaiür depart, the wives cried but they do not know who they cried for “the man who had mastered them or the man who had known them.” Only Anissi knew.

Cnaiür and Kellhus rode towards the Nansur empire, passing into the Kuöti pastures. The Dûnyain persists in making conversation with Cnaiür, and after several days Cnaiür reluctantly asks what he wants to know, disturbed by Kellhus’s flawless Scylvendi. Out here on the steppes, Cnaiür no longer had his wives to act as intermediaries. “Now he was alone with a Dûnyain, and he could imagine no greater danger.”

Earlier that day they met with a band of Kuöti Scylvendi, and Kellhus is curious why they were allowed to pass unmolested. Cnaiür explains that it is custom to raid the empire for “slaves. For plunder. But for worship, most of all.” The Scylvendi’s God was murdered and the Scylvendi worship by killing men of the Three Seas who slew their God. Cnaiür regrets talking, knowing silence is his greatest ally. Kellhus persists, and Cnaiür asks why Kellhus has been sent to kill his father.

Kellhus declines to answer and instead asks how his father crossed the Steppe alone after leaving Utemot. Cnaiür explains that Moënghus scarred his arms in secret, dyed his hair, and shaved his beard. After that, it was easy for him to pretend he was on pilgrimage This is why Cnaiür has denied Kellhus access to clothing. Kellhus asks who gave Moënghus the dye and Cnaiür answers he did.

I was possessed!” he snarled. “Possessed by a demon!”

Indeed,” Kellhus replied, turning back to him. There was compassion in his eyes, but his voice was stern, like that of a Scylvendi. “My father inhabited you.”

And Cnaiür found himself wanting to hear what the man would say. You can help me. You are wise . . .

Again! The witch was doing it again! Redirecting his discourse. Conquering the movements of his soul. He was like a snake probing for opening after opening. Weakness after weakness. Begone from my heart!

Cnaiür asks again why Kellhus was sent to kill his father. Cryptically, Kellhus says because Moënghus summoned him. He explains how the Dûnyain have hid for two thousand years. When Kellhus was a child, a Sranc warband found them. After they were destroyed, Moënghus was sent into the wilderness to find out if others knew about them. When he returned, he was deemed contaminated and banished. Then he sent dreams, used sorcery. The “purity of our isolation had been polluted,” so Kellhus was sent to kill him. Cnaiür doesn’t believe him.

The Dûnyain,” Kellhus said after a time, “have surrendered themselves to the Logos, to what you would call reason and intellect. We seek absolute awareness, the self-moving thought. The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before? Only the Logos allows one to mitigate that slavery. Only knowing the sources of thought and action allows us to own our thoughts and our actions, to throw off the yoke of circumstance. And only the Dûnyain possess this knowledge, plainsman. The world slumbers, enslaved by its ignorance. Only the Dûnyain are awake. Moënghus, my father, threatens this.”

Cnaiür still doesn’t believe a son would be sent to kill the father. Kellhus explains that a son’s love for his father “simply deliver us to the darkness, makes us slaves of custom and appetite…” Kellhus does not love his father, and will kill him for his brethren’s mission.

As they talk, Kellhus focuses all his senses on Cnaiür, ignoring the Steppes. Since he had left Ishuäl, the men he encountered were easy to master. 47 left with him from Atrithau and they all died out of love for him. Cnaiür was different. Normally, suspicious men “yielded more than most when they finally gave their trust.” His most devout followers had been doubters at first. But after thirty years of obsession, Cnaiür had figured out several truths of the Dûnyain and was able to avoid Kellhus snare thus far. “He knew too much.” Kellhus tries to figure out Moënghus mistake, and see if he can undo it.

Kellhus realized, he need to make Cnaiür suspicion work for him instead of trying to work around them. “Kellhus saw the Shortest Way. The Logos.” Hesitantly, he apologizes. Defiantly, Cnaiür asks how do you control thoughts like horses. Kellhus is pleased that Cnaiür saw the lie.

What do you mean?” Kellhus asked sharply, as though he were deciding whether to be offended. The tonal cues of the Scylvendi tongue were numerous, subtle, and differed drastically between men and women. Though the plainsman did not realize it, he’d denied Kellhus important tools by restricting him to his wives.

Even now,” Cnaiür barked, “you seek to steer the movements of my soul!”

The faint thrum of his heartbeat. The density of blood in his weathered skin. He’s still uncertain.

Kellhus has realized truth is the best way to deceive “Every man I’ve met, I understand better than he understands himself.” Cnaiür asks how. The Dûnyain have been bred and trained. Kellhus explains that men cannot see where their thoughts and deeds come from. “What comes before determines what comes after.” The puppet strings of men are language, custom, passion, and history and they may be seized.

If he knew how deep I see . . .

How it would terrify them, world-born men, to see themselves through Dûnyain eyes. The delusions and the follies. The deformities.

Kellhus did not see faces, he saw forty-four muscles across bone and the thousands of expressive permutations that might leap from them—a second mouth as raucous as the first, and far more truthful. He did not hear men speaking, he heard the howl of the animal within, the whimper of the beaten child, the chorus of preceding generations. He did not see men, he saw example and effect, the deluded issue of fathers, tribes, and civilizations.

He did not see what came after. He saw what came before.

Cnaiür is stunned by the abilities of the Dûnyain. Cnaiür realizes the logical conclusion that men are slaves to what comes before. Cnaiür is outraged that the Dûnyain use such womanish deception. Kellhus asks if Cnaiür never deceived his foes in battle. Cnaiür objects, those are his enemies, does that make all men the Dûnyain’s enemies. Kellhus is impressed by Cnaiür insight. Kellhus asks, what if all men the Dûnyain’s children and “what father does not rule his yaksh?”

Cnaiür asks if that what they are to him, children and Kellhus answers yes, “How else could my father have used you so effortlessly?” Cnaiür is angry, and Kellhus tells him he wept easily as a child. Kellhus learned this from Anissi, because Cnaiür loves her because “she weathers your torment and still loves.” Cnaiür roars in outrage.

If Cnaiür urs Skiötha suspected Kellhus, then Kellhus would pay the wages of his suspicion. Truth. Unspeakable truth. Either the Scylvendi preserved his self-deception by abandoning his suspicion, thinking Kellhus a mere charlatan whom he need not fear, or he embraced the truth and shared the unspeakable with Moënghus’s son. Either way Kellhus’s mission would be served. Either way Cnaiür’s trust would eventually be secured, be it the trust of contempt or the trust of love.

Kellhus asks if all warrior’s flinch from truth. Cnaiür suddenly calms down and sneers at a Dûnyain telling truth. This was not the response Kellhus wanted, Cnaiür knowledge once again hindered him. Kellhus switches tactics and begins using an analogy of men’s thoughts and the trackless steps.

Cnaiür instantly grows angry, and Kellhus realized his error. Moënghus had used this metaphor. It was a simple strategy but allowed Cnaiür too much insight. Cnaiür is incensed with anger and Kellhus sees murder in his eyes.

By the end of the Steppe. I need him to cross Scylvendi lands, nothing more. If he hasn’t succumbed by the time we reach the mountains, I will kill him.

That night, sitting around the fire, Cnaiür asks why Moënghus summoned him. Kellhus doesn’t know and explains the dreams were images of Shimeh. “A violent contest between peoples.” Cnaiür persists, and Kellhus answers his father is at war, and what “father fails to call on his son in a time of war?” Cnaiür answers, if that son is his enemy, and then asks who Moënghus wars against.

I don’t know,” Kellhus replied, and for instant he almost looked forlorn, like a man who’d wagered all in the shadow of disaster.

Pity? He seeks to elicit pity from a Scylvendi? For a moment Cnaiür almost laughed. Perhaps I have overestimated—But again his instincts saved him.

With his shining knife, Cnaiür sawed off another chunk of amicut, the strips of dried beef, wild herbs, and berries that were the mainstay of their provisions. He stared impassively at the Dûnyain as he chewed.

He wants me to think he’s weak.

My Thoughts

Well its been a bad times for the Utemot. Probably was a bad idea for the Utemot to sacrifice so many of their tribe to try to kill Cnaiür. Just saying, doesn’t seem like it would have been worth it in the long run even if they won at Kiyuth. Oh well, idiots never plan far ahead.

Page 336 of my Kindle edition, Anasûrimbor Kellhus finally renters the story. We’ve been through three whole parts of the book without the series titular character. And we are immediately reminded to the level of skill Kellhus has with the sword by the carpet of dead at the hilltop.

Cnaiür relationship with Anissi is interesting. She is the only one of his wives that Cnaiür cares for. She’s the only one that has the courage to hold him when he weeps in the night. She isn’t afraid of him. While Cnaiür thinks he loves her for her great beauty, as Kellhus rightly points out, she’s the only one that loves the whole of Cnaiür, even the weak one that cries at night.

For a Dûnyain, even degradation was a potent tool—perhaps the most potent.” Cnaiür reflects on how Moënghus used degradation to illicit emotions in his captor. We pity the degraded and find sympathy for them. But we never fear them. We’re not cautious around them but underestimate the. Exactly the way a Dûnyain would want you to feel. A Dûnyain never wants you to see the trap he is fashioning and that most will willingly walk into.

You alone understand.” What a powerful thing for Moënghus, or anyone, to say to teenager. Especially one who’s trying to so hard to fit in with his people. Even as a child, I get the feeling, Cnaiür wasn’t the average Sclyvendi. He cries easily and flinches whenever his dad tries to beat him. Even his coming of age right doesn’t work out for him, though we aren’t told exactly why. Maybe the Cnaiür was disappointed by the hype of the ritual and didn’t find it this transformative experience he was led to believe it to be. Or maybe, he wasn’t supposed to get wounded.

The way Moënghus uses violence to bind Cnaiür to him is interesting. First, it shows Dûnyain commitment to their goals. This is followed up by Moënghus giving Cnaiür a crash course on Nietzsche’s philosophy, leading him slowly off the path of Scylvendi custom into the decadent world of sin and going back to our quote from the Tractate.

And now, a Dûnyain has returned in to Cnaiür’s life. Worst, it is the son of the Moënghus. Cnaiür is uniquely prepared to deal with Kellhus. His obsession has made him a fitting foil to Kellhus and makes their back and forths some of the best philosophical musing you can find in literature. It is verbal fencing at its finest. Or more like Kellhus fencing and dodging Cnaiür claymore. It also shows that, despite Kellhus’s intellect, he can make mistakes. He is not infallible, but there are times he comes close.

Even when a Dûnyain tell you the truth, it’s troubling. He knows the cup is poisoned, but he thirsts for vengeance. He is desperate. Cnaiür can’t decide if Kellhus is speaking the truth. But Cnaiür, in the end, cannot resist the carrot of revenge on Moënghus. Even when you understand how Dûnyain work, they making it so hard not to play into their hands.

When they leave only Anissi know who she cried for, but for which one? While you might hope it is for Cnaiür, she probably weeps for Kellhus. Because he was the man who knew her. Also, Cnaiür is abandoning his people when they are weak and only his reputation is keeping their enemies from destroying them. He is leaving Anissi to rape or murder or both. His need for revenge is greater than even the love for “the first wife of his heart,” let only the responsibility for his people. His drive for revenge consumes him and we shall see where it leads him. Going forward, he hardly spares her a thought, especially after finding a surrogate. He discards everything for his vengeance.

We learn a lot about how the Dûnyain think as Cnaiür and Kellhus spar on the Steppes. Kellhus has his first failure in trying to seduce Cnaiür. The man is to smart and knows to much about how the Dûnyain operate. Moënghus had made a mistake with Cnaiür. Maybe Moënghus figured it wouldn’t matter if some random tribesman knows about the Dûnyain’s methodology. Moënghus is not infallible.

Cnaiür points out something interesting. Moënghus had to know how the Dûnyain would respond to his summons. They would send Kellhus to kill him for two reason, to get rid of Moënghus and by sending Kellhus, there would be no reason for Moënghus to continue bothering them if Kellhus fails to kill him. Moënghus most have a way to convince Kellhus to betray the Dûnyain and aide him in his plan.

We also know Moënghus is in Shimeh and is preparing for a war. He must be a Cishaurim since he knows sorcery and Shimeh is the home of the Cishaurim. The Cishaurim, Mallahet, was a foreigner and despite that had risen to the second highest position in the Cishaurim. He knew of the Holy War before Maithanet ever took power. Coincidentally, Maithanet came from the south, and while he’s too young to be Moënghus, we can’t discount the possibility he was been molded into a weapon by him. It would explain how the Shriah knew of the secret Cishaurim-Scarlet Spire war.

Moënghus should know about how long it would take for Kellhus to reach the Nansur Empire (the most logical route to take to cross the Steppes from Atrithau). Not a coincident that Kellhus is nearing it just as the host of the Holy War gathers at Momemn.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Thirteen!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Harlot
Chapter 10
Sumna

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

 How should one describe the terrible majesty of the Holy War? Even then, still unblooded, it was both frightening and wondrous to behold, a great beast whose limbs were composed of entire nations—Galeoth, Thunyerus, Ce Tydonn, Conriya, High Ainon, and the Nansurium—and with the Scarlet Spires as the dragon’s maw, no less. Not since the days of the Ceneian Empire or the Ancient North has the world witnessed such an assembly. Even diseased by politics, it was a thing of awe.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

“Even diseased by politics, it was a thing of awe,” is a great line. A nice passage to set up the Holy war and I do love the “dragon’s maw” line since one of the greatest Angogic Sorceries practiced by the Scarlet Spires is the Dragon’s Maw.

Midwinter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

It is night now since Esmenet left Sumna on her journey to Momemn. At times she is intoxicated by the journey, running through grass and twirling “beneath the Nail of Heaven.” Other times she remembers the nauseating horror of the stranger and his black seed. Shame filled her, not the shame of betraying Achamian (who would understand), but the shame of enjoying her violation.

But not that night. The pleasure had been more intense than any she’d ever experienced. She had felt it. Gasped it. Shuddered it. But she had not owned it. Her body had been notched that night. And it shamed her to fury.

She often grew wet at the thought of his abdomen against her belly. Sometimes she flushed and tensed at the memory of her climaxes. Whoever he was, whatever he was, he had taken her body captive, had seized what was hers and remade it not in his own image, but in the image of what he needed her to be. Infinitely receptive. Infinitely docile. Infinitely gratified.

Esmenet realized that the stranger knew about Inrau and concluded that Inrau did not kill himself. Achamian almost broke thinking Inrau killed himself and this is the most important thing Esmenet needs to tell him. The Consult has appeared and murdered Inrau.

In the morning, she joins a group setting out from a hostel. A short time latter, the band on her sandal snapped and slowed her down. She’s forced to take off the sandal and walk with just a sock on. Soon, her sock is worn ragged and her foot pains her, forcing her to limp and fall farther and farther behind her group until she is alone.

Esmenet was talking the Karian Way to the Pon Way which lead to Momemn. Despite never looking at a map, Esmenet knew from her customers the best way to Momemn. As a prostitute, she sought out clients that had experienced the world, mostly soldiers, so that she could vicariously live through their experiences. She always questioned them, both flattering them and cajoling them to speak. Only Achamian ever saw the truth behind her questions.

“You do this with all your custom?” he [Achamian] once asked without warning.

She wasn’t shocked. Others had asked as much. “It comforts me to know my men are more than cocks.”

A half-truth. But true to form, Achamian was skeptical. He frowned, saying, “It’s a pity.”

This had stung, even though she had no idea what he meant. “What’s a pity?”

“That you’re not a man,” he replied. “If you were a man, you wouldn’t need to make teachers of everyone who used you.”

She had wept in his arms that night.

Thanks to her studies, she knew it was safest for a lone woman to take the Karian Way to the Pon Way to get to Momemn and that she would need to stay with a group. With her sandal broken, Esmenet could not keep up with her group and was becoming more frightened as she fell farther and farther behind.

Esmenet spies a village and hopes she can get her sandal repaired here. Esmenet hobbles into the village and starts looking for a cobbler. A group of five boys spot her and one walks up to her and asks if she is a whore, spotting the tattoo on her hand that marked her as one from Sumna. Esmenet tries to scare the boy off with soldier curses and strikes the boy when tries to grab her hand.

The boy she struck grabs a stone and throws it at her, and the other four boys follow suit. Esmenet, being pelted by stones, grabs her own and returns fire, hitting a fat boy in the face and drawing blood. The local village priest walks up to her and asks if she’s a whore. Esmenet sees the look in his eyes and realizes she’s in trouble. She lies, saying she’s not, and walks away.

“Do not walk away from me!” the old priest howled. “Do not walk away from me!”

She continued walking with what dignity she could muster.

“Suffer not a whore to live,” the old priest recited, “for she maketh a pit of her womb!”

Esmenet halted.

“Suffer not a whore to breathe,” the priest continued, his tone now gleeful, “for she mocks the seed of the righteous! Stone her so that thy hand shall not be tempt—”

Esmenet whirled. “Enough!” she exploded.

Stunned silence.

“I am damned!” she cried. “Don’t you see? I’m already dead! Isn’t that enough?”

A stone hits her in the back of the head, and a crowd forms around her and begins to stone her. Esmenet curls up, weeping, and tries to protect herself. She cries for help and then realizes the stones have stopped. A Shrial Knight has ridden up, demanding what is going on.

The priest starts to explain and the knight strikes him in the face. The priest protests and the knight begins to beat him. Esmenet struggles to her feat, bruised and bloodied and calms down. Finally, the knight finishes beating the priest and turns to Esmenet, introducing himself as Cutias Sarcellus, First Knight-Commander of the Shrial Knights.

The story jumps to Achamian as he moves through the camp of the Men of the Tusk and is amazed by how many men are gathered. He had climbed hills in the midst of camp and saw their campfire spread across the entire landscape. Achamian finally finds Krijates Xinemus’s camp, his old friend and Marshal of Attrempus. Xinemus and Achamian greet each other, hug, and joke with each other.

Xinemus helps Achamian set up his tent and care for his mule. The two exchange small talk and Achamian is a little embarrassed meeting his friend while on a mission and unsure if his presence in Xinemus camp will be a problem seeing as he’s an unclean sorcerer in the midst of a holy war. Xinemus doesn’t have a problem with it.

Xinemus asks about the Dreams, and Achamian changes the subject to the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus tells Achamian where the Scarlet Spire is camped and asks if he’s worried about them. Achamian explains how they covet the knowledge of Gnosis, saying “the Gnosis is iron to their bronze.”

Xinemus figures out that Achamian is here to spy on the Scarlet Spire and sees the pain in Achamian’s face about Inrau. Achamian wants to tell Xinemus everything, but can’t bring himself to. They return to Xinemus’s fire where three men waited. Two are captains, Dinchases and Zenkappa, and the third is Iryssas, Xinemus’s Majordomo.

Iryssas is uncomfortable with Achamian’s presence and Xinemus points out that the Scarlet Spire are part of the Holy War. Iryssas drunkenly insults Achamian and Xinemus kicks the fire at the man. The other two men apologize the Achamian for Iryssas behavior.

Iryssas scrambled back to his seat, his hair askew and his black beard streaked with ash. At once smiling and frowning, he leaned forward on his camp stool toward Achamian. He was bowing, Achamian realized, but was too lazy to lift his ass from his seat. “I do apologize,” he said, looking to Achamian with bemused sincerity. “And I do like you, Achamian, even though you are”—he shot a ducking look at his lord and cousin—“a damned sorcerer.”

Zenkappa began howling anew. Despite himself, Achamian smiled and bowed in return. Iryssas, he realized, was one of those men whose hatreds were far too whimsical to become the fixed point of an obsession. He could despise and embrace by guileless turns. Such men, Achamian had learned, inevitably mirrored the integrity or depravity of their lords.

Jokes are shared and for the first time in a while, Achamian laughs.

The next morning, Achamian joins Xinemus in a chess-like game called benjuka. The pair talk about the Holy War and Achamian reveals he was at the Hagerna when it was announced. Xinemus appeared annoyed that Achamian had been in the Hagerna and Achamian remembers how benjuka always causes the pair to bicker like “harem eunuchs.”

Achamian makes a bad move and Xinemus mocks him. Then he brings up Proyas and the disaster of the Vulgar Holy War. Achamian has heard of the march of the Vulgar Holy War but not its disasters end. Xinemus explains how Calmemunis feared Proyas’s arrival, knowing he would just be Proyas’s lapdog. Calmemunis was still angry that Proyas had him whipped for impiety at the Battle of Paremti a few years ago. Achamian is stunned, asking how far Proyas’s fanaticism has gone.

“Too far,” Xinemus said quickly, as though ashamed for his lord. “But for a brief time only. I was sorely disappointed in him, Akka. Heartbroken that the godlike child you and I had taught had grown to be a man of such . . . extremes.”

Proyas had been a godlike child. Over the four years he had spent as court tutor in the Conriyan capital of Aöknyssus, Achamian had fallen in love with the boy—even more than with his legendary mother. Sweet memories. Strolling through sunlit foyers and along murky garden paths, discussing history, logic, and mathematics, and answering a never-ending cataract of questions…

At the time, Xinemus was Proyas’s sword trainer. Achamian and Xinemus became friends through their tutelage of Proyas. Xinemus continues his story, explaining that he left the court in disgust over what Proyas had done. Proyas tracked him done and rebuked him for abandoning him. Proyas was in trouble, Calmemunis had protested his punishment. Achamian points out the Proyas just wanted his approval.

Xinemus continues, saying that after listening to Proyas’s rant, he gave Proyas a training sword and told Proyas to punish him. Proyas fought tenaciously and Xinemus soundly defeated him.

“The following morning he said nothing, avoided me like pestilence. But come afternoon he sought me out, his face bruised like apples. ‘I understand,’ he said. I asked him, ‘Understand what?’ ‘Your lesson,’ he replied. ‘I understand your lesson.’ I said, ‘Oh, and what lesson was that?’ And he said: ‘That I’ve forgotten how to learn. That life is the God’s lesson, and that even if we undertake to teach impious men, we must be ready to learn from them as well.’”

Achamian stared at his friend with candid awe. “Is that what you’d intended to teach him?”

Xinemus frowned and shook his head. “No. I just wanted to pound the arrogant piss out of him. But it sounded good to me, so I simply said, ‘Indeed, my Lord Prince, indeed,’ then nodded the sage way you do when you agree with someone you think isn’t as clever as you.”

Proyas returned to court and before his father, the king, offered to allow Calmemunis to whip him as compensation. Calmemunis agreed, and “lashed away his last shreds of honor.” This is the reason that a hundred thousand men are dead. Achamian makes a good move on benjuka plate and wonders if the death of the Vulgar Holy War was someone’s move.

Xinemus explains how the Emperor is capitalizing on the Vulgar Holy War’s destruction, pointing out the folly of marching without Ikurei Conphas. Achamian asks Xinemus his opinion on the politicking surrounding the Holy War. Xinemus is worried about Proyas’s reaction. All know of Proyas’s close relationship with Maithanet and the pious men are waiting to see how he’ll react. Xinemus fears that the Emperor will provoke Proyas into something rash.

Whether the Holy War fights for Inri Sejenus or Ikurei Xerius III depends on whether Proyas will be able to outmaneuver the Emperor. Achamian realizes how difficult it will be to tell Proyas that his beloved Shriah plays “some dark game.”

The chapter ends with Esmenet, sore from riding, in Sarcellus’s tent, sharing his bed. She sits up and Sarcellus asks if she’s thinking of Achamian.

“What of it?” she asked.

He smiled, and as always she found herself at once thrilled and unsettled. Something about his teeth maybe? Or his lips?

“Exactly,” he said. “Mandate Schoolmen are fools. Everyone in the Three Seas knows this… Do you know what the Nilnameshi say of women who love fools?”

She turned her face to him, fixed him with a languid look.

“No. What do the Nilnameshi say?”

“That when they sleep, they do not dream.”

He pressed her gently to his pillow.

My Thoughts

Not sure what the Nail of Heaven is. I think its a star like the North Star. The point in the sky where the stars seem to rotate about. Like the North Star, it would always be in the same place, I guess like a nail holding in the roof of the heavens. Other times, it is described as shining bright enough to give light. So maybe it’s not a star. The moon? A spaceship in orbit (and that’s not that crazy given the Inchoroi are aliens who crash-landed on the planet and Golgotterath is the ruins of their crashed ship).

Why, Nansur Empire, is it illegal for women to wear boots? To force them to stay home? It also outlaws pants for men to wear.

We see Esmenet’s keen intellect again. As she dissects what happened to her in Sumna (“But where her body groped, her intellect grasped.” She realizes the significance of the Consult syntheses coming to her. It means Achamian was right and Inrau found out something important. He did not kill himself and Achamian could alleviate the guilt of believing he drove Inrau to suicide.

And then there is her selfishness. She hates how she acted and blamed Inrau for Achamian leaving her. We are all selfish creatures. And now, in light of her new knowledge, she feels such guilt for how she acted. Someone I knew online once died and my first thought was, “He promised to do X, how’s that going to happen now.” I felt so guilty the second afterward.

As she walks, Esmenet “styled herself a character from The Sagas, like Ginsil or Ysilka, a wife mortally ensnared in her husband’s machinations.” How true this will be over the course of the series.

Esmenet’s fears of being left alone turn out not to be unfounded. Teenage bullies exist everywhere. It was nice to see Esmenet nail one of the boys with a rock. And then the adult bully wonders out. What a shitty guy.

While I’m not in favor of legal prostitution, stoning a woman for it is really wrong. Especially in this world where women have very few ways to support themselves. If they’re not married, and not a priestess (which apparently just makes you a legal prostitute), how is Esmenet supposed to survive when society denies her any other way to make a living?

Cutias Sarcellus, the Consult abomination, just happens to run into Esmenet the day after her encounter with the syntheses. Coincident, I think not. Why is he rescuing her? The Consult must think they have some use for her still. After all, she was compliant.

The hand gesture Esmenet gives to the boys who started everything, implying the one that bullied her had a small penis was hilarious.

Achamian reunion with his friend was great. Xinemus is one of my favorite characters in the series. A great guy. He doesn’t put up with his men talking shit to Achamian. And the way they all end up laughing afterwards was great.

Benjuka is an interesting game with the rules changing based on the players actions, mimicking life more than other games. I’m not surprised Achamian isn’t good at the game. He’s not that great at life, either.

We learn a lot learned about Proyas. He sounds like a pretty immature guy, but hopefully Xinemus’s lesson has stuck with him. Especially since the fate of the Holy War is now riding on his shoulders. Fanaticism and politics is not a good combination. Fanaticism rarely allows for any sort of comprise and that is at the heart of politics.

The last scene with Esmenet in bed with the abomination Sarcellus is not a story development I liked. Not cool, Consult. Haven’t you done enough to Esmenet?

I do like this little observation Esmenet has of Sarcellus. “He smiled, and as always she found herself once thrilled and unsettled. Something about his teeth maybe? Or his lips?” Yeah, because he’s a skin spy, Esmenet. But good on you for noticing something off.

If you want to keep reading, click here for my reread of Chapter Eleven.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 7
Momemn

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

The world is a circle that possesses as many centres as it does men.

Ajencis, the Third Analytic of Men

My Thoughts

Humans are very self-centered creatures. It’s right there in the word “self-centered.” I always do love Bakker’s philosophy he adds to the stories. Always making you think.

Early Autumn, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Conphas, accompanied by Martemus, is making his triumphal return to Momemn. He pauses at the Xatantius Arch, showing one of the previous empire’s great victories. Conphas thinks that by defeating the Scylvendi, he has outshined Xatantius. Beyond the Arch is the Scuäri Campus, a parade ground filled with Imperial Soldiers, representing every column of the Imperial Army. They are dressed in ceremonial armor and arrayed in neat phalanxes. Past the Campus was the Allosian Forum, the base of the Andiamine Heights.

Conphas saw his uncle awaiting them, a distant figure framed by the Forum’s might columns. Despite the imperial pageantry, he looked small, like a hermit squinting from the entrance of his cave.

Is this your first Imperial Audience-of-State?” Conphas asked Martemus.

The General nodded, turned to him with a faintly doddering air. “My first time in the Imperial Precincts.”

Conphas grinned. “Welcome to the brothel.”

Gilgaöl Priest, as customary, brought out basins of water. They smeared lion’s blood on his arms, while praying, cleansed his symbolic wounds. Conphas is surprised when Shrial Priest come out, anoints him with oil, and draw the tusk on his forehead in palm wine. They give him the title, Shield-of-the-Tusk. Conphas understands why his uncle did this. The Scylvendi were heathens like the Kian and thus his victory was part of the Holy War. Conphas thinks Skeaös must be behind such a smart idea.

The elation Conphas felt after winning the Battle of Kiyuth was quickly lost by the journey back to Momemn. Conphas intended to line the road back to Momemn with Sclyvendi heads, but his cartographers argued about the exact distance back to capital and thus the proper spacing of heads. The Imperial Saik got involved, thinking that they knew better than the cartographers. This argument culminated in the murder of Erathius, an outspoken cartographer. The culprit could not be found, so Conphas exploited a loophole in the Martial Code to flay the most vocal individual of both factions.

Worst, when Conphas finally reached Momemn the day before, he found the capital surrounded by the Holy War. Instead of being greeted by adoring masses, a mob of Inrithi rioted and a pitch battle erupted. Conphas learns from an Imperial Officer about how his uncle is only supplying enough grain to keep them from starving until the Indenture is signed. The negotiations over the Indenture had turned bitter.

The Emperor,” the officer concluded, “is most heartened by your arrival, Lord Exalt-General.”

Conphas had nearly cackled aloud at that. The return of a rival heartened no emperor, but every emperor was heartened by the return of his army, particularly when he was besieged. Which was essentially the case. Conphas had been forced to enter Momemn by boat.

And now, the great triumph he’d so anticipated, the all-important recognition of what he’d wrought, had been overshadowed by greater events. The Holy war had dimmed his glory, had dwarfed even the destruction of the Sclyvendi. Men would celebrate him, yes, but the way their celebrated religious festivals in times of famine: listlessly, too preoccupied by the press of events to truly understand what or whom they celebrated.

How could he not hate the Holy War.

Finally, Conphas and Martemus cross the Campus, the soldiers kneeling as they pass. Behind him, Conphas’s bodyguard were bringing his captive while others lined his progress with Sclyvendi heads. Conphas looked for Istiya, his grandmother, but couldn’t see her. He knew she was there. Istiya had shaped Conphas to the man he was today, prepared him for greatness. Conphas suspected she was behind the trumped up charges against his father to make sure there would be no interference in Conphas taking the throne should Xerius die. Because of her efforts, everyone has seen him as the Imperial Heir, and even if Xerius had a son that “didn’t drool or require diapers into adulthood” nothing could overturn that perception.

She [Istiya] had done so much that he could almost love her.

As Conphas approaches his uncle, he sees the crown of Shigek on his brow. No emperor has worn the crown since Shigek was lost to the heathens three centuries ago. Conphas thinks his uncle is presumptuous. Conphas thinks his uncle fears him and means to kill him. Conphas has become to powerful and is a threat. Conphas knows his uncle desires to control the Holy War, to reclaim the provinces lost, and to be remembered as a great Statesman-Emperor like Caphrianas the Younger. As long as Conphas convinces Xerius he is still useful to that goal, Xerius won’t touch him.

He had always hated his uncle—even as a child. But for all the contempt he bore him, he’d learned long ago not to underestimate him. His uncle was like those uncommon drunks who slurred and staggered day after day yet became lethally alert when confronted by danger.

Conphas wonders what Xerius is thinking, and asks Martemus his opinion. Martemus points out that Conphas knows him better. Conphas asks if he should be afraid. Martemus answers yes. Conphas knows that Martemus speaks truthfully, so wants to know why he thinks Conphas should be afraid. Martemus answers if he was emperor he would fear Conphas. What emperors fear, emperors kill is provincial wisdom. Conphas disagrees. Xerius has feared Conphas for years, but only new fears provoke Xerius to murder because he fears everybody.

Martemus points out that Conphas now has the armies loyalty. Every soldier on the parade ground would fight for him. That is something new for Xerius to fear. Conphas is stunned to realize that he could rebel right here and now and begins to consider it. Conphas disagrees because of the Holy War. Martemus asks if the emperors greed will outweigh his fear. Conphas thinks it will. Martemus thinks its a gamble and will throw his lot in with Conphas.

As they climb the stairs to where Xerius waits, Conphas begins to consider rebellion. Conphas is a planner, but he knows that sometimes opportunities must be seized. As Conphas reaches his uncle, he realizes his ceremonial dagger could kill Xerius. He greeted by his uncle and he fails to kneel and kiss Xerius’s knee. Conphas has made the decision to kill him and have his men secure the capital.

Conphas presents his captive, Xunnurit, the former King-of-Tribes. Xerius is pleased, promising to blind Xunnurit and chain him to his throne like the High Kings of Kyraneas did in the past. Conphas spots his grandmother and notices something is different about her.

Conphas catches Martemus gaze and nods. Conphas is patiently waiting the moment when Xerius will embrace him so he can strike and kill his uncle. Conphas brings up the fact the Holy War attacked his men. Xerius is dismissive, saying the matter has been concluded. Xerius says tomorrow they will go upriver to see his new monument and tells Conphas to be patient, that this isn’t the Kiyuth and things are not as they seem. Conphas is baffled by that statement.

As though the matter were utterly closed, Xerius continued: “Is this the general you speak so highly of? Martemus, is it? I’m so very pleased he’s here. I couldn’t ferry enough of your men into the city to fill the Campus, so I was forced to use my Eothic Guard and several hundred of the City Watch.”

Though stunned, Conphas replied without hesitation, “And dress them as my … as army regulars?”

Of course. The ceremony is as much for them as for you, no?”

His heart thundering, Conphas knelt and kissed his uncle’s knee.

The next day, Xerius, Istiya, and Conphas are on the Imperial barge heading up the River Phayus to see Xerius’s new monument. Istiya is impatient and Xerius is pleased by her annoyance. The monument is going to be transported to the capital down the river today from the basalt quarries of Osbeus.

The entire trip, Istiya has been fawning over Conphas, telling him all the sacrifices she had made for him, including an albino lion who’s hide she has made into a cloak for him. “A suitable gift for the Lion of Kiyuth.” Conphas plays along with his grandmother’s flattery, thanking her and crediting her with their success. Xerius finds the entire exchange grating and knows Istiya does it to annoy him. Istiya proclaims Conphas to be greater than any Exalt-General in the empire’s history.

What is she trying to do? Istiya had always goaded him, but never had she pressed her banter so close to sedition. She knew Conphas’s victory over the Scylvendi had transformed him from a tool into a threat. Especially after the farce at the Forum the previous day. Xerius needed only to glimpse at his nephew’s face to know that Skeaös had been right. There had been murder in Conphas’s eyes. If not for the Holy War, Xerius would have ordered him cut down on the spot.

Istiya had been there. She knew all this, and yet she pushed further and further. Was she …

Was she trying to get Conphas killed?

Conphas is uneasy at his grandmother’s statement and Xerius wanders if he really is uneasy, or if Conphas and Istiya plotted together. The barge suddenly strikes a bar in the river, getting stuck. Xerius berates the captain who looks scarred to death. Conphas is enjoying the embarrassment this causes Xerius. Xerius orders the Captain to man the oars as punishment. The barge remains stuck and Xerius decides they’ll await his monument’s arrival here.

Skeaös suggest they await the arrival of the monument from the aft galley of the barge. While Skeaös points out that this will allow a breathtaking view of the passing monument, Xerius knows Skeaös is saving the Emperor from being witnessed by his subjects on a stuck boat.

As they wait, Conphas makes small talk, asking how Xerius’s new wife, Conphas’s half-sister, is doing. Xerius answers she is satisfactory. Istiya points out she hasn’t had a child yet. Xerius shrugs, saying he already has his heir. Angrily, Istiya says their won’t be an inheritance left. Xerius is surprised by his mother’s directness, attributing it to age, and warns her. Conphas intercedes, saying she means the Men of the Tusk, who the empire is on the brink of open war with.

Istiya wants to know what Xerius plans are, pointing out the other Houses of the Congregate are worried. Xerius deflects her question. Xerius says Calmemunis has agreed to sign the Indenture tomorrow. Istiya asks what of Tharschilka and Kumrezzer, and Conphas is sure they will sign if Calmemunis does. Conphas knows the Men of the Tusk thing God is on their side and have no fear of the Fanim. Conphas’s realizes the first to arrive are the greediest and want to get their share of Fanim lands before anyone else arrives.

Istiya is horrified as Conphas explains these three lords will march right away, that until their liege lords arrive, they command the Holy War. Istiya demands Xerius not provision them. Xerius disagrees, he wants them to march. Conphas suggest the slaves be dismissed. Once they are private, Conphas asks if a deal has been made with the Padirajah.

Struck mute by astonishment, Xerius gaped at his nephew. How could he have known? Too much penetration, and certainly too much ease of manner. At some level, Xerius had always been terrified of Conphas. It was more than just the man’s wit. There was something dead inside his nephew. No, more than dead—something smooth. With others, even with his mother—although she to seemed so remote lately—there was always the exchange of unspoken expectations of the small, human needs that crotched and braced all conversation, even silences. But with Conphas there was only sheer surfaces. His nephew was never moved by another. Conphas was moved by Conphas, even if at times in mimicry of being moved by others. He was a man for whom everything was whim. A perfect man.

But to master such a man! And master him he must.

Flatter him,” Skeaös had once told Xerius, “and be transformed into part of the glorious story that he sees as his life.” But he could not. To flatter another was to humble oneself.

Xerius demands to know how Conphas has learned of the agreement, threatening to send him to the Tower of Ziek. Conphas answers, it’s what he would do. The Kian need to know the the empire is not fanatics. Xerius doesn’t but it and demands again to know who told him. Conphas reveals Skauras told him. Conphas has maintained communication with his court since Conphas had spent time there as a boy as a hostage.

Istiya warns Conphas that Skauras is canny and would sow dissension amongst them. Istiya states the Dynasty is the most important thing, and Xerius is reminded of her when he was a boy, repeating that same phrase. Conphas states he is not a fool, to be tricked by Skauras. Istiya tries to reason with Conphas at the folly of allowing the first of the Holy War to be massacred by the Kian. Xerius states the empire will sacrifice the Holy War to get back the lost provinces.

Conphas finally understands. The first to arrive, other than those three greedy lords, are the vulgar masses. To lose a rabble of untrained fighters would just save the Holy War bellies to feed. It would also teach the other lords and the Shriah to fear the Fanim and thus their dependence of the empire would grow.

Istiya thinks its madness, they have the chance to destroy the Kian and instead Xerius plots with them. Conphas points out that Maithanet controls the Holy War now. He has done all he can to geld the empire by inviting the scarlet spire. Istiya demands to know what Xerius plans after the “herd is culled.”

What then? Our Shriah learns fear. Respect. All his mummery—all his sacrifices, hymns, and wheedling—will have been naught. As you said earlier, Mother, the Gods cannot be bribed.”

But you can.”

Xerius laughed. “Of course I can. If Maithanet commands the Great Names to sign my Indenture, to swear the return of all the old provinces to the Empire, then I will give them”—he turned to his nephew and lowered his head—“the Lion of Kiyuth.”

Splendid!” Conphas cried. “Why didn’t I see it? Thrash them with one hand in order to soothe them with the other. Brilliant, Uncle! The Holy War will be ours. The Empire will be restored!”

Desperately, Istiya asks for Skeaös opinion. Skeaös evades, saying its not his place to speak. Istiya flatters him, saying while she doesn’t like him, he gives sound counsel. Skeaös remains silent, and Istiya understands, saying Skeaös fears for his life, but she is an old woman and no longer cares. What Xerius has said so far doesn’t sound like enough payment to the Kian. Istiya wants to know where the useful part of the Holy War fails.

Xerius just says things go wrong in war. Istiya understands, the Holy War will fail before it reaches Shimeh. Xerius just shrugs and turns to the river as his monument floats by, a massive obelisk for the temple-complex of Cmiral.

His thoughts leaped. I will be immortal …

He returned to his settee and reclined, consciously savoring the flares of hope and pride. Oh, sweet godlike vanity!

Like an immense sarcophagus,” his mother said. Always, the asp of truth.

My Thoughts

Conphas is a narcissistic sociopath. He keeps Martemus around because the man wasn’t a sycophant. “Flattery was beneath his [Martemus] contempt. If the man said something, Conphas knew, it was true.” How could a man as great as Conphas imagines himself to be not find Martemus’s praise intoxicating. Conphas has to earn that praise. His reaction to the Holy War is to pout about how it spoiled his glorious arrival.

Martemus is the epitome of the practical soldier. While he doesn’t think in plots and intrigues, it is he who sees the potential of the assembled army. His simple statement almost caused Conphas to seize the throne for himself at that moment. This has always been a problem for empires, when your generals command your soldiers loyalty and then realize that they could make themselves into emperors.

Luckily for Xerius, Skeaös is not an idiot. The replacement of Martemus’s troops with Eothic Guards was brilliant. One of my favorite moments in the book. Conphas is reminded that Xerius is not out of moves yet and if Conphas wants to be emperor, he needs to stay in his uncle’s graces until then.

Xerius is also a bit of a narcissist. Maybe that comes with being an emperor and everyone telling you how important you are every walking moment. He’s very juvenile the way he wants to show off his new toy and annoyed about Istiya and Conphas not being nearly as excited as he was. Xerius, however, finds something wrong with Conphas personality, acknowledging that at least Xerius has some empathy, as opposed to Conphas who just cares about himself.

More hints that something has changed with Istiya. She seems very keen on the Holy War succeeding versus the Empire prospering by taking advantage of the Holy War. We also see why Xerius constantly refers to his mother as the “old whore.” The revelation that she would molest him as a youth would definitely skew that relationship. One wonders if she did the same to Conphas. This might explain his narcissism. During their banter, there may be hints of a more intimate relationship. Conphas compares her tutelage to having sex with women during his teenage years.

It is odd how Istiya, who is always talking about the dynasty, balks at the plan. This will strengthen the Empire while weakening their enemies. Instead, she’s afraid for her soul and death. This is the woman that convinced her son to murder her husband because he would make a better Emperor and who was behind the plot that saw Conphas’s father (her other son) to be executed just to make the succession clear for her skilled nephew. And yet she has serious issue with the plan. A plan Conphas, who is a brilliant tactician, finds great merit in.

Xerius paranoia shines in this section. The moment he fears there is a leak in his plan, he threatens Conphas with torture.

Xerius and Skauras agreement is interesting. Both get something, the Fanim get to survive and the Empire gets to recover some lost land. But not all of it. Shimeh was part of the Empire in the past. The Kian also get to satisfaction of stopping the Holy War from reaching their goal. A lot still needs to happen, and this new Shriah is very shrewd. This truly is a gamble for the Empire. If Xerius fail, the Holy War could very well be used to destroy him.

Istiya, of course, has to get the last word.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Eight.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Six

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 6
The Jiünati Steppe

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

 It is said: a man is born of his mother and is fed of his mother. Then he is fed of the land, and the land passes through him, taking and giving a pinch of dust each time, until man is no longer of his mother, but of the land.

—Scylvendi Proverb

and in Old Sheyic, the language of the ruling and religious castes of the Nansurium, skilvenas means “catastrophe” or “apocalypse,” as though the Sclyvendi have somehow transcended the role of peoples in history and become a principle.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

Bakker gives us some insight into both the Sclyvendi world view and how the Nansur Empire views them. The Scylvendi equate manhood with being completely divorced from his mother. He has left her behind and found a new mother, the land.

As we learned in the last chapter, whenever the Scylvendi tribes unite, an empire dies. No wonder their name has become synonymous with catastrophe the way the Vandals became synonymous with destruction to the Romans.

Early Summer, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Jiünati Steppes

Cnaiür urs Skiötha approaches the King-of-Tribes and other clan leaders on a ridge overlooking the Nansur’s army. Cnaiür studies the group, half-expecting to hear insults and snide comments thrown at him.

Why would they disgrace me like this?

But he was not a child. He was the many-blooded chieftain of the Utemot, a seasoned Sclyvendi warrior of more than forty-five summers. He owned eight wives, twenty-three slaves, and more than three hundred cattle. He had fathered thirty-seven sons, nineteen of the pure blood. His arms were ribbed with the swazond, ritual trophy scars, of more than two hundred dead foes. He was Cnaiür, breaker-of-horse-and-men.

I could kill any of them—pound them to bloody ruin!–and yet they affront me like this? What have I done?

But like any murderer, he knew the answer. The outrage lay not in the fact of his dishonour but in their presumption to know.

The chiefs all were dressed mismatched armor, looking like they came from a large variety of nations and ages. Some wear Kianene helmets, marking them veterans of Zirkirta. “Only their scarred arms, stone faces, and long black hair marked them as the People—as Scylvendi.” Xunnurit was elected King-of-Tribes.

Cnaiür watches a warrior fire an arrow and realizes they measured distances and were planning the assault without him. Cnaiür rides up and looks down at the Nansur. They were camped on the banks the River Kiyuth and were building fortifications. When Cnaiür first saw the Nansur army digging in on the Steppes, it filled him with anger. Now, he feels foreboding.

Cnaiür demands to know why he wasn’t summoned. Xunnurit, with “undisguised contempt” says he was. There had been instant dislike between Cnaiür and Xunnurit when they met five days ago. Cnaiür states it would be juvenile to attack. The rest of the chiefs murmur disapproval. But Cnaiür’s many swazond demanded respect. Xunnurit disagrees with Cnaiür, saying the Nansur defile the hallowed land. He asks if Cnaiür wants to parlay and pay tribute to Conphas.

Cnaiür wants to wait. To starve out Conphas and force him to attack the Scylvendi out of desperation instead of attacking Conphas on the ground of his choosing. The older chiefs, Cnaiür observed, saw the wisdom in his words. Xunnurit was unimpressed, demanding to know what Cnaiür would do if he found his wife being raped in his yaksh. Attack at once, or wait for a better tactical situation. Sneering, Cnaiür says this is different. Xunnurit asks, if this is what the memorialist tell them.

It wasn’t so much the man’s cunning that shocked Cnaiür as the realization that he’d underestimated him.

Xunnurit’s eyes flashed with triumph. “No. The memorialist say that battle is our hearth, earth our womb, and sky our yaksh. We’ve been violated, as surely as if Conphas had quickened our wives or cracked our hearthstone. Violated. Desecrated. Humiliated. We’re beyond measuring tactical advantage, Utemot.

Cnaiür points out eight years ago at Zirkirta, the tribes feel back from the Kianene, slowly bleeding them, before crushing them. Xunnurit tries to protest that this is different, and Cnaiür asks how this battle can be like a hearth, and not like Zirkirta where patience was practiced. Oknai One-Eye, Chieftain of the Munuäti, points out that the droughts began soon. Herds must be taken to summer pastures. The Scylvendi cannot wait long. Xunnurit jumps on this, pointing out Conphas’s large baggage train he brought. He might be able to last six months.

Cnaiür sees the worry in the other chiefs eyes. To long from away presented many hazards: herds could die, slaves revolt, wives wander, or for northern tribes (like Cnaiür’s), Sranc. Cnaiür realized, even if the others knew it was foolish, the pressure to act swiftly were to great. All eyes turns to Cnaiür.

Had Ikurei Conphas intended this? It would be easy enough, he supposed, to learn the different demands the seasons placed on the People. Had Conphas deliberately chosen the weeks before the summer drought?

The thought dizzied Cnaiür with its implications. Suddenly, everything he had witnessed and heard since joining the horde possessed different meanings: the buggery of their Scylvendi captives, the mocking embassies, even the positioning of their privies—all calculated to gall the People into attacking.

Cnaiür says Conphas has brought all these supplies to fight a war of patience. Xunnurit exclaims, that is why they must attack, before hunger forces the People to disband. Cnaiür disagrees, he plans to wait until hunger forces the People to attack him. Xunnurit mocks him, saying the Utemot are far removed from imperial lands and do not know the political situation. Conphas has grown to popular. The Emperor sent him hear to his death.

Cnaiür, in disbelief, retorts the cream of the Imperial Army is here. The elite cavalry, Norsirai auxiliaries, and even Eothic Guard. The Empire must have been stripped to assemble this host. Xunnurit disagrees, the memorialist speak of other Emperors who did this. Cnaiür points out the current Empire is besieged and could not afford to lose this army. Xunnurit jumps at this. Once this army is destroyed, they could sweep the Nansur Empire, like their fathers of yore. Cnaiür continues his protest, but the others begin mocking him.

Cnaiür could smell it then, the good-humoured camaraderie that amounted to little more than a conspiracy to mock one and the same man. His lips twisted into a grimace. Always the same, no matter what his claim to arms or intellect. They’d measured him many years ago—and found him wanting.

But measure is unceasing…

Cnaiür continues to try to reason with them. He explains that Conphas has gambled on the People making the mistake of attacking his fortifications. He is counting on the People to do what they always have done. The only way to defeat him, is to not play his game. To wait. Xunnurit openly mocks Cnaiür now, calling him “Time-killing Cnaiür.” The other chiefs join Xunnurit laughter. Their laughter falters under Cnaiür’s murderous glare. Nervously, Xunnurit says tomorrow they “shall sacrifice an entire nation to the Dead-God.”

The next morning, Cnaiür prepares for battle. He wonders why Conphas had provoked the People. The were fractious by nature, and few things could unite them. Invading the steppes is one way. Conphas had just created a great threat for the Empire and Cnaiür knew all was not as it seemed. Cnaiür could not grasp Conphas’s goal for doing this.

Cnaiür leads his tribe up the ridge, looking down at the lines of the Imperial Army, forming up in phalanxes between the river and their fortifications. Calvary were poised to harass any Sclyvendi crossing the river. Horns blared, and soldiers pounded weapons on shields. Cnaiür studies the assembled Imperial Army and is unsurprised to see them deployed between their camps and the river, instead of at the river. This would change the Scylvendi battle plan.

Cnaiür is startled out of his thoughts by Bannut, his uncle. Bannut wonders why the deployed so far from the river, allowing the People to charge them once they cross. Cnaiür thinks Conphas wants a decisive battle. There will be no room to maneuver once they cross the river. Bannut thinks the Nansur are mad, and Cnaiür remembers the Kianene had tried a similar tactic at Zirkirta and failed. Cnaiür doesn’t think Conphas is mad though. He sends Bannut to find out what Xunnurit wants the Utemot to do. Bannut takes Yursalka, who married Xunnurit’s daughter, with him.

Xunnurit signals the assault. As the Scylvendi ride their horses to the river, Bannut and Yursalka return from Xunnurit. They inform Cnaiür the Utemot are to take the southernmost ford and form up before the Nasueret Column, the Ninth Column. They are rumored to be the best. Cnaiür thinks Xunnurit means for the Utemot to be killed.

The Scylvendi begin to ford and drive back the Imperial Skirmishers. The first to cross began to fire arrows at the Columns while the rest of the Sclyvendi cross. The Utemot cross, and form up before the Nasueret. Conphas allows the Sclyvendi to assemble without contest. Horsehair signals were passed, and the Sclyvendi made ready to charge.

Bannut informs Cnaiür he will be measure today. Cnaiür is surprised that the old warrior would bring up old wounds and furiously confronts him. Bannut says this is the best time to revisit the past. Worries beset Cnaiür, but there was no time to think. “The pilgrimage had ended; worship was about to begin.”

Signals are sent, and the Scylvendi begin their assault. When they reach the Nansur bow range, they charged. Arrows fall on the Utemot and some died. Before them, pikes were readied to meet their charge. “War and worship!” is the Utemot battle cry. A pike takes Cnaiür horse in the chest and he dives off his mount.

The Nansur ranks were unbroken, and his kinsmen died. Cnaiür glanced behind him, expecting to see the second wave of Utemot and saw his tribesmen watching the slaughter from safety. Cnaiür realizes treachery and searches for Bannut. He finds him fighting with a Nansur soldier and Cnaiür kills the soldier with a javelin. Cnaiür demands to know what is going on. Bannut answers, they made a deal with Xunnurit.

Killed you! Killed the kin-slayer! The weeping faggot who’d be our chieftain!”

Horns blared through the uproar. Between heartbeats, Cnaiür saw his father in Bannut’s grizzled face. But Skiötha had not died like this.

I watched you that night!” Bannut wheezed, his voice growing more pinched with agony. “I saw the truth of what”—his body cramped and shook about a wracking cough—“what happened those thirty years past. I told all that truth! Now the Utemot will be delivered form the oppression of your disgrace.”

You know nothing!” Cnaiür cried.

I know all! I saw the way you looked at him. I know he was your lover!”

Cnaiür is shocked to learn his people think he is gay and a weeper. Cnaiür boasts of all the men he has killed, more than any other. “I’m the measure of disgrace and honour. Your measure!” Cnaiür yells, as he strangles Bannut, like a slave, until he dies. Cnaiür grabs his sword and rallies the few Utemot left alive from the charge.

The Nansur ranks advanced and charged Cnaiür his men. Cnaiür kills the first soldier and, in the Nansur “womanish tongue,” demands to know who’s next. Cnaiür continues to taunt and kill the Nansur soldiers, fighting with a feverish skill. The soldiers envelop Cnaiür and his Utemot, but they falter before the ferocity of the Scylvendi. More Scylvendi charge into the ranks of soldiers. Finally, the Nasueret Column breaks and flee.

While his tribe cheered their victory, Cnaiür climbed a low knoll to survey the battle. The Nansur camp was already burning, and several columns were isolated from the center. Cnaiür sees chaos at the center. Xunnurit has been pressed back to the river by Eothic Guards and other columns Cnaiür does not recognize. Cnaiür looks for the Kuöti and Alkussi tribes and sees them on the wrong side of the river being attacked by Kidruhil, elite cavalry. Cnaiür spots a perfectly formed column bearing the standards of the Nasueret.

Cnaiür is confused. The Utemot had just routed the Nasueret, so how could they be marching to the north? And Cnaiür was sure the Kidruhil were on the right flank of the Nansur formation, a position of honor, not across the river. Balait, Cnaiür brother-in-law and someone he respects, brings him a fresh horse and tells him they need to reform to strike again.

Something is wrong, though. Cnaiür explains that Conphas has conceded the flanks to the Scylvendi and to hold the center. He had used false banners to trick the Scylvendi into thinking the best soldiers were on the flank, not the center. Balait thinks Conphas means to kill Xunnurit and those throw the People into confusion. Cnaiür disagrees, saying Conphas is to smart for that. Cnaiür studies the battle, trying to figure out Conphas’s plan.

Cnaiür realizes Conphas’s plan. The Scylvendi had deployed their Chorae bowman behind their center. Conphas has either destroyed them or routed them and is now free to unleash a School upon the Scylvendi. Cnaiür tells Balait to flee. From the sky, descended two dozen Imperial Saik Schoolmen who unleash sorcery on the Munuäti. The entire battle was a trap to deny the Scylvendi their Chorae. Cnaiür grabs his Chorae from beneath his breastplate.

As though walking across the back of roiling smoke and dust, a Schoolman drifted toward them. He slowed, floating the heights of a tree-top above them. His black silk robe boiled in the mountain wind, its gold trim undulating like snakes in water. White light flashes from his eyes and mouth. A barrage of arrows winked into cinders against his spherical Wards. The ghost of a dragon’s head ponderously ascended from his hands. Cnaiür saw glassy scales and eyes like globes of bloody water.

The majestic head bowed.

He turned to Balait, crying, “Run!”

The horned maw opened and spewed blinding fire.

Teeth snapped. Skin blistered and sloughed. But Cnaiür felt nothing, only the warmth thrown by Balait’s burning shadow. There was a momentary shriek, the sound of bones and bowels exploding.

Around Cnaiür lies the cooked remains of many Utemot. Cnaiür routs. He spots Yursalka fleeing with a band of Utemot. Yursalka ignores Cnaiür’s cries for help. The Kidruhil begin to fan out and harry the routing Scylvendi. Cnaiür continues to run, reaching the river, and sees Yursalka and the Utemot on the other side. Cnaiür struggles to cut off his armor so he can swim the river, when he is struck in the head and is knocked unconscious.

When Cnaiür awakes, he lies in the river mud. It is night, and Cnaiür hears group of Nansur’s combing the dead for loot and killing any survivors. Cnaiür buries his Chorae in the mud beneath him, smears some dried blood on his face from a corpse, and fills his mouth with mud. When the looters reach him, they think he’s dead and quickly loot his body, moving on.

Cnaiür passes out again, and when he awakens it is morning. The first thing he does is dig up his Chorae. Cnaiür climbs up the riverbank and surveys the battlefield. He realizes the Nansur have humiliated the Scylvendi on their own territory. Anger fills Cnaiür. He had warned the chiefs and they had laughed at him. Cnaiür realizes they were all dead. The Scylvendi had been massacred. The People of Lokung, vengeance made flesh and bone, dead.

And by the Nansur! Cnaiür had fought too many borderland skirmishes not to respect them as warriors, but in the end he despised the Nansur the way all Scylvendi despised them:as a mongrel race, a kind of human vermin, to be hunted to extinction if possible. For the Scylvendi, the mention of the Empire-behind-the-Mountains summoned innumerable images of degradation: leering priests groveling before their unholy Tusk; sorcerers trussed in whorish gowns, uttering unearthly obscenities while painted courtiers, their soft bodies powdered and perfumed, committed earthly ones. These were the men who had conquered them. Tillers of earth and writers of words. Men who made sport with men.

Cnaiür begins to weep, and remembers the accusation of Bannut, that he was a weeper and a faggot. Cnaiür realizes his suspicions these thirty years were correct. His people had secretly hated him and slandered him behind his back. Cnaiür begins to scream out loud at his demons.

Cnaiür’s outburst is interrupted by the sound of voices. Cnaiür deduces that two officers approach. They are Martemus and Conphas. Conphas is explaining to Martemus why his plan worked. Conphas had studied the Scylvendi, reading everything he could find on them. He even had agents steal records from the Fanim. Conphas learned that in thousands of years, the Scylvendi battle tactics have not changed. “The Scylvendi are just as philosopher Ajencis claimed: a people without history.”

Martemus points out that any illiterate people would be without history. Conphas explains that even illiterate people would change over the years. But the Scylvendi are two obsessed with custom. Martemus thought Conphas’s plan was folly, and only his faith in Conphas kept him loyal. Conphas and Martemus banter about whether Conphas should fully explain his plan. Cnaiür begins to formulate plans on how to murder the pair. Finally, Conphas explains why they won.

As I said, the Scylvendi are obsessed with custom. That means they repeat, Martemus. They follow the same formula time and again. Do you see? They worship war, but they have no understanding of what it truly is.”

And what, then, is war truly?”

Intellect, Martemus. War is intellect.”

Conphas spurts his horse ahead and Martemus follows. Cnaiür hears Conphas order Martemus to collect all the Scylvendi heads. Conphas plans on lining the road to the capital of with spiked heads.

Cnaiür wonders what to do now. The Scylvendi were dead, and Cnaiür lies down amongst them. He remembers the death of his father, Skiötha. Like many other times, the leaders of the Utemot were gathered in the White Yaksh of the clan chief. A blonde Norsirai man, found abandon on the steppes and taken as a slave, challenges Skiötha to a wager. Skiötha is taken aback by a slave challenging him, speaking his name. Cnaiür had a role to play, and asks his father if he’s scared. Skiötha, stung, asks the slave his wager.

And Cnaiür is gripped by the terror that he might die.

Fear that the slave, Anasûrimbor Moënghus might die!

Not his father—Moënghus …

Afterward, when his father lay dead, he had wept before the eyes of his tribe. Wept with relief.

At last, Moënghus, the one who had called himself Dûnyain, was free.

Some names mark us so deeply. Thirty years, on hundred and twenty seasons—a long time in the life of one man.

And it meant nothing.

Some events mark us so deeply.

Cnaiür flees the battlefield under the cover of dark, haunted by the dead.

My Thoughts

Wow, you do not often get barbarians with an inferiority complex. The entire chapter is Cnaiür paranoid about people talking behind his back, making fun of him. Thinking everyone knows the truth that he murdered his father to became the Utemot Chieftain through dishonour. And then, in the midst of battle, to find out just how much his people hate him. To learn that they knew the entire shameful story. Cnaiür had conspired with his male lover to assassinate his father. To the Scylvendi, nothing could be worse.

And then through shear, hateful determination, Cnaiür has thrived as Chieftain. He has slain all rivals. Cnaiür so hates himself for what he did, he constantly strives to prove how great a Scylvendi he is. He has more swazond than any other. He is the greatest Scylvendi warrior. And yet, all that battle prowess is not enough. He is still the “faggot weeper” to his people. Nothing he does will ever change that.

When Cnaiür sees Conphas’s army, he senses something is off. He wants a siege, but the Scylvendi people clearly are not a patient group. The young burn with the anger at what Conphas has done to them: defiled both their holy steppes as well as their captured comrades. The Scylvendi are arrogant. For two thousand years, no army has ever stood up to all the clans united. And never on the steppes.

In the battle, we see why the Scylvendi are so feared by the Nansur. We have Cnaiür and the small handful of Utemot that survived the first charge, all on foot, fighting in a circle and driving back the soldiers. They are so effective that Yursalka can no longer hold back the rest of the Utemot, who charge in and rout the soldiers. That hateful determination of Cnaiür really comes into play here. He’s not going to let his tribes treachery kill him.

And then we see why sorcerer’s are really hated and feared. Once their Chorae bowman are scattered, it takes only two dozen Imperial Saik to massacre the Scylvendi. It is a rout. Every man for themselves. In an hour, the power of the Sclyvendi is destroyed, perhaps to never rise again.

Cnaiür is one of the most complex characters I’ve read in genre fiction. A man combining wild passions and deep intellect. A violent man. A man who has driven himself mad trying to be what his people expect and still is rejected because the harder he tries, the weaker they see him. He has completely buried his true self with who he believes he should be.

No wonder he screams at his demons.

The battle scenes are immerse, putting you into the thick of it, the horror and the smells, the screams and the fear. Bakker understands ancient warfare and the tactics of the steppe hordes from our own world. The Sclyvendi fight like the Scythians against the Romans. The first battle of the Holy War has been fought and one by the Ikurei Dynasty.

The introduction of Conphas talking with his general, Martemus, is a great and hearing Cnaiür’s anaylsis confirmed demonstrates his intelligence. The two have a great back and forth. Martemus is a commoner who rose through the ranks of the army. Conphas almost treats him like an equal, and Conphas eventually confides his plans and explains his actions to Martemus. I also think its great that the People of War were brought done by careful scholarship and understanding war.

War is Intellect,” says Conphas. Remember those words when we get to the end of the novel.

We learn from Martemus, that he, and by extension the army, only followed Conphas on this crazy plan because he had faith in him. Now that Conphas has done the impossible, destroyed the Scylvendi threat for decades to come if not permanently, the army will be even more loyal. Emperor Ikurei should watch out. History shows that ambitious general with the armies loyalty can take an emperor’s throne.

And finally, we have mention of the story set out in the prologue. The Dûnyain have reentered the tale. Thirty years ago, Anasûrimbor Moënghus had passed through Utemot land. From what we saw with Kellhus and Leweth in the prologue, it must have been child play for Moënghus to seduce Cnaiür and use him against his father. Moënghus would not only need to escape the Utemot, but would need safe passage through the rest of Scylvendi lands. The Dûnyain are amazing fighters, but not even they can take on hundreds by themselves.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Seven!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Emperor
Chapter 5
Momemn

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

The difference between the strong emperor and the weak is simply this: the former makes the world his arena, while the latter make it his harem.

Casidas, The Annals of Cenei

What the Men of the Tusk never understood was that the Nansur and the Kianene were old enemies. When two civilized people find themselves at war for centuries, any number of common interests will arise in the midst of their greater antagonism. Ancestral foes share many things: mutual respect, a common history, triumph in stalemate, and a plethora of unspoken truces. The Men of the Tusk were interlopers, an impertinent flood that threatened to wash away the observed channels of a far older enmity.

Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

Casidas quote has a lot of truth in it from a historical perspective. The problem with hereditary rule is no matter how great the founder, one of his heirs will be an idiot. History abounds with weak rulers who messed up their own countries. Nero comes to mind, Nicholas II, John Lackland, Theodora, etc. And then there are the great kings of history: Julius Cesar, Alexander the Great, Catherine the Great, Charlemagne, Cyrus the Great, Justinian. So the question is, what type of emperor is Xerius?

The question is answered by his behavior and self-importance.

I like how Bakker uses Achamian’s quotes to provide background so it won’t have to intrude in the narrative. It explains everything about the relationship between Xerius and Skauras, preparing us for the end of the chapter, and gives a historical perspective of events. Like I’ve said before, the Holy War has a lot in common with the Crusades, with the Nansur Empire standing in for the Byzantium Empire, who in our world had lost the Middle East and North Africa to the Muslims conquests and hoped to use the Crusades to regain their lost territory.

It did not work out well for Byzantium. They managed to linger on for another four hundred years until the Ottomans and their cannons struck down the famed Walls of Constantinople. We’ll see how well it works out for the Nansurs.

Early Summer, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Emperor Ikurei Xerius III sits in his audience hall waiting for the arrival of Lord Nersei Calmemunis, Palatine of Kanampurea, and cousin of Prince Nersei Proyas (whom we met in Chapter 3). Months have passed since the Holy War has been called, and thousands have arrived in Momemn to fight. These first arrivals were “low-cast freeman, beggars, and non-hereditary Cultic priest.” Nersei Calmemunis is the first of the Great Names to arrive. The Lords of the Inrithi would be the “keel and rudder of the Holy War.” Xerius intended to be the pilot.

While waiting, Xerius asks his Prime Counsel, Skeaös, if there was word of his nephew, Conphas. Skeaös answers no, but assures Xerius everything is going to be fine. Xerius orders Skeaös to address the court.

With a swish of his silken robes, the wizened Counsel turned tot he other functionaries assembled about the dais. For as long as Xerius could remember, he’d always been surrounded by soldiers, ambassadors, slaves, spies, and astrologers … For as long as he could remember, he’d been the centre of this scuttling herd, the peg from which the tattered mantle of Empire hung. Now it suddenly struck him that he’d never looked into any of their eyes—not once. Matching the Emperor’s gaze was forbidden to those without Imperial Blood. The though horrified.

Save for Skeaös, I know none of these people.

Skeaös instructs the court on how important this audience is. The Nansur Empire is the gateway of the holy war. While Xerius cannot tax or bar the Holy War, he can influence them. Today, Xerius must reveal nothing because the fate of his Empire is at stake.

Nersei Calmemunis enters the court. Xerius is suddenly filled with nerves and looks up at the sparrows that next and fly in the vaults of the court. The sight of the birds always calms his nerves. Grandiosely, Xerius greets Calmemunis. Calmemunis informally greets the emperor (after Conryian fashion) and inquires how Conphas’s war against the Scylvendi to the north is going. Xerius dismiss Calmemunis question, saying it is a simple expedition against the Scylvendi and nothing compared to the Holy War.

Xerius spies revealed that Calmemunis was feuding with Proyas, and the emperor needles Calmemunis with this information (forgetting that he was supposed to seduce Calmemunis, not harrass him, but Xerius’s anger at the informal greeting rules his actions). Calmemunis angrily denies the rumors. Xerius decides Calmemunis is an idiot and will be easily influenced. Finally, Xerius presets Calmemunis with his Indenture.

The Indenture states that the Nansur Empire has long fought the Kiani tribesman and has lost many provinces to them. In exchange for signing the Indenture and agreeing to return imperial land, Xerius will provide provision enough for any lord and his force to march south. Calmemunis is outraged, saying the Shriah said nothing about returning land to the Nansur Empire.

Xerius points out the great cost in supplying the Holy War and that the Nansur Empire needs to be repaid for that service. Calmemunis splutters in the outrage of having to give up whatever heathen lands he conquers.

The stocky officer at his [Calmemunis] side could bear no more. “Sign nothing, Lord Palatine! The Shriah, I wager, has heard nothing of this either.”

“And who would you be?” Xerius snapped.

“Krijates Xinemus,” the man said briskly, “Lord Marshal of Attrempus.”

“Attrempus … Attrempus. Skeaös, please tell me why that name is so familiar?”

“Certainly, God-of-Men. Attrempus is the sister of Atyersus, the fortress that the School of Mandate leases to House Nersei. Lord Xinemus, here, is a close friend of Nersei Proyas”—the old Counsel paused for the briefest of instants, no doubt to allow his Emperor to digest this significance of this—“his childhood sword trainer, if I’m not mistaken.”

Xerius realizes Proyas was not stupid enough to trust Calmemunis and sent Xinemus to babysit. Xerius rebukes Xinemus for breaking protocol. Xinemus ignores Xerius, and reminds Calmemunis they were warned the Emperor would try to play games with the Holy War. Calmemunis is furious when he realizes this. Angrily, Xerius orders Calmemunis to sign his indenture or he and his men will starve.

Calmemunis is incensed that Xerius would twist the Holy War to his own gains. Xerius begins to speak, when bird shit hits his face. Outraged, Xerius orders the Captain of his Eothic Guard, Gaenkelti, to kill the birds. Archers fire at the birds, and arrows and dead sparrows rain down amongst the court. Xerius is delighted to see Calmemunis and his retinue dodging arrows. Soon, all the sparrows are dead or dying.

An impaled sparrow had plopped onto the steps midway between him and the Palatine of Kanampurea. On a whim, Xerius pushed himself from his throne and trotted down the steps. He bent, and scooped up the arrow and its thrashing message. He studied the bird for a moment, watched it convulse and shudder. Was it you, little one? Who bid you do this? Who?

A mere bird would never dare offend an emperor.

He looked up a at Calmemunis and was seized by another whim, this one far darker. Holding shaft and sparrow before him, he approached the dumbstruck Palatine.

“Take this,” Xerius said calmly, “as a token of my esteem.”

Calmemunis and Xinemus storm out of the audience chamber. Xerius rubs at the bird shit on his cheek and wonders aloud what it means. Skeaös thinks he means Calmemunis reaction to the Indenture, and Skeaös reminds Xerius they expected resistance at first. Angrily, Xerius refers to the bird shit on his face.

“Good fortune,” Arithmeas, his favorite augur and astrologer, called out. “Among the lower caste, to be … ah, shat upon by a bird is a great cause of celebration.”

Xerius wanted to laugh, but he could not. “But being shat upon is the only fortune they know, isn’t it?”

“Nevertheless, there’s great wisdom to this belief, God-of-Men. Small misfortunes such as this, the believe, portend good things. Some token blight must always accompany triumph, to remind us of our frailty.”

His cheek tingled, as though it too recognized the truth of the augur’s words. It was an omen! And a good one at that. He could feel it!

Again the Gods have touched me!

Xerius is relieved, and Arithmeas talks about an excellent conjunction between the star Anagke (Xerius star, the Whore of Fate) and the Nail of Heaven. Xerius motions for Arithmeas to follow him out onto the terrace. The palace was built on the Andiamine Heights and all of Momemn is laid out before the Heights. Xerius looks out at the city and asks Arithmeas if he will own the Holy War. Nothing is certain, answers the augur who then gives Xerius instructions on sacrifices to increase the odds. After Arithmeas finishes, Xerius’s mother walks up and dismiss the augur.

As the augur leaves, Xerius asks Arithmeas if he should wash his cheek. The augur says not for three days. Ikurei Istiya, Xerius mother, mocks him for listening to the babbling fool. Xerius notices something odd about her behavior lately and thinks she finally “glimpsed the divinity that dwelt within him.”

Istiya believes Xerius plan is stupid and doomed to failure if he can’t even get Calmemunis, an idiot, to sign it. She believes the Empire will be better off aiding the Holy War.

“Has Maithanet bewitched you as well, Mother? How does one bewitch a witch?”

Laughter. “By offering to destroy her enemies, how else?”

“But the whole world is your enemy, Mother. Or am I mistaken?”

“The whole world is every man’s enemy, Xerius. You’d do well to remember that.”

Istiya turns to Skeaös and asks him what he thinks of Xerius avarice. Xerius protests. Istiya explains it is avarice to try to assassinate Maithanet just because Xerius didn’t own him. And more avarice to try to destroy the Holy War because again Xerius doesn’t own it. Xerius objects, saying he doesn’t mean to destroy the Holy War. Istiya points out that fanatical, hungry, and warlike men are at his doorstep. They may raise arms against the Empire.

Xerius thinks how few provinces are still under his control, all those lost in the south to the Kian, and those in the north not settled for fear of Scylvendi raids. “Empire was the prize, not the wager.” Xerius explains to Istiya he plans on providing enough food to the Men of the Tusk to keep them from starving, but not enough to provision a march. Istiya asks what if Maithanet orders him to provide provisions. Xerius points out if he provisioned Calmemunis, the idiot would march immediately, certain he could destroy the Fanim. Maithanet will pretend to be angry but will secretly be thankful that Xerius’s plot allows time for the armies to gather. Why else did Maithanet set Momemn and not Sumna as the rally. Istiya asks Xerius if he is being used by Maithanet then.

Xerius no long underestimated Maithanet. The Nansur empire is doomed and Maithanet knows it. He fears the Scylvendi Tribes uniting and riding on the Empire. This was how the Kyraneas Empire and the Ceneian Empire had fallen two and one thousand years ago respectively. Xerius was certain Nansur would fall, and the Sclyvendi would retreat like they always did. Then nothing would stop the Kian from taking over the Nansur lands, including Sumna, the Thousand Temples, and the Tusk.

Istiya changes tactics and points out the lords will ignore you Indenture once they have taken the heathen lands. Xerius agrees but believes the Indenture will be useful. Istiya thinks about it and realizes that Xerius will use the Indenture to protect from Shrial censure when he reconquers land taken from the heathen by lords who signed his agreement. Istiya asks if that is why he sent his nephew, Conphas, to his death against the Scylvendi.

Finally, Xerius sees her true motive. Xerius has long suspected she means for Conphas, Xerius nephew and heir, to be a reformer for the empire. Istiya continues, saying to prosecute a war against the Men of the Tusk, he would need manpower. The Sclyvendi threat must be dealt with to free up the soldiers garrisoned in the north. Istiya calls his plan mad. Xerius says it is daring.

Daring?” she cried, as though the word had unlatched something deranged within her. “By the Gods, how I wished I’d strangled you in your cradle! Such a foolish son! You’ve doomed us, Xerius. Can’t you see? No one, no High King of Kyraneas, no Aspect-Emperor of Cenei, has ever defeated the Scylvendi on their ground. They are the People of War, Xerius! Conphas is dead! The flower of your army is dead! Xerius! Xerius! You’ve brought catastrophe upon us all!”

“Mother, no! Conphas assured me he could do it! He’s studied the Scylvendi as no other! He knows their weakness!”

“Xerius. Poor sweet fool, can’t you see that Conphas is still a child? Brilliant, fearless, as beautiful as God, but still a child …” She clutched at her cheeks and began clawing. “You’ve killed my child!” she wailed.

Xerius is panicked, and turns to Skeaös for reassurance. Skeaös says that Xerius has made a wager, and only time will tell. Xerius begins to calm himself down, reassuring himself that Conphas knows what he is doing. Xerius turns to his court, and sees fear. He tells them that men are frail and fallible but that he is Emperor, Divine. The court fall to their knees, but Istiya still protests, asking what happens when Conphas fails and the Sclyvendi come.

Xerius calls her old and fearful, her beauty withered away. Istiya, in a rage, tries to strike him but is restrained by her eunuch, Pisathulas. She shrieks that she should have killed him. Xerius orders her taken to her room and physicians to attend her.

After Xerius reassures his court again, Skeaös tells Xerius an emissary from the Fanim has been sent in reply to Xerius request for a parlay. A Cishaurim. Everyone grows fearful at the mention of the heathen Sorcerer-Priest.

The meeting with the Cishaurim emissary is in a small courtyard. Xerius clutches his Chorae in his fist. Cememketri, the Grandmaster of the Imperial Saik, has joined him. Two other Imperial Saik sorcerers and twelve Chorae crossbowmen guard the emperor.

The Cishaurim is escorted in by the Eothic guards, the elite soldiers who guard the palace. Xerius is unnerved by the Cishaurim’s eyeless gaze. A serpent, like stories said, was wrapped around the Cishaurim’s neck. Xerius asks Cememketri if he sees the mark of sorcery on the Cishaurim. Cememketri sees no mark.

The Cishaurim introduces himself as Mallahet. Cememketri breaks protocol and tells the emperor to leave at once because Mallahet is second only to the Heresiarch, and only because a non-Kianene is barred from leading the Cishaurim. Skeaös agrees, saying he will conduct the negotiation. Xerius ignores them, and greets Mallahet. Gaenkelti orders Mallahet to kneel before the Emperor, but Mallahet objects, a Fanim kneels only to the Solitary God. Xerius suspends Protocol for the occasion.

Mallahet summons the image of Skauras, the Sapatishah-Governor of Shigek, to negotiate. Xerius is offended the the Padirajah is not negotiating himself. Skauras replies that Xerius is not important enough to concern the Padirajah. Skauras knows of Xerius schemes to wrest the Holy War and thinks it will fail, that Conphas will lose to the Scylvendi.

Eight years earlier, Skauras lost three sons in an expedition against the Sclyvendi at Zirkirta. Xerius informs Skauras that Conphas won’t lose like he did. Skauras concedes Conphas may succeed, but that won’t change anything. Xerius still will not get control of the Holy War. Xerius will sell Maithanet his Imperial Saik in exchange for his Indenture being signed.

Skauras laughs and reveals that he knows more of Maithanet’s plans then Xerius does. Maithanet has already allied with the Scarlet Spire. Skeaös calls Skauras a liar, but Cememketri points out why would he lie. The Fanim would rather negotiate with us then Maithanet.

Xerius points out the Fanim are doomed regardless of who possess the holy war. Skauras is glad that Xerius understands they both are negotiating from weakness. A new plan begins to form in Xerius head around Calmemunis.

To Men of the Tusk you and your people are little more than sacrificial victims, Sapatishah. They speak and act as though their triumph is already inked in scripture. Perhaps the time will come when they respect you as we do.”

Shrai laksara kah.”

You mean fear.”

Everything now hinged on his nephew, far to the north. More than ever. The omens…

As I said—respect.”

My Thoughts

Ikurei Xerius III was no fool.”

Xerius believes he is not a fool. He thinks he understands the limits of his intellect and ability, but his actions are another matter. He is a weak ruler, one who will make a “harem of the world.” The problem, though, is he is just smart enough to be dangerous and egotistical to believe he is infallible. Look at the way he rationalizes everything into his own belief in his divinity and how everything will be all right. His Counsel, Skeaös, is intelligent and spends a lot of effort checking Xerius’s impulses, even if he fails. The rest of Xerius court are a bunch of sycophants who would not question Xerius’s decision. Look at the swiftness Gaenkelti obeyed. He didn’t hesitate to have his archers fire arrows in the room. It’s lucky no one was injured or killed. Not that Xerius would have cared.

The Nansur Empire is in a similar position to the Byzantine Empire during the crusades. At the time, they have been holding back the Islamic Caliphate for several hundred years. When the Crusades were called, the Byzantines unsuccessfully tried to get the Crusaders to return their land to them. Of course, this was after the Great Schism, and the Roman Catholic church had named the Eastern church apostate. The Byzantines were actually cutting deals with the Islamic nations because they trusted them over the western Crusaders.

Xerius’s relationship with his mother is very dysfunctional. He is both attracted to her and repulsed by her. She is in her sixties now, but still possess the grace of a younger woman. Xerius and Istiya constantly needle each other, and he is paranoid she is plotting with Conphas. Paranoia is not a good trait in any ruler, nor is an Oedipus complex. As usual, Bakker has to go to the disgusting and/or creepy side of human behavior. As the story unfolds, we see just how incestuous it gets.

Calmemunis stupidity will only continue to grow. But we did get the introduction of Xinemus, one of my favorite characters. Greed motivates Calmemunis. He wants the opportunity to carve out his own lands outside of the future rule of his cousin, Nersei. Nersei, according to rumors, had him whipped for impiety. I don’t blame Calmemunis for not wanting to be under that guy’s thumb. Nothing worse then zealotry and power. But we’ll have time to talk about that later as Proyas takes a larger role in the story.

Bakker’s use of titles are great. He has palatines, which historically was a title granted by a sovereign and were representatives of the king, but in this world seem to act more like dukes. Aspect-Emperor is another great title. And then the Kianene titles Sapatishah and Padirajah sound like a mix of Persian and Indian titles.

The last scene were Xerius spars/negotiates with Skauras is great. Skauras’s loathing of Xerius seeps through, but he has no choice but negotiate with him. The combined might of the Inrithi Nations is more than Kian can face. How terrible it must be to put your fate in the hands of a bitter enemy. The Drusas quote from the start of the chapter works so well here. Everything we need to know about the relationship between Skauras and Xerius is in that quote.

Also, Mallahet is a foreigner. I wonder where he might be from, originally…

Several instances, Xerius notes differences in the attitudes of both his mother and Skeaös. “The old ingrate, Xerius was convinced, we becoming as bad as his [Xerius’s] mother.” In this series, any change in behavior should be noted and observed.

And Xerius has a plan. He thinks he is best when under pressure. For his empire’s sake, Xerius better be right.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Six!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 4
Sumna

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

To be ignorant and to be deceived are two different things. To be ignorant is to be a slave of the world. To be deceived is to be slave of another man. The question will always be: When, when all men are ignorant, and therefore already slaves, does this later slavery sting us so?

—Ajencis, the Epistemologies

But despite stories of Fanim atrocities, the fact of the matter is that the Kianene, heathen or no, were surprisingly tolerant of Inrithi pilgrimages to Shimeh—before the Holy War, that is. Why would a people devoted to the destruction of the Tusk extend this courtesy to “idolaters”? Perhaps they were partially motivated by the prospect of trade, as others have suggested. But the fundamental motive lies in their desert heritage. The Kianene word for a holy place is si’ihkhalis, which means, literally, “great oasis.” On the open desert it is their strict custom to never begrudge travelers water, even if they be enemies.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

The quote from Ajencis ties into what the Dûnyain says in the prologue and is one of the themes of the series. So long as men are ignorant, they are slaves to what came before. When someone lies they can get you to believe things that are wrong, to do things for the wrong reasons, I can see how that could be a type of slavery. And of course it would sting more, because being lied to is a purposeful act. The world doesn’t conspire to enslave with ignorance. It just happens.

The Achamian quote just provides some background on the Kianene and a great way to add world building. Water is a big deal to the Kianene. Their Cishaurim sorcerer-priests are known as the Water-Bearers of Indara.

Section 1

The Holy War of the Inrithi against the Fanim was declared by Maithanet, the 116th Shriah of the Thousand Temples, on the Morn of Ascension in 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk. The day had been unseasonably hot, as though the God himself had blessed the Holy War with a premonition of summer. Indeed the Three Seas buzzed with rumors of omens and visions, all of which attested to the sanctity of the task that lay before the Inrithi.

Word spreads through the Inrithi nations of the Holy War. The Shrial and Cultic priests preach against the Fanim. In markets and taverns, people gossiped about which lords have declared for the Holy War. Children play at Holy War. The faithful proclaimed their desire to cleans Shimeh and kneel where the Latter Prophet walked.

The lords declared themselves Men of the Tusk and summoned their knights. Trivial wars were forgotten and lands were mortgaged. Great fleets of ships gathered to take the armies to Momemn were the Holy War was to gather.

Maithanet had called, and the entire of the Three Seas had answered. The back of the heathen would be broken. Holy Shimeh would be cleansed.

My Thoughts

I always like these sort of omniscient overviews of an area. It lets us see how people are reacting to the Holy War. Loved the veterans in taverns arguing who’s lord was more pious. And this is a rather telling quote about the piety of the average man: “The Thousand Temples issued edicts stating that those who profited from the absence of any great lord who had taken up the Tusk would be tried for heresy in ecclesiastical courts and summarily executed. Thus assured of their birthrights, princes, earls, palatines, and lords of every nation declared themselves Men of the Tusk.”

Their self-interests protected, they do not have a problem joining the holy war. A shrewd move on the part of Maithanet. For someone who is such a holy person, he has a shred understanding of the true nature of humans.

Mid-Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Esmenet watches Achamian sniff a prune before eating it and is reminded of her dead daughter sniffing an apple. The apple’s vendor saw the tattoo an Esmenet’s left hand and she knew he wouldn’t sell to a prostitute. Esmenet told her daughter no. Esmenet’s eyes tear up at this memory as regret for her dead daughter, Mimara, fills her.

Achamian had been staying with Esmenet for a while now. Long enough for them to almost feel married. Esmenet realizes that being a spy is a lot of waiting and Achamian waited here. They had fallen into a routine and would spend the day talking and joking. Eventually, a customer would arrive and Achamian, slightly hurt, would leave to get drunk. When he returned, he would try to appear happy and a pang of sadness would strike Esmenet.

What was it she felt? Many things, it seemed. Pity for him, certainly. In the midst of strangers, Achamian always looked so lonely, so misunderstood. No one, she would often think, know him the way I do. There was also relief that he’d returned—returned to her, even though he had gold enough to buy far younger whores. A selfish sorrow, that one. And shame. Shame because she knew that he loved her, and that every time she took custom it bruised his heart.

But what choice did she have?

Achamian would never enter her room if he thought she had a customer. Once, she was badly beaten and just crawled to bed afterward instead of waiting at the window for Achamian. In the morning, she found Achamian sleeping in front of her door. She knew then that he loved her.

Theirs was a strange marriage, if it could be called that. A marriage of outcasts sanctified by inarticulate vows. A sorcerer and a whore. Perhaps a certain desperation was to be expected of such unions, as though that strange word, “love,” became profound in proportion to the degree on was scorned by others.

Achamian tried to find the man that hurt her, and though she protested that this was part of business, she was secretly thrilled. Esmenet suspects he still searches for the man. Esmenet thinks Achamian wants to murder all her customs. Achamian wants Esmenet to himself, but Esmenet has to continue seeing her clients because Achamian will eventually leave her and her regulars will have found new prostitutes.

There is a knock at the door and Inrau enters the hovel. Inrau has important news and is afraid he may have been followed. Achamian tells Inrau not to worry, even priests visit prostitutes and no one will think it unusual. Inrau, uncomfortable with this subject, asks Esmenet for confirmation.

“They’re much like sorcerers that way,” she said wryly.

Achamian shot her a lock of mock indignation, and Inrau laughed nervously.

Esmenet sees the childlike qualities of Inrau and understands why Achamian fears for the young man. Inrau’s news is the Scarlet Spire has joined the Holy War. Inrau heard this from an Orate of the College of Luthymae. Maithanet offered six Chorae as a gesture of good will and the College controls the Temple’s Chorae and had to be told the reason.

Achamian is excited by this news and starts to explain the Scarlet Spire to Esmenet. Achamian likes to explain things, even if his audience knows the information. His explanation is interrupted by his realization that the Temples gave six Trinkets to a School of blasphemers. Esmenet ponders why she loves Achamian and thinks when she is with Achamian, her small, sordid world becomes so much larger.

Trinkets. This reminded Esmenet that despite the wonder, Achamian’s world was exceedingly deadly. Ecclesiastical law dictated that prostitutes, like adulteresses, be punished by stoning. The same, she reflected, was true of sorcerers, except there was just one kind of stone that could afflict them, and it need touch them only once. Thankfully, there were few Trinkets. The world, on the other hand, was filled with stones for harlots.

Inrau asks why Maithanet would pollute the Holy War with the Scarlet Spire. Achamian explains that a School would be needed to fight the Cishaurim. The forces of Kian would protect the Cishaurim from Chorae troop. The Scarlet Spire is the best school for the task. Inrau hates the Scarlet Spire, and Esmenet knows the Mandate hate the Spire for their envy of the Gnosis. Ikurei Xerius III, the Emperor, has been trying to co-opt the Holy War using his control of the Imperial Saik. Maithanet has blocked this attempt by allying with the Scarlet Spire.

Then a question occurred to her.

“Shouldn’t—“ Esmenet began, but she paused when the two men looked at her strangely. “Shouldn’t the question be, Why have the Scarlet Spires accepted Maithanet’s offer? What could induce a School to join a Holy War? They make for odd bedfellows, don’t you think? Not so long ago, Akka, you feared that the Holy War would be declared against the Schools.”

There was a moment of silence. Inrau smiled as though amused by his own stupidity. From this moment on, Esmenet realized, Inrau would look upon her as an equal in these matters. Achamian, however, would remain aloof, the judge of all questions. As was proper, perhaps, given his calling.

Achamian explains about what he learned about the Scarlet Spires secret war against the Cishaurim. This is their chance to conclude the war. Another reason is none of the schools understand the Psûkhe, the metaphysics of the Cishaurim. All the schools, Mandate included, are terrified by not being able to see Cishaurim sorcerery. Esmenet asks why that is so terrifying. Achamian criticizes her question and, annoyed, Esmenet asks Inrau if this is what Achamian is like when he teaches.

“You mean fault the question rather than the answer” Inrau said darkly. “All the time.”

But Achamian’s expression darkened. “Listen. Listen to me carefully. This isn’t a game we play. Any of us—but especially you, Inrau—could end up with out heads boiled in salt, tarred, and posted before the Vault-of-the-Tusk. And there’s more at stake than even our lives. Far more.”

Esmenet is shocked by the reprimand. She had forgotten the depths of Achamian. She remembers holding him in the night as he dreams, crying out in strange languages. Achamian tries to confront Inrau on the possibility that Maithanet has connections to the Consult. Inrau flares up with anger, saying Maithanet is worthy of devotion and this is just a fool’s errand.

Esmenet realizes something important as they argue. Achamian sees the expression on her face and realizes she has an insight and asks her what it is. Esmenet points out the Scarlet Spire hid their war from the Mandate for ten years, how did Maithanet find out? Achamian agrees with Esmenet, Maithanet would never approach the Scarlet Spire unless he knew they would agree. Inrau argues the Thousand Temple could have learned the same way Achamian had. Achamian concedes Inrau’s point as a small possibility, but thinks Maithanet needs to be closely watched.

Inrau looked momentarily at Esmenet before turning his plaintive eyes to his mentor. “I can’t do what you ask … I can’t.”

“You just get close to Maithanet, Inrau. Your Shriah is altogether to canny.”

“What?” the young priest said with half-heated sarcasm. “To canny to be a man of faith?”

Not at all, my friend. Too canny to be what he seems.”

My Thoughts

They way women are treated in the three seas is appalling. The fact that Esmenet thinks getting beaten by a customer is just part of business and that she has absolutely no legal recourse is terrible. And the fact that her remembering of scripture says that adulteress get stoned to death, which it makes it sound like the man committing adultery with her gets off with either no or a less sever punishment. We also are given the comparison with whores and sorcerers. They are both outcasts in society, but useful outcasts. Even in Sumna, the center of this worlds equivalent to the Catholic church, Esmenet makes a living selling her body to priests, pilgrims, and soldiers.

In the last chapter we got Achamian’s view on their relationship. He suspects that her affection is just an act, that she pretends to care for him because that’s what she does for a living. Here we learn that she does love Achamian, but she knows that he will leave her eventually. His mission is more important than their relationship. She has to keep seeing her customers to be able to survive. It’s sad.

Esmenet’s banter with Achamian’s morning bowel movements is hilarious.

Esmenet’s life is so dreary that she loves it when Achamian visits, and may be what she loves about the man. When he is around, he tells her of far off places, of intrigue of lords. She gets to vicariously live through his stories.

Inrau’s blushing realization that priest visit prostitutes is funny. Particularly when Esmenet compares them to sorcerer’s.

Achamian must trust Esmenet. He has no problems discussing Mandate business in front of her with Inrau. He also respects her opinion. He knows she is intelligent. It is a terrible shame that Esmenet never was able to receive an education. She has a keen mind and is the first to realize the implications of Inrau’s news.

Esmenet’s insight on Maithanet and the Scarlet Spire is troubling. How does Maithanet know? There’s a lot of suspicious things going on with him. He’s one of the Few, but without the Mark of ever practicing sorcery, he came from Kian, and he knows of the very secret Scarlet Spire-Cishaurim war.

Late Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Inrau is in the Hagerna, reeling from a secret he has learned about the Shriah. Inrau is conflicted by his faith and the debt he owes Achamian for saving his life when he left the Mandate. How can he repay Achamian by risking his own life? It seem wrong to Inrau. He feels he should give another gift, but obligation compels him

Conflicted, Inrau heads to the Irreüma, where small shrines to the Cultic gods resided. Inrau goes to shrine of Onkis, the Singer-in-the-Dark, a goddess of knowledge. Inrau cries before her. Inrau wonders if Onkis would forgive him for returning to the Mandate.

The idol was worked in white marble, eyes closed with the sunken look of the dead. At first glance she appeared to be the severed head of a woman, beautiful yet vaguely common, mounted on a pole. Anything more than a glance, however, revealed the pole to be a miniature tree, like those cultivated by the ancient Norsirai, only worked in bronze. Branches poked through her parted lips and swept across her face—nature reborn through human lips. Other branches reached behind to break through her frozen hair. Her image never failed to stir something within him, and this is why he always returned to her: she was this stirring, the dark place where the flurries of his thought arose. She came before him.

Inrau leaves on offering of food. Everything cast a shadow on the Outside, where the Gods moved, including his offering. He pulls out his list of ancestors and prays to them for intercession. Inrau cries out for the goddess to answer him and is met with only silence. Inrau thinks he should run.

The silence is broken by the sound of flapping wings up in the clerestory. Thinking it is a sign from Onkis, he heads up stairs to investigate. He wonders onto a balcony, exited that Onkis was communicating with him.

“Where are you?” he whispered.

Then he saw it, and horror throttled him.

It stood a short distance away, perched on the railing, watching him with shiny blue eyes. It had the body of a crow, but its head was small, bald, and human—about the size of a child’s fist. Stretching thin lips over tiny, perfect teeth, it smiled.

Sweet-Sejunes-oh-God-it-can’t-be-it-can’t-be!

A parody of surprise flashed across the miniature face. “You know what I am,” it said in a papery voice. “How?” can’t-be-cannot-be-Consult-here-no-no-no

Cutias Sarcellus, the Knight-Commander from the last chapter, steps out of the shadows with another Shrial Knight and explains Inrau is Achamian’s student. Inrau is stunned that Sarcellus is consorting with a Consult Synthese. Inrau whirls to flee and is cut off by a second Shrial Knight: Mujonish. Inrau sees the signs of sorcery on the bird, the Synthese, binding a soul to the vessel.

“He knows this form is but a shell,” the Synthese said to Sarcellus, “but I don’t see Chigra within him.” The pea-sized eyes—little beads of sky blue glass—turned to Inrau. “Hmm, boy? You don’t dream the Dream like the others, do you? If you did, you would recognize me. Chigra never failed to recognize me.

Inrau realizes prayers are useless and struggles to remember his Mandate training. He asks what the Synthese wants to buy time. The Synthese answers the same thing Inrau was doing in Maithanet’s apartment; overseeing our affairs. The two Shrial Knights and the Synthese close upon Inrau. Inrau remembers his training.

Inrau sense Mujonish looming behind him. Prayer seized his tongue. Blasphemy tumbled from his lips.

Turning with sorcerous speed, he punched two fingers through Mujonish’s chain mail, cracked his breastbone, then seized his heart. He yanked his hand free, drawing a cord of glittering blood into the air. More impossible words. The blood burst into incandescent flame, followed his sweeping hand toward the Synthese. Shrieking, the creature dove from the railing into emptiness. Blinding beads of blood cracked bare stone.

He would have turned to Sarcellus, but the sight of Mujonish stilled him. The Shrial Knight had stumbled to his knees, wiping his bloody hands on his surcoat. Then, as though spilling from a bladder, his face simply fell apart, dropping outward, unclutching

No mark. Not the faintest whisper of sorcery.

Distracted, Inrau is struck by Sarcellus. Inrau tries to use ghostly wards but they are useless. Sarcellus has a Chorae. Sarcellus grabs Inrau and touches the Chorae to his cheek. Part of Inrau’s cheek turns to salt. Inrau focus on the Synthese and prepares to unleash another attack on it. The Synthese conjures light that breaks through Inrau’s wards and pierces Inrau’s chest.

Inrau is drowning in his own blood. The Synthese watches him die. Inrau thinks of Achamian and of Onkis, struggling to breath. Inrau collapses and is hauled up to his knees by Sarcellus and brought face to face with the Synthese. The Synthese taunts him, saying he is an old name and could show him the Agonies. Inrau asks, “Why?”

Again the thin, tiny smile. “You worship suffering. Why do you think?”

Monumental rage filled him. It didn’t understand! It didn’t understand. With a coughing roar, he lurched forward, yanking his hair from his scalp. The Synthese seemed to flicker out of his path, but it wasn’t its death he sought. Any price, old teacher. The stone rail slammed against his hips, broke like cake. Again he was floating, but it was so different—air whipping across his face, bathing his body. With a single outstretched hand, Paro Inrau followed a pillar to the earth.

My Thoughts

Goodbye, Inrau. You did not deserve to die.

Whatever Inrau learned in searching Maithanet’s quarters had nothing to do with the Consult. My first read through that’s what I actually thought. But, Inrau is surprised to see the Synthese. If he learned Maithanet was connected to the Consult, this would not be surprising. Inrau killed himself to avoid torture, but also because he realized the Synthese did not know what he knew about Maithanet and thought it was important to prevent the Consult from learning and to protect Achamian.

Inrau makes a good point on debt repayment. If you saved someone life and they owe you, how can they repay that back with their own death. It defeats the purpose of saving the person in the first place.

Inrau revealed more of these abominations hiding in the Shrial Knights. Sarcellus referred to the Synthese as Old Father, implying the Synthese created him. We have our confirmation that the abominations are skin spies and why Sarcellus took such delight in hitting Achamian—the Mandate are his enemy.

Poor Inrau. You went out swinging though. And ripping out a monsters heart and turning his blood into liquid flames, that was pretty badass. Not bad for a guy who never actually used sorcery before. Shame Sarcellus had his Chorae.

Careful readers will note that Inrau did not die from being touched by a Chorae. A Chorae turns a sorcerer into salt, but the speed at which it does depends on how much sorcery they have performed. Inrau had only just now used Sorcery for the first time. He had been trained right to the point of using sorcery, but never crossed the line. Achamian would be killed almost instantly, and nonman sorcerers, like the one we meet in the prologue, could have his skin turned to salt just coming near a Chorae.

Achamian feared this would happen. He hadn’t been told of the spy in Atyersus. An Old Name is in the Synthese. It is a construct, like the abominations, and the Old Name’s soul is projected onto it. It does limit the creature’s sorcery, which is why it points out it still has the power to hurt Inrau.

Click here to head on over to Chapter 5!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 1
Carythusal

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

There are three, and only three, kinds of men in the world: cynics, fanatics and Mandate Schoolmen.

—Ontillas, On the Folly of Men

The author has often observed that in the genesis of great events, men generally posses no inkling of what their actions portend. This problem is not, as one might suppose, a result of men’s blindness to the consequences of their actions. Rather it is a result of the mad way the dreadful turns on the trivial when the ends of one man cross the ends of another. The Schoolmen of the Scarlet Spires have an old saying: “When one man chases a hare, he finds a hare. But when many men chase a hare, they find a dragon.” In the prosecution of competing human interests, the result is always unknown, and all too often terrifying.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

Thoughts

Cynicism and fanaticism are opposite sides of the coin of belief. Mandate Schoolmen straddle both sides. Fanatical in their belief of the consult. Because the greater Three Seas ridicule them and their mission, cynicism has set in. Like the old saying that every cynic is a disillusion romantic.

History is full of examples of the consequences of actions. The assassination of Duke Ferdinand set off WWI. The Serbian separatist that assassinated him just wanted independence from Austria. WWI ended the German Empire (the Second Reich), caused the downfall of the Romanovs, and the rise of the Soviet Union. I absolutely love the quote from the Scarlet Spire (who were about to meet in the story). Humans by themselves can be rational and intelligent, but in groups we feed upon each other, echoing each others thoughts. Groupthink can be a dangerous beast.

Midwinter, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Carythusal

We are introduced to Drusas Achamian: Mandate Schoolman (sorcerer) and spy. He is in the city of Carythusal, capital of High Ainon, and home of the rival sorcerer school, the Scarlet Spires. In a tavern in Carythusal, he is slowly recruiting Geshruuni, Captain of the Javreh. The Javreh are the warrior-slaves of the Scarlet Spire. Out of the blue, Geshruuni states he knows Achamian is a spy.

Achamian tries to bluff Geshruuni but his momentary hesitation when he is called a Schoolman betrays him. Geshruuni speculates on what School had sent Achamian. The Imperial Saik, the Mysunai, or the Mandate. Geshruuni wagers of Achamian of being a Mandate. Achamian, now terrified of being caught by the Scarlet Spire, prepares to unleash his sorcery, not caring of the consequences. Geshruuni reaches into his tunic and Achamian realizes it is too late to use sorcery. Geshruuni produces his Chorae. All sorcerer’s could feel a Chorae’s unnatural presence, and Achamian had used Geshruuni’s to identify him as the Javreh Captain.

Chorae. Schoolmen called them Trinkets. Small names are often given to horrifying things. But for other men, those who followed the Thousand Temples in condemning sorcery as blasphemy, they were called Tears of God. But the God had no hand in their manufacture. Chorae were relics of the Ancient North, so valuable that only the marriage of heirs, murder, or the tribute of entire nations could purchase them. They were worth the price: Chorae rendered their bearers immune to sorcery and killed any sorcerer unfortunate enough to touch them.

Geshruuni grabs Achamian’s hand and holds the Chorae over it. Geshruuni calls the Scarlet Spires as ruthless and cruel to their enemies and servants alike. Achamian asks what Geshruuni wants and he answers “What all men want, Akka. Truth.”

Death poised between the callused fingers of a slave. But Achamian was a Schoolman, and for Schoolmen nothing, not even life itself, was as precious as the Truth. They were its miserly keepers, and they warred for its possession across all the shadowy grottoes of the three Seas. Better to die than to yield Mandate truth to the Scarlet Spires.

Achamian sees no Schoolmen in the crowd. Sorcerers can see other sorcerer’s by the bruise of their crimes against reality. Realizing Geshruuni is playing his own game, Achamian confesses to being a spy for the Mandate School. Geshruuni releases Achamian and agrees to spy for the Mandate against his masters.

Achamian muses on being a spy. As the son of a poor Nroni fisherman he never even knew the word spy. As a youth he was identified as one of the Few (a sorcerer) and taken to Atyersus by the Mandate School for training. Chosen as one of their spies, Achamian has crisscrossed the Three Seas and seen many things. Far away places were no longer exotic to Achamian. Nobles, Emperor and Kings seemed as base as lesser men. He had educated princes, insulted grandmasters, and infuriated Shrial priests. Now in his middle years, Achamian has grown weary of being a spy and sorcerer.

Achamian is perplex and dismayed by his meeting with Geshruuni instead of feeling elated at recruiting such a well-placed spy. Geshruuni, motivated by vengeance, told him potent secrets of the Scarlet Spires. Geshruuni penetrated Achamian’s disguise because he was to free with his money, unlike the merchant Achamian pretended to be.

Achamian is alarmed to find out the Scarlet Spire has been at war. The schools skirmished with spies, assassinations, and diplomacy all the time. However, this war was different. Ten years ago, Grandmaster Sasheoka was assassinated in the inner sanctums of the Scarlet Spire. Despite possessing the Abstraction of the Gnosis, the most powerful school of sorcery, the Mandate School could not have succeed at the task. Geshruuni reveals the Cishaurim, the heathen school of the Fanim, were responsible.

There was a saying common to the Three Seas: “Only the Few can see the Few.” Sorcery was violent. To speak it was tot cut the world as surely as if with a knife. But only the Few—sorcerers–could see this mutilation, and only they could see, moreover, the blood on the hands of the mutilator-the “mark,” as it was called.

Not so with the Cishaurim. No one knew why or how, but they worked events as grand and as devastating as any sorcery without marking the world or bearing the mark of their crimes.

Unable to see the Cishaurim as one of the few, they would easily be able to enter the Scarlet Spire. Now hounds trained to smell the dye of Cishaurim robes patrol the halls. Achamian is confused what would possess the Cishaurim to declare war on the largest, most powerful School. Geshruuni can only shrug. No one knows.

Geshruuni questions his decision to betray the Scarlet Spire as we walks home. He finds gossiping like a woman did not satisfy his desire for revenge. He laments his status as a slave and wishes he could be a conqueror. Despite being drunk, Geshruuni realizes he is being followed and beings plotting “scenario after bloody scenario” for the presumed thief.

Geshruuni ambushes his stalker, and is surprised to see a fat man from the tavern and not a footpad. Thinking it is a Scarlet Spire Schoolman, Geshruuni throws his Chorae to kill the man. The man catches the Chorae and doesn’t die. The fat man reveals he was following Achamian and berates Geshruuni, repeatedly calling him slave and ordering him to heel like a dog. Geshruuni grabs the man and pulls a knife, threatening to kill him. The next thing Geshruuni knows is pain in his arm and he drops the knife. Geshruuni goes for his sword and the fat man slaps him hard. The fat man continues slapping and berating Geshruuni, his voice sounding more and more inhuman. Finally, Geshruuni is struck so hard he falls to his knees.

“What are you?” Geshruuni cried through bloodied lips.

As the shadow of the of the fat man encompassed him, Geshruuni watched his round face loosen, then flex as tight as a beggar’s hand about copper. Sorcery. But how could it be? He holds a Chorae—

“Something impossibly ancient,” the abomination said softly. “Inconceivably beautiful.”

After meeting with Geshruuni, Achamian returned to the hovel he stayed at, went to bed and dreamed. Every night, Mandate Schoolmen dream scenes from the life of Seswatha. Seswatha fought the No-God during the Apocalypse and founded that last Gnostic School, the Mandate. In the dream, part of Achamian knows he witnesses events 2000 yeas old, but part of him was Seswatha. The Mandate call this particular dream the Death and Prophecy of Anasûrimbor Celmomas.

Anasûrimbor Celmomas, the last High King of Kûniüri, has fallen before a Sranc chieftain. Seswatha kills the Sranc with sorcery and goes to the dying king’s side. In the distant, a dragon flies over the field of battle. Seswatha knows Kûniüri has fallen. With the help of a Trysë knight, they drag the dying king from the battlefield.

Seswatha pleads with Celmomas not to die. Seswatha believes without the High King, the world will end and the No-God will win. As Celmomas dies he has a vision. The gods have not abandoned men to the No-God, his darkness is not all encompassing. The burden to defeat him falls to Seswatha.

Celmomas asks Seswatha to forgiven him for being a stubborn fool. For being unjust to Seswatha. Seswatha forgives him. Celmomas asks if he’ll see his dead son in the afterlife. “As his father, and as his king.” Seswatha answers. With pride, Celmomas talks about the time his son stole into the deepest pits of Golgotterath. Celmomas’s vision continues, and he sees his son riding through the sky. Celmomas’s son speaks to him.

“He says … says such sweet things to give me comfort. He says that one of my seed will return, Seswatha—an Anasûrimbor will return …” A shudder wracked the old man, forcing breath and spittle through his teeth.

“At the end of the world.”

The bright eyes of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, White Lord of Trysë, High King of Kûniüri, went blank. And with them, the evening sun faltered, plunging the bronze-armored glory of the Norsirai into twilight.

Achamian awakens and weeps for a long dead king. In the distant he can hear a dog or a man howling.

Geshruuni has been tortured by the abomination. He told the abomination everything and now the thing drags him towards the river. He panics. Geshruuni asks why, he told the abomination everything. The abomination answers: “the Mandate have many eyes and we have much plucking to do.” The abomination throws Geshruuni into the river where he drowns.

The next morning, when Achamian awakes, he writes in his dream journal about the latest Seswatha dream. He dreamed of the Ford of Tywanrae (the same), the Burning of the Library of Sauglish (different, he saw his face not Seswatha’s in a mirror), and the Prophecy of Celmomas. At first he rights same, but scratches it out and writes, “Different. More powerful.”

Achamian questions his own fixation on recording the dreams. Men have been driving mad trying to decode the permutations of Seswatha’s dreams. For a moment, Achamian has a panic attack of still being on the battlefield. Despite the defeat of the No-God, Seswatha knew the conflict wasn’t over. The Sclyvendi and the Sranc still existed. Golgotterath remained and the Consult, servants of the No-God, still ruled there. So that the memory of the Apocalypse would never fade, Seswatha’s followers would get to relive it.

Achamian next uses the Cants of Calling to communicate with Atyersus, the citadel of the Mandate. His handlers are disinterested in the secret war and instead summon Achamian home. Achamian is surprised and ask why. They answer it involves the Thousand Temples. Cynically, Achamian thinks of one more meaningless mission as he packs up his belongings.

Unlike the other Great Factions of the Three Seas, who vied for tangible ends, the Mandate warred against the Consult. But for 300 years, no sign of the Consult had been found ,and the Mandate waged a war without a foe. This has made the Mandate the laughingstock of the Three Seas. Now the Mandate was adrift without purpose, filling the time with pointless actions like spying of the Scarlet Spire. Achamian is hopeful that this sudden mission to the Thousand Temples will have real purpose.

My Thoughts

Achamian is an unusual protagonist in the genre of fantasy. Middle-aged and burned out at his job. He is world weary instead of the fresh-eyed youth (which Kellhus in the prologue almost is until you realize he is a man without emotions). We meet Achamian just as he underestimates the intelligence of Geshruuni. This is not the first dangerous situation Achamian has been in and it shows. While he panics internally, externally he continues his ruse as a merchant out drinking. We even see Achamian resolve when he thinks faces death or betrayal of his order and he chooses death.

When Geshruuni instead spares Achamian, Bakker compares being a spy to being a whore. Bakker uses this analogy a lot with Achamian. To be successful both must play a role. They have to adapt quickly, putting on the right performance to manipulate. Both must be good judges of character. Grave misjudgment can end badly for both the spy and the prostitute, particularly when no legal or social conventions protect them.

Achamian is unnerved by his underestimation of Geshruuni. By no skill of his own, Achamian uncovered powerful knowledge. But had Geshruuni been loyal to his masters, Achamian would be facing torture and death. Achamian has questions and worries about both his ability and his mission that will continue to haunt him going forward.

And poor Geshruuni. The abomination strips Geshruuni of his bravado with a few slaps. And for nothing. The Mandate aren’t really interested in his grand secret. They care so little, they have summoned Achamian away for a more important mission.

I’ll have more to say on the abominations when we learn more about them. Clearly, they are enemies of the Mandate. But if the Consult hasn’t been active for 300 years, maybe its because they were working on new, devious plans to continue their ancient war.

The Seswatha dreams are some of my favorite parts of the series. I love the glimpse Bakker gives us of the Apocalypse, showing us the consequences if the Mandate’s war against the Consult is lost. It wouldn’t be epic fantasy without apocalyptic prophecies. After Achamian awakens, he fanatically writes in his dream diary while cynically questioning the purpose in deciphering those dreams. He walks that line of fanaticism to follow and understand Seswatha’s life and the cynicism brought along by years of pointless, frivolous busy work.

Bakker drops such interesting tidbits about his world, seeding both the backstory and the past. At once he sets up the political maneuvering that will dominate the rest of the book and explains how his sorcery works, the differences between the schools, and why the Fanim Cishaurim are so feared by other sorcerers. He is building the foundation that the entire Prince of Nothing Series rests upon. Why did the Cishaurim assassinate Sasheoka? What are the Consult up to? Who are the abominations? And what is so important about the Thousand Temple?

The prophecy is very interesting. An Anasûrimbor shall return. But which one? We know Moënghus went ahead of Kellhus. He lurks somewhere in the three seas. Is he the one prophecy speaks of, or is Kellhus who is even know making his way across the sranc-infested wilderness.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Two!

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