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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Six

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 6
Xerash

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

Of course we make crutches of one another. Why else would we crawl when we lose our lovers?

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

History. Logic. Arithmetic. These all should be taught by slaves.

ANONYMOUS, THE NOBLE HOUSE

My Thoughts

Well, aren’t these two interesting quotes to have paired up? The first one is a truth we all know. One of the reasons to have a lover is to have that person to support you, to lean on them when things go bad. But when they’re gone, well, you end up like Drusas Achamian learning to walk all over again.

The second quote’s a bit more… interesting. It’s anonymous, which makes me think the person who wrote this might very well be a slave. It’s titled “The Noble House” which implies this is a critique on the nobility, another reason why the author is anonymous. Either he doesn’t want anyone to know he wrote it, or he was killed for writing it and his name was lost to history.

So why would you want a slaves to teach those three subjects? Well, these three subjects are at the core of the scientific world view. They are places were you don’t want to let grandiose ideas or the ego invade. I had trouble understanding this quote, the only connection I can make is to either Achamian teaching Kellhus Gnosis (logic at its purest). Achamian is definitely a lesser person to Kellhus, a slave to Kellhus’s words and manipulation, just like all men are slaves to the darkness that comes before.

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

The Holy War marches south. At Kellhus’s command, they spread out to forage along the way despite their spoils from defeating the Padirajah. The Fanim are not resisting the advances. Villages and towns are surrendering. The Inrithi, wearing looted clothing and weathered by the southern sun, look more Fanim themselves save for their weapons an armor.

They had been transformed, and in ways that struck far deeper than mere accouterments. The men Achamian recalled, the Inrithi who’d marched through the Southron Gates, were but the ancestors of the men he saw now. Just as he could no longer recognize the sorcerer who’d wandered into the Sareotic Library, they could no longer recognize the warriors who’d marched singing into the Carathay Desert. Those other man had become strangers They might as well have brandished weapons of bronze.

The God had culled the Men of the Tusk. Over battlefield and desert, through famine and pestilence, He had sifted them like sand through His fingers. Only the strongest or most fortunate survived. The Ainoni had a saying: breaking enemies, not bread, made brothers. But being broken, Achamian realized, was more potent still. Something new had arisen from the forge of their collective suffering, something hard and something sharp. Something Kellhus had simply lifted from the anvil.

They’re his, Achamian would think, watching their grim ranks file across ridge and hillside. All of them. So much so that if Kellhus were to die…

Achamian spends the majority of his time in the Sacral Retinue or in the “canvas warrens” of the Umbilica, keeping within arms reach of Kellhus to protect him against a Consult assassination attempt. “Kellhus’s ascendancy threatened far more than it had already exacted.” The marching gives little opportunity to interrogate the skin-spies, but no torture Kellhus devices nor Achamian’s Cants of Compulsion work. “The things convulsing in the fecal darkness,” always haunt Achamian afterward.

Achamian couldn’t decide what unnerved him more: their many-fingered faces clenching and unclenching, or the hallowed calm with which Kellhus regarded them. Never, not even in his Dreams of the First Apocalypse, had he witnessed such extremes of god and evil. Never had he felt more certain.

Achamian attends all meetings with the Scarlet Spire, which are “strange, bumbling affairs.” Eleäzaras is drunk all the time, making him seem like a boy who realizes how in over his head he is. With Shimeh looming, the Scarlet Spire is being led by a man terrified of losing against the Cishaurim. Achamian finds him pitying the man “they way those of hale constitution pity those of weak in times of sickness.” The Holy War has tested all men, and it broke Eleäzaras. Iyokus never attends the meetings, which Achamian was thankful for. “As much as he [Achamian] hated the man, as much as he had wanted to kill him that night in the Apple Garden, he could do no more than exact a fraction of what he was owed.” When Achamian watched the Hundred Pillars remove Iyokus’s eyes, he found himself feeling unworthy of passing “final judgment” because only murder was absolute. He only did it for Xinemus.

Achamian observes Kellhus throughout the days as he deals with the mundane matters of organizing a host on the march. It allows him to witness again and again the ‘prodigious depths of Kellhus’s intellect.” He hears Kellhus recite verbatim missives delivered days ago. He could recall every mundane detail which causes other men, especially Gayamakri, the Seneschal-Secretary, to wonder in awe at their good fortune. These sorts of meetings soon begin to bore Achamian. He would be lost in thought, fading into the background.

In spite of his lack of interest, the absurd gravity of his charge was not lost upon Achamian. Sometimes, during moments of boredom, an odd sense of detachment would overcome him as he watched Kellhus. The surreal glamour would fall away and the Warrior-Prophet would seem as frail as the warlike men about him—and far more lonely. Achamian would go rigid with terror, understanding that Kellhus, no matter how godlike he seemed, was in fact mortal. He was a man. Was this not the lesson of the Circumfixion? And if something were to happen, nothing would matter, not even his love for Esmenet.

A strange zeal would creep through his limbs then, one utterly unlike the nightmare-born fervour of Mandate Schoolmen. A fanaticism of person.

To be devoted to a cause alone was to possess momentum without direction or destination. For so long, wandering had been his twilight mission, beaten forward by his dreams, leading his mule down road and track, and never, not once, arriving. But with Kellhus all this had changed. This was what he could not explain to Nautzera: that Kellhus was the incarnation of the abstraction that gave their School purpose. In this one man lay the future of all mankind. He was their only bulwark against the End of Ends.

The No-God

Achamian thinks he’s glimpsed Kellhus’s halo on occasion, envying those like Proyas who do see them. There are times that, despite his hatred, Achamian believes he would die for Kellhus. But he can’t sustain that fervor. Doubts creep in, attacking his belief that he could even protect Kellhus.

Esmenet is another distraction. Sometimes she rides on a horse, growing more comfortable with the act. She often seems a stranger to him with her “acts of mannish boldness” as she gives orders. She’s at her most feminine to Achamian when carried in her palanquin, but he only glimpses of her on those days when she talks to Kellhus as he rides beside her. Achamian wants to call to her. “He almost never saw her eyes.” Only at night, during camping, does he meet her in public spaces, trading cordial nods. At first he thought her behavior cruel to harden her heart into hating him, but then he realized she did it for both their sake. Everyone knows their past relationship, so if she’s nice to him, it will remind others that she once was his.

On their fifth night, Achamian finds Esmenet in his chambers. His ardor for her is crushed as she came only to speak about Kellhus’s security. She acts the empress to him, and he finds himself playing along, feeling their new circumstances both absurd while impressed by her intelligence. He’s even proud of her, thinking she’s always been better than him.

Where others were simply walls to him, Esmenet was an ancient city, a maze of little streets and squares, where he made his home. He knew her hospices and her barracks, her towers and her cisterns. No matter where he wandered, he always knew that this direction led here and that direction there. He was never lost, though outside her gates all the world might confound him.

He knew the habit of lovers, their inclination to make scripture out of self-deception. There was little difference, he often thought, between the devotional verse of Protathis and the graffiti that marred the bathhouse walls. Love was never so simple as the marks with which it was written. Why else would the terror of loss come upon lovers so often? Why else would so many insist on calling love pure and simple.

Achamian realizes that he failed Esmenet by not helping with her burdens, all the “innumerable horrors” she had endured. He encouraged her to dismiss them with anger instead of supporting her. “He shrank from the work of understanding,” and thus failed her.

Small wonder she’d failed him in turn. Small wonder she had… succumbed to Kellhus.

Kellhus… These were the most selfish—and therefore the most painful-thoughts.

Esmenet, through commenting on how men treat their cocks (talking to them, boasting, cursing, cajoling) that she believed “men, far more than women, were other to themselves.” This talk disturbed Achamian especially as he remembers their time together.

Women were windows through which men could peer into other men. They were the unguarded gate, the point of contact for deeper, more defenseless selves. And there had been times, Achamian could now admit, when he feared the raucous crowd that scrutinized him through her almost guileless eyes. All that had consoled him was the fact that he was the last to bed her, would always be the last.

And now she was with Kellhus.

Why was this thought so unbearable? Why did it cramp his heart so?

Some nights, Achamian ponders Kellhus, knowing that the Warrior Prophet will start demanding not just the sacrifice of a lover from others, but of their lives. Though Achamian had lost Esmenet “he had gained his soul.” Right? Other nights all he can think about is Esmenet gasping in pleasure beneath Kellhus, reaching heights of ecstasy Achamian never gave her then picturing her making jokes about his less-than-satisfactory penis. Sometimes he just longed for her “as he’d never longed for anyone or anything.” He believes, desperately, that if he can hold her, she would be his again.

Then it hits him one night: she conceived a child with Kellhus. She never gave up her contraceptive whore’s shell for him. “She had never even mentioned the possibility of children.” He realizes neither had he.

With this recognition, something either broke or mended within him; he could not tell which. The following morning he sat at one of the slave fires, watching two nameless girls tear up stalks of mint for tea. For a time he stared in a blinking stupor, still awakening. Then he looked past them, where he saw Esmenet standing in the near distance with two Nascenti in the shadow of dark horses. She caught his eyes, and this time, rather than nod without expression or simply look away, she smiled a shy and dazzling smile. And somehow he just knew…

Her gates had been closed. She was a direction his heart could no longer go.

Boredom leads Achamian to visit Proyas, the “idea of annoying another struck him as justice.” He’s shocked to find Esmenet also visiting. Things are awkward as memories of Xinemus’s fire—where they used to tease Kellhus, Esmenet was still his woman, Xinemus still had eyes, and Serwë still could laugh—rears in Achamian. He tries to leave, but a drunken Xinemus with “antagonistic good nature only inveterate drunks could muster” tells him to stay. Esmenet agrees, voice strained, motivated by a pity for Xinemus rather then desire to see Achamian.

Achamian can’t help but notice how beautiful she looks now, no longer the “lovely weed” when she was his wife. Only Xinemus doesn’t act awkward as a slave collects dinner plates. Finally, Proyas asks after the lessons Achamian gives Kellheus, which confuses Achamian considering what the lessons were about.

Yes, with…” He [Proyas] shrugged, as if unsure of their old ways of referring. “With Kellhus.”

Simply speaking the name became something like twisting a tourniquet.

Achamian brushed at his knee, even though he could see nothing that blemished them. “Good.” He did his best to sound lighthearted. “If I somehow live to write a book about these days, I’ll call it On the Varieties of Awe.”

Drunk Xinemus claims Achamian stole his title. Esmenet asks what his title is, Achamian wincing at her sharp tone. “Blind as he was, Xinemus saw slight everywhere,” and was pricklier than Cnaiür. Xinemus proclaims his title of his book is, “On the Varieties of Ass.” Everyone laughs.

Achamian looked from face to beaming face, pressing away tears with his thumb. Memories flooded him. For a moment it seemed that Esmi need only reach out and clasp his hand, press the pad of her thumb against the nail of his own, and everything would be undone. Everything that had happened since Shigek.

All of them are here… all the people I love.

Xinemus explains how his sense of smell is so keen know he can tell that Proyas thought he ate mutton last night, but it was goat. Esmenet laughs so hard, she’s rolling on her back. Xinemus says you see beauty but “there’s truth in what we smell.” Everyone’s laughter trails off.

Truth!” Xinemus cried with savagery “The world stinks of it!” He made as though to stand up, but rolled back onto his rump instead. “I can smell all of you,’ he said, as if in answer to their shocked silence. “I can smell that Akka’s afraid. I can smell that Proyas grieves. Can smell that Esmi wants to fuck—

Enough!” Achamian cried. “What’s this madness? Zin… who’s this fool you’ve become?”

The marshal laughs and claims he’s the same man just “minus my eyes.” Achamian wonders how Xinemus got like this. The blind drunk continues saying now he doesn’t live with men but dwells “with asses.” No one laughs.

Achamian thanks Proyas for his hospitality and stands to leave. Proyas sits broken and as “silent as the grave.” Achamian realizes Proyas punishes himself by caring for Xinemus. Kellhus has “rewritten the regrets of many, many men.” Xinemus coughs and Achamian realizes he’s getting sicker. Sneering, Xinemus tells Achamian to flee. Esmenet offers to walk back with him while he wonders, “What’s happened to us?”

Be sure to ask her,” Xinemus growled as they hurried to the threshold, “why she’s fucking Kellhus.”

Zin!” Proyas cried, more in terror than anger.

His thoughts buzzing, is face burning, Achamian turned to his former study, bu tin his periphery he could see that Esmenet had turned to him, blinking tears. Esmi…

Xinemus asks if only the blind man can see what is obvious. Proyas gets annoyed, vowing to tolerate Xinemus’s affliction but won’t tolerate blasphemous. Xinemus mocks him, calling him “Proyas the Judge.” Xinemus then quotes a passage from the Tractate about Inri Sejenus healing a blind man name Horomon, a story synonymous with revelation.

Xinemus turned from Proyas to Achamian, as though from a lesser to a greater enemy. “He cannot heal, Akka. The Warrior-Prophet… He cannot heal.”

Achamian still feels the cramped madness from the pavilion after he leaves. He tries grinning at Esmenet to fake relief, but she’s staring off into the darkness. Xinemus’s words echo in Achamian’s head. He and Esmenet walk in darkness through the camp. He remembers holding her hand, hates himself for the longing. “How could he walk in the midst of so much dread wonder and yet feel the tug of her.” He tries to remind himself the Apocalypse is coming. Esmenet ends the silence by asking what happened to Xinemus. It shocks Achamian and makes walking with her more difficult. When he doesn’t answer, she gets angry.

You think the question stupid?” Esmenet snapped. “You think—”

No, Esmi.”

There had been too much honesty in the way he spoke her name—too much pain.

You… you’ve no idea what Kellhus has shown me,” she said. “I too was Horomon, and now—the world that I see, Akka! The world that I see! The woman you knew, the woman you loved… you must know, that woman was—

He couldn’t bear those words, so he interrupted. “Zin lost more than his eyes in Iothiah.”

She asks what he means and starts to talk about the Cants of Compulsion then stops. She reminds him she’s the Master of Spies and needs to know these things. He understands that, but knows she’s doing this because “the estranged always resorted to talk of third parties.” It allows her to talk to Achamian without being either insincere or to delve into their problem. Achamian explains how Cants of Compulsion work, how souls are not compelled but possessed. He talks about how the Scarlet Spire used Xinemus against him. He sees the way her look changes, she’s growing skeptical, thinking he’s fishing for sympathy. He tells her he’s not.

Then what’s your point?” [asked Esmenet.]

He beat down the anger that welled through him. “The great paradox of the Compulsions is that their victims in no way feel compelled. Zin sincerely meant everything he said to me, he chose to say them, even though others spoke the words.”

In the past, people always challenge how such a thing is possible, question it. Not Esmenet. She just wants to know what Xinemus said.

He [Achamian] shook his head, graced her with a false smile. “The Scarlet Spires… Trust me, they know which words wield the sharpest edges.”

Like Kellhus.

There was compassion in her eyes now… He looked away.

She presses him and he finally admits: “He said that pity was the only love I could hope for.” Only she can understand why that truly hurts him. He wants to hold her, kiss her. Instead, he keeps walking and finds “peevish relief in the way she obediently followed.”

Achamian further explains that by saying things without hope of forgiveness, he can no longer filter his thoughts. Esmenet is surprised by that since it’s been months since the torture.

Blinking, Achamian looked to the sky, saw the Round of Horns glittering in an arc over the northern hills. It was an ancient Kûniüric constellation, unknown to the astrologers of the Three Seas. “Think of the soul as a network of innumerable rivers. With the Cants of Compulsion, the old banks are swamped, dikes are washed away, new channels are cut… Sometimes when the floodwaters recede, things resume their old course. Sometimes they don’t.

Esmenet asks if the old Xinemus is dead, but Achamian isn’t sure if he is. Achamian’s isn’t even sure what he’s even saying. He grabs her “forbidden hand” and she doesn’t resist. He pulls her to her, shocked she’s so light, and feels her wrap around himself “as she had a thousand times.”

They kissed.

Then she was fighting him, striking him about the face and shoulders. He released her, overcome by rage and ardour and horror. “N-no!” she sputtered, beating the air as though fending off the mere idea of him.

I dream of murdering him!” Achamian cried. “Murdering Kellhus! I dream that all the world burns, and I rejoice, Esmi, I rejoice. All the world burns, and I exult for love of you!”

She stares in shock as he begs to know if she loves him. She doesn’t deny it, and instead says Kellhus knows her like any other. This makes Achamian realize that he was wrong. He does have something to offer you. Frantically, he says Kellhus “knows everyone, Esmi.” He keeps saying it while, still tasting her on his lips. She back away shouting that Kellhus loves her. He can’t put into words his feelings and she flees while he gathers himself. Then he realizes they’re not alone. The watching men look away as he gazes in fury at them.

That night, he beat the matted earth in fury. He cursed himself for a fool until dawn. The arguments were assembled and were defeated. The reasons railed and railed. But love had no logic.

No more than sleep.

When he sees her next, she only has a blank expression, like the kiss never happened. Nor do soldiers come to arrest him, reminding Achamian just who Kellhus is. This isn’t him against another man but him against a nation. “There would be no outburst of jealous rage, no confrontations, only cloaked officials in the night, discharging their writ without passion.” It reminds him of behind a spy. It doesn’t surprise Achamian that Kellhus neither sends anyone nor mentions it since Kellhus needs Achamian too much (the bitter explanation) and because that Kellhus “understood, that he too mourned the contested ground between them.”

How could one love one’s oppressor? Achamian didn’t know, but he loved nonetheless. He loved them both.

Every evening, Achamian meets with Kellhus in what is nicknamed the Scribal Room. Achamian was charged by the Mandate to protect Kellhus from the Consult, but Kellhus doesn’t seem to care about them. Sometimes Achamian felt Kellhus “tolerated him out of courtesy, as a way to built trust with a formidable ally.” Teaching Kellhus the Gnosis is something different that fills Achamian with “wonder and terror.”

From the very first time, even as far back as Momemn, there had been something remarkable about Kellhus’s company. Even then he’d been someone whom others sought to please, as if they grasped without knowing what it meant to stand tall in his eyes. The disarming charisma. The endearing candour. The breathtaking intellect. Men opened themselves to him because he lacked all these deficiencies that led brother to injure brother. His humility was invariable, utterly disconnected from the presence of other men. Where others crowed or fawned depending upon whose company they kept, Kellhus remained absolute. He never boasted. Ne never flattered. He simply described.

Such men were addicting, especially for those who feared what others saw.

Achamian reflects on how he and Esmenet had watched Kellhus grow to “struggle with truths that everyone else had secretly accepted.” They witnessed his humanity, how even has his power grew, even as he became the “Voice and Vessel” to save the world, he remained himself. He never took for granted his power and never required more than his due. “It just so happened all the world fell within the circle of his authority.”

Achamian sometimes finds himself joking with Kellhus like nothing had changed, not even losing Esmenet. Invariably, something would knock him out of the illusion and Kellhus would become something like he were “a kind of lodestone made flesh, drawing things unseen yet palpable into his orbit.” Sometimes, during these moments, Achamian glimpses the halos.

To sit in his [Kellhus’s] presence was overwhelming enough. But to teach him the Gnosis?

To allow Kellhus to retain the protection of the Chorae for as long as possible, they start with everything short of actual Cants. All the language and philosophical pinnings that gird sorcerery. Normally, he would also teach the denotaries, basic Cants to develop a students “intellectual flexibility” first. He can’t with Kellhus because that will Mark him. So he starts with Gilcûnya, the Nonman tongue used for Gnostic Cants. “This took less than two weeks.”

To say that Achamian was astonished or even appalled would e to name a confluence of passions that could not be named. He himself had required three years to master the grammar, let alone the vocabulary, of that exotic and alien tongue.

He starts teaching Kellhus the philosophy of Gnosis, the Aeturi Sohonca (Sohonc Theses). Without these, the “Cants were little more than soul-numbing recitations.” Sorcery depends on meaning, and that depends on “systemic comprehension.” He explains how a word can have different meanings, or connotations, that can varied from person to person, and group to group. He uses love as an example. The feelings of love for a parent are different than for a lover or a friend. An older man and a teenage boy can both suffer heartbreak, but the “former is tempered by loss, learning, and a lifetime of experience, while the latter knows only lust and ardour.”

He [Achamian] could not help but wonder in passing what “love” had come to mean for him? As always, he dispelled such thoughts—thoughts of her—by throwing himself into his discourse.

Sorcery requires “preserving and expressing the pure modalities of meaning.” Kellhus realizes that this is why they use Gilcûnya as their lingua arcana. Kellhus figuring something like this out doesn’t surprise Achamian. He confirms that the “sheer otherness of Gilcûnya serves to insulate the semantics of sorcery from the inconsistencies of our lives.” He adds the Angogic use a debased form called High Kunna for the reason.

To speak as the Gods do,” Kellhus said. “Far from the concerns of Men.”

He explains about the Persemiota, a meditative technique not needed for the Mandate because of Seswatha inside them. Then he teaches the Semansis Dualis, the final step before damnation (at least until Kellhus came around). He talks about the two halves of sorcery, what you speak (the utteral) and what you think (the inutteral). “Since any single meaning could be skewed by the vagaries of circumstance, Cants required a second, simultaneous meaning, which, though as vulnerable to distortion as the first, braced it nonetheless, even as it too was braced.” Kellhus grasp this immediately, coming up with his own analogy. According to Achamian, thinking one thing and saying another is the hardest step, and why you can’t just hear a Mandate Schoolmarm speak his cants to steal the Gnosis.

Kellhus nodded. “Has anyone experimented with further inutteral strings?”

Achamian swallowed. “What do you mean?”

By some coincidence two of the hanging lanterns guttered at the same time, drawing Achamian’s eyes upward. They instantly resumed their soundless illumination.

Has anyone devised Cants consisting of two inutteral strings?”

Though Achamian has heard of a legend of the nonman Su’juroit the Witch-King using the “third phrase, Achamian lies and says it’s not possible. Achamian is frightened by the possibilities Kellhus could work and is reminded of the time he participated in an assassination, delivered the poison to slave which resulted in four people dying.

As always with Kellhus, Achamian needed only to gloss the various topics, and then only once. Within the course of single evenings Kellhus mastered arguments, explanations, and details that had taken Achamian years to internalize. His questions always struck to the heart. His observations never failed to chill with their rigor and penetration. Then at last, as the first elements of the Holy War invested Gerotha, they came to the precipice.

Kellhus beamed with gratitude and good humour. He stroked his flaxen beard in an uncharacteristic gesture of excitement, and for an instant resembled no one so much as Inrau. His eyes reflected three points of light, one for each of the lanterns suspended above Achamian.

So the time has finally come.”

Achamian wants to teach basic Wards, but Kellhus wants the Cant of Calling. Achamian wants to objects, but knows he shouldn’t. He begins to teach the utterals for the Ishra Discursia, “the most ancient and most simple of the Gnostic Cants,” but finds himself unable to speak. Kellhus realizes Seswatha has stopped him, deducing that this is how the Mandate protected the Gnosis. Achamian looks helpless at Kellhus. He truly wanted to teach Kellhus, and now feels shamed that he can’t. It reminds him of Xinemus’s torture.

Kellhus wants to speak with Seswatha, which shocks Achamian. Then Kellhus draws a dagger which reminds Achamian of the type of knives his father used to debone fish. “For a panicked instant Achamian thought that Kellhus meant to debone him, to cut Seswatha from his skin, perhaps the way physician-priests sometimes cut living infants from dying mothers.” Instead, Kellhus hypnotizes Achamian by reflecting light from the dagger into his eyes in a captivating fashion.

He feels something inside of him that restrained him in a “manner more profound than chains or even inhumation.” He knows he speaks, but doesn’t remember what he says. He feels always on the edge of something and then he is out of it. Confused, he starts to ask Kellhus what happened, but is silenced. Kellhus tells him to repeat the spell. This time Achamian speaks the utteral and than the inutteral. Achamian is disoriented by how easy he spoke them then he waits, hovering “between hope and horror.” It took Achamian seven months to master speaking one thing and thinking another, and he started with the denotaries. He knows Kellhus will do it on the first try.

Silence, so absolute it seemed he could hear the lanterns wheeze their white light.

Then, with a faint otherworldly smile upon his lips, Kellhus nodded, looked directly into his [Achamian’s] eyes, and repeated, “Iratisrineis lo ocoimenein loroi hapara,” but in a way that rumbled like trailing thunder.

For the first time Achamian saw Kellhus’s eyes glow. Like coals beneath the bellows.

Terror seizes Achamian. He wonders what Kellhus’s limits are. “What did it mean for a prophet to sing in the God’s own voice.” He wonders if that would make Kellhus a shaman of old. Or was he a god.

Yes,” Kellhus murmured, and he uttered the words again, words that spoke from the marrow of existence, that resonated at the pitch of souls. His eyes flashed, like gold afire. Ground and air hummed.

And at last Achamian realized…

I have not the concepts to comprehend him.

My Thoughts

Have a call back to book 2 when Achamian and Esmenet gained a height to see the entirety of the Holy War. Kellhus has denied Achamian this just like he’s denied Achamian his wife.

We have Achamian musing on the truth any soldier knows. United in a purpose and thrust into dire circumstances binds men together. They have to work together for their survival, it’s one massive pressure on their behavior, and it forever changes them. Kellhus was then in the right position, thanks to his gamble with the Circumfix, to benefit from that united suffering binding the Holy war.

Further, we see this same level of suffering being used by Kellhus with the Great Ordeal on their march to Golgotterath, especially with the final march across the Fields of Appalling. And that last line, if Kellhus were to die… Well, we’ll see how that third and final series goes.

Achamian mistakes “good and evil” for “pure intellect and pure hunger” the two extremes of humans, both of which Bakker shows us are not “good” or “healthy” behaviors.

We can never know how true stress, true dangers, true survival will place on us. Those who seem strong will break and those who seem weak will withstand. Eleäzaras and Xinemus are examples of the former, two different forms of strength, one perceived as bad one as good, but both crumbled. Achamian and Esmenet would be examples of the later. And then some, like Serwë, just live in a dream world until they die.

Murder is about the only thing you can do to a person where you can’t make amends, can’t apologize, can’t try to do something to make it right. Achamian is giving Iyokus that chance to do that because, as always, Achamian is very self-reflective. He sees the selfishness of his action and can’t allow himself to embrace that sort of confidence retributive justice requires.

We witness the slow seduction of Achamian. How Kellhus would “seem as frail as the warlike men about him” at times, tugging on the compassion inside of Achamian. He is making Achamian see him as vulnerable, something that needs the sorcerer’s protection from the outside world. From the Consult. Kellhus needs Achamian willing to teach him, to surrender the Gnosis to him or he’ll lose against the Consult eventually.

The Halos are more than a mass hallucination. They have to be. Kellhus is touching the outside in some ways. It’s bleeding into him, and those who believe in him see it. Achamian’s doubts keep him from wholly believing in anything. He’s always questioning, which might be way he’s only getting glimpses. He sees them for a moment then they’re gone. Kellhus might very well be a nascent god. Perhaps he will be a god, and since the gods stands outside of time ultimately, capable of seeing its beginning and end, this might just be a manifestation of that. At the end of the series while he died, he didn’t get captured by Ajolki. Kellhus’s soul escaped whatever bargain he made with the trickster god. We’ll have to see what Bakker does with this going forward in the third series.

Achamian never seeing Esmenet’s eyes is a subtle hint that she’s avoiding looking at him.

If you didn’t know it, you can train yourself to hate people. You can also do the opposite. Dwelling on something over and over again bends your thoughts and makes it a truth to your mind. Our brains are quite plastic and malleable.

Bakker again shows us that Achamian doesn’t just want Esmenet back out possessiveness, but he truly cares for her. He’s proud of her growth as a person even though it came at the expense of their relationship.

I think Achamian is coming down on himself too hard here. He doesn’t know the full picture of what Kellhus can do. How he can manipulate. He’s feeling like he deserve this now. That he’s blaming himself for what happened, shifting the blame away from Esmenet. He does this because he still cares for her and the alternative is to hate her. Better to hate himself. It’s a selfish action nonetheless, and these are the ones we always do and always regret.

Men don’t like thinking about the previous sexual experiences of their female partner. It’s a direct comparison of one man’s manhood to another. No guy wants to think his partner is wishing he was someone else. Then it also gets into the reproductive strategies human males employ. Due to the long development period of human children, a decade or so before they can start to be self-sufficient outside the 9 month gestation period, is longer than any other animal, especially when you compare us to species the same size. Elephants don’t take that long to reach independence and they have a lot of growing to do. This in the vast majority of human history (not the little sliver the industrial revolution has brought about in the last two hundred years) has required most women to be tied to the home to raise her children. She needed to a provider. Men responded with the strategy of peer-bonding, building a relationship with a woman as a long term strategy to ensure your offspring thrive. It’s why men can be very possessive about their women. In this case, knowing that you’re the last to ever bed her is important thought. You’ll see that men rarely seek divorce. Even men who cheat on their wives. As an aside, adultery is usually triggered, in men, by the second reproductive strategy: if a woman is offering sex and not asking for commitment, why not reproduce with her? It’s a very basic and primal instinct in men. A hard one for a man to avoid. For a single woman, that sort of behavior, in the past, was quite risky. If she has a child before establishing peer-bond, it makes it harder for her to find a man willing to build that commitment. Once a woman has that commitment, she might engage in a reproductive strategy of cuckoldry if she finds a more suitable man to have a child with and then trick her peer-bonded mate into raising another male’s child or even trading up to a better provider though divorce. (Now these are evolutionary pressures that affect us at a very subconscious and primal levels and we can exhibit self-control over them since humans can override many instinctive behaviors.)

Achamian goes through the various stages of grief, bouncing between them, trying to rationalize why Esmenet is with Kellhus, trying to bargain that if she just gave him one last chance, the anger at imagining Kellhus pleasing her more than him. It all burns through him. Until he hits on children. The one thing she gave Kellhus and not him. Because he never asked. He realizes then that he never fully committed to their relationship. So she always held that one thing back. The one thing that would fully entangle her with him.

“Simply speaking the name became something like twisting a tourniquet.” It would seem to Achamian that Kellhus’s name is both something painful but also life-saving. Having a tourniquet applied hurts, but it’s better than dying, or finding damnation and allowing the world to be destroyed by the No-God.

All the people Achamian loves are at Proyas’s fire. Kellhus isn’t there, just Esmenet, Proyas, and Xinemus. This laughter, this one moment of the past is all the remains of who the four used to be. Because none of them are the same people. They all changed by the burdens of the Holy War. Proyas, Achamian, and Esmenet found new strength, but not Xinemus…

Who does Esmenet want to fuck though? Kellhus, probably. Xinemus is calling her a whore as we see in his comment when she and Achamian leave.

Xinemus sees himself as the same man because of the Cants of Compulsion. The Scarlet Spire broke him by making him say things he would never say, but he believes he could. To Xinemus, he has an unbroken line of self from before his capture to now, but that’s not true. He’s like a computer program. A computer can’t understand that someone added new code to it that changed its behavior because it can’t understand that any tampering happened. Bakker is saying that’s really all humans are.

Biological machines with delusions of free will.

Esmenet blinking back tears. The truth hurts her because she still loves Achamian, but Kellhus is new, he swallowed up her life, and she has no perspective about anything. She will soon, though.

I remember Xinemus being eager to reach Kellhus earlier. He had such hope he’d get his eyes back. But Kellhus couldn’t heal him nor could stealing Iyokus’s eyes fix the problem. He’s disillusioned and that adds a little more doubt nibbling at Achamian. Kellhus is being spread so thin. He can’t keep deceiving everyone.

Further, the story that Xinemus tells is a parable about revelation. If Kellhus cannot heal, does that mean he cannot reveal? As we see in the Judging Eye, Achamian is still damned for being a sorcerer despite Kellhus’s “revelation” to the contrary.

Through Achamian, Bakker is showing something about humans. It’s so hard for us to care about what’s not in our immediate life. It’s hard to care about suffering in other countries, even in our own, if it doesn’t directly impact us. On an intellectual level, we can care, but on an emotional level which could motivate us to truly act, it scarcely touches us. It’s how we’re wired. Things are not truly real to us unless they’re in our immediate life. I know England is a real place, but do I believe that. Truly? Inside of me. I know it, but… Well, it’s the same with Achamian. Esmenet is right here, it’s hard to care about the Apocalypse when he’s hurting; when the woman he loves is with another man.

Esmenet reacts with anger to Achamian’s pain at losing her and immediately tries to justify it. She feels the guilt, which prompts her intellect to reason away her pain so she won’t feel it any longer. A very human reaction.

How Compulsion works in Bakker’s universe highlights one of the themes of the books: that free will is an illusion. And here is a concrete, irrefutable proof. Through Compulsion, a sorcerer steps into the darkness that comes before and guides it to affect you and you can’t tell the difference. To your mind, it responds that stimuli like any other and keeps up the facade of free will. Esmenet, surrounded by Kellhus, has had her eyes opened to free will to an extant, and thus doesn’t challenge this assertion by Achamian and doesn’t fearing what it means for her own decisions.

The moment Achamian admits what Xinemus said, he gets pity from Esmenet, proving the Scarlet Spire correct.

Achamian, I believe, was trying to tell Esmenet that she, ultimately, wasn’t special to Kellhus, no more than Achamian was. Because Kellhus knows everyone unlike Achamian, who cares only for her. He doesn’t know anyone but her. However, she says that Kellhus loves her (and in his own stunted way, Kellhus does love Esmenet). Note that she doesn’t say she loves Kellhus. Nor did she deny her feelings for Achamian. She even allowed herself, for a brief moment, to embrace him. She didn’t resist until after the kiss began. Then she’s angry. Like Achamian, she’s trying to use logic to justify why she’s with Kellhus and not Achamian, and can’t. Because love has no logic.

Over the rest of the book, we see her realizing the truth about who she really loves, not just who she was manipulated into caring for. However, that maternal part of her drives her to make the decision best not for herself, but for Kellhus’s child growing in her womb.

Kellhus has opted for dealing with Achamian by taking the noble, “This just sucks that while everyone thought you were dead (but really had no proof) we mourned you and then hooked up; I mean, it was like a month or two, and so that’s weird to swoop in so fast, but, I think this sucks, too” route. It’s effective against Achamian.

Not really surprising you can love your oppressor. After all, most of us love our parents.

This quote Achamian has that “Kellhus merely tolerated him out of courtesy, as a way to built trust with a formidable ally” is a very good sounding of who Kellhus truly is. Achamian is picking up on some of it. Perhaps Kellhus is stretching himself to thin and the observant Achamian is gleaming hints of Kellhus’s true nature. Perhaps it’s deliberate, to have Kellhus have a certain aloof air.

Who doesn’t like to be seen as someone admirable in the eyes of a man above you in social standing, someone who appears noble and good and caring and friendly. As Cnaiür says, the Dûnyain enslave you with love.

We get to see the requirements of seeing the halos from Achamian through those few times he glimpses them. It’s when he stops seeing Kellhus as a human being with whom he joked and laughed with and instead feels the divine, the Outside, shining out of Kellhus. I am convinced these Halos are a hint that Kellhus will ascend to some form of Godhood. If any soul could join the Hundred in power, it’s Kellhus. And since the Hundred see time in its entirety instead of just inhabiting the present, it’s possible that people see these almost topoi-like halos shining from Kellhus because they are glimpsing his future as an entity as close to deityhood as you get in the Three Seas. A being on par with Ajolki or Yatwer. For those who worship him, who align their souls into his sphere of influence and are drawn to him to be devoured the way the Hundred do to the souls of their worshipers, you get to see the halos.

The denotaries is why Inrau could use sorcery in book one even though he wasn’t really Marked. He was just about to step into that and apparently knew all the principals but left before every uttering one before that moment he killed the skin-spy. Perhaps he was struggling to master the utteral and inutteral and in this moment of fear, it all clicked for him.

Or it’s a plot hole and, like any good fan, I’m writing the story for Bakker.

If you ever needed more proof that Bakker has had a Ph.D. in philosophy, look no further into how he made it the central component of his magic system. Meaning is at the heart of philosophy.

There’s a reason the Greeks had four different words for love agape (unconditional love, universal love, like of God for his creation), Eros (sexual love or intimate love), Phillia (friendship, brotherly love), and Stroge (usually that parent/child love familiar love). English, however, put all our eggs into one word and it has to do a lot of work with so many shades of meaning to it.

Bakker’s not the only author I’ve seen use the ancient language to preserve the “pure modalities” of a word from the constant shift and slide of a living language. I know Butcher uses that in his Dresden Files Universe.

“To speak as the Gods do. Far from the concerns of Men.” This is the rabbit hole philosophers can fall down, lost in their own philosophy and losing sight of the day to day grind of living.

Achamian realizes what he is handing Kellhus in this moment. I wonder if this is why Seswatha balked and stopped Achamian from teaching Kellhus anything else. For it’s after this that Achamian can’t talk about the Gnosis. Maybe it was just teaching Kellhus the actual utterals and inutterals that did it, but Achamian didn’t have any problem teaching the philosophy underpinning Gnosis, something that the Mandate, thanks to Seswatha, has denied to the Angogic Schools even under torture. I think the Seswatha inside Achamian felt his fear and responded by locking down any additional information.

“He [Kellhus] stroked his flaxen beard in an uncharacteristic gesture of excitement, and for an instant resembled no one so much as Inrau.” In the last book, Kellhus identified Achamian’s relationship with Inrau, deduced the youth’s mannerisms, and then uses it to manipulate Achamian into teaching him. And here, at the cusp of learning the Gnosis, Kellhus pulls out all the bells and whistles to apply as much manipulation on Achamian as possible. Especially after he just freaked Achamian out with his question on the second inutteral.

And now Kellhus has the Gnosis. I always wondered what Kellhus said to the soul of Seswatha dwelling inside of Achamian. I have no doubts that it is the reason the dreams have changed for Achamian and no one else. The version of Seswatha inside of him knows that the harbinger has come. It unlocks information for Achamian after that.

Then we have the reveal, Achamian using the Cant of Calling, which I believe is the same one he uses for teleportation by adding a second inutteral. I suspect Kellhus has already figured this out, or has a theory about it based on his understanding of Gnostic Philosophy that Achamian taught him. He already sees the potential of the ability to teleport and wants it over any other. And even if he hadn’t know he could use it to teleport, he still chooses the ability that allows communication. Not defenses or attacks, but something that lets him speak to others.

Words, after all, are Kellhus’s deadliest weapon. And now he can wield them with an arcane edge.

If you want to read more, Click here for Chapter Seven!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 15
Shigek

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

Where the holy take men for fools, the mad take the world.

PROTATHIS, THE GOAT’S HEART

My Thoughts

What an interesting quote. Holy probably refers to organized religion. Protathis is saying they view men as fools to be taken advantage of. Which is definitely what Kellhus is doing. See the Synthese quote about the Holy War making their own leather. But the mad see the world differently. They see it as a surrogate for their madness, lashing out in different ways. As we see with Cnaiür when we delve into his characters psyche.

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

Cnaiür reaches the Ainoni, seeing the infantry retreating, shattered, some stripping off their armor to run faster, others just sitting in shock. But he doesn’t know where the knights are. He sees the Kianene riding uncontested without the reserves challenging them.

Cnaiür felt a sharp pang in his throat. He clenched his teeth.

It’s happening again…

Kiyuth.

Only this time he was Xunnurit. He was the arrogant mule!

And then Cnaiür realizes the encampment is vulnerable. That Serwë is vulnerable. He rides to the east.

Martemus watches the Prophet (Kellhus) fight Conphas’s assassins. In a heartbeat, the first Nansur is dead. In the second, the other. Only the Zeumi sword-dancer, wielding a massive tulwar, faces him and laughs, calling Kellhus a “civilized man.”

Without warning, he sent the tulwar whooshing through the air around him. Sunlight flashed as though from the silvered spokes of a chariot wheel.

Now standing, the Prophet drew his strange, long-pommeled sword from his shoulder sheath. Holding it in his right hand, he lowered its tip to the ground before his booted feet. He flicked a clot of dirt into the sword-dancer’s eyes. The sword-dancer stumbled back, cursing. The Prophet lunged, buried his sword point deep into the assassin’s palate. He guided the towering corpse to the earth.

He stood alone against a vista of strive and woe, his beard and hair boiling in the wind. He turned to Martemus, stepping over the sword-dancer’s body…

Illuminated by the morning sun. A striding vision. A walking aspect…

Something too terrible. Too bright.

Martemus stumbles back in fear, going for his sword. But Kellhus reaches out and grabs the man’s sword arm, calming him. Kellhus explains that Skauras has sent units to attack the Swazond Standard. Martemus looks out at the battle, seeing no battle lines and only chaos. The Conriyans, led by Proyas, look doomed. Then he notices the camel-mounted Khirgwi charging towards them, ululating war cries.

We must flee!” he [Martemus] cried.

No,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Swazond Standard cannot fall.”

But it will!” Martemus exclaimed. “It already has!”

The Warrior-Prophet smiled, and his eyes glittered with something fierce and unconquerable. “Conviction, General Martemus…” He gripped his shoulder with a haloed hand.

War is conviction.”

The Ainoni knights are panicked and confused. They are surrounded by horse archers, being hit from every side. Some charged through the enemy and broke free. Others get lost and are picked off. “Death came swirling down.” Other Fanim, led by the Tiger, charge through the broken infantry to hit the Ainoni command. General Setpanares is killed, but King Regent Chepheramunni made a miraculous escape.

The Inrithi who are fighting in the center have broken through the lines as they routed the Shigeki conscripts, many thinking they’ve won the day, don’t hear the horns signaling retreat. “Not once did the thundering drums of the heathen falter.” The Grandees of Khemema and tens of thousands Khirgwi attack them. Proyas is cut off from his infantry, retreating his knights to a mud-brick village. The Thunyeri fight in shield-wall circles, surprising the Fanim with their stubbornness. The battle has dissolved into dozens of smaller fights as the Holy War is cut off from each other.

Overcome by dismay, many knights charged alone, only to be unhorsed by arrows and trampled into dust.

Cnaiür rides through the camp looking for Serwë. People are screaming, thousands of them, as he searches. The Fanim are burning parts of the camp to disheartened the army while they capture the rest for plunder “especially the kind that wriggled and screamed.” He is desperate to find Serwë.

He kills two Fanim in the camp, charging through them with ease. He runs into a horde of camp-followers—a mix of wives, children, whores, slaves, scribes, and priests. They panic at the sight of him. Then Cnaiür spots the Kianene moving through the camp, searching and looting.

Cnaiür looked down, startled. A young woman, her leg slicked in blood, an infant strapped to her back, clutched his knee, beseeching him in some unknown tongue. He raised his boot to kick her, then unaccountably lowered it. He leaned forward and hoisted her before him onto his saddle. She fairly shrieked tears. He wheeled his black around and spurred after the fleeing camp-followers.

He heard an arrow buzz by his ear.

Kellhus stands before the charging Khirgwi, his hair and robe billowing in the wind. He tells Martemus to say down, and he can only watch stunned. Kellhus dodges their arrows “curious dance, at once random and premeditated, leisurely and breathtakingly quick.” Martemus is hit in the leg and collapses. He believes himself about to die and shouts for Kellhus to run.

Cnaiür’s horse flags as it gallops through the camp, fleeing the Kianene shouting after. Arrows his by and he holds the woman and her child to his chest. He overtakes the other fleeing camp-followers then rides away, knowing they chase him. All the Kianene have hard of the Skafadi with the heathens. He screams Zirkirta as a battle cry, firing his own bow back at them.

Kianene cut him off, forcing him to turn his ailing horse. He’s in the Nansur part of camp, and glad that they pitch tents in orderly fashion. In the chase, Cnaiür is struck by the fact the woman’s baby isn’t crying, marveling that even “infants knew when to be calm.”

More and more Kianene race after him. They corral him towards a large tent. He throws the woman from his horse and tosses her knife to cut through the tent and yells at her to run.

Veils of dust swept over him.

He turned, laughing.

He draws his weapon and fights the men. He kills them while demanding which of them will murder Cnaiür urs Skiötha, most violent of all men. He is wild, fearless as he kills, mocking them, boasting about killing their fathers and brothers at Zirkirta.

A piercing, feminine cry. Cnaiür glanced back, saw the nameless woman swaying at the entrance of the nearest tent. She gripped the knife he’d thrown her, gestured with it for him to follow. For an instant, it seemed he’d always known her, that they’d been lovers for long years. He saw sunlight flash through the far side of the tent where she’d cut open the canvas. Then he glimpsed a shadow from above, heard something not quite…

Several Kianene cried out—a different terror.

Cnaiür thrust his left hand beneath his girdle, clutched tight his father’s Trinket.

For an instant he me the woman’s wide uncomprehending eyes, and over her shoulder, those of her baby boy as well… Somehow he knew that now—that he was a son.

He tried to cry out.

They became shadows in a cataract of shimmering flame.

Kellhus flashes back to when he was five and first stepped outside of Ishuäl, led by Pragma Uän. He, with the others his age, are led out holding onto a rope and into the forest. The boys wander to grow accustomed to the chaos of the outside, the sounds, the smells, the shapes, and colors. But despite how new it was, Kellhus is more eager for why there here, knowing Pragma Uän teaches the ways of limb. Battle.

What do you see?” the old man finally asked, looking to the canopy above them.

There were many eager answers. Leaves. Branches. Sun.

But Kellhus saw more. He noticed the dead limbs, the scrum of competing branch and twig. He saw slender trees, mere striplings, ailing in the shadow of giants.

Conflict,” he said.

Uän asks for an explanation, and Kellhus says the trees war for space. That is what Una is here to teach them. To be like trees, branching out in every direction until they cover the sky. They attack at all directions and not just one. Then Uän shows it, using a quarterstaff and ordering the five-year-olds to attack him. Kellhus is having fun, finding delight in getting knocked back, and wonder in watching the old man dance. “Not one touched his legs. Not one so much as stepped into the circle described by his stick.” He had owned his space.

In the present, Kellhus faces the Khirgwi charge. He raises his sword, ready to defend his circle with Dûnyain steel.

Cnaiür breaks away from his charred horse. He’s surrounded by ash and smoke and scorched meet. He retrieves his hot dagger from the nameless woman’s burned corpse and begins walking. The Scarlet Schoolmen walk the skies, killing the Fanim with fire and lighting.

And he thought, Serwë…

Cnaiür moves through the confusion of the camp on foot, grateful to his father’s Chorae for saving his life a second time. Soon he finds Proyas’s pavilion and then the one he shared with Kellhus. He grows fearful, wondering if Serwë had fled of if she was taken. And then he hears her shriek followed by the sound of Kellhus’s voice. That shocks him so much, he almost collapses. He is confused as he creeps forward, drawing a knife in shaking hand. He enters to see her badly beaten, “Kellhus” naked and standing over her.

Without thinking, Cnaiür slipped into the gloom of the pavilion. The air reeked of foul rutting. The Dûnyain whirled, as naked as Serwë, a bloody hand clamped about his engorged member.

The Scylvendi,” Kellhus drawled, his eyes blazing with lurid rapture.

I didn’t smell you.”

Cnaiür struck at his heart. Somehow the bloody hand flickered up,g razed his wrist. The knife dug deep just below the Dûnyain’s collar bone.

Kellhus staggered back, raised his face to the bellied canvas, and screamed what seemed a hundred screams, a hundred voices bound to one inhuman throat. And Cnaiür saw his face open, as though the joints of his mouth were legion and ran from his scalp to his neck. Through steepled features, he saw lidless eyes, gums without lips…

The thing struck him, and he fell to one knee. He yanked his broadsword clear.

But it had vanished though the flap, leaping like some kind of beast.

The Ainoni knights are forced to stand and fight on foot as their mounts are killed, Kianene racing around them. They force the Kianene to pay for every inch of ground gained, throwing back charge after charge to the Fanim’s shock who are “astounded by these defeated men who refused to be defeated.”

The Khirgwi fight with wild abandon. Proyas is encircled. The Thunyeri make a fortress of their shield-wall. At the sight of the smoke burning the Inrithi camp, many of Skauras’s staff think they have victory. Until the Scarlet Spire arrive. The Fanim survivors of the sorcery enfilade flee into the Inrithi reserves, led by Gotian, and are massacred.

The Imperial Kidruhil come to the Ainoni rescue, driving back the attackers. With the Kidruhil, the Ainoni charge up the slope. Kellhus stand holds off the Khirgwi long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The drums of the Fanim fall silent, overrun by Inrithi knights as Saubon and Gothyelk’s men break through enemy lines and reach the Kianene camp.

The Fanim host falls apart. Crown Prince Fanayal and the Coyauri are chased south by the Kidruhil. The Ainoni finally take the slopes height, forcing more Kianene to flee. The Khirgwi flee southwest pursed by the iron men into the desert.

Hundreds of Inrithi would be lost for following the tribesmen too far.

Serwë tries to go after the wounded “Kellhus,” screaming that he’s hurt and needs her. Cnaiür stops her, saying it wasn’t him. She calls him mad. Cnaiür says he’s taking her away, she’s his prize. She calls him mad again, saying Kellhus told her everything. He hits her and she collapses, demanding to know what Kellhus has said.

She wiped blood from her lip, and for the first time didn’t seem afraid. “You you beat me. You your thoughts never stray far from me, but return, always return to me in fury. He’s told me everything!”

Something trembled through him. He raised his fist but his fingers would not clench.

What has he said?”

That I’m nothing but a sign, a token. That you strike not me, but yourself!”

I will strangle you! I will snap your neck like a cat’s! I will beat blood from your womb!”

Then do it!” she shrieked. “Do it, and be done with it!

He calls her his prize, that he owns her. But she says she’s his shame. He demands answers, and she tells him that he beats her for submitting, the same way he submitted. “For fucking him [Kellhus] the way you fucked his father!”

She collapses, and he finds her so beautiful even beaten. Numb, he asks her what else. But she’s sobbing. She grabs a knife, putting it to her throat. He sees the swazond on her forearm, and knows she has killed.

You’re mad!” she wept. “I’ll kill myself! I’ll kill myself! I’m not your prize! I’m his! HIS!”

Serwë…

Her fist hooked inward. The blade parted flesh.

But somehow he’d captured her wrist. He wrenched the knife from her hand.

He left her weeping outside the Dûnyain’s pavilion. He stared out over the trackless Meneanor as he wandered between the tents, through the growing crowds of jubilant Inrithi.

So unnatural, he thought, the sea…

Conphas finds Martemus sitting cross-legged beneath Cnaiür’s standard and surrounded by “ever widening circles of Khirgwi dead,” staring at the sunset. Conphas cuts down the standard with his sword. Martemus says Kellhus isn’t dead. Conphas finds that a pity, then asks if Martemus remembers their conversation after Kiyuth. He does and remembers that Conphas said war is intellect.

Are you a casualty of that war, Martemus?”

The sturdy General frowned, pursed his lips. He shook his head. “No.”

I worry that you are, Martemus.”

Martemus turned away from the sun and studied him with pinched eyes. “I worried too… But no longer.”

Conphas questions why. Martemus says he watched Kellhus kill all these heathens until they fled in terror. “He’s not human.” Conphas points out neither was Skeaös. Martemus just says he’s a practical man. Conphas studied the corpses around them, Anwurat burning in the distance.

He [Conphas] gazed back into Martemus’s sun. There was such a difference, he thought, between the beauty that illuminated, and the beauty that was illuminated.

You are at that, Martemus. You are at that.”

Skauras ab Nalajan has dismissed all his servants and followers, sitting alone at a table drinking wine. He is reflective as he awaits the Inrithi in a room atop one of Anwurat’s turrets. He hears the battle below.

Though he was a pious man, Skauras had committed many wicked acts in his life—wicked acts were ever the inescapable accessories of power. He contemplated them with regret and pined for a simpler life, one with fewer pleasures, surely, but with fewer burdens. Certainly nothing so crushing as this.

I have doomed my people… my faith.

He reflects on how good his plan was, faking a break in the center so he could attack their left flank. He thinks Conphas must have figured it out. “Old enemy. Old friend—if such a man could be anyone’s friend.”

He produces his agreement with the Nansur Emperor. The word of Ikurei Xerius is the only hope for his people, another old foe and old friend. He burns it to keep the rest of the Inrithi from finding the evidence. He watches it burn while a verse of scripture flashes through his mind. He drinks his wine as the Inrithi batter down his door. He wonders if his people are all dead. Only him.

In the depths of his final, most pious prayer to the Solitary God, he didn’t hear the fibrous snapping of wood. Only the final crash and the sound of kindling skating across tiled floor told him that the time had come to draw his sword.

He turned to face the rush of strapping, battle-crazed infidels.

It would be a short battle.

Serwë awakens cradled by Kellhus. Her first words are for her child, who is fine. Then she asks how she angered him. He explains it was a demon with a counterfeit face. And it clicks in her head, all the little things that were off. She feels such shame, realizing she had sex with it, cheating on Kellhus. She communicates without words to Kellhus as she falls apart.

You were faithful.”

She turned to him, her face crumpling.

But it wasn’t you!

You were deceived. You were faithful.”

He wipes her tears and her blood. She stares into his eyes for awhile, wondering how long she could stare. Forever? He answers her yes. Then she tells him that Cnaiür came to take her. Kellhus says he told Cnaiür he could.

And somehow she knew this too.

But why?

He smiled glory.

Because I knew you wouldn’t let him.”

Kellhus wonders how much the Consult has no learned. He uses hypnotizes Serwë with “patience no world-born man could fathom” into a trance called the Whelming. He interrogates her for everything that happened, then he wipes her memory of the incident.

He leaves her asleep and heads into the celebrating camp and towards the sea and Cnaiür’s camp pitched on its shores. He ignores those who call after him. He has one tasks to complete. He reflects on his study of Cnaiür, the deepest he’s ever made, how his pride and intelligence made him difficult to manipulate, which when combined with his knowledge of the Dûnyain, makes it worse. Moënghus surrendered too much to Cnaiür. “Of all world-born men, Cnaiür urs Skiötha was awake…”

Which was why he had to die.

Kellhus has found that the majority of world-born men adhere to custom without “thought or knowledge.” They never asked why. But Cnaiür is different, choosing to adhere to custom, to prove that he chose this set of beliefs out of others. He has spent thirty years beating himself into the mold of a Scylvendi. And his people could always tell, smelling the wrongness about him.

Thirty years of shame and denial. Thirty years of torment and terror. A lifetime of cannibal hatred… In the end, Cnaiür had cut a trail of his own making, a solitary track of madness and murder.

It is why he is such a ferocious warrior, since Scylvendi see war as worship. He had to be the greatest, most pious of them. Every man he kills is a surrogate for Moënghus. If he can’t kill the right man, then the man in front of him will do.

But despite his understanding of Cnaiür, Kellhus couldn’t control him because of his knowledge. Kellhus once thought Cnaiür would never surrender. And then they found Serwë. He used her as his proof he followed his people. “Cnaiür fell in love, not with her, but the idea of loving her.” Because it meant he couldn’t love Moënghus or his son. Then it was easy for Kellhus to dominate Cnaiür. He seduced her, forcing Cnaiür to relieve his own seduction. Kellhus used contradicting passions, which he had learned world-born men were vulnerable to, to make him obsessed. Then Kellhus took away his obsession and now he would do anything to get it.

And now the usefulness of Cnaiür urs Skiötha was at an end.

Kellhus climbs a dune and sees Cnaiür camp trampled. Kellhus fears he’s too late, that Cnaiür has fled. But then he hears “raw shouts.” He follows the noise and finds Scylvendi standing naked in the waves washing to shore.

There are no tracks!” the man screamed, beating the surf with his fists. “Where are the—”

Without warning, he went rigid. Dark water swelled about him, engulfed him almost to his shoulders, then tumbled forward in clouds of crystalline foam. He turned his head, and Kellhus saw his weathered face, framed by long tails of sodden black hair. There was no expression.

Absolutely no expression.

Cnaiür wades to shore, shouting about how he betrayed his race and father for Moënghus, talking to Kellhus like he’s the father. Kellhus realizes he can’t read Cnaiür. The Scylvendi keeps talking about how he followed you, how he loved you. Kellhus draws his sword and tells Cnaiür to kneel.

The Scylvendi fell to his knees. He held out his arms, trailing fingers through the sand. He bent his back to the stars, exposing his throat. The Meneanor surged and seethed behind him.

Kellhus stood motionless above him.

What is this, Father? Pity?

He gazed at the abject Scylvendi warrior. From what darkness had this passion come?

Strike!” the man cried. The great scarred body trembled in terror and exultation.

But still, Kellhus couldn’t move.

Cnaiür shouts over and over for Kellhus to kill him, grabbing the blade and pulling it to his throat. But Kellhus says no and gently pries Cnaiür’s grip form the sword. Cnaiür grips Kellhus head, almost breaking his neck. Kellhus isn’t sure if it was luck or Cnaiür’s instinct that stopped it. But just a little more, and he will die.

Cnaiür drew him close enough for him to feel his humid body heat.

I loved you!” he both whispered and screamed. Then he thrust Kellhus backward, nearly tossing him back to his feet. Wary now, Kellhus rolled his chin to straighten a kink from his neck. Cnaiür stared at him in hope and horror…

Kellhus sheathed his sword.

Cnaiür rips hair from his head as he raves about Kellhus’s promise. But Kellhus watches, unmoved. “There were always other uses.”

The Sarcellus skin-spy leaves the camp and enters an old ruin, not caring about what it might be. The Synthese arrives and notes he is wounded. The skin-spy explains about Cnaiür and that the wound doesn’t impair him. The Synthese asks for a report, and the skin-spy says he’s not Cishaurim but Dûnyain.

Tiny grimace. Small, glistening teeth, like grains of rice, flashed between its lips. “All games end with me, Gaörtha. All Games.”

Sarcellus became very still. “I play no game. This man is Dûnyain. That’s what the Scylvendi calls him. She said there’s no doubt.”

But there is no order called ‘Dûnyain’ in Atrithau.”

No. But then we know he’s not a Prince of Atrithau.”

The Synthese begins to think Kellhus is a real Anasûrimbor, but a remnant of the Old Seed that survived. The skin-spy wonders if the Nonmen could have trained him, but the syntheses is dismissive. They have spies in Ishterebinth and know what Nin-Cilijiras is up to. The syntheses suspects that the Dûnyain is a “stubborn ember” of Kûniüri that survived, like the Mandate. But this ember survived in the shadow of Golgotterath, which is worrying. The skin-spy further adds that Kellhus means to claim the Holy War. The Synthese wants to know who the Dûnyain are, what their plans, and how he can see skin-spies.

He orders the skin-spy to indulge Kellhus, though he doesn’t see him as that much of a threat now that Achamian has been “removed from the game.” But the skin-spy is worried. Kellhus’s power grows. He is called the Warrior Prophet. The Synthese is amused how Kellhus “leashes these fanatics with leather of their own making.” Then he asks if Kellhus preaches a threat to the Holy War’s goal. He hasn’t, yet. The skin-spy is ordered to watch, but if Kellhus seeks to stop the Holy War, he has to be killed. He is only something curious. The Cishaurim are their foe.

Yes, Old Father.”

Gleaming like wet marble, the white headed bobbed twice, as though in some overriding instinct. A wing dropped to Sarcellus’s knee, dipped between his shadowy thighs… Gaörtha went rigid.

Are you badly hurt, my sweet child?”

Yessss,” the thing called Sarcellus gasped.

The small headed tilted backward. Heavy-lidded eyes watched the wingtip circle and stroke, stroke and circle. “Ah, but imagine… Imagine a world where no womb quickens, where no soul hopes.”

Sarcellus sucked drool in delight.

My Thoughts

We have spent the last book and a half with Cnaiür. He was the only one that saw the mistake of following Xunnurit’s plan. Bakker has built him up to be this amazing general that will lead the Holy War. And his first time out, he is outsmarted. He has made a serious blunder in underestimating his enemies tactics. And this time, it is Kellhus that saw it. Kellhus the novice at war.

And now Cnaiür chooses a woman over his duty. A very human thing to do, and something that the Scylvendi would look down on him for. And the Inrithi. He’s in command and he’s fleeing.

Now we see Kellhus in action. The sword-dancer was built up to be a credible threat, a skilled man with that massive blade. He’s big and graceful. And Kellhus defeats him with a flick of the sword. It reminds me a lot of Berserk when Guts fights Griffith the first time.

As the Khirgwi charge, Kellhus has taken Cnaiür’s lessons to heart. He understands that once again he has to take a risk to achieve his plans, like with telling Saubon to punish the Shrial Knights. We know there is a limit to how many men he can fight with. We learned this during book 1 while the Nansur cavalry chased him and Cnaiür. And now he faces a charge of thousands of soldiers.

And then Martemus sees him as the Warrior-Prophet and the halos appear. I can find no instance in the book where people talk about him having haloed hands before this. Martemus hasn’t heard about it, and now he sees it. It’s hard to say mass illusion is causing this. Something from the Outside is definitely affecting Kellhus. He’s had one vision showing him the future. People are seeing halos about his hands. Looking forward to the Unholy Consult and finding out more about the metaphysics going on here. (Hopefully, it’s elucidated in there.)

Also note, Kellhus wears his sword on his back like it were a Chinese blade. I haven’t noticed any one in the Three Seas described wearing swords that way. It’s a nod to the fact that Kellhus is a D&D monk at his most basic. From catching arrows, to being good at hand-to-hand fighting, to wearing his sword in such a far east fashion amid the more Mediterranean cultures of the Three Seas.

Poor Ainoni. They take it hard in the chapter. They are presented as very effete civilization, but their soldiers are actually written as very good and skilled. They were just the nation that was in the wrong position. But good thing Chepheramunni made his escape. It’s so surprising. And such a great, subtle clue from Bakker, something readers will overlook until the reveal that Chepheramunni is a skin-spy. Probably that body the Ainoni found years ago without a face mentioned in book 1.

Quite the reversal has happened in the battle now. The Holy War is losing badly. With this type of story, with Bakker already undermining many tropes of Fantasy fiction, it’s easy to imagine them losing, that the story could have a great reversal in the fortunes, making Kellhus’s mission even harder.

Cnaiür has a moment of pity, something he doesn’t usually feel. But he’s consumed with panic for Serwë. He has to find her and can’t. And now there is this other woman that needs help. He can save her. So he does. This being Grimdark Fantasy, it doesn’t have a happy ending. No tearful reunion with the wife and her husband. They don’t even live.

Just more victims of the brutal reality of war.

Martemus should have stayed down as the Khirgwi attacked.

Cnaiür rides away from the camp-followers to lure the Kianene away from them. They say you only can truly know a man when he’s under pressure, how he reacts when things are bad, and Cnaiür… Cnaiür our violent barbarian makes a number of compassionate decisions in this frantic section. He could have charged through the camp-followers, using their presence to slow down the Kianene even for a few seconds.

We see Cnaiür’s death wish appear as he demands which one will murder him.

And then the woman repays his compassion with her own. She could have fled, but she calls for him to join her. It might not have made a difference. The Scarlet Spire might still have killed her. Bakker draws it out as Cnaiür sees her death. He feels such compassion for the woman, such love. He even sees the child as his own. He wants to save them.

Can’t.

Another failure for Cnaiür.

So we can see just how different Dûnyain children are. They are not allowed outside until they’re five. And when they do, they have to acclimatized to all the sensations their superior intellects are drinking in, giving them time to adjust. Kellhus had this same reaction when he left as an adult, bemused by nature for weeks. But, still, even a young Dûnyain boy is eager to learn fighting, just like any other group of boys who find sticks will start playing battle.

So we see even as a child, Kellhus had a keener intellect than others. He is at the pinnacle of the Dûnyain breeding program. Not surprising considering he has the Anasûrimbor bloodline. And there is good evidence that Nonman blood is found in their veins. That the only successful known mating between human and Nonman may have occurred in the family’s history.

Love the fact that the Dûnyain children are still children. They are having fun trying to get to Uän. They haven’t had all their emotions destroyed and beaten down, yet. Though the Dûnyain are working on it. No mention of girls, though. Whale Mothers…

We see a taste of Cnaiür’s skill when he encounters fake Kellhus. Skin spies are inhumanly fast, but he managed to stab this one. It tried to deflect, but not fully, knocking the knife up only a few inches but it might have saved the skin spy’s life (do they have hearts?).

In the Ainoni stand, we see the Fanim surprised that these men refuse to be defeated. They have conviction, holding them strong even as they are surrounded and on the verge of being overwhelmed. Bakker had Cnaiür talk about this last chapter, but now he is once again showing us about conviction and its power. This will be important for the end of the novel.

Conviction has changed the tide of battle. Kellhus held the standard, keeping up hope in the Inrithi. The Ainoni held out long enough for Conphas to come to their aid and that turned the tide of battle. He heard the horns sounding retreat and acted. We also have the Scarlet Schoolmen were deployed for the first time, foiling the Fanim plan to demoralize the Inrithi.

Such a powerful scene between Serwë and Cnaiür. We have Cnaiür’s character laid open, all the times he thought as he beat her that he was trying to save her from Kellhus, and the realization here that he failed. That she would rather die than be apart from Kellhus. That she would let him beat her and still love him. All he can do is save her life.

He goes to the sea. The trackless sea. It’s an unnatural steppe to him. But it’s the closest thing he has to home. It’s like his perception of himself. Something broken, something wrong, something that wants to be of the People, but isn’t. He often goes to the sea when in turmoil. He has good memories with his own father at the shore of an inland sea, too.

Conphas and Martemus’s scene is so subdued. Conphas is clearly drained by the battle, without much of his usual self-delusional thoughts and actions. It’s perfunctory the way he cuts down the banner. And then his chat with Martemus, so flat. He understands that Martemus is blinded by Kellhus’s “illumination.”

And then Bakker switches gears to Skauras, the crushing despair on him as he realizes his people are doomed unless the word of the Nansur Emperor can be trusted. It is their only hope now for the Nansur to betray the holy war and stop it short of Shimeh. You feel a great deal of pity for the man. He’s been this wily enemy, this cagey general for so long, the great obstacle in the path of the holy war. Then seeing him drinking his last cup of wine as he awaits his death is so humanizing.

And his reflection on how evil acts are the hallmark of power… So true. Keep that in mind, for those who want to change the world. “Power comes from the end of the gun,” said Lenin.

Whelming. A trance where voice can overwrite voice. Or a place where one soul can overwhelm another.

We get more reflection into Kellhus and his view on men, and Cnaiür. Plus how Moënghus messed up with Cnaiür. But, then, Moënghus hadn’t come upon his grand plan. He was just trying to survive. I doubt Moënghus even thought Kellhus would encounter Cnaiür or that Cnaiür would prove as troublesome when he summoned Kellhus.

Most people never ask why things are the way they are around them, just taking for granted. Most people in Bakker’s world are not philosophers. Bakker, a philosopher, clearly holds that the only way to be truly free is to be a philosopher, to question the why of things.

I still don’t know why picks is a racial slur for Ketyai by Norsirai. They think them unclean, but I am still missing the connection.

We saw Cnaiür’s need for surrogates a few chapters back when it talks about him raiding Fanim villages, killing and pillaging to satiate his true desire.

We see the power of obsession. The way it can drive humans to acts they wouldn’t think themselves capable of. Even knowing the outcome, it can be hard to fight an obsession.

So we get this scene, Cnaiür utterly mad, knowing his death has come, and ready for it. He wants it to be over. His prize is lost. She’s utterly Kellhus’s. He can’t keep pretending any longer that he doesn’t love Moënghus. He can’t find the tracks. He’s hopelessly lost. He’s broken, defeated.

And Kellhus feels pity. The second time he’s felt an emotion. Once for Serwë, now for Cnaiür. And that pity works on him. As we have seen in previous quotes, the intellect is always slave to our passion. We will always find reasons to justify our actions for our desires. Kellhus found his. “There were always other uses.” His passions are shriveled, barely there, but they do exist. There is a glimmer of humanity.

Which might be the only thing that stops Kellhus from siding with the Consult. But, he might still side with them. Oh, the Unholy Consult… Can’t wait for July!

We get a little more insight into skin-spies and how they function. They are creatures of the moment. They don’t care about the past. Its’ all about who they are pretending to be right now. A thing without a past is a thing without identity.

Gaörtha is the skin-spy who in book 1 is following Achamian around, the one he spotted trailing him in the marketplace in Momemn.

And then we see the worry in the Synthese that his spy might not be reliable. Kellhus had planted those seeds that the first Sarcellus had been close to betraying the Consult. Looks like they have found fertile ground.

More interesting, the Synthese recognizes the name Dûnyain. We don’t know much about them before they became modern Dûnyain. They were ascetics and looking to escape the world after it ended.

And now we get confirmation that the Consult wants the Cishaurim, in particular, destroyed. That this is why they support the Holy War and why their skin-spies in the imperial palace (Skeaös and Empresses Dowager) are against Xerius’s plans to betray the Holy War.

And then we end with the Consult’s true goal.

Damn, this was a long chapter. And so much happened at it. We learn so much about the Consult, we see Serwë finally standing up to Cnaiür after being conditioned by Kellhus, we see the turn of battle and the death of the Fanim who was the symbol of their enemy, Skauras. The Holy War stands triumphant while Kellhus has another emotion. This is one of the best chapters in the series. He weaves through so many different scenes, propels so many different plots forward, has so many character moments.

Great writing.

Click here for chapter sixteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 13
Shigek

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

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

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

A day with no noon,

A year with no fall,

Love is forever new,

Or love is not at all.

ANONYMOUS, “ODE TO THE LOSS OF LOSSES

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

She could only blink at the lamplight.

“The Scarlet Spires have destroyed it, Esmi.”

She turned, looking for Achamian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He laughed bitterly.

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

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

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

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

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

Then he was gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Achamian?

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

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

When she looked up, they were gone.

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

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

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

It’s safe now, my love. Come out.

It’s is safe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And he thought of Proyas.

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

He thought, So be it.

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

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

Cnaiür imagined cutting his pampered throat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. To war is to avenge.”

The proper answer. So why the throng of questions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you are wrong.”

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

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

So how could he contemplate…

All I have is war!

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue on to Chapter Fourteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 12
Iothiah

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

…the ends of the earth shall be wracked by the howls of the wicked, and the idols shall be cast down and shattered, stone against stone. And the demons of the idolaters shall hold open their mouths, like starving lepers, for no man living will answer their outrageous hunger.

16:4:22 THE WITNESS OF FANE

Though you lose you soul, you shall win the world

MANDATE CATECHISM

My Thoughts

We get Fanim theology to start us off. The “demons” are the hundred gods of the Tusk. Whenever you hear a Fanim speak about demons, that is who they mean. Now most of this is just the Fanim’s goal, to destroy them because they follow the Solitary God. But it is interesting that “outrageous hunger” is mentioned. We learn in the second series just what the gods hunger for and why it’s outrageous. The Hundred feed on human souls. It’s very possible that damnation exists because the Hundred require it to be fed. Even those that are saved may still be gnawed on by their patron god. I am eager for the Unholy Consult to shed more light on the matter of Damnation and the role the gods play in it.

The Catechism is to remind us both what the Mandate gain by condemning themselves to damnation. If the Mandate lose the Gnosis, they lose their power, their ability to defend the world. And then in this chapter, Achamian realizes that they don’t have to lose their souls because of Kellhus. It is that promise that will seduce even the sorcerers to follow Kellhus before this is all over.

Because when you know you are damned, it is a powerful motivator. Just ask the Consult.

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

Xinemus is not pleased to be cornered by Therishut, a Conriyan baron from the frontier with High Ainon. He finds the man to be untrustworthy, but Xinemus is too polite to be rude and ignore him. Xinemus is known to love books and Therishut seeks to flatter by telling him the famed Sareotic Library was taken intact in Iothiah by the Galeoth. This confuses Xinemus. He hard the Ainoni took it. But Therishut is adamant. Xinemus’s patience is tried as Therishut continues, saying a friend of his found a manuscript speaking on the Gnosis was found in the library, questioning what that is.

This brings Xinemus up short. He asks what interest Therishut’s friend has in the matter. Therishut reveals his friend is a caste-merchant who is cataloging the library since it is rumored Saubon will sell it off to raise money. Xinemus tells Therishut to heed his station and not consort with caster-merchants.

But rather than take offense at this, Therishut smiled wickedly. “Surely, Lord Marshal,” he said in a tone devoid of all deference, “you of all people.”

Xinemus blinked, astonished more by his own hypocrisy than by Baron Therishut’s insolence. A man who sups with sorcerer castigating another for currying favour with a merchant? Suddenly the hushed rumbled of the Conriyan camp seemed to buzz in his ears. With a fierceness that shocked him, the Marshal of Attrempus stared at Therishut, stared at him until, flustered, the fool mumbled insincere apologies and scurried away.

Xinemus heads to his pavilion, pondering his friend of many years, and the difference in their caste. He wonders how many others thought of this. And since his friendship with Achamian has been strained, her thinks Achamian heading to this library “studying blasphemy” would be a good thing.

Esmenet is not happy that Achamian is leaving, feeling that he’s abandoning her. He’s packing to leave to the library. They’re arguing over it, Esmenet not understanding why he’s leaving. He says it’s a library, but she doesn’t care. And he admits he needs time to think, to be alone.

The desperation in his voice and expression shocked her into momentary silence.

“About Kellhus,” she said. The skin beneath her scalp prickled.

“About Kellhus,” he replied, turn back to his mule. He cleared his throat, spit into the dust.

“He’s asked you, hasn’t he?” Her chest tightened. Could it be?

He doesn’t answer right away, then feigns ignorance, repeating her question back at her. She responds “To teach him the Gnosis.” And then Esmenet realizes why Achamian has been haunted since the Wathi Doll incident. It wasn’t his fight with Xinemus. Days ago, she had spoken with Xinemus, trying to patch things up, speaking of Achamian’s dreams and fears about Kellhus. She realizes that for Xinemus, things had broken in their friendship. So instead, she tried to cheer Achamian up with little things. “The hurts of men were brittle, volatile things.” Achamian always claimed men were simple, only needing women to “feed, fuck, and flatter them.” She knew that wasn’t true of Achamian. So she waited for their friendship to mend. It hadn’t occurred to her that Kellhus was the problem. After all, he was holy. And sorcery wasn’t. Achamian had once said Kellhus would be a god-sorcerer.

She asks how that’s possible, how can a prophet speak blasphemy. He faces her “his face blank with hope and horror” and says he asked him that. Kellhus denies being a prophet, offended and hurt by Achamian’s claim.

A sudden desperation welled in Esmenet’s throat. “You can’t teach him, Akka! You mustn’t teach him! Don’t you see? You’re the temptation. He must resist you and the promise of power you hold. He must deny you to become what he must become!”

“Is that what you think?” Achamian exclaimed. “That I’m King Shikol tempting Sejenus with worldly power like in The Tractate? Maybe he’s right, Esmi, did you ever consider that? Maybe he’s not a prophet!”

Esmenet stared at him, fearful, bewildered, but strangely exhilarated as well. How had she come so far? How could a whore from a Sumna slum stand here, so near the world’s heart?

How had her life become scripture? For a moment, she couldn’t believe…

Esmenet asks Achamian what he thinks. He doesn’t answer, only repeats her question. She stares at him, though losing her anger. He sighs and says the Three Seas are not ready for the Second Apocalypse. The Heron Spear is lost, there are more Sranc now than in Seswatha time, and most of the Chorae are lost. “Though the Gods have damned me, damned us, I can’t believe they would so abandon the world…” He thinks Kellhus is more than the Harbinger, that he’s their savior. But she objects to her prophet learning sorcery.

“Is blasphemy, I know. But ask yourself, Esmi, why are sorcerers blasphemers? And why is a prophet a prophet?”

Her eyes opened horror-wide. “Because one sings the God’s song,” she replied, “and the other speaks the God’s voice.”

“Exactly,” Achamian said. “Is it blasphemy for a prophet to utter sorcerer?”

Esmenet stood staring, dumbstruck.

For the God to sing His own song…

She begs him not to go, and he says he needs to think. She feels they think so well together. “He was wiser for her counsel.” She doesn’t understand why he’s abandoning. Then she remembers seeing him with Serwë, thinking he’s “found a younger whore.” She demands to know why he does this. Why he opens his up the labyrinth of his thoughts to her but refuses to guide her through it. He laughs at that. And she presses that he does hide because he’s weak, but he doesn’t have to be. She urges him to reflect on Kellhus’s teachings.

He glanced at her, his eyes poised between hurt and fury. “How about you? Let’s talk about your daughter… Remember her? How long has it been since you’ve—”

“That’s different! She came before you! Before you!”

Why would he say this? Why would he try to hurt?

My girl! My baby girl is dead!

“Such fine discriminations,” Achamian spat. “The past is never dead, Esmi.” He laughed bitterly. “It’s not even past.

“Then where is my daughter, Akka?”

For an instant he stood dumbstruck. She often baffled him like this.

Self-loathing fills her, driving her to cry. And then she grows angry, blaming Achamian for it. He apologizes for his words. And then says that she doesn’t understand what the Gnosis is to the Mandate. He would forfeit more than his life if he shared it. She begs him to teach her, to make her understand. To do this together. But he can’t tell her because he knows what she’ll say. But she says he doesn’t. He keeps packing. He looks so poor and lonely, and she thinks of Sarcellus handsome and perfect, making her feel guilty. Achamian continues that he’s not leaving her. He could never do that.

“I see but one sleeping mat,” she said.

He tried to smile, then turned, leading Daybreak away at an awkward gait. She watched him, her innards churning as though she had dangled over unseen heights. He followed the path eastward, passing a row of weather-beaten round tents. He seemed so small so quickly. It was so strange, the way bright sun could make distant figures dark…

“Akka!” she cried out, not caring who heard. “Akka!”

I love you.

The figure with the mule stopped, distant and for a moment, unrecognizable.

He waved.

Then he disappeared beneath a strand of black willows.

Achamian reflects on why intelligent people are less happy. They are better at arguing away at truth than accepting them. It’s why he’s fleeing both Kellhus and Esmenet. As he walks along the Sempis, he reflects. It hurt Achamian that his friend is essentially banishing him from the fire with this talk of the library, even if it’s temporary. He tries to swallow it, remembering the Tusk saying “There is no friend more difficult than a sinner.” Achamian, unlike other sorcerers, rarely thought about damnation.

He reflects on his training, where he would embrace any blasphemy because he was damned, particularly mocking the Tractates with his friend Sancla (who died three years later). They would quote passages, making fun of them. They read a passage about doing good deeds. If you do good deeds in exchange for something, they’re not good deeds. You have to give without expecting to receive anything back. You can’t be selfish. And if you do, you get salvation. Which Sancla rightly points out is a reward. “Essentially Sejenus is saying, ‘Give without expectation of reward, and you expect a huge reward!’” He then goes on further, the best thing is to never give then you’ll never be selfish. This means that the Mandate, who have condemned themselves to damnation to save the world, are the only true selfless ones.

Everything had changed because of Kellhus. Achamian thinks about his damnation a lot. He had doubts before, tormenting himself because he believed that the many contradictions in scripture proved the prophets were just men. He could go round and round on different ideas without an answer.

But then of course the question could never be answered. If genuine doubt was in fact the condition of conditions, then only those ignorant of the answer could be redeemed. To ponder the question of his damnation, it had always seemed, was itself a kind of damnation.

So he didn’t think of it.

But now… Now there could be an answer. Every day he walked with its possibility, talked…

Prince Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

He didn’t think Kellhus could actually tell him the answer if he ever had the courage to ask. He didn’t think Kellhus “embodied or exemplified the answer.” Achamian knew his damnation depended on “what he himself was willing to sacrifice.” Only his actions would answer the question. It both horrified him and filled him with joy. Because he knew the possibility of salvation was real for him. The Mandate catechism said he would lose his soul, but he didn’t have to. He realizes how his life had lacked hope before. “Esmenet had taught him how to love. And Kellhus, Anasûrimbor Kellhus, had taught him how to hope.” And he would hold them both tightly.

Last night, Kellhus had come to Achamian and asked for the Gnosis. Achamian balked at it. It was unthinkable to each someone outside his school. He wasn’t sure he could teach it, that the Seswatha controlling his sleeping soul would let him. He wonders if the Seswatha in him knows what is going on. Never in his school’s history had a sorcerer of rank betrayed the Gnosis. It was what allowed them to survive, kept them from being a minor school. His brothers would fight to extinction to prevent it and he would be cursed for sharing it.

But what was this other than greed or jealousy? The Second Apocalypse was imminent. Hadn’t the time come to arm all the Three Seas? Hadn’t Seswatha himself bid them share their arsenal before the shadow fell?

He had…

And wouldn’t this make Achamian the most faithful of all Mandate Schoolmen?

Achamian knows Kellhus is special. In months, the man had learned a lifetime of knowledge. He spoke more truths than Ajencis and preached better than Sejenus. He drafted new logics. And in his hands, the Gnosis would be even more powerful.

Glimpses of Kellhus, striding as a god across fields of war, laying low host of Sranc, striking dragons from the sky, closing with the resurrected No-God, with dread Mog-Pharau…

He’s our savior! I know it!

But what if Esmenet were right? What if Achamian were merely the test? Like old, evil Shikol in The Tractate, offering Inri Sejenus his thighbone scepter, his army, his harem, his everything save his crown, to stop preaching…

Kellhus would be a Shaman, a sorcerer and prophet, if Achamian surrenders the Gnosis. And now he feels it is madness to even do it. Two thousand years none of his brethren had. “Who was he to forsake such tradition?” He watches young boys playing, so innocent and wonders when that would end or if they would meet Kellhus. Then he spots a corpse nailed to a tree above the boys. He flinches, debating cutting it down. Remorse hits him and he thinks of Esmenet, wishing her to be safe. Achamian continues on and “wrestled with impossibilities.”

The past was dead. The future, as black as a waiting grave.

Achamian wiped his tears on his shoulder. Something unimaginable was about to happen, something historians, philosophers, and theologians would a argue for thousands of years—if years or anything else survived. And the acts of Drusas Achamian would loom so very large.

He would simply give. Without expectation.

His School. His calling. His life…

The Gnosis would be his sacrifice.

Achamian reaches Iothiah and finds lots of Ainoni around. He even senses Scarlet Spire sorcery in the distance. But then he meets Galeoth horsemen, to his relief, and they give him directions to the Sareotic Library and said it was in their people’s hands. By noon, he is at the library, nervous. He fears that the same rumors that have brought him have brought the Scarlet Spire. He fears bumping into them during his search.

The possibility, Achamian reflects, of Gnosis scrolls being in here has merit. The Library was ancient, and during the Ceneian Empire all books brought into Iothiah had to be surrendered to the library so a copy could be made. And, since the Library was run by priests and then later controlled by the Fanim, no sorcerers had been allowed in before. Other scrolls had been found over the years, scrolls the Mandate jealously seized. Achamian questions searching here because Kellhus has changed everything.

He speaks to the guards and learns no one has entered, very few have even cared except for a “few thieving merchants.” But Achamian says he is a chronicler for Proyas and they let him in. He leaves his mule outside, gathers his belongings, and heads in. As he enters, ignoring a Galeoth racial slur, he feels excited. He’s eager to discovered more than just the scrolls but other works of lost antiquity.

Achamian searches through the “warren of pitch-black hallways that smelled of dust and the ghost of rotting books.” It saddens him. The Fanim had spared the library but not maintained it. The vast majority ruined. He does find new books, including a lost Dialogue of Ajencis, as he searches. He grows tired after awhile, taking a break to eat, thinking of Esmenet and missing her.

He did his best not to think of Kellhus.

He replaced his sputtering candle and decided to read. Alone with books, yet again. Suddenly he smiled. Again? No, at last…

A book was never “read.” Here, as elsewhere, language betrayed the true nature of the activity. To say that a book was read was to make the same mistake as the gambler who crowed about winning as though he’d never taken it by force of hand or resolve. To toss the number-sticks was to seize a moment of helpless, nothing more. But to open a book was by far the most profound gamble. To open a book was not only to seize a moment of helplessness, not only to relinquish a jealous handful of heartbeats to the unpredictable mark of another man’s quill, it was to allow oneself to be written. For what was a book if not a long consecutive surrender to the movements of another’s soul.

Achamian could think of no abandonment of self more profound.

He read, and was moved to chuckle by ironies a thousand years dead, and to reflect pensively on claims and hopes that had far outlived the age of their import.

He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.

Achamian dreams of the dragon Skuthula dueling Seswatha. The fires are just washing over his wards when suddenly the dream becomes the “blackness of open eyes.” He comes awake, struggling to remember where he is for a moment. And then he realizes what has woken him up—his Wards of Exposure. He knows the Scarlet Spires has come from him.

He launches into action, feeling them closing in from various directions. He wonders why. For the Gnosis? He thinks it is folly of them to abduct him during the middle of the Holy War. Then he thinks of skin-spies and realizes this is a trap. He was lured here. “This was actually happening!” He hides his satchel beneath scrolls then retreats into his alcove and sets his words “Luminescence sheeted the air before him, like the glare of sunlight across mist.”

Dark muttering from somewhere amid the teetering queues—skulking, insinuating words, like vermin gnawing on the walls of the world.

Then fierce light, transforming, for a heartbeat, the shelves before into a dawn horizon… Explosion. A geyser of ash and fire.

The attack hits him. He feels the heat, but his wards hold. Eleäzaras commands him to yield. Achamian calls him a fool, asking how many times the Scarlet Spire have tried to steal the Gnosis. Eleäzaras repeats he is doomed and should surrender. Achamian pleads for him not to do this, thinking of the stakes for the world.

“It’s already—”

But Achamian had whispered secrets to his first attacker. Five lines glittered along the gorge of blasted shelves, through smoke and wafting pages. Impact. The air cracked. His unseen foe cried out in astonishment—they always did at the first touch of the Gnosis. Achamian muttered more ancient words of power, more Cants. The Bisecting Planes of Mrseor, to continuously stress an opponent’s Wards. The Odaini Concussion Cants, to stun him, break his concentration. Then the Cirroi Loom…

Dazzling geometries lept through the smoke, lines and parabolas of razor light, punching through wood and papyrus, shearing through stone. The Scarlet Schoolmen screamed, tried to run. Achamian boiled him in his skin.

The Scarlet Spire hasten to coordinate their own attacks into a Concert. Achamian asks Eleäzaras how many more he’s willing to lose trying to capture him. Achamian is attacked. His wards groan as fire and thunder assault him.

He struck back with Inferences and Abstraction. He was a Mandate Schoolman, A Gnostic Sorcerer-of-the-Rank, a War-Cant Master. He was as a mask held before the sun. And his voice slapped the distances into chair and ruin.

The knowledge of the library is destroyed as Achamian fights with the Scarlet Spire. There are seven of them. Storms fire lightning bolts and dragon heads breath fire at him. He fights the Great Analogies “shining and ponderous” with Abstractions. He kills another Scarlet Spire, crumbling his “ghostly ramparts.”

As Achamian sings to strengthen his wards, the floor beneath him collapses from the “cataracts of hellfire.” He tries to keep fighting, but the jarring impact sends him reeling. They are above him now “Hanging as though from wires”, hammering his wards. “Sun after blinding sun set upon him.”

On his knees, burned, bleeding form the mouth and eyes, encircled by heaped stone and text, Achamian snarled Ward after Ward, but they cracked and shattered, were pinched away like rotten linen. The very firmament, it seemed, echoed with the implacable chorus of the Scarlet Spires. Like angry smiths they punished the anvil.

And through the madness, Drusas Achamian glimpsed the setting sun, impossibly indifferent, framed by clouds piled rose and orange…

It was, he thought, a good song.

Forgive me, Kellhus.

My Thoughts

Therishut lands border on High Ainon. This is a very subtle red flag that I am sure most readers missed on the first read through. He’s chumming the waters for the Scarlet Spires to bait and trap Achamian. And then we get another red flag with Xinemus believing Ainon captured Iothiah. And now a lost manuscript on Gnosis is found. It’s quite the trap the Scarlet Spire has baited.

Xinemus has pushed down his convictions long enough, ignoring the “sin” of his friend for as long as he could. It was easier when Achamian didn’t flaunt it, and then we had the Wathi Doll. And now…things have changed. And here is the perfect way to get rid of him, even for only a few days. It’s natural. We all have our prejudices in some form, finding certain activities or behaviors distasteful, but also not wanting to ruin friendships, so we ignore them. But they can build, fester, cause us to distance ourselves from our friends.

And here is the end of the honeymoon period between Achamian and Esmenet. The world is separating them just like she feared. He’s leaving her behind. Of course she fears abandonment. She can’t understand why she couldn’t go with him. After all, just because she’s illiterate doesn’t mean she can’t learn anything from a library.

And then Esmenet realizes why. She knows Achamian well.

Esmenet has completely bought into Kellhus’s lies. He’s ensnared her well. It’s sad watching Kellhus manipulate the lives of these characters with such cold calculation. They think he’s their friend, their prophet even, but he’s none of those things.

So why are sorcerers automatically condemned? I really can’t tell you. Maybe the Hundred don’t like sorcerery or the power it represents. Or maybe damnation is based off the belief of all the humans living, shaped by the Hundred through prophets (and those are real, we’ll meet people in the next series definitely under the influence of the Hundred able to perform miracles). Maybe it’s because of the Tusk. It says sorcerers are blasphemers. And we know that before the Tusk there were prophets who were sorcerers called Shamans. And there are good indication that the Tusk was written by the Inchoroi to get the humans to cross the mountains into Eärwa and destroy the Nonmen. Maybe they added that sorcery is blasphemous to weaken humans when it came time to destroy them. Hopefully, Bakker will answer these questions. I have a feeling he will. His metaphysics are well thought out.

We have our first real hint that Esmenet’s daughter is still alive. That she didn’t die of famine, that’s just the delusion guilt has driven Esmenet to embrace. Achamian clearly knows the truth and usually tiptoes around it.

Achamian disappears under black willows. He heads into darkness. So much will have changed for the both of them when he reemerges.

Achamian’s own doubts are sabotaging his relationship with Esmenet. He lied to her. If he truly wanted to think only on Kellhus, he would take her with him. But he needs more than that. His slip up with Serwë is still weighing on him. Especially with Kellhus twisting that dagger to prod him to surrender the Gnosis.

Achamian and Sancla’s talk about doing good deeds to be saved from damnation is a selfish act that would negate the good deed. Humans are rarely truly altruistic. We all do nice things, yes, but we do them because we get some reward from them, something we value. We help a friend out because we want to maintain the friendship. We give to our significant others because it gives us pleasure to see them happy. We sacrifice for our children because we take pride in seeing them grow up and succeed. And, thus, any theology that promises you salvation in exchange for doing good has major problems.

Doubt is a horrible, pernicious thing sometimes. It can gnaw away at you. But it also makes you question things, and that’s important to. Faith needs doubt to temper it, to keep it from becoming zealotry. But there are limits to how good it is. And now poor Achamian is suffering from it worse than usual.

As the philosopher David Hume said, desire rules our reason, so our reason is slave to our desires. We can justify anything, making excuses for what we do what we want. Achamian has found a reason to betray his school by being an even better Mandate. It’s not a betrayal now, but an expectation. Something Seswatha would want him to do. And thus, guilt has been assuaged. His reason has been enslaved to his desire and provided him justification to teach Kellhus.

And then doubt hits Achamian again. Just when his faith in Kellhus is swaying, doubt gnaws at him, forcing him to ask questions, to temper and answer them.

Interesting how Achamian equates the innocence of the two boys holding hands, wondering how long before they would be pressured to see that as weakness as they grow up, then equating Kellhus to guarding such innocence. To preserving it.

And then thinking about Esmenet dying is the final thing that compels Achamian to surrender the Gnosis. Kellhus should not let him go on this journey. But Kellhus knew Achamian needed to leave. And our Dûnyain can’t see all outcomes. He has no idea to suspect a Scarlet Spire trap. The Scarlet Spire hasn’t even entered into any of Kellhus’s true plans.

Tension builds as Kellhus enters the library. You can just feel it building. The trap is closing. This section of the story is one of my favorite in the entire series.

I’m trying to remember what ever happened to Daybreak the mule. I assume someone claimed him after Achamian’s capture.

Achamian wants to cackle when he enters. He is someone that values knowledge, and there is so much here. What happens next is such a tragedy on so many levels. Makes me think of ISIS over in the Middle East blowing up historical sites.

Sometimes Bakker, like all authors, inserts his own beliefs into his writing. And why not, it’s his. Achamian’s musing on literature and not just the gamble you take on it being good but the fact you are sinking into the works, letting someone else’s ideas take root in you, is something profound. Something Bakker clearly enjoys. Not surprising, I’ve yet to meet an author that didn’t love to read.

He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.” This line struck me as something so profound and so mundane at the same time. Because when he awakes, everything will change for Achamian. His life will never be the same. He will lose that love and hope he vowed to hold onto earlier in the chapter. And not because he let it go, because it was taken from him.

Achamian launches into action. For all his self-doubt and constant questioning, when his Wards of Exposure trip, he prepares himself for battle. We have heard Achamian think in his head that he could, basically, kick everyone’s ass but was holding back. We see this is no idle threat. For the first time in the series, Bakker shows us what his sorcerery really is. We’ve gotten glimpses before. No longer.

Bakker’s sorcery is as poetic and beautiful as it is violent and destructive.

We see now the difference between sorcerers. Achamian’s attacks are direct. He doesn’t have to create “analogous” that then perform spells. He doesn’t have to create a small storm to fire lightning or make a dragon’s head to breath fire. He just reaches into the mathematics of the universe, harnesses it, and attacks them directly. He uses the Abstract idea of fire or lightning. Or light. His wards are ethereal instead of actual walls like the Scarlet Spire. They sent eight to capture him, and he kills one before they are even able to fight back properly. He holds them off, killing more. And he only looses because the floor collapses beneath him, failing from the heat and attack of the Scarlet Spire.

And Bakker really makes you think Achamian dies here. And his last thoughts aren’t of Esmenet, but of Kellhus. He had vowed to sacrifice the Gnosis to give Kellhus what he needs to save the world, and the Scarlet Spire have destroyed that possibility. They have doomed the world in Achamian’s mind. “The stakes” he thought about they first attack him. They don’t understand the stakes. They don’t understand what their meddling will cause.

All I can say, Achamian, you put up one helluva a fight. For a book and a half, he thought himself weak. But he was strong here. As Kellhus predicted, he needed shaping. And the Scarlet Spire are the smiths wielding that hammer.

If you want to keep reading, click here for Chapter Thirteen

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 7
Mengedda

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

Sleep, when deep enough, is indistinguishable from vigilance.

SORAINAS, THE BOOK OF CIRCLES AND SPIRALS

My Thoughts

Reading Bakker makes me think more than any other books I’ve read in years. And doing this reread only makes me work harder. Why did Bakker include this quote at the start of this chapter? We see the title is all about curving thoughts. Nothing straightforward, nothing linear. Sleep and vigilance would be two opposite ends of a line, but if everything moved in circles, eventually you would slip from one side to the other. We have Kellhus pondering if cause and effect works like this. That the future could bend and branch and spiral back to the beginning. That though cause and effect should also be on opposite sides of a line, they can instead circle each other if someone bends the line.

Early Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, near the Plains of Mengedda

The Synthese flew over the Battleplain in the wake of the Holy War’s victory over the Fanim. Dawn approaches as it flies across corpse-strewn fields. As the sun rises, it feels a nostalgic pull towards home out across the “black void.” It was hard not feeling nostalgic after being back in “the place where it had almost happened, where Men and Nonmen had almost flickered out forever.” It feels that it will happen soon.

It searches the dead of the battlefield, studying the patterns their corpses left, and sees symbols prized by his species “back when they could actually be called such.” The vermin called them Inchoroi. Finally, it finds the scent it was searching for an “otherworldly fetor” encoded in the skin-spies in case they died.

So Sarcellus was dead. Unfortunate.

At least the Holy War had prevailed—over the Cishaurim, no less!

Golgotterath would approve.

Smiling, or perhaps scowling, with tiny human lips, the Old Name swooped down to join the vultures in their ancient celebration.

Achamian dreams of the No-God’s defeat. He, as Seswatha, stares at the horizon boiling with Sranc. They gouge themselves blind as the whirlwind of the No-God roars through them. Like a tornado, it picks them up as debris. The Great King of Kyraneas clutches Seswatha, but his words are lost as a hundred thousand Sranc all speak, their throats “flaring like bright-burning coals packed into his skull.”

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

See? What could he…

I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE

The great King turned from him [Seswatha], reached for the Heron Spear.

TELL ME

Secrets… Secrets! Not even the No-God could build walls against what was forgotten! Seswatha glimpsed the unholy Carapace shining in the whirlwind’s heart, a nimil sarcophagus sheathed in choric script, hanging…

WHAT AM—

Achamian woke with a howl, his hands cramped into claws before him, shaking.

Esmenet is beside him, trying to sooth him. She holds him as he shakes, telling him that she’s been thinking of Kellhus. He asks if she dreamed him, trying to tease her. But as he tries, the No-God’s words intrude on his thoughts like “a shrieking chorus, sharp and brief.” He apologizes, asks what she said. She tries to talk about how Kellhus speaks, but the memory of the No-God’s voice intrudes again. He’s distracted as she talks about Kellhus and his words to Saubon and realizes that Kellhus words are either “near or far.” He asks what she meant, his bladder full.

Esmenet laughed. “I’m not sure… Remember how I told you how he asked me what it was like to be a harlot—you know, to lie with strange men? When he talks that way, he seems near, uncomfortably near, until you realize how utterly honest and unassuming he is… At the time, I thought he was just another rutting dog—”

WHAT AM I?

The point, Esmi…”

There was an annoyed pause. “Other times, he seems breathtakingly far when he talks, like he stands on some remote mountain and can see everything, or almost everything…” She paused again, and from the length of it, Achamian knew he had bruised her feelings. He could feel her shrug. “The rest of us just talk in the middle somewhere, while he… And now this, seeing what happened yesterday before it happened. With each day—”

I CANNOT SEE

“—he seems to talk a little nearer and a little farther. It makes me—Akka? You’re trembling! Shaking!”

Achamian says he can’t stay here in this place. She hugs and tells him that the army will move away from the dead and the “chance of vapours.” Achamian struggles to hold onto his wits and asks where the army will move. She says something about ruins. He says that’s worse. He has to leave. He’s feeling echoes of the No-God’s death here. The ruins would be the city of Mengedda, where it actually happened. He thinks this place recognizes himself or Seswatha in him. He says they need to leave and wait in the hills for the others.

Five days after the battle, Kellhus muses on a Nilnameshi saying Achamian had told him: “With the accumulation of power comes mystery.” Achamian explained it meant the paradox of power. “The more security one exacted from the world, the more insecure it became.” Kellhus had dismissed it as a “vacant generalization.” Now he was having second thoughts.

The Holy War is whole again. This afternoon, the Nansur and Ainoni host had filed across the plains to join the others camped at the ruins of Mengedda. The first Council of the Great and Lesser Names since Momemn has been called and Kellhus chose to sit with the soldiers watching instead of with the Names.

He studies the soldiers, noticing the startling contrast between their faces. Some are wounded. Others had no injuries. Some are celebratory, and some are suffering from PTSD. “Victory on the Battleplain, it seemed, had carried its own uncanny toll.” People have been having terrible nightmares while camping here, claiming they were fighting in ancient wars and even fighting Sranc and dragons. At the ruins, the nightmares intensified. “It was as though the ground had hoarded the final moments of the doomed, and counted and recounted them each night on the ledger of the living.” Some, like Achamian, fled, others tried to stop sleeping, and one man was found dead. Then relics of past battles appeared “as though slowly vomited from the earth.” People insisted they were fresh, found in spots they had trod over and were no signs of before.

Kellhus had dreamed nothing. But he had seen the relics. Gotian explained to him about how the Battleplain was cursed after imbibing so much death over the millennia. But Gotian believes faith will protect them. Proyas and Gothyelk also suffer no dreams and wanted to stay. Saubon, despite having the nightmares, also wanted to stay for his own motivations.

Somehow, the very ground of battle had become their foe. Such contests, Xinemus had remarked one night about their fire, belonged to philosophers and priests, not warriors and harlots.

Such contest, Kellhus had thought, simply should not be…

Kellhus is beset with “questions, quandaries, and enigmas” once he learned how desperate the battle was and how kind fate had been to Saubon because he had punished the Shrial Knights. That charge saved the Norsirai host from destruction. And it had happened just as Kellhus had predicted. But he hadn’t made a prediction. He had said what was need to “maximize the probability” of Sarcellus dying.

It simply had to be coincidence. At least this was what he’d told himself—at first. Fate was but one more world-born subterfuge, another lie men used to give meaning to their abject helplessness. That was why they thought the future a Whore, something who favored no man over another. Something heartbreakingly indifferent.

What came before determined what came after… This was the basis of the Probability Trance. This was the principle that made mastering circumstance, be it with word or sword, possible. This was what made him Dûnyain.

One of the Conditioned.

But the fact the earth spat out bones makes Kellhus question cause and effect. The ground appeared to answer the “tribulation of men.” And if the earth wasn’t indifferent, what about the future? Kellhus questions if an effect could determine the cause. Could the future violate cause and effect? Could he be the harbinger?

Is this why you’ve summoned me, Father? To save these children?

Kellhus pushes his thoughts on “primary questions” aside. He had more immediate problems to deal with. Such questions will have to wait until he sees his father. He wonders why Moënghus hasn’t contacted him. He concentrates on the council and though he doesn’t sit with them, he knows he has a position among them by the fact they all keep glancing at him. He could read all their faces, giving brief insight into various persons sitting at the council. Of note is General Martemus, Conphas’s confidant and second-in-command, whom has heard of Kellhus but has too many pressing concerns to care about a prophet.

A steady fixed look from among Gotian’s diminished retinue…

Sarcellus.

One of what seemed a growing number of inscrutable faces. Skin-spies, Achamian had called them.

Why did he stare? Because of the rumors, like the others? Because of the horrific toll his words had exacted on the Shrial Knights? Gotian, Kellhus knew, struggled not to hate him…

Or did he know that Kellhus could see him and tried to kill him?

Kellhus matches Sarcellus’s gaze. Kellhus has grown better at understanding their physiognomy, seeing their faces made of fingers. He had found eleven so far, and expected there to be more. He nods to Sarcellus who keeps watching. Kellhus is certain the Consult suspects him.

Then Earl Athjeari arrives, summoning Kellhus to see Prince Saubon after the meeting. Kellhus knows that Saubon’s growing more anguished and fearful. He had avoided Kellhus for six nights. Something had happened during the fight that disturbed him. Kellhus sees an opportunity.

The council opens with a religious ritual and sermon from Gotian, preaching on the Inrithi’s duty to follow Inri Sejenus to Shimeh. His sermon brings triumphant cheers from the Men of the Tusk. Kellhus is silent, studying Sarcellus, noticing small discrepancies in his features. The Men of the Tusk begin singing a hymn.

Words uttered through a thousand human throats. The air thrummed with an impossible resonance. The ground itself spoke, or so it seemed… But Kellhus saw only Sarcellus—saw only differences. His stance, his height and build, even the lustre of his black hair. All imperceptibly different.

A replacement.

The original copy had been killed, Kellhus realized, just as he’d hoped. The position of Sarcellus, however, had not. His death had gone unwitnessed, and they’d simply replaced him.

Strange that a man could be a position.

After the rite, the Gilgallic Priests appear to declare the Battle-Celebrant, “the man whom dread War had chosen as his vessel.” It is a matter of a great deal of betting to predict who would get it as though “it were a lottery rather than a divine determination.” But before Cumar, High Cultist Priest of Gilgaöl, Prince Skaiyelt demands they must discuss leaving. To flee. An outrage burst out but is quieted with Skaiyelt uncovers an ancient skull. Kellhus wonders how this could be possible. He pushes that aside, he has to stay focused on “practical mysteries.” A debate is held, some look to Kellhus, then Proyas announce the Holy War would leave Mengedda tomorrow morning. The soldiers are relieved.

Then Saubon is declared the Battle-Celebrant, though he protests saying it should go to Gotian for leading the charge. Silence falls as Saubon is crowned with a circlet of thorns and olive sprigs. People cheer and Saubon is stunned, then looks at Kellhus while crying.

Why? his anguished look said. I don’t deserve this…

Kellhus smiled sadly, and bowed to the precise degree jnan demanded from all men in the presence of a Battle-Celebrant. He’d more than mastered their brute customs by now; he’d learned the subtle flourishes that transformed the seemly into the august. He knew their every cue.

The roaring redoubled. They’d all witnessed their exchanged look; they’d all heard the story of Saubon’s pilgrimage to Kellhus at the ruined shrine.

It happens, Father. It happens.

Conphas calls everyone a fool for praising Saubon since his decision to march almost doomed the Holy War. He reminds everyone that those who die here never leave. Saubon is dumbstruck. And then Cnaiür walks out calling Conphas craven for seeing folly everywhere, equating prudence with cowardice. Kellhus is surprised that Cnaiür had seen the danger of Conphas’s words. A discredited Saubon would be useless. Conphas’s laugh~s at being called a coward.

Since defeating the People,” the Scylvendi continued, “much glory has been heaped upon your name. Because of this, you begrudge others that same glory. The valour and wisdom of Coithus Saubon have defeated Skauras—no mean thing, if what you said at your Emperor’s knee was to be believed. But since this glory is not yours, you think it false. You call it foolishness, blind lu—”

It was blind luck!” Conphas cried. “The Gods favour the drunk and the soft-of-head… That’s the only lesson we’ve learned.”

Cnaiür uses his answer to praise the Holy War for learning how to fight the Fanim and the tactics that work well against them, like charges by Inrithi knights, or that their footman can withstand Fanim charges. This brings cheers from the crowds. Conphas stands stunned, realizing he was so easily defeated by the barbarian. Kellhus recounts the problems with dominating Conphas—the man’s pride, his “pathological” disregard of other peoples opinions, and he believed Kellhus connected to the Cishaurim. Kellhus is aware that Conphas plans disaster for the Holy War.

Proyas wants the Holy War to send riders to seize the fields around the city of Hinnereth to keep the Fanim could harvest them and bring them into the field. Conphas argues that the Imperial Fleet can keep the Holy War provisioned. The other Great names decide not to rely on the Empire and agree to seize the grains. Then it turns to the Ainoni and their slow marches. But Proyas supports the Ainoni and says the Holy War needs to travel as separate contingents. But not even Cnaiür’s support stopped the fighting. The arguments go on while the soldiers get more and more drunk on looted wines. Kellhus continues his study of Sarcellus. And Kellhus realizes the Consult know he can see their skin-spies.

I must move more quickly, Father.

The Nilnameshi had it wrong. Mysteries could be killed, if one possessed the power.

Conphas lounges in his pavilion plotting ways to kill Cnaiür with Martemus, how said little. Conphas knows his general secretly admires Cnaiür, but it doesn’t bother Conphas. He knows he has Martemus’s loyalty.

And so, feeling magnanimous, he decided to open a little door and allow Martemus—easily the most competent and trustworthy of his generals—into some rather large halls. In the coming months, he would need confidants. All Emperors needed confidants.

But of course, prudence demanded certain assurances. Though Martemus was loyal by nature, loyalties were, as the Ainoni were fond of saying, like wives. One must always know where they lie—and without absolute certainty.

Conphas asks Martemus if he ever stared at “the Concubine,” the nickname for the Over-Standard. so named because it has to say in the Exalt-General’s quarters. Conphas liked that, and had even ejaculated on it, which he found to be delicious defiling the sacred. Martemus answers yes, he stares at it often. Then Conphas asks if he’s seen the tusk. Another yes, which surprise Conphas. It was back when Martemus was a boy. Conphas asks what he thought. Martemus thinks awe. It was a long time ago. Conphas asks Martemus if had to choose between dying for the Concubine or the Tusk, which would he pick? He doesn’t hesitate: the concubine.

And why’s that?”

Again the General shrugged. “Habit.”

Conphas fairly howled. Now that was funny. Habit. What more assurance could a man desire?

Dear man! Precious man!

Conphas asks Martemus’s opinion of Kellhus. “Intelligent, well spoken, and utterly impoverished.” Conphas hesitates in telling his plans, but remembers that Martemus cares about impressing him. Which made his opinion priceless. He confides that Skeaös was a Cishaurim spy and that he is connected to Kellhus. Martemus is shocked and Conphas further explains about his skin-spy nature, believing it is caused by Cishaurim sorcery. Martemus wants to know what Conphas has learned of Kellhus’s movements, associations, etc. Conphas tells what he knows, which isn’t much, though finds it disturbing that he’s with Achamian, who was also present at Skeaös’s unveiling.

Martemus doesn’t like a man of such growing power with a connection to the Cishaurim in the Holy War. Conphas thinks his purpose is to destroy the Holy War and that Saubon’s march was an attempt that failed. He plays the prophet to lead the holy war to its doom. But Martemus has heard Kellhus denies being a prophet.

Conphas laughed. “Is there any better way to posture as a prophet? People don’t like the smell of presumption, Martemus. Even the pig castes have noses as keen as wolves when it comes to those who claim to be more. Me,on the other hand, I quite like the savoury stink of gall. I find it honest.”

Martemus asks why Conphas is telling him all this. Conphas believes that Prince Kellhus collects followers, like Saubon, and expects Martemus to be a juicy plum. Martemus is to play disciple. The general asks why not just kill him. Conphas is disappointed in Martemus, who while intelligent isn’t cunning. He is reminded of his time as a hostage in Skauras’s court and remarks that he feels so young.

My Thoughts

The Synthese feels nostalgic for its home planet, out there in the void. Achamian talked to Esmenet about this a few chapters ago, explaining space and stars to her, and how the Inchoroi came from space and crashed here. Now the Synthese, one of the last surviving Inchoroi, wishes to go home.

Soon enough.” Here is confirmation that the no-god’s birth must be approaching. That the Synthese believes the Second apocalypse is coming soon (in the scale of a being millennia old, it’s not happening next week). It’s not a coincidence that an Anasûrimbor has returned.

Inchoroi minds also have pareidolia, the phenomenon that allow us humans to see patterns in chaos, like shapes in clouds. This is something the Nonmen appear to lack. They have difficulty with abstract images as we learn in the sequel series when we delve into Nonmen a lot more.

We also get our first confirmation that the Consult wants the Holy War to defeat the Fanim. And not just the Fanim, but the Cishaurim. We had inferred this from the behavior of the skin-spy posing as Skeaös, Emperor Xerius’s court. Now we have confirmation. The Consult wants the Cishaurim destroyed for a very important reason.

The image of the Sranc clawing out their eyes as the No-God asks what they see. This question “What do you see?” is at the heart of the No-God’s purpose. I believe the No-God is asking a woman with the Judging Eye what she sees. He can’t see what she can. We won’t learn anything about the Judging Eye in this series, but it allows certain people to see if a person is damned. I think that’s what is going on. The No-God’s purpose is to end the cycle of souls and shut out the Outside and the Cycle of Damnation. So it has to know what the woman with the Judging Eye sees. Bakker has this series plotted out well. The Unholy Consult cannot come out fast enough.

WHAT AM I? Am I damned?

And this is what the Consult seeks to do. Why the Inchoroi came to his world. To escape damnation. If you knew you were doomed to suffer an eternity of torment and there was nothing you could do to change it save committing genocide, would you have the courage to face that fate instead of making the choice the Consult has?

Achamian wakes up, hands twisted into claws. What was he about to do? Claw out his own eyes?

Esmenet’s insight is on display here as she talks about Kellhus. She recognizes how he use language, though she doesn’t realize how manipulative it is switching from the remote to the intimate.

We see in Achamian how time echoes in the topoi of the Battleplain. It’s like a singularity, warping reality around it, pulling things towards the center. Souls who die here are said not to escape. And even those who leave might never truly get away (anyone who’s read The Great Ordeal will know what I speak of). Past and present are bleeding together for Achamian. Poor guy.

The nightmares are an interesting way for Bakker to both show you the effect of time warping the topoi has on reality here but also to showcase the history of the place. We get a glimpse of the various struggles here. Note the stirrup-less Scylvendi from the past. The stirrup revolutionized cavalry warfare. It allowed for heavy lance charges and better horse archery. Stirrups give you a platform to stand on, allowing you to use your body’s weight better in conjunction with the horse.

Kellhus is once again confronted by violations of causality and other strange phenomenon at the Battleplain. His Dûnyain training has not prepared him for a reality where a place could be a topoi or the chain of cause and effect could be twisted. Now he has to deal with this new reality, understand it, and adapt the Logos to it. If he can.

I believe when Kellhus begins wondering if his father summoned him to save these people is the start of his mental break. He doesn’t seem broken to us, but this is the start of the madness that severs him from being a true Dûnyain as we learn in climax of the third book. It starts this early, before even the Circumfix because he is questioning cause and effect, the very foundation of the Logos and Dûnyain philosophy.

Interesting how Kellhus sees tackling a mystery as interrogating it. Interrogation is the most forceful form of questioning. It implies an antagonistic stance, that the subject is resisting giving answers.

I winced at the slaves burning scrolls to feed the bonfire for the Council of Great and Lesser Names. They were pulled from the ruins, so I wonder what knowledge was just lost?

So a new skin-spy has replaced Sarcellus and Kellhus. The Synthese scoured the Battleplain not only to locate Sarcellus’s corpse and ensure it wasn’t discovered, but this also allowed the position of Sarcellus to remain alive so they could simply replace him with another of their creations. (Also, it is implied the Synthese ate Sarcellus.)

Kellhus sees an opportunity in Saubon’s pain. I love Kellhus’s POV’s. I would be interested in having someone read this series without ever once getting one of Kellhus’s POV’s (or Cnaiür). Just to see how they would react to Khellus. He’s so charismatic and warm from others perspectives. And then you get his and its all cold calculation.

Kellhus is one step closer to his plan to fake being a prophet. His gamble has paid off even better than he expected. So much so it is shaken him, as much as a Dûnyain can be shaken. We see thoughts of the supernatural keep intruding on him when he should be focused on more “practical mysteries.”

Love the play between Cnaiür and Conphas. Even Kellhus can underestimate people. An important thing to remember. Conphas makes a great foil to Kellhus. A man so narcissistic that he is immune to Kellhus’s greatest weapon to chain people—shame, guilt, inadequacies. If Kellhus had only Conphas to deal with, he could find the shortest path, but with all the others, Conphas will remain out of reach. Even mocked by all the Holy War, Conphas felt no shame or embarrassment.

Martemus… Got to like a guy who says he would die for his country over his faith because it would be out of habit. Conphas really likes the guy. He’s as close to a friend as Conphas can have.

Martemus’s first questions to Conphas upon learning of Kellhus supposed connection to the Cishaurim is for more information. Intelligence. Who are his allies? Where can he be found? Etc. Great character writing from Bakker. Martemus doesn’t question the justifications behind the war against Kellhus, he just wants the information he would need to fight it, trusting Conphas to have answered those questions already.

Conphas guesses the heart of Kellhus’s plan, if not the motivations behind it. He’s smart enough to recognize that Kellhus is posing as a prophet for gain, but his ego keeps him from examining his own assumptions—that Skeaös was a Cishaurim spy. After all, Skeaös argued against sabotaging the Holy War and allowing the Fanim to survive. If he truly were a Cishaurim spy, wouldn’t he support the Emperor’s plan to sabotage the Holy War? But Conphas has made his decision, and he won’t even consider if he’s wrong. Arrogance and intelligence are dangerous combinations. They often think they are wise, but mistake certainty for truth.

I had to ponder that last line of this chapter. Why would Conphas, a man who is quite young, say he feels young. Because his plotting against Kellhus, this dangerous life-or-death struggle of politics for the control of the Holy War, reminds him of being in Skauras’s court as a hostage. Hence why he felt so young. He’s excited. He has an opponent that will be a challenge to defeat and a victory that will be so sweet.

Conphas plots and schemes. The Consult plots and schemes. Kellhus’s plots and schemes. All three of these storylines, happening in the background for the other characters, will drive The Warrior Prophet to its climax at the Circumfix.

Click here to continue onto Chapter 8!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 4
Asgilioch

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

No decision is so fine as to bind us to its consequences. No consequence is so unexpected as to absolve us of our decisions. Not even death.

XIUS, The TRUCIAN DRAMAS

It seems a strange thing to recall these events, like waking to find I had narrowly missed a fatal fall in the darkness. Whenever I think back, I’m filled with wonder that I still live, and with horror that I still travel by night.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

The first quote is saying that when you can make bad decisions and do not personally pay for them, that still doesn’t absolve you of the consequences, even if they weren’t expected. We see Kellhus making a decision in this chapter, sending Saubon to seize Gedea despite Cnaiür saying this was a bad plan in one of the previous chapter. But Kellhus needs to grow his power. He has to take risks. And if it does go badly, Kellhus won’t be there to be affected by the consequences—Saubon and his men will.

But there are more decisions made in this chapter, and the series, that all spin off and have their own consequences that are rarely predicted by all. Even Kellhus misses a few things, as we see him having a lapse in this very chapter.

Achamian understands the events we are reading now in a way the present Achamian doesn’t (how Kellhus manipulates him). But that knowledge doesn’t keep him from being ignorant in the future that he writes this book.

Early Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the fortress of Asgilioch

Achamian and Esmenet awake in each others arms, holding each other tight as the camp wakes up. Esmenet grows shy, demure, and Achamian realizes she’s afraid. Today, she would meet the powerful friends in his life.

“Don’t worry,” he said, catching her eyes as she fussed with her hasas. “I’m far more particular when it comes to my friends.”

A frown crowded out the terror in her eyes. “More particular than what?”

He winked. “Then when it comes to my women.”

She smiles, her spirits lifted. They leave the tent and, arm-in-arm, he introduces her to Xinemus. He only gives a curt greeting back and points to smoke. The Fanim had attacked a village called Tusam. Proyas wants to survey the aftermath. Xinemus then leaves, shouting orders. Achamian and Esmenet watch the horseman leave and she grows more nervous that she “would shame him.” But he can’t find a way to lift her spirit. Then Kellhus joins them, commenting that the fighting has started.

With something of a bashful air, Achamian introduced Esmenet. He inwardly winced at the coldness of her tone and expression—at the bruising still visible on her cheek. But Kellhus, if he noticed, seemed unconcerned

“Someone new,” he said, smiling warmly. “Neither bearded nor haggard.”

“Yet…” Achamian added.

“I don’t get haggard,” Esmenet said in mock protest.

They laughed, and afterward Esmenet’s hostility seemed to wane.

Serwë arrives, and she is cautious of Esmenet, especially after she notices Esmenet talking with the men. Achamian finds it troubling, but thinks the pair will become friends out of sheer necessity of escaping the “masculine clamor” of the camp. Achamian finds the camp oppressive, and suggest they see the Holy War form a distance. Kellhus agrees, saying, “Nothing is understood until glimpsed from the heights.” Serwë, which was unusual for her, is delighted to come along. Esmenet is also happy, holding Achamian’s hand.

They search for a while in the surrounding hills to find an advantage point while patrols warn them of dangers. But Kellhus uses his status to order them away, remarking that they have a Mandate Schoolman. Esmenet is nervous, reminded that the holy war is marching towards actual battle. She reflects on her life as a “long-walker,” a whore following an army, and how she had done so much walking, even when working on her back or knees. She had never pleasured so many men before. But despite that, she still would observe the land, learn what she could from swimming to phrases in foreign languages. And then it all changed last night when she heard Achamian’s voice.

She ran to him—What choice did she have? In all the world, he had only her—only her! The outrage she’d thought she would feel was nowhere to be found. Instead, his touch, his smell, had exacted an almost perilous vulnerability, a sense of submission unlike any she’d ever known—and it was good. Sweet Sejenus, it was good! Like the small circle of a child’s embrace, or the taste of peppered meat after a long hunger. It was like floating in cool, cleansing water.

No burdens, only flashing sunlight and slow-waving limbs, the smell of green…

Now she was no longer peneditari; she was what the Galeoth called “im hustwarra,” a camp-wife. Now, at along last, she belonged to Drusas Achamian. At long last she was clean.

She did not speak about Sarcellus to Achamian, fearing ruining their relationship. She is happy and won’t let anything break them apart. And what she told him was mostly true. If he wasn’t different from Sumna, so desperate, she might have told him. She used to tease him about being a madman, but now she realizes he looks like one wit his hollow stare and terrifying words. She realizes he is going mad because of Kellhus. She thinks he is being a stubborn fool for not telling him.

According to Achamian, women had no instinct for principle. For them everything was embodied… How had he put it? Oh yes, that existence preceded essence for women. By nature, the tracks traveled by their souls ran parallel to those demanded by principle. The feminine soul was more yielding, more compassionate, more nurturing than the masculine. Consequently, principal was more difficult for them to see, like a staff in a thicket, which was why women were likely to confuse selfishness for propriety—which, apparently, was what she was doing.

But for men, whose inclinations ranged so far and so violently, principle was an ever-present burden, a yoke they either toiled under or cast off altogether. Unlike women, men could always see what they should do because it differed so drastically from what they wanted.

At first she believed him, until she realized the “principal that galled her, not some dim-witted feminine confusion of hope and piety.” She had given herself to him, given up her work as a prostitute finally, and she was asking for a similar thing in return. To give over a man Achamian had only for a few weeks. “A man, moreover, that according to his own principles, he should surrender.” She wanted to shout at him but she doesn’t. “If men must spare women the world, then women must spare men the truth—as though each forever remained alternate halves of the same defenseless child.” She has to show him the truth.

Serwë walked at her side, every so often casting nervous glances her way. Esmenet said nothing, though she knew the girl wanted to talk. She seemed harmless enough, given the circumstances. She was one of those rare women who could never be deflowered, never be despoiled. Had she been a fellow whore in Sumna, Esmenet would have secretly despised her. She would have resented her beauty, her youth, her blond hair, and her pale skin, but more than anything she would have resented her perpetual vulnerability.

“Akka has—” the girl blurted. She blushed, looking down to her feet. “Achamian’s been teaching Kellhus wondrous things—wondrous things!”

Even her endearing accent. Resentment was ever the secret liquor of harlots.

Esmenet considers if Achamian teaching Kellhus was what kept Achamian from betraying the man since she knows of his strong bond to his former students. Before she continue this idea, Serwë gushes for joy, spotting flowers. She rushes forward to stare at them while Achamian informs her that they are pemembis. Serwë has never heard of them, and Achamian, winking at Esmenet, talks about their legend while Esmenet stands in uncomfortable silence with Kellhus, examining him. Finally, unnerved by his grace, she breaks the silence, bringing up his time with the Scylvendi. She asks about their scars. He tells her about the Scylvendi philosophy on life, that man is “the smoke that moves.” They see life not as a thing that can be owned but a line. It can be braided into another, like his tribe, herded like a slave, or stopped. This action, ending a line, is most significant The swazond doesn’t celebrate it but merely marks where two competing lines intersected. “The fact Cnaiür, for instance, bears the scars of many means he walks with the momentum of many.” Swazond aren’t trophies but records.

Esmenet stared in wonder. “But I thought the Sclyvendi were uncouth…barbarians. Surely such beliefs are too subtle!”

Kellhus laughed “All beliefs are too subtle.” He held her with shining blue eyes. “And ‘barbarity,’ I fear, is simply a word for unfamiliarity that threatens.”

That unsettled her. She notices Achamian watching with a knowing smile as she begins to experience Kellhus. Abruptly, Kellhus says she was a whore. She gets defensive. He asks her what it was like to have sex with strangers. She gives a simple answer, nice sometimes other times a chore, but she had to eat. Kellhus, however, asked her what it was like. She looks away and gets jealous of Achamian by Serwë. She deflects Kellhus but he persists. She feels a surge of emotions and answers sometimes she felt like the ruts of wagon wheels. But she felt something else other times.

“Whores are mummers—you must understand that. We perform…” She hesitated, searched his eyes as though they held the proper words. “I know the Tusk says we degrade ourselves, that we abuse the divinity of our sex…and sometimes it feels that way. But not always… Often, very often, I have these men upon me, these men who gasp like fish, thinking they’ve mastered me, notched me, and I feel pity for them—for them,not me. I become more… more thief than whore. Fooling, duping, watching myself as though reflected across silver. It feels like… like…”

“Like being free,” Kellhus said,

She’s troubled by revealing something so intimacy yet relieved, like she had set aside a great weight. She asks how she knows that but are interrupted by Achamian asking what they learned. Kellhus answers, “What it’s like to be who we are?”

As Achamian leads them through the hills, he remembers Seswatha walking these same trails two thousand years ago, fleeing the No-God after the defeat at Mehsarunath. He has trouble separating Seswatha hopeless fear as he cowers in a nearby cave from reality. Esmenet notices, asking if he was all right. He lies but she knows and holds his hand to give comfort. He manages to shake the deja vu of Seswatha as they move away from the dead man’s path. But, because of that, Achamian has led them too far to return to the Holy War today. So they camp by ruins of an old Inrithi chapel. It is a beautiful ruin, not destroyed but abandoned, which Serwë finds sad. Achamian talks about how the Nansur abandoned these lands after the Fanim conquered Gedea.

The ruins belonged to a college of the Thousand Temples called the Marrucees, which was destroyed long ago. Kellhus asks about the Colleges, and Esmenet—since she had bedded many priests and was from Sumna—answered. Achamian wanders away to mope, reminded of her past as a whore, and Esmenet follows him out and they make love. Afterward, he asks her about Kellhus.

A flash of anger. “Is there nothing else you think about?”

His throat tightened. “How can I?”

She became remote and impenetrable. Serwë’s laughter chimed across the ruins, and he found himself wondering what Kellhus had said.

“He is remarkably,” Esmenet murmured, refusing to look at him.

So what should I do? Achamian wanted to cry.

He doesn’t, and she asks him if they do have each other, which he agrees to. And she asks what does anything else matter. But he grows angry, pointing out that Kellhus is the Harbinger. She wants to flee form everything, hide, just the two of them. He complains of the burden, which she shouts isn’t theirs. She begs him to flee.

“This is foolishness, Esmenet. There’s no hiding from the end of the world! Even if we could, I’d be a sorcerer without a school—a wizard, Esmi. Better to be a witch! They would hunt me. All of them, not just the Mandate. The Schools tolerate no wizards…” He laughed bitterly. “We wouldn’t even survive to be killed.”

“But this is the first time,” she said, her voice breaking. “The first time I’ve ever…”

Achamian wants to hold her, seeing the way her shoulders fall, but Serwë’s panic cry stops him. Riders approach with torches. Fanim might approach. They go and join Kellhus, who has put out their fire, and he points out the approaching torches.

Esmenet is afraid, fearing they are going to kill them. They are heading straight for us. Kellhus says they can’t hide. Their fire was spotted. Achamian casts a spell, summoning the Bar of Heaven, a bright pillar of light that illuminates the ground like a mini sun, startling the approaching riders. They turn out to be Galeoth led by Prince Saubon, men of the tusk. Esmenet grows fearful, spotting Sarcellus with them.

A resonant voice shouted across the darkness: “We search for the Prince of Atrithau! Anasûrimbor Kellhus!”

The many-colored tones were unknitted, combed into individual threads: sincerity, worry, outrage, and hope… And Kellhus knew there was no danger.

He’s come for my counsel.

Kellhus calls out a welcome, saying the “faithful are always welcome.” Another voice shouts about about sorcerers. Kellhus recognizes a Nansur nobleman but finds his accent is hard to place specifically. Saubon jokes away the Nansur’s outrage, saying he is in a bad mood because the light made him soil himself. Achamian asks Kellhus Saubon’s purpose and Kellhus lies, saying he knows not, though he speculates Saubon, being eager to take the fight to the Fanim, might be up to mischief since Proyas went to inspect the village. Saubon reaches them, saying, “We tracked you all afternoon.”

“And who is ‘we’?” Kellhus asked, peering at the man’s fellow riders.

Saubon made several introductions, starting with his grizzled groom, Kussalt, but Kellhus spared them little more than a cursory glance. The lone Shrial Knight, whom the Prince introduced as Cutias Sarcellus, dominated his attention…

Another one. Another Skeaös..

“At last,” Sarcellus said. His large eyes glittered through the fingers of his fraudulent face. “The renowned Prince of Atrithau.”

He bowed lower than his rank demanded.

What does this mean, Father?

Kellhus has many variables to consider as he meets with Saubon, his attention on Sarcellus as they pointless talk. He notes that Achamian hates Sarcellus and deduces that something happened between them in Sumna involving Inrau. But Achamian has no idea Sarcellus is a skin-spy He also notes that Esmenet had been Sarcellus’s lover and she’s afraid that he’s here to take her from Achamian. Achamian asks how they were found, and Saubon points to Sarcellus, saying “he has an uncanny ability to track.” Then asks the skin-spy where he learned it.

“As a youth,” Sarcellus lied, “on my father’s western estates”—he pursed his lusty lips, as though restraining a smile—“tracking Sclyvendi…”

“Tracking Scylvendi,” Saubon repeated, as though to say, Only in the Nansurium.. “I was ready to turn back at dusk, but he insisted you were near.” Saubon opened his hands and shrugged.

Silence.

Achamian looks to Kellhus to say something and banish the awkwardness, and normally he would, but he is too deep in his thoughts to give anything but “rote responses.” He mirrors the others expression since “self had vanished into place, a place of opening, where permutation after permutation was hunted to its merciless conclusion.” Kellhus recognizes there is great danger and he had to understand what was going on. Sarcellus jokes about tracking by scent, but Kellhus realizes it is truth. Kellhus has no idea of all their capabilities and must be cautious. He wonders if his father knows of them.

Everything had transformed since he’d taken Drusas Achamian as his teacher. The ground of this world, he now knew, had concealed many, many secrets from his brethren. The Logos remained true, but its ways were far more devious, and far more spectacular, than the Dûnyain had ever conceived And the Absolute… The End of Ends was more distant than they’d ever imagined. So many obstacles So many forks in the path…

Despite his initial skepticism, Kellhus had come to believe much of what Achamian had claimed over the course of their discussions. He believed the stories of the First Apocalypse. He believed the faceless thing before him was an artifact of the Consult. But the Celmomian Prophecy? The coming of a Second Apocalypse? Such things were absurd. B definition, the future couldn’t anticipate the present. What came after couldn’t come before…

Could it?

Kellhus needs to understand his circumstances. His ignorance had already caused problems simply by studying Skeaös and arousing the Emperor’s suspicious, which unmakes Skeaös, and then convinced Achamian Kellhus was the Harbinger. Kellhus is in great peril. He needs to keep his secret of seeing skin-spies from Achamian, which would tip the man into telling his school. Kellhus was on his own.

Kellhus begins to think the Consult knows he unmasked Skeaös. He had noticed Imperial Spies watching him. Which would mean Sarcellus would be a probe. They have to know if it was an accident or if Kellhus had recognized Skeaös. Unless Sarcellus was here for Achamian, since he had direct contact with the man and indirect via seducing Esmenet. He could be sounding out Esmenet capacity for “deceit and treachery.” She had not told Achamian about her relationship with Sarcellus.

The study is so deep, Father

A thousand possibilities, galloping across the trackless steppe of what was to come. A hundred flashing through his soul, some branching and branching, terminally deflected form his objectives, others flaring out in disaster…

Kellhus considers unveiling Sarcellus before the great names. But he discards that as too dangerous since it would get the Mandate involved. And he couldn’t have that “until they could be dominated.” He considers indirect actions, a secret spy war, killing Sarcellus. Also not good, revealing to the Consult that their spies were unmask. It would lead to the same result as direct action. He considers inaction, to force the enemy to second guess themselves, to wonder, to question and worry if he has unmasked them or not. He realizes the Consult would want to understand him before destroying him. It would buy him time.

He was one of the Condition, Dûnyain Circumstances would yield. The mission must—

Kellhus,” Serwë was saying. “The Prince has asked you a question.”

Kellhus blinked, smiled as though at his own foolishness. Without expectation, everyone about the fire stared at him, some concerned, some puzzled.

“I’m-I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I…” He glanced nervously from watcher to watcher, exhaled, as though reconciling himself to his principles, no matter how embarrassing “Sometimes I… I see things..”

Silence.

“Me too,” Sarcellus said scathingly. “Though usually when my eyes are open.”

Kellhus is troubled that he had closed his eyes and doesn’t remember it. It’s a lapse. Saubon admonishes Sarcellus for being rude. Kellhus makes a joke to soothe ruffled feathers while he struggles to understand what Sarcellus wants. He then asks why a Shrial Knight would come to a sorcerer’s fire. Sarcellus says it is Saubon that has brought him but before he can say why, Saubon wants to speak to Kellhus privately

Kellhus wanders what his father wants of him as he considers possibilities. He follows Saubon away from the others and Saubon asks if he really does see things. Dream things. Kellhus realizes Saubon fears him. Saubon is impatient with Proyas’s caution and wants to strike into the heathen lands. He would have already if it wasn’t for Kellhus’s interpretation of Ruöm’s destruction

“Then why come to me now?”

Because what you said…about the God burning our ships… It had the ring of truth.”

He [Saubon] was a watcher of men, Kellhus realized, someone who continually measured. His whole life he’d thought himself a shred judge of character, prided himself on his honesty, his ability to punish flattery and reward criticism But with Kellhus… He had no yardstick, no carpenter’s string. He’s told himself I’m a seer of some kind. But he fears I’m more…

“And that’s what you seek? The truth?”

Saubon saw faith as something to be bargained with. He fears making a mistake and thinks Fate has given him a chance. Saubon begs to know what Kellhus has seen. He is an experienced general, believing he can avoid Fanim trap. Kellhus reminds him of Cnaiür’s words at the council, how they will use horses to trap them. Saubon is dismissive, his nephew scouts Gedea and as seen nothing. There’s no host. He says the skirmishers Proyas chases are a distraction, that the enemy has retreated to Shigek to await reinforcements Gedea is available to be taken by someone courages. Kellhus sees Saubon believes his words and Kellhus knows that Saubon has even fought Conphas to a standstill.

Cataracts of possibility. There was opportunity here… And perhaps Sarcellus need not be confronted to be destroyed. But still.

I know so little of war. Too little…

Saubon is desperate for validation of his plan, that he can seize Gedea. He demands to know the truth. Kellhus says he rarely sees the future, instead seeing into the hearts of men. Saubon asks what Kellhus’s sees in his own heart.

Expose him. Strip him of every lie, every pretense. When the shame passes…

Kellhus held the man’s eyes for a forlorn instant.

…he will think it proper to stand naked before me.

Kellhus says he sees a man and a child. The man wants to be a king by his own hand, greedy for people to see him. The child cringes form his father, a child who is alone, unloved. Kellhus considers possibilities on how to proceed next and realizes “with the variables were so many, everything was risk.” Kellhus asks if Saubon heard something. He pretend to swoon and Saubon catches him.

March,” Kellhus gasped, close enough to kiss. “The Whore will be kind to you… But you must make certain the Shrial Knights are…” He opened his eyes in stunned wonder—as though to say, This couldn’t be their message!

Some destinations couldn’t be grasped in advance. Some paths had to be walked to be known. Risked.

“You must make certain the Shrial Knights are punished.”

Esmenet is silent in Kellhus and Saubon’s absence, cursing Sarcellus presence. Right now, Sarcellus chats with Serwë about Kellhus, who is more than happy to talk about him. Fear grips Esmenet. She knows Achamian’ll find out she was Sarcellus’s lover and their new relationship will die. She flees the fire, settling in the darkness, watching the group. She notices Achamian talking to Serwë now and that Sarcellus is gone. Sarcellus comes at her from behind, mocking her for being a whore. She feigns ignorance. He goads her into slapping him. He catches her wrist and begins touching her. She begs, not wanting Achamian seeing this. He can’t because he’s by the fire, blinded by the bright light while she’s hidden in the darkness. She resists, telling Sarcellus she’ll never do it even as she feels his heat.

And then Kellhus interrupts them, asking if there’s a problem. Sarcellus releases her and Esmenet says nothing, she was just startled. Esmenet fears Kellhus had heard them. Sarcellus retreats after a moment. Esmenet is relieved and whispers thanks to Kellhus.

“You loved him, didn’t you?”

Her ears burned. For some reason, saying no never occurred to her. One just didn’t lie to Prince Anasûrimbor Kellhus. Instead, she said, “Please don’t tell Akka.”

Kellhus smiled, though his eyes seemed profoundly sad. He reached out, as though to touch her cheek, then he dropped his hand.

“Come,” he said. “Night waxes.”

Esmenet and Achamian search for a place to sleep. She realizes there is no hiding from the world. She feels a fool for being a whore at Achamian’s level. He was a Mandate Schoolman. She was sure Achamian loved her, but “Seswatha loved the dead.”

She tells Achamian her mother read the stars, which was illegal in the Empire for caste-menials. Her mother never taught her, telling her it was better to be a whore than to know astrology. She asks Akka if it is real. He says no because the Nonmen believed the sky was a great void and stars are faraway suns.

Esmenet wanted to laugh, but then, as though suddenly seeing through her reflection across waters, she saw the plate of heaven dissolve into impossible depths, emptiness heaped upon emptiness, hollow upon hallow, with stars—no suns!—hanging like points of dust in a shaft of light. She caught her breath. Somehow the sky had become a vast, yawning pit. Without thinking, she clenched the grasses, as though she stood upon a ledge rather than lay across the ground.

“How could they believe such a thing?” she asked. “The sun moves in circles about the world. The stars move in circles about the Nail.” The thought struck her that the Nail of Heaven itself might be another world, one with a thousand thousand suns. Such a sky that would be!

The Nonmen learned this from the Inchoroi. They sailed here from the starts. She asks him that even though astrology isn’t real, he still believes “the future is written.” That Kellhus is the harbinger. Achamian does. She says he is more and Achamian cries, saying she finally understand why “he torments me.” She remembers Kellhus asking her about being a whore.

She no longer wanted to run.

The Mandate cannot know, Akka… We must bear this burden alone.”

Achamian pursed trembling lips. Swallowed. “We?”

Esmenet looked back to the stars. One more language she could not read.

“We.”

My Thoughts

I love Achamian and Esmenet together. They know each other so well, they know what to say to ease each other’s burdens. To give comfort.

When Kellhus arrives in the morning, he noticed Esmenet’s tone and the bruise. Then he says just the right thing to engage both their wits, providing a bonding moment over laughter. Just the thing to soothe Esmenet’s coolness. She is still protective of Achamian, hating the pain Kellhus has caused him. And it is overcome so easily.

Then Serwë recognized Esmenet’s beauty. Worse, she notices how she talks with the men, with Kellhus, like an equal. A little jealous is stirring in Serwë.

Esmenet is always absorbing the world, learning, seeking knowledge even as nothing more than a camp follower. And then it all changed for her when she found Achamian. The simple joy she felt at his reunion is so beautiful She can’t even be angry at him yet. She was just so happy to find him. And by finding him, she is removed from the life that had soiled her, a life that she had adopted simply to survive and was condemned for it.

Esmenet’s quite right to be offended by Achamian’s words about women not understanding principal. It’s insulting to be told that she just can’t understand the things he does. She does understand and it’s easy to see why he should turn Kellhus in. Of course, she hasn’t been affected by Kellhus so can’t understand just the quandary Achamian is in. She hasn’t been exposed to the way Kellhus uses words to make you love.

If men must spare women the world, then women must spare men the truth—as though each forever remained alternate halves of the same defenseless child.” This is a deep insight in the difference between how men and women act in relationships. Women always joke about protecting “men’s fragile ego” while men are prone to sacrificing their bodies to care and protect their families whether through hard labor or war, etc.

No, Esmenet, anyone can drink resentment’s liquor. It can fester in all of us but it’s so hard to see when you’re on the outside and think it is only you and your kind that do it.

It is easy for us to dismisses those we see as lesser, to call them barbarians or primitives and not think that they have any deep thoughts. We forget that they are humans just like we are.

And Kellhus begins his seduction of Esmenet, getting her to reveal “intimate details,” making her feel better by sharing them which in turn causes her to reconsider Kellhus.

Achamian can’t help but be the teacher everywhere he goes, including old ruins. He has to share his knowledge.

Achamian is still a little sore about Esmenet being a whore, getting a little angered at the source of her knowledge on the Thousand Temple. It’s why he walks away to think.

Achamian, you really should have listened to Esmenet. Flee, just the two of you. But there are always so many reasons to stay, so many fears of taking a chance, dreading what he means. And they are legitimate fears. Of course, what Esmenet wants to do is to hide, and that’s never going to work forever. But you can’t blame her for wanting to protect their relationship. For the first time in her life, she has let herself love a man, surrendering herself to him. That’s a scary thing for any person to do.

Saubon’s simple call is enough for Kellhus to understand the man’s purpose and deduce he’s not a threat. This is why Kellhus is so terrifying. He’s like a robot in human flesh. He strives to reduce emotion. He is the übermench of Nietzsche, willing to do anything for his goal.

Kellhus can’t quite place Sarcellus’s accent. Maybe the skin-spies can’t mimic voices as well as a Dûnyain can dissect them. And, of course, Sarcellus is eager to meet the man who unveiled Skeaös (which the Consult learned about from the skin-spy masquerading as the Empress in a previous chapter).

Damn, Kellhus is good. He notes that Achamian winces in memory of being struck and figures out Inrau was involved with what happened between Sarcellus and Achamian. Back in book 1, Achamian pretends to Inrau’s uncle and goads Sarcellus into hitting him to keep the man from being suspicious Which galls Achamian because with his sorcery, he could have killed the man.

It is disturbing how Kellhus’s self vanishes when he is deep in his thoughts. He becomes a place, like he was trained to do as a child sitting on the mountaintop, meditating. If a man has no real self, is he still a man?

Kellhus is realizing that his people did not know half of what they thought. Perhaps those first Dûnyain shouldn’t have deliberately forgotten so much when they first set up in Ishuäl Now he’s even questioning cause and effect. Something he would say is ridiculous, and yet there is so much he is learning that violates the natural world, like sorcerery.

We see Kellhus working through his thought process like a chess master. Of course, real life has even more variables than chest (which does have quite a lot). It is always fascinating to see how his thoughts works, how he considers things, cold, methodical. Fascinating and disturbing.

Kellhus gets too deep into his thoughts that he loses the conversation and has to cover for himself. It’s a lapse that the probably hasn’t had since childhood. He’s stretching himself to his limits trying to figure out all these different probabilities. And this is why his father summoned him. Of course, as Dûnyain, he uses his lapse to his advantage, forwarding his prophet plan

Kellhus has to start gambling now. There are too many variables for him to master. He has to make decisions or be paralyzed by inaction, overwhelmed by the possibilities. It’s a trap that he avoids by realizing he has to take risks. So Kellhus makes his first prophecy. If it works out right, he’ll be acclaimed. If he gets it wrong, it’ll be disaster. Plus, he hopes to get Sarcellus killed in the process.

Sarcellus chatting to Serwë on the outside looks like a handsome man flirting with a woman, but he’s really interrogating her. Bakker is skilled at this, putting this into the background, something very off-hand and even innocent.

What would have happened if Kellhus didn’t interrupt her and Sarcellus? She wanted to resist, but she was feeling desire for the man. And she didn’t want Achamian finding out. If she cried out and struggled, questions might be asked. Poor woman. This is why secrets are bad. But we always find reasons to convince ourselves why they’re so important to keep.

When Achamian and Esmenet go off to find a place to sleep, they hold hands with “palm-to-palm urgency of young lovers.” But when they lie down, they groan like an old man and woman. Nice contrast between how they feel and how they are.

Astrology is forbidden to the poor because only the rich can know the future. Shows the rich fear the poor. They have to. They are vastly outnumbered. When the poor get restless, the rich die.

What is the Nail of Heaven? At first blush, the pole star, but it is far too bright for that. It illuminates like moonlight. And it’s not a moon. It’s fixed. Finally, in The Great Ordeal, Bakker dropped a line that the Nail of Heaven appeared not long before the Inchoroi crashed on this world. Maybe a satellite they put into a geosynchronous polar orbit or something. Though it is impossible to have a geosynchronous orbit over the poles. They have to be at the equator. So curious to learn what this is.

Achamian finally has someone with him, someone who understands about Kellhus and we he can’t share it. They can’t run from this like she wants. They would be found. After all, Sarcellus found them in the middle of nowhere today.

This part of the Warrior Prophet might be my favorite section of the whole series. I really enjoy Achamian and Esmenet’s relationship. And though as Bakker comes closer to bringing the second of the three series to a close (the Unholy Consult should be out in a 2017), I still hope they can be reunited. But this is Grimdark Fantasy we’re reading. I doubt we’ll get a happy ending.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Five.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 3
Asgilioch

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

The proposition “I am the centre” need never be uttered. It is the assumption upon which all certainty and all doubt turns.

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

See your enemies content and your lovers melancholy.

AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

Achamian is at the center of his dilemma. To him, the fate of the universe rests on whether or not he turns in Kellhus. And while it might, it is still an arrogant belief. We are all the centers of our own universe. Sometimes, it is hard to see beyond that. Certainty and doubt are opposites of each other and yet the both come from the same place of “I must be right” or “I must be wrong.”

The Ainoni won is harder to parse. Achamian does have a schadenfreude-esque moment with Esmenet, taking pleasure in the fact she was fearful of the end of the world because it meant she believed But I don’t think that’s what the proverb mean. And it does say lovers not spouse. A content enemy is easy. Contentment breeds complacency which make sit easier to exploit someone. Perhaps a sad lover is equally easy to exploit. You can make them happy, come to have them rely on you. It’s a destructive belief but says a lot about the Ainoni character. They pride themselves on Jnan, on playing politics and double speak to its utmost, even wearing masks to hide their faces and not betray emotion.

Late Spring 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the fortress of Asgilioch

An earthquake strikes the ground around Ruöm, the fortress of Asgilioch, and destroys it. For centuries, the fortress had guarded the Nansur Empire from the Fanim jihads. It’s destruction is heralded as a disaster. Coithus Saubon’s Galeoth horseman were the first Men of the Tusk to discover the catastrophe. Survivors of the fortress proclaim the Holy War’s Doom. The Great Names begin to gather before the ruins, though the Ainoni’s host is absent, slowed by the Scarlet Spire’s large baggage trains. As the Holy War waits, rumors and “premonitions of disaster” fly.

While waiting on the Ainoni, Proyas calls a council of the Great and Lesser Names in the ruins of the fortress. They argue, Saubon wanting to march immediately and seize the passes of the Southern Gates, calling the ruins an illusion of safety, a “shibboleth of the perfumed and the weak-hearted.” Conphas points out the need the Scarlet Spire before they can march since Skauras has a large host assembled and the Cishaurim might be among them. Proyas and Cnaiür agree with Conphas, but no argument sways Saubon’s group. The group seems deadlocked until Kellhus speaks, saying the loss of Ruöm is not an accident or a curse.

Saubon laughed, shouting, “Ruöm is a talisman against the heathen, is it not?”

“Yes,” the Prince of Atrithau replied. “So long as the citadel stood, we could turn back. But now… Don’t you see? Just beyond these mountains, men congregate in the tabernacles of the False Prophet. We stand upon the heathen’s shore. The heathen’s shore!”

He paused, looked at each Great Name in turn.

“Without Ruöm there’s not turning back… The God has Burned our ships.”

The Holy War agrees to wait for the Scarlet Spire.

Far from Asgilioch, the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire, Eleäzaras, is in his chair while slaves wash his feet, one of the few comforts he has on the march. So far, it’s been an easy journey which makes him feel ashamed at being so tired at the end of the day. But he realizes it’s not a physical weariness, he used to walk all the time on missions for the Scarlet Spire, but the fact he dreads reaching Shimeh, and he is relieved each evening they haven’t got there yet.

Great decisions, he [Eleäzaras] reflected, were measured by their finality as much as by their consequences. Sometimes he could feel it like a palpable thing: the path not taken, that fork in history where the Scarlet Spire repudiated Maithanet’s outrageous offer, and watched the Holy War from afar. It didn’t exist and yet it lingered, the way a night of passion might linger in the entreating look of a slave. He saw it everywhere: in the nervous silences, in exchanged glances, in Iyokus’s unrelenting cynicism, in General Setpanares’s scowl. And it seemed to mock him with promise—just as the path he now walked mocked with with threat.

He dwells on the issues besetting them, the irony of a School mixing with a Holy War, the Nansur Empire plotting with the Fanim, the Mandate playing a game, their spies in Sumna all executed, the Shriah working “some dark angle.” He tells himself that regret is “the opiate of fools” as he relaxes, enjoying his new slave girl, a daring wench. He is about to enjoy her when a servant entered announcing a petitioner from the Mysunsai School named Skaleteas wants to speak to him. The man has ridden from Momemn and will speak only to Eleäzaras

Eleäzaras is not happy to be interrupted by the “whore.” The Mysunsai School are mercenaries, selling their talents Eleäzaras is not happy and lets Skaleteas know his displeasure at the breaking of protocols. Skaleteas rushes ahead with his news, explaining his the Auditor of the Imperial Family. He then asks about negotiating a fee. Eleäzaras finds that very low class. He doesn’t answer, and Skaleteas grows nervous and then adds it is about a new Cishaurim spy.

This gets Eleäzaras’s attention. Instead of negotiating a price, he speaks sorcery, scaring Skaleteas into speaking. He tells about Skeaös being a skin spy and what happened in the dungeon in Momemn at the end of The Darkness That Comes Before. Eleäzaras is shocked to learn the news. Eleäzaras grows interested when Achamian enters the story. Eleäzaras latches onto Achamian and the skin spy speaking in a tongue and the fact the skin spy recognized Achamian. Then it broke free and killed it over Achamian’s objection. He then describes the face coming apart and how the spy was “a mimic without the Mark!” Skaleteas insists it is Cishaurim work, part of their Psûkhe.

Numbness spilled like water from Eleäzaras’s chest to his limbs. I’ve wagered my School.

“But their Art is too crude…”

Skaleteas looked curiously heartened. “Nevertheless, it’s the only explanation. They’ve found some way of creating perfect spies… Think! How long have they owned the Emperor’s ear? The Emperor! Who knows how many…” He paused, apparently wary of speaking too close to the heart of the matter. “But this is why I rode so hard to find you. To warn you.”

Eleäzaras deals with his shock, then tells Skaleteas he will have to stay here to be interviewed Skaleteas objects since he has a contract, which Eleäzaras declares dissolved. Skaleteas, apologetically, says that is not possible. He just wants his money.

“Ah yes, your fee.” Eleäzaras stared hard at the Mysunsai, smiled with deceptive mildness. Poor fool. To think he’d underestimated the value of his information. This was worth far more than gold. Far more.

The Mysunsai’s face had gone blank. “I supposed I could delay my departure”

“You suppose—”

At that point, Eleäzaras almost died. The man had started his Cant the instant of Eleäzaras’s reply, purchasing a heartbeat’s advantage—almost enough.

Skaleteas’s lightning hits Eleäzaras’s wards. The pair trade attacks and use their wards for protection. Eleäzaras easily defeats Skaleteas before the Javreh bodyguards and Iyokus can enter. He’s shocked, demanding to know what is happening seeing Skaleteas in pain but alive. Eleäzaras hands over Skaleteas to Iyokus for interrogation and demands to know where Achamian is.

“Drusas Achamian must be brought to me,” Eleäzaras snapped, turning to Iyokus. “Brought to me or killed.”

Iyokus’s expression darkened.

“Something like that requires time… planning… He’s a Mandate Schoolman, Eli! Not to mention the risk of reprisals… What do we war against both the Cishaurim and the Mandate? Either way, nothing will be done until I know what is going on. It is my right!”

Before Eleäzaras can answer, he insists on feeling Iyokus’s face. He does and feels “proper bones” beneath his fingers.

Achamian is alone for the first night since they left on the march because of the meeting of the Great Names. Everyone but “the sorcerer and the slaves” were invited. So he is getting drunk. In the two weeks since telling Kellhus his dilemma had changed everything It was a rash act and did not ease his burden like expected. Now he sees anguish in Kellhus, doubling his burden. Kellhus asks what the Mandate would do to him.

“Take you to Atyersus. Confine you. Interrogate you… Now that they know the Consult runs amok, they’ll do anything to exercise the semblance of control. For that reason alone, they’d never let you go.”

“Then you mustn’t tell them, Akka!” There had been an anger and an anxiousness to these words, a cross desperation that reminded him of Inrau.

“And the Second Apocalypse. What about that?”

“But are you sure? Sure enough to wager an entire life”

A life for the world. Or the world for a life.

“You don’t understand! The stakes, Kellhus. Think of what’s at stake!”

“How,” Kellhus had replied, “can I think of anything else?”

Achamian reflects on a story a Yatwar Cultic priestess had told him about how they used two sacrificial animals, one to watch the other day so there is a nonrecognition of the sacrifice. Otherwise, it’s just pointless slaughter. They even had calculated the value “One lamb for ten bulls.” Achamian understands now what she meant. Achamian is now overwhelmed by his dilemma Which is why he is drinking.

Out of desperation, Achamian begins teaching Kellhus algebra, calculus, and logic, rational disciplines to “impose clarity” on his soul. Of course, Kellhus masters it all, even explaining that the famed philosopher Ajencis based his work on a “more basic logic, one which used relations between entire sentences rather than the subjects and predicates. Two thousand years of comprehension and insight overturned by the strokes of a stick across the dust.” Achamian demands to know how. “This is simply what I see,” Kellhus answers with a shrug.

He’s here, Achamian had thought absurdly, but he doesn’t stand beside me… If all men saw from where they stood, then Kellhus stood somewhere else—that much was undeniable. But did he stand beyond the pale of Drusas Achamian’s judgment?

Ah ,the question. More drink was required.

Achamian pulls out his satchel and his map he made of all the players in the game, looking at the names and how they were connected. Only Anasûrimbor Kellhus remained alone, isolated. “Like arithmetic or logic it all came down to relations.” Achamian had inked relations between the Consult ant the Emperor, between Maithanet and Inrau. On and on. But he has no idea where Kellhus fit.

Achamian suddenly cackled, resisted the urge to throw the parchment into the fire. Smoke. Wasn’t that what relations were in truth? Not ink, but smoke. Hard to see and impossible to grasp. And wasn’t that the problem? The problem with everything?

He decides against it, knowing he’s too drunk to make the decision, and instead decides to go smoke hashish. “Why not? The world was about to end.”

Achamian searches for the camp followers as he searches the camp. He thought he would trust Anagkë, Goddess of Fate, since she is known as the Whore. But she led him astray. After jocking about being well-endowed, Achamian gets directions to the camp followers. He moves through rutting couples, looking for something to distract him. Achamian notices how young men of the Men of the Tusk are, as they vomit from too much drink. He sees girls as young as ten selling their bodies and boys smeared in cosmetics. There are also craftsmen selling their goods, smithies repairing equipment, and cultic priests. There were also beggars

He finds a prostitute in the shadows but when passing torch light shows ulcerated lips, he drops a copper coin and flees. He then finds a group of prostitutes dancing around a flame together, trying to attract clients but staying together for mutual protection. He notices a Norsirai girl that attracts his attention He ignores the others and chooses her. She leads him to her blanket and he’s eager. They haggle over the price.

In this particular language, the man was forced to deride his own prowess in order to strike a fair bargain. If he was poor, he complained of being old, infirm, and so on. Arrogant men, Esmenet had told him once, usually fared poorly in these negotiations—which, of course, was the point. Harlots hated nothing more than men who arrived already believing the flattering lies they would tell. Esmi called them the simustarapari, or “those-who-spit-twice.”

They settle on a price, two silver talents, and she’s triumphant over the high price. Achamian finds her, despite her lush figure, girlish and guileless. Her youth excites him. He half-expects her mother to burst in an berate him. Then he wonders if her girlishness is an act. He realizes the front of her tent is open, but she doesn’t care if they are watched. He’s just about to take her when he spots Esmenet outside.

Achamian chases after Esmenet, crying her name. He sees her with a Thunyeri warrior and doesn’t understand why she ignores him. He debates using sorcery to stop her, but feels Chorae in the surrounding crowd. The Thunyeri takes her down an alley and he suddenly wonders how she could be here. He thinks its a trap.

If the Consult could fashion a Skeaös, couldn’t they fashion an Esmenet as well? If they knew about Inrau, then they almost certainly knew about her… What better way to gull a heartsick Schoolman than to…

A skin-spy? Do I chase a skin-spy?

In his soul’s eye, he saw Geshruuni’s corpse pulled from the River Sayut. Murdered. Desecrated.

Sweet Sejenus, they took his face. Could the same have happened…

In a panic, he rushes after and reaches them. It turns out not to be Esmenet, just someone who looks familiar. The Thunyeri isn’t happy, thinking Achamian is trying to take his whore, and beats Achamian. He is thrown to the ground, convulsing, sobbing, crying out Esmenet’s name.

Then he felt the touch. Heard the voice.

“Still fetching sticks, I see… Tired old dog.”

The real Esmenet has found him. She helps him walk. He’s stunned that’s her. Then he notices the bruise on her face. She’s been punched, too, though she jokes that is nothing compared to Achamian’s face. He weeps when he really realizes, through his daze, that t is her and they cry together.

Afterward, they head into her tent. He is still stunned, asking why she left Sumna. She was afraid. They kiss and then have sex. During it, Achamian says “Never again.” He promises that nothing, not even his school, will take her away from him.

For a time, they seemed one being, dancing about the same delirious burn, swaying from the same breathless centre. For a time, they felt no fear.

They enjoy each other for a while, “apologies offered for things already forgiven.” Finally, Achamian asks after her belongings. She doesn’t have much. He wants her to stay with him and she agrees. They leave, strolling like lovers. As they walk, her realizes something must have driven her from Sumna to the Holy War and then something had kept her from seeking him out. But he doesn’t want to ask these questions, so drunk on meeting her again. He doesn’t want to lose that. Achamian finds himself studying Esmenet as they watch a performance. She seems so new to him, noticing new details about her appearance

I must always see her like this. As the stranger I love…

As time passes, Esmenet notices that Achamian has a burden. He always used to pretend to be alright, even when Inrau died. But not now. He begins explaining about the Mandate Schoolman suffer and she realizes that he’s learned something more. She wants to know, but Achamian can’t. Then she asks if he wants to know why she left. He doesn’t. She gets angry and talks about her custom, the men she’s been with, acting different. Achamian grows angry with her for throwing the custom in her face, all the men she’s bedded. He wants to ask the question why she left Sumna. Why she hid from him. Before he can, she heads to a group of harlots.

The harlots are her friends. She introduces Achamian and they know him. One harlot, Yasellas, is very bawdy and makes jokes about her work which brings laughter from the other prostitute which reminds Achamian of men laughing at dirty jokes. Esmenet goes to her tent for her belongings. In her tent, he asks her why she told him that.

“Because I had to know,” she replied, looking down at her hands.

“Know what?” What makes my hands shake? What makes my eyes dart in terror?”

Her shoulders hitched in the gloom; Achamian realized she was sobbing.

“You pretended that I wasn’t there,” she whispered.

That confuses Achamian. She explains about the last night at Momemn, at the end of the last book, when Achamian walked by her in a daze. How happy she was to see him and then how he ignored her. He’s even more confused. She grows angry, demanding why he ignored her. “Was I too polluted, too defiled? Too much a filthy whore?” He tries to speak to her, but she’s on an angry tirade. He grows angry and she flinches, like she expects him to hit her. That cuts through his anger as she starts crying. They’re both beaten, both outcasts.

“That night you’re talking about… Sweet Sejenus, Esmi, if I didn’t see you, it wasn’t because I was ashamed of you! How could I be? How could anyone—let alone a sorcerer!—be ashamed of a woman such as you?”

He explains that he found the Consult that night. He talks about remembering nothing of his walk back. He told her everything except Kellhus. She asks him questions, like she always did, pressed against him. She realizes he’s been avoiding talking to the Mandate and he tries to change the subject. But she wont’ let him. He then talks about how he met an Anasûrimbor Esmenet knows the significance of the name because he told her about the prophecy She grows scared.

She feared, Achamian realized, because she believed… He gasped, blinked hot tears. Tears of joy.

She really believes… All along she’s believed!

“No, Akka!” Esmenet cried, clutching his chest. “This can’t be happening!”

How could life be so perverse? That a Mandate Schoolman could celebrate the world’s end.

He explains his reasons for suspecting Kellhus as the harbinger. She begs that Achamian surrender Kellhus to the mandate. He doesn’t want them to destroy Kellhus. She still urges him with no hesitation “only cold eyes and remorseless judgment. For women, it seemed, the scales of threat and love brooked no counterweights.” She has made her decision. One life is worth it. He tries to explain how Kellhus is one man worth risking the Apocalypse to save. But he has trouble explaining it the first time and tries a different analogy.

“There’s many… many grounds between men. Some are mutual, and some are not. When you and I speak of the Consult, for instance, you stand upon my ground, just as I stand upon your ground when you discuss your… your life. But with Kellhus, it makes no difference what you discuss or where you stand; somehow the ground beneath your feet belongs to him. I’m always his guest—always! Even when I teach him, Esmi!”

She’s shocked that he teaches Kellhus, which makes Achamian feel like a betrayer, and he quickly assures her that he’s not teaching her sorcery, which he is grateful for. He explains that the man’s intelligence would make him into something powerful. Stronger even than Seswatha. Esmenet likes that even less and urges him to tell the Mandate. Esmenet realizes it is guilt over Inrau’s death is the reason Achamian protects him. Because Achamian thinks he killed Inrau.

“And what if I do? Does that mean I should relent a second time? Let those fools in Atyersus doom another man that I—”

“No, Achamian. It means you’re not doing this—any of this!—to save this Anasûrimbor Kellhus. You’re doing it to punish yourself.

He stared, dumbstruck. Was that what she thought?

“You say this,” Achamian breathed, “because you know me so well…” He reached out, traced the pale edge of her breast with a finger. “And Kellhus so little.”

“No man is that remarkable… I’m a whore, remember?”

“We’ll see,” he said, tugging her down. They kissed, long and deep.

We,” she repeated, laughing as though both hurt and astounded “It really is ‘we’ now, isn’t it?”

He tells her he feels hollow without her. “Isn’t that ‘we’” She agrees, recognizing the feeling. They have sex again, but Esmenet doesn’t act like the harlot “hoping to abbreviate her labor, but with the clumsy selfishness of a lover seeking surcease—a lover or a wife.” Achamian realizes that this is as much as any whore can give.

A skin-spy listens to them wearing a harlot’s face. It reflects on how it is immune to the needs of the flesh. They smell like animals to the skin-spy. But it understood their desire, because it had similar ones, only for killing, as the architects intends Those hungers give it direction.

There was ecstasy in a face. Rapture in deceit. Climax in the kill…

And certainty in the dark.

My Thoughts

The most careful laid plans can be undone by nature. The first test of the Holy War comes at the hands of an earthquake. Bakker is always good about showing random chance’s effect on events. This entire passage is the times when Bakker shifts gears from his limited 3rd Person POV to a omniscient narrators voice, sketching out historical events without the narrative colored by any one character’s thoughts.

Shibboleth is a new word for me. It means, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, “a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, esp. a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.” It sounds like a name out of Lovecraft for some dark, primordial entity lurking in the cosmos.

Again, Kellhus earns more respect of the Great Names by being listened to and further his agenda of positioning himself as a prophet, interpreting the will of God for them even if he makes no overt claim of prophethood.

Eleäzaras is stressed. He has wagered his entire school and now has the slow march towards Shimeh to dwell on the “what if” questions. Which are some of the most insidious questions our minds can ask of us, leaching in, driving us wild. Has he destroyed his school for vengeance?

And just when he’s relaxing, the mercenary Skaleteas arrives wanting to speak with him. Isn’t that just the worse, you kick back, relax after a long day and someone wants to talk to you and just want to relax with your body slave or the TV. The TV is probably more relatable.

A White-Sash Peralogue of the Mysunsai Order is about all we ever learn about this school in the books beyond that their mercenaries. Who knows what the title signifies. Is that a high ranking? Probably from how Skaleteas says it.

Skaleteas took the same interpretation of the skin spy as the Emperor. The Cishaurim He’s a very sniveling individual, always groveling and haggling, even wanting to know why Eleäzaras knew Achamian’s name and what interest the Scarlet Spier could have with the Mandate. And then, just when Eleäzaras is confident he can capture and make the man disappear, Skaleteas almost kills Eleäzaras Almost.

We get our first look at a proper sorcerous duel between two Angogic Schoolmen. Using Wards to hide behind, attacking with fiery birds and lightning bolts. Eleäzaras sees overcoming Skaleteas as a riddle. He has to find the right answer to solve him and kill him. Which he does.

Bakker reintroduces a number of plots with the Eleäzaras section, including how strong the Mandate are. Eleäzaras has no issue taking a Mysunsai sorcerer captured, even one who works for the Imperial Palace, but capturing Achamian, a field agent, is something that makes his spy master object to and demand answers. It is a dangerous risk.

Why does Eleäzaras want Achamian so badly? Last book, he believed the Mandate were mutilating people for dark reasons. A member of the Javreh, the bodyguard of the Scarlet Spire, was found with his face cut off after meeting with Achamian (in actuality, a skin spy killed him and planned on replacing the man but then Achamian left the city). Now with the fact that Achamian spoke with the spy in a foreign tongue and tried to keep it alive (to be interrogated, but Eleäzaras doesn’t know that) he sees Achamian as holding answers about a spy that can’t be seen. If it is a Cishaurim spy, what does that mean for his school.

Humans always have a preference for the semblance of control, to pretend like our lives aren’t controlled by random chance. We would prefer to stick our fingers in the dike and pretend no problem caused it to leak in the first place.

Notice how Achamian thinks of Kellhus and Inrau a lot. This is not accidental. Kellhus has figured out that Achamian responds to his students and mimics what Achamian most enjoys about his students, about Inrau in particular, his favorite. Then Kellhus exploits it to keep Achamian from telling the Mandate about him. Being captured by the Mandate would ruin all of Kellhus’s plans.

One life sacrificed for the world or the world sacrificed for one life. That is a philosophical question. The greater good could be one answer, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. But that’s a dangerous philosophy. Much evil can be done in the name of that philosophy Of course, if the world will end, wouldn’t you have to sacrifice anything to save it, including Kellhus. But Achamian is a skeptic. He always has doubts. And that holds him back.

The Inrithi face is a mix of their old paganism worshiping the Hundred Gods, and then Inrithi coming along and saying the Hundred were all aspects of a single God. So you have two castes of priests, the cultic priests, like the Yatwarian priestess, who follow the old ways, and then an shrial priest who follows the teachings of Inri Sejenus, cobbling together the old with the new. Also, Yatwar’s first mention. Her followers play a big role in the second series.

Poor Achamian. How can you condemn a man who so thoroughly shines above you? Who might stand beyond mere mortals. Achamian is seeing all that Kellhus can give humanity, insights that are beyond even Ajencis, the greatest philosopher, this worlds Socrates or Plato. Works that the foundations of modern thought are built upon. Poor Achamian. Can’t blame the man for drinking with such impossible decisions before him.

Fate is a Whore in Bakker’s world. She’s capricious, promiscuous you one thing but gives you another. You can never trust her to lead you right. But it is also an entity you try to bargain with. You do good acts hoping something positive will come to you. Like the concept of Karma. It’s no coincidence in this chapter we have actual whores, a mercenary called a whore, and Fate. You bargain with all three.

Camp followers might seem anachronistic to modern armies, but in fact, they’re just in uniform. The support personal, mechanics, logistic officers, chaplains, the supply driers, supporting the actual men who fight on the front lines. But ancient armies also marched with families, merchants, and, of course, the prostitutes. Any soldier’s wife who loses her husband may very well find herself turning to that option to feed her and her children.

Interesting that Achamian chooses a Norsirai girl over the other Ketyai prostitutes Serwë is Norsirai and Kellhus definitely has an attraction for her.

Standard haggling behavior, belittle yourself, your wares, your ability to pay to drive down the price. Love how arrogant men do badly in negotiating with prostitutes

The skin-spies are so insidious. They have to make you paranoid over everything if you let them. Anyone could be a skin-spy but yourself. It could make a same man crippled by paranoia if he dwelt on it.

As happy as I am for Achamian and Esmenet to find each other, to get the next few months of happiness together, it still irks me at how fast they did get back together. Bakker has them almost together at the end of the last book but chose to have Achamian be in such a daze from the revelation he didn’t even see her and to have Esmenet so shaken by that she doesn’t even try to get his attention. And then, in chapter 3, they’re back with no real obstacle. Achamian just…stumbles on her by chance. Bakker is usually better about how his characters move about, maybe he had plans that didn’t work out and he had to changes things.

Achamian just wants one night to enjoy his reunion with Esmenet before reality comes knocking and he has to ask her the questions dancing in his mind. No one wants the good times to end before they have to.

Esmenet’s tirade about her custom is interesting on how the Ketyai (brown-skinned) men like the Norsirai (white-skinned) girls. While the Norsirai like the Ketyai girls. People like what’s different, what’s exotic.

The whole discussion between Esmenet and Achamian, their anger, their crying, their opening up and telling each other what has happened is so well written. I love their scenes. They make a great couple. She believes him. She always has. And he finally has found that person he can share his burdens with.

It is easy for Esmenet to condemn Kellhus because she hasn’t met him yet. She didn’t get to know him before having to make the decision.

We see Esmenet’s intelligence when she realizes Inrau is the reason he protects Kellhus. Like Kellhus, Esmenet sees the vulnerability he has for his dead student and the guilt that his death is the Mandate’s, is Achamian’s, fault.

Esmenet giving herself to Achamian, taking her pleasure from him instead of giving up her body for his pleasure, is a loving act. Achamian is right. That’s not how she acts with her clients. How she’s ever really acted with him. Right there, she’s changed. She’s accepted he won’t leave her like she had always feared before, why she always took her custom when he was with her.

And then the skin-spy watching him. Probably the same skin-spy that killed Geshruuni in book one and who Achamian spotted following him in the Angora later on in the same book. Give some insight into what the Consult likes in their servant. They are aroused by fear and death, their appetites for lust channeled into something even darker by “the architects.”

Bakker plants seeds for the future plots of this chapter here. Achamian is in a lot of danger and doesn’t even know it. And Esmenet just falls back into the story. She’s what Achamian needs. He’s been so lost since the end of Book 1. Bakker does a good job on having the Scarlet Spire interpret events in a way that makes sense for their world view while being so wrong. And, of course, raise the stakes around Achamian.

Click here to continue onto Chapter 4!

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