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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 21
Caraskand

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

And We will give over all of them, slain, to the children of Eänna; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire. You shall bathe your feet in the blood of the wicked.

TRIBES 21:13, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

The Gods are promising vengeance on the enemies of their people. This is what the Holy War is doing to the Fanim. This is showing us how religion can be used to create such brutal, bloody wars and shows us how that what is happening in the present has happened into the past.

So for context, The Chronicle of the Tusk is the scriptures written around the Tusk, the giant mammoth tusk inscribed with words from the gods (but is actually from the Inchoroi manipulating the humans of Eänna to invade Eärwa and destroy the Nonmen). It resembles the Old Testament in that it appears both as a religious document and a historical document about the men of Eänna. Tribes refers to the five tribes of humans dwelling in Eänna: the Norsirai, the Ketyai, the Scylvendi, the Satyothi (found in southern Nilnamesh and Zeüm), and the Xiuhianni (who didn’t cross the mountains and still live in Eänna).

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

Saubon heads into Proyas’s camp full of elation. He believes Caraskand will be his, the kingdom he’s been craving since the Holy War began. He shouts for Proyas and is shocked when the Conryian prince pulls back his tent flap and reveals himself sick and shivering. Embarrassed, Saubon apologizes. He thought Proyas had recovered. Proyas says that by standing he proves his recovery, though he still is sick. He is impatient, wanting Saubon to come to the point and ask his one question.

Saubon wants to know if Proyas will support his bid to be king of Caraskand if he delivers the city. Proyas asks how. This makes Proyas become more lucid and attentive, a strength rising in him. He promises to support the bid.

Saubon raised his face and his arms to the menacing sky and howled out his battle cry. The rains plummeted upon him, rinsed him in soothing cold, fell between his lips and teeth and tasted of honey. He’d tumbled in the breakers of circumstance, so violently that mere months ago he’d thought he would die. Then he’d met Kellhus, the Warrior-Prophet, the man who’d set him onto the path toward his own heart, and he’d survived calamities that could break ten lesser men. And now this, the lifelong moment come at last. It seemed a giddy, impossible thing.

It seemed a gift.

Rain, so heartbreakingly sweet after Khemema. Beads pattered against his forehead, cheeks, and closed eyes. He shook water from his matted hair.

King… I will be King at last.

Proyas asks Cnaiür why he’s so silent. They’re in Proyas’s pavilion and Cnaiür realizes Proyas has been planning while convalescing. Cnaiür is confused by it, and Proyas points out how Cnaiür changed at Anwurat, wants to know what happened.

Proyas was still sick—grievously so, it appeared. He sat bundled beneath wool blankets in a camp chair, his normally hale face drawn and pale. In any other man, Cnaiür would have found such weakness disgusting, but Proyas wasn’t any other man. Over the months the young prince had come to command something troubling within him, a respect not fit for a fellow Scylvendi, let alone an outlander. Even sick he seemed regal.

He’s just another Inrithi dog!

Cnaiür says nothing. But Proyas presses, asking why he ran and disappeared. He doesn’t know what to say. To admit he went mad. He has spent nights trying to understand what had happened. He has memories of killing a skin-spy with Kellhus’s face, then the beach. “He could remember a thousand different things, but they all seemed stolen, like stories told by a childhood friend.”

Cnaiür had lived the greater part of his life with madness. He heard the way his brothers spoke, he understood how they thought, but despite endless recriminations, despite years of roaring shame, he couldn’t market hose words and thoughts his own. He was a fractious and mutinous soul. Always one thought, one hunger, too many! But no matter how far his soul wandered from the tracks of the proper, he’d always borne witness to its treachery—he’d always known the measure of his depravity. His confusion had been that of one who watches the madness of another. How? he would cry. How could these thoughts be mine?

He had always owned his madness.

But at Anwurat, that had changed. The watcher within h ad collapsed, and for the first time his madness had owned him. For weeks he’d been little more than a corpse bound to a maddened horse. How his soul had galloped!

Cnaiür questions how this is any of Proyas’s business since he’s not a client of Proyas. Proyas counters that he’s an important advisor especially with the loss of Xinemus. Cnaiür belittles himself, but is cut off when Proyas brings up Cnaiür saving him in the desert.

Cnaiür quashed the sudden yearning that filled him. For some reason, he missed the desert—far more than the Steppe. What was it? Was it the anonymity of footsteps, the impossibility of leaving track or trail? Was it respect? The Carathay had killed far more than he… Or had his heart recognized itself in her desolation.

So many cursed questions! Shut up! Shut—

Cnaiür says he saved Proyas to preserve his own station in the Holy War. He regrets the words, realizing it made him sound like he needed Proyas (the truth) as opposed to the dismissal he meant. Proyas looks frustrated then says Conphas called a secret meeting about Kellhus, which Cnaiür hadn’t heard of. Proyas asks if Cnaiür still speaks to Kellhus. He doesn’t. Proyas asks what happened. He says because of Serwë and memories of finding her beaten float up, puzzling him. He thinks of her as his mistake. He doesn’t understand why he took her with them after killing the Munuäti back in the Steppes. It was stupid to take her on the trail even with her beauty. She was a prize lesser chieftains would flaunt. And meanwhile, he was hunting Moënghus.

No. The answer was plain: he’d taken her because of Kellhus. Hadn’t he?

She was my proof.

Before finding her, he’d spent weeks alone with the man—weeks alone with a Dûnyain. Now, after watching the inhuman fiend devour heart after Inrithi heart, it scarcely seemed possible he’d survived. The bottomless scrutiny. The narcotic voice. The demonic truths… How could he not take Serwë after enduring such an ordeal? Besides beautiful she was simple, honest, passionate—everything Kellhus wasn’t. He warred against a spider. How could he not crave the company of flies?

Yes… That was it! He’d taken her as a landmark, as a reminder of what was human. He should’ve known she’d become a battleground instead.

He used her to drive me mad!

Proyas is shocked that it was a woman, that Cnaiür would be so caught up in her. This makes Cnaiür bristle. Proyas then comments about the madness about Kellhus. Though thousands flock to him, the man who knew him longest can’t stand him. Cnaiür reiterates because he stole his woman. Proyas asks if he loved Serwë. Cnaiür considers it. He knows that men beat their sons as proxies for their fathers, but why did they beat their wives. He wonders if he beat Serwë to bruise Kellhus.

Where Kellhus caressed, Cnaiür had slapped. Where Kellhus whispered, Cnaiür had screamed. The more the Dûnyain compelled love, the more he exacted terror, and without any true understanding of what he did. At the time, she simply deserved his fury. Wayward bitch! he would think. How could you? How could you?

Did he love her? Could he?

Perhaps in a world without Moënghus…

Cnaiür declares he owned her. Proyas asks if that’s it? Cnaiür nearly laughs, unable to express “the sum for what he felt.” Proyas is unnerved by Cnaiür’s silence. The Scylvendi responds with being offended by the interrogation. Proyas needs to know the truth. “What would these dogs make of the truth?” Cnaiür thinks. He asks which truth? Cnaiür can’t answer if Kellhus is a prophet. Proyas sits heavily in his chair. He had hoped Cnaiür could. But this isn’t the reason he summoned Cnaiür.

Cnaiür realizes Conphas has approached Proyas about moving against Kellhus. He finds himself wondering why he keeps lying for Kellhus since he doesn’t believe the Dûnyain will honor their agreement. “So just what did he believe?”

Proyas explains that Saubon has exchanged letters and hostages with a Kianene officer named Kepfet ab Tanaj. This man has a grudge against Imbeyan that he’s willing to offer up a section of wall near a postern gate to Saubon’s forces. Cnaiür is surprised Proyas wants his opinion after Anwurat. In fact, Proyas wants more than Cnaiür’s counsel. He wants Cnaiür to go with Saubon, which Cnaiür interprets as he’s the most expendable person Proyas trusts. But Proyas sees that realization and adds he would send Xinemus if he were still here.

Cnaiür studied him closely. “You fear this may be a trap… That Saubon might be deceived.”

Proyas chewed at the inside of his cheek, nodded. “An entire city for the life of one man? No hatred could be so great.”

Cnaiür did not bother contradicting him.

Cnaiür is moving along Caraskand’s walls with Saubon and his men, thinking about how he needs to be useful for Kellhus again, his madness lifting. Saubon grabs his shoulder, grinning. Cnaiür, though respecting Saubon’s fighting skill, doesn’t like or trust him. “The man had, after all, kenneled with the Dûnyain’s other dogs.” Saubon asks, as they are no on the wall, if Cnaiür still doubts him. Cnaiür never doubted Saubon, only Kepfet.”

The Galeoth Prince’s grin broadened. “Truth shines,” he said.

Cnaiür squashed the urge to sneer. “So do pigs’ teeth.”

He spat across the ancient stonework. There was no escaping the Dûnyain—not any more. It sometimes seemed the abomination spoke from every mouth, watched from all eyes. And it was only getting worse.

Something… There must be something I can do!

But Cnaiür has no idea. He knows their agreement was a farce, that Kellhus wouldn’t honor any agreement unless it served his mission. And Cnaiür squandered every tool he had. He didn’t even have his reputation after running at Anwurat. And then it hits him and he gasps aloud, Saubon shooting him a look of alarm. Cnaiür realizes he can keep his silence about Kellhus. The only thing he has left to trade to the Dûnyain.

Saubon leads the force onward. They creep along the battlement to the guard tower. Here they would learn if Kepfet really meant to betray Caraskand. Cnaiür grabs the door, pulls the handle. It opens. Whispering “Die or conquer!” he charges into the tower. The move through the narrow corridors of the gatehouse and they reach a door, light bleeding through along with people talking. Saubon whispers that the God has given him this place. Cnaiür asks how he knows.

“I know!”

The Dûnyain had told him. Cnaiür was certain of it.

“You brought Kepfet to Kellhus…. Didn’t you?”

He let the Dûnyain read his face.

Saubon grin and snort is the answer Cnaiür needs. Then he knocks on the door. A Kianene soldier opens the door and is killed by Saubon. Cnaiür and Saubon charge in, killing the shocked Kianene. Cnaiür sees a youth flee from the room, doesn’t follow. The room secure, Saubon orders the gate to be open. Saubon orders the rest of the gatehouse, including the murder holes, taken. His men yelling, “Die or conquer!” Cnaiür spots the same Kianene boy begging for mercy. Cnaiür hesitates. Then a Galeoth comes up and butchers the youth, saying “Truth shines!” to Cnaiür. Cnaiür kills the Galeoth man in a brutal fashion.

I am stronger!

The twitching thing slouched to the ground, drained across the Men of the Tusk.

Cnaiür stood, his chest heaving, blood streaming in rivulets across the iron scales of his harness. The very world seemed to move, so great was the rush of arms and men beneath him.

Yes, the madness was lifting.

War horns sound across Caraskand. As dawn arrives, wreathed in fog, the citizens of the city crowd the rooftops to see what is happening. They witness smoke in the eastern quarters of the city. They understand what it means. Kianene horseman charge through the street riding down their own people to get to the battle. Soon, the watching citizens see the Inrithi pressing into the city.

Saubon’s men race through the streets to seize the Gate of the Horns. They succeed after fierce fighting. His men are pressed hard, even with his reinforcements coming in through the postern gate. But they hold long enough to open the gates. Athjeäri and his Gaenrish knights charge in first, followed by the Conryians. Proyas is carried in on a litter. This routs the Kianene and the city is lost.

The looting begins. Slave girls are claimed, families are murdered, houses are ransacked. “The Men of the Tusk rifled through ancient Caraskand, leaving behind them scattered clothes and broken chests, death and fire.” They encounter pockets of resistance throughout the city, the greatest in the large market squares and around the important buildings. The Fanim Tabernacles are sacked, all worshipers inside murdered. Children are ripped from their mothers arms and murdered before the women are raped before their dying husbands. “Moved by the God’s own fury, they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of sharp sword.”

The anger of the God burned bright against the people of Caraskand.

The Synthese flies over Caraskand at dawn, watching the city being sacked. He watches Kellhus being chased by the skin-spy Gaörta (Sarcellus) and his brothers. They are trying to kill Kellhus. He flees across rickety roofs. He jumps, leaps, and pirouettes through danger, even landing amid Kianene soldiers and darting away before they can react.

What was this man? Who were the Dûnyain?

These are the questions that needed to be answered. According to Gaörta, the man’s Zaudunyani, his “tribe of truth,” numbered in the tens of thousands. It was only a matter of weeks, Gaörta insisted, before the Holy War succumbed to him entirely. But the questions these facts raises were overmatched by the perils. Nothing could interfere with the Holy War’s mission. Shimeh must be taken. The Cishaurim must be destroyed!

But despite the questions, Kellhus had to be killed for “reasons that transcended their war against the Cishaurim.” The Synthese finds his name, Anasûrimbor, more troubling than his preternatural abilities. The Consult thought the Celmomian Prophecy false, but now that they were so near the “End of Ends” they can’t take chances with Kellhus. “One did not gamble with such things.” They would kill him and seize Cnaiür, Esmenet, and Serwë for questioning. The Synthese sees the skin-spies closing in, things it is over.

The Warrior-Prophet… The Old Name had already decided he would couple with his corpse.

Kellhus is running, thinking the skin-spies are too fast. When Kellhus plunges into a pitch-black basement, the skin-spies hesitate. “All eyes need light,” Kellhus thinks. Here, he makes his stand, drawing his sword and standing motionless in the corner. He hears them enter, spreading out through the darkness.

“I’ve tasted both of your peaches,” the one called Sarcellus said—to mask the sounds of the others, Kellhus realized. “I tasted them long and hard—did you know that? I made them squeal…”

“You lie!” Kellhus cried in mimicry of desperate fury. He heard the skin-spies pause, then close on the corner where he’d thrown his voice.

“Both were sweet,” Sarcellus called, “and so very juicy… The man, they say, ripens the peach.”

Kellhus strikes, killing a skin-spy without making a sound. Sarcellus keeps laughing, saying Kellhus was twice cuckolded. Kellhus guts another while a third screams out that Kellhus plays with them. Sarcellus orders them to use their noses. The dying skin-spy flops and flails, screaming in “demonic voices” as it dies. Just like Kellhus hoped. Then he takes off his robe to use as a scent trap. It works, and he kills two more. Sarcellus attack misses him and then he flees, the last one left alive.

How are such creatures possible? What do you know of them, Father?

Retrieving his long-pommeled sword, Kellhus struck off the living skin-spy’s head. Sudden silence. He wrapped it, still streaming blood, in his slashed robe.

Then he climbed back toward slaughter and daylight.

Ikurei Conphas assails the Citadel of the Dog, the key to holding the city. It’s his first act upon entering the city. Saubon and Gothyelk realizes this and join Conphas in the assault since neither were “so foolish as to leave such a prize to the Exalt-General.” Serge engines used to attack the city walls are brought in to assault the fortification. Saubon takes a Kianene arrow in the thigh during the assault.

But despite fierce Kianene resistance, the Tydonni gain the western wall and dislodge the Kianene, forcing them into the courtyard. But the Tydonni hold and allow reinforcements to follow them up. The Inrithi look on the verge of taking the fortress.

Then came a light more blinding than the sun. Men cried out, pointing to mad, saffron-robed figures hanging between the towers of the black keep. Eyeless Cishaurim, each with two snakes wrapped about their throats.

Threads of unholy incandescence waved across the outer wall like ropes in water. Stone cracked beneath the flashing heat. Hauberks were welded to skin. The Tydonni crouched beneath their great tear-shaped shields, leaning against the light, shouting in horror and outrage before being swept away. The Agmundrmen fired vainly at the floating abominations. Teams of Chorae Crossbowmen watched bolt after bolt whistle wide because of the range.

The Tydonni knights are massacred and routed, fleeing down the ladders or jumping on fire from the battlements. Gothyelk’s standard is consumed. Gothyelk is dragged away mad with grief, his youngest son killed. The Inrithi withdraw and send a message to the Scarlet Spire that the Cishaurim hold the Citadel of the Dog.

Kellhus, still carrying the skin-spy’s head, steps over the corpse of a raped woman to find a perch to survey the city. As he surveys the destruction, he reflects that he is so close to Shimeh and completing his mission.

He dumps out the skin-spy’s head, studying it. He knows sorcery didn’t make them, but created by the Inchoroi “the way swords were fashioned by Men.” He finds this remarkable.

Weapons. And the Consult had finally wielded them.

Wars within wars. It has finally come to this.

Kellhus has given orders to his Zaudunyani since the fight, ordering them to secure the palace he’s in and bring his wives from the camp. Further, he wants the Zaudunyani watching the known skin-spies to act. “They Holy War must be purged.”

The Scarlet Spire’s attack on the Citadel of the Dog begins, their sorcery ripping apart the fortress’s walls. He watches the destruction, the Scarlet Spire Schoolmen floating in the air. Several are killed by Chorae bowmen. “Hellish lights scourged the ramparts.”

The song of the Scarlet Schoolmen trailed. The thunder rumbled into the distance. For several heartbeats, all Caraskand stood still.

The fortress walls steamed with the smoke of burning flesh.

The Schoolmen advance, walking on the “ground’s echo in the sky.” Kellhus thinks they’re searching or waiting for something. Then the Cishaurim attack from the rubble. Sorcery is exchanged, more destruction happens.

Kellhus watched, wondering at the spectacle and at the promise of deeper dimensions of understanding. Sorcery was the only unconquered knowledge, the last remaining bastion of world-born secrets. He was one of the Few—as Achamian both feared and hope. What kind of power would he wield?

And his father, who was Cishaurim, what king of power did he already wield?

The sorcery battle continues. Kellhus ponders “how could words come before?” Then Kellhus spots a surviving Cishaurim fleeing the citadel. The Cishaurim isn’t escaping, Kellhus realizes, but coming for him. Kellhus thinks this might be his father, and grips his Chorae, one of two his Zaudunyani had given him. Kellhus is surprised by this action. But the Cishaurim is too young to be his father. The Cishaurim descends to Kellhus, calling him by name.

“I am Hifanat ab Tunukri,” the eyeless man said breathlessly, “a Dionoratë of the tribe Indara-Kishauri… I bear a message from your Father. He says, ‘You walk the Shortest Path. Soon you will grasp the Thousandfold Thought.”

Father?

Sheathing his sword, Kellhus opened himself to every outward sign the man offered. He saw desperation and purpose. Purpose above all…

Kellhus asked how Hifanat found him. The Cishaurim says that all who serve Moënghus, the Possessors of the Third Sight, can see Kellhus. Kellhus realizes his father controls a faction within the Cishaurim. Kellhus asks his fathers intentions, but Hifanat doesn’t know, saying there wouldn’t be time for him to tell if he did. Kellhus interprets this as his father knowing he’s an assassin and has to be certain of Kellhus’s intentions.

Then Hifanat adds that the Padirajah himself leads the army marching from the south and is almost upon the city. Kellhus realizes that with the Padirajah coming, the Consult attacking, and the Great Names plotting he is being overwhelmed. He wants his father to know that. But the Citadel of the Dog collapses and three Scarlet Schoolmen approach, so Hifanat cannot carry any messages.

“The Whores come,” the eyeless man said. “You must kill men.”

In a single motion Kellhus drew his blade. Though the man seemed oblivious, the closer asp reared as though drawn back by a string.

“The Logos,” Hifanat said, his voice quavering, “is without beginning or end.”

Kellhus kills the man and cuts in half one of his snakes. The other flees into the garden. Smoke rises from the destroyed Citadel of the Dog.

The city burns, but nothing as badly as the Citadel of the Dog. From a hill to the south, Kascamandri ab Tepherokar, the High Padirajah of Kian and all the Cleansed Lands, cries as he watches, his face otherwise hardened. He had refused to believe his son-in-law Imbeyan could lose the city. His eyes prove his beliefs wrong. He tells his Grandees that they shall avenge the city. He fears telling his daughter about her husband even as Imbeyan is killed trying to flee the city. Gotian has Imbeyan’s body hung from a tree.

Esmenet is relieved to see Kellhus in the mansion, rushing to him and embracing him. For her and Serwë, the joy they felt at seeing the city fall was soon banished by the news of the assassination attempt. They learn about “devils” who attacked him. Kellhus chuckles when she asks about that, saying they weren’t devils. She presses him for information.

Kellhus gently pushed her back. “We’ve endured much,” he said, stroking her cheek. He seemed to be watching more than looking… She understood the implied question: How strong are you?

“Kellhus?”

“The trial is about to begin, Esmi. The true trial.”

A horror like no other shuddered through her. Not you! she inwardly cried. Never you!

He had sounded afraid.

Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Bay of Trantis

Achamian stares at the calm waters, reflecting on this could be his life. “Aside from the wonder, there was never any answers.” According to Ajencis, this reflection, termed possessing in dispossession, is the heart of wisdom and “the most reliable mark of an enlightened soul.” Without reflection, “one simply stumbled through a dream.”

Xinemus asks Achamian what everyone sees as their ship sails through the bay. Achamian responds that they see burned ships, the remains of the Nansur fleet destroyed by the Cishaurim. When Iyokus told Achamian about this, it was where “he’d stopped fearing for himself and had started fearing for Esmenet.” He gives a prayer to Kellhus to keep her safe. Xinemus asks for a description of the wreckage.

“The Cishaurim burned everything,” Achamian replied.

He paused, almost overcome by a visceral reluctance to say anything more. It seemed blasphemous, somehow, rendering a thing like this in words—a sacrilege. But then such was the case whenever one described another’s loss. There was no way around words.

He does describe it anyways. They are joined by the ship’s captain, Meümaras. Achamian has liked the Captain since they met in Iothiah. The captain explains how this was out of their way, but he had to see it. Achamian realizes the Captain lost someone in the Nansur fleet. Captains says his brother. Further, tens of thousands of sailors survived the attack because they moored close to shore. But the desert killed them. Their bones litter the beaches for miles. The captain says no one survived.

Achamian stiffened, struck by what was now an old fear. Despite the desert air, a clamminess crept over his skin. “The Holy War survived,” he said.”

The Captain frowned, as though put off by something in Achamian’s tone. He opened his mouth in retort, but then paused, his eyes suddenly thoughtful.

“You fear you’ve lost someone as well.” He glanced yet again at Xinemus.

“No,” Achamian said. She’s alive! Kellhus has saved her!

The captain hopes Achamian is right, but his tone implies he’s not. The captain then says that the there’s never been a greater shedding of blood than the Holy War. “Achamian knew different” and resents the captain’s presence. Xinemus asks why the captain thinks that. Because of Craziness, disease, disastrous, the Padirajah’s new army. Xinemus dismisses it with bitterness.

Achamian now heard dread in Xinemus’s every word. It was as though something horrific loomed in the blackness, something he feared might recognize the sound of his voice. As the weeks passed it was becoming more and more apparent: the Scarlet Spires had taken more than his eyes; they had taken the light and devilry that had once filled them as well. With the Cants of Compulsion, Iyokus had moved Xinemus’s soul in perverse ways, had forced him to betray both dignity and love. Achamian had tried to explain that it wasn’t he who’d thought those thoughts, who’d uttered those words, but it didn’t matter. As Kellhus said, men couldn’t see what moved them. The frailties Xinemus had witnessed were his frailties. Confronted by the true dimensions of wickedness, he’d held his own infirmity accountable.

The Captain brings up rumors of a new prophet, and Achamian leaps at this, asking who it is. The man says someone called Kelah who found water in the desert. Achamian is certain Kellhus lives, which means Esmenet also lives. He’s relieved for both of them, he realizes, almost swooning but is steadied by the captain.

Esmenet and Kellhus. They lived! The woman who could save his heart, and the man who could save the world…

Xinemus is happy for Achamian, saying Esmenet will be joyful at their reunion. Achamian is struck by this moment of compassion from a man who suffered so much. Being reminded of his friend’s pain, anger grows at Iyokus.

“There will be fire when I return, Zin.”

He swept his dry eyes across the wrecked warships of the Imperial Fleet. Suddenly they looked more a transition and less an end—like the carapaces of monstrous beetles.

The red-throated gulls kept jealous watch.

“Fire,” he said.

My Thoughts

Proyas’s men aren’t holding watch in the rain. He thinks of Proyas as soft-hearted. I point this out, because the Great Ordeal has more interaction between these two men and we are already seeing here how Saubon has a low opinion of Proyas.

Great start to the chapter. After a siege that has last about two months (another month has passed since the last chapter, it seems) finally there is a way to break the siege and change the war’s fortunes. Saubon is the one most motivated to get in, to get his dream of being king, makes sense that he’d find it. He wants this badly. Conphas, in his mind, cheated him out of Shigek.

We’re back to Cnaiür. He’s been scarce since Anwurat. Only one POV of him picking up Proyas in the desert. Despite trying to fight it, trying to be of the People, he can’t help liking Proyas and feeling pity for the man as he battles his sickness. He respects Proyas in ways he wouldn’t respect a fellow Scylvendi. This is the last reread post I will write before The Unholy Consult comes out in the states. I am curious what will happen if (or when) Proyas and Cnaiür encounter each other. They’re both heading to the same place leading armies.

The way Cnaiür thinks about the madness he felt sounds like a dissociative break. Where he felt like another person had done those things, hence feeling like his memories were someone else’s tale. It started when he failed to save the woman and her child, that moment when she burned. And then killing the skin-spy and not understanding what was going on there, leading to the moment he knows he’s useless. That Kellhus will kill him. And then didn’t.

I think it’s all of the reasons Cnaiür thinks he might like the desert, recognizing himself in it. The desert has no pretense, no lies making it anything other than what it is. It’s what Cnaiür wishes he could be, truly himself, but can’t. He has to plant the grass of the Steppes over his truth, and it’s such maddening work to keep that grass alive.

Cnaiür, with distance between himself and Serwë, is finally thinking clearly. Just like he did after he realized Moënghus used him as a boy to escape, he now understands just what Kellhus did to him. How despite his best efforts, he was manipulated. Cnaiür is beginning to understand the darkness that comes before, the impulses that despite his best effort, Kellhus manipulated and set into motion.

Men, the memorialists said, often strike their sons to bruise their fathers.” Domestic violence, as Erin Pizzy the founder of the first domestic violence shelter teaches, is something children are taught by their parents. Boys and girls both. They learn it and if they aren’t taught differently, they will go on to beat their spouses and children. If a son’s father beats him, he’s likely to beat his children. If a mother slaps her husband all the time, her daughter’s likely to slap her husband. The Scylvendi understand this.

Cnaiür can’t betray Kellhus, though he’s close, because of Moënghus. As Cnaiür admits here, he loves the man but he also hates him. He has to find him. He’ll do anything to do it. Even continue hoping a Dûnyain won’t betray him.

This Kepfet ab Tanaj is a mirror to Cnaiür. The Scylvendi abandoned his people when they were weak, knowing other tribes would kill them, capture his beloved Anissi, and did not think twice. His hatred was all that mattered. Just like with this Kepfet. This talk of hate spurs Cnaiür into wondering how he can become useful for Kellhus again so he can get to Moënghus.

We need to talk about Bakker’s exclamation point. “Whispering, ‘Die or conquer!’ he slipped…” I know I use too many exclamation points in my writing, but Bakker loves them. He used one as Saubon is whispering! That’s the opposite of when you get to use them, Bakker. Ever since developing my own writing career, I’ve really started to notice the more technical aspects of writing, and every author has their little quirks. Exclamation points are Bakker’s. Still love his writing, but sometimes…

Foeman. I need to remember that word for writing.

Cnaiür shows another moment of mercy and again fails to save the person he spared. But this time he can inflict his anger on the person responsible instead of being forced to flee the Scarlet Spire Schoolmen.

And we see the horror of warfare. The looting. The infliction of wrongs on the conquered motivated by the need to right perceived crimes by the attackers. To take out their frustrations on suffering for so long. It takes real discipline in an army to keep this from happening, and the leaders of the Holy War don’t care to do so.

Moved by the God’s own fury” is how the Inrithi see themselves. They have scapegoated their crimes they commit onto the God, just like we see with the passage from Tribes. This is how they justify their terrible actions. For a human to do harm to another, he just needs an excuse, a lie to tell himself, to justify it. Our tribal nature makes us very prone to in-group, out-group think. And once you believe someone’s in the out-group, it’s easy to do harm against them.

So we have confirmation from the Syntheses that the Second Apocalypse approaches. We’ve only had Achamian’s insistence thus far that it did. But the End of Ends is coming. Also note how the Consult has dismissed the Celmomian Prophecy. In The White-Luck Warrior, a skin-spy tells Mimara that all prophecies, even the false, have to be respected. I have a feeling that Achamian’s appearance has caused the Consult to view any prophecy now as a possibility.

And we get more disturbing sexy times from an Inchoroi as the Syntheses is eager for necrophilia.

So, Kellhus can throw his voice. I bet he’d make a great ventriloquist.

Dûnyain never fight fair. He couldn’t take the skin-spies five-on-one where they could see. But he had trained in the Thousand Thousand Halls of Ishuäl, a dark labyrinth as we see in The Great Ordeal. It is never lit save for certain rooms. There are no markings on the walls, either. Dûnyain have to master navigating through the darkness or be lost in there and perish.

I talked about lack of discipline among the Holy War. Ikurei Conphas is the exception. He has his men disciplined. He ignores lotting the city for taking the vital military target of the Citadel of the Dog.

Having sorcerers hold a fortress is a great plan. As we saw, they let the Inrithi gain the walls before being unleashed, inflicting a great number of casualties. More than if they assaulted the army outside the wall.

Kellhus’s desire for sorcery is verging on true emotion. You can feel the envy he has for it, muted, but there, wondering what he could do with this knowledge.

So Kellhus learns the reason his father summoned him. To grasp the Thousandfold Thought, the goal of the Dûnyain. Based off the “Father?” thought Kellhus has, this is not something he considered. His father is still Dûnyain, still striving for their goals even though he was banished from Ishuäl. In fact he seems to think being away from Ishuäl is the only way to grasp it. Further, he must have failed to grasp it himself because he’s summoned Kellhus. In the process, he has conditioned the ground before Kellhus, manufacturing the Holy War, so Kellhus will be tested. We also see Moënghus has his own Zaudunyani faction, the Possessors of the Third Sight. Something special, something that sets them apart from the other Cishaurim, turning their loyalties from the Solitary God and the Fanim people to Moënghus.

A nice bit of characterization when Hifanat is about to die. Though he knows the necessity, he’s still afraid, his voice quavering.

Kellhus now knows with the consult attacking him, the great names plotting, and the Padirajah’s army about to besiege the newly captured city, there is no escaping the Circumfix. So he prepares Esmenet in the hopes he can survive it. Not only is this the shortest path, but it’s the only one left to him. He’s at his limits of his ability to cope with the situation.

I think we all have that moment Achamian has, wondering how our lives brought us to such a point, baffled by it whether by success or failure.

Great imagery on the destroyed fleet.

Poor Xinemus. To be used that way and not even be able to realize it. You’ve seen compulsion in many fantasy stories, but never one as horrible as Bakker’s. It’s one thing to be compelled to do something, but to not even realize you’re being compelled… It leaves you thinking you are capable of those acts.

Powerful moment for Achamian realizing that Esmenet lives. And that he also cares for Kellhus. But poor Achamian, Esmenet won’t save his heart. She won’t let those emotions come out of him like he needs. She’s moved on to Kellhus. The two people he’s most desperate to see have betrayed him.

We get to see a glimpse of the old Xinemus in that moment of realization and joy for Achamian. A last flicker of a dying fire before being snuffed out entirely.

NOTE: With The Unholy Consult coming out in the states on Tuesday and me going on vacation the first week of August, the reread will be on hold until mid to late August. I want to absorb the new book, hit the forums, and digest its implications.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Nineteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 19
Enathpaneah

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

What vengeance is this? That he should slumber while I endure? Blood douses no hatred, cleanses no sin. Like seed, it spills of its own volition, and leaves naughty but sorrow in its wake.

HAMISHAZA, TEMPIRAS THE KING

…and my soldiers, they say, make idols of their swords. But does not the sword make certain? Does not the sword make plain? Does not the sword compel kindness from those who kneel in its shadow? I need no other god.

TRIAMIS, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

The first quote not only talks about the pointlessness of violence, since it doesn’t stop hatred or have any redemption, but equates it to indiscriminate sex. Something we see with the Consult and their creations, that bestial rutting and bestial hungers are one and the same, and that they inflict humans to their own woes. The author is lamenting how he has clearly done violence and it hasn’t satiated him. He has to live with the consequences after murdering the target of his anger. “That he should slumber…” indicates this, to me.

And, as we see, Achamian goes on his own vengeance here, hunting Iyokus. But it doesn’t change anything. Nor when he does get his vengeance on Iyokus for Xinemus in the next book.

The next quote reminds me of Marx’s “Power comes from the barrel of a gun.” The potential to do violence is true power, not something ephemeral like beseeching unseen gods. When you hold a sword, that gives you power to “compel kindness from those who kneel in its shadow.” Triamis, a famed conquering Emperor, is quite blunt and holds few illusions about where true source of power lies in: fear. And if you don’t think this is true, ask yourself why you obey laws, even ones you find stupid. Because the government employees many, many men with guns. And they will use violence to compel you in the end.

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

Proyas wakes up hearing rustling leaves and gurgling water before remembering he’s in the desert, the sun shining in his eyes, a headache throbbing. He calls out to his body slave, but someone tells him his slave is dead. It is Cnaiür, badly sunburned and dehydrated like Proyas. Proyas asks what happened.

The Scylvendi resumed digging at the leather wrapped about his scarred knuckles. “You collapsed,” he said. “In the desert…”

“You… You saved me?”

Cnaiür paused without looking up. Then continued working.

The Holy War drifts “like reavers come from the furnace” into the villages and forts of Enathpaneah, walking out of the desert. They kill every man, woman, and child they find, burn every structure.

There were no innocents. This was the secret they carried away from the desert.

All were guilty.

They wander in scattered bands, marked by the horrors they suffered. “And their swords were their judgments.” Approximately 300,000 marched into the desert, 3/5ths combatants. 100,000 marched out. Almost all combatants. None of the Great had died despite the high casualty rate. “Death had drawn circles, each more narrow than the last, taking the slaves and the camp-followers, then the indentured caste-menial soldiers, and so on. Life had been rationed according to caste and station.”

For generations the Khirgwi would call their route saka’ilrait, “the Trail of Skulls.”

The desert road had sharpened their souls into knives. The Men of the Tusk would lay the keel of another road, just as appalling, and far more furious.

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

Achamian wonders how long he’s been tortured. But he couldn’t be broken. Not because of his own strength, but Seswatha. At Dagliash, Seswatha had been tortured by the Consult, and the Scarlet Spire were amateurs. Despite their “merciless cunning,” the Scarlet Spire have never realized they tortured two souls, and Seswatha was forever out of their reach.

Whatever they do, I remain untouched. The heart of the great tree never burns. The heart of a great tree never burns.

Two men, like a circle and its shadow. The torture, the Cants of Compulsion, the narcotics—everything had failed because there were two men for them to compel, and the one, Seswatha, stood far outside the circle of the present. Whatever the affliction, no matter how obscene, his shadow whispered, But I’ve suffered more…

Time passes. Iyokus brings out a man (Xinemus), badly tortured, begging Achamian to tell them. Iyokus talks about treading new ground while Xinemus howls about being able to take no more. Iyokus explains how Xinemus came to rescue Achamian, and that’s when the sorcerer realizes who the broken man is. Iyokus wants to find out how far Achamian’s indifference will go. Achamian can only watch as Xinemus is blinded, his eyes gouged out by a Javreh soldier. As Achamian cries out in pained horror, Seswatha whispers in his soul: “I know not this man.”

Iyokus tells Achamian, speaking Schoolman to Schoolman, that Achamian will never leave alive, but Xinemus can. If Achamian cooperates. Iyokus gives his word. Achamian believes him. But Seswatha doesn’t care. Iyokus sees it, decrying Achamian’s “fanatic stubbornness.” He gives the order.

“Nooooo!” a piteous voice howled.

A stranger convulsed in sightless agony, soiling himself.

I know not this man.

A nameless cat is prowling an ally for food, noting how it was five years old but had never eaten humans until recently. “Every day, with the piety born of his blood, he padded, crept, and prowled along the same circuit.” Today, he has found something new. He isn’t hungry (especially since it doesn’t have blood), just curious about it. The cat attacks, leaping on the Wathi doll. That was a mistake. The Wathi doll kills the cat, tasting its blood.

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

Caraskand is a city that sits on the route linking the lands sound of the desert to Shigek and Nansur. It started as a waystation, and for thousands of years had seen all manner of trade goods move north and south. It grew over the centuries, once even ruling its own small empire. Triamis I (greatest of the Ceneian Aspect-Emperors) raised her walls. Now Caraskand is a great city like Momemn. She is also a proud city.

Proud cities do not yield.

The citizens are scared. The Holy War survived despite the Padirajah’s proclamation, and they were here, “no longer a terrifying rumour from the north.” Day by day, they see the smoke of burning villages come closer, the stream of refuges growing larger. Panic seized the city, and Imbeyan the All-Conquering, could not calm them. After all, Imbeyan had fled after the defeat at Anwurat and 3/4th of Enathpaneah’s Grandees lay dead. People speak of the Holy War’s figures in frightened tones: Saubon the blond beast, Conphas the tactician who destroyed the Scylvendi, Athjeäri the wolf, the Scarlet Spire who routed the Cishaurim, and Kellhus the Demon False Prophet. Despite the fear, they don’t talk of surrender. Few flee. They know they have to resist. It is the will of the Solitary God. You didn’t flee your father’s punishment.

To be punished was the lot of the faithful.

They crowded the interiors of their grand tabernacles. They wept and prayed, for themselves, for their possessions, for their city.

The Holy War was coming…

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

Achamian has been hanging for a while and didn’t even realize Iyokus was there until he spoke. Iyokus talks to him about the Holy War’s current state, telling of how the Padirajah had made plans in case he lost the Battle of Anwurat (a sign of intelligence). He has used the desert as a weapon, saying how the assumption the Kianene fleet would lose against the Empire’s was in error. They used the Cishaurim to destroy the Imperial fleet. Achamian asks about the Holy war.

“Nearly destroyed. Innumerable dead lie across the sands of Khemema.”

Esmenet? He hadn’t thought her name for a long while. In the beginning, it had been a refuge for him, reprieve in the sweet sound of a name, but once they brought Xinemus to their sessions, once they started using his love as an instrument of torment, he’d stopped thinking of her. He’d withdrawn from all love…

To things more profound.

Iyokus says that the Scarlet Spire have losses and his mission is being recalled. Achamian asks what the means for him while thinking about Esmenet. Iyokus says Achamian’s torment is over. Then, after hesitating, adds that he was against seizing you. He has done this before, and knows it to be futile and distasteful. Iyokus further adds he believes that Achamian is being truthful when he says the skin-spy wasn’t Cishaurim. Achamian says Iyokus will know it for truth one day.

“Perhaps. Perhaps… But for now, my Grandmaster has decided these spies must be Cishaurim. One cannot substitute legends for what is known.”

“You substitute what you fear for what you don’t know, Iyokus.” Iyokus regarded him narrowly, as though surprised that one so helpless, so degraded, could still say fierce things. “Perhaps. But regardless, our time together is at an end. Even now we make preparations to join our brethren Beyond Khemema…”

Achamian has a moment of insight, realizing Iyokus was anxious. Then Iyokus, admitting that though religion isn’t a big deal for sorcerers, he is giving Achamian the courtesy to prepare himself for death. In a few days, he and Xinemus both will be executed. Though the words were strange, Achamian recognizes Iyokus isn’t saying this to be cruel. Achamian asks if Iyokus will tell Xinemus as well.

The translucent face turned to him sharply, but then unaccountably softened. “I suppose I will,” Iyokus said. “He at least might be assured a place in the Afterlife…”

The sorcerer turned, then strode pale into the blackness. A distant door opened onto an illuminated corridor, and Achamian glimpsed the profile of Iyokus’s face. For an instant, he looked like any other man.

Achamian thought of swaying breasts, the kiss of skin to skin in lovemaking.

Survive, sweet Esmi. Survive me.

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

The Holy War begins gathering around Caraskand “flushed by their atrocities.” Unlike Shigek, Caraskand defends her walls. The siege begins, surviving priests gathering the faithful, the Names hold councils and “the investiture of Caraskand was planned.” Proyas parlays with Imbeyan, demanding the city’s surrenders. He promises to spare lives of Imbeyan’s family and of the citizens. Imbeyan laughs at him, claiming “what the desert had started, the stubborn walls of Caraskand would see completed.”

The siege begins, sappers building tunnels, siege engines built, outriders sent to scout and plunder the countryside. The Inrithi sing songs and priest lead processional marches around the city. The heathens mock from the walls.

For the first time in months, the Inrithi saw clouds, real clouds, curling through the sky like milk in water.

Talk buzzes at the Holy War’s campfires, turning from tales of the desert towards their goal of Shimeh. Caraskand is seen as the gateway to the Sacred Lands. They were close, saying “After Caraskand, we shall cleanse Shimeh.” Saying the name rekindled their fervor. In the hills, the masses gather to hear Kellhus’s sermons. They believe he delivered them from the desert. Thousands become his Zaudunyani. The Nobles begin to fear Kellhus, realizing he now commands a large host, as big as any of theirs. It begins to rain as the Holy War prepares their siege. Fast floods drown men. Sapper tunnels collapse. The earth becomes muddy. The winter rains had come.

The first man to die of the plague was a Kianene captive. Afterward his body was launched from a catapult over the city’s walls—as would be those who followed.

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

Mamaradda, the Javreh Captain, decides to kill Achamian first. He finds killing a sorcerer to be thrilling, even arousing. He didn’t connect this to him being a slave for sorcerers. He enters the chapel where Achamian hangs, the man swaying back and forth. Then he hears scraping.

He saw something small crouched at the edge of the Circle… A cat? Scratching to bury piss? He swallowed, squinted. The rapid scrape-scrape-scrape whined bright in his ears, as though someone filed his teeth with a rusty knife. What?

It was a tiny man, he realized. A tiny men bent over the Uroborian Circle, scraping at the arcane paint…

A doll?

Mamaradda goes for his knife, seized by terror. Achamian looks at him, the circle now broken. Sorcerous lights explode around Mamaradda. He flinches and then its gone. He’s untouched. Then he remembers that he holds a Chorae and laughs. The tripods lighting the room are knocked over, burning coals spill across his face, into his mouth. In pain, he drops his Chorae. His heart explodes, his body ripped asunder by Achamian’s sorcery.

Vengeance roamed the halls of the compound—like a God.

And he [Achamian] sang his song with a beast’s blind fury, parting walls from foundation, blowing ceiling into sky, as though the works of men were things of sand.

And when he found them, cowering beneath their Analogies, he sheared through their Wards like a rapist through a cotton shift. He beat them with hammering lights, held their shrieking bodies as though they were curious things, the idiot thrashing of an insect between thumb and forefinger…

Death came swirling down.

Achamian feels them scrambling to organize a defense. He knows they feel the horror of the guilty as he kills them. He destroys cohorts of Javreh. When he feels a Chorae approach, he brings the building down on them. He laughs, almost drunk with mad destruction. He “spoke to the two Scarlet Magi who assailed him, uttered intimate truths, Fatal abstractions.” He kills them and keeps going.

Seswatha was free, and he walked the ways of the present bearing tokens of ancient doom.

He would show them the Gnosis.

When Iyokus feels the first tremble through the palace, he knows what it means. He thinks of Eleäzaras, remembering how he said this would go badly. He only has six other Schoolmen with him and 250 Javreh, all scattered through the compound. After the Sareotic Library, he was no longer convinced it was enough to deal with a Mandate sorcerer even if they were prepared.

We’re doomed.

Over the long years of his life, the chanv had rendered his passions as colourless as his kin. What he felt now was more the memory of a passion rather than the passion itself. A memory of fear.

But he has hope. There are 12 Chorae here, plus himself. Out of envy for the Gnosis, Iyokus had studied the “great labyrinth” or sorcery, going down the forbidden branch of Daimos. He wonders how the “War-Cants of the Ancient North” would do against it. He summons Ciphrang, a type of demon.

From the safety of his circle of symbols, Iyokus gazed in wonder at the sheeted lights of the Outside. He looked upon a writhing abomination, scales like knives, limbs like iron pillars…

“Does it hurt?” he asked against the thunder of its wail.

What hast thou done, mortal?

Ankaryotis, a fury of the deep, a Ciphrang summoned from the Abyss.

“I have bound you!”

Thou art damned! Dost thou not recognize he who shall keepeth thee for Eternity?

A demon…

“Either way,” Iyokus cried, “such is my fate!”

Achamian bellows for Iyokus, killing Javreh as he searches the palace. Dust billows as he destroys walls and brings down the ceiling. He hears Iyokus laugh, finds him surrounded by wards. Iyokus attacks, distracting him as the demon attacks. It crashes into Achamian’s wards, perching on it, hitting them. With each blow, Achamian coughs blood. He uses an Odaini Concussion Cant to throw the Ciphrang back, then searches for Iyokus. But he’s running. Achamian sends a spell after, destroying a wall. But the demon attacks again.

Achamian charred its crocodile hide, ribboned its otherworldly flesh, smote its elephantine skull with ponderous cudgels of stone, and it bled fire from a hundred wounds. But still it refused to fall. It howled obscenities that cracked rock and rifled the ground with chasms. More floors collapsed, and they grappled through dark cellars made bright by flickering fury.

Sorcerer and demon.

Unholy Ciphrang, a tormented soul thrust into the agony of the World, harnessed by words like a lion by strings, yoked to the task that would see it freed.

Achamian endured its unearthly violence, heaped injury after injury upon its agony.

And in the end it grovelled beneath his song, cringed like a beaten animal, then faded into the blackness…

Achamian walks naked through the ruins “a husk animated by numb purpose.” He passes the corpses of those he kills. He finally finds Xinemus chained and sitting in his own filth weeping that he can’t see. He grabs Achamian’s cheeks.

“I’m so sorry, Akka. I’m so sorry…”

But the only words Achamian could remember were those that killed.

That damned.

When they finally hobbled from the ruined compound of the Scarlet Spires into the alleys of Iothiah, the astonished onlookers—Shigeki, armed Kerathotics, and the few Inrithi who garrisoned the city—gaped in both wonder and horror. But they dared not ask them anything. Nor did they follow the two men as they shuffled into the darkness of the city.

My Thoughts

Firstly, let’s talk about the passage of time. It jumped from Early Autumn to Late Autumn from the last chapter to this. As near as I can tell, Bakker uses (as an example) Early Autumn, Mid Autumn, and Late Autumn to give time. It seems that indicates a three month season, following our own twelve month calendar. It implies that it’s been two months of wondering in the desert for the Holy War. We could be charitable and say it was the end of the first autumn month and now the start of the third, so a month and a week. But what about Xinemus? He’s captured in early autumn and only appears to Achamian in late autumn. I can’t believe Iyokus would wait more than a month to use Xinemus against Achamian. A few days of torture to break the Marshal at most. Still seems a little too long. But Bakker might not be as anal about tracking dates in his fiction as I am.

When we last left off the Holy War, dehydration had caused everyone to become selfish, to stop helping loved ones, save for Kellhus carrying Serwë. But we now see at least one other person held on, Cnaiür revealing the fact he likes Proyas as much as he tried to pretend he didn’t.

We see what the desert did to the men of the Holy War. They killed slaves and camp followers, they abandoned their loved ones so they could survive. They had suffered and been so warped and are still in that survival mode. No room for compassion.

Let’s do some math on the numbers given. If 3/5ths of 300,000 souls of the Holy War were were warriors, then there was 180,000 combatants. So 120,000 were camp followers. Let’s say most of the 100,000 who survived means some 5,000 camp followers lived (5% of the total survivors, all wives, priests, or useful craftsmen). That means 48% of the combatants (85,000) perished in the march and 96% (115,000) of the camp followers.

Then we have the interesting quote about the Khirgwi finding skulls for generations? Is this a subtle clue from Bakker that the world isn’t going to be destroyed at the end of the series? There’s only been a generation between this series and the Aspect-Emperor. It seems to indicate that the Consult’s current bid, the Second Apocalypse, would have to be thwarted for this line to be possible for generations to continue on finding skulls.

It is so sad seeing Xinemus broken by torture.

And Seswatha does not give a fuck. This is a powerful protection for the Gnosis. That could be Esmenet there and Achamian would be unable to give away the power. I really, really want to know what happens in that later scene when Kellhus hypnotized Achamian and spoke to Seswatha!

And hi Wathi doll. I see you’re on the move. And Bakker, not only gives us some cat motivation, reminds us that, yes, curiosity did indeed kill the cat.

Then Bakker drops off into the historical, describing the history, and giving us some of its geography, of the city that the climax of the novel will inhabit.

Hey, they heard of Kellhus. And the way the Holy War has operated thus far, I’d be terrified too of they showed up.

To be punished is the lot of the faithful. Very true. If you know any devout Christians, there is a streak of persecution complex in them. They expect the world to oppress them, giving proof of their belief that all men are evil and that the world conspires to destroy God’s plans.

The Padishah is a smart guy to plan for defeats. And using Cishaurim on the Nansur fleet was briliant. There would be no defenses for the fleet. All the Chorae would be with the Holy War, and besides, that wouldn’t stop boats from being ripped apart, just let you live so you could drown in the waters. What a battle that must have been.

If you’re wondering how Iyokus could know so much about what has happened to the Holy War in the desert when it would be impossible for them to send messengers back across the waste, it’s simple: sorcerers can communicate through their dreams. We know the Mandate and the Imperial Saik do this, so there’s no reason the Scarlet Spire don’t know this as well. (And I believe in the third book, Conphas compromises the Scarlet Spire Magi that’s being used to keep track of what he’s up through dreams).

Of course Achamian retreated from love. He had to to survive. Like the men in the desert abandoning wives and brothers. He was forced into an animal-like situation, forced to become one to live. And for what? Nothing. The Scarlet Spire got nothing out of him. It was all so pointless.

Politics always get in the way of the truth. Truth can be an inconvenient for any movement, really, whether social, religious, or political.

Iyokus shows some compassion here. He truly did not want to hurt Achamian, he objected to this from the beginning. But he follows orders and does distasteful tasks. And note the bitterness of knowing you are damned and there is nothing to be done about it. Is it any wonder some men sided with the Inchoroi and formed the consult?

Investiture of Caraskand. Such an interesting choice of word. It means to invest a person with a high rank or honor. Also, the action of putting on clothing or robes. And yet Bakker is using here to mean to conquer the city. Why? Because the Holy War is about to “honor” the city with Inrithism and robe her in fanatic violence.

Throwing plagued bodies into a city has been done in our world. The Ottomans through plagued bodies over the walls in their conquest of Asia Minor. This helped to spread the Black Death through Europe. It’s a harsh method of warfare.

Weather is such an important influence in warfare. Never forget about it if you’re writing it. Weather can be a foe or a blessing for the various sides.

Achamian used indirect attacks on the Javreh, knocking over the tripods. Sorcery can’t touch you if you hold a Chorae, but that won’t stop a sorcerer from using the magic to throw something at your or drop a roof on your head.

In Achamian’s escape, Bakker shows us just how outmatched the Angogic sorceries are for the Gnosis. They overpowered Achamian the first time because they were prepared and the building collapsed on him. This time, he is hitting them before they can react. And it’s savage, brutal, and Bakker doesn’t shy away from that in his language used.

We see again how Bakker shows Chorae as having gravity that distorts the “fabric of the onta,” what the sorcerers see, how they mark the world and each other. If Chorae are black holes, then it makes sense how they negate sorcery. The sorcery falls into the Chorae. It so warps the fabric of the onta, there is no path for the sorcery to travel but into the Chorae. In a black hole, every direction you travel (up, down, right, left) will lead you to the black hole’s center.

Love how Achamian “spoke to the two Scarlet Magi.” He’s just having a debate with them, but his arguments have physical consequences, and they just don’t have the education to deal with his rhetoric.

And we see that Achamian is so broken, he’s let Seswatha out, either the soul of Seswatha is in control as we saw during the interrogations, or that Achamian is imagining himself as Seswatha, either consciously or because of his exhaustion and disorientation.

An interesting conversation between Iyokus and the Ciphrang. The demon chastises him for this. And we get confirmation that, yes, if you summon a demon, you get to be tortured by said demon for eternity. But Iyokus, resigned to eternal damnation, doesn’t care. He just wants to live a little longer. After all, he wants to put off death for as long as possible. (We see this later with the Nonmen in The Great Ordeal).

A sorcerer fighting a flaming demon while they fall. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it.

Well, Iyokus, looks like Gnosis trumps Daimos. Though it bought Iyokus the time to flee.

And then we get the sadness of the broken Xinemus, begging for Achamian’s forgiveness. He’s been compulsed, and as we later learn, that is a terrible thing to do to someone. When you make a person do something with compulsion, they believe they did it willingly. Since Bakker is describing a fully materialistic universe in which free will is an illusion, and that everything a human does is caused by stimuli that has shaped that person from birth, So when you violate that causality and insert an artificial effect on a person, the illusion of free will still makes a person feel like what they did was of their own volition. And what the Scarlet Spire forced Xinemus to do has broken him utterly.

Achamian is free. He’ll be heading back to Esmenet and we’ll see just how good Kellhus is at manipulating people.

Click here for the next chapter!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Eighteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Third March
Chapter 18
Khemema

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

To piss across water is to piss across your reflection

KHIRGWI PROVERB

My Thoughts

So the Khirgwi are the desert nomads (who dwell in the very desert the Holy War is about to cross) and befouling water is such a taboo in such a harsh place. If they’re like Bedouin in the real world, then oasis would even be places were fighting wouldn’t happen, set aside because of the sacredness of water. So to piss in water, to them, is to soil their lives, to make things worse for themselves. Like the phrase never piss upwind in our own culture.

And so to see them poison water shows how desperate they are to stop the Holy War. They are, literally, pissing on themselves because survival has driven them so far.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Southern Shigek

The Holy War heads south into “the furnace plains of the Carathay Desert.” A place called the “Great Thirst” by the Khirgwi. On the first night camping, Athjeäri returns with his men from scouting, all exhausted and dehydrated. All they found were polluted waters. The heat forced them to travel by night. But the Great Names believe the pack mules and Emperor’s fleet would keep them watered. Athjeäri is not convinced. The next evening, the Holy War marches with their camp-followers, people making jokes about marching at night.

The Khirgwi raid them around midnight, charging on camels and “bearing the truth of the Solitary God and His Prophet on the edges of sharp knives.” They hit the supply train, slicing open bladders of water then retreat. The Holy War continues on, meeting up with the Nansur fleet, getting fresh water. By night, they attacked by the Khirgwi in bloody raids.

On the seventh day, the Imperial fleet fails to arrive at the next rendezvous. A council is called, and Conphas is accused of betraying them until he points out that, he, too is stuck in the desert without water. So the Holy War waits a night and a day. The fleet doesn’t arrive. Conphas argues a squall might have put them off course, but Kellhus says the Kianene had waited until now to unleash their fleet. The desert is a trap they marched into.

Two days later, the bulk of the Greater and Lesser Names accompanied the mule trains across the hills to the sea, and stared dumbfounded by its empty beauty. When they returned form the hills, they no longer walked apart from the desert. Sun, stone, and sand beckoned to them.

Water was rationed by caste, severely. People were executed for hoarding. Conphas suggests heading for Subis, an oasis too big to poison. He says they can reach it, but only if they abandon the mules, slaves, and camp-followers. Proyas asks how. The Holy War kills them. Slaves, whores, merchants, and slavers. Only priests, wives, and useful tradesmen were spared.

That night the Inrithi marched blank-eyed through what seemed a cooling oven—away from the horror behind them, toward the promise of Subis… Men-at-arms, warhorses, and hearts had become beasts of burden.

When the Khirgwi found the fields of heaped bodies and strewn belongings, they fell to their knees and cried out in exultation to the Solitary God. The trial of the idolaters had begun.

The Holy War breaks apart while marching south and hundreds are killed by the Khirgwi raiders. The Great and Lesser Names grow desperate the next day. They know water has to be out there. The Khirgwi must get it form some where. So their scouts, like Athjeäri, head off to find them and “disappeared into the wavering distances.” Only Detnammi and his men don’t return. The rest were driven back by the Khirgwi and the heat. Worse, they found no wells, the desert featureless to the.

The water has almost runs out before Subis is reached. Horses are now butchered save those belonging to the Great Names. The Cengemi footmen mutiny, wanting all horses slaughtered. They want water shared equally. They are put down. Dehydration grows worse. Men die. Others don’t even notice attacks, stumbling in a fugue. Subis becomes a name of hope, more so than God. Another day and still they haven’t reached it. People mistake mirages for it, racing out into the desert until they die.

Subis… A lover’s name.

The Men of the Tusk stumbled down long, flinty slopes, filed between sandstone outcroppings that resembled towering mushrooms on thin stems. They climbed mountainous dunes.

The village looked like a many-chambered fossil unearthed by the wind. The deep green and sun silver of the oasis beckoned with its impossibility…

Subis.

The Men of the Tusk charge at the oasis, passing the abandoned village, and in the oasis, dead and bloating, they find the missing Detnammi and all five hundred of his men. The Khirgwi had found a way to poison Subis. But the Holy War didn’t care. They drank the befouled water, throwing up, and then drinking more. Hundreds were crushed in the rush, more hundreds drowning. The Great Names struggled to restore order. The bodies were removed, water distributed. Detnammi and his men were denied funeral rites for riding straight here to save themselves. Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon, posthumously strips the man of his rank.

Their thirst satiated, the Holy War begins to worry about disease. Cultic physician-priests of Akkeägni (the god of pestilence) warn of the symptoms to come but can’t do much more than pray, having abandoned their pharmaka. Soon, everyone is sick, from mild chills to diarrhea and vomiting. The Great Names know they can’t reach Enathpaneah without the fleet. Scouts are sent to the coast to find it. They don’t. Conphas and Saubon come to blows often, the rumors of the Empire’s betrayal growing. With no other choice, the Holy War continue marching south.

Either way, Prince Kellhus said, the God would see to them.

The Men of the Tusk abandoned Subis the following evening, their waterskins brimming with polluted water. Several hundred, those too sick to walk, remained behind, waiting for the Khirgwi.

The sickness spreads. Those without friends are abandoned to await the Khirgwi. The army shuffles. They now say Enathpaneah like they had Subis. Diarrhea kills the most, dehydrating them more than their ration replenishes. Proyas appears impossibly strong, walking and letting his horse die of thirst, refusing to water it while his men died.

Followed by two beautiful women, Prince Kellhus spread words of strength. They didn’t merely suffer, he told men, they suffered for… For Shimeh. For the Truth. For the God! And to suffer for the God was to secure glory in the Outside. Many would be broken in this furnace, that was true, but those who survived would know the temper of their own hearts They would be, he claimed, unlike other men. They would be more…

The Chosen.

Men follow him everywhere, begging for his attention. Only he can laugh and give thanks. His words were like water. On the third night, he orders his Zaudunyani to dig in a certain spot. Ultimately, they dig fourteen shallow pools of muddy water that “were sweet, and unfouled by the taste of dead men.” The Great Names find Kellhus laughing, standing in water, handing it out, saying “The God Showed me!” They Holy War digs more wells, find more waters. They spend several days here, letting the sickest recover while the Great Names argue over Kellhus. “The desert, Ikurei Conphas warned, had made a False Prophet of Fane as well.”

The Khirgwi think the Holy War has given up, waiting to die. They attack and are slaughtered. Entire tribes are eradicated. The survivors flee. But food has finally run out for the Holy War. With full waterskins, they march once more. But now they sing hymns, many to the Warrior-Prophet. They march “unconquered and defiant.” So far, the Holy War had lost 1/3 of its soldiers since they left Momemn.

Evening of the second day, they see clouds. They realize it is a sandstorm. Their flimsy tents rae blown away and they have to endure it. Hundreds are found buried when it’s over while others were left “wandering like stunned children” across the changed desert. Losing many shelters to the storm, they are forced to march because they have no protection against the sun. Arguments on which way to march are held, some wanting to return to Kellhus’s wells, but Conphas points out they’re likely buried. He claims they are within two days of water. Kellhus agrees with him, which surprises some. They continue marching for Enathpaneah.

Water is rationed. Dehydration sets in. The last of the horses die. Gothyelk collapses and his sons carry him, sharing their water with him. When night falls, they keep marching, stumbling. The cool night air doesn’t bring relief. No one talks. “They formed an endless procession of silent wraiths, passing across Carathay’s folds.” Soon, the Holy War loses its discipline, units breaking apart into solitary wanders.

The morning sun was a shrill rebuke, for still the desert had not ended. The Holy War had become an army of ghosts. Dead and dying men lay scattered in their thousands behind it, and as the sun rose still more fell. Some simply lost the will, and fell seated in the dust, their thoughts and bodies buzzing with thirst and fatigue. Others pressed themselves until they’re wracked bodies betrayed them. They struggled feebly across the sand, waving their heads like worms, perhaps croaking for help, for succor.

But only death would come swirling down.

Men are dying. They aren’t thinking any longer, just walking. Family bonds are broken as loved ones are abandoned. “Each man had become a solitary circle of misery that walked and walked.” Everything is gone, even the voice of Kellhus. They only had the trial. And they died in the thousands.

Esmenet stumbles as she walks beside Kellhus. He is carrying Serwë in his arms. Esmenet finds that so triumphant. Then he stops. She sways and grows dizzy, but he helps her. She wants to lick her lips, but her tongue is too swollen. And he grins at her, somehow healthy.

He leaned back and cried out to the hazy roll and pitch of distant green, to the wandering crease of a flashing river. And his words resounded across the compass of the horizon.

“Father! We come, Father!”

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Xinemus and his two loyal men, Dinch and Zenkappa, are hiding the corpse of a Javreh, the slave soldiers who guard the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus is annoyed by Dinch and Zenkappa’s joking banter, not taking their missions seriously. It hurts him to realize they don’t care about Achamian’s life.

But if they failed to grasp the importance of their task, they were well aware of its lethality. To skulk like thieves among armed men was harrowing enough, but in the midst of the Scarlet Spires…

Both were frightened, Xinemus realized—thus the forced humour and empty bravado.

They are stalking through the Scarlet Spire base in Iothiah, the palace of a dead Ceneian Governor, to rescue Achamian and “undo what I’ve done.” They are hoping it is nearly empty with the Holy War marching into the desert, those remaining unable to properly defend such a huge place. Xinemus hopes Achamian is here, reckoning they wouldn’t have taken them south. “The road was no place to interrogate a Mandate sorcerer, especially when one marched with a prince such as Proyas.” He finds it heartening that they had left some behind.

If he [Achamian] wasn’t here, then he was very likely dead.

He’s here! I feel it!

Xinemus clutches his Chorae as if it “were holier than the small golden Tusk that clicked at its side.” He had two others, which he gave to his men. It is why he hasn’t attempted this with more of his men. He hopes that the sorcerers are asleep and they can creep in and out. He reminds his men that the Chorae must touch bare flesh, to hold them in fists. He expects wards to guard the place.

They enter the palace through the stables, finding a maze of empty rooms and hallways. Sometimes they hear voices and they hide. They pass sleeping slaves. “Each door they opened seemed hinged upon a precipice: either Achamian or certain death lay on the far side.” They gambled over and over while fearing the Scarlet Spire.

After some time, Xinemus began to feel bold. Was this how a thief or a rat felt, prowling at the edges of what others could see or know? There was exhilaration, and strangely enough, comfort in lurking unseen in the marrow of your enemy’s bones. Xinemus was overcome by a sudden certainty:

We’re going to do this! We’re going to save him!

Dinch suggests searching the cellars, reasoning if they’re torturing him, it’ll muffle his screams. Xinemus hates the thought but sees its logic. They descend “into pitch blackness” They’re blind, huddled close together, and then see a moving light. They spot a sorcerer ahead with an arcane candle. Their fear swells. The sorcerer pauses, looking in their direction like he had smelled something. But then he scowls and walks on, not seeing them in the dark. Xinemus wants to follow him.

Witnessing the face, the sorcerous light, now made their every step sing with peril. The only thing keeping Dinchases and Zenkappa behind him, Xinemus knew, was a loyalty that transcended fear of death. But here, in this place, in the bowels of the Scarlet Spire stronghold, that loyalty was being tested as it had never been tested before, even in the heart of their desperate battles. Not only did they gamble with the obscenely unholy, there were no rules here, and this, added to mortal fear, was enough to break any man.

They reach a door. They open It quietly and enter a large room, feeling as though “they were entombed in dread night.” They enter it when a voice speaks out that still there hearts: “But this will not do.” Light erupts around them. They are surrounded by a dozen Javreh, half with aimed crossbows, and all armed and armored.

Stunned, his thoughts reeling in panic, Xinemus lowered his father’s great sword.

We’re undone…

There are three Scarlet Magi, including the one they spotted. Their leader (Iyokus) admonishes Xinemus and his men while the marshal frantically thinks of a way out. Iyokus revels it was the Chorae that betrayed them since sorcerers can feel them. Sounding defiant, Xinemus demands to know where Achamian is.

“Wrong question, my friend. If I were you, I should rather ask, ‘What have I done?’”

Xinemus felt a flare of righteous anger. “I’m warning you, sorcerer. Surrender Achamian.”

“Warn me?” Droll laughter. The man’s cheeks fluted like fish gills. “Unless you’re speaking o inclement weather, Lord Marshal, I think there’s very little you could warn me about. Your Prince has marched into the wastes of Khemema. I assure you, you’re quite alone here.”

“But I still bear his writ.”

“No, you don’t. You were stripped of your rank and station. But either way, the fact is you trespass, my friend. We Schoolmen look very seriously upon trespass, and care nothing for the writ of Princes.”

Humid dread. Xinemus felt his hackles rise. This had been a fool’s errand.

But my path is righteous…

Iyokus orders them to drop their trinkets. With the crossbows aimed at them, they have no choice. They surrender. Then Iyokus consumes Dinch and Xinemus in sorcerous fires. Xinemus is thrown to his knees by the heat. Their shrieks die, leaving only burning heaps behind.

On his knees, Xinemus stared at the two fires. Without knowing, he’d brought his hands up to cover his ears.

My path…

Xinemus is seized by the Javreh, forced to face Iyokus. He reveals he knows that Xinemus is Achamian’s closest friend. He realizes he’ll be tortured to hurt Achamian and that he has failed his friend again. Iyokus continues, saying Achamian has been telling lies, so they want to know what he has told Xinemus. Then they’ll see if Achamian will surrender the Gnosis. “If he values knowledge over life and love…”

The translucent face paused, as though happening across a delicious thought.

“You’re a pious man, Marshal. You already know what it means to be an instrument of truth, no?”

Yes. He knew.

To suffer.

At the destroyed Library of the Sareots, Achamian’s Wathi Doll escapes the ruins. It had taken weeks for it to find its way free. But now it has a mission. “Someone had spoken its name.”

My Thoughts

Got to love Bakker’s description of the desert, starting off, of course, with something as crass as dung beetles and the mirth they bring.

The Kianene plan is great. They are using the terrain to their advantage. The Carathay has to be crossed. There aren’t enough ships to transport around, and that’s dangerous anyways. And now the Holy War is trapped. They wait until they are seven days in before attacking the Nansur fleet. They can either march back, losing many, or press on, losing more but hoping they will find something, water, hope, the fleet.

Either way, the Kianene benefit.

It’s a brutal decision to save the holy war. To put to death all those camp followers (including those friendly whores Esmenet knew). It is a terrible decision. A horrible one. But they are seven days into the desert. They wouldn’t have made it back to Shigek alive with all those people. The entire Holy War would perish. Morality vanishes when survival is at stake.

Bakker describing the thirst is so powerful, especially the apathy as they near death. Not even caring when they’re being attacked. Their bodies are giving out beneath the desert. Things are so dire. Even though Bakker is writing this part in his remote, historical style, you can still feel the emotion, the stakes of everything. You don’t get insight from any POV characters, but you can imagine how Esmenet, Serwë, Proyas, Cnaiür, and even Conphas are suffering. You wonder how badly is affecting Kellhus. After all, he’s still human. He needs water. Even his will and breeding will give out.

Hi Chepheramunni. Haven’t heard your name in a while. And that’s about to be important. This is very clever on Bakker’s part. He gives us this Ainoni nobleman, Detnammi, as a scout, shows us how humans can be so selfish in survival situation by having him abandon his duty and heading for Subis. This greed only further harms the Holy War. And then Bakker can use Detnammi’s posthumous punishment to remind us about the ceremonial Chepheramunni again without arousing any curious eyebrows. Of course, Chepheramunni would denounce such a traitor. The Holy War’s hope was taken away from them by Detnammi. It hits Bakker’s themes on human behavior and acts as a reminder to readers about a minor character about to have more of an impact on the plot. This is great writing, accomplishing so much with one little plot line.

The God would not be satisfied.” That is a curious line Bakker drops here about Akkeägni and how he’ll now inflict pestilence. It’s such a bleak look at the gods. The Cultic priests seem to have a real good grasp on the gods on how evil they truly are. We see this in the second series with the high priestess of Yatwar (Blanking on her name) and the information Kellhus uncovers venturing into the outside. When Fane called the Gods demons, he was absolutely right.

Marching into the desert with poisoned water is not great. Vomiting and diarrhea just dehydrate you faster, forcing you to drink more befouled water. And yet what choice do you have? You’ll definitely die without it. This is the crucible that shapes the Holy War into the fanatical army that follows Kellhus in the end. This makes brothers out them all.

And more references to the Nail of Heaven. Really want to know what this is and why it’s in a stationary position over the North Pole. There is one reference in the Great Ordeal to it arriving three years ahead of the Inchoroi crashing onto the planet. Is it a satellite? How’d they get it in a stationary position? In real world physics, a satellite can only be in a Geo-stationary orbit over the equator.

Good for Proyas. He is, mostly, a good man, but one forced to do some bad things by politics and his faith.

Then we see Kellhus using this to his advantage, making all these promises about salvation, saying how they will be better than others, flattering their egos and making them more and more fanatical about him.

You can always count on Conphas not to buy Kellhus’s BS.

Losing only 1/3 of their fighting strength after two major battles and the march across the desert in impressive. Of course, the full numbers of the Holy War have lost far more with the death of the camp followers.

More powerful imagery from Bakker on the sandstorm attacking the Holy War. “A new calligraphy of dunes was scrawled about them.”

Love the imagery of the footmen kicking their lords dead horses. I would be pissed, too. Horses need more water a day than a human. Those men had friends that had died because those horses were watered. Bakker always keeps the human in his text.

The horror of the march only mounts. The dehydration, the death. Without shelter from the sun, they’re loosing even more now, baked. Thousands are dying instead of hundreds. They stop thinking, just marching. They’ve truly become animals know, the intellect vanished. Not even Kellhus is speaking. “Gone was the voice of the Warrior-Prophet.” Even bonds of love and family break now.

And, of course, the return of Bakker’s favorite phrase (or a variant): “But only death would come swirling down.

Esmenet finds the sight of Kellhus carrying Serwë triumphant because he is the only one left caring about anyone. As we see in the preceding paragraphs, husbands aren’t helping their wives, and men are abandoning their brothers. It’s all about saving yourself now. The animal has wholly taken over them, but he’s still carrying someone. To Esmenet, it’s an act of love.

A shame Kellhus is doing it for his plans. He needs Serwë. He knows the Circumfix is coming. He needs to have a wife to be killed as part of his test. And he can’t afford for that wife to be Esmenet. He’s saving Serwë’s life now to sacrifice her later.

Javreh come from the Sranc Pits. That sounds interesting. Are the Ainoni capturing Sranc or are the Javreh purchased from slavers that operate on the frontier. There’s a lot of weird stuff with the Ainoni, like the mysterious Chanv.

Humor probably came about in humans because of men hunting in the distant path. In dangerous situations, stalking prey with primitive weapons that forced them to get up close and risk life and limb, demanded human males work together instead of competing. And humor and joking banter is one of the ways that eases the tension, the stress, and breeds camaraderie. We still do it today.

Xinemus’s guilt is driving him to this act of bravery. You can almost feel his desperation. He’s sneaking into the Scarlet Spire’s nest with only two other guys. It’s foolish, he knows it, but he has to do it. He can’t let his friend rot. Xinemus is my favorite character in the series for a lot of reasons, but this is one of them.

Interesting that Bakker turns the Chorae into an instrument of faith, one more important in this moment to Xinemus than his actual symbol of faith. He knows the Chorae works to stop sorcery.

The exhilaration Xinemus feels sneaking through the palace is no doubt a mix of adrenaline and the fact he is growing used to stalking. And it is hard to fear what is familiar. As the fear dwindles, complacency grows, and thus a bold feeling. He’s realized he’s gone this far without getting caught, he’s figured out how to do this, and he has confidence. It’s a trap in situations like this.

And there’s the fear again when the spot the sorcerer. They are reminded of the true stakes. Complacency has fallen away. They all want to flee, but Xinemus is ignoring his survival instinct out of love and guilt for Achamian, and his two men are doing it out of love for Xinemus. This, right here, shows you so much of Xinemus’s character. He has earned these men’s love and loyalty. He didn’t buy it. He didn’t scare it out of them.

Iyokus describes Chorae in the way a scientist will often describe how gravity warps spacetime. That Chorae’s greater weight distorts the sheet of reality more and more.

And Xinemus is struck by such a profound lesson: just because what you are doing is good doesn’t mean you’ll prevail. In another story, Xinemus would find a clever way to escape, to cause a distraction, take down the Javreh, make the sorcerers flee because they have Chorae. But things don’t work like that in this story. Things are, sadly, far too realistic.

The crushing realization hits Xinemus. He has utterly failed. He has gotten his men killed and knows he and Achamian will both suffer for it. This is the last time we see Xinemus as that strong man. In many ways, he dies here but only he keeps living, broken, shattered, debased.

And worse, Bakker shows us Achamian’s true instrument of freedom breaking free of the library and coming to save him. The Wathi Doll. Xinemus could have done nothing and Achamian would have been freed.

Way to twist the knife, Bakker.

Through a tiny mine, whose only ore was the debris of knowledge.” What a sad line to read about the destruction of so much knowledge.

It was a short chapter, but a powerful one, from the suffering of the Holy War to the peril of Xinemus.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Nineteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 17
Shigek

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

In terror, all men throw up their hands and turn aside their faces. Remember, Tratta, always preserve the face! For that is where you are.

THROSEANIS, TRIAMIS IMPERATOR

The Poet will yield up his stylus only when the Geometer can explain how Life can at once be a point and a line. How can all time, all creation, come to the now? Make no mistake: this moment, the instant of this very breath, is a frail thread from which all creation hangs. That men dare to be thoughtless…

TERES ANSANSIUS, THE CITY OF MEN

My Thoughts

Both these quotes are on the importance of the mind, on thinking, one written by the conquering emperor Triamis who puts it in a very physical and literal way by saying how it is our very instinct to protect our brains and that is important. Because our brains, our thoughts, are who we are.

The second is lamenting on how men squander the potential of their mind. And while poets are trying to describe this seeming contradictory that our lives follow a line and yet at the very moment you read this sentence you have the illusion that it is a point. That the present is all that matters. But the future is what comes next, and what you think, what you do, determines what happens. And if you’re not thinking about it, well, it is a thin thread, so easy to snap.

Proyas didn’t think when he sacrificed Achamian. He traded his present view of himself, as righteous, and allowed him to die. And now he learns that Achamian is important to the head of his faith. That if he had truly been a good person, helping his friend even if he were a blasphemer, the man wouldn’t be dead.

Ultimately, this chapter is about having brains and using them to think. Not to just live, not to just have faith in something else and accept what it tells you, but to use the mind that god or evolution or space aliens or whatever you believe in gave you.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

As Esmenet walks back from laundering clothes, she reflects on the next phase of the Holy War. She knows that the Kianene have killed all the camels before retreating and so far scouts have only found poisoned wells in the desert, hoping to make a barrier out of the desert. But the Great Names plan to march along the coast, using the Imperial Fleet would carry their water, keeping them alive to Enathpaneah. She reflects on Kellhus making a joke about Serwë carrying everything, including his child. His manner is warm, teasing and one “Esmenet had learned to love long ago.”

Esmenet had laughed, at the same time realizing she’d be traveling even farther from Achamian…

She wants to ask Kellhus if there was any news from Xinemus even while fearing what it would be. She doesn’t, knowing Kellhus would have told her. That night, they cook dinner, Kellhus sitting between the two women while he continues teasing Serwë about the upcoming march through the desert. As he does, Kellhus accidentally brushes Esmenet’s breast.

The tingle of inadvertent intimacy. The flush of a body suddenly thick with a wisdom that transcended intellect.

For the remainder of the afternoon, Esmenet found her eyes plagued by a nagging waywardness. Where before her look had confined itself to Kellhus’s face, it now roamed over his entire form. It was as though her eyes had become brokers, intermediaries between his body and her own. When she saw his chest, her breasts tingled with the prospect of being crushed. When she glimpsed his narrow hips and deep buttocks, her inner thighs hummed with expectant warmth. Sometimes her palms literally itched!

Of course, this was madness. Esmenet needed only to catch Serwë’s watchful eyes to recall herself.

That night, while Kellhus is gone and she’s lying down beside Serwë, the pregnant girl says she would share Kellhus. Esmenet becomes nervous while protesting the girl has nothing to fear. No Serwë says she’s not afraid of losing him. “All I want is what he wants.” Esmenet asks if Kellhus wants her, but Serwë laughs that off. She suddenly feels guilty, thinking of Achamian, and says it will never happen.

Kellhus is gone until the next night when he returns with Proyas. Esmenet hates him, and tries to avoid him, knowing he refused to help Achamian and stripped Xinemus of his rank for wanting to. But then she hears him speak and realizes he, too, suffers in grief for Achamian and she feels a kinship with him. “That, she knew, was what Kellhus would say.”

As they eat, Esmenet studies Proyas and Kellhus as they talk, noticing how Proyas acted, the way he deferred and yet remained aloof. She understands why Kellhus doesn’t allow his followers around, knowing Great Names like Proyas would be disturbed. “Those at the centre of the things were always more inflexible, always more invested, than those at the edges.” Kellhus was starting a new center.

During a silence, Esmenet asks after Cnaiür. Proyas says he doesn’t see him much. The barbarian was no longer giving counsel. He even rejected being declared Battle-Celebrant after the victory, Kellhus having given him all the credit of saving the day. Proyas thinks Cnaiür finds it unbearable liking Inrithi. He then leaves. Esmenet feels ashamed for driving off Proyas. She finds shame to be “her characteristic stink.” She apologizes to Kellhus and questions why she is even here. She is polluted and yet is staying with Kellhus. Her whore tattoo permanently marks her. It will never go away. “The seed she could rinse away, but not the sin!” She flees to Achamian’s tent.

Kellhus comes to her tent, and she hates that she hoped he would. She tells him she wished she were dead. “So do many.” Kellhus was always honest and she wishes she could follow. She goes on to say she’s only loved two people, both dead.

“You don’t know my sins, Kellhus. You don’t know the darkness I harbour in my heart.

“Then tell me.”

They talk for hours and she grows calm, emotionless as she tells him about the many men she’s been with. “All of them punishing her for their need.” How it was so monotonous. One man after another. She was first whored out by her father at eleven or twelve, the start of her punishment. And then she turns to her daughter.

And her daughter… How old had she been?

She had thought her father’s thoughts, she explained. Another mouth. Let it feed itself. The monotony had numbed her to the horror, had made degradation a laughable thing. To trade flashing silver for milky seed—the fools. Let Mimara be schooled in the foolishness of men. Clumsy, rutting animals. One need only pay with little patience, mimic their passion, wait, and soon it would be over. In the morning, one could buy food… Food from fools, Mimara. Can’t you see child? Shush. Stop weeping. Look! Food from fools!

Kellhus asks if that was her name, Mimara. And she realizes she could say it to him, but never to Achamian. Then she begins crying. She is hugged to Kellhus’s chest. “They were dead. The only ones she’d ever loved.” When her crying subsides, she realizes her hands on her on his lap and feels him harden. For a moment, everything is silent. Then she jerks her hand away.

Why would she poison a night such as this?

Kellhus shook his head, softly laughed. “Intimacy begets intimacy, Esmi. So long as we remember ourselves, there’s no reason for shame. All of us are frail.”

She looked down to her palms, her wrists. Smiled.”

She thanks him and he leaves. She masturbates afterward, cursing the entire time, until she falls to sleep.

Proyas receives a message from the Shriah. Proyas is truck by how even the scroll-case, covered in tiny Tusks, is a message that this is sermon. He ponders what Maithanet wants before he breaks the seal and reads it. When he sees it’s about his last letter, guilt strikes him. Achamian had begged him to write Maithanet to inquire about Inrau’s “suicide.” It shocked Proyas he had even did it, but he felt kinship with Inrau. “How could he not pity him, a good man, a kind man, hunting fables and wives’ tales to his everlasting damnation.” Proyas never expected a reply, but he was the heir to Conryia.

Shame feels him as he reads for sending such a “trivial” matter to the Shriah. And shame for feeling ashamed of doing Achamian a favor. Maithanet’s letter says that Inrau was a suicide and they believe because of his association with Achamian. Maithanet quotes scripture to reinforce his position that Achamian is to blame. He was still perplexed, and says his response will also baffle Proyas. He explains that since the Holy War has allied with the Scarlet Spire to defeat the Cishaurim, it is important that Proyas assists Achamian, compromising his piety for the greater good like Maithanet did when striking his deal with the Scarlet Spire.

Proyas is stunned, wondering what was so important about Achamian. And then that it was too late to do anything now that Achamian is gone.

I killed him…

And Proyas suddenly realized that he’d used his old teacher as a marker, as a measure of his own piety. What greater evidence could there be of righteousness than the willingness to sacrifice a loved one? Wasn’t this the lesson of Angeshraël on Mount Kinsureah? And what better way to sacrifice a loved one than by hating?

Or delivering him to his enemies…

He thinks of Esmenet’s grief, feeling guilty, and uses anger to deflect. This leads him to pondering sin and how a man’s actions either elevate or condemn him. And Achamian had been a sorcerer. He damned himself, just like Esmenet had by being a whore. He tries to rationalize it’s not his judgment but the Tusk. But the shame doesn’t go away. Doubt creeps in. Doubt had been Achamian’s main lesson.

Doubt, he would say, set men free… Doubt, not truth.

Beliefs were the foundation of actions. Those who believed without doubting, he would say, acted without thinking. And those who acted without thinking were enslaved.

That was what Achamian would say.

Proyas recalls a time when he told Achamian he wanted to be a Shrial knight. Why asked Achamian. Proyas wants to kill heathens. Achamian calls him foolish, asking him how many faiths are there are and condemning him for murdering someone on “the slender hope that yours is somehow the only one?” Proyas is certain his is. Achamian challenges Proyas that it’s not a choice between two faiths but between faith and doubt.

“But doubt is weakness!” Proyas cried. “Faith is strength! Strength!” Never, he was convinced, had he felt so holy as that moment. The sunlight seemed to shine straight through him, to bathe his heart.

“Is it? Have you looked around you, Prosha? Pay attention, boy. Watch and tell me how many men, out of weakness, lapse into the practice of doubt. Listen to those around you, and tell me what you see…”

Proyas did as Achamian asked, watching men from soldiers to priests to ambassadors. And while he saw them hesitate, he never heard them say those three difficult words: I don’t know. Proyas had asked Achamian why they are so hard to say.

“Because men want to murder,” Achamian explained afterward. “Because men want their gold and their glory. Because they want beliefs to answer to their fears, their hatreds, and their hungers.”

Proyas could remember the heart-pounding wonder, the exhilaration of straying…

“Akka?” He took a deep, daring breath. “Are you saying the Tusk lies?”

A look of dread. “I don’t know…”

Those words got Achamian banished from teaching Proyas. Achamian knew it would happen, but did it anyways. Proyas is confused about that, why he would “sacrifice so much for so few words.” And then he realizes why. Achamian thought it worth the cost to teach Proyas this lesson because he loved Proyas. He loved Proyas enough to lose his position and reputation. “Achamian had given without hope of reward.” To make Proyas free.

And Proyas had given him away, thinking only of rewards.

The thought was too much to bear.

He tries to rationalize it, saying he did it for Shimeh and the Holy War. But the letter from Maithanet makes that much harder. The Shriah wants him supported. And then he remembers Achamian arguing that the Holy War wasn’t what it seemed. Something that now concerned the shriah. Proyas wonders if it has to do with Kellhus. He had meant to write the Shriah about him, but couldn’t He wasn’t sure if fear or hope caused him to wait. But Proyas finds it ridiculous that the Holy War for the Latter Prophet would birth the “Latter Latter Prophet.” So Proyas thinks it must be something else. “Something the Shriah thought beyond his [Proyas] tolerance of his ken.”

Could it be the Consult?

Proyas remembers a conversation with Achamian at Momemn where he talked about the intensity of his dreams, that something was happening. Proyas finds it absurd, reasoning that if the Mandate couldn’t find the Consult, how could the Shriah. He turns his thoughts to the Scarlet Spire, knowing Achamian was watching them. He grows frantic, pulling at his hair, demanding to know why.

Why couldn’t this one thing be pure? Why must everything holy—everything!—be riddled by tawdry and despicable intent.

He sat very still, drawing breath after shuddering breath. He imagined drawing his sword, slashing and hacking wildly through his chambers, howling and shrieking… Then he collected himself to the beat of his own pulse.

Nothing pure… Love transformed into betrayal. Prayers bent into accusations.

This was Maithanet’s point, wasn’t it? The holy followed upon the wicked.

Proyas realizes he isn’t the moral leader of the Holy War. He’s just another piece on the benjuka plate and he doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t know anything. Despite the recent victory, he feels so weak.

Tired, wanting to rest, he instead composes a reply to the Shriah. Tomorrow, the Holy War marched into the desert. He feels like a boy as rights, remembering good times as Achamian’s student. He cries as he completes the first sentence of his “baffled reply”

…but it would seem, Your Eminence, that Drusas Achamian is dead.

Kellhus watches Esmenet as the camp prepares to arch into the Khemema Desert. With Kellhus are his fourteen senior Zaudunyani (the Tribe of Truth, his followers) to remind them of their purpose as they set out on their mission. “Beliefs alone didn’t control the actions of men. There were also desire, and these men, his apostles, must shine with that desire.” Esmenet knows he watches, laughing with two of the Zaudunyani.

He watches everyone, each “a riotous font of significance.” He sees Ottma fumbling before Serwë’s beauty, Ulnarta’s faint racism to black-skinned Tshuma, the way three others defer to Werjau. He notes how Werjau asserts his dominance over the others.

Kellhus calls out Werjau, asking to what he sees in his heart. Werjau answers joy while Kellhus knows he “sees, and he doesn’t see.” Then Kellhus asks what them what he sees. Werjau looks down. A Galeoth answered with Pride. Kellhus then makes a joke to cut through the anxiety and relax them with laughter. Kellhus would not let Werjau, or others, posture in the group. Kellhus knows they enjoy his presence because “the weight of sin was found in secrecy and condemnation.” By stripping that away, taking away their self-deception and shame, they “felt greater in his presence, both pure and chose.”

Kellhus flashes back to his training in Ishuäl with Pragma Meigon. They are deep beneath Ishuäl within the Thousand Thousand Halls. The room is exceedingly well lit, the only place in the labyrinth that is, and it is full of shackled men, each naked and bound to boards in a circle, the skin flayed from their faces to reveal their muscle structure. This is the Unmasking Room.

Kellhus is feeling fear despite Meigon reassuring him they’re harmless. He asks what they are. Exemplary defectives retained for the “purpose of education” for young Dûnyain. He leads Kellhus to one, telling him to study and memorize their faces, then draw them. He explains how the face has forty-four muscles that work together to produce every “permutation of passion.” Each figure shows different emotions, using neuropuncture to keep them locked in their expressions. Something the Dûnyain learned centuries ago.

“Neuropuncture,” the Pragma continued, “made possible the rehabilitation of defectives for instructional purpose. The specimen before you, for instance, always displays fear at a base-remove of two.”

“Horror?” Kellhus asked.

“Precisely.”

Kellhus felt the childishness of his own horror fade in understanding. He looked to either side, saw the specimens curving out of sight, rows of white eyes set in shining red musculatures. They were only defectives—nothing more. He returned his gaze to the man before him, to fear base-removed two, and committed what he saw to memory. Then he moved on to the next gasping skein of muscles.

“Good,” Pragma Meigon had said from his periphery. “Very good.”

Back in the present, Kellhus studies Esmenet and “peeled away her face with the hooks of his gaze.” He notes how she has twice found excuses to walk to her tent and draw his attention. She keeps glancing at him, making sure he’s watching her. Though they hadn’t had sex yet, Kellhus knows she wanted him and wooed him. “And she knew it not.”

For all her native gifts, Esmenet remained a world-born woman. And for all world-born men and women, two souls shared the same body, face, and eyes. The animal and the intellect. Everyone was two.

Defective.

One Esmenet had already renounced Drusas Achamian. The other would soon follow.

The next morning, Esmenet watches the Holy War march into the desert on a rise. She stands beside Serwë. The host of soldiers and camp followers stretches out of her sight. She looks to Shigek and says goodbye to Achamian in her thoughts. Then she strikes out, walking among the strangers, ignoring Kellhus calling after. She ignores the looks and muttered words, the men who see her as a whore. “She sweat and suffered and somehow knew it was only the beginning.”

She rejoins Kellhus and Serwë that evening around a meager fire. Kellhus asks about her walk, and she immediately feels shame and apologizes. But he says she doesn’t have to, she’s free to walk where she wants. Then asks again.

“Men,” she said leadenly. “Too many men.”

“And you call yourself a harlot,” Kellhus said, grinning.

Esmenet continued staring at her dusty feet. A shy smile stole across her face.

“Things change…”

Kellhus then asks her why “God holds men higher than women?” She shrugs, women are in men’s shadows who are in Gods’ shadows. He asks her if she thinks that. She replies, Some men, indicating Kellhus. She then realizes only Kellhus. She never stood in anyone else’s, not even Achamian. So Kellhus asks her if all men are overshadowed, why is she less than a man? She laughs, certain he plays a game and says that’s just how it is everywhere. “Women serve men.” She then says most women are simple, like Serwë while more men are educated. Wise.

“And is this because men are more than women?”

Esmenet stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Or is it,” he continued, “because men are granted more than women in this world?”

She stared, her thoughts spinning. She breathed deeply, set her palms carefully upon her knees. “You’re saying women are…are actually equal?”

Kellhus asks why men pay gold to have sex with women. She answers out of lust. Kellhus then says is it legal. She says no, but they can’t help themselves. Kellhus responds that they have no control over their desires and she makes a joke about being a “well-fed harlot” to prove him right. He then asks why men herd cattle. She’s confused and begins answering so they can slaughter them and then she realizes what he is saying.

“Men,” Kellhus said, “cannot dominate their hungers, so they dominate, domesticate, the objects of their hunger. Be it cattle…”

“Or women,” she said breathlessly.

The air prickled with understanding.

He then sites the example of a tributary race, like Serwë’s, speaking the language of their conquers just like women speak the language of men. This is why Esmenet fears growing old, because she sees herself as men see her. It’s why she preens and postures, molds herself to please men. She becomes so motionless as she listens to him talk about how she has degraded herself to please men, how she does things for coins. How the fact she knows she’s damned, that she has no dignity, lets her keep doing these acts. He asks, “What love lies beyond sacrifice?” She’s crying now.

“You speak the tongue of your conquerors…” Kellhus whispered. “You say, Mimara, come with me child.”

A shiver passed through her, as though she were a drumskin…

“And you take her…”

“She’s dead!” some woman cried. “She’s dead!”

“To the slavers in the harbour…”

Stop!” the woman hissed. “I say no!”

Gasping, like knives.

“And you sell her.”

Esmenet tells Kellhus everything as he holds her, how a famine had swept through Sumna, how she was so hungry that she was giving men blowjobs just to eat their seed. How she came to hate her daughter, “the filthy little bitch,” who cried and begged for food, sending Esmenet out into the street “all because of love.” And how the slavers were growing fat and the coins she received. Coins that lasted less than a week. She weeps in his arms, in his absolution.

“You are forgiven, Esmenet.”

Who are you to forgive?

“Mimara.”

She wakes up confused, lying beside Kellhus. She’s conflicted about that, part of her guilty part of her excited though she reminds herself they didn’t have sex. She only cried. For a while, she lies beside him, feeling his heartbeat. He wakes up and they feel the intimacy growing. Serwë sleeps beside them, and Kellhus tells Esmenet to be quiet so not to wake her. Then he’s on her, his hand sliding up her thighs, and she exults that finally he was taking her.

No one would call her harlot any more.

My Thoughts

What does Esmenet fear learning from Xinemus now? That Achamian is dead, or that he is alive and she’s been moving on, abandoning him? That she’s beginning to love again.

Notice the power of a simple “accidental” touch on behalf of Kellhus, bringing Esmenet one step closer to her seduction. First he was a prophet, then he was her friend, and now he’s a prospective lover. All done by his friendly banter, his comforting presence, and his constant presence around her.

We see more of Esmenet’s intelligence as she dissects the interaction between Kellhus and Proyas. She has picked up on a lot of Kellhus’s teachings about human behavior and is using them, understanding the political dynamics that what Kellhus has begun, being a prophet, will eventually lead to a problems with those at the current “center” of everything.

Kellhus gives Cnaiür credit for figuring out the trap. He can’t let Cnaiür’s skill as a tactician get undermined. He needs to keep him propped up for now. Kellhus has risen along with Cnaiür, and Proyas, Kellhus’s best ally, has sponsored them both, become their patrons. If Cnaiür is embarrassed or shown to have failed, it would look poorly on Proyas and thus Kellhus.

Poor Esmenet. While shame can be a good motivator when there’s cause, when you’ve done something wrong, she hasn’t. She’s just been told that what she’s done to survive is wrong while the men who pay her are absolved. They’re not condemned, just her. And it is to Achamian’s tent she flees. Someone else who is a sinner that cannot be absolved.

It’s sad she finds Kellhus always honest.

When Esmenet talks about how she whored her own daughter out, the way her father had done to her, is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world. How she had rationalized it. How years of being a whore had so degraded her that she no longer felt the horror her daughter did. How she’s so pragmatic about it. “Food from fools.” And now the guilt, combined with the other thing she did with her daughter. She knows it was wrong in the wake of her daughter’s “death.” How it eats at her.

The irony of Esmenet saying all those she loved are dead is that neither Achamian or Mimara are dead.

And notice how Kellhus uses this moment of comfort to add another bit to his seduction, creating that deep intimacy between them then taking advantage of her absent movement to bring the physical, the sexual, to the front.

Maithanet is good at manipulating with a scroll-case.

Proyas is such an interesting character. His faith has warped him, forcing him to destroy his relationship with Achamian even as he doesn’t want to. He loves Achamian, truly, but he also fears for his own soul. Too much virtue is itself a vice. (I’m paraphrasing a quote from someone here, can’t remember who.) And Proyas displays that with his piety causing destructive problems.

Notice how Proyas feels guilty for causing Esmenet grief then immediately rationalizes it away with that emphatic “She’s just a whore!” Using his piety to shift his guilt away, to alleviate his own pain. Very common thing for humans to do. But then he runs smack into Achamian being a sorcerer and uses that same reason justify sacrificing him, which he is now learning was a bad call.

Doubt, skepticism, is very important. This is why science uses the peer-review process to evaluate discovery. Any properly motivated researcher can find the facts to support his goal. You need someone who is properly motivated in disproving (doubting) the result to discover whether or not real truth was uncovered or just results that flattered the researcher’s own bias. Truth without doubt leads to orthodoxy. It leads to religion, even if it’s not called that.

Wonder what happened to Proyas’s older brother? He must have died to make Proyas the heir.

Faith untempered by doubt is a very dangerous thing. And it doesn’t have to be faith in a religion, but faith in a political belief, in a scientific truth, faith in a perspective on power dynamics in society. Any of those are dangerous and destructive. We have brains. Use them.

The recollection Proyas has with Achamian talking about doubt is amazing. Such truth found in there. Confirmation bias is ingrained in all of us. We cherry-pick everything in our lives to conform with our own beliefs. And thanks to social media, it’s getting worse. When you can block people whom you disagree with, when you can only visit blogs or follow people on twitter that believe what you do, then you don’t even hear those contradictory statements. You can curate the information you receive to prop up your beliefs, to receive the answers you want instead of the truth.

Proyas has got some nice line of reasoning on Maithanet’s support for Achamian. What else could it be but the Consult? But why would the Shriah believe in the Consult. Everyone in the Three Seas are sure they are gone. How could he know?

How did Maithanet know about the Scarlet Spires secret war with the Cishaurim? Maithanet lurks in the background for so much of the books, with little hints and clues sprinkled here and there, a great mystery that quickly is forgotten because more immediate things are happening in the book. It’s well done. It all makes sense when you learn the truth, and that’s important with mysteries. They have to hold up to scrutiny or they’re a cheat.

Why can’t anything be pure, Proyas? Because the actions of humans are involved.

Proyas was so close to the truth, and then he just couldn’t believe it. He had to go with something familiar, something that confirmed to his own beliefs on how the world worked, and rejects the Consult idea.

It’s sad watching Proyas grapple with the grief and guilt of his part in Achamian’s death. His illusions are shattered. He knows he’s not a moral person like he always believed. Achamian had given without hope of reward, Proyas had done the opposite. He took to get his reward.

So we see the Zaudunyani know. They have a name. A shared purpose. The start of Kellhus’s cult and his temporal power.

Werjau… His first mention. Remember this asshole for later. Not how he’s the one that some of the others are already deferring to. Bakker is setting him up to be a leader in the Zaudunyani right from the beginning. Note how Kellhus doesn’t want Werjau posturing, but we’ll see he never quite learns that lesson. Something Kellhus will lament. If he’s not on top of people, they backslide.

It is, perhaps, Kellhus greatest weakness. He doesn’t have the time to micromanage everyone.

We get our first taste of the true horror of the Dûnyain next in the Unmasking Room. Such a mundane place for such a horrific spot. Here we see those Dûnyain who didn’t succeed, lobotomized and kept alive to let students study facial expressions. We’ll learn more Dûnyain horrors (whale mothers) in later books. This is a brutal illustration that the Dûnyain purpose is dehumanization, to strip out emotions, to make “men” devoid of passions.

And then how Kellhus puts aside his own “childish” horror (because feeling emotions is childish for the Dûnyain) and understands. This is his fate if he can’t learn to control his passions. So he does. He rationalizes that the man is defective, therefore worthless, and his emotions fade. He’s turned a human being into an object.

And then he peels back Esmenet’s face, seeing her as nothing more than those tortured men he studied as a child. Defective. But a defective he needs. One he needs to seduce. One he can “rehabilitate” to a new purpose. And already the “animal” part of her is eager for the seduction. Now her intellect just had to abandon her love for Achamian and surrender to Kellhus.

Last time Esmenet stared at the Holy War, Achamian was with her. And now she admits it. He’s gone. She has to move on, literally and figuratively. She’s hit acceptance in the grieving process.

For anyone who thinks Bakker is not a feminist or is a misogynist should read Kellhus comments about men domesticating women like they have cattle. Kellhus often speaks Bakker’s own beliefs. Bakker, frankly, is more of a misandrist than he is a misogynist. He has a low opinion of men. We all mold ourselves to please those around us. Women make themselves look beautiful to attract a mate while men work for status and power for the same reason—women are valued for the beauty, men for their wealth. Kellhus is leaving that part out either on purpose, to aid in his molding of Esmenet, or because Bakker is espousing his own beliefs here.

That revelation that Mimara didn’t die of a disease, but that Esmenet sold her to the slaves while they were both starving is heartbreaking. Starving people start to lose compassion. They become driven to do things they would never do while fed. They abandon people. Their survival instincts kick in, driving them to do what it takes to live. And it gets harder and harder to fight that selfishness. And then you’ll do something you can never forgive yourself for.

If you’ve ever hard of Grave of the Fireflies, original a novel and then made into a movie by Studio Ghibli, it’s a true story about a brother and sister, just children, orphaned in Japan by World War II. At the end of the war, they are living with an abusive aunt. They runaway and live in the woods. At first, they’re happy. But soon the starvation sets in. The older brother, who is maybe 10, tries hard to keep them alive. But, first the sister dies and then he dies. Or that’s how the novel goes. In the real story, the brother lived. And the guilt he felt for getting them in this mess, for not saving his sister when they were starving and for living when she died, compelled him to write their story and symbolically kill himself by having his own character die.

Esmenet wakes up feeling guilty and excited for lying next to Kellhus, the last vestige of her relationship with Achamian and her excitement to start a new one. If Achamian were truly dead, this would be healthy. But he’s not, and it’s only been a few weeks. On top of that, she’s being manipulated. So it’s really the opposite.

Then it happens. Kellhus makes his move. He has welded an intimacy between them, he has guided her through the process of grieving for Achamian, making room for her to love another, and then he takes advantage of her. And as she has sex with him, she think she won’t be a harlot ever again. That he sees her as an equal. That she doesn’t have to be his whore.

Instead, she’s his broodmare. As we see in his POV, she is defective. But good thing you can find a use for defectives. He’s rehabilitating her.

This is a powerful chapter, from seeing Esmenet’s true guilt, the thing that has haunted her all this time, revealed. How her guilt for Mimara has made her feel motherly towards Serwë even as she fought her own jealousy towards the girl’s beauty. And even though Esmenet did this monstrous thing, you understand why. That desperation. That horrible circumstances. “Let her feed herself.” How many parents have thought similar thoughts, when angry, when tired, when weary but still having to attend to their children. Those small, dark flashes that pop up in all of us. None of us, I’d dare say, have been as starving as Esmenet.

And the sad part, Kellhus using it to seduce her. Even forgiving her in Mimara’s name. And, for those who’ve read the next series, you know Mimara has not forgiven.

And with that, we’re done with the Holy War’s second march. The third, and hardest, march is before it. The desert awaits. That’s a very symbolic place, the desert. A place where men are transformed into prophets in our own mythologies.

Click here for Chapter Eighteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 16
Shigek

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

Men never resemble one another so much as when asleep or dead.

OPPARITHA, ON THE CARNAL

The arrogance of the Inrithi waxed bright in the days following Anwurat. Though the sober-minded demanded they press the attack, the great majority clamored for respite. They thought the Fanim doomed, just as they thought them doomed after Mengedda. But while the Men of the Tusk tarried, the Padirajah plotted. He would make the world his shield.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

The first quote is talking about the equalization that death brings. Because all men must die. And what is sleep, but the dress rehearsal? The surrendering to the darkness? In sleep, as Esmenet notes as she gazes on Serwë, the real person comes out. And that real person is the same flawed human being as everyone else. Equals in sleep and in death.

First, this quote reminds us that Achamian isn’t dead. He’s still in this story. He must be because he survived to write about these events. The next is just a commentary on humans (and the readers) who like to see things in simple terms. We conquered the Fanim. They must be crushed this time. But they’re not. They’re still plotting. Just remember that in these days of partisan politics, one side declaring victory forever over the other. It’s never that simple.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

Achamian suffers the dreams of Seswatha’s life. He is before the gates of Golgotterath, armies of Sranc and Bashrag drawn up before it. He thinks it is about to yield, to be defeated. A horn is sound. The Sranc attack like “a tide of spiders.” They clash against the armies of the Northern Norsirai, the might of High Kûniüri accompanied by Nonmen from Ishterebinth. Seswatha is certain of their victory.

Achamian would relive all eighteen years of that delusion.

Dreams drawn from the knife’s sheath.

And when he awakened, to the sound of harsh shouts or the patter of cold water across his face, it would seem that one horror had merely replaced another. He would blink against torchlight, would dully note the bite of chains, a mouth stuffed with rank cloth, and the dark, scarlet-robed figures that surrounded him. And he would think, before succumbing to the Dreams once gain, It comes… the Apocalypse comes…

Iyokus and Eleäzaras stand around him, talking about how easy it is to render men so helpless. Iyokus points out so can schools, which brings a sharp question from Eleäzaras. They notice Achamian watching them and Iyokus says he needs time to recover before questioning can begin again.

Esmenet cries when she sees Kellhus and Serwë, both haggard, approach her. She runs towards Kellhus, hugging and kissing him. She sobs that she is going mad, but he says it is only grief. Kellhus “seemed a pillar of comfort.” Then she hugs a crying Serwë, who she has missed her.

Esmenet regarded the girl with sorrow. Her left eye was bruised black and cherry and an angry red cut poked from beneath her hairline. Even if Esmenet had the heart—and she had none—she would wait for Serwë to explain what had happened. With such marks, asking demanded lies, and silence afforded truth. That was the lot of women—especially when they were wanton.

Serwë appears healthy beside that, and Esmenet has many questions about how her pregnancy is progressing. She remembers her own “joyous terror” at being pregnant. Esmenet says Serwë must be hungry, which she denies which only makes Esmenet and Kellhus laugh—she was always hungry these days “as a pregnant woman should be.”

For a moment, Esmenet felt the old sunshine flash from her eyes.

Esmenet is happy to see them, missing them as she mourns Achamian. Kellhus notes that she is at the same fire in Shigek as when the army left. Serwë realizes it, shocked. Esmenet is silent, feeding the fire, which she had been obsessed over.

She could feel Kellhus’s gentle scrutiny.

“Some hearths can’t be rekindled,” he said.

“It burns well enough,” Esmenet murmured. She blinked tears, sniffled and wiped at her nose.

“But what makes a hearth, Esmi? Is it the fire, or the family that keeps it?”

“The family,” she finally said. A strange blankness had overcome her.

Kellhus says that he and Serwë are that family. She protests she has to say here and wait. He repeats that “we are that home.” And that ended it.

Over dinner, Kellhus talks about the events of the last week. She finds herself lost in his story about the battle. She is struck by how this great prophet could concern himself with a whore. She smiles, which makes Kellhus happy. He finishes the story and everyone falls silent. She stares at the sky, frightened by its “murderous indifference.” Her thoughts turn to Achamian. Kellhus has heard from Xinemus who still searches.

“So there’s hope?” [asked Esmenet.]

“There is always hope,” he said in a voice that at once encouraged and deadened her heart. “We can only wait and see what he finds.”

Esmenet couldn’t speak. She glanced at Serwë, but the girl avoided her eyes.

They think he’s dead.

She has tried not to hope, but she can’t think him dead. She struggles with it and Kellhus changes the subject, offering to teach her how to read. That makes her cry because it is the one thing she has always wanted to do.

Achamian transitions from dreaming of Seswatha’s torture at Dagliash into his present torment at the hands of the Scarlet Spire. The face of Mekeritrig becomes Eleäzaras, disorienting him. Eleäzaras is happy Achamian is conscious and aware. They feared they killed him. Eleäzaras laments the Library’s destruction.

Achamian realizes he is naked and chained, suspended in the air by his wrists to the ceiling and ankles to the floor. It is at that moment, he realizes that he is dead, the Scarlet Spire has captured him. He pisses and shits himself, which only makes Eleäzaras laugh and quip. The laughter from the others is uneasy. Achamian panics and fights against his chains, thinking about Esmenet.

Eleäzaras laments that “there is too much certainty here.” Achamian knows he’ll be tortured for the Gnosis, and Eleäzaras knows that he won’t surrender it and will rather die. “We’ll be left with yet another useless Mandate corpse.”

Achamian knows it is true. It is his duty to die to protect the Gnosis. The Angogic Schools, like the Scarlet Spire, were never tutored by the Nonmen Quya, so don’t know the more powerful Abstractions, but only the weaker Analogies. Achamian remembers he is stronger, a philosopher while they were merely poets. “I will see you burn!” he promises.

Eleäzaras says this time is different. Events are tumultuous. To prove his point, he removes Achamian’s gag and let him speak without using Compulsion. He does point out the Uroborian Circle drawn around Achamian. It will keep any sorcery from being cast in it by causing pain. Achamian has seen it, too. “The Scarlet Spires, it seemed, possessed many potent poetic devices.” Achamian asks where they are. They are still in Iothiah before. Then he studies the Uroborian Circle.

It didn’t seem a matter of courage, only a giddy instant of disconnection, a willful ignorance of the consequences.

He said two words.

Agony.

Achamian shits himself again as agony shots through him. His blood burns. And then passes out into Seswatha’s nightmares.

Eleäzaras stares at Achamian and though he’s naked, chained, and unconscious, finds him threatening. Iyokus calls Achamian stubborn, implying it was to be expected. Eleäzaras agrees, angry at the delay. And though he would love to have the Gnosis, he needed to know the truth of the Cishaurim skin-spy and Achamian’s connection to them. Worse, because of Achamian, the Scarlet Spire had lost their advantage in numbers gained after the Cishaurim’s casualties at Mengedda. He killed two and then six more fell at Anwurat. It was because of Proyas’s threat of avenging Achamian that Eleäzaras had sent in his sorcerers. He can’t afford to bleed his school.

Eleäzaras can’t help but remember fighting Achamian, lusting for the Gnosis and hating the Mandate for hoarding it. Once he had information on the Cishaurim, he would have Achamian tortured for the Gnosis. Maybe it would work this time, a gamble as significant as destroying the Cishaurim.

That, Eleäzaras decided, was Iyokus’s problem. He could not fathom the fact that certain rewards made even the most desperate gambles worthwhile. He knew nothing of hope.

Chanv addicts never seemed to know anything of hope.

Esmenet crosses the river with Serwë, both sharing a saddle on the same horse. Esmenet is impressed by Serwë’s horsemanship, but she shrugs and says she’s Cepaloran. “She’d been born astride a saddle.” Esmenet bitterly thinks it means born with her legs spread wide. On the other side, she peers across the river and realizes she won’t return, the river is a barrier even though she can swim. Kellhus tells her “The world looks south.”

They return to the Conryian cap and she’s shocked to find Kellhus accepting people calling him the Warrior Prophet. Serwë finds it wonderful, and so does she. He is the Warrior Prophet. She suddenly feels jealous that Serwë is Kellhus’s woman, not her. She instantly feels shame for those thoughts, reminding her Kellhus is helping her for Achamian’s sake.

Esmenet had told herself she feared returning because it would stir too many recollections. But losing those recollections was what she truly feared. Her refusal to leave their old camp had somehow rash, desperate, pathetic… Kellhus had shown her that. But remaining had fortified her somehow—or so it seemed when she thought about it. There was the clutching sense of defensiveness, the certainty that she must protect Achamian’s surroundings. She’d even refused to touch the chipped clay bowl he’d used for his tea that final morning. By describing his absence in such heartbreaking detail, such things had become, it seemed to her, fetishes, charms that would secure his return. And there was the sense of desolate pride. Everyone had fled, but she remained—she remained! She would look across the abandoned fields, at the firepits becoming earthen, at the paths scuffed through the grasses, and all the world would seem a ghost. Only her loss would seem real… Only Achamian. Wasn’t there some glory, some grace in that?

Now she moved on even though it means abandoning Achamian. That makes her cry as she pitches his tent next to Kellhus’s much larger pavilion. She feared things would be awkward, but Kellhus is to generous and Serwë innocent for that. She is welcomed. They make her laugh or share her sorrow. Serwë bounces between obliviousness that Esmenet is grieving to being devastated that Achamian is gone. Partly it’s her pregnancy causing mood sings, but it also makes Esmenet wonder if Serwë and Achamian were together more than that one night. It makes her bitter towards Serwë, which makes her feel guilty thinking Achamian would be disappointed in her. She can’t sleep remembering things she said to Serwë.

On her third night, she’s awoken by a crying Serwë and, feeling like a tired mother, hugs her. Serwë begs Esmenet not to steal Kellhus from her. She says Esmenet is so beautiful and smart. She can’t speak to him like Esmenet can. Esmenet protests that she loves Achamian and she has nothing to fear.

Esmenet had thought herself sincere, but afterward, as she nestled against Serwë’s slender back, she found herself exulting in the thought of Serwë’s fear. She curled the girl’s blond hair between her fingers, thinking of the way Serwë had swept it across Achamian’s chest… How easy, she thought, would it yank from her scalp?

Why did you lie with Akka? Why?

Guilt hits her the next morning, remembering a proverb: “Hatred was a rapacious houseguest, and lingered only in hearts fat with pride.” But her heart is thin. Esmenet watches Serwë sleep, so innocent and beautiful. She realizes that in sleep she saw Serwë’s true face. And her vulnerability. “The sleeping throat was easily cut,” according to a Nilnameshi proverb.

Was this not love? To be watched while you slept…

She was crying when Serwë awoke. She watched the girl blink, focus, and frown.

“Why?” Serwë asked.

Esmenet smiled. “Because you’re so beautiful,” she said. “So perfect.”

This makes Serwë happy and the pair start laughing and joking while Kellhus shakes his head “as perhaps a man should.” Now Esmenet treats Serwë nicer, their friendship deepening even as she wonders what Kellhus sees in Serwë. It had to be more than her great beauty because he saw “hearts, not skin.” And Serwë’s heart seems flawed.

But now Esmenet wondered whether these very flaws held the secret of her [Serwë’s] heart’s perfection. For she’d glimpsed that perfection while watching her sleep. For an instant, she’d glimpsed what only Kellhus could see. The beauty of frailty. The splendour of imperfection.

She had witnessed, she realized. Witnessed truth.

Kellhus acknowledges her insight without words. Later, he helps her with her reading. He gave her The Chronicle of the Tusk as a primer. Holding it filled her with dread. She could feel her own judgment. She told him she doesn’t want to read a book that condemns her and calls her filthy. He responds with “What does it say, Esmi.” So she struggles to read it.

That night, she falls asleep without crying for Achamian. She wakes up alert and too early, moonlight flooding through her open tent. Then she realizes Sarcellus is lying beside her. She is surprisingly calm, wondering how long he had been watching her. He asks her if she ever told Achamian and she says no. She asks what you want, which is her. He then tells her Kellhus is a fraud. At that moment, she realizes she meant nothing to Sarcellus, she was just a thing and not his lover. It hits her hard as fear grows in her. She orders him to leave. But he says he has gold. She says she’ll scream.

He clamps a hand over her mouth and places a knife at her throat. He warns her that just like Achamian has died, so to will the prophet. He asks whom she will bed next for food, calling her an old whore. Out of fear, she pisses herself, crying. He only mocks her for it.

Sarcellus smirked, removed his hand.

She shrieked, screamed until it seemed her throat must bleed.

Then Kellhus is holding her and takes her to the fire. She explains what happened while crying. The commotion dies down while Kellhus says he’ll complain to Gotian but doubts anything will happen. He was a Knight-Commander “and she was just a dead sorcerer’s whore.” Esmenet feels so week and pathetic, wondering how that happened, then gets angry at Achamian for leaving her.

In her tent, Kellhus promises Sarcellus won’t return. It’s here that she confesses that she lied to Akka about what happened to her in Sumna, how the Consult came to her and that she knew Inrau hadn’t killed him. And now she can’t tell him. Kellhus asks what this has to do with Sarcellus and she doesn’t know. Kellhus explains that she thought she loved Kellhus, even compared him to Achamian.

“I was a fool!” she cried. “A fool!” How could she be such a fool?

No man is your equal, love! No man!

“Achamian was weak,” Kellhus said.

“But I loved him for those weaknesses! Don’t you see? That’s why I loved him!”

I loved him in truth!

“And that’s why you could never go to him… To go to him while you shared Sarcellus’s bed would be to accuse him of those very weaknesses he couldn’t bear. So you stayed away, fooled yourself into thinking you searched for him when you were hiding all the while.”

She asks how he knows this. Because no matter how much she lies to herself, she knows the truth. It’s why she hid the truth from Achamian, because you feared he would hate you. She feels so dirty, and knowing Kellhus sees it feels her with shame. She tells him not to look at her. But he does and “it fills me with wonder.” Those words stilled her. He leaves her, but she can still feel his touch.

The next evening, Esmenet is reading from The Chronicle of the Tusk while Kellhus cooks in her place. She was reading the old “Tusk Laws,” many replaced by the Latter Prophet, when she comes across a difficult word. She sounds it out and realizes it is whore. “Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” Anger surges through her as she spits the verse at Kellhus.

Kellhus gazed back, utterly unsurprised.

He’s been waiting for me to reach this passage. All along…

Give me the book,” he said, his tone unreadable.

She does. And with his knife, he scraps away the ink of the passage. Esmenet is stunned, barely able to understand what he had done. Then he hands it back, asking if it were better “as though he’d just scraped mould from bread.” She can’t touch the book now, saying he couldn’t do that. It’s holy scripture. It’s the Tusk.

“I know. The warrant of your damnation.”

Esmenet gawked like a fool. “But…”

Kellhus scowled and shook his head, as though astonished she could be so dense.

“Just who, Esmi, do you think I am?”

Serwë chirped with laughter, even clapped her hands.

“Wh-who?” Esmenet stammered. It was the most she could manage. Other than in rare anger or jest, she’d never heard Kellhus speak with…with such presumption.

“Yes,” Kellhus repeated, “who?” His voice seemed satin thunder. He looked as eternal as a circle.

Then Esmenet glimpsed it: the shining gold about his hands… Without thinking, she rolled to her knees before him, pressed her face into the dust.

Serwë’s hiccups and Kellhus laughing draws her up and tells her it is time for dinner. But she is still shaken. She realizes that everything now comes from him. That he is everything, everywhere. A god. And then it hits her what he had done. He had freed her from damnation. He had redeemed her.

He scraped the passage clean!

Then she thought of Achamian.

Cnaiür is wondering through the alleys of Heppa haunted by the voices of his people accusing him of being a weeper. A faggot. A Galeoth spots him, saying he is the first disciple of the Warrior-Prophet. He doesn’t know who the man is talking about. Cnaiür has forgotten about the Dûnyain. Flashes of his seduction at Moënghus’s hands shake through him. He reminds himself he is of the people even while wondering how he ended up where he was. Memories assault him. He is a child running from his father’s hut holding something broken he tries to put back together.

Someone. He was forgetting to hate someone.

My Thoughts

In Achamian’s dream of the Great Ordeal, notice how Seswatha thinks Golgotterath is about to yield, the Consult’s defeat at hand. That same arrogance that the Inrithi felt after Anwurat and Mengedda.

The eighteen years of delusion was how long the Great Ordeal (the original, and not the one in the sequel series) besieged Golgotterath before the No-God was unleashed.

Sad quote about being abused from Esmenet. She suspects that Kellhus must have beaten her, for being wanton, implying that Kellhus must have found out that Serwë had seduced Achamian months back. There is no outrage from Esmenet, just acceptance.

We see Kellhus’s seduction of Esmenet begin. First by convincing her that he and Serwë are her family, too, and that she should be with them. Then he begins to undermine her hope in seeing Achamian alive, convincing her he is lost, dead, so she’ll let go of him. All under the guise of a comforting friend. But Kellhus needs her intelligence. He has plans forming, plans that go beyond killing his father.

Achamian, you could have really made her happy by teaching her to read.

Then we caught to Achamian’s interrogation. Brilliant transition from the torment of the Consult against Seswatha into what he knows he’ll face here. Of course he panics. Anyone would.

I do love how Bakker uses language to explain the differences in sorcery. The Angogic Sorcerers can’t just make something burn, they need to summon a flame first. But the Gnosis understand the essence of something, can conjure it in abstraction, and just immolate you. There’s an interesting analogy, poets versus philosopher. A poet seeks to describe emotions, to conjure its effects in his reader while the philosopher seeks to understand the very existence of the emotion, its essence.

We see our first indication that magic can be drawn to cause effect. I imagine an Uroborian Circle has some connection with the branch of sorcery that creates the Chorae, the Aporos.

I love Achamian testing the circle. It’s like, fuck it, might as well try. It’s going to suck. Let’s get it over with. Because, maybe, they didn’t do it right.

Oh, Eleäzaras. Maybe you should have cut your loses with Achamian and given him back to Proyas. Eight dead so far because of this mad plan of yours. But Eleäzaras is under a great deal of stress. He’s one of the most powerful men in the world, and we’re seeing him cracking under the weight of actions, gambling the very future of his school to get vengeance.

Chanv, the mysterious drug that lets you live longer, sharpens your intellect, and makes you infertile. Oh, and it kills hope. And no one knows where it comes from. My bet is the Consult created it. Killing hope is certainly a giveaway, and the infertile part. That’s how they destroyed the Nonmen.

The world looks south.” Another subtle nudging from Kellhus for Esmenet to forget Achamian. He’s to the north, across the river that is now a barrier to her.

Esmenet is a lot like Leweth from the first book prologues. He had retreated from the world to hold to the remembrance of his wife, to not let others change how he feels. Esmenet wanted the same, to hold onto Achamian. Now thanks to Kellhus’s help, she’s moving on. Of course, Achamian isn’t dead. There is still hope for him. It’s only been a few weeks after all.

So, what did Kellhus do or say that put such a fear in Serwë that Esmenet would steal Kellhus? Because it is this conversation that lays the foundation for the two women sharing Kellhus. The next step in his seduction. Remember, Kellhus will come at you wearing the face of your friend, your spouse, your enemy, or even a stranger.

Oh, Esmenet, everyone’s heart is flawed. You are all those things you think of with Serwë. You are vain about your appearance. You can be petulant and peevish, and you make dirty jokes with the best of them.

So Sarcellus was testing Esmenet, finding out how committed she was to Kellhus. Maybe she could be a spy. But she screamed, so he learned very committed considering he held a knife to her throat. She will not betray Kellhus. He thinks she did betray Achamian because she sold him out back in book 1. But Achamian told her to do that to protect herself.

Achamian cared about her.

She know is thinking about Achamian as dead. She no longer cries in grief before falling asleep. Now she’s moving into the anger stage of grief. She is moving on, guided by Kellhus. It’s tragic because we know Achamian, through the book he later writes about the holy war, isn’t dead.

Shame and fear can be such a destructive emotions when they keep you from trusting in the person you loved. And now Esmenet gets to have the guilt of never telling Achamian that Inrau didn’t kill himself. (Though she might later on, I can’t remember)

Suffer not a whore to live, for she maketh a pit of her womb.” The exact words the priest cried back in book 1 before Esmenet was stoned.

Telling someone they are not damned in a world where that is a very real thing is powerful. And here’s the real horribleness about the soteriology of Bakker’s world: there is no way to keep yourself from being damned for some people. Being a whore, damned. Being a sorcerer, damned. Being a murderer, damned. There is no chance to change it. Achamian can never change his own damnation. There is no redemption for him, for Esmenet. As we learn, even Serwë is damned when she dies. That sweet, innocent girl. Bakker’s religion draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition, but departs in it in some extreme ways when it comes to damnation.

So it is hard not to feel the joy Esmenet feels even knowing it is a lie. Because he is not a prophet. And she is not saved just because he declared it. Otherwise, Serwë wouldn’t have been damned when he died. And, as we learn in the sequel series thanks to the judging eye, that sorcerers are still damned.

Next, notice she thinks of Kellhus as an eternal circle. And then she can see the halos about his hand. At this moment, she truly believes he is a prophet to her core. The halos are manifestation of that eternal circle. I think this is a crucial clue to the mechanism that produces these halos in the world.

And now Cnaiür is having a complete mental breakdown. He must have some form of schizophrenia because he is having auditory and visual hallucinations. That final paragraph is interesting, Cnaiür as a boy fleeing from his father’s yaksh and his wrath. He has something broken. He tries to put them together. But it’s someone sad and beautiful. Is this Serwë? He wants to save her and can’t. And, of course, he’s forgetting his hatred of Moënghus. He’s completely lost right now, drowning in the scars of his past.

Click here for Chapter Seventeen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 14
Anwurat

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

It is the difference in knowledge that commands respect. This is why the true test of every student lies in the humiliation of his master.

GOTAGGA, THE PRIMA ARCANATA

The children here play with bones instead of sticks, and whenever I see them, I cannot but wonder whether the humeri they brandish are faithful or heathen. Heathen, I should think, for the bones seem bent.

ANONYMOUS, LETTER FROM ANWURAT

My Thoughts

The student, to earn his teacher’s respect, has to overcome him. Kellhus definitely did this with Achamian. He surpassed him with ease and Achamian respected him greatly. And as we see in this chapter, Cnaiür is humiliated when Kellhus spots what Skauras is doing before Cnaiür. And, of course, when it is too late to stop it. Note, also, that this is from the Prima Arcanata. This is a Schoolman book. It seems to be imploring its students to push the bounds of sorcery, to discover new things to surpass their teacher and strengthen their school, whichever school this text is from.

The letter shows us the grim realty of what the war has done and yet how the innocent children can still play. They haven’t been wholly corrupted. Like in the previous chapter when Achamian saw the children playing beneath the corpses hanging in the tree, the contrast of innocence with brutality. Then you throw in some color commentary on racism with the “bent bones” lines, to hammer home how tribal humans are. Plus, this is the fortress that we ended last chapter on preparing for a siege. It foreshadows the Inrithi victory (otherwise, why is this Inrithi writing home from here).

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

Conphas lets Martemus cool his heels as he reads intelligence reports in his command pavilion. Activity bustles around him in the Nansur camp as they prepare for the coming battle with the Fanim tomorrow.

Such a battle! And he—he! the lion of Kiyuth!—would be little more than a subaltern…

No matter, it would be salt for the honey, as the Ainoni were fond of saying. The bitterness that made vengeance sweet.

Conphas tells Martemus that he will represent the Nansur at Cnaiür’s side in the coming battle. Martemus asks if there are more instructions and Conphas wonders why he hadn’t stripped Martemus of his rank and sold him as a slave. He explains that he doesn’t trust Martemus anymore and actually trusts Cnaiür, in matters of war, far more. Martemus doesn’t protest but just asks why he was chosen with “stoic curiosity.” Conphas finds it such a waste that he has lost Martemus.

“Because you’ve unfinished business.” Conphas handed several sheets to his secretary, then looked down as though to study the next sheaf of parchment. “I’ve just been told the Prince of Atrithau accompanies the Scylvendi.” He graced the General with a dazzling smile.

Martemus said nothing for a stone-faced moment.

“But I told you… He’s…he’s…”

“Please,” Conphas snapped. “How long has it been since you’ve drawn your sword, hmm? If I doubt your loyalty, I laugh at your prowess. No. You’ll only observe.”

Conphas has hired three assassins, two Nansur and a Zeumi sword dancer, the latter whom Conphas thinks is a generous gift from his uncle. He then orders Martemus to bring back Kellhus head, using his general cloak as a sack. Conphas isn’t sure if he sees horror or hope in Martemus’s eyes.

The Inrithi horns sound at dawn and “the men of the Tusk rose certain of their triumph.” They form up on the South Bank to crush their enemy, knowing the God walks with them. Orders are barked as men assemble. Prayers are uttered, wine drunk, and bread broken. Wives and prostitutes say their farewells. The Fanim assemble on the horizon before the fortress of Anwurat. The Inrithi, each to their own culture, shout their cries as they prepare for battle while “a hundred hundred banners fluttered in the morning wind.”

Cnaiür ponders the trade he made with Kellhus last night, the knowledge of war for Serwë. He stands with Kellhus and a group of officers and messengers on a small hill. From here, he will command the battle, the newly made Swazond Standard fluttering over him.

Cnaiür stares in wonder at the Holy War assembled before him and the Fanim facing them. He reminds himself he is of the Land, a Scylvendi. He surveys their deployment, looking for weakness. Kellhus moves to his side, putting Cnaiür on his guard and again questioning the trade. He had spent the night screaming at the sea, demanding why he made the trade for “a bauble found on the Steppe.” He reflects on all he had given up over the last month: honor for vengeance, leather for silk, yaksh for a pavilion, the Utemot for the Inrithi. He was Battlemaster. King-of-Tribes.

Part of him reeled in drunken exultation at the thought. Such a host! From the river to the hills, a distance of almost seven miles, and still the ranks ran deep! The People could never assemble such a horde, not if they emptied every yaksh, saddled every boy. And here he, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, breaker-of-horses-and-men, commanded. Outland princes, earls and palatines, thanes and barons in their thousands, even an Exalt-General answered to him! Ikurei Conphas, the hated author of Kiyuth!

What would the People think? Would they call this glory? Or would they spit and cruse his name, give him to the torments of the aged and the infirm?

He reflects that all battle was holy, that defeating the Fanim would be a victory. He imagines them finally embracing him even as he realizes they would laugh as he hears his uncles words said at Kiyuth: “Yours is the name of our shame!” He ponders how they would react if he destroyed the Inrithi and returned with Conphas’s head.

“Scylvendi” Moënghus said from his side.

That voice!

Cnaiür looked to Kellhus, blinking.

Skauras! The Dûnyain’s look shouted. Skauras is our foe here!

Cnaiür focuses on defeating Skauras. He feels fear, wanting more time, knowing that his usefulness for Kellhus is about to end. He knows he is a threat to Kellhus and he has given up the last of his leverage. But there is nothing he can do to delay it. The Inrithi are ready for he battle. He gives the order to march.

Kellhus fixed him with shining, empty eyes.

Cnaiür looks away to the army. It moves forward, the horses trotting ahead, the ranks of infantry following. The Fanim drums pound as they wait.

The Dûnyain loomed in his periphery, as sharp as a mortal rebuke.

What was this trade he had made? A woman for war.

Something is wrong.

Behind him, the Inrithi lords began singing.

The Inrithi knights outpaced the infantry as they cross the field. They are moving faster and faster. The Fanimry fire arrows. Men and horses die. They lower lances as they charge the heathens. They shout war cries born of hatred. They clash with the Fanim.

The sermon was simple.

Break.

Die.

Serwë is alone, avoiding the other camp-followers praying in the encampment. She doesn’t see the point, having already kissed Kellhus and watched him ride off. Instead, she boils a tea Proyas’s physician-priests prescribed her for her pregnancy. She’s not afraid but confused why Kellhus risks himself especially in the wake of Achamian’s loss. It made her realize they weren’t on a pilgrimage “to deliver something [Kellhus] Holy.” Now she realizes that Kellhus might vanish, too.

But this thought didn’t so much frighten her—the possibility was too unthinkable—as it confused her. One cannot fear for a God, but one can be baffled over whether one should.

Gods could die. The Scylvendi worshipped a dead god.

Does Kellhus fear?

That too, was unimaginable.

Her water boils just as she thinks she heard something. She grapples with the kettle, using sticks to pull it out of the fire, when she feels a hand touch her belly. Kellhus is holding her from behind, though he seems shorter. Kellhus is horny and needs her, which makes her wonder why he chose her instead of any other woman. She asks why he needs her now. Isn’t he worried about the battle. But he worries only for her.

“Everywhere Cnaiür turned, he saw glory and horror.” He stands with his cheering retinue trying to watch the battle. He finds the battle happening too fast. There is so much going on as across their lines, the Inrithi engage the Fanim. Cnaiür’s planning is working. He had deduced the Fanim tactics so far and his preparations, having the Nansur use rafts as improvised ramps, is working. But dust obscures the Ainoni, and that worries him.

He begins to instruct Kellhus, talking about how this battle will be one by penetration and not envelopment. But he trails off as the dust clears enough to let him see the Ainoni are withdrawing. The Kianene hold the heights. This worries him, but Kellhus asks if this is how you crush your foe by assaulting their flanks or rear.

Cnaiür shook his black mane. “No. This is how you convince your foe.”

“Convince?”

Cnaiür snorted. “This war,” he snapped in Scylvendi, “is simply your war made honest.”

Kellhus acknowledged nothing. “Belief… You’re saying battle is a disputation of belief… An argument?”

Cnaiür keeps looking to the south as he explains about how attacking flanks and rears are arguments to convince the enemy they lost. “He who believes he is defeated is defeated.” Kellhus states that “conviction makes true” in battle.

As I said, it is honest.

Skauras! I must concentrate upon Skauras!

Cnaiür’s nervousness causes him to send a messenger to General Setpanares, commanding the Ainoni, to find out who defeated them even while knowing the battle will be over before the messenger can return. He finds the Nansur and Thunyeri are making fast progress up the makeshift ramps. Skauras reserves approach from the west and is worried about their numbers. He sends a message to the Conriyans while thinking everything is going to plan elsewhere.

Cnaiür points to the Galeoth and tells Kellhus to see how Skauras frustrates Saubon. Kellhus sees the delaying tactic. Cnaiür explains that the Galeoth and Tydonni possess shock, which the Fanim can’t stand up against, so they will use their cohesion and speed to d a defensive envelopment. Kellhus understands that an over-committed attack risks exposing flanks. Something the Inrithi are prone to do But, as Cnaiür says, their superior heart (conviction) saves them.

Their Conviction,” Kellhus said.

Cnaiür nodded. “When the memorialists counsel the Chieftains before battle, they bid them recall that in conflict all men are bound to one another, some by chains, some by ropes, and some by strings, all of different lengths. They call these bindings the mayutafiüri, the ligaments of war. These are just ways of describing the strength and flexibility of a formation’s angotma. Those Kianene the People would call trutu garothut, men of the long chains. They can be thrown apart, but they will pull themselves together. The Galeoth and Tydonni we would call trutu hirothut, men of the short chain. Left alone, such men would battle and battle. Only disaster or utgirkoy, attrition, can break the chains of such men.”

The Fanim scatter and Cnaiür explains a leader must always be reevaluating the battle. Kellhus asks if the south [my Kindle edition says north, but Cnaiür then looks southward, so I think this is a mistake] worries Cnaiür. He says no but then is “struck by an inexplicable apprehension of doom.” The Ainoni knights are retreating but the infantry are advancing. He lectures about how infantry will often drift to the right, betraying a lack of discipline or an act of deception to draw an enemy attack. Cnaiür is still confident things are going to plan. He goes on to saying that a general can tolerate no disbelief in his men that they will lose while he questions what the Ainoni general is now doing. Kellhus comments that disbelief spreads. Cnaiür knows that if men have conviction, they can die to the last, as Nansur Columns have in fighting Scylvendi in the past. Kellhus grasp that this is what a rout is, a loss of conviction, like what the Fanim suffered at the Battleplain. Cnaiür agrees, which is why a general has to be ready for that moment of decision. Cnaiür still worries over the Ainoni. He doesn’t understand why General Setpanares had withdrawn his horses. The Fanim were losing everywhere else save to the south.

Cnaiür glanced at Kellhus, saw his shining eyes study the distances the way they so often scrutinized souls. A gust cast his hair forward across his lower face.

“I fear,” the Dûnyain said, “the moment has already passed.”

Serwë can hear the fighting as “Kellhus” fucks her. He feels different in her and he tells her he is different for her. She is wracked with pleasure. He grabs her hair as she rides him, telling her to talk. She asks about what.

“Speak of me…”

“Kellhhhhussss,” she moaned. “I love you… I worship you! I do, I do, I do!”

“And why, sweet Serwë?”

“Because you’re the God incarnate! Because you’ve been sent!”

He fell absolutely still, knowing he’d delivered her to the humming brink.

Serwë aches for her climax, riding “Kellhus” faster, coming closer and closer, when he asks about Cnaiür and his hatred towards him. She says Cnaiür fears you and knows he will be punished. Serwë notices more differences, but is too lost to her pleasure to think about them.

His hand closed about the back of her neck… How she loved this game!

“And why does he call me Dûnyain?”

Cnaiür demands to know what Kellhus meant about the decision, thinking Kellhus seeks to deceive. Kellhus says he has studied the Kianene devices and though the dust prevents him, and Cnaiür, from seeing their patterns, he can see their shapes and has counted them, then compared them to the list of Sapatishah’s client Grandees. He tells Cnaiür that across most of their lines, only a fraction of the Kian face them.

Cnaiür jerked his gaze yet again to the souther hills and knew, from heart to marrow, that the Dûnyain spoke true. Suddenly he saw the field through Kianene eyes. The fleet Grandees of Shigek and Gedea drawing the Tydonni and Galeoth ever farther west. The Shigeki multitude dying as they should, and fleeing as everyone knew they would. Anwurat, an immovable point threatening the Inrithi rear. The then southern hills…

“He shows us,” Cnaiür murmured. “Skauras shows us…”

“Two armies,” Kellhus said without hesitation. “One defending, one concealed, the same as on the Battleplain.”

Cnaiür sees the Kianene second army charging at the Ainoni infantry while around him, the Inrithi celebrate seeing the Nansur and Thunyeri have broken through and routed the Shigeki. Cnaiür thinks them fools as he realized Skauras the Shigeki to scatter the Holy War.

A great ache filled Cnaiür’s chest. Only Kellhus’s strong grip saved him the humiliation of falling to his knees.

Always the same…

Martemus stands conflicted, watching Cnaiür and Kellhus speak. He finds it outrageous that a Scylvendi leads and questions why Conphas would want Kellhus killed instead. Martemus would gladly die to kill Cnaiür. He grapples with that question.

Because, General, he’s a Cishaurim spy…

But no spy could speak such words.

That’s his sorcery! Always remember—

No! Not sorcery, truth!

As I said, General. That is his sorcery.

Martemus watched, unmoved by the prattle around him.

The shouts draw Martemus attention to the battle. He sees the Heathens routing and feels pride for the Nansur columns. Then he sees Cnaiür’s posture and realizes, thanks to his years as a soldier, that something had gone wrong. Cnaiür screams for the retreat to be sounded. Everyone is astonished, some calling Cnaiür a traitor. Weapons are drawn while Cnaiür keeps roaring to look at the south. Kellhus is on his side, insisting that the retreat must be sounded. Then Cnaiür rushes to his horse and races south. Others follow while Martemus turns to the assassins, nodding at them.

For a heartbeat, Prince Kellhus caught his look. His smile held such sorrow that Martemus nearly gasped. Then the Prophet turned to the distances seething beneath his feet.

The Ainoni infantry begin breaking under the Fanim charge. The Ainoni knights counter-charge, crashing into the Fanim, killing many and sending them into retreat. The dust clears revealing Crown Prince Fanayal and his Coyauri cavalry charging in, massacring the van of the Ainoni knights. Other knights are confused, unable to see in the dust as horse archers attack their flanks and rears.

Serwë huddles in pain as “Kellhus” beats her. She cries out to know how she displeased him, saying she loves him. He keeps beating her while asking “What have I planned for the Holy War?”

Martemus watches the fighting with Kellhus and the three assassins, the only ones now by the Swazond Standard. He sees the Ainoni infantry rout out of the dust cloud. Already, Conphas is reforming his columns to face the new threat. “The Nansur were old hands when it came to surviving Fanim catastrophes.” Kellhus ignores the assassins, sitting with his back to them studying the battle.

The Prophet seemed to be…listening.

No. Bearing witness.

Not him, Martemus thought. I cannot do this.

The first of the assassins approached.

My Thoughts

Right away, we are thrown into Conphas’s thoughts, seeing him stew because Cnaiür leads. But Conphas has his plans. He continues to plot. His ego is too great to be crushed down for long. To preserve his own self-image, he has to continuously lie to himself whenever he suffers these defeats. Like we all do to some extant.

When you read the first book, I doubt any would have thought Martemus and Conphas could have such a falling out. Martemus is the man who was prepared to assist Conphas in a coup against the Emperor. He was the one to suggest it to Conphas, in fact. Martemus once said he would rather defend the Nansur Empire than the Tusk, putting national identity above religion. And then Kellhus has twisted him into a new man.

Kellhus battle garb has elements of all the major nations of the Inrithi, showing he is not of any of their nations but of all of them. It’s a subtle thing, easy to overlook.

Love Cnaiür’s thoughts on his current circumstance. Promise of vengeance, effeminate silks, prince’s pavilion, unwashed Utemot. He embraces the rudeness and poverty of his own people and resenting the wealth he has now. But he knows his people won’t care that he is commanding this huge force. Even if all war was holy. He isn’t of the People, despite how much he wants to be. He hasn’t been since Moënghus if he ever truly was.

And then we see just how good Kellhus is at reading people. The moment Cnaiür entertains fantasies of butchering the Inrithi, Kellhus, pitching his voice to sound like Moënghus, reminds the Scylvendi of their true purpose and how Skauras has to be defeated so Cnaiür can get his vengeance.

You have to love how human Cnaiür is. The panic he is feeling, trapped, cornered by his obsessive need to own Serwë, to prove he is of the people. But he doesn’t want to give up his leverage with Kellhus, but he has to. He’s made his deal and now he has to lead. He’s cornered and he sees only his death. He starts to be self-reflective but forces it away to make himself into the ideal Scylvendi.

Cnaiür is warring with himself. His madness is growing.

Bakker’s imagery of the Inrithi knights charging is beautiful and poetic. “Hatred clamped tooth to tooth” “wall of heathen, who barbed the distance like a hedge of silvered thorns” and “outstretched like great, fluid arms the holy warriors embraced their enemy.” And then the next three lines. So powerful.

Serwë’s thoughts are interesting. If Kellhus is a god then she shouldn’t be afraid for him even though she really wants to be. She’s grappling with it in her own way. She can’t let her fear take over because it will shatter the illusion she’s constructed in her mind that he is God. She, like Cnaiür, is fighting to keep her own self-identity intact against the intrusion of the world.

Skin-spies greatest defect, they can’t change their height. Even Serwë notices that right away, though she finds a rationalization for it, thinking he’s standing in a hole. Serwë has no idea about skin-spies. Anyone would find a mundane answer instead of “an evil assassin made by dark genetics by a race of space rapist is impersonating the man I love and believe is a god.”

Cnaiür talking to Kellhus about tactics and how war is an argument to convince your enemy that he has lost is great to read. Especially when he talks about how different men are connected by ropes and chains of varying lengths and strengths, showing how their psychology and identity plays a huge role in how they will act in battle.

The moment Kellhus tells Cnaiür the moment of decision has passed, Kellhus has outstripped him in tactics. He has learned all Cnaiür has to offer and seen more clearly, understand events far better.

In the Serwë sex-interrogation scene, we learn so new facts about skin-spies: they can’t change their height, they can’t change their penises, and they can’t change their scents. This scene also serves to show us insight into the Inchoroi and how they operate. Like with the Synthese interrogating Esmenet in book 1, they default to sex. We see this again at the end of the novel. The Inchoroi, after all, are a “race of lovers.” But the skin spies have their lust tied to their aggression, like the Sranc do, and eventually the skin-spy turns to other pleasures with Serwë, something the Inchoroi creators appear never needing to do to get answers.

And there is Cnaiür’s humiliation, just like the quote at the start of the chapter starts. He has failed to match wits with Skauras. Kellhus has outstripped him.

Truth is his sorcery. To chain with truth instead of lies is always more powerful. Conphas has it right about Kellhus. He’s the only person in the Holy War seeing a danger from Kellhus, even if it is the wrong danger. His ego is just too great. It’s very brilliant storytelling from Bakker. It would be so easy for Kellhus to have everyone under his domination, but than where were the stakes. So Bakker created the perfect character to resist it, and set him up so we understood him and it makes so much sense that he opposes Kellhus.

There, at the end of Martemus’s POV, after giving the assassins the order, he caught Kellhus’s gaze. That look of sadness forever severed Martemus’s loyalty to Conphas. Notice how he now longer thinks “Prince Kellhus” but now “Prophet.” His conflict is over. His loyalties are no longer divided.

Bakker slips in a little more reinforcement about Conphas’s skill. He, too, has realized that catastrophe has hit and is doing what he can to salvage the fight. He is an interesting character. He is very arrogant but he can actually back up his arrogance with actual talent. You cannot deny his skill as a general or for politics.

So it is an interesting place to end it. While the chapter appears to be cliff-hanging on Kellhus being in danger, we know he has fought greater odds than those three with ease. The real threats are to Serwë and the Holy War itself. For Martemus, though, the cliffhanger is Kellhus’s doom. His loyalties are no longer divided and he has to stop this. The most loyal man in the Nansur army has betrayed his Exalt General.

Truth is such a powerful tool.

Click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 10
Atsushan Highlands

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

Love is lust made meaningful. Hope is hunger made human.

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

How does one learn innocence? How does one teach ignorance? For to be them is to know them not. And yet they are the immovable point from which the compass of life swings, the measure of all crime and compassion, the rule of all wisdom and folly. They are the Absolute.

ANONYMOUS, THE IMPROMPTA

My Thoughts

Love is what this chapter is about. Achamian’s love for Esmenet, her love for him, and Serwë’s love for Kellhus. And we see how the Dûnyain manipulates them all with it. Each of the three find hope in their love. Hunger and lust, the drives of these characters, given purpose, made less soiled by their emotions.

They are the Absolute.” This quote stands at the exact opposite of Dûnyain philosophy. Innocence and Ignorance are the things they strip away from themselves. They destroy their innocence with reason, bury ignorance with logic. Therefore, they have no measure for crime or compassion. They simply have their mission and what it takes to achieve it as they search for their “Absolute.” Now we know that The Imprompta is Kellhus’s sermons. So he is preaching this, using these lies to mold his followers.

I don’t know why Bakker has this credited as anonymous. I bet it’s to hide that Kellhus is the speaker at the start of the chapter. Also, I believe Achamian is the one who wrote the Imprompta, and if you know the events of the end of Prince of Nothing, there might be a good reason that the author of the Imprompta isn’t remembered, officially anyways.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Gedean interior

Achamian, thanks to his dreams and his life, has seen so much war. But marching with the army is a new experience for him. Despite that, he finds peace in his life. And that’s despite Kellhus’s presence. His guilt at not telling the Mandate about Kellhus has vanished. He didn’t understand why it had departed, the threat of Kellhus as the Harbinger remained. The No-God’s rise would come and the Second Apocalypse would spill across the world. And then he understands. Like a man driven mad in combat, rushing at the ranks of the enemies alone, Achamian had become “the fool who dashed alone into the spears of thousands” for Kellhus.

He still teaches them, now accompanied by Esmenet and Serwë, though they spend most of the time chatting. He has exhausted all he knows of the Three Seas and has moved onto the Ancient North. Achamian soon realizes he will only have the Gnosis to teach. But he’s glad believing that “the Gnosis was a language for which the Prince possessed no tongue.”

The host marches day after day, reaching the dry Atsushan Highlands. At night, they pitch tents and gather about Xinemus’s fire. More often, Achamian ate with the women and slaves as Proyas summoned Kellhus, Xinemus, and Cnaiür to council meetings. Proyas, thanks to Cnaiür, was obsessed with planning tactics. On a rare night where Kellhus eats with them, they laugh as Kellhus tells jokes, doing an exaggerated impression of Cnaiür. But when Cnaiür arrives, he gets angry and spits in the fire, staking off.

Kellhus stood, apparently stricken with remorse.

“The man’s a thin-skinned lout,” Achamian said crossly. “Mockery is a gift between friends. A gift.”

The Prince whirled. “Is it?” he cried. “Or is it an excuse?”

Achamian could only stare, dumbstruck. Kellhus had rebuked him. Kellhus. Achamian looked to the others, saw his shock mirrored in their faces, though not his dismay.

“Is it?” Kellhus demanded.

Achamian felt his face flush, his lips tremble. There was something about Kellhus’s voice. So like Achamian’s father’s…

Who’s he to—

Kellhus begs for Achamian’s forgiveness suddenly, saying he was “twice the fool.” Achamian, too, apologizes. Kellhus touches Achamian and it makes the sorcerer feel numb. The scent of Kellhus always flusters Achamian. Xinemus makes a joke, and they began joking again. This wasn’t unusual. Routinely, someone would say something that made another mad. Achamian reflects on how men are like merchants, always trading “backbiting, petty jealousies, resentments, arguments, and third-party arbitrations.” But Kellhus stood outside the market. He was the judge, the “head of the fire.” Everyone in their group understood this. Kellhus says, “what the poet Protathis claimed men should strive for: the hand of Triamis, the intellect of Ajencis, and the heart of Sejenus.”

After dinner, men and women from every nation would gather around the perimeter and just watch them. It started out small, just a few, but soon there were dozens. Xinemus had to start pitching his tent in the center of larger clearings to give them room. For a week, everyone at the fire, even Kellhus, tried to ignore them. But they didn’t. Their numbers just grew.

One night, Achamian joins them. He watches his friends, trying to understand. He watches the men of the Tusk as they stare entranced by what, to Achamian, seems so mundane and familiar. He asks the man sitting beside him why he does this. The man doesn’t look away, not shocked Achamian doesn’t see him. He says Achamian is too close to see. Achamian asks what?

He touched me once,” the man inexplicably replied. “Before Asgilioch. I stumbled while marching and he caught me by the arm. He said, ‘Doff your sandals and shod the earth.’”

Achamian chortled. “An old joke,” he explained. “You must have cursed the ground when you stumbled.”

So?” the man replied. He was fairly trembling, Achamian realized, with indignant fury.

Achamian frowned, tried to smile, to reassure. “Well, it’s an old saying—ancient, in fact—meant to remind people not to foist their failings on others.”

No,” the man grated, “it’s not.”

Achamian paused. “Then what does it mean?”

Rather than answer, the man turned away, as though willfully consigning Achamian and his question to oblivion of what he couldn’t see. Achamian stared at him for a thick moment, bewildered and curiously dismayed. How could fury secure the truth?”

He stood, slapped dust from his knees.

It means,” the man said from behind him, “that we must uproot the world. That we must destroy all that offends.”

The hatred in the man’s words shocks Achamian. He’s too dumbfounded to argue. Achamian realizes these people will never leave. He further realizes he’s just like them, only he sits “closer to the fire.” Like Achamian, they are waiting for something to happen.

As the nights pass, even Kellhus starts to be affected by the watchers, his humor “seething.” Xinemus finally gets annoyed and asks Kellhus why he doesn’t just go talk to them. This stuns everyone. Kellhus answers. “Because they make more of me than I am.” Xinemus, still annoyed, doesn’t care and tells him to go. After a few moments, Kellhus does. And this begins the “The Imprompta,” his nightly sermons. Often, Achamian and Esmenet would join the sermons, which Kellhus appreciates, claiming it is easier to bear with the two of them watching saying, “So often when I speak I don’t recognize my voice.”

By the time the Holy War neared Shigek, the dozens had become hundreds. Achamian feels the need to write the Imprompta’s down after last night’s sermon where Kellhus talks about the fur trapper, his devotion to his dead wife, and how he transferred that love to his dogs, saying “When one love dies, one must love another.” Achamian believes these words must be written.

Even high ranking nobles, including Martemus, are present. Proyas even “sat in the dust with the others, though he seemed troubled.” Akka is ready to write as Kellhus searches the crowd, spotting a Conryian knight looking haggard. He asks the man what happened. The knight talks about how three days ago, his lord lead him and other men on a village raid. They didn’t find it, instead coming across a dead girl with her throat cut.

“What happened next?” [asked Kellhus.]

“Nothing… I mean, we simply ignored her, continued riding as though she were nothing more than discarded cloth… a-a scrap of leather in the dust,” he added, his voice breaking. He looked down to his calloused palms.

“Guilt and shame wrack you by day,” Kellhus said,” the feeling that you’ve committed some mortal crime. Nightmares wrack you by night… She speaks to you.”

The man’s nod was almost comical in its desperation. He hadn’t, Achamian realized, the nerve for war.

“But why?” he cried. “I mean, how many dead have we seen?”

“But not all seeing,” Kellhus replied, “is witness.”

The knight doesn’t understand what Kellhus means. And he explains that to witness is “seeing that testifies.” The knight then judged that she was murdered. The knight agrees, but he doesn’t understand why it make shim suffer. “She’s not mine. She was heathen!” He explains that though we are surrounded by good and bad, our hearts grow calloused, like hands from work. But all it takes is for one thing to strike and “our heart is torn.” Then a human feels something. The man asks what he should do.

“Rejoice.”

“Rejoice? But I suffer!”

“Yes, rejoice! The calloused hand cannot feel the lover’s cheek. When we witness, we testify, and when we testify we make ourselves responsible for what we see. And that—that—is what it means to belong.”

Kellhus suddenly stood, leapt from the low platform, took two breathtaking steps into their midst. “Make no mistake,” he continued, and the air thrummed with the resonance of his voice. “The world owns you. You belong, whether you want to or not. Why do we suffer? Who do the wretched take their own lives? Because the world, no matter how cursed, owns us. Because we belong.”

Someone challenges if they should “celebrate suffering.” Kellhus answers that you wouldn’t be suffering, but instead to celebrate its meaning, that “you belong, not that you suffer.” He quotes the latter prophet and the knight sees the wisdom of Kellhus’s words, but wants to know what to gain. Kellhus doesn’t want them to see, but witness. “To be one with the world in which you dwell. To make a covenant of your life.” The Mandate’s promise to Achamian echoes in his mind: “The world… You will gain the world.” Achamian is so moved, he forgot to write. Lucky, Esmenet remembers.

Of course she did.

Esmenet. The second pillar of his [Achamian] peace, and by far the mightier of the two.

It seemed at once strange and fitting to find something almost conjugal in the midst of the Holy War. Each evening they would walk exhausted from Kellhus’s talks or from Xinemus’s fire, holding hands like young lovers, ruminating or bickering or laughing about the evening’s events. They would pick their way through the guy ropes, and Achamian would pull the canvas aside with mock gallantry. They would touch and brush as they disrobed, then hold each other in the dark—as though together they could be more than what they were.

A whore of word and a whore of body.

As they days go by, he thinks less of Inrau, the Consult, and the Second Apocalypse, focusing on his new life with Esmenet, and Kellhus. The Dreams still come, but Esmenet’s touch when he awakes banishes them. For the first time, he lives in the moment, treasuring all the details of their relationship, the good and the bad.

One night, after they finish making love, Esmenet says everyone knows Kellhus is a prophet. Panic seizes Achamian and asks what she is saying. “Only what you need to hear,” she answers. He presses her, and she says because you think it and fear it and because you need it. “We are damned, her eyes said.” He’s not a mused and she asks him how long since he contacted the Mandate. She says he’s waiting “to see what he becomes.” And she is sure he is a prophet.

Achamian reflects on how Esmenet has always seemed to know him, even recognizing him as a sorcerer, leading to him to think she’s a witch. She knows him so well, and he finds it strange to be “awaited rather than anticipated.” And he knows her, too. All the little details that made up her life. “A mystery that he knew…” He wonders if that is love. “To know, to trust a mystery…”

During a Conriyan festival, Achamian is drunk with Kellhus and Xinemus, the only three still awake. He asks Kellhus how he loves Serwë. Kellhus replies in the same way Achamian loves Esmenet. Achamian presses, asking how he loves Esmenet. “Like a fish loves the ocean?” Xinemus crocks jocking answers, which annoys Achamian. He wants Kellhus and demands for it angrily.

Kellhus smiled, raised his downcast eyes. Tears scored his cheek.

“Like a child,” he said.

The words knocked Achamian from his feet. He crashed to his buttocks with a grunt.”

Kellhus explains that Achamian asks no questions. His love has no reserve. That Esmenet has become his ground. And Achamian realizes she has become his wife. He’s elated, but somehow, he found himself making love to Serwë.

He was just lying, half drunk, staring up at the sky, when Serwë hikes up his robe, stroking him hard. He wants to stop this, but when she undresses, she is beautiful. She mounts him and he realizes she is pregnant. She rides him, shouting “I can see you.” He looked away, shocked and in pleasure, and sees Esmenet watching. He blinks and she’s gone. After he orgasms, he passes out. He’s hungover the next morning. Feeling guilty, he watches Esmenet sleep. When she wakes up, he looks into her eyes, studying her. But she doesn’t seem any different, only chastising him for drinking. By the next evening, he had convinced himself it was a dream.

When he told Esmenet, she laughed and threatened to tell Kellhus. Afterward, alone, he actually wept in relief. Never, he realized, not even the night following the madness with the Emperor beneath the Andiamine Heights, had he felt a greater sense of doom. And he knew he belonged to Esmi—not the world.

She was his covenant. Esmenet was his wife.

The Holy War marches closer to Shigek, and Achamian continues shirking his duty to the Mandate. He realizes all his excuses were meaningless of why he was avoiding them. Because, for once, he was happy and had found peace.

Serwë sits by the fire, tired after the march, and glad Cnaiür was off scouting for the last four days. She didn’t have to put up with him watching her, raping her. She prays for him to die, “but this was the one prayer Kellhus wouldn’t answer.” She stares at Kellhus’s face as he talks with Achamian, not caring for the words spoken. She can only stare at the beauty of his face, how godlike it was. She touches her belly, still believing the child is his and not Cnaiür’s, and that brings her joy.

So much had changed! She was wise, far more so, she knew, than a girl of twenty summers should be. The world had chastened her, had shown her the impotence of outrage. First the Gaunum sons and their cruel lusts. Then Panteruth and his unspeakable brutalities. Then Cnaiür and his iron-willed madness. What could the outrage of a soft-skinned concubine mean to a man such as him? Just one more thing to be broken. She knew the futility, that the animal within would grovel, shriek, would place soothing lips around any man’s cock for a moment of mercy—that it would do anything, sate any hunger, to survive. She’d been enlightened.

Submission. Truth lay in submission.

“You’ve surrendered, Serwë,” Kellhus had told her. “And by surrendering, you have conquered me!”

The days of nothing had passed. The world, Kellhus said, had prepared her for him. She, Serwë hil Keyalti, was to be his sacred consort.

Because of this, she can endure Cnaiür’s rape and abuse. He was the demon to the god she found in Kellhus. She thinks the others who share the fire are stupid for not realizing that Kellhus is god in flesh. But she realizes they couldn’t know. How could they? They didn’t sleep with Kellhus, they weren’t taught by the world to be his. She loves watching him instruct. He is always doing that.

While talking with Achamian about how caste-nobles and sorcerers are different from regular people (one because of their blood, one because of their ability), Kellhus disagrees with Achamian’s assertion that those distinctions are inviolable. Kellhus reveals he is one of the Few. He can see the Mark. Achamian grows nervous as Kellhus explains now they are the same when before Achamian thought they were different. Achamian doesn’t believe it. He demands proof. Achamian is unnerved even as Xinemus shrugs it off, remarking that many of the Few never speak blasphemy. But Achamian doesn’t want to believe it. Serwë realizes Achamian sees Kellhus as something more. Just like she does. She remembers making love to Achamian, but to her, it was really Kellhus she slept with wearing Achamian’s appearance.

Achamian knows a way to prove in and races off into the dark. Esmenet sits down by Serwë, handing over tea to the girl, and remarks if Kellhus has wound Achamian up again. Serwë agrees, studying Esmenet, and realizes that the woman is almost as beautiful as she is. But Esmenet is also so bold, able to talk with men and joke with them. It makes Serwë feel insecure. Despite that, Esmenet is always so kind to her because Esmenet likes to care for those more vulnerable than her. Serwë objects that she is not a whore or vulnerable. “We’re all whores, Serchaa…” They chat, but Serwë senses something off about Esmenet and realizes that Esmenet knows she slept with Achamian and sees anger. She wants to protest that it was Kellhus she really slept with, not Achamian.

Then Achamian returns with the Wathi Doll. It scares Serwë. Esmenet asks if Achamian scares her and she says no, thinking Achamian is too sad to be scary. Esmenet promises Serwë will be scared after this while Xinemus mocks Achamian for bring a toy. Kellhus recognizes it as a sorcerer artifact, brining a sharp look from Achamian.

Achamian explains about the Wathi Doll, something he purchased from a Sansori witch. It contains a soul. Xinemus grows uncomfortable, but Achamian begs to allow him to continue. This is a way to test Kellhus without him damning himself and gaining the Mark. Achamian draws two words in the sand, tells Kellhus to repeat them. It’s not a cant, but the cipher to the doll, so it won’t Mark him. But if he is one of the Few, he will activate it.

Kellhus speaks the words. Serwë watches in horror as the doll comes to life. She can see a tiny face straining against the fabric, the soul trapped inside struggling to escape. It moves and staggers, but not like a puppet. No strings control it. Everyone watches in fearful awe. It plays with a coal from the fire.

Achamian muttered something unspeakable, and it collapsed in a jumble of splayed limbs. He looked blankly at Kellhus, and in a voice as ashen as his expression, said, “So, you’re one of the Few…”

Horror, Serwë thought. He was horrified. But why? Couldn’t he see?

Without warning, Xinemus leapt to his feet. Before Achamian could even glance at him, the Marshal had seized his arm, yanked him violently about.

“Why do you do this?” Xinemus cried, his face both pained and enraged. “You know that it’s difficult enough for me to…to… You know! And now displays such as this? Blasphemy?”

Stunned, Achamian looked at his friend aghast. “But Zin,” he cried. “This is what I am?”

Zin snarls that maybe Proyas was right and stalks off into the darkness. Esmenet goes to Achamian, whispering to him that Kellhus would show Xinemus his folly, make it all better. Serwë looks at Kellhus, praying for that. She knows she can speak to him just with her face. “Nothing was hidden.” But his look says no, he has to reveal himself to them slowly. “Otherwise they’ll turn against me…”

Later that night, Serwë awakens to an argument between Kellhus and Cnaiür. She fears he means to abuse her again and tenses for it. All her confidence at being a god’s sacred consort has vanished. They are arguing over Cnaiür breaking form their purpose, abandoning Kellhus and heading to Proyas’s camp. He’s only here for Serwë. She’s scared now, waiting for three heart-beats for Kellhus to answer. No. He won’t let Cnaiür have her.

Relief sweeps over her. She finally has mercy. She doesn’t hear their argument. When Kellhus enters, she kisses hi, braces him. She is giddy with excitement and falls asleep in his arms, feeling safe. “A God touched her. Watched over her with divine love.”

Its back to the canvas, the thing called Sarcellus crouched, as still as stone. The musk of the Scylvendi’s fury permeated the night air, sweet and sharp, heady with the promise of blood. The sound of the woman weeping tugged at its groin. She might have been worth its fancy, were it not for the smell of her fetus, which sickened…

What passed for thought bolted through what passed for its soul.

My Thoughts

Achamian has found peace with the illogical decision. He’s resigned himself to what’s coming. And now it doesn’t matter. It lets him do something so folly. It’s that moment when you just don’t care any longer. When circumstances have defeated you and you just say “Fuck it” let’s see what happens.

So, interesting that Esmenet has joined their lessons. I wonder who arranged that. Kellhus? He has the women befriending each other, too, paving the road for his future plans for Esmenet.

Kellhus’s impression of Cnaiür and Proyas is hilarious. Right down to spitting in the fire. Bakker does a good job with the camaraderie of this scene, the way people bond over the mocking of others when they’re not around. But what is Kellhus’s purpose in this mockery? I think it’s manipulating of Achamian. Kellhus needs two things from the sorcerer: the Gnosis and his wife. Kellhus impersonates Achamian’s father, after all. This is deliberate. He’s diving deeper into Achamian’s psyche, finding the scars we know his father left on him. Just re-read The Darkness that Comes Before. Achamian spends some time reflecting on his father’s abuse in that book.

Achamian (and Bakker’s) insight on human interaction is so very petty and yet rings very true. Even close friends have these little annoyances with each other, dumb things that they say under the guise of jocking mocks.

The Protathis quote about what men should strive for is a great way to describe Kellhus in universe. And Bakker trust us, the reader, to understand who these three men are after all those chapter epigraphs we’ve been reading. The strong warrior, the intelligent philosopher, and the compassionate preacher.

I love the description of the watchers as “little brothers” tagging along. I had a brother four years younger than me. And he used to do that with me and my friends, following us around. I found it so annoying. I was, sadly, mean to him when he did that. Something I regret now.

The fanatic Achamian talks to (no doubt a future Zaudunyani), interpretation of a simple joke into divine revelation is something you see in any form of belief. Look at any conspiracy theories, how they’ll latch onto anything to twist it to their theory, to make it proof in what they believe. It’s irrational. But human decisions usually are. We like to think we make rational decisions, weighing options, but the reality is we make snap judgments and then try to rationalize our irrational decisions. It what makes it hard to change people’s minds on politics, religions, and other philosophical ideas. The fanatic believes the world must be uprooted, and he has twisted his new prophet’s words into a special message just for himself.

Kellhus’s “seething humor” is the perfect tool to get someone else at the fire to broach talking to the gathering people. Like Kellhus is just innocent of their growing presence. It’s out of his control and he doesn’t want to make it worse. But, it won’t go away and he’ll just have to deal with it, reluctantly. Because he’s not a prophet. Yet.

And notice how Kellhus continues his manipulation of Achamian and Esmenet at the same time with his lie that their presence makes giving his sermons less terrifying.

Martemus has begun Conphas’s plan of becoming one of Kellhus’s “followers.”

I see Kellhus left off the part of his story with Leweth about how he abandoned the man to be raped and killed by Sranc once he had no further use of them. That’s definitely a trust betrayed there.

The knight’s story about finding the dead girl and just riding on, abandoning her, is so sad. It haunts this man. Achamian is dismissive, saying the man isn’t cut out for war, but I would disagree. Is any human really? For this man, that dead girl was the limit of what he could handle.

Witnessing… Once you witness something, it’s hard to forget it. Not just seeing, but noticing, having compassion and understanding for what you’re really seeing. She wasn’t just a dead body, on object, but a person to this knight.

Kellhus’s description of how easy it is to be callous, how just living can harden our hearts, enduring us to the terrible things around us, ignoring bad things when we come across it until one day, something happens that breaks through it. It’s so sad what the world can do to us, to make it so hard to be Human so we can avoid pain, suffering, like this knight is experiencing. Despite Kellhus saying the things to move his audience, his words were still beautiful. These are the chains that he binds their hearts to him. These beautiful words telling truths that he knows will make them weak.

This is how cults work. They do what’s called love-bombing, letting you know that despite your suffering, you have a place where people care. They make you feel like you belong, they open up your heart. And once you’re in, it’s hard to escape because you’ve come to care for these people. Kellhus is working on the crowd, leading them down the path of following him as their prophet. To belong with him. To be united to him so that they can become one with the world. To make something meaningful out of their life. To not just live. So seductive. It flatters the ego, which is the best way to win converts.

This section of the series is probably my favorite. Just for lines like “Esmenet. The second pillar of his peace, and by far the mightier of the two.” It’s nice to see these two characters have such peace because you know what’s coming.

Just reading about their domesticity, living amid the Holy War, carving something so normal in the midst of the abnormal, is very human. We crave that stability. In Babylon 5, the character Dalenn once remarked that “Humans build communities.” And that is an important statement. Even in the worse conditions, in terrible prisons, in abject poverty, humans still form communities. They may be dysfunctional, ruled by tyranny or apathy, but they still existed. A way to try to make their lives have some amount of normalcy to cope, to live, to survive.

Damnation is a huge theme in the Second Apocalypse. I have never read a series that has such a bleak soteriology as Bakker’s work. It’s even worse than the sort of depressing afterlife you see in Mesopotamia, where everyone just goes to the underworld and just exists. Damnation is easy to attain. There are rules, set for by the Hundred Gods, and they don’t care. Even “salvation” may not be a good thing as you learn in latter books. And the reason is horrifying. It also is the motivation for most characters. Escaping eternal torment. What greater motivation is there.

Why, you might even be willing to genocide whole planets to avoid it. To close the Outside once and for all. And how will Kellhus, a Dûnyain, react when he learns the truth?

Esmenet’s not one of the Few, but her mother might have been. She did divine by stars but refused to teach her daughter any of it. Witches aren’t really delved into, but women who are the Few exist with a some amount of sorcerers knowledge. Esmenet’s even has a talisman charmed by a witch to prevent contraception (her whore shell). And, of course, the Wathi doll Achamian has is another witch artifact. It’s a shame Bakker doesn’t have the opportunity to delve into what witches know and how they use sorcery.

Achamian’s musing on love is poignant. For such a dark, bleak series, it is peppered with such touching moments. Bakker really has a pulse on human behavior. These moments of humanity stand out in such contrast to the barbarism around it.

Achamian is knee-deep in Kellhus’s manipulation now. First, Kellhus makes Achamian realize just how much he loves and needs her, then he sends Serwë to sleep with him, maybe even arranging for Esmenet to find them. This puts Achamian right into the guilty frame of mind Kellhus needs for his next goal—the Gnosis.

We like to tell ourselves we would never go so far to survive. We would never degrade ourselves. We would never bow and surrender. But the truth is, we want to live. Most humans, when given that choice between death and life, will find themselves doing anything to survive. It takes a resolve, a commitment to something they believe greater than themselves, to push down that survival instinct. Belief in a religion, in a philosophy, in justice. And it’s vastly easier when you believe there is a reward waiting for you beyond. That you will, in fact, keep living and find something better.

Kellhus’s words on her conquering him through surrendering are merely the lies he needs to tell to flatter her ego, to transform her suffering into something that she can embrace to belong. Just like with the knight during his sermon.

The world hasn’t prepared Serwë for Kellhus. He is preparing her for his own ends. And her blind faith ends with a slit throat.

Well, everything Serwë was moaning while riding Achamian makes sense. She saw Kellhus in him, believed she was making love to him in a guise. It was probably how Kellhus got her to sleep with Achamian. “You must know me Serwë, in all my guises,” she remembers him saying to her. Probably followed up with, “So go sleep with Achamian and see if you recognize me in him.”

Esmenet’s kindness to vulnerable, young women is probably a manifest of her guilt over Mimara, her “dead” daughter. And she clearly blames Serwë for what happened.

The description of the doll moving is seriously creepy. Bakker does a great job with the mood and atmosphere in this passage, capturing the horror of a human soul trapped in a body, wanting to escape and being unable to. Our first proof in the series that souls are real, and they can be manipulated after death. Abused.

Serwë is pretty good at reading Kellhus’s expressions. Or, I should say, Kellhus knows how to frame his face so Serwë gets the exact message he wants her to get. Kellhus could, of course, patch things up, but he is manipulating Achamian, getting the man to open up to him. Of course, the plan ends up backfiring in the short term thanks to the Scarlet Spire’s interference.

Serwë’s self-esteem crashes the moment the Scylvendi appears. “Nothing could kill Cnaiür urs Skiötha, not so long as Serwë remained alive.” She had four days of freedom, and now he’s back to hurt her again. And now, finally, Kellhus intervenes. But not for Serwë. This is all part of his manipulation of Cnaiür. As we’ll see come the next major battle.

Interesting fact about the skin-spy Sarcellus being sickened by the scent of Serwë’s child. The Consult do not want humans reproducing. When the No God walked the world, every child was stillborn. They need to exterminate almost all life to end the cycle of damnation and free themselves from it.

Sarcellus and the Consult plot. Achamian is about to have is domesticity destroyed. Serwë has found happiness, but it only ends in death. Esmenet is about to embark upon a new journey.

Click here to continue onto Chapter 11!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 9
Hinnereth

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

One can look into the future, or one can look at the future. The latter is by far the more instructive.

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

If one doubts that passion and unreason govern the fate of nations, one need only look to meetings between the Great. Kings and emperors are unused to treating with equals, and are often excessively relieved or repelled as a result. The Nilnameshi have a saying, “When princes meet, they find brothers or themselves,” which is to say, either peace or war.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

The first quote is talking about the difference between predicting the future and planning for it. Many claim to “predict” the future through various means of prognostication, especially in the setting of this book. Achamian alone is relying on one of these predictions. Normally, planning for the future based on lived experience is often a prudent thing.

It is interesting that Xerius nods to three people as he rides his chariot out of the Imperial Precinct: his mother (of course, he is a mama’s boy), General Kumuleus (a man whose political support gave him the throne), and Arithmeas, his augur. Xerius has not read Ajencis or didn’t took the man’s lessons to heart.

Kellhus is looking at the future at the end of the chapter when suddenly he is looking into the future. But not in a fake way like the augurs and astrologers that Ajencis is critiquing. As we see in this series, the Outside can break causality. The future truly can be glimpsed.

When nations are led by men, you have to expect them to do acts that are as illogical and emotional as any act a human alone can commit. Xerius, again, is keen to give us an example of Achamian’s quote in action.

Early Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Xerius is fuming having been summoned by Maithanet, the Shriah. He ponders his new Grand Seneschal Ngrau, trusting the man’s judgment in selecting the right person to hand Xerius his chariot’s reins, a ceremonial act of great significance and must be selected carefully. Thinking of his trust of Ngrau opens the wounds of Skeaös betrayal. He wonders how long it will hurt him.

As he rides, Xerius nods at a select few individuals, bestowing his imperial attention. He has learned from his mother and the bloody history of his past emperors that a balance had to be struck, not to be too trusting, too wasteful, too cruel. She had told him: “The world doesn’t constrain us, so we must constrain ourselves—like the Gods…” Xerius believes himself to be disciplined.

His chariot enters the city where people gather. Xerius believes Maithanet has let the city know of their meeting, to make it public. At first, he thinks they wave and salutes back, but then realizes they’re jeering and shouting. He’s shocked, embarrassed that they mocked his waves. The crowd grows. His perfumed censors cannot keep their odor at bay. He reminds himself to be disciplined, believing Maithanet provokes him. Xerius realizes the Momemnites hate him.

But this would change, he reminded himself. When all was finished, when the fruits of his labour had become manifest, they would hail him as no other emperor in living memory. They would rejoice as trains of heathen slaves bore tribute to the Home City, as blinded kings were dragged in chains to their Emperor’s feet. And with shielded eyes they would gaze upon Ikurei Xerius III and they would know—know!—that he was indeed the Aspect-Emperor, returned from the ashes of Kyraneas and Cenei to compel the world, to force nation and tribe to bow and kiss his knee.

I will show them! They will see!

Xerius’s chariot and escort of soldiers reach Cmiral’s plaza, the large temple complex of Momemn. It is choked with people. His escort forces there way through with clubs while the people chant “Maithanet!” over and over. Xerius fears the Shriah has whipped the mob into a frenzy to assassinate him in a riot. But the crowd surges, forcing the swords to be drawn and men to die.

The Charioteer steaded his team, glanced nervously at him [Xerius].

You look an Emperor in the eye?

Go!” Xerius roared. “Into them! Go!”

Laughing, he leaned from the runners and spat upon his people, upon those who cried another’s name when Ikurei Xerius III stood godlike in their midst. If only he could spit molten gold!

Slowly, the chariot trundled ahead, lurching and throwing him forward as the wheels chipped over the fallen. His stomach burned with fear, his bowels felt loose, but there was wildness in his thoughts, a delirium that exulted in death’s proximity. One by one, the torch-bearers were pulled under, but the Kidruhil stood fast, battling their way ever forward, hacking their way among the masses, their swords rising and falling, rising and falling, and it seemed to Xerius that he punished the mongrels with his arm, that it was he who reached forward and chopped them to the ground.

Laughing maniacally, the Emperor of Nansur passed among his people, toward the growing immensity of temple Xothei.

The emperor’s decimated party reached the safety of the temple. He orders a captain to butcher the square, wanting his “chariot to skid across blood.” His fury dies when he hears the crowd mocking him more and hastily enters the temple in fear. He collapses the moments the doors close. He feels like a fool, glad Conphas wasn’t here to witness this. He can still hear Maithanet’s name being shouted. He spots the Shriah kneeling alone in the cavernous temple and walks to them, straightening his clothing. He reaches the Shriah, angered that Maithanet doesn’t rise and face him. Maithanet is pleased Xerius has come, and the Emperor demands to know why.

The broad back turned. Maithanet was wearing a plain white frock with sleeves that ended mid-arm. For an instant he appraised Xerius with glittering eyes, then he raised his head to the distant sound of the mob, as though it were the sound of rain prayed for and received. Xerius could see the strong chin beneath the black of his oiled beard. His face was broad, like that of a yeoman, and surprisingly youthful, though nothing about the man’s manner spoke of youth. How old are you?

Listen!” Maithanet hissed, raising his hands to the resonant sound of his name. Maithanet-Maithanet-Maithanet…

I am not a proud man, Ikurei Xerius, but it moves me to hear them call thus.”

Xerius finds himself awed but he ignores it, saying he doesn’t want to play games. Maithanet says he’s here about the Holy War. He has to look into Xerius’s eyes. This disconcerted Xerius despite him knowing this meeting would be high stakes. Then Maithanet asks straight out if Xerius has conspired with the Heathens to destroy the war. Xerius lies, answers no.

No?”

I’m injured, Shriah, that you would—”

Maithanet’s laughter was sudden, loud, reverberant enough to fill even the hollows of great Xothei.

Xerius fairly gasped. The Writ of Psata-Antyu, the code governing Shrial conduct, forbade laughing aloud as carnal indulgence. Maithanet, he realized, was giving him a glimpse of his depths. But for what purpose? All of this—the mobs, the demand to meet here in Xothei, even the chanting of his name—was demonstration of some kind, terrifying in its premeditated lack of subtlety.

I’ll crush you, Maithanet was saying. If the Holy War fails, you’ll be destroyed.

Maithanet apologies, saying the holy war “may be poisoned by false rumors.” Xerius believes Maithanet is trying to cow him, and grows angry to cover his panic. He reflects how he can hate far more than Conphas, his nephew capable of it but too easily slips back into his “glassy remoteness.” Hatred never left Xerius. The Shriah then invites Xerius to listen to the crowd, and Xerius realizes how the man gained such power: “the ability to impart sanctity to the moment, to touch people with awe as though it were bread drawn from his own basket.”

But over the course of this brief exchange, the sounds of thousands chanting Maithanet’s name had transformed, hesitantly at first, but with greater certitude with each passing moment. Changed.

Into Screams.

Obviously, the nameless Captain had executed his Emperor’s instructions with blessed alacrity. Xerius grinned his own winning grin. At last he felt a match for this obscenely imposing man.

Do you hear, Maithanet? Now they call out my name.”

Indeed they do,” the Shriah said darkly. “Indeed they do.”

Later Summer, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Hinnereth, on the coast of Gedea

After weeks of preparation, the Siege of Hinnereth has begun. The Holy War has constructed great siege machines to take the city. Bakker gives a history of the city, how it has always been a tributary, changing hands as the fortunes of nations wax and wane. The first assault begins and it is a disaster. A delegation is scent to the Scarlet Spire asking for their help, but they won’t fight short of reaching Shimeh or to engage the Cishaurim. The Great Names ask for just a breach, but Eleäzaras vehemently refuses. So another assault is prepared.

While the siege happens, bands of knights range the coast, raiding villages and towns. Athjeäri is very effective, routing a small army and taking a garrison. He kills any who surrendered but refused to denounce Fane and embrace Inrithism. The rest are sold as slaves. Other fortresses also fall.

On the eve of the second assault, the Holy War wakes up to find the Nansur fleet in the harbor and the city gates are open, the Nansur flag flying over the walls. “Hinnereth had fallen, not to the Holy War, but to Emperor Ikurei Xerius III.” Conphas, at first, refuses the Council’s summons. When he does arrive, he explains how he negotiated with the Gedean Sapatishah. After the brutality of the Holy War raiders, he decided to surrender to the Nansur to spare his people. “In matters of mercy, Martemus said, a known enemy was always more preferable than an unknown.” The Holy War isn’t happy that they are barred from looting the city, but those were part of the surrender terms. Saubon is furious. He claims that Hinnereth was his, “just spoils of his victory on the Battleplain.” He had to be restrained from assaulting Conphas. They placate Saubon, telling him Gedea is poor lands. Better prizes in Shigek await.

After a council among Proyas’s nobles, joined by Kellhus and Cnaiür, Proyas asks Xinemus is stay behind by Proyas. Once alone, Xinemus asks what troubles his prince. He has questions and hesitates when pressed before admitting about Kellhus.

Xinemus raised his eyebrows. “He troubles you?”

Proyas hooked a hand behind his neck, grimaced. “In all honesty, Zin, he’s the least troubling man I’ve ever known.”

And that’s what troubles you.”

Many things troubled him [Proyas], not the least of which was the recent disaster at Hinnereth. They’d been outmaneuvered by Conphas and the Emperor. Never again.

He had no time and little patience for these…personal matters.

He asks Xinemus opinion of Kellhus, and the marshal admits he’s terrified of Kellhus, explaining that though he’s eaten and gotten drunk with Kellhus, he can’t explain how the man effects him, makes him better. Proyas agrees he has that effect. Xinemus studies Proyas, making the prince feel like a boy lying about being a man. Xinemus continues, commenting that Kellhus, by his own admission, is still a man when Proyas interrupts him to ask after Achamian. Xinemus is shocked. Proyas had forbidden Achamian’s name in the past. Proyas is curious. Warily, Xinemus tells about his relationship with Esmenet, how he’s happy and in love. Proyas has heard of the former whore, and Xinemus is quick to defend her. Xinemus continues about Achamian, saying he’s not even talking about the Consult or his dreams. Proyas would approve.

So he’s in love,” Proyas said, shaking his head. “Love!” he exclaimed incredulously. “Are you sure?” A grin overpowered him.

Xinemus fairly cackled. “He’s in love, all right. He’s been stumbling after his pecker for weeks now.”

Proyas laughed and looked to the ground. “So he has one of those, does he?” Akka in love. It seemed both impossible and strangely inevitable.

Men like him need love… Men unlike me.

Xinemus further says Esmenet is fond of him. Proyas mentions Achamian is a sorcerer and that sobers the conversation. Proyas’s faith rears up, annoyed by Xinemus’s mulish acceptance of Achamian being a sorcerer. Then Proyas asks if Achamian still teaches Kellhus. Xinemus says yes, then says that Proyas wants “to believe Kellhus is more.” Proyas burst out he was right about Saubon down to the details.

And yet,” Xinemus continued, frowning at the interruption, “he openly consorts with Achamian. With a sorcerer…”

Xinemus mockingly had spoken the word as other men spoke it: like a thing smeared in shit.

Proyas turns away, and asks Xinemus’s opinion. He says that Kellhus is like him, and Proyas once upon a time, seeing Achamian as good despite his sin. Proyas grows angry, interrupting, quoting the Tusk which says to burn them for being Unclean. He accuses Kellhus and Xinemus of consorting with an abomination. The Marshal doesn’t believe that.

Proyas fixed him with his gaze. Why did he feel so cold?

Then you cannot believe the Tusk.”

The Marshal blanched, and for the first time the Conriyan Prince saw fear on his old sword-trainer’s face—fear! He wanted to apologize, to unsay what he’d said, but the cold was so unyielding…

So true.

I simply go by the Word!

If one couldn’t trust the God’s own voice, if one refused to listen—even for sentiment’s sake!—then everything became skepticism and scholarly disputation. Xinemus listened to his heart, and this was at once his strength and his weakness. The heart recited no scripture.

Well then,” the Marshal said thinly. “You needn’t worry about Kellhus any more than you worry about me…”

Proyas narrowed his eyes and nodded.

After sunset, Kellhus sits on a cliff staring down at the Holy War, Hinnereth, and the Meneanor Sea. He didn’t see any of it with his eyes. He is in the probability trance, exploring his options, thinking about Eärwa and how it is “enslaved by history, custom, and animal hunger, a world driven by the hammers of what came before.” He thinks on Achamian, the Apocalypse, politics, factions, and wars. He thinks about the Gnosis and “the prospect of near limitless power.” He thinks of Esmenet and her “slender thighs and piercing intellect.” He thinks of a wary truce fashioned with the Consult “born of enigma and hesitation.” Of Saubon and his lust for power. Of Cnaiür, his growing madness and threat. He thinks of the holy war and asks his father what he should do.

Possible worlds blew through him, fanning and branching into a canopy of glimpses…

Nameless Schoolmen climbing a steep, gravely beach. A nipple pinched between fingers. A gasping climax. A severed head thrust against the burning sun. Apparitions marching out of morning mist.

A dead wife.

Kellhus exhaled, then breathed deep the bittersweet pinch of cedar, earth, and war.

There was revelation.

My Thoughts

Of course Xerius is acting like a petulant child when he has to go see the Shriah. After all, Isn’t Xerius a god? Of course Maithanet would disagree and it is a brutal reminder to Xerius just how weak his political power is compared to the church, especially since his gambit to indenture the Holy War has failed.

Skeaös may have been the closet thing Xerius had to a friend. Of course he’s hurt by his betrayal. It’s a touch of humanism for the emperor. Bakker has great skill riding the line between intelligence and foolish, competence and failure with Xerius. He’s always on the edge of one or the other, just not quite there.

Xerius’s ego is on full display on the ride from his palace, first assuming that the shouting throng is waving to him, cheering him, happy to see their emperor. He so badly misreads them, that he allows himself to be mocked. Then when he realizes they hate him, well, his

Xerius loses his discipline at Cmiral. His ego overrides his fear of sparking a riot as he orders his chariot to trample the fallen. I mean, he laughs maniacally as his soldiers switch to swords to kill their way through the mob. Too much cruelty, Xerius. Remember your mother’s lessons.

Wow, Xerius’s ego is great. He has to have a wooden walkway for him to use so he can walk higher than “mere men.” And then he thinks butchering his people is discipline. But it is the exact opposite. He has lost control of both his people through his terrible rule and himself by reacting emotionally to them. Now he’s only going to make them hate him more to satiate his ego.

We see that Maithanet is young but doesn’t carry himself with youth. He’s experienced. It’s a very important detail that fits with what we learn about the man’s origins in the next book. Xerius finds himself awed by the man, reacting the way Maithanet wants him to. It’s skillful manipulation of Xerius. He’s off-balanced by the mob hating him and loving another, a direct attack on his ego.

See the lies Xerius tells himself after his realization of Maithanet’s threat to destroy him should the Holy War fail. Xerius can’t accept the truth that his plans have been unveiled. But it’s obvious to the reader, Maithanet knows. How? What do we know about him? He came from Fanim lands. He has blue eyes. He’s a manipulator. And he can see the Few. Very interesting character.

Interesting that Xerius uses Conphas to measure his own heart’s emotions. Xerius doesn’t get it, but he knows Conphas wants the throne, and he is staving off the day when his nephew becomes Emperor. He has to keep himself convinced he’s better than Conphas, smarter, hates more. More importantly, he needs his nephew to believe that, too, to forestall any coup attempts like we saw in Book 1.

And now Xerius thinks that butchering a crowd is at all equal to inspiring the fervor in that giant crowd to chant your name. He has propped up his ego once more and it only required hundreds to die. Achamian’s quote at the start of his chapter on display.

And now we jump some weeks to the siege of Gedea. Time can be hard to follow sometimes in Bakker’s book. We went from Early Summer to Late Summer. Maybe a month or longer has passed since Mengedda.

The opening paragraph is great prose describing the terrain as it funnels the Holy War to the city. We have switched once again from the personal, close 3rd Person POV that characterizes the majority of the book to the more remote, almost historical, 3rd Person Bakker uses to unfold his world building or describe battles. It is an effective technique.

Eleäzaras holds true to his promise to hold back the Scarlet Spire until the end. Not even a single breach of the wall. He won’t risk the Few to take one city.

We get a taste of the brutality of a holy war as Athjeäri only spares the Fanim that convert. Of course, that doesn’t stop him from selling them as slaves and making some money.

Great move on Conphas’s part to capture Hinnereth, even if it was probably just to spite Saubon. After all, Conphas was furious that Saubon was declared Battle-Celebrant after his reckless actions almost doomed the Holy War. And it also is a show to the Fanim that the Empire will be trusted to uphold their word and betray the Holy War.

I like the fact that Proyas wants to be focused on the war and it annoys him that his “personal matters” with Kellhus are a distraction. And it’s interesting that he’s troubled by how he’s not troubled by Kellhus being a prophet, he’s ready to accept that, but because he consorts with Achamian.

Proyas and Xinemus laughing over Achamian’s love life is a very touching moment. Proyas has been very remote, under so much pressure that he hasn’t really relaxed. But now he is. And over Achamian of all people. Proyas hides it, his zeal for his faith beating down his love for his teacher. “Stumbling around after his own pecker” is a great phrase.

And then it gets somber as Proyas believes he doesn’t need love. He’s hardening himself against his need to be loved by Achamian. He’s still that boy, as Xinemus makes him feel, and he wants that relationship back with Achamian.

And then we see what stops him. His faith. That cold, unbending believe in the Tusk’s scripture. He can’t relax it even as it destroys his relationship with his other mentor. He claims he doesn’t need love at all. And he’s just lost another man who could give it to him.

So, Kellhus, in the probability trance, thinking about many things (including the possibilities that Esmenet has towards breeding Dûnyain sons and his desire to gain the Gnosis from Achamian) when he has a revelation. (And if you’re not convinced, just remember their’s a book in the bible called The Revelations of the Apostle John, where visions of the future are revealed to John).

He doesn’t see a possibility. No, he has a vision of the future. It’s hidden by Bakker as a probability trance, but the key word is there at the end of the chapter. Revelation. He has been shown something. By what or whom… my money is on the No God. After all, he’s passed through Mengedda, a place that affects people.

For the first time, the Outside has touched him. He is given a glimpse of the future. He sees what happens at the end of the novel. Can’t remember what the Nameless Schoolman references, but I suspect the “nipple pinched between fingers” and “gasping climax” refers to his seduction of Esmenet. A severed head thrust against the burning sun would be Cnaiür killing Sarcellus and revealing skin spies to the Holy War. Apparitions marching out of morning mist is how the novel ends, the starving, beleaguered host marching out of Caraskand and falling upon the Fanim.

A dead wife… Serwë. Kellhus saw her death was coming. He knew he would lose a wife. And he made sure it wasn’t Esmenet because he needed her to breed sons and Serwë was just a pretty face. I personally think this one act, sacrificing Serwë, breaks Kellhus completely and comes to define his actions in the second series. (The revelation about Serwë’s fate in the afterlife from The Great Ordeal). Well, have to wait for July and the conclusion of the Aspect Empire to know if I’m right.

I’m going to keep an eye out for the Nameless Schoolman and a gravely beach going forward. I believe I’m write on the other things he sees.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Ten!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 5
The Plains of Mengedda

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

Why must I conquer, you ask? War makes clear. Life or Death. Freedom or Bondage. War strikes the sediment from the water of life.

TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

This is an appropriate quote since this chapter is told from two characters POV: Cnaiür and Saubon. They are both warriors. They are both ones who yearn for war, finding clarity in it. Cnaiür so easily discerns the battlefield while the disturbing sights and smells only reminds him of how his people find war holy. And Saubon is invigorated by it. To him, war is something simple, the clash of arms, not the pointlessness of politics. Everything is so clear in war, not muddied by all the ways life pulls at him. This quote explains the mindset of conquerers as opposed to unveiling truths like other of the quotes at the start of chapters, giving us insights in the characters whose perspective we’re about to read.

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

Proyas and his companions return from their patrol inspecting the heathen attack. Cnaiür is with them and realizes even before seeing the Holy War that there is too little smoke from campfires and too few scavenging birds flying. And he is corrected. Only the Conriyans and Nansur remained, everyone else (the Shrial Knights, Gothyelk, and Skaiyelt) followed Saubon. Proyas meets with Conphas, demanding why he let them go. Conphas speaks “as he always did, as though intellectually filing his nails” informing Proyas that Kellhus had a vision and wouldn’t be dismayed Proyas is dismayed, shocked that Kellhus told Saubon to march.

“So the man said,” Conphas replied. Such is the madness of this world, his tone added, though his eyes suggested something far different.

There was a moment of communal hesitation. Over the past weeks, the Dûnyain’s name had gathered much weight among the Inrithi, as though it were a rock that held at arm’s length. Cnaiür could see it in their faces: the look of beggars with gold sewn into their hems—or of drunkards with over-shy daughters… What, Cnaiür wondered, would happen when the rock became too heavy?

Afterward, when Proyas confronted the Dûnyain at Xinemus’s camp, Cnaiür could only think, He makes mistakes!

Proyas confronts Kellhus angrily, demanding an explanation. Achamian starts to explain the situation but is cut off by Proyas. To everyone’s shock, Kellhus shouts out, “You’re not my better!” Everyone feels something preternatural about Kellhus as he faces Proyas. He reminds the Conryian prince that they are equals. Proyas regains his anger after a moment, demanding to know why Kellhus, as an equal, didn’t let Proyas be apart of any plans.

“I made no decision. You know that. I told Saubon only…” For a fleeting moment, a strange, almost lunatic vulnerability animated his expression. His lips parted. He seemed to look through the Conriyan Prince.

“Only what?”

The Dûnyain’s eyes refocused, his stance hardened—everything about him… converged somehow, as though he were more here than anyone else. As though he stood among ghosts.

He speaks in hidden cues, Cnaiür reminded himself. He wars against all of us!

Kellhus only told Saubon what he sees, and Proyas demands to know what that was. Kellhus asks if he really does want to know. Proyas hesitated, glancing at Cnaiür for a moment, then declares that Kellhus has doomed the holy war and leaves.

In private, Cnaiür confronts Kellhus, the Dûnyain claiming he did what he had to “secure our position.” Cnaiür is angry, pointing out he has alienated them from their patron, Proyas, and sending Saubon and half their forces to their death. Cnaiür is believes the Fanim were likely to win, and now it seems even more certain. “By the Dead God, you do need me to teach you war, don’t you?”

Kellhus, of course, was unmoved. “Alienating Proyas is to our advantage. He judges men harshly, holds all in suspicion. He opens himself only when he’s moved to regret. And he will regret. As for Saubon, I told him only what he wanted to hear. Every man yearns to hear their flattering delusions confirmed. Every man. That is why they support—willingly—so many parasitic castes, such as augurs, priest, memorial—”

“Read my face, dog!” Cnaiür grated. “You will not convince me this is a success!”

Pause. Shining eyes blinking, watching. The intimation of a horrifying scrutiny.

“No,” Kellhus said, “I suppose not.”

More lies.

Kellhus does admit he didn’t think other groups beside Saubon’s Galeoth and the Shrial knights would have marched. He deemed losing Saubon and the knights acceptable, the Holy War able to go on. Cnaiür calls that lies, pointing out Kellhus could have stopped the others if he wanted and accuses Kellhus of believing Saubon’s tactical assessment of the situation of Skauras abandoning Gedea. Cnaiür throws Kellhus words back in his own face because “every man yearns to hear their flattering delusions confirmed.”

Kellhus explains he needs one Great Name to follow him. If Saubon takes Gedea, he will have that and the others will follow. Then he can claim the Holy War. To Kellhus, the risk was worth it. Cnaiür thinks he’s a fool. The need to correct Kellhus on the depths of his mistake has Cnaiür about to spill out Fanim tactics and how they’ll destroy Saubon when he sees Serwë glaring at him with hatred. Then he realizes he’s being manipulated by Kellhus to divulge those secrets.

And suddenly he realized that he’d actually believed the Dûnyain, believed that he had made a mistake.

And yet it was often like this; believing and not believing. It reminded him of listening to old Haurut, the Utemot memorialist who’d taught him his verses as a child. One moment Cnaiür would be sweeping across the Steppe with a hero like great Uthgai, the next he would be staring at a broken old man, drunk on gishrut, stumbling on phrases a thousand years old. When one believed, one’s soul was moved. When one didn’t, everything else moved.

“Not everything I say,” the Dûnyain said, “can be a lie, Scylvendi. So why do you insist on thinking I deceive you in all things?”

“Because that way,” Cnaiür grated, “you deceive me in nothing.”

The rest of the Holy War has been forced to march into Gedea after Saubon. Small groups were sent ahead to warn him, but one was found dead. Proyas asks of Cnaiür if Saubon is surrounded by Skauras. Probably Cnaiür begins to exam the signs of the battle, the scents of rot and sight of bloating bodies reminds him that war is holy. Proyas asks Cnaiür if he still believes in Kellhus. Cnaiür gives a diffident answer that Kellhus sees things.

Proyas snorted. “Your manner does little to reassure me.” He stood, casting shadow across the dead Conriyan, slapping the dust from the ornamental skirt he wore over his mail leggings. “That is always the way of it, I suppose.”

“What do you mean, my Prince?” Xinemus asked.

“We think things will be more glorious than they are, that they’ll unfold to our hopes, our expectations…” He unstopped his waterskin, took too long a drink. “The Nansur have a word for it,” he continued. “We ‘idealize.’”

Cnaiür muses that this “admixture of honesty and insight” is why Proyas is so beloved by his men. Kellhus acts much the same way, though Cnaiür wonders if there is a difference. Proyas asks what happened Cnaiür isn’t sure while Lord Gaidekki calls the patrol’s leader a fool who was overwhelmed by numbers. Cnaiür disagreed but doesn’t speak, instead heads up the ridge. He studies the battlefield while listening to Proyas arguing with his men. Cnaiür doesn’t see Proyas as a fool but “his fervor made him impatient.” Despite Cnaiür’s lectures on the Fanim, Proyas still didn’t understand them. “And when men who knew little argued with men who knew nothing, tempers were certain to be thrown out of joint.” Cnaiür has doubts they’ll succeed, especially given the infighting of the leaders and how they reject most of his advice.

In so many ways, the Holy War was the antithesis of a Scylvendi horde. The People brooked few if any followers. No pampering slaves, no priests or augurs, and certainly no women, which could always be had when one ranged enemy country. They carried little baggage over what a warrior and his mount could bear, even on the longest campaigns. If they exhausted their amicut and could secure no forage, they either let blood from their mounts or went hungry. Their horses, though small, unbecoming, and relatively slow, were bred to the land, not to the stable. The horse he now rode—a gift from Proyas—not only required grain over and above fodder, but enough to feed three men!

Madness.

Cnaiür is frustrated that they didn’t even understand the Holy War had to break up to march across Gedea. A large host marches slower and that requires more food. Gedea isn’t a fertile land. He wonders if they’re inbred or beaten in the head as children. But the breakup had to be planned. To have means of communication and planned routes. He had to make them understand or they were doomed.

Murdering Anasûrimbor Moënghus was all that mattered. It was the weight that drew all lines plumb.

Any indignity… Anything!

From the ridge, Cnaiür orders Lord Ingiaban to get more men to secure the sight in case Fanim attack them. He is ignored so Cnaiür rides down the hill. He doesn’t care if they think him rude, he says what has to be said. Xinemus volunteers to go, but Cnaiür insists on Lord Ingiaban, who then calls Cnaiür a dog pissing on his leg and demands to know why him. Cnaiür does, explain Ingiaban’s men are closes and Proyas’s life is in danger. That takes him back with Xinemus commanding Ingiaban to obey. Ingiaban grows angry, telling the Marshal not to give orders to his betters while Gaidekki makes a joke. Ingiaban does go. Silence follows.

Proyas finally asks Cnaiür what happened here. Cnaiür says the patrol was outwitted and explains how the Fanim ambushed them from the hill while the patrol rode up in a tight file like they were on a road instead of spread out since they’re in open country. They were slaughtered trying to get up the sandy hill. A few made it, killing some of the Fanim. The survivors were shot to death by arrows. Cnaiür suspects the Fanim were afraid to fight the Conriyans in close quarters since the few who made it to the top must have caused enough casualties. Cnaiür estimates there were sixty or seventy while Gaidekki exclaims, “He reads the dead like scripture.” Proyas asks if Saubon is encircled.

Cnaiür matched his [Proyas] gaze. “When one wars on foot against horse, one is always encircled”

“So the bastard may still live,” Proyas said, his breathlessness betrayed by a faint quaver in his voice. The Holy War could survive the loss of one nation, but three? Saubon had gambled more than his own life on this rash gambit—far more—which was why Proyas, over Conphas’s protestations, had ordered his people to march. Perhaps four nations could prevail where three could not.

Xinemus muses that Saubon might be right and could be chasing Skauras’s skirmishers. Cnaiür disagrees. He is certain Skauras has assembled in Gedea and waits with his full host. Gaidekki asks how he could know. “Because the Fanim who killed your kinsman took a great risk.” Proyas understands, saying the Fanim attacked a larger, more heavily armed force. He deuces thy must have orders to keep Proyas from making contact with Saubon.

Cnaiür lowered his head in deference—not to the man, but to the truth. At long last, Nersei Proyas was beginning to understand. Skauras had been watching, studying the Holy War since long before it had left Momemn’s walls. He knew its weaknesses… Knowledge. It all came down to knowledge.

Moënghus had taught him that.

“War is intellect,” the Scylvendi chieftain said. “So long as you and your people insist on waging it with your hearts, you are doomed.”

Saubon is watching his host ford a river onto the Plains of Mengedda, staring at the land, knowing he had to own it. He looks at the field, knowing this is where the Vulgar Holy War, along with his cousin Tharschilka, had died. He’s not pleased to see his force spreading out on the other side, some of his men even beginning to fish. They had marched a week to get here, already parting ways with Gothyelk, Skaiyelt, and their forces over a difference of tactics and objectives. As much as Saubon wanted to take the city of Hinnereth, which he wants for himself, they had to secure the flanks. Gothyelk was more concerned with passing through Gedea to get to Shimeh, not caring at all about military realities. At the time, Saubon was pleased that they left, thinking Skauras had withdrawn from Gedea and he could seize it for himself.

Saubon has been obsessing over Kellhus words to march and punish the Shrial Knights. For the last few days, he has had doubts, wondering if he was mistaken and that Kellhus hadn’t confirmed his belief of no resistance but suggested the opposite. That they would have to fight. “How else was he to punish the Shrial Knights?” As he gazes at Mengedda, the Battleplain, he is sure Skauras means to fight. He wonders if Kellhus is a fraud.

Such was the madness of things—the perversity!—that one thought, one slight twitch of the soul, could overturn so much. Where before he need only collect the future like a tax farmer, now he threw number-sticks against the great black—for the lives of thousands, no less! Perhaps, for the entire Holy War.

One thought… So frail was the balance between soul and world.

He weeps in his tent at night because of the dread doubt has sown. He realizes this should be expected. The gods have always “taunted, frustrated, and humiliated him.” He was the seventh son but with the drive of the first. His father would punish him for no reasons, beat him for his ambition He had come so close sacking Momemn only for a young Conphas to stop him. The gods always cheated him.

After patrols, led by Athjeari, spot the Fanim, Saubon’s unease only grows while his nobles are unimpressed. They aren’t shocked to learn they’re shadowed. They point out Skauras should have defended the passes if he meant to hold Gedea. And because he is a landless prince, his nobles don’t feel the need to really follow his orders. His is the titular head of the Galeoth host. They go hunting and hawking while he has to pretend to listen to them. But he knows the truth. His forty-five thousand Galeoth and nine thousand Shrial knights were alone in hostile territory and vastly outnumbered. “They had no real discipline, no real leader. And they had no sorcerers. No Scarlet Spires.”

Back in the present, watching his men cross the ford, Saubon sees a patrol returning bearing lances with severed head—a Galeoth sign battle approaches. They were sent by Athjeari. Kussalt, Saubon’s groom, rides up from the patrol, Saubon desperate to know what they reports. As the leaders of the force, Gotian and Sarcellus included, learn that Athjeari and Wanhail have been fighting all day, they are convinced Skauras has assembled on the plains and is trying to delay the host with pickets. Others disagree, saying they are being baited to be rash, that Skauras is eager to fight them on favorable grounds as soon as possible. But Gotian, always cautioning about Fanim, is seen as a coward by many Galeoth.

Saubon realizes something. That they are being delayed because Gothyelk must have decided to cross Mengedda, being the swiftest way across hilly Gedea. The pickets Athjeari is fighting are to prevent the patrols from joining up with their allies. Gotian is on Saubon’s side. Saubon realizes that if he reconnects with Gothyelk and Skaiyelt, the entire Middle North will be on the field. “The greatest Norsirai host since the fall of the Ancient North!”

Suddenly the severed heads upon the lances no longer seemed a rebuke, a totem of their doom; it seemed a sign, the smoke that promised cleansing fire. With unaccountable certainty, Saubon realized that Skauras was afraid…

As well he should be.

His misapprehensions fell away, and the old exhilaration coursed like liquor through his veins, a sensation he had always attributed to Gilgaöl, One-Eyed War.

The Whore will be kind to you.

Saubon begins giving orders, wanting Gothyelk located. He plans to remain in hills until they find Gothyelk, denying the Fanim flat land for their horses. Saubon is excited that the months of “the womanish war of words was finally over.” Holy war had begun exactly as Prince Kellhus said. But then he remembers he has to punish the Shrial Knights and his excitement vanishes. He tells his groom he needs a copy of the Tractate. His groom actually has it memorized, which shocks Saubon even knowing his groom was a pious man. He asks what the Latter Prophet said on sacrifice, which turns out to be a lot.

“What the Gods demand… Is it proper because they demand it?”

“No,” Kussalt said, still frowning.

For some reason, the thoughtless certainty of the answer angered him [Saubon]. What did the old fool know?

“You disbelieve me,” Kussalt said, his voice thick with weariness. “But it’s the glory of Inri Sej—”

“Enough of this prattle,” Coithus Saubon snapped. He glanced at the severed head—at the apple—noticed the glint of a golden incisor between slack and battered lips. So this was their enemy… Drawing his sword, he struck it from the lance, and the lance from Kussalt’s fist.

“I believe what I need to,” he grated.

My Thoughts

What a great way to reintroduce arrogant, narcissistic Conphas than his manner in being confronted by Proyas over a sizable portion of the Holy War marching without the rest. Bored, superior to everyone around him, more concerned with himself than what it meant. It wasn’t Conphas’s fault that everyone around him was idiots and listened to Kellhus.

Now Cnaiür has a moment or realization that Kellhus can make mistakes. He’s infallible Cnaiür needs that knowledge if he will have any chance of killing Moënghus If the son makes mistakes, why not the father.

Cnaiür sees how Kellhus uses every action and tone to control the men around him. To war against them as he convinced them that he is a prophet, leading them down that path slowly. Everything is calculated. It’s always great to see Kellhus through Cnaiür’s suspicious eyes. Bakker needs to keep reminding the readers you can’t trust him . No matter how sincere everyone else believes him to be. In every other POV both us the readers and the character are being manipulated by Kellhus to see him favorably.

Proyas glances at Cnaiür The prince has come to trust Cnaiür’s judgment in martial matters. The fact Cnaiür predicted something was wrong at the Holy War before the party saw them no doubt lifted his worth in Proyas’s eyes.

Cnaiür realizes he still has value in Kellhus’s eyes. The man doesn’t know war. He has made a dangerous gamble that may very well cost the success of the Holy War and doom his mission to kill Moënghus

Kellhus’s explanation about how alienating Proyas is a good thing would, from any other character, smack of self-delusion, a way to explain a bad mistake. But it is probably Kellhus’s honest assessment of his actions. The only problem with his actions is they HING on Saubon being successful, which Cnaiür is certain won’t be the case.

Humans do love flattering lies. That’s why so many powerful people have entourages, why it can be so hard for them to hear contrary opinions. I’m a writer, and sometimes when my readers talk to me about my books I wonder if they’re being honest or telling me what I want to hear so they can stay on good terms with me. Because I don’t want to be told my writing sucks, but if I’m not, how can I improve. It is a dangerous trap to get sucked into. Look at Emperor Ikurei and all the sycophants he has with him, puffing him up to believe he is a god.

Cnaiür is really enjoying himself realizing that Kellhus has badly miscalculated, how he has believed Saubon’s assessment and based his actions on it. And then to spit it back in Kellhus’s face about believing flattering lies. It’s a satisfactory moment.

But it doesn’t last because Cnaiür realizes he’s been fed flattering lies, stopping himself from telling about Fanim tactics in a fit of anger. War is the last thing he has that is useful. Kellhus, as we know from the last chapter, is gambling on Saubon’s success. He realized he has to make educated guesses that there are too many variables, which can lead him to make mistakes. And then he uses that to manipulate Cnaiür into divulging information. And it almost worked. You cannot trust Kellhus ever.

We do idealize, don’t we? Such a mistake. It always gets your hopes crushed when the hypetrain derails. Then notice how Cnaiür compares Proyas’s honest insights to how Kellhus acts, thinking Kellhus did the same. Of course, Proyas are honest where Kellhus is faking that sincerity

Cnaiür’s statement on men with few facts arguing with men who know none leading to arguments is borne out by the comment section on almost any internet website.

Cnaiür’s skill at reading the signs of battlefield and his knowledge of tactics is on display here. It’s fascinating to read while at the same time illuminating much about the Kianene culture, such as how they were loathe to kill their enemy’s horses.

Cnaiür is right They have to have good intelligence. If they had planned it properly, they could have used this to their advantage. If the leader of the patrol had bothered to have his own scouts, he wouldn’t have blundered into the ambush. And Saubon, if he had also done that, he wouldn’t be wondering through Gedea surrounded and cut off.

We see with Saubon surveying Gedea what his true goal is. He is the son of a king, but he has a lot of older brothers (six). He will never inherit. But he wants it so bad, believing of his brothers he should have been born the first one, that he has what it takes. And since he’s clearly not the kill all my brothers type of guy, he has to carve out his own kingdom. In our world, many Crusaders formed Levant Kingdoms in the Holy Lands after retaking them from Muslim occupation, which didn’t make the Byzantine Empire happy since the Muslims had conquered the Holy Land from the Byzantines a few centuries earlier, much like our Nansur Empire wants all this land back because the Fanim took it from them.

Doubt is insidious the way it can disrupt your certainty. Like Saubon now grappling with the realization he had led his men into a trap, that he allowed two-thirds of their force to go a different way, is hitting him hard. Especially as he looks at the Battleplain. Doubt is eating at him.

Doubt eats at Saubon even when he realizes the truth of what Skauras is up to and that they need to get to the Gothyelk’s aid. He always is questioning himself. Always seeks validation. Being beaten by his father, always belittled, has really affected him as an adult.

Saubon doesn’t understand why he is angered by Kussalt’s answer about sacrifice. But it’s simple: Kussalt’s answer didn’t flatter the lies Saubon wanted to believe. He is certain he has figured out the truth, and now he won’t let anything rob him of it.

Well, it looks like Kellhus gamble will pay off if Saubon reconnects with Gothyelk and the Middle North are victorious against Skauras.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Six!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 1
Carythusal

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

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

—Ontillas, On the Folly of Men

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

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“At the end of the world.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue on to Chapter Two!

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