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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 25
Caraskand

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

What is the meaning of a deluded life?

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

What a powerful quote to end this book on. As we see, all man are deceived by the darkness that comes before them, therefor all men have a deluded life. What is the worth? Does that mean their actions have no value in a deterministic universe? There is a reason that determinism is not a wildly embraced philosophy. Even if it’s the truth of our circumstances, that everything we do was set in motion the moment the big bang happened, most humans reject that idea. We prefer the alternatives, that our conscious will does give us free will. That just because our society and culture, that our friends and acquaintances, put pressures on us to drive our behavior, we still make the decision. Most humans utterly reject the belief that we have no control over our will, that it is an illusion, so we can feel that our actions do have value. That we accomplish something with the minute amount of time we have in this world.

It’s what all the character’s in The Prince of Nothing series wish to believe even as their actions are shown to be at the behest of other forces. Is is better to live a deluded life and be happy? Or be miserable in the mire of nihilistic determinism? Is it better to believe your life has value and meaning then to be an insignificant spec, a tiny cog in a machine as vast as the entire universe?

Maybe being deluded isn’t all that bad.

Late Winter, 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

Kellhus is cut down by the Nascenti, pulled away form his dead wife. Kellhus knows he should be too weak to act, but feels something “inexplicable” moving him. He pulls away from Serwë and stands. He’s wrapped in white linen and stumbles away from the tree. The crowds stare at him all and “it seemed he embraced all the Three Seas.” As he Cnaiür and Eleäzaras looks dumbstruck and Gotian staggers forward, Kellhus starts to understand the purpose of his father’s summons: the Thousandfold Thought.

And it seemed there was nothing, no dwarfing frame, that could restrict him to this place, to any place… He was all things, and all things were his…

He was one of the Condition. Dûnyain.

He was the Warrior-Prophet.

Tears roared down his cheeks. With a haloed hand, he reached beneath his breast, firmly wrested the heart from his ribs. He thrust it high to the thunder of their adulation. Beads of blood seemed to crack the stone at his feet… He glimpsed Sarcellus’s uncoiled face.

I see…

“They said!” he cried in a booming voice, and the howling chorus trailed into silence.

“They said that I was False, that I caused the anger of the God to burn against us!”

He looked into their wasted faces, answered their fevered eyes. He brandished Serwë’s burning heart.

“But I say that we—WE!—are that anger!

Kascamandri, the Padirajah of Kian, sent an offer of surrender to the Men of the Tusk, one he thought was generous. If they yield and forswear their false religion, he would make them Grandees among their “idolatrous nations.” He didn’t think it would be accept outright, he was too wise for that, but knew it was a start. He understands the power of his victory if he defeats the Holy War by religious conversion and not by the sword.

The reply came in the form of a dozen almost skeletal Inrithi knights, dressed in simple cotton tunics and wearing only knives. After disputing the knives, which the idolaters refused to relinquish, Kascamandri’s Ushers received them with all jnanic courtesy and brought them directly to the great Padirajah, his children, and the ornamental Grandees of his court.

There was a a moment of astonished silence, for the Kianene could scarce believe the bearded wretches before them could author so much woe. Then, before the first ritual declaration, the twelve men cried out, “Satephikos kana ta yerishi ankapharas!” in unison, then drew their knives and cut their own throats.

The court is horrified. Kascamandri hugs his youngest daughters as they cried. His shaken interpreter says that “the Warrior-Prophet shall… shall come before you…” Kascamandri demands to know who that is, but no one knows. The next morning, the Men of the Tusk form up to fight outside the Ivory Gate, singing. They have chosen to do battle instead of enduring “hunger and disease.” They form up, the Tydonni on the right flank, then the Nansur, the Conryians, Thunyeri, the Ainoni, and the Galeoth. The Kianene allow them to form up, fearing if they attacked too soon, the Holy War would retreat into Caraskand. All those with the strength, even the few women and priest who’d survived, wielded arms and sang hymns. “Some one hundred thousand Inrithi had stumbled form the Carathay, and less than fifty thousand now ranged across the plain.” Another twenty thousand too week remained behind, some cheering from the walls others praying.

Those who formed up on the field take hope in the new banner flying, the Circumfix of the Warrior Prophet. “The glory of it scarcely seemed possible…” War horns sound the advance. The grim Holy War marches to the Kianene who formed up two miles away on the open plains where the Inrithi would expose their flanks.

Songs keened over the throbbing of Fanim drums. The deep war chants of the Thunyeri, which had once filled the forest of their homeland with sound of doom. The keening hymns of the Ainoni, whose cultivated ears savored the dissonance of human voices. The dirges of the Galeoth and the Tydonni, solemn and foreboding. They sang, the Men of the Tusk, overcome with strange passions: joy that knew no laughter, terror that knew no fear. They sang and they marched, walking with the grace of almost-broken men.

When men collapsed, their kinsmen dragged them onward. The Tydonni make first contact with the Fanim, who fire arrows upon them. But they have their great shields and withstood the volley. Anasacer, whose lands were taken by Holy War, “charged with fury” at the Tydonni. At the center, war elephants charge at the Circumfix. But outriders set grass on fire, panicking the mastodons. Still, many trample into the Inrithi.

Soon, the Fanim are charging the entirety of the Inrithi lines, galloping on their horses. Crown Prince Fanayal attacks King Saubon, rampaging through his lines. On the wall, the sick still pray while the battle is obscured by smoke. But they see the Tydonni hold. The few horseman left, riding nags, break the Fanim charge. Athjeäri and his knights, sent to stop any attacks from the hills, found themselves in position to charge the Fanim rear. So Athjeäri took it.

The Fanim fell back in disarray, while before them, all across the Fields of Tertae, the singing Inrithi resumed their forward march. Many upon the walls limped eastward, toward the Gate of Horns, where they could see the first Men of the Tusk fight clear the smoke of the centre and press onward in the wake of retreating Girgashi horsemen. Then they saw it, the Circumfix, fluttering white and unsullied in the wind…

As though driven by inevitability, the iron men marched forward. When the heathen charged, they grabbed at bridles and were trampled. They punched spears deep into the haunches of Fanim horses. They fended hacking swords, pulled heathen shrieking to the ground, where they knifed them in the armpit, face, or groin. They shrugged off piercing arrows. When the heathen relented, some Men of the Tusk, the madness of battle upon them, hurled their helms at the fleeing horsemen. Time and again the Kianene charged, broke, then withdrew, while the iron men trudged on, through olive trees, across the fallow fields. They would walk with the God—whether he favored them or no.

Though driven back, the Kianene were too proud to falter now. Kascamandri, “hoisted by his slaves upon the back of a massive horse,” leads the counter attack. The elephants also regroup, though Yalgrota Sranchammer proves his name by braining one with a single blow. More and more, the Kianene charge the Holy War’s advancing lines. But then the Nansur break through, reaching the Padirajah’s camp. This silences the heathen drums and only the Inrithi’s hymns are heard. The rout begins as Kascamandri is killed by Kellhus. Fanayal escapes, saving his younger sisters and brothers. Some Kianene still fight, but they are butchered by Men of the Tusk who weep because “never had they known such dark glory.”

And in the wake of the battle, some climbed the mastodon carcasses, held their swords out to the glare of the sun, and understood things they did not know.

The Holy War had been absolved.

Forgiven

The surviving Grandees were strung from many-boughed sycamores, and in the evening light they hung, like drowned men floating up from the deep. And though years would pass, none would dare touch them. They would sag from the nails that fixed them, collapse into heaps about the base of their trees. And to anyone who listened, they would whisper a revelation… The secret of battle.

Indomitable conviction. Unconquerable belief.

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

Aëngelas rides with his fellow Werigda across the Plains of Gâl, many weeping when they spotted a track of a small child. They were searching for their missing wives and children for the last two days. They’d returned from a successful raid only to find their families slaughtered or carried off. They ride through the ruins of Myclai, the capital of long dead Akssersia. Aëngelas knew nothing of the “Old Wars” that had destroyed the Ancient North or anything of the nation from which his people were descended. “They dwelt among the unearthed bones of greater things.” They followed the tracks of the Sranc through the ruins. This was a new clan, not the Kig’krinaki nor Xoägi’i whom his people usually fought. This clan was wickeder. Some even rode horses.

Past the ruins, as evening approaches, they found a fire pit and the bones of their children in it. “The Werigda gnashed their teeth and howled at the dark heavens.” They didn’t sleep, so they kept riding. They question what sin they’ve committed against the “man-pummeling Gods?” They travel through two more days “of trembling horror.” Over and over, Aëngelas sees tracks of women and children, the tribes adolescents dead and raped bodies. He remembered his wife’s fear and her premeditation she told him before he left: “Do not leave us, Aënga… The Great Ruiner hunts for us. I’ve seen him in my dreams!”

They find another fire pit, but this time the ashes are warm. They are close. While many want to press on, Aëngelas points out they’re too tired for battle. Arguments break out, men worried whose children the Sranc would next eat. But they force themselves to rest and be ready.

They’re attacked in the night by Srancs. Aëngelas is dragged from his mat. He kills his assailant with a knife, but horses charge around him. He and his men are easily captured. They are driven through the night. He weeps, knowing he would never make love to his wife or tease his sons around the fire. He wonders, “What have we done to deserve this? What have we done?”

By the wicked glare of torchlight he saw the Sranc, with their narrow shoulders and dog-deep chests, surfacing form the night as though from the depths of the Sea. Inhumanly beautiful faces, as white as polished bone; armor of lacquered human skin; necklaces of human teeth; and the shrunken faces of men stitched into their round shields. He smelled their sweet stench—like feces and rotted fruit. He heard the nightmarish clacking of their laughter, and from somewhere in the night, the shrieks of the Werigda’s horses as they were slaughtered.

And periodically he saw the Nonmen, tall upon their silk-black steeds. What Valrissa had dreamed, he realized, was true: the Great Ruiner hunted them! But why?

At dawn, they reach the Sranc camp and are reunited with their surviving loved ones. Aëngelas embraces his wife and his one remaining son. They all cry as they hold each other. “And for an instant he felt hope in the pale warmth of degraded bodies.” This joy is short lived as the Sranc begin killing any men who didn’t find their families and any women or children whose husband hadn’t survived, leaving only those who’d reunited. Then they are separated, men from women and children. Aëngelas is leashed to a spike driven in the ground, unable to reach his wife and son.

And then, for the first time, he heard the question—even though it was not spoken.

An uncanny silence fell across the Werigda, and Aëngelas understood that all of them had heard the impossible voice… The question had resounded through the souls of all his suffering people.

Then he saw… it. An abomination walking through the dawn twilight.

It was half-again taller than a man, with long, folded wings curved like scythes over its powerful frame. Save where it was mottled by black, cancerous sports, its skin was translucent, and sheathed about a great flared skull shaped like an oyster set on edge. And within the gaping jaws of that skull was fused another, more manlike, so that an almost human face grinned from its watery features.

The Sranc writhe in orgasmic pleasure as the Inchoroi passes. The thing stops before Aëngelas while Valrissa sobbed. It sense “the old fire” in Aëngelas. The thing asks if Aëngelas knows what it is. He answers the Great Ruiner.

Noooo, it cooed, as though his mistake had aroused a delicious shiver. We are not He… We are His servant. Save my Brother, we are the last of those who descended from the void…

The abomination loomed over Valrissa. She clutches their son to her breast, tries to ward off the monster. The thing tells Aëngelas to answer his questions. But Aëngelas doesn’t know anything about it. The monster seizes Valrissa, their son crying out as he’s ripped away. Aëngelas screams his wife’s name.

Holding her by the throat, the thing languorously picked her clothing away, like the skin of a rotten peach. As her breasts fell free, round-white with soft-pin nipples, a sheen of sunlight flickered across the horizon, and illuminated her lithe curves… But the hunger that held her from behind remained shadowy—like glistening smoke.

Animal violence overcame Aëngelas, and he strained at his leash, gagged inarticulate fury.

And a husky voice in his soul said: We are a race of lovers, manling…

“Beaassee!” Aëngelas wept. “I don’t knoooowww…”

The thing’s free hand traced a thread of blood between her bosom across the plane of her shuddering belly. Valrissa’s eyes returned to Aëngelas, thick with something impossible She moaned and parted her hanging legs to great the abomination’s hand.

A race of lovers…

“I don’t know! I don’t! I don’t! Bease stop! Beaasse!”

The thing thing screeched like a thousand falcons as it plunged into her. Glass thunder. Shivering sky. She bent back her head, her face contorted in pain and bliss. She convulsed and groaned, arched to meet the creature’s thrust. And when she climaxed, Aëngelas crumbled, grasped his head between his hands, beat his face against the turf.

The cold felt good against his broken lips.

With an inhuman, dragon gasp, the ting pressed its bruised phallus up across her stomach and washed her sunlit breasts with pungent, black seed. Another thunderous screech, woven by the thin human wail of a woman.

And against it asked the question.

But Aëngelas doesn’t know. The Inchoroi says “this thing” made Aëngelas weak before throwing his wife to the Sranc to be raped. Over and over, it asks him the question as it rapes his son and then hands him over to the Sranc as well. Then Aëngelas himself is rapped, and with each thrust, the question is asked in his mind. Over and over.

Until the gagging shrieks of his wife and child became the question. Until his own deranged howls became the question…

His wife and child were dead. Sacks of penetrated flesh with faces that he still loved, and still… they did things.

Always, the same mad, incomprehensible question.

Who are the Dûnyain?

My Thoughts

Even Kellhus is surprised he can stand. He knows his body. Understands what he’s gone through is beyond even the endurance bred into his lineage by the Dûnyain. The outside is touching him right now. Effect is preceding cause, giving him the strength to stand. Is it Ajolki, the God Kellhus makes a deal with in the coming years to fight the Consult? Reality is bending and warping, almost like a topoi has formed around him. Note how he pulls out Serwë’s heart from his chest. He didn’t have that in his hand when he moved from her. This is a true miracle, not sorcerery.

And it’s the moment where Kellhus accepts his duel purpose. He is both a being of intellect, a Dûnyain. But he’s also now a being of faith, embracing his role as the Warrior-Prophet. For he witnesses his own haloed hands. Just like everyone else does when they believe him to be a prophet. The Outside has marked him.

Now he shall use the Thousandfold Thought to defeat the Consult, something the Dûnyain wouldn’t do. Because, as he says in the next book, he is mad. The break down of Cause and Effect has shattered Kellhus’s mind. The Dûnyain, for all their vaulted intellect, have some deficiencies. Their lack of strong emotions makes them vulnerable to outside manipulation. While they have incredible will, they lack the fire to truly defend it, as we see when Kellhus is possessed by Ajolki before the No-God’s sarcophagus (and Bakker has confirmed that it wasn’t Kellhus’s will, but the god taking him over in an AMA on Reddit). They also do not have the world view to deal with the violation of cause and effect. It warps them. We sees this with Kellhus’s son, the Survivor, in the next series.

Now this is an interesting scene to start a chapter with. It’s the climax of the last chapter, what it had built to, and yet he places it at the start of the next. It feels almost divorced from the historical section about the battle, this remote, omniscient third person Bakker slips into to convey broad events. But it’s a signal. Everything has changed in the world.

Kellhus has accepted a new role. He has had his rebirth. He’s wrapped in white, symbolizing that change. He’s, in effect, come back from the dead. And it changed even him. He’s the Warrior-Prophet in truth now, for good or ill. And what follows, the Inrithi’s desperate charge, is a direct result of that. So by undercutting narrative expectations, he instead delineates the importance of what just happened by starting a new chapter with it.

Kascamandri not only thinks himself wise, but it’s smart. Starve these men, get them to capitulate to his religion to save their skin. Men like Conphas would do it, but others wouldn’t. But enough would. However, he doesn’t know a Dûnyain is in there. He’s also counting his chickens, as it were, planning on making them Grandees of their nations. Kascamandri is plotting a Jihad. He has assembled this huge force and just demolished the fighting strength of the Inrithi.

Perfect time to invade and spread Fane, and his own power.

And then Kellhus responds with a terrifying display of power. To get twelve men to kill themselves is something no temporal leader ever can do. It takes the fanaticism of a true belief, one that can subsume a human’s survival instinct, to do that.

Now the last battle of the book unfolds. The desperate march of the Inrithi. They have nothing left to lose now. They need to attack because every day they weaken. And with Kellhus giving them the will to defy the surrender, they spill out. And they fight with zeal. The Fanim thought they were weak. And the secret of battle is that it is a war. Convince your opponent he lost and that you won. Who ever has the most conviction, the strongest belief, shall win. Those who are overconfident do not react well to upsets. It shakes their convictions, shatters their beliefs. It is how such a small, weakened force overcame a well-armed and healthy enemy.

I love how Bakker never calls Kascamandri fat. He has “elephantine arms” or it takes slaves plural to hoist him into a saddle. It’s a nice touch.

What a sad line: “They dwelt among the unearthed bones of greater things.” Here we have a post-apocalyptic tribe reduced back to hunter-gathers, living amid the Sranc-infested north. They’ve existed for two thousand years. And today, the Consult has need of them. They have no idea the “Old Wars” have begun again, and that they number among the first victims.

Man-pummeling Gods.” This gives a good idea how hard life is for the Werigda before this happened. They see the gods as something to be appeased and endured. Entities they had to placate and if they didn’t, they were punished. They fear their world, so have created Gods to personify that fear.

The Great Ruiner. So Kellhus isn’t the only one that’s dreamed of the No-God.

And for an instant he felt hope in the pale warmth of degraded bodies.” This line… What a dreadful thing befalls these people. Just trying to survive amid a world of monsters, nurturing all those small, important things: love, family, hope. And it all gets snuffed out by the cruelty of the Consult. It’s sick and barbaric.

Aëngelas calls the Inchoroi a Xurjranc. This must be a corruption of Ur-Sranc, introduced in the next series. The greater Sranc bread for war different from the vermin that the Werigda would be familiar with. It’s his only frame of reference to call the Inchoroi. I always thought Ur-Sranc was something Bakker didn’t come up with until the next series when he fleshed out the Consult more and how its armies worked. But now… Interesting.

And then this entire thing comes to its sickening end. Aëngelas watching the rape of his wife, and hearing her enjoy it, is like the anime and manga Berserk. When during the eclipse, Guts watches Caska’s rape at the hands of the now demonic Griffin. How she quivered and enjoyed it even as the violation destroyed her mind. And it should be clear to the Inchoroi that these hunter-gathers have nothing to do with the Dûnyain. Have never hard about them, but he’s having fun.

He’s part of a race of lovers. And he’s loving their flesh. He cares nothing about their pleasure, about their suffering, only himself. He’s selfish. His entire race is. That’s what they are. That’s why they’re condemned to damnation. And why they will butcher the entire world, have butchered others, just to free themselves from that fate.

Bakker ends the book showing us exactly why the Inchoroi can’t be allowed to succeed. We’ve heard about them, but to see how they operate in all their visceral depravity contrast that new rebirth. This is what Kellhus has decided to fight by becoming the Warrior-Prophet. Kellhus will do his own harm to do this, cause so many death and suffering, commit so many to damnation on the chance of defeating the Consult.

And in the vein of Grimdark Fantasy, fails.

What a powerful book. The characters suffer so much in this book. They are plunged to their nadir and are changed. Some become stronger like Achamian, some embrace madness like Kellhus, others are destroyed like Xinemus. Bakker has set the stage to end the first of his Three Series story. He’s shown us the world, how it works, and what the stakes are. Now he’ll show us who will be the one to try to save it, how he changes and grows, and I’m not talking about Kellhus.

Achamian. He was strengthened in this book. Will it be enough to stop the No-God once again?

Bakker’s final line of the novel is fitting: “Who are the Dûnyain?”

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 24
Caraskand

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

They strike down the weak and call it justice. They ungird their loins and call it reparations. They bark like dogs and call it reason.

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

Pretty straightforward. Humans will rationalize the crimes they commit. From rape to butchering the weak. Their excuses are as meaningless as the bark of a dog, and yet they have the gall to call it reason. Very damning look at men. Not surprising from a philosopher writing about men’s follies,

Proyas pleads with the council to listen to Achamian’s words without bias or bigotry, like the wise would. He tells them, in essence, to stop barking like dogs and think it is reason but to actually use their minds. A big theme of Bakker’s work is showing how humans really don’t think about what they do and why that’s bad. Things would be a lot better if we did.

Late Winter, 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Caraskand

A massive rainstorm hits Caraskand, sending people to cover as they pray. Cnaiür is dreaming about Kellhus, both words and deeds. He witnesses Serwë die as “the abominations” words ring in his mind: “Remember the secret of battle—remember!” He wakes up to the sound of the storm. The whispers in his mind compel him to seek out Proyas, ridding to the Sapatishah’s Palace where he’s learned Proyas is. By the time he reaches it, the storm is fading.

Though he passes nobles that he recognizes, none greet him as he strides through the palace. He runs into Gaidekki who asks after Cnaiür’s bleeding throat, which has been cut. Cnaiür just asks for Proyas. He’s told to follow the others heading in. He does.

No one will look at Cnaiür. Memories of his own people shunning him assault his psyche. He keeps going, insults from his past echoing in his mind. He keeps going, entering a large meeting room where Proyas stands over a table talking to Achamian. This shocks Cnaiür. But he shouts at Proyas that they need to speak. Proyas waves him away, but Cnaiür doesn’t give up.

Fool! Cnaiür thought. The siege could be broken! He knew what they must do!

The secret of battle. He remembered…

Cnaiür takes a seat with the gathering nobles and watched “the Great Names settle into their usual bickering.” Thanks to the lack of food, even the powerful look gaunt, appearing more like children wearing their fathers armor, “possessed of the shambling pageantry of dying rulers.” Saubon, as the titular king of Caraskand, sits at the table’s head. Other great names, and Achamian, sit around the table. Chinjosa is here as the interim King-Reagent of Ainoni and Hulwarga the Limper rules the Thunyerus since his brother Skaiyelt died. Gotian hasn’t arrived, which Conphas blames on a sorcerer speaking to them. But Sarcellus is here and doesn’t know where Gotian is.

Cnaiür stares at his hand, flexing and clenching it as he remembers Sarcellus killing Serwë. He doesn’t pay attention to their legal squabblings, instead staring at Sarcellus. He notices the “spidery network of red lines” that marred the man’s face. It’s fainter than last time he saw it. Sarcellus eyes appear troubled by the conversation.

What was it the Dûnyain said?

Lie made flesh.

Cnaiür was hungry, very hungry—he hadn’t eaten a true meal for several days now—and the gnawing in his belly lent a curious edge to everything he witnessed, as though his soul no longer hat the luxury of fat thoughts and fat impressions. The taste of horse’s blood was fresh upon his lips. For a mad moment, he found himself wondering what Sarcellus’s blood would taste like. Would it taste like lies?

Did lies have a taste?

Since Serwë’s murder, Cnaiür has lived a jumbled life, his memories muddled. “Everything overflowed, spilled into everything else.” The Dûnyain words keep rattling in his mind. Then he understood what the words meant. He’d already told the Dûnyain the secret of battle. Cnaiür understands part of Kellhus’s plan and laments Proyas not listening to him.

Achamian rises to speak and that quiets the bickering. He says the Holy War has made a mistake that must be corrected to protect the World. Everyone scowls at him. Then he says they have to free Kellhus. Arguing begins and Cnaiür realizes he didn’t have to speak to Proyas after all. Proyas pleads for them to listen to Achamian, his outburst quieting everyone. Cnaiür wanders if Achamian knows Kellhus’s plans.

Proyas pleads with them to listen, that more than their lives are at stake. He reminds them that listening without bias or bigotry is what wise men do. Cnaiür notes Sarcellus watching the proceedings with interest. Achamian continues, saying he’s not here to say if Kellhus is a false prophet, only to show the council the true cancer plaguing the Holy War: the skin-spies.

The sorcerer bent beneath the table, hoisted a fouled sack of some kind. In a single motion, he unfurled it across the table. Something like silvery eels about a blackened cabbage rolled onto the polished surface, came to rest against an impossible reflection. A severed head?

Lie made flesh…

Shouting breaks out as everyone struggles to understand what it means. Cnaiür keeps watching Sarcellus, who makes an exit. Cnaiür notices that pattern of red lines again and realizes he’s seen it an Anwurat when he fought the skin-spy posing as Kellhus.

Overcome by a trembling, wolfish hunger, Cnaiür stood and hurried to follow. At last he fathomed everything the Dûnyain had said to him the day he was denounced by the Great Names—the day of Serwë’s death. The memory of Kellhus’s voice pierced the thunder of assembled Inrithi…

Lie made flesh.

A name.

Sarcellus’s name.

Sinerses, a Kianene slave, brings word to from Lord Chinjosa to Eleäzaras. He’s not unexpected, but Eleäzaras is surprised by his agitation. His fear returns. Everything has gone wrong, “conspired against him.” Even he is starving. They’re eating their precious books to survive. They were close to agreeing to war openly with the Holy War just to survive, another wager to protect the first one Eleäzaras has made. But he fears the Thesji Bowmen and their Chorae, knowing they could decimate his school if they fight to break the siege.

Chorae! Accursed things. The Tears of the God cared nothing for those who brandished them, Inrithi or Fanim, so long as they weren’t sorcerers. Apparently one didn’t need to interpret the God to correctly wield Him.

Eleäzaras realizes the Scarlet Spire stands on the verge of destruction. Then he learns that the dread he’s feared, Achamian appearing after escaping Iothiah, has happened. He thinks he’s hear for vengeance. He fears there is a corps of Mandate Schoolmen. But he is alone and instead speaks of skin-spies, claiming they walk among us. That they’re everything. He says they have to free Kellhus because he can see them. This shocks Eleäzaras. He can’t believe this.

Eleäzaras feared Kellhus, like the others, especially since many of the Javreh slave-soldiers were secretly becoming Zaudunyani. He had Chinjosa support the move against him. He thought the matter closed. But learning that Kellhus can see them and cleanse the Holy War of their poison.

As an old master at jnan, Eleäzaras was loath to allow his true passions to surface in the presence of his slaves, but these past days… had been very hard. The face he showed Sinerses was bewildered—he seemed an old man who’d grown very afraid of the world.

“Muster as many men as you can,” he said distantly. “Immediately!”

Sinerses fled.

Spies… Everywhere spies! And if he couldn’t find them… If he couldn’t find them…

The Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires would speak to this Warrior-Prophet—to this holy man who could see what was hidden in their midst. Throughout his life, Eleäzaras, a sorcerer who could peer into the world’s smokiest recesses, had wondered what it was the Holy thought they saw. Now he knew.

Malice.

The thing called Sarcellus hungers for blood and fucking. It’s entire body is driven to it even the “sham it called its soul.” It’s creators twisted it for this purpose. And only few things could give them release, which is how the Architects created it. Killing Serwë had done it. Just remembering it makes him hard. But Achamian is ruining everything. Sarcellus knew what he had to do know to stop Kellhus’s freedom.

Although subtle beyond reason, the thing called Sarcellus walked a far simpler world than that walked by men. There was no war of competing passions, no need for discipline or denial. It lusted only to execute the will of its authors. In appeasing its hunger, it appeased the good.

So it had been forged. Such was the cunning of its manufacture.

The Warrior-Prophet must die. There were no interfering passions, no fear, no remorse, no competing lusts. It would kill Anasûrimbor Kellhus before he could be saved, and in so doing…

Find ecstasy.

Cnaiür quickly realizes where Sarcellus is going: to kill Kellhus. So he calls for his horse and gallops through the city to Umiaki, riding through the desolate city. “The very air seemed to buzz with omens.” As he rides, he can remembers Kellhus holding him over the cliff’s edge when they journeyed together into Nansur. Even know, Cnaiür knows that hand still holds him.

How? How can he [Kellhus] afflict me so?

But then that was Moënghus’s lesson. The Dûnyain made disciples of all men, whether they revered him or no. One need only breathe.

Even my hate! Cnaiür thought. Even my hate he uses to his advantage!

Though he knows he’s being manipulated, he wants Moënghus so badly. Kellhus spoke truth months ago: Cnaiür only cares for vengeance. Surrogates aren’t enough. He would bear anything, he realizes, to get his vengeance.

Hatred, and hatred alone, had kept him sane.

Of course the Dûnyain had known this.

Cnaiür thought making himself into the ideal Scylvendi would “preserve his heart.” He drove himself down that path, hurting himself, to be a true man. One who “conquered, and did not suffer himself to be used.” Cnaiür thought guarding his heart from Kellhus would save him, not realizing Kellhus could manipulate him by controlling everything around him. Just like the Inrithi, Kellhus used him.

Moënghus! He named him Moënghus! My son!

What better way to gall him? What better way to gull? He had been used. Even now, thinking these thoughts, the Dûnyain used him!

But it did not matter.

There were no coeds. There was no honor. The world between men was as trackless as the Steppe—as the desert! There were no men… Only beasts, clawing, craving, mewling, braying. Gnawing at the world with their hungers. Beaten like bears into dancing to this absurd custom or that. All these thousands, these Men of the Tusk, killed and died in the name of delusion. Save hunger, nothing commanded the world.

This was the secret of the Dûnyain. This was their monstrosity. This was their fascination.

After Moënghus abandoned Cnaiür, he thought he was the problem, never good enough for his people. But not he sees that the problem is others. They were fools. There was no honor. “Only Hate.” And he can still get his revenge.

He gallops through a bazaar when his horse throws a shoe and becomes lame. He jumps off, knowing he couldn’t overtake Sarcellus now. But when he rounds a corner, he sees thousands of starving men surrounding the square holding the tree. He barrels through the crowd, looking for Sarcellus. When he gets closer, seeing the tree, he thinks Kellhus is dead. Despair strikes him until he realizes that the people around him didn’t riot. He realizes Kellhus lives and is energized.

People began to recognize him, calling out “Scylvendi” and opening a path for him to the tree. He races ahead to where the Shrial Knights, in ranks three or four deep, guard the tree. Cnaiür spots Sarcellus speaking to Gotian. The ranks of Shrial Knights let him pass and approach Gotian and Sarcellus arguing. Above, Serwë and Kellhus rotate “like two sides of a coin.”

How can she be dead?

Because of you,” the Dûnyain whispered. “Weeper…”

“But why this moment?” Cnaiür heard the Grandmaster cry over the growing thunder of the masses.

“Because!” Cnaiür boomed in his mightiest battlefield voice. “He bears a grudge no man can fathom!”

Despite perfumed sensors, the scent of the rotting skin-spy head makes Achamian gag. The nobles stare at it in disgust and horror. Silence holds the chamber until Conphas asks is this why Kellhus has to be free. Achamian fears a trap from Conphas. He knows, thanks to Proyas, that Conphas would be the opposition. He’ll have to drag them out. Achamian tells Conphas to stop playing the fool. Proyas and Achamian force Proyas to admit that Skeaös the Prime Counsel to his uncle was a skin-spy and how Achamian was brought in to verify. Achamian adds he saw no sorcerery and this is why they’re all but impossible to detect. Only Kellhus can.

Hulwarga asks how Achamian knows this and he admits Kellhus told him. Chinjosa wants to know what they are while Saubon agrees with Achamian that Kellhus must be freed to cleanse the Holy War. Conphas says they are going too fast. And Proyas jumps in, wanting to know why Conphas hid something this important from them. Conphas says he didn’t know who to trust, saying they could be in this room at this very moment. He then says that Kellhus is the lead agent, which is why he moved against him.

“Nonsense!” Achamian cried. “This is rank foolishness!”

The Exalt-General’s eyebrows popped up, as though amazed that something so obvious could be overlooked. “But you just said that only he could see the abominations, do you not?”

“Yes, but—”

“Then tell us, how does he see them?”

Caught unawares, Achamian could only stare at the man. Never, it seemed, had he come to loathe someone so quickly..

“Well, the answer,” Conphas said, “seems plain enough to me. He sees them because he knows who they are.”

People shout as Achamian is flummoxed at what to do. He shivers, realizing the Consult is watching him right now and laughing. Saubon then asks how Kellhus predicted his victory at Mengedda, how he found water, and how he knows “the truth in men’s heart?” He and Gothyelk argue about whether that’s blasphemy when Conphas claims Kellhus has bewitched them with spells. Then Conphas says they need to know who sent these spies, something Chinjosa is eager to learn. Achamian realizes that he’s been outmaneuvered because Conphas knows Achamian’s answer and everyone here thinks the Consult is a fairy tale.

The man’s eyes mocked him [Achamian], seemed to say, You make it too easy…

Conphas then gives his theory that they were sent by the Cishaurim, whose sorcery no school can see. This alarms Proyas. Achamian knows he should speak, but he feel so exhausted, numbed by defeat. Then he remembers Esmenet pleading, feels that betrayal again. Meanwhile, Chinjosa is agreeing with Conphas that the skin-spies are Cishaurim. Conphas then claims Kellhus is a Cishaurim sent to destroy them and has succeeded.

Denials and lamentations shivered through the air. But doom, Achamian knew, had drawn its circle far beyond Caraskand’s walls. I must find some way . . .

Proyas asks if Kellhus was Cishaurim, why did he save the Holy War in the desert. Conphas replies to save himself. Conphas than adds he’s been watching Kellhus since Momemn when Kellhus was noticed staring at Skeaös which caused the Emperor’s paranoia to capture the skin-spy. Achamian is stunned, realizing this meant Kellhus could see them from the beginning but said nothing. All their conversations about the Consult take a new light for Achamian.

He was working me! Using me for my knowledge! Trying to understand what it was he saw!

And he saw Esmenet’s soft lips parting about those words, those impossible words . . .

I carry his child.”

How? How could she betray him?

He remembers lying beside her in his “poor tent,” holding her. Those little details of sharing a life with her while marveling how this woman could choose him and feel safe in his arms. He remembers how she swore he’d never be alone.

But he was. He was alone.

He blinked absurd tears from his eyes. Even his mule, Daybreak, was dead . . .

He looked to the Great Names, who watched him from the table. He felt now shame. The Scarlet Spires had carved that from him—or so it seemed. Only desolation, doubt, and hatred.

He did it! He took her!

Achamian remembered Nautzera, in what seemed another lifetime, asking him if the life of Inrau, his student, was wroth Apocalypse. He’d conceded then, had admitted that no man, no love, was worth such a risk. And here, he’d conceded once again. He would save the man who had halved his heart, because his heart was not worth the world, not worth the Second Apocalypse.

Was it?

Was it?

Achamian is tired. He barely slept, but what little he did wasn’t afflicted with his Dreams of Seswatha, but of Kellhus and Esmenet having sex. Right now, Achamian is weighing his heart against the world. Both have the same weight.

It was no different for these men.

The Holy War suffered, and someone must die. Even if it meant the World.

The Shrial Knights sense something is about to happen as Gotian glances from Sarcellus to Cnaiür. Normally, Gotian is decisive, but not today. Like others, the Holy War’s travels have left its scars on his spirit. Sarcellus continues to argue that they have to act because Achamian is lying to the Great Names to set Kellhus free, saying only Kellhus can see some evil spies. Cnaiür latches on to that, asking what Sarcellus means that only Kellhus can see them. When Sarcellus said Achamian argues that, Cnaiür asks how Sarcellus knows that since they both left before Achamian even mentioned it. Gotian asks if Cnaiür accuses Sarcellus of lying.

“No,” Cnaiür replied with a shrug. He felt the deadly calm settle about him. “I merely ask how he knows what he did not hear.”

“You’re a heathen dog, Scylvendi,” Sarcellus declared. “A heathen! By what’s right and holy, you should be rotting with the Kianene of Caraskand, not calling the word of a Shrial Knight into question.”

With a feral grin, Cnaiür spat between Sarcellus’s booted feet. Over the man’s shoulder, he saw the great tree, glimpsed Serwë’s willowy corpse bound upside down to the Dûnyain—like dead nailed to dead.

Let it be now.

Cries erupt for the crowd. Gotian orders both to back down. Sarcellus warns Cnaiür, the skin spies face twitching. Cnaiür stares at lies made flesh, remembering the madness of Anwurat. Gotian calls for reinforcements as the Scarlet Spires’ Javreh soldiers approach. A riot breaks out and Cnaiür and Sarcellus draw weapons. Then the Javreh reach the tree with slaves bearing a palanquin. The crowd grows quiet as an old men steps from the palanquin.

“I am Eleäzaras,” he declared in a resonant patrician’s voice. “Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires.” He glanced over the dumbstruck crowds, then leveled his hawkish eyes on Gotian.

“The one who calls himself the Warrior-Prophet. You will cut him down and deliver him to me.”

Conphas believes he’s won while Proyas, looking bewildered, pleads for Achamian to do something.

It was strange the way memory cared nothing for the form of the past. Perhaps this was why those dying of old age were so incredulous. Through memory, the past assailed the present, not in queues arranged by calendar and chronicle, but as a hungry mob of yesterdays.

Yesterday Esmenet had loved him. Just yesterday she’d begged him not to leave her, not to go to the Sareotic Library. For the rest of his life, he realized, it would always be yesterday.

Achamian noticed Xinemus being led into the room dressed as a Conryian knight in chainmail. Compared to the starving, he looks majestic. He moves with a “heartbreaking stubbornness” to rejoin the council. “Achamian swallowed at the knife in his throat.” Achamian knows what to do.

He had to tell a story.

Esmenet had loved him just yesterday. But then so too had the world ended!

Achamian says he’s suffered just like they have. He quotes the Latter Prophet saying that those who speak the truth do not have to fear even if they die. Achamian promises to tell the truth. Conphas scoffs and points out Achamian just admitted to lying to them. Achamian points out so has Conphas and every other man here. That’s what jnan is. “Even though men die, we play it . . .”

Somehow, he’d found that tone or note that stilled tongues and stirred hearts to listen—that voice, he realized, that Kellhus so effortlessly mastered.

He talks how men think the Mandate are “drunk on legend, deranged by history.” Achamian understands why they think this. But they’re not back home, they’re trapped in Caraskand. These are their last days alive. They feel that desperate horror of impending doom. Achamian has suffered that his entire life and more. They don’t even know, but he’ll tell them.

He tells them that, before their ancestors wrote The Chronicles of the Tusk, the Nonmen ruled this land. They warred against the Inchoroi, “a race of monstrosities.” Led by Cû’jara-Cinmoi, they drove the Inchoroi back to Golgotterath where they were trapped and hidden by glamours. This left the Nonmen broken and exhausted. Later, the humans of Eänna crossed the Kayarsus Mountains and almost exterminated the Nonmen. But soon, they signed treaties with the survivors and great nations rose in the north in Tyrsë and Sauglish. The Nonmen began to teach humans their knowledge, including sorcery. Cet’ingira (called Mekeritrig in The Sagas) revealed Golgotterath’s location to Shaeönanra, Grandvizier of the Gnostic School of Mangaecca. With this knowledge, his school reclaimed Golgotterath “to the woe of us all.”

“I say this because the Nonmen, even though they destroyed the Inchoroi, could not undo Min-Uroikas, for it wasn’t—isn’t—of this world. The Mangaecca ransacked the place, discovering much that the Nonmen had overlooked, including terrible armaments never brought to fruition. And much as a man who dwells in a place comes to think himself a prince, so the Mangaecca came to think themselves the successors of the Inchoroi. They became enamored of their inhuman ways, and they fell upon their obscene and degenerate craft the Tekne, with the curiosity of monkeys. And most importantly—most tragically!—they discovered Mog-Pharau . . .”

“The No-God,” Proyas said quietly.

Achamian says how it took them centuries to reawaken the No-God. “Near all the world crashed into screams and blood ere his fall.” He grows teary as he talks about the horrors of his dreams. Then he reminds them all of the Plans of Mengedda and the nightmares many suffered there along with the dead vomited from the ground. Though the No-God was defeated, the Consult recovered his remains. This is why the Mandate Schoolmen “haunt your courts and wander your halls.” For two thousands years, the Consult has labored to rebuild the no-God. It’s why Achamian is here.

He says the skin-spies aren’t from the Cishaurim, explaining that because you are “assailed by the Unknown: you drag it into the circle of what you know.” But Achamian says they’re beyond even the Cishaurim. This is the result of deep mastery of the Tekne, which means the No-God will soon be reborn.

“Need I tell you what that means?

“We Mandate Schoolmen, as you know, dream of the ancient world’s end. And of all those dreams, there’s one we suffer more than any other: the death of Celmomas, High-King of Kûniüri, on the Fields of Eleneöt.” He paused, realized that he panted for breath. “Anasûrimbor Celmomas,” he said.”

There was an anxious rustle through the chamber. He heard someone muttering in Ainoni.

And in this dream,” he continued, pressing his tone nearer its crescendo, “Celmomas speaks, as the dying sometimes do, a great prophecy. Do not grieve, he says, for an Anasûrimbor shall return at the end of the world…

“An Anasûrimbor!” he cried, as though that name held the secret of all reason. His voice resounded through the chamber, echoed across ancient stonework.

“An Anasûrimbor shall return at the wend of the world. And he has . . . He hangs dying even as we speak! Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the man you’ve condemned, is what we in the Mandate call the Harbinger, the living sign of the end of days. He is our only hope!”

Achamian looks at them. He asks if they’re willing to wager the safety of their families. Are you that certain of who he is. “Are you willing to risk the very world to see your bigotries through?” Silence gripped them. Then Achamian realizes that they listened. He thinks they believe him. And then Ikurei Conphas begins a mocking cheer, taken up by more and more people. It spreads until.

The Lords of the Holy War had made their wager.

At the tree, Eleäzaras demands Gotian free him. Gotian, gripping his chorea, demands Sarcellus kill “the False Prophet.” Cnaiür charges in and falls into a fighting stance before the Shrial Knights thinking he’ll pay any price or humiliation.

Sarcellus, lowering his sword, moves close enough to say something that only Cnaiür can hear: “We worship the same God, you and I.” Thinking that he shall avenge Serwë, he unveils his Swazond and says it is the sum of his worship. He’ll add Sarcellus to his flesh, bearing the weight of his life. Beyond, the Shrial Knights fight the Javreh slave-soldiers.

And Cnaiür grinned as only a Chieftain of the Utemot could grin. The neck of the world, it seemed, lay pressed against the point of his sword.

I shall butcher.

All hungered here. All starved.

Everything, Cnaiür realized, had transpired according to the Dûnyain’s mad gambit. What difference did it make whether he perished now, hanging from this tree, or several days hence, when the Padirajah at last overcame the walls? So he’d given himself to his captors, knowing that no man was so innocent as the accursed who exposed his accusers.

Knowing that if he survived . . .

The secret of battle!

Cnaiür sees something inhuman in how Sarcellus’s moves, but he doesn’t flinch from it. He is “sent to kill, to reave.” Cnaiür urs Skiötha, most violent of men, shrugs at Sarcellus’s attempt of intimidation. Sarcellus says Cnaiür will fear before the end, but Cnaiür says I cut you once. Sarcellus understands why Cnaiür loved the beautiful Serwë and promises to love her corpse. Cnaiür doesn’t rise to the taunt. Then they fight, Cnaiür’s attacks hard and brutal. But Sarcellus fights with sorcerous ability.

Cnaiür fell back, gathered his breath, shook sweat form his mane.

“My flesh,” Sarcellus whispered, “has been folded more times than the steel of your sword.” He laughed as they utterly unwinded. “Men are dogs and kine . . . But my kind, we’re wolves in the forest, lions on the plain. We’re sharks in the sea . . .”

Emptiness always laughed.

Cnaiür attacks. They trade blows. Sarcellus is impressed, but he’s stronger than Cnaiür and strikes him in the head. Cnaiür is knocked down, shocked, but gains his feet. Sarcellus attacks with blurring speed. Cnaiür grows tired, weakened by wounds.

But he glimpses Serwë on the tree. Anger surges in him. “He howled, the very mouth of the Steppe, his sword raping the air between . . .” His three blows force Sarcellus to retreat. Cnaiür is emboldened, screaming who will kill him as he resumes his attack. But Sarcellus recovers, “swatting is blade as though it were a game.” Cnaiür takes a wound in his thigh, his guard lowers, throat exposed. He realizes he’s dead.

A powerful voice pierced the roar of the Holy War.

Sarcellus!”

It was Gotian. He’d broken with Eleäzaras, and was warily approaching his zealous Knight-Commander. The crowds abruptly grew subdued.

“Sarcellus . . .” The Grandmaster’s eyes were slack with disbelief. “Where . . .”—a hesitant swallow—“where did you learn to fight so?”

The Knight of the Tusk whirled, is face the very mask of reverent subservience.

“My lord, I’ve—”

Sarcellus suddenly convulsed, coughed blood through gritted teeth. Cnaiür guided his thrashing body to the ground with his sword. Then, within reach of the dumbstruck Grandmaster, he hacked its head with a single stroke. He gathered the thick maul of black hair in his hand, raised the severed head high. Like bowels from a split belly, its face relaxed, opened like a harem of limbs. Gotian fell to his knees. Eleäzaras stumbled back into his slaves. The mob’s thunder—horror, exultation—broke across the Scylvendi. The riot of revelation.

He tossed the hoary thing at the sorcerer’s feet.

My Thoughts

So Cnaiür came so close to killing himself and slitting his own throat. He’s unhinged. He’s hearing auditory hallucinations.

Achamian lost a lot of weight in his captivity. You couldn’t think of him as the same portly man. Except when he’s surrounded by people starving to death, who are all skeletal and lean. Even a fit man looks fat compared to that. Nice detail from Bakker.

Titular king means Saubon is the king of Caraskand in name only. He doesn’t truly control it.

So Cnaiür has figured out what Kellhus is up to. Smart man. The secret of battle is what Cnaiür gave up for Serwë. That Serwë is his and that they murdered his wife. It reignites hatred that he’s forgotten: hatred for Moënghus. “The hunt need not end.” It’s one more way for Kellhus to manipulate Cnaiür, to drive him to save his life, and it’s working.

Eleäzaras is having a roller coaster of a day, isn’t he. He is cracking badly, just like other characters. The weight of the world is being put on these powerful man. They are experiencing true hardship and it’s revealing who they are. This is a precursor to the battle-madness he displays in the conquest of Shimeh, so driven by fear he lets himself over-extend in his need to exterminate what terrifies him: the Cishaurim. It’s what’s driving him to see Kellhus. The skin-spies, after all, are Cishaurim to him.

Skin-spies are just robots. Biological ones. Instead of hardware on the circuit board, processors and RAM and such, to control it’s behavior, it is driven by its singular lust. Since the reproductive urge is the strongest in nature, many species will even die to ensure they have sex, it is the perfect thing to motivate a biological robot. And that robot can only get its sexual release by obeying orders. Nothing else interferes. It’s smart.

Cnaiür is still shocked to find himself being manipulated by Kellhus. He knows it. He’s learned this lesson over and over. Nothing Cnaiür can do can escape it. Even his hate is chained, driving him know to save Kellhus. He needs him to get to Moënghus. His surrogates, every person he kills from those in battle to those he butchered because he could, won’t cut it.

Cnaiür is putting all the pieces together now, how Kellhus set about dominating him from the start, waiting for the right things to appear to prod and poke Cnaiür, to drive him to the ultimate goal. And even knowing it, he’s trapped. His hatred is too great to let anything stop him. He knows it’ll destroy him and doesn’t care. He’s a beast like everyone else, unable to use reason to control his hungers.

Cnaiür has realized realized the truth of morality, that it is imposed on us by others. It’s how we are controlled by society to keep things as harmonious as possible. And now he sees himself beyond the morality. That he doesn’t have to feel like a traitor for following his desires. He has the will to seize what he wants. He is embodying Nietzschian philosophy. Nietzsche argued that since morality came from God and since God didn’t exist, morality also didn’t. It was an illusion, lies that fools followed. So if you reject God, you reject the controls of society. Then all that is left is your own will reaching for your desires. And Cnaiür is doing it. He wants Moënghus dead, and nothing shall stop him now. He’s beyond trying to live up to society’s customs and morality. He sees them as all delusions now, just like the Dûnyain do. The only difference between him and Kellhus is Kellhus is driven by emotionless logic and Cnaiür is driven by rage-filled emotions. They are two sides of the same coin, foils to one another.

Because of you. Weeper…” Kellhus, in Cnaiür’s head, answers. Why? What’s the true reason Serwë’s dead. Because Kellhus used her against Cnaiür. Because Cnaiür put so much emotional need in her existence. To prove himself a Scylvendi, to follow custom, he made himself love her. And the Dûnyain used her. That’s why, to Cnaiür, she’s in this mess. She’s only dead because Cnaiür loved her.

Achamian . . . Poor man. Trying to save the life of the man who stole his wife. He’s trying to grieve over the end of their relationship, to process her betrayal at the same time he has to duel with Conphas in a match of wits. And he’s realizing that it’s easier to sacrifice someone else’s heart, someone else’s life, than your own. Even if the World is at stake.

Achamian’s reflection on memory is poignant. How some things that happened years ago can feel like they just happened yesterday. The shame, the anger, the pain of those memories flaring back up in a moment, assaulting you.

Conphas, Conphas, Conphas… Such a dick. He’s such a narcissist he has to believe his truth is right. He won’t be dissuaded even now. Even when he’s facing certain death whether or not he frees Kellhus. And still he won’t listen to anyone else. And his charisma wins the day. It’s a great setback in the story.

Cnaiür hasn’t figured out that last part of Kellhus’s plan. The part that would see Serwë dead to accomplish it. The wife that needed to be sacrificed as part of the Circumflex, just like the old laws prescribed. That would probably change Cnaiür’s actions right here.

The fight between Cnaiür and Sarcellus is both poetic and brutal. Trading blows, going back and forth. And Cnaiür, the best non-Dûnyain fighter in the series, can’t even beat a skin-spy. But he just had to unmask him. To survive, Sarcellus betrayed him. That’s great writing. Those reversals. Cnaiür realizing he failed, just after Achamian failed with diplomacy in the previous scene, only for the enemy to make the mistake and unmask himself. He just needed Cnaiür to finish the revelation.

And noticed something else in the second-to-last paragraph of the chapter. “Cnaiür guided his [Sarcellus’s] thrashing body to the ground with his sword.” Note how Bakker used the masculine pronoun there. But then in the next sentence, “he [Cnaiür] hacked off its [Sarcellus’s] head with a single stroke.” Sarcellus went from a human to a thing like that. It’s subtle. Easy to miss.

Well, the penultimate chapter of The Warrior Prophet is done. Kellhus is alive. And we’re about to see the fall out of his desperate gamble to make seize the heart of the Holy War. Cnaiür is right. This is a test he’s under, one that only a “prophet” should be able to survive. He had to sacrifice Serwë to pull it off, and she’s condemned to damnation for it. Killing her, staring at her, broke him. She’s the reason that he doesn’t side with the Consult like a logical Dûnyain should. She’s the reason that Kellhus tries to destroy the Consult in the next series.

If you want to keep reading, click here for Chapter Twenty-Five!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 23
Caraskand

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

For Men, no circle is ever closed. We walk ever in spirals

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Bring he who has spoken prophecy to the judgment of the priests, and if is prophecy is judged true, acclaim him, for he is clean, and if his prophecy is judged false, bind him to the corpse of his wife, and hang him one cubit above the earth, for he is unclean, an anathema unto the Gods.

WARRANTS 7:48, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

My Thoughts

No circle is ever closed. This is a statement on the relativity of truth, that as men we never find it. We’re always searching for it, spiraling ever closer or away, but we never find it, never form that complete circle of thought. There’s always a new argument, a new way to look at it, a different facet of “truth” to find. Why this quote, because look at the next one where we have a passage on judging the truth of prophecy. And it is black and white. It is the opposite of the skepticism that Achamian has always subscribed to.

It condemns two people to death.

The Tusks punishment on false prophets is harsh. I mean really harsh. If you look at the Old Testament you’ll find being put to death a punishment for being a false prophet, for daring to speak in the name of God, but you don’t have them putting your wife to death in the process. I feel this is the Inchoroi’s hand at work, this needless cruelty, this delight in torment that they breed into their servant-races like the Sranc and skin-spies.

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

Eleäzaras is shocked by what he finds in Chepheramunni’s sickroom. Count-Palatine Chinjosa holds him to steady him. Eleäzaras stumbles to the bed, the room thick with the scent of rot and death, and gazes at the dead ruler of Ainoni.

Chepheramunni’s head lay beneath the congregated candles, but his face…

It was nowhere to be seen.

Where his face should have been lay what resembled an overturn spider, its legs clutched in death about its abdomen. What had been Chepheramunni’s face lay unspooled across the knuckles and shins of steepled limbs. Eleäzaras saw familiar fragments: a lone nostril, the haired ridge of an eyebrow. Beneath he glimpsed lidless eyes and the shine of human teeth, bared and lipless.

And just as that fool Skalateas had claimed, nowhere could he sense the bruise of sorcery.

Chepheramunni—a Cishaurim skin-spy.

Impossible.

Eleäzaras is overwhelmed by the sight. The room spins around him. Chinjosa asks what this means and Eleäzaras things they’re doomed, that he’s led his School to its death. He reflects on the disasters the school has suffered from Anwurat to Iothiah, and now trapped in the city. And now he learns that the Cishaurim knew all their plans. He says they’re doomed. Chinjosa objects, saying the abomination is dead, the Gods have removed him.

Horrified, Eleäzaras suddenly wonders if Chinjosa is really Chinjosa. But the man’s warlike strength pulls Eleäzaras back from despair. He agrees the skin-spy’s death is a blessing while realizing there could be other skin-spies. He tells Chinjosa not to tell anyone, orders the head removed, the body burned all while cursing Achamian for not breaking and telling his secrets.

Achamian and Xinemus “walked the ways of twilight” from the port city of Jocktha to Caraskand. They pass the enemy camp and can feel the Cishaurim’s “plucked eyes” searching for them. Achamian feared they’d be discovered, that the shadows hiding them would be revealed by the Cishaurim. But they aren’t.

Gaining the walls, they revealed themselves beneath a small postern gate. It was night, and torches glittered between the battlements above. With Xinemus slumped against him, Achamian called to the astonished guards: “Open the gates! I am Drusas Achamian, a Mandate Schoolman, and this is Krijates Xinemus, the Marshal of Attrempus… We have come to share your plight!”

“This city is both doomed and damned,” someone shouted down. “Who seeks entry to such a place? Who but madmen or traitors?”

Achamian paused before answering, struck by the bleak conviction of the man’s tone. The Men of the Tusk, he realized, had lost all hope.

“Those who would attend their loved ones,” he said. “Even unto death.”

After a pause, the outer doors burst open and a troop of hollow-cheeked Tydonni seized them. At long last they found themselves inside the horror of Caraskand.

Esmenet weeps, holding baby Moënghus, as she stares at the forms of Kellhus and Serwë hanging from an ancient eucalyptus tree called Umiaki. She begs for Kellhus to wake up while she reflects what happened. She’d witnessed Gotian strip Kellhus naked, whip him bloody with cedar branches, and then bound him to Serwë’s nude corpse “ankle to ankle, wrist to wrist, face to face.” Then they strapped them to a bronze ring which they hung, upside down, to the tree. “Esmenet had wailed her voice to nothing.”

Now they spun in slow circles, their golden hair mingling in the breeze, their arms and legs sweeping out like those of dancers. Esmenet glimpsed ashen breasts crushed against a shining, armpit hair twisted into horns, then Serwë’s slender back rolled into view, almost mannish because of the deep line of her spine. She glimpsed her sex, bared between outspread legs, pressed against the confusion of Kellhus’s genitalia…

Serwë… Her face blackening as the blood settled, her limbs and torso carved in grey marble, as perfect in form as any artifice. And Kellhus… His face sheened in sweat, his muscular back gleaming white between lines of angry red. His eyes swollen shut.

“But you said!” Esmenet wailed. “You said Truth can’t die!”

But Serwë was dead and Kellhus dying. Holding Moënghus, Esmenet flees.

Cnaiür remembers Kellhus’s last message to him: “Remember when you recall the secret of battle.” He’s stalking through the Inrithi, who all fall silent because they know he is the breaker-of-horses-and-men. He didn’t need heralds or banners to announce him. His mere presence did it.

He’s conflicted, trying to drive Kellhus’s words from his mind as he stalks around Csokis, the temple complex where Kellhus is hung dying. He hardly notices the crowds watching as he wars with himself. He doesn’t care about any threats or curses as he pushes through the crowd. Only the sight of the eucalyptus tree arrests his attention. He can’t see Kellhus or Serwë from this distance in the dark.

He asks if Kellhus still lives, but he only gets bewildered looks in response. So he keeps plowing forward through the crowd until he reaches the Shrial Knights. He’s stopped and Cnaiür scowls, still unable to see Serwë and Kellhus. Then a procession of Shrial Knights with torches illuminates a silhouette, not sure if it’s hers or Kellhus.

The forward ranks of Inrithi began shouting, some in rapture, others in derision. Through the uproar, Cnaiür heard a velvety voice, spoken in timbres only his heart could hear.

It’s good that you’ve come… Proper.”

Cnaiür stared in horror at the figure across the ring. Then the string of torches marched on, and darkness reclaimed the ground beneath Umiaki. The surrounding clamour subsided, fractured into individual shouts.

All men,” the voice said, “should know their work.”

Cnaiür shouts out that he came to watch Kellhus suffer and die. People give him strange looks. The hallucination of Kellhus asks why he would want something. Cnaiür responds that Kellhus betrayed him. Kellhus asks how. “You need only speak!” Kellhus says Cnaiür makes too much of him, worse than the Inrithi. But Cnaiür responds that only he knew what Kellhus was and only he could destroy him. As he did. Kellhus reminds him of Moënghus, that they can still hunt him.

Cnaiür stood breathless, as motionless as a horse-laming stone hidden among the Steppe grasses.

“I’ve made a trade,” he said evenly. “I’ve yielded to the greater hate.”

Have you?”

“Yes! Yes! Look at her! Look at what you’ve done to her!”

What I’ve done, Scylvendi? Or what you’re done?”

“She’s dead. My Serwë! My Serwë is dead! My prize!”

Oh, yes… What will they whisper, now that your proof has passed? How will they measure?”

“They killed her because of you!”

Laughter, full and easy-hearted, like that of a favorite uncle just into his cups.

Spoken like a true Son of the Steppe!”

Cnaiür snarls that Kellhus mocks them when a hand seizes his shoulder, telling him to cease his madness and speaking in his tongue. Cnaiür breaks the man and batters him to the ground while Kellhus asks who would dare mock a murder. Cnaiür screams Kellhus killed her. But Kellhus says Cnaiür did when he sold him out. Cnaiür screams it was to save his son. He sees Serwë dying again in Sarcellus arms and then hears a baby crying. Cnaiür screams they were supposed to kill the whore, Esmenet.

The crowd starts attacking Cnaiür know. He fights back, but is getting pummeled while Kellhus calls him weeper. Suddenly, the mob is fleeing another man, tall and fighting his way to Cnaiür. The man asks if Cnaiür lost his wits while Kellhus says, “You murdered Serwë.”

And suddenly, the stranger became Coithus Saubon, dressed in a penitent’s shabby robes. What kind of devilry?

“Cnaiür,” the Galeoth Prince exclaimed, “who are you speaking to?”

You…” the darkness crackled.

“Scylvendi?”

Cnaiür shook free of the man’s firm grip. “This is a fool’s vigil,” he grated.

He spat, then turned to fight his way free of the stink.

Achamian’s thoughts are full of Esmenet as five Tydonni knights escort him and Xinemus through Caraskand. He can almost smell her, her hear gasp out in pleasure, feel her body against him. He’s so close to being reunited with them.

The knights escorting Achamian refuse to say much of what’s happening, not trusting the two strangers yet, but treat them with courtesy. As they pass through the city, Achamian recognizes the hopelessness he sees in the inhabitants, the same looks he saw in his dreams after Anasûrimbor Celmomas died at the Field of Eleneöt or at the Plains of Mengedda awaiting the No-God. “The look of horror and fury, of Men who could only exact and never overcome.”

The look of Apocalypse

Whenever Achamian matched their gazes, no threat or challenge was exchanged, only the thoughtless understanding of exhausted brothers. Something—demon or reptile—crawled into the skulls of those who endured the unendurable, and when it looked out their eyes, as it inevitably did, it could recognize itself in others. He belonged, Achamian realized. Not just here in Caraskand with those he loved, but here with the Holy War. He belonged with these men—even unto death.

We share the same doom.

Because of Xinemus, they move slow to Proyas’s camp. As Achamian is hopeful for his reunion with Kellhus, Esmenet, and even Proyas, he ponders his declaration on the walls of being a Mandate Schoolmen. He realizes he hasn’t said those words aloud in a long time. He isn’t sure he’s even is one because he is scared of contacting Atyersus. He hasn’t even let them know he escaped captivity. Even his reasons for refusing to contact them dwindled in his captivity.

Because I am no longer one of them.

For all the ferocity with which he defended the Gnosis—to the point of sacrificing Xinemus!—he’d forsaken the Mandate. He’d forsaken them, he realized, even before his abduction by the Scarlet Spires. He’d forsaken them for Kellhus…

I was going to teach him the Gnosis.

That makes him breathless. More than Esmenet awaits him. The threat of the Second Apocalypse also does. He finds himself callous, not wanting to care about the world. He just wants to be Drusas Achamian and be reunited with his wife Esmenet. “Like so many things in the aftermath of Iothiah, the rest seemed childish, the tropes in an over-read book.”

As they walk, Xinemus brings up their trip through the shadows, making Achamian at first think the man now regretted his acceptance of sorcery, something Xinemus before Iothiah never would have. But instead, Xinemus says that even blind he could see the Cishaurim. “I saw them seeing!”

“You did see,” he [Achamian] said carefully, “in a manner… There’s many ways of seeing. And all of us possess eyes that never breach skin. Men are wrong to think nothing lies between blindness and sight.”

“And the Cishaurim?” Xinemus pressed. “Is that… Is that how they—”

The Cishaurim are masters of this interval. They blind themselves, they say, to better see the World Between. According to some, it’s the key to their metaphysics.”

Xinemus has more questions, but Achamian says no isn’t the time, glancing at their escorts. They reach the compound where Anmergal, the leader of their escort, reports Proyas’s people agreed to take them in “despite their better judgment.” People only sneak out of Caraskand, not in. Before Achamian can answer, he orders his men to leave while Proyas’s men appear “from the darkness.” They are led inside and escorted to Proyas.

Despite his emaciated appearance, Achamian still thinks Proyas looks the same. Xinemus asks what’s going on and Achamian says it’s Proyas. The prince stares at Xinemus like a man shaking off sleep and asks what happened. Achamian can’t answer, suddenly angry. Proyas asks again with more command, and Achamian tries to explain how the Scarlet Spire took Xinemus’s eyes when Proyas hugs the Marshal as a sobbing child seeking comfort.

A moment of fierce silence passed.

Zin,” Proyas hissed. Please forgive me! Please, I beg of you!”

“Shhh… It’s enough to feel your embrace… To hear your voice.”

“But Zin! Your eyes! Your eyes!”

“Shush, now… Akka will fix me. You’ll see.”

Achamian flinched at the words. Hope was never so poison as when it deluded loved ones.

Then Proyas begs for Achamian’s forgiveness, calling him “Old Teacher.” Achamian hears the words, but feels too far from Proyas. He can’t forgive him because not only is his heart hardened but he has retreated. He can’t see Proyas as only his student. He also sees him as a murderous fanatic. “How could he [Achamian] think these men were his brothers?” Instead, he says he’s not his teacher.

Proyas squeezed shut his eyes. They were hooded in the old way when he opened them. Whatever hardships the Holy War had endured, Proyas the Judge had survived.

Then Achamian asked where Esmenet and Kellhus, the only other people beside Xinemus who “possessed any claim to his heart.” Only they matter. Proyas stiffens, realizing they haven’t heard. Achamian suddenly can’t breath, asking after Esmenet. Proyas says she’s safe while Xinemus asks after Kellhus. Proyas hedges, saying much has happened. Then, when pressed, he says Kellhus is dead.

Cnaiür is in the great bazaar of Caraskand, the open area a skeletal reminder of the steppes reclined against a dead horse. He is remembering Serwë, replaying their conversation when he gave her a Swazond after she killed the Nansur soldier in book one. “Such a dear fool, that girl. So innocent.” He then speaks traditional words of a groom to her memory as he prepares to slit his own throat.

Kellhus is “bound to a circle,s winging from the limb of a dead tree.” He feels Serwë’s corpse against him. When a fly crawls across her face, he exhales to blow it away, thinking he has to keep her clean.

Her eyes half-open, papyrus-dry.

Serwë! Breathe girl, breathe! I command it!

I come before you. I come before!

Bound skin-to-skin to Serwë.

What have I… What? What?

A convulsion of some kind.

No… No! I must focus. I must assess…

Unblinking eyes, staring down black cheeks, out to the stars.

Kellhus madness continues. He begs for his father to make her breathe, he keeps saying he’s one of the condition. He’s weary, he can’t do this any longer. He tries to focus on what’s going on, but he’s grieving that they killed his wife. But a part of him instead says “I gave her to them.” He falls into dreams and sees a man “seated, shoulders crouched like an ape, legs crossed like a priest.” A tree with forking branches overs the night sky while the sky revolves around the Nail of Heaven. Kellhus can only stare at the figure and the tree as night and day passes.

Framed by the wheeling heavens, the figure spoke, a million throats in his throat, a million mouths in his mouth…

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

The silhouette stood, hands clasped like a monk, legs bent like a beast.

TELL ME…

Whole words wailed in terror.

The Warrior-Prophet woke, his skin tingling against a dead woman’s cheek…

More convulsions.

Father! What happens to me?

Pang upon pang, wresting away his face, beating it into a stranger’s.

You weep.

The Zaudunyani recognize Achamian as a friend of their prophet. He’s escorted by Gayamakri, one of the Nascenti, to see Esmenet. He’s dazzled by the palace they walk through. In his head, he’s rehearsing a joke to tell Esmenet. “From a sorcerer’s tent to a caste-noble’s suite… Hmm,” he thinks, imagining her laughing. “So what will it be the next time I die? The Andiamine Heights?”

As they walk, Gayamakri says Esmenet was probably sleeping. It’s been hard for her. This makes Achamian feel silly for thinking of jokes when Serwë is dead and Kellhus dying. She would need him to comfort her instead. But then suddenly Gayamakri begs Achamian to save Kellhus. Achamian promises to try, the man thanks him while crying. Not sure what to do, Achamian helps the man stand saying he needs to see Esmenet before he can anything. Gayamakri runs away, leaving Achamian at Esmenet’s doors.

He stands before the door imagining their reunion, holding her while she cries. How he’ll tell her everything, and that he’ll take her as his wife for real, not caring about the rules against it. “He almost laughed with joy.” Instead of knocking, he enters her chambers “the way a husband might.”

He walks through her suite full of riches. Her bed is large, the sheets “knotted as though by passion.” He even spots a private garden. His joke grows in his mind. He’s excited to see her but wondering where she is.

Then his eyes found her on the far side of the room, curled up on a small couch with her back to the doors—to him. Her hair looked longer, almost purple in the gloom. Her loose gown had fallen, revealing a slender shoulder, both brown and pale. His arousal was immediate, both joyous and desperate.

How many times had he kissed that skin?

Kissing. That was how he would awaken her, crying while kissing her naked shoulder. She would stir, thinking he was a dream. “No… It can’t be you. You’re dead.” Then he would take her, with a slow, fierce tenderness, wrack her with voluptuous rapture. And she would know that at long last her heart had returned.

I’ve come back for you Esmi… From death and agony.

He approaches her when she bolts upright awake. She looks around, frightened, then sees him, shocked. She becomes a stranger to him, looking the way he remembers the first time he saw her years ago in Sumna. “There was a breathless moment between them.” He whispers her name as she looks horrified for a heartbeat. But then she rushes to him. They hug each other tight. She sobs, saying he was dead as he tries to sooth her and tell her everything will be alright. He tries to kiss her, but she won’t let him.

Instead, she begs him to save Kellhus. This confuses Achamian. He asks what she means as the realization builds in him. He tries to rationalize away his fear that she loves Kellhus now but it grows harder and harder the more she begs him to save Kellhus. He sees it in her face that she’s betrayed him. She tries to tell him but she’s crying to hard to speak.

Her face was now dead, in the way of those who must carve distances, cut wide what was once close.

Don’t say it! Please don’t say it!

He looked about the extravagant room, gesturing with his hands. He tried to laugh, then said, “S-some sorcerer’s tent, eh?” A sob knifed the back of his throat. “Wha-what will it be next time I die? The Andi… Th-the Andiamine…” He tried to smile.

“Akka,” she whispered. “I carry his child.”

Whore after all.

Achamian is thinking about how he escaped Iothiah as he moves through the crowd to see Kellhus at the tree. He wants to make the tree he hangs from burn, to kill the man who seduced his wife. But there are Chorae bound to the Circumflex, protecting Kellhus.

He creeps closer and sees Serwë’s corpse pressed against Kellhus, the pair slowly rotating. He wonders how this happened. As he breathes in the smells of death and the sweet scent of the eucalyptus, he hears hymns and dirges for the Warrior-Prophet “calling out the same godless prayer.” He hugs himself, wondering how this happened again.

He lifted his face, raised chin and brow to his hate. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

“How? How could you betray me like this? You… You! The two people—the only two! You kn-knew how empty my life had been. You knew! I c-can’t understand… I try and try but I can’t understand! How could you do this to me!”

He imagines Esmenet having sex with Kellhus, the Warrior-Prophet asking how Esmenet could even stand sleeping with Achamian. He imagines her answering because he fed her and paid her gold. He wasn’t you. Savage anger surges through Achamian. He rants at Kellhus that he could burn the treacherous dog with his sorcery.

Damn you…” he gasped. He couldn’t breathe. Where was the air to breathe?

He rolled his head, like a boy whose anger had been striped hollow by hurt. He beat an awkward fist against dead leaves.

Damn-you-damn-you-damn-you…”

He looked around numbly, and wiped at his face with a half-hearted sleeve. Sniffled and tasted the salt of tears in the back of his throat…”

“You’ve made a whore of her, Kellhus… You’ve made a whore of my Esmi…”

And then Kellhus speaks, saying Achamian’s name and says “he” knew Achamian would come. This shocks Achamian into silence. He’s angry that Kellhus is ruining his moment by speaking. But then Kellhus says he can see them and Achamian realizes he’s talking about the Consult. He then says that the No-God returns and is just as Achamian claims.

“Lies!” Achamian cried. “Lies to spare you my wrath!”

My Nascenti… Tell them to show you what lies in the garden.”

“What? What lies in the garden?”

But the shining eyes were closed.

A grievous howl echoed across the Kalaul, chilling blood and drawing men with torches to the blackness beneath Umiaki. The ring continued its endless roll.

Proyas is awakened by the dawn’s light. Shame floods back as he remembers last night and his reunion with Achamian and Xinemus. He feels guilty for their suffering. It takes him a few minutes to realize Achamian is in his bedroom, watching. He’s shocked, asking what his teacher wants. Achamian asks if Proyas knew about Kellhus and Esmenet. Proyas admits he know, but figured Kellhus would be dead. Achamian just says she’s lost to him with “exhausted resolve.” Then Achamian asks about Xinemus, who is sleeping one room over.

Achamian pursed his lips. “Did he [Xinemus] tell you?”

“About his eyes?” Proyas looked to the outline of his feet beneath the vermilion covers. “No. I hadn’t the courage to ask. I assume that the Spires…”

“Because of me, Proyas. They blinded him as way to coerce me.”

The message was obvious. It’s not your fault, he was saying.

Proyas raised a hand as though to pinch more sleep from his eyes. He wiped away tears instead.

Damn you, Akka… I don’t need your protection.

Achamian tells how the Scarlet Spire are scared about the Cishaurim and they were the reason he was captured. Proyas isn’t surprised seeing how Eleäzaras hasn’t wanted to take to the field. Achamian makes a joke that has Proyas laughing and feeling comfortable, slipping back into their old roles. But this makes Proyas feel worse because they can only achieve this when both are exhausted and scared. Silence follows.

Then Achamian said, “Kellhus cannot die.”

Proyas pursed his lips. “But of course,” he said numbly. “I say he must die, so you say he must live.” He glanced, not without nervousness, at his nearby work table. The parchment sat in plain view, its raised corners translucent in the sun: Maithanet’s letter.

“This has nothing to do with you, Proyas. I am past you.”

The tone as much as the words chilled Proyas to the pith.

Proyas asks why Achamian is here. Achamian responds only Proyas will understand. Proyas guesses it has to do with Kellhus being an Anasûrimbor and starts being derisive of Mandate beliefs when Achamian cuts him off, saying when Proyas mocks his beliefs its the same as mocking him. Achamian asks when has he ever done that about Proyas’s beliefs. Proyas swallows his rebuke and instead says Kellhus is judged. Achamian reminds Proyas of King Shikol who’d condemned Inri Sejenus. Proyas is frightened to be remembered in the same as that man who made such a mistake. Proyas claims he is right. “It all came down to Truth.” Achamian wondered if Shikol thought the same.

“What?” Proyas exclaimed. “So the great skeptic thinks a new prophet walks among us? Come, Akka… It’s too absurd!”

These are Conphas’s words… Another unkind thought.

Achamian isn’t sure if Kellhus is a prophet, but he knows he can’t die. Proyas then admits he knows there’s something special about Kellhus. He didn’t want to believe Conphas and the others that Kellhus was the reason for the Holy War’s string of recent misfortune because the Gods punished them. Achamian asks why Proyas did side against him. It was the Scylvendi, the man who knew Kellhus the most, and yet hated him. Achamian shrugs, thinking it only Cnaiür’s love for Serwë. Proyas thought so, too, but he felt there was more. The man was too complicated for that to be the reason.

Achamian makes a joke about Cnaiür’s thin skin. Then Proyas continues his story, saying how Cnaiür is as extraordinary as Kellhus and he’s glad he’s on the Holy War’s side. Proyas then tells how he pressed Cnaiür again about his dislike of Kellhus. Cnaiür told him to see Kellhus and that was when Proyas found Esmenet in Kellhus’s bed. Proyas couldn’t dismiss Conphas’s arguments. He didn’t support it, afraid of open war between the Orthodox and Zaudunyani. But when Conphas brought a witness who claimed that Atrithau had no prince and Cnaiür confirmed it. They debate Cnaiür’s motives for possibly lying when Achamian asks how Serwë could be executed. How Proyas let that happen.

“Ask Gotian!” Proyas blurted. “Trying them according to the Tusk was his idea—his! He thought it would legitimize the affair, make it seem less like… less—”

“Like what it was?” Achamian cried. “A conspiracy of frightened caste-nobles trying to protect their power and privileged.”

They argue for a moment on whether it was done for faith or power but Proyas cuts it off, saying he didn’t just condemn Kellhus for no good reason and it’s done. “Prophet or not, Anasûrimbor Kellhus is dead.” But Achamian points out he never said Kellhus is a prophet, just that he’s the world’s only hope. Proyas realizes this is about the Second Apocalypse. Asks if Achamian believes Kellhus is Seswatha returned.

“He’s more!” the Schoolman cried with alarming passion. “Far more than Seswatha, as he must be… The Heron Spear is lost, destroyed when the Scylvendi sacked ancient Cenei. If the Consult were to succeed a second time, if the No-God were to walk again…” Achamian stared, his eyes rounded in horror.

“Men would have no hope.”

Proyas had endured many of these small rants since his childhood. What made them so uncanny, and at the same time so intolerable, was the way Achamian spoke: as though he recounted rather than conjectured. Just then the morning sun flashed anew between a crease in the accumulating clouds. The thunder, however, continued to rumble across wretched Caraskand.

“Akka…”

Achamian then reminds Proyas that he had once asked if Achamian had more than dreams. Proyas does. It was the night Achamian asked him to write to Maithanet. Achamian then fetches an object. Proyas stares at it as Achamian yells at him to study it then send riders to the Great Names. Proyas recoils at what he sees, wanting to hide in his blankets. He realizes that Achamian would never relent. “And of course not: he was a Mandate Schoolman.” Then Proyas remembers his letter from Maithanet.

Certainty in doubt. That was what was holy! That!

Proyas gets out of bed and grabs the letter, showing it to Achamian. The sorcerer is shocked to read the Shriah’s words that Proyas should assist him. “The impossible always left the deepest marks on the soul.”

Achamian set the sheet upon his lap, though he still pinched the corner with his thumb and forefinger. The two men shard a thoughtful gaze… Confusion and relief warred in his teacher’s eyes.

“Aside from my sword, my harness, and my ancestors,” Proyas said, “that letter is the only thing I brought across the desert. The only thing I saved.”

“Call them,” Achamian said. “Summon the others to Council.”

Gone was the golden morning. Rain poured from black skies.

My Thoughts

It’s late winter, so we must be in a new month. The siege was said to go on for weeks and weeks, so this tracks.

So, I really thought Chepheramunni died early in the novel. But we’re finally here in all its shocking revel. He’s been in the background for the entire novel, always mentioned in the most casual ways, reminders that he’s around, keeping him in our thought. The real Chepheramunni was probably the corpse found faceless in the marsh a few years ago.

Eleäzaras continues cracking. This is a bad blow to a man already buckling under the strain of his decision. He’s a smart man, if blinded by his own prejudices the way any human can be, and this is catastrophic. To think his enemy has been privy to his counsels. To his decisions. Makes him wonder at all those other deaths. All those precious sorcerers killed at Anwurat, the lose of Ainoni’s skilled general.

And then to realize anyone can be a skin-spy would make a man as paranoid as Emperor Ikurei Xerius.

So Achamian must be using some sort of Gnosis to hide them as they journey to Caraskand on foot. It appears to use shadows in some way. I think this is the only time in the entire series this is used. It almost sounds like they’re walking through another dimension. I never noticed that detail before. “There was no food in this place, no life-giving water, and their bodies, which they carried across their backs the way one might carry a corpse, suffered horribly.” Like they’re walking through the Plane of Shadows from D&D. But it’s something detectable by other sorcerers in the real, especially the Cishaurim.

Powerful imagery of Kellhus and Serwë hanging from the tree, bound to the circumflex. And all Esmenet can do is wail in impotent fury. All the power she thought she gained, lost. Circumstances have stripped her bare. Now all she can do is witness. And that’s too much for her to bear.

Cnaiür’s madness continues. I do like the description of the eucalyptus tree, a generally positive image because of the medicinal qualities of its leaves, seen as an upside down tree, that the branches are really its roots. Which means the tree’s been uprooted. It’s dying. Dead.

So it’s not shocking that Cnaiür is hallucinating Kellhus’s voice. It’s obviously Cnaiür’s guilt at getting Serwë killed. He sided with Conphas to free Serwë from Kellhus, not to get her killed. She’s his proof. He needs her to cling to his identity as a Scylvendi just like he once needed Anissi. He’s adrift, so far from his people, and Serwë is his only anchor. An anchor he cut free to drown Kellhus not realizing he could never get it back from the depths of the ocean.

Cnaiür tries to say he traded Serwë’s life for his son, but that’s another lie. He wanted them both, as pointed out by shouting that they were supposed to kill the whore. I suspect that Proyas stepped in and saved Esmenet’s life. Or maybe Sarcellus decided to kill Serwë.. After all, he was interrupted in his fun with Serwë last time by Cnaiür and the Consult might still wish to use Esmenet.

Poor Achamian. He’s so eager to see Esmenet, and you know it’s not going to be the reunion at all what he thinks. It’s actually the most cliché thing in Bakker’s story. The man who goes through an ordeal, is believed dead, and clings to returning to his lover as the only thing to get hope. Only to return and find his lover has moved on, mourned his lost, and found another. Of course, Esmenet moved on very fast thanks to Kellhus’s manipulation. It’s only been a few months, not a year or longer like it usually would be.

And then we have Achamian finding kinship with those who’ve suffered. It reminds me of the Band of Brother miniseries. There’s a soldier, trained with Easy Company from the beginning, but was wounded on D-Day and doesn’t rejoin them until after the Battle of the Bulge. He’s suddenly a stranger to these guys he knew for years. He’s an outsider because he doesn’t have that look. He didn’t suffer with them in the Ardennes in foxholes, starving, freezing, shelled day in and day out. It’s reversed here. Suddenly these men have suffered as Achamian has in his dreams, in his other life.

Achamian, and maybe Bakker, is saying family is the true importance. If Achamian hadn’t put all that other stuff ahead of Esmenet, he never would have been parted from her. Instead, their reunion takes a long, long time.

Bakker gives us hints at the Psûkhe and what makes it different from other sorcery. Their ability to see between sight and blindness, to view the metaphysics of the world without the distraction of real sight, allows them to better forge the work of the God with sorcerery, to make something undetectable to other sorcerers.

Achamian has sees one Kianene in Caraskand, a slave in Proyas’s house. What happened to the others? Probably a lot dead from starvation, from the brutalities of the Men of the Tusk. As the Holy War starves, they would keep any food for themselves. They probably are constantly raiding homes for more scraps, killing any who defend what food they have for themselves and their families.

Achamian’s anger is not shocking at all. He knows, through Xinemus, that Proyas abandoned him. That’s not something easily forgotten even if Achamian might want to.

Poor Xinemus. The fact that he could see something while walking through the shadows has given him this false hope that Achamian can fix him. The man is lost, drowning. Not even reuniting with his surrogate son, Proyas, can save him.

Achamian cares for only three people in the world now. One he allowed to suffer and the other two betrayed him. He’s in for a rough time.

Cnaiür contemplates joining Serwë, his bride, in death, killing himself the same way Sarcellus killed her.

Kellhus is feeling the strongest amount of emotions ever. He is drowning in guilt as he slowly dies. He is delusional, thinking he can make Serwë breathe. He wants to keep her clean. He saw this coming. He had a vision of this. He tried to avoid it, but couldn’t. All he could do was make sure that Esmenet wasn’t the wife murdered. Because she had a use beyond the Circumflex if he survives. He even argues with himself, the logical part of him pointing out that he “gave her to them.” The logical part of Kellhus sacrificed Serwë. But the kernel of emotions, those weak passions he has, cared for Serwë, as much as he could. Just as he cares for Esmenet as much as he can as we see in the later books. His first ever emotion we see from Kellhus is outrage at Serwë’s rape. And now he’s gotten her killed. Has to stare at her face. Kellhus has slowly been going mad over the book confronted with the breaking of cause and effect because of beings in the outside, the “Gods,” who exist outside of time.

Then he dreams and runs into the No God. The figure sits before a tree that branches out across the sky. Trees represent all the possibilities of life, the decisions that cause probability to branch over and over. It represents the Dûnyain’s probability trance. Every time Kellhus descends into the trance, he’s trying to figure out which branch is the one he needs to follow. And here is the tree with the No-God. All those possibilities. What if they all lead to the No-God’s return without him. Notice how he is doing nothing but standing, watching. This is where Kellhus makes the decision to save the world. As Moënghus points out in the next book, Kellhus went mad. And that madness is the desire to save the world from the No-God and the real Gods.

All because he let Serwë die. All because he ventured down a path that led to him sacrificing one of the two people he cared for. And like any good Dûnyain, he’ll do anything to achieve that goal as we see in the next series.

Achamian wants to make Esmenet laugh. That’s what he’s thinking about. He loves her laugh, loves seeing her with joy in her eyes. It’s the most important thing to him right now.

Bakker really drags out the truth that Esmenet has moved on to Kellhus for Achamian. He lets us see his hope, his joy, his longing. The fantasies that play out in his head (like they play out in ours), imagining how their reunion will go. And, like with all fantasies, reality never matches up.

And then he meets her and he just wants to hold her, but she just wants him to save Kellhus. Achamian is a smart guy. He has that sickening dread of realization, that growing hurt that swells in his heart. He knows that she betrayed him, but he doesn’t want to hear it. He wants to live in his fantasy. But she pops it. She’s having his child. And anger crashes through him. “Whore after all.”

And to make it worse, she’s pregnant. Not even with Achamian did she give up her contraceptive totem, her whore’s shell. But she did for Kellhus. She gave more of herself to Kellhus then she did to Achamian. And in such a short amount of time, a few months versus the years of their relationship.

Achamian’s rant beneath the eucalyptus tree is heartbreaking. He’s grieving. He’s angry. He wanted so much to return to Esmenet only to find that she’s already moved on, pregnant, and with Kellhus… He’s too hurt to even understand how Esmenet thought him dead. That she had to move on with her life. Yes, her moving on happened faster than normal, but that was because of Kellhus because Kellhus had written Achamian off. The sorcerer was gone so there was no point in trying to maintain that relationship by staying away from Esmenet. I’ve always assumed Kellhus would one day work on the couple and get Achamian to understand why letting Kellhus take Esmenet as his wife would be for the good of the world. He almost does it in the next book until Cnaiür tells Achamian the truth about Kellhus.

You’ve made a whore of her, Kellhus.” This ties back in with that imagination he has previously of Esmenet claiming to always have been a whore to Achamian. It’s how they started, but by the end, she was his wife. But now his memories of all their times together are poisoned. He can’t help but imagine she only tolerated him and now moved on to someone better. He probably thinks she doesn’t care about Kellhus either. Just using him. It’s a very easy hole for men to plunge into when they are betrayed by a woman, especially if they leave him for someone with more status. Often men feel like that’s all they are to their women, just an ATM. And one she’ll abandon if the money stops flowing. And so when that does happen, it can really poison men towards women. For women, it’s youth and beauty, and a woman whose abandoned by her husband for a younger, prettier wife will have this same poisoning.

Even dying, Kellhus can still manipulate. Of course, he is telling the truth. He did see the No-God. He’s seen what a threat he is. He needs to survive to do something about it. And Achamian appears to be the only one to do it. Now it’s interesting, who is this “he” that Kellhus speak of. Who told Kellhus that Achamian would appear. Kellhus couldn’t have predicted Achamian appearing. He had stopped considering the sorcerer in any of his probability trances.

This is another breaking of causality. Something outside of time told Kellhus Achamian would come. Perhaps Ajolki. Kellhus caught a deal with that God as we learn at the end of the Unholy Consult. I think Ajolki sent Kellhus that “revelation” early on in the novel and is showing Kellhus other things.

Achamian is still being the parent with Proyas, trying to alleviate Proyas’s guilt by shifting it to himself. And it’s true. Achamian does feel guilty about Xinemus’s eyes. He could have given up the Gnosis, but didn’t. But Proyas’s doesn’t want his guilt taken away. He’s angry at Achamian for trying which just makes him feel worse.

The role reversal between Proyas and Achamian is great reading. Achamian is the assertive one, the one cutting off, the one speaking about faith and scripture, while Proyas is trying to tear it down. He’s smart enough to realize it and that disturbs him, but he’s condemned Kellhus. To change his mind know would be to admit he was wrong. That’s hard to do.

Proyas throws the guilt of Serwë’s death, which he is culpable in, all on Gotian. Like Proyas wasn’t in those councils. Like he didn’t give support to the entire endeavor.

So what does that mean for the world with the aftermath of The Unholy Consult if only Kellhus could give them hope? The final series of Bakker’s Second Apocalypse, The No God, will be very interesting to read.

Before the Scarlet Spire captured him, you could never have believed that Achamian would do the things he does in the second series. But now, seeing him in his interactions with Proyas, the determination, the fact he doesn’t care about how he appears, putting his mission to save the world above everything else. He learned what mattered in his torture. His mission and Esmenet.

And he lost Esmenet.

And then everything changes. Achamian pulls out the head of the skin-spy Esmenet showed him off-screen after Kellhus sent Achamian to her. Bakker is being coy, hiding what it is other than it’s covered in soil, building up the suspense in the readers. Everything is kicking off. You can feel that suddenly, all these scattered crumbs through out the novel have led us to this moment. To the climax of The Warrior Prophet!

Want to read the next part, click here for Chapter Twenty-Four!

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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.

To keep reading, click here for Chapter Twenty-Two!

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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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