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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 5
The Plains of Mengedda

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

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

TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Only what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Kellhus said, “I suppose not.”

More lies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madness.

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

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

Any indignity… Anything!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moënghus had taught him that.

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

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

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

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

One thought… So frail was the balance between soul and world.

He weeps in his tent at night because of the dread doubt has sown. He realizes this should be expected. The gods have always “taunted, frustrated, and humiliated him.” He was the seventh son but with the drive of the first. His father would punish him for no reasons, beat him for his ambition He had come so close sacking Momemn only for a young Conphas to stop him. The gods always cheated him.

After patrols, led by Athjeari, spot the Fanim, Saubon’s unease only grows while his nobles are unimpressed. They aren’t shocked to learn they’re shadowed. They point out Skauras should have defended the passes if he meant to hold Gedea. And because he is a landless prince, his nobles don’t feel the need to really follow his orders. His is the titular head of the Galeoth host. They go hunting and hawking while he has to pretend to listen to them. But he knows the truth. His forty-five thousand Galeoth and nine thousand Shrial knights were alone in hostile territory and vastly outnumbered. “They had no real discipline, no real leader. And they had no sorcerers. No Scarlet Spires.”

Back in the present, watching his men cross the ford, Saubon sees a patrol returning bearing lances with severed head—a Galeoth sign battle approaches. They were sent by Athjeari. Kussalt, Saubon’s groom, rides up from the patrol, Saubon desperate to know what they reports. As the leaders of the force, Gotian and Sarcellus included, learn that Athjeari and Wanhail have been fighting all day, they are convinced Skauras has assembled on the plains and is trying to delay the host with pickets. Others disagree, saying they are being baited to be rash, that Skauras is eager to fight them on favorable grounds as soon as possible. But Gotian, always cautioning about Fanim, is seen as a coward by many Galeoth.

Saubon realizes something. That they are being delayed because Gothyelk must have decided to cross Mengedda, being the swiftest way across hilly Gedea. The pickets Athjeari is fighting are to prevent the patrols from joining up with their allies. Gotian is on Saubon’s side. Saubon realizes that if he reconnects with Gothyelk and Skaiyelt, the entire Middle North will be on the field. “The greatest Norsirai host since the fall of the Ancient North!”

Suddenly the severed heads upon the lances no longer seemed a rebuke, a totem of their doom; it seemed a sign, the smoke that promised cleansing fire. With unaccountable certainty, Saubon realized that Skauras was afraid…

As well he should be.

His misapprehensions fell away, and the old exhilaration coursed like liquor through his veins, a sensation he had always attributed to Gilgaöl, One-Eyed War.

The Whore will be kind to you.

Saubon begins giving orders, wanting Gothyelk located. He plans to remain in hills until they find Gothyelk, denying the Fanim flat land for their horses. Saubon is excited that the months of “the womanish war of words was finally over.” Holy war had begun exactly as Prince Kellhus said. But then he remembers he has to punish the Shrial Knights and his excitement vanishes. He tells his groom he needs a copy of the Tractate. His groom actually has it memorized, which shocks Saubon even knowing his groom was a pious man. He asks what the Latter Prophet said on sacrifice, which turns out to be a lot.

“What the Gods demand… Is it proper because they demand it?”

“No,” Kussalt said, still frowning.

For some reason, the thoughtless certainty of the answer angered him [Saubon]. What did the old fool know?

“You disbelieve me,” Kussalt said, his voice thick with weariness. “But it’s the glory of Inri Sej—”

“Enough of this prattle,” Coithus Saubon snapped. He glanced at the severed head—at the apple—noticed the glint of a golden incisor between slack and battered lips. So this was their enemy… Drawing his sword, he struck it from the lance, and the lance from Kussalt’s fist.

“I believe what I need to,” he grated.

My Thoughts

What a great way to reintroduce arrogant, narcissistic Conphas than his manner in being confronted by Proyas over a sizable portion of the Holy War marching without the rest. Bored, superior to everyone around him, more concerned with himself than what it meant. It wasn’t Conphas’s fault that everyone around him was idiots and listened to Kellhus.

Now Cnaiür has a moment or realization that Kellhus can make mistakes. He’s infallible Cnaiür needs that knowledge if he will have any chance of killing Moënghus If the son makes mistakes, why not the father.

Cnaiür sees how Kellhus uses every action and tone to control the men around him. To war against them as he convinced them that he is a prophet, leading them down that path slowly. Everything is calculated. It’s always great to see Kellhus through Cnaiür’s suspicious eyes. Bakker needs to keep reminding the readers you can’t trust him . No matter how sincere everyone else believes him to be. In every other POV both us the readers and the character are being manipulated by Kellhus to see him favorably.

Proyas glances at Cnaiür The prince has come to trust Cnaiür’s judgment in martial matters. The fact Cnaiür predicted something was wrong at the Holy War before the party saw them no doubt lifted his worth in Proyas’s eyes.

Cnaiür realizes he still has value in Kellhus’s eyes. The man doesn’t know war. He has made a dangerous gamble that may very well cost the success of the Holy War and doom his mission to kill Moënghus

Kellhus’s explanation about how alienating Proyas is a good thing would, from any other character, smack of self-delusion, a way to explain a bad mistake. But it is probably Kellhus’s honest assessment of his actions. The only problem with his actions is they HING on Saubon being successful, which Cnaiür is certain won’t be the case.

Humans do love flattering lies. That’s why so many powerful people have entourages, why it can be so hard for them to hear contrary opinions. I’m a writer, and sometimes when my readers talk to me about my books I wonder if they’re being honest or telling me what I want to hear so they can stay on good terms with me. Because I don’t want to be told my writing sucks, but if I’m not, how can I improve. It is a dangerous trap to get sucked into. Look at Emperor Ikurei and all the sycophants he has with him, puffing him up to believe he is a god.

Cnaiür is really enjoying himself realizing that Kellhus has badly miscalculated, how he has believed Saubon’s assessment and based his actions on it. And then to spit it back in Kellhus’s face about believing flattering lies. It’s a satisfactory moment.

But it doesn’t last because Cnaiür realizes he’s been fed flattering lies, stopping himself from telling about Fanim tactics in a fit of anger. War is the last thing he has that is useful. Kellhus, as we know from the last chapter, is gambling on Saubon’s success. He realized he has to make educated guesses that there are too many variables, which can lead him to make mistakes. And then he uses that to manipulate Cnaiür into divulging information. And it almost worked. You cannot trust Kellhus ever.

We do idealize, don’t we? Such a mistake. It always gets your hopes crushed when the hypetrain derails. Then notice how Cnaiür compares Proyas’s honest insights to how Kellhus acts, thinking Kellhus did the same. Of course, Proyas are honest where Kellhus is faking that sincerity

Cnaiür’s statement on men with few facts arguing with men who know none leading to arguments is borne out by the comment section on almost any internet website.

Cnaiür’s skill at reading the signs of battlefield and his knowledge of tactics is on display here. It’s fascinating to read while at the same time illuminating much about the Kianene culture, such as how they were loathe to kill their enemy’s horses.

Cnaiür is right They have to have good intelligence. If they had planned it properly, they could have used this to their advantage. If the leader of the patrol had bothered to have his own scouts, he wouldn’t have blundered into the ambush. And Saubon, if he had also done that, he wouldn’t be wondering through Gedea surrounded and cut off.

We see with Saubon surveying Gedea what his true goal is. He is the son of a king, but he has a lot of older brothers (six). He will never inherit. But he wants it so bad, believing of his brothers he should have been born the first one, that he has what it takes. And since he’s clearly not the kill all my brothers type of guy, he has to carve out his own kingdom. In our world, many Crusaders formed Levant Kingdoms in the Holy Lands after retaking them from Muslim occupation, which didn’t make the Byzantine Empire happy since the Muslims had conquered the Holy Land from the Byzantines a few centuries earlier, much like our Nansur Empire wants all this land back because the Fanim took it from them.

Doubt is insidious the way it can disrupt your certainty. Like Saubon now grappling with the realization he had led his men into a trap, that he allowed two-thirds of their force to go a different way, is hitting him hard. Especially as he looks at the Battleplain. Doubt is eating at him.

Doubt eats at Saubon even when he realizes the truth of what Skauras is up to and that they need to get to the Gothyelk’s aid. He always is questioning himself. Always seeks validation. Being beaten by his father, always belittled, has really affected him as an adult.

Saubon doesn’t understand why he is angered by Kussalt’s answer about sacrifice. But it’s simple: Kussalt’s answer didn’t flatter the lies Saubon wanted to believe. He is certain he has figured out the truth, and now he won’t let anything rob him of it.

Well, it looks like Kellhus gamble will pay off if Saubon reconnects with Gothyelk and the Middle North are victorious against Skauras.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Six!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 1
Carythusal

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

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

—Ontillas, On the Folly of Men

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

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“At the end of the world.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue on to Chapter Two!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Prologue

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Prologue

The Wastes of Kûniüri

If you missed out on the introduction to the series, click here.

Section 1

It is only after that we understand what has come before, then we understand nothing. Thus we shall define the soul as follows: that which precedes everything.”

—Ajencis, the Third Analytic of Men

My thoughts

darkness-that-comes-beforeBakker opens every chapter with quotes from various fictitious philosophers, historians, or folk sayings of his world. To me, Ajencis is saying the cause of man’s actions is the soul. To understand men’s actions we need to understand the soul. Another reference, I believe, to the title of the book. The cause that comes out of the “darkness” is the soul.

Bakker is a philosopher in the field of human consciousness (read his treaties on thought, they are dense and make my head spin), in his series the soul is a very real phenomenon that he will explore over the course of the books.

2147 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Mountains of Demua

 The prologue begins in the citadel of Ishuäl. Months earlier, High King Anasûrimbor Ganrelka II fled here with the remnants of his household. Here they thought they would be safe and survive the end of the world. They were wrong.

“The citadel of Ishuäl succumbed during the height of the Apocalypse. But no army of inhuman Sranc had scaled its ramparts. No furnace-hearted dragon had pulled down its might gates. Ishuäl was the secret refuge of the Kûniüric High Kings, and no one, not even the No-God, could besiege a secret.”

Ganrelka was the first to die of plague. Followed by his concubine and her daughter. It burned though the fortress, claiming the lives of mighty knights, viziers, and servants. Only Ganrelka’s bastard son and a Bardic Priest survived.

The boy hid from the Bard, terrified of his strange manner and one white eye. The Bard pursued the boy and one night caught him. Crying and pleading for forgiveness, the Bard raped the boy. Afterward the Bard mumbled, “There are no crimes, when no one is left alive.” Five nights later, the boy pushed the Bard from the walls. “Was it murder when no one was left alive?”

Winter came and wolves howled in the forest beyond the walls. The boy survived alone in the fortress. When the snows broke, the boy heard shouts at the gate and found a group of refugees of the Apocalypse. The refugees scaled the walls and the boy hid in the fortress. Eventually, one of the refugees found him.

With a voice neither tender nor harsh, he said: “We are Dûnyain, child. What reason could you have to fear us?”

But the boy clutched his father’s sword, crying, “So long as men live, there are crimes!”

The man’s eyes filled with wonder. “No, child,” he said. “Only so long as men are deceived.”

For a moment, the young Anasûrimbor could only stare at him. The solemnly, he set aside his father’s sword and took the stranger’s hand. “I was a prince,” he mumbled.

The boy was brought to the refugees and together they celebrated. In Ishuäl they had found shelter against the end of the worlds. The Dûnyain buried the dead with their jewels and fine clothes, destroyed the sorcerous runes on the walls, and burned the Grand Vizier’s books. “And the world forgot them for two thousand years.

Thoughts

“One cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten.” Bakker opens the book with a warning about the need to remember. The importance of keeping and remembering history is a prevalent theme in the series. From the Dûnyain deliberately forgetting about the outside world, to the world forgetting about the Apocalypse. And, of course, the world forgetting about the Dûnyain for two thousand years.

Bakker then starts to give us hints of the Apocalypse that dominates the rest of the series. Of cities burning, dragons, and inhuman Sranc. This Apocalypse is so terrible that not just any king, but a High King has fled it and written off the world as lost. Now just hopes to survive. And finally the sadness that even in this refuge, they almost all die anyway.

Bakker displays in this section his ability to paint events in a historical context. His books change from the tight focus, limited third person POV common in most of Fantasy today, allowing you to get into the thoughts of a single character in any scene to vast, more omniscient third person sections where he tells the events of the story almost as a bard reciting the story of history. Not a dry text book, but a vibrant story that keeps you interested.

In the description of Ganrelka’s retainers as they die, we get hints about the world and the Apocalypse. Bakker doesn’t dump his world building on us, but teases us with names that are almost familiar. The five Knights of Tyrsë who saved Ganrelka’s after the catastrophe on the Fields of Eleneöt. The Grand Vizier who dies upon sorcerous text. Ganrelka’s unnamed uncle, “who led the heartbreaking assault on Golgotterath’s gate.” Golgotterath resembles Golgatha where Jesus was crucified. When I read this name, I always picture something like the Black Gate of Mordor with skulls.

Bakker is skilled at using the familiar trappings of Fantasy, whose modern roots extend from Tolkien It roots the reader in the familiar while his style and story clearly deviates from anything you would read in Lord of the Rings.

Without showing us a single scene of the Apocalypse, Bakker still conveys the horror of it. After showing large scale horror, Bakker narrows his focus to the Boy. Left alone, he is preyed upon by an adult. Nietzsche’s philosophy at work here. Humans are selfish creatures who pursue their own desires and its only the fear of the consequences that keep us from acting upon all of them. Whether fear of a higher power, fear of a temporal power, or just the fear of the opinion of others. Once those are removed, there are no crimes any longer.

And finally, the Dûnyain arrive. Another group of refugees who fled the Apocalypse. The Dûnyain have rejected the gods. They deliberately destroy there history and anything connected to the supernatural. They bury all the wealth and trappings of power. They have survived the Apocalypse and decide to reject the former world they come from. As they say, “Here awareness most holy could be tended.”

Section 2

Nonmen, Sranc, and Men:

The first forgets,

The third regrets,

And the second has all of the fun.

Ancient Kûniüri nursery rhyme

This is a history of a great and tragic holy war, of the mighty factions that sought to possess and pervert it, and of a son searching for his father. And as with all histories, it is we, the survivors, who will write its conclusion.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My thoughts

These two quotes began the second, much longer part of the prologue. Nonmen is one my favorite names for the “elf” race in a fantasy series. It also informs us about the most important part of a Nonman, they forget. Regret is definitely a large part of being human. And of course, Sranc just want to have fun—and by fun I mean murder and brutal rape.

The second quote is from a book written after the events of the Prince of Nothing trilogy and gives us a plot summary of what the overt plot Prince of Nothing series is about. The First Holy War is the obvious story, the one on which the true story hides in the shadows. The Compendium is written by Achamian, one of the main characters, and often a segment is before each chapter, teasing you about events that are up coming. The downside is you never can believe Achamian is in real danger because he has to survive the Holy War to write about it. But it does serve to keep you reading.

Now who is the son? Well, we’re about to find out.

Late Autumn, 4109 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Mountains of Demua

The section begins with dreams coming to a group of men. Dreams of clashes of culture, glimpses of history, and of a holy city—Shimeh. A voice “thin as though spoken through the reed of a serpent, saying ‘Send to me my son.‘” The dreamers follow the protocol they established after the first dream and meet in the Thousand Thousand Hall and decided that such desecration could not be tolerated.

The narrative shifts to Anasûrimbor Kellhus, transitioning to a limited, third person POV. He is on a mountain trail looking back at the monastic citadel of Ishuäl. He sees the elder Dûnyain abandoning their vigil. These Elders have been polluted by the dreams sent by Kellhus’ father. The Elders would die in the great Labyrinth beneath Ishuäl.

Kellhus has been sent alone on a mission. As he descends into the wilderness of Kûniüri, he wonders how many vistas he would cross before seeing his father at Shimeh. As he enters the forest he finds himself unnerved. He attempts to regain his composure using “ancient techniques to impose discipline on his intellect.” He wonders if this is the first trial. Kellhus is awed by the beauty of the natural world. “How could water taste so sweet. How could sunlight, broken across the back of rushing water, be so beautiful?

What comes before determines what comes after. Dûnyain monks spent their lives immersed in the study of this principle, illuminating the intangible mesh of cause and effect that determined every happenstance and meaning all that was wild and unpredictable. Because of this, events always unfolded with granitic certainty in Ishuäl. More often than not, one knew the skittering course a leaf would take through the terrace groves. More often than not, one knew what another would say before he spoke. To grasp what came before was to know what would come after. And to know what would come after was the beauty stilled, the hallowed communion of intellect and circumstance—the gift of the Logos.

This mission was Kellhus’s first surprise. His childhood was strict ritual, study, and conditioning. Out of Ishuäl he is constantly barraged by new sights, sensations, and creatures. His mind, trained to drink in stimuli in the controlled environment of his home, is overwhelmed by the chaos of the natural world. For more than a month he wanders south through the foothills of Demua. He stops talking care of himself or his gear as the endless walk continues. On his 43rd day he comes across an immense valley dotted with ruins.

Kellhus explores the ruins. They are ancient, overgrown by the forest. Kellhus wanders who were the men who built this place. Bending to drink from a pool, he sees his unshaven face reflected in the water

Is this me?

He studied the squirrels and those birds he could pick from the dim confusion of the trees. Once he glimpsed a fox slipping through the brush.

I am not one more animal.

His intellect flailed, found purchase, and grasped. He could sense wild cause sweep around him in statistical tides. Touch him and leave him untouched.

I am a man. I stand apart from these things.

As evening waxed, it began to rain. Through branches he watched the clouds build chill and gray. For the first time in weeks, he sought shelter.

Kellhus continues his journey but his supplies begin to dwindle. He set out with as much as he could carry. Hunger and exposure begin to take their toll of Kellhus. The snows come and Kellhus could finally walk no farther. “The way is to narrow, Father. Shimeh to far.”

Kellhus is found by a trapper named Leweth and his sled dogs. Kellhus is half buried by the snow and barely alive. Leweth takes Kellhus to his home and cares for him through the winter.

Neither Kellhus or Leweth speak the same language. Kellhus picks up the basics and begins to communicate with Leweth. Kellhus learns he is the lands of Sobel, the northernmost province of the ancient city of Atrithau. Sobel has been abandoned for generations, but Leweth prefers the isolation.

Though Leweth was a sturdy man of middle years, for Kellhus he was little more than a child. The fine musculature of his face was utterly untrained, bound as though by strings to his passions. Whatever moved Leweth’s soul moved his expression as well, and after a short time Kellhus needed only to glance at his face to know his thoughts. The ability to anticipate his thoughts, to re-enact the movements of Leweth’s soul as though they were his own, would come later.

A routine forms between the two men, with Kellhus helping with chores to “earn his keep.” Kellhus studies Leweth during this time and learns that through small labors Leweth learned patience. The only times his hands were still was when he slept or was drunk. Leweth would drink all day, and by the end become drunk. While Kellhus learned much from observing drunk Leweth, he decides a sober Leweth would be more useful. While Leweth is passed out, Kellhus dumps out all his whiskey.

After Leweth’s painful detox, they discuss old pains. Leweth came to the wilderness after the death of his wife in Atrithau. Kellhus observes that Leweth pretends to morn to secure pity. Leweth lies to himself about why he came out here. That Atrithau reminds him or his wife. He even believes his family and neighbors secretly hated her and are glad she is dead. This forced Leweth to flee to the forest.

Why does he [Leweth] deceive himself this way?

“No soul moves alone through the world, Leweth. Our every though stems from the thoughts of others. Our every word is but a repetition of words spoken before. Every time we listen, we allow the movements of another soul to carry our own.” He paused, cutting short his reply in order to bewilder the man. Insight struck with so much more force when it clarified confusion. “This is truly why you fled to Sobel, Leweth.”

Leweth fled Sobel so he could hold onto the ways his wife moved his soul—he fled to remember. Kellhus confronts Leweth with this truth. Kellhus does this to posses Leweth, but lies and says its because Leweth has suffered enough. They argue, but because Kellhus can predict Leweth’s reaction, he guides the argument in his own favor. In the end, Leweth breaks down and cries.

“I know it hurts, Leweth. Release from anguish can be purchased only through more anguish.” So much like a child …

“W-what should I do?” the trapper wept. “Kellhus … Please tell me!”

Thirty years, Father. What power you must wield over men such as this.

And Kellhus, his bearded face warm with firelight and compassion, answered. “No one’s soul moves alone, Leweth. When one love dies, one must learn to love another.”

Once Leweth regains his composure, the continue their conversation. Through his Dûnyain training, Kellhus could control the “legion of faces” that live within him. He can fake any emotional response with the same ease he can craft words. Pretending to happy and compassionate, Kellhus continues his cold scrutiny of Leweth.

Kellhus is disdainful of Leweth’s superstitions of gods and demons. To Leweth, finding Kellhus was fate. Leweth asks Kellhus why the gods sent him. Kellhus tells him of his mission to find his father Anasûrimbor Moënghus. Moënghus left when Kellhus was a child and has now summoned him to Shimeh. Leweth asks how that is possible since Shimeh is so far away and Kellhus answers through dreams. Leweth thinks sorcery explains the dreams. Kellhus doesn’t think that is possible. He dismiss Leweth’s talk of sorcerers and priests, of witches and demons.

Superstition. Everywhere and in everything, Leweth had confused that which came after with that which came before, confused the effect for the cause. Men came after, so he placed them before and called them “gods” or “demons.” Words came after, so he placed them before and called them “scriptures” or “incantations.” Confined to the aftermath of events and blind to the causes that preceded him, he merely fastened upon the ruin itself, men and the acts of men, as the model of what came before.

But what came before, the Dûnyain had learned, was inhuman.

There must be some other explanation. There is no sorcery.

Leweth tells Kellhus about Shimeh. It is a holy city far to the south in the Three Seas. Leweth doesn’t know much about the nations of the Three Seas since the Sranc controlled the lands of the north save for Atrithau and Sakarpus. What Leweth knows is they were young lands when the north was destroyed by the No-God and the Consult. The only contact between Atrithau and the Three Seas is by a yearly caravan. Shimeh is holy city in the hands of heathens. In Atrithau, Kellhus could secure the means of reaching Shimeh. Only after the trapper tells Kellhus everything, does he let him sleep.

Near the cabin, Kellhus finds an ancient stone stele with runes upon it. In Kellhus’s own language it records the deeds of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II. Kellhus had dismissed Leweth’s talk of the apocalypse as superstition, but the stone proves the world is far older the Dûnyain. On one of these trips he notices strange tracks in the snow.

Kellhus informs Leweth of the tracks, and in horror, Leweth says they are Sranc. Leweth is amazed the Kellhus can be from the north and not no what those tracks mean. Leweth explain the Sranc will eat anything, but they enjoy to hunt men to “calm the madness of their hearts.” The Sranc have found them, and Kellhus and Leweth flee.

A small group Sranc catch them. Kellhus stays to fight the Sranc and tells Leweth to keep fleeing. In amazement, Leweth watches Kellhus charge the Sranc and kill them “like a pale wraith through the drifts.” Then Leweth is injured by an arrow.

Another group of Sranc are killing Leweth’s dogs. Leweth wants to save them but Kellhus grabs his arm and half drags Leweth. Eventually, Leweth’s strength fails him and Kellhus questions him on the way to go to get to safety. Leweth answers and Kellhus abandons Leweth to the Sranc. Leweth sobs in disbelief as he watch Kellhus, a man he has come to love and worship, disappear into the woods. But for the calculating Kellhus, the decision to abandon Leweth is simple—he has no further use for him.

Kellhus leaves the forest and climbs a hill. The Sranc have caught him. Before the ruins of a wall and gate, Kellhus makes his stand. They fired arrows at him. Calmly, he plucks one out of the air and examines it. In a rush they come at him and he “speared the ecstasy from their inhuman faces.”

They could not see that circumstance was holy. They only hungered. He, on the other hand, was one of the Conditioned, Dûnyain, and all events yielded to him.

The Sranc fall back. For a moment they surrounded him and Kellhus faces their menace with tranquility. They flee. One dying on the ground hisses something in an unknown language. Kellhus wanders what these creatures are.

More Sranc come, led by a figure on a horse. The figure wears a cloak stitched with abstract faces. In Kûniüric, the figure praises Kellhus and asks his name. Anasûrimbor Kellhus, he answers. The figure thinks he is being mocked, but then sees the resemblance in Kellhus’s face.

Kellhus studies the figure and realizes the cloak is made from skinned faces, stretched flat and sewn together. The figure is powerfully built, heavily armored, and unafraid. “This one was not like Leweth. Not at all.”

The figure is surprised that a mortal is not afraid of him. Fear is what separates the figure from humans. Kellhus mocks the figure, trying to bait him and is surprised by the figures reaction.

Kellhus’s provocation had been deliberate but had yielded little—or so it seemed at first. The stranger abruptly lowered his obscured face, rolled his head back and forth on the pivot of his chin, muttering, “It baits me! The mortal baits me … It reminds me, reminds …” He began fumbling with his cloak, seized upon a misshape face. “Of this one! Oh, impertinent—what a joy this was! Yes, I remember …” He looked up at Kellhus and hissed, “I remember!”

And Kellhus grasped the first principle of this encounter. A Nonman. Another of Leweth’s myths come true.

The Nonman points to a dead Sranc and says this one was his elju (book). He laments the Sranc’s death, although they are vicious creatures, they are “most…memorable.” Kellhus sees an opening, and presses the Nonman. The Nonman reveals that while the Sranc are their children now, before humans were. He was a companion to the great Norsirai kings and enjoyed the humans childish squabbles (wars). But as time passed, some Nonmen need more exquisite brutality than humans can provide to remember. This is the great curse of the Nonman.

“I am a warrior of ages, Anasûrimbor … ages. I have dipped my nimil in a thousand hearts. I have ridden both against and for the No-God in the great wars that authored this wilderness. I have scaled the ramparts of Golgotterath, watched the hearts of High Kings break for fury.”

“Then why,” Kellhus asked, “raise arms now, against a lone man?”

Laughter. The free hand gestured to the dead Sranc. “A pittance, I agree, but still you would be memorable.

They fight, trading blows. Kellhus fends off the Nonman blows, but his weapon own cannot penetrate the Nonman’s armor. The Nonman is surprised at Kellhus ability. Kellhus sword slashes the Nonman’s chin open. The Nonman is disarmed, on his back, Kellhus sword at his face. Kellhus begins to interrogate the Nonman.

The Nonman speaks a word and Kellhus is thrown back by incandescent. The Nonman rises up into the air. Confronted with sorcery, Kellhus flees into the forest. Behind him are explosions and fire. An unearthly voice yells his name. “RUN, ANASÛRIMBOR! I WILL REMEMBER!” Kellhus runs faster than he had before the Sranc and wonders if sorcery is one of the lessons from his father.

My Thoughts

When we first meet Kellhus he seems like a traditional hero of a fantasy journey. The quintessential character to go on the Campbellian Heroic Journey. A young man leaving home for the first time on a quest who is the unknowing descendant of kings. However, there are differences between Kellhus’s and the Hero’s Journey. While Kellhus has answered the Call of Adventure, he never Refuses the Call. Kellhus upbringing and training have left him with no doubt. This is his mission, and he will accomplish it.

The wilderness is not kind to Kellhus. The isolation and toil reduces Kellhus to a beast with only one thing on his mind: reaching Shimeh. Eventually, Kellhus realizes this and overcomes the Crossing of the First Threshold and becomes a man again.

Kellhus’s time with Leweth is where we see the products of Dûnyain training. They have embraced Nietzsche’s philosophy. These are the übermench he wrote of. They have trained their bodies and minds past the normal human limits. They have made of study of passions and have learned how to control their emotions. Kellhus listens to Leweth’s story about his dead wife and never once feels anything. Neither pity or compassion. Kellhus uses truth to make Leweth his slave and once Leweth is of no further use, abandons him to death without a second thought. The Dûnyain embody the Will to Power and have no morality to temper their methods. Kellhus will do anything to accomplish his mission.

Kellhus is a sociopath. To contrast Leweth and Kellhus: when Leweth first finds Kellhus in the snow, he thinks food for his dogs. Meat was scarce in the north. However, Leweth’s humanity cause him to show Kellhus compassion,. Leweth cares for Kellhus, using his own scarce resources.

We seen more of Kellhus’s abilities against the Sranc. He reminds me a lot of Bene Gesserit of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. Their bodies are so under their control and their ability to read the movement of their enemies makes them almost invincible. Kellhus has a lot similarities to Paul Muad’dib. However, Paul’s abilities was tempered with emotions.

When Kellhus plucks the arrow out of the air, I recognized him as a D&D Monk (it’s a common ability the player class monks get). The setting of these books were originally Bakker’s D&D campaign he created. The Nonmen are elves, the Sranc are orcs, etc. Bakker also draws a lot on Tolkien. I read somewhere on the internet that the Second Apocalypse is Tolkien done with Nietzschean philosophy, and that is not far off. But only in the broad strokes does this series follow the Lord of the Rings. Take the sexual imagery that is used to describe the Sranc. It is the first hint about the nature of their creators.

Finally, Kellhus confronts the Nonman. A race so long lived, they forget, only remembering the bad stuff. No wonder the Nonman (revealed by Bakker to be Mekeritrig) seems slightly mad. You can see the delight the Nonman has at finding such a memorable man as Kellhus. He is really looking forward to the fight.

Bakker’s description of sorcerery is always very minimal and ethereal. He uses phrases like “petals blowing from a palm” and “pale watery light.” The Dûnyain rejection of the supernatural have left Kellhus without the training on how to deal with it. There is no pride that holds back Kellhus decision to flee. It is instantaneous. He has determined he has no chance of winning and the only option is flight. Even then, his mind is still working normally, cataloging the event and shifting his world view. Kellhus has almost died and no fear assails him.

Kellhus is the reason I love this series. He is so different from any character I have read. Everyone of his POV’s is fascinating to read. As you shall see, he is our prophesied hero and his appearance ushers in the end of the world.

But will Kellhus be the one to save it or cause its destruction?

Click here to continue on to Chapter One

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

darkness-that-comes-beforeMore than a few years back, I was in the Borders (yep, that far back, I miss you Borders) at the SeaTac Airport killing time before my flight. While browsing the fantasy section, the Darkness that Comes Before caught my eye. I read the description on the back with talk of an apocalyptic past and a gathering crusade. The book promised a mysterious traveler named Anasûrimbor Kellhus. I was hooked. I bought the book on the spot and devoured it on my trip. I have since come to love the Prince of Nothing Trilogy and its sequel the Aspect Emperor Trilogy. Together these two series plus a third as yet written series form the greater Second Apocalypse meta-series.

R. Scott Bakker is a controversial author. His books are deep in the genre of modern fantasy called Grimdark. And that is what it is. He has created a world whose roots mankind struggles to rise from. It is not a pleasant place. Very few people are allowed the luxury of agency, and those tend to be men. Like most of human history, women hold little power in his series. He is accused of misogyny. There will be no female character bootstrapping feminism and rising above the shackles placed upon her.

But calling his books misogyny is missing the point. R. Scott Bakker is showing just how bad humans can get. He is also writing this towards men, not to show them treating women is bad but to illuminate some of the darker aspects of male fantasy and thoughts while at the same time showcasing the misery most of human kind has toiled under through most of our history. If anything, I would say the books are more misandrist. The every man a rapist trope is almost a reality in this series.

But there is still hope and light to be found.

With the third book of the Aspect Emperor Trilogy, the Great Ordeal (formally titled the Unholy Consult), release approaching in July I felt the need to reread the series in preparation. Of course, there is no way for me to even hope to catch up before the release, but I’ll give it a valiant try. This is a repost of a blog series I never finished from four years ago on my original blog, the ReReid blog (see, I was trying to be clever). But no one ever visited my blog so after several months, well, my interest wained.

So without further ado, let’s dive into the Darkness that Comes Before.

SPOILOR WARNING: Please read the book before any of these posts. This is intended for those who have read the books. I will discuss both the events of the chapter and even their ramification for future events.

Bakker opens the book with a quote. Not a fictitious quote from his own setting, but a quote of the German philosopher Nietzsche.

“I shall never tire of underlining a concise little fact which those superstitious people are loath to admit—namely, that a thought comes when ‘it’ wants, not when ‘I’ want…”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

My Thoughts

Philosophy is a large part of the Second Apocalypse and Bakker starting the series with a quote of Nietzsche informs us of one of the major themes he will explore in the series. Nietzsche was an atheist who promoted the philosophy that without God there is no moral authority upon man. Nietzsche believed in ideas like “self-consciousness,” “knowledge,” “truth,” and “free will” were inventions of moral consciousness. Nietzsche believed the “will to power” explained all human behavior.

According to Nietzsche, the will to power illuminated all human ambition—the drive to succeed, and reaching the highest position in life. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes, “Even the body within which individuals treat each other as equals…will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant—not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power.”

The quote that Bakker opens his book is quite clear that we human have no control over the origin of our thoughts. This idea is directly related to the title of the book and one of the overarching themes of the series—the Illusion of Free Will.

If you haven’t gotten bored yet, click her for the Prologue

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