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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 2

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

I tell you, guilt dwells nowhere but in the eyes of the accuser. This men know even as they deny it, which is why they so often make murder their absolution. The truth of crimes lies not with the victim but with the witness.


My Thoughts

An interesting statement. Guilt is a major theme in the novels, from Cnaiür’s guilt he feels seeing the accusation in his kinsmen’s eyes, a constant reminder to his crime, to what Esmenet will start to feel through this novel starting in this chapter. It’s easy for you to pretend you haven’t done something wrong when the proof isn’t being paraded before you. And if you can’t handle that, murder is the final step you can take to undo it.

Unless you want to suck it up and make it right. But taking responsibility is hard for humans. We prefer to blame others and become the victim. But that is a self-destructive act. It warps you, twists you, and eventually leads you to lash out against the world to keep perpetuating your lie.

Late Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Enathpaneah

Cnaiür barrels through Kellhus’s palace, servants fleeing before him as alarms are raised. This angers Cnaiür because he’d saved their prophet. “Didn’t that make him divine as well?” He’s searching for something, asking for directions from a slave woman. Scared, she points at a door.

Her neck felt good in his hand, like that of a cat or a feeble dog. It reminded him of the days of pilgrimage in his other life, when he had strangled those he raped. Even still, he hand no need of her, so he released his grip, watched her stumble backward then topple, skirts askew, across the black floor.

Shouts rang out from the galleries behind them.

He sprinted to the door she’d indicated, kicked it open.

He finds a nursery with a cradle in the center. Everything grows quiet as he approaches with care, parting the hanging gauze to peer down at Moënghus, his son with Serwë. He sees the “penetrating white-blue of the Steppe” in the boy’s eyes and knows it is his son.

Cnaiür reached out two fingers, saw the scars banding the length of his forearm. The babe waved his hand, and as though by accident caught Cnaiür’s fingertip, his grip firm like that of a father or a friend in miniature. Without warning, his face flushed, became wizened with anguished wrinkles. He sputtered, began wailing.

Why, Cnaiür wondered, would the Dûnyain keep this child? What did he see when he looked upon it? What use was there in a child.

There was no interval between the world and an infant soul. NO deception. No Language. An infant’s wail simply was its hunger. And it occurred to Cnaiür that if he abandoned this child, it would become an Inrithi, but if he took it, stole away, and rode hard for the Steppe, it would become a Scylvendi. And his hair prickled across his scalp, for there was magic in that—even doom.

Cnaiür reflects that as the child ages, it’s hungers would grow, branch, in unfathomable ways. “It would become what circumstances demanded.” Cnaiür realizes this is how the Dûnyain see men. As infants that Kellhus understood and could track all the way their hungers would grow. This is what the elder Moënghus did to Cnaiür. He realizes that he was one of the possibilities his son could be molded into it. A memory of intrudes of him burning a Nansur village on a raid and catching a thrown babe on his sword. He jerks back his finger and says the child is not of the land.

Esmenet, “the sorcerer’s whore,” burst into the room. With shrill fury, she advances on him, saying he can’t have the baby. It’s all that’s left of Serwë. She becomes more conciliatory as she explains its the only proof of her life and asks if he would take that away from her.

Her proof.

Cnaiür stared at Esmenet in horror, then glanced at the child, pink and writhing in blue silk sheets.

“But its name!” he heard someone cry. Surly that voice was too womanish, too weak, to be his.

Something’s wrong with me… Something’s wrong…

Guards burst in and she orders them to sheathe their weapons, claiming Cnaiür only came to pay homage to Kellhus’s son. Cnaiür is shocked to find himself kneeling before the crib. “It seemed he had never stood.”

Xinemus asks Achamian what he’s doing as Achamian is packing up his room. Achamian ignores the warning tone in Xinemus’s voice and reminds the blind man he’s moving into the Fama Palace. While doing that, he remembers how Esmenet always teased him when he packed his things. He then thinks she’s a whore and that explains why she’s with Kellhus.

Xinemus presses on why Achamian’s leaving, reminding Achamian that Proyas forgave him. Achamian hasn’t forgiven Proyas. Xinemus asks what of himself. Achamian regards the drunk man, trying to remind himself Xinemus was his only friend. Achamian realizes that Xinemus is accusing Achamian of abandoning him, which angers Achamian. But he finds himself asking Xinemus to come with him and talk to Kellhus. Xinemus doesn’t think Kellhus needs him, but Achamian insists he needs to talk to Kellhus. He turns and finds Xinemus looming over him to his shock.

You talk to him!” the Marshal roared, seizing and shaking him [Achamian]. Achamian clawed at his arms, but they were as wood. “I begged you! Remember? I begged, and you watched while they gouged out my fucking eyes! My fucking eyes, Akka! My fucking eyes are gone!”

Achamian found himself on the hard floor, scrambling backward, his face covered in warm spittle.

The great-limbed man sagged to his knees. “I can’t seeee!” he at once whispered and wailed. “I-haven’t-the courage-I-haven’t-the-courage…” He shook silently for several more moments, then became very still. When he next spoke, his voice was thick, but eerily disconnected from what had racked him only moments before. It was the old Xinemus, and it terrified Achamian.

Xinemus asks Achamian to speak to Kellhus on his behalf. Achamian feels he has no choice and asks what is Xinemus’s question.

Esmenet wakes up to the dawn light. This moment is the only thing similar to her previous life as a whore: waking up into a new day. Only when her mind fully came awake does she remember she’s not a whore, but a queen, with her own slaves, sleeping on muslin, surrounded by luxuries. Today, like every day, she’s pampered by her slaves. They chat in Kianene while combing her hair, massaging her limbs, bathing her body. Esmenet endures it with wonder and always gives them praise. Like her, they have risen high in the hierarchy of their own world as slaves, and she thinks they are as astonished by it as she is.

When they were finished, Fanashila left for the nursery, while Yel and Burulan, still tittering, ushered Esmenet to her night table, and to an array of cosmetics that, she realized with some dismay, would have made her weep back in Sumna. Even as she marveled at the brushes, paints, and powders, she worried over this new-found jealousy for things. I deserve this, she thought, only to curse herself for blinking tears.

Yel and Burulan fell silent.

It’s just more… more that will be taken away.

When she looks in a mirror, she sees herself as beautiful as Serwë now, appearing as an “exotic stranger” to her own eyes. She almost believed she was wroth what people thought of her. She clutches at her love while Yel says she’s beautiful. And then she thinks this is real.

Fanashila returns with Moënghus and his wet nurse Opsara. She talks to Opsara, a slave that Esmenet finds to toe the line of insubordination but who also clearly loves Moënghus, about the baby. After he nurses, she holds him and loves him like her own child, talking about the brother or sister he’ll soon have. She promises to name her daughter Serwë. After a while, she hands over Moënghus to Opsara.

As Esmenet watched them, her thoughts turned to Achamian for the first time since the garden.

Later, she runs into Werjau “by coincidence” carrying a collection of scrolls and tablets towards her official chambers. Her secretaries are at work as Werjau delivers his reports starting with two Tydonni inscribing Orthodox slogans on the wall, men who couldn’t read so were put u to it (Esmenet suspects the Nansur) and orders them flayed.

The ease with which those words fell form her lips was nothing short of nightmarish. One breath and these men, these piteous fools, would die in torment. A breath that could have been used for anything: a moan of pleasure, a gasp of surprise, a word of mercy…

This, she understood, was power: the translation of word into fact. She need only speak and the world would be rewritten. Before, her voice could only conjure custom, ragged breaths, and quickened seed. Before, her cries could only forestall affliction and wheedle what small mercies might come. But now her voice had become that mercy, that affliction.

Such thoughts made her head swim.

She clutches her tattooed hand to her belly, hiding her astonishment, and thinking that only the child in side of her was truth. “A woman knew no greater certainty, even as she feared.” As she holds her belly, she’s convinced she feels divinity in her. That her womb made the trappings of power insignificant. “Her womb, which had been a hospice to innumerable men, was now a temple.” She is holy because of Kellhus.

Werjau then reports that Gothyelk cursed Kellhus three times. She dismisses that, but Werjau objects. But Esmenet points out that Gothyelk curses everyone. If he stops, then it’s something to worry about. She knows, thanks to Kellhus, that Werjau resents her because she’s a woman. Since they both know this, because there are no secrets around Kellhus, it makes their relationship like quarreling siblings instead of enemies. Because Kellhus exposes all their secrets, his inner circle doesn’t fear what others might think about their actions since Kellhus will reveal their motivations. She tells him to continue.

Another Ainoni, Aspa Memkumri, has been murdered. Esmenet asks if the Scarlet Spire is responsible and Werjau says yes. Esmenet wants to meet with the source to find out just what the Scarlet Spire are up to. Then Werjau brings up Earl Hulwarga performing a banned rite, but Esmenet says it’s irrelevant. “A strong faith does not fear for its principles, Werjau.”

The man moved to the next item, this time without looking up. “The Warrior-Prophet’s new Vizier,” he said tonelessly, “was heard screaming in his chambers.”

Esmenet’s breath caught. “What,” she asked carefully, “was he screaming?”

“No one knows.”

Thoughts of Achamian always came as small calamities.

She says she’ll deal with it personally and asks if there is anything else. He answers, only the Lists. The Lists are reports Men of the Tusk give on their associates of any who are acting strange. Those reported are marched, in the hundreds, before Kellhus every day. So far out of thousands one had killed the men sent to arrest him, two had fled, one had been captured, and another was being watched hoping to find more. Esmenet finds it to be a poor solution, but they’d have to risk Kellhus to do better. Over twenty skin-spies Kellhus had identified vanished before they could be taken.

The most they could do, it seemed, was to wait for them to surface behind other faces.

“Have the Shrial Knights gather them as always.”

Afterward, she walks the western terrace while dozens of worshipers watch her. She both enjoys and is made uncomfortable by their adoration. She cast out two crimson veils and laughs as they scramble to grab it. Then she overseas the afternoon Penance. This evolved out of shriving the Orthodox who plotted against Kellhus, but many began returning desiring to be punished for their sins. Now even Zaudunyani attend. She watches the Judges administer the punishment, flogging backs with branches from Umiaki, the eucalyptus tree Kellhus hung from, chanting:

For wounding that which heals!”

For seizing what would be given!”

For condemning that which saves!”

Esmenet finds it unnerving as the punished men watch, seeing sexual ecstasy on many of their faces, expressions she saw many times working as a whore. She spots Proyas in the back. Old anger fills her and she glares at him. He cries after his flogging, and she wonders if he’s sorry for hurting Kellhus or Achamian.

She skips the evening Whelming in favor of a private dinner since Kellhus is busy with preparations for the Holy War’s march on Xerash. She enjoy the company of her body-slaves then checks on Moënghus. Finally, she retires to her private library.

Where Achamian had been recently installed.

Because her and Kellhus’s apartments are at the pinnacle of the Fama Palace, the highest point in Caraskand, they are vulnerable to sorcerous attack because the Art pays “no heed to walls or elevation.” This means Achamian has to reside close to them for protection.

Close enough, she realized, to hear her cries on the wind.


She freezes at the door. She finds his presence perilous, threatening to “strip away all that had happened since the Holy War’s march from Shigek.” She questions her actions then, fearing to lose her nerve, raps on the door. She notices her whore tattoo in the process. She fears she’ll find not Achamian but Sumna on the other side, her old apartment, sitting at the window exposing herself to attract customers.

Then she sees Achamian’s face, grizzled and aged, but so real. They stand in silent awkwardness as she realizes he’s alive. She wants to touch him and feel the truth, but stops herself. She remembers watching him depart for the library and wonders what brought him back to her. Then she feels his eyes on her pregnant stomach and she says she’s come to take The Third Analytic of Men. Achamian finds the tome and tries to smile. Then invites her in.

She took four tentative steps past the threshold. The room smelled of him, a faint musk she always associated with sorcery. A ed had been erected where her favorite settee had been—where she had first read The Tractate.

“Translated into Sheyic, even,” he said, pursing his bottom lip in appreciation. “For Kellhus?”

“No… for me.”

She had meant to say this with pride, but it had sounded spiteful instead. “He taught me how to read,” she explained, more carefully. “Through the misery of the desert, no less.”

Achamian had blanched. “Read”

“Yes… Imagine, a woman.”

He scowled in what could only be confusion.

“The old world is dead, Akka. The old rules are dead… Surely you know this.”

He recoils and she realizes it was her tone, not the fact that she’s a woman (something he’s never held against her) that made him scowl. He then touches the book with reverence and asks her to be careful with it. “Ajencis is an old friend of mine,” he says. She takes care not to touch him as she takes it. They lock eyes and she almost murmurs something, a joke or a thanks, like they used to. Instead, she walks away, hugging the book to her breast. She realizes if she’s not careful, their old habits will see them in bed again.

And he knew this, damn him. He used them.

He called out her name, and she paused at the threshold. When she turned, her eyes were forced down by the stricken expression on his face. “I…” he began. “I was your life… I know I was, Esmi.”

She bit her lip, resisted the instinct to deceive.

“Yes,” she said, staring at her blue-painted toes. For some perverse reason she decided she would have Yel change their colour tomorrow.

What does he matter? His heart was broken long before—

“Yes,” she repeated, “you were my life.” When she raised her face, it was with weariness, not the ferocity she had expected. “And he is my world.”

Later, Esmenet rests her head on Kellhus’s chest and says she saw Achamian. Kellhus say it angered her. She protests it wasn’t Achamian who angered her, but Kellhus says it was. She asks why. All he’s done is love her.

“We betrayed him, Esmi. You betrayed him.”

“But you said—”

“There are sins, Esmi, that not even the God can absolve. Only the injured.”

Kellhus tells her this is why she’s angered. She thinks about his words, feeling awakened, as she always does, by his words. She realizes why and says Achamian will not forgive. A frightening indecision feels Kellhus’s look and he agrees with her.

Eleäzaras, Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire, is surprised to see Iyokus lives. Iyokus looks stunned that Eleäzaras is drunk, his tent full of smashed pottery. Eleäzaras continues that he thought Iyokus dead when Achamian returned. He hoped Iyokus was dead. Eleäzaras then gazes at the Fama Palace.

Iyokus asks what happened. Eleäzaras, in disdain, says the Padirajah is dead and the Holy War prepares to march. They’re almost to Shimeh. But that wasn’t what Iyokus meant. He asks if Eleäzaras believes in the Consult. And he does. “All this time, laughing at the Mandati, and it was we who were the mumming fools,” he answers.

Silence hangs between them like an accusation. Iyokus is stunned, especially in retrospect as he realizes the Psûkhe is too blunt to make skin-spies. Eleäzaras then confirms his belief that Kellhus is a prophet. Eleäzaras had witnessed Kellhus pull out his own heart while begging for it to be a trick. Iyokus objects, but Eli interrupts him and says he’s convinced after speaking to the man himself. He then adds they are damned and finds that another little joke.

“Please,” the man [Iyokus] exclaimed. “How Could you—”

“Oh, I know. He sees things… things only the God could see.” He swung at one of the earthenware decanters, caught it, shook it to the air to listen to the telltale slosh of wine. Empty. “He showed me,” he said, casting it against the wall, where it shattered. He smiled at Iyokus, letting the weight of his bottom lip draw his mouth open. “He showed me who I am. You know all those little thoughts, all those half-glimpsed things that scurry like vermin through your soul? He catches them and holds them squealing in the air. Then he names them, and tells you what they mean.” He turned away once more. “He sees the secrets.”

Iyokus asks what secrets. Eleäzaras tells Iyokus not to worry about him revealing Iyokus’s sexual predilections (boys and broomsticks) but the secrets people keep from themselves. “He sees what breaks your heart.” Iyokus accuses Eleäzaras of being drunk. He tells Iyokus to see for himself. Iyokus snorts and starts to stomp out in an anger. Eleäzaras just goes back to staring at the Fama Palace. He knows Kellhus is in there somewhere.

“Oh, yes, and Iyokus,” he abruptly called.


“I would beware the Mandate Schoolman if I were you.” He absently pawed the table beside him, looking for more wine—or something. “I think he plans to kill you.”

My Thoughts

So in the last chapter we had Achamian’s reintroduction to the story. It shows him as someone that spends a great deal of time thinking and pondering, how he’s wracked with anger and grief for Esmenet, how he’s intellect is struggling against his passions. Bakker now shifts to Cnaiür, reminding us that he is a violent man. A rapist. A barbarian. A man who scares the piss out of people. A man who acts like he doesn’t care what people think about him as he does whatever his passions want even as he prickles about how they cower. “Didn’t that make him divine as well?” He’s offended that they don’t show him reverence as he marches through the palace looking for his son.

Cnaiür debate on the fate of his son is the Tabula Rasa argument, that human beings are blank slates that can be molded in any direction. And this is partly true. We’re both products of our nurture, but we’re also products of our nature. We have instincts coded in our DNA, behaviors that we find replicated across the world in a myriad of societies. We have hormones that influence how we act. But we also have brains smart enough to overcome many of these deficiencies. We can condition ourselves to knew behaviors that can be in conflict with our nature. It’s still hotly debated science to this day.

And then we get into the real heart of the series: free will versus determinism. An infant has no free will. They don’t even have conscious thought. That doesn’t start to develop until between two and four along with the child’s social identity. Right now, an infant is merely its hungers, open and honest about them in the only way it can, but crying out for help. Something most humans, regardless of gender, react to, one of those instinctual things like our fear of snakes that lurks in all of us. (Yes, there is a reason snakes and snake-like beings are found in mythologies as agents of chaos and destruction).

So we had our quote about guilt. Cnaiür finds witness in the eyes of the baby before him for the one he so callously murdered years ago. It jerks him out of his thoughts, has him retreat, declare the child isn’t Scylvendi, washing his hands of the babe.

Bakker describes the baby as pink then contrasting it with the blue sheets. Serwë finally had a pink baby, not a blue one. Esmenet surely is remembering that joy in her dead friend’s eyes.

Esmenet has balls. She cows Cnaiür. Of course, he’s off-balanced by guilt and hatred, by this reminder of not only his crime of killing that baby but how he let the original Moënghus use him.

And now we have more guilt from Achamian as he packs. He is fleeing Xinemus. He can’t make amends to his friend for allowing his eyes to be gouged out and Xinemus can’t give him the absolution because of the guilt he feels. They can only hurt each other now.

Poor Xinemus. Utterly destroyed by the cants of compulsion. Not losing his eyes, those are really just the physical proof of his torture, but what the Scarlet Spires forced him to say, moving his soul. To Xinemus, he said things to Achamian he never meant, never would have said, and he can’t get past them. And there’s nothing anyone can do for him except for Kellhus. The Dûnyain could find the words to save him.

But what use is a blind, broken man?

Esmenet quietly endures being pampered. It’s clear she’s not used to it. Not like the Esmenet we see in the next series, far older, who has utterly become the empress. But now, she’s still bemused by it all. Like with other character introductions, Bakker delves into the heart of the character. For Esmenet it is what life has forced her to be. First a whore and now an empress. She’s thrust into events. Other than setting out to find Achamian in book one, she’s never been more than a passive character, letting others drag her along in their wake, even if they’re her slaves.

We also see that she’s afraid she’ll lose it all. That she doesn’t deserve this because deep down she’s still that whore. Despite what Kellhus did to convince her in the last book, her own doubts are bubbling through, probably because of Achamian reentry into her life. He’s a reminder of what she used to be, the witness to her crimes of being a whore and then being his adulterous wife.

Esmenet holds up to the promises of naming her first daughter after Serwë. But Serwa is the opposite of her namesake in every way imaginable except in her love life. But that’s a discussion for The Great Ordeal. (I hope I’ll remember the idea for my comparison between her and her namesake).

Is it coincidence that she ran into Werjau? As we later see, he doesn’t like Esmenet and is plotting against her.

So Kellhus has created a secret police, encouraging his followers to report on each other to the Zaudunyani, and then put Esmenet in charge of it. He is molding her to be a ruler in his absence, knowing she has the intelligence for it, and must see this as something of trivial importance at the same time.

Now Bakker shows us another way she’s grown, how power has given her the agency she’s lacked all throughout her life. And yet despite being mistreated and harmed, she still finds herself doling it out. That to maintain her power, she has to order the suffering of others. Bakker also shows us that her power is a lie. It comes from Kellhus, not herself.

Oh, Esmenet, you are so wrong. Werjau is totally plotting to destroy you. I mean, that plotting goes nowhere. It’s a plot thread that, as I recall, just sort of left dangling and isn’t even addressed in the next series.

This scene with Esmenet giving judgments shows how far she’s come. She’s standing up to her opinions without flinching. She’s handing out pronouncements without flinching even when she knows that she’s condemning some men to death. She’s also guided by Kellhus, so she’s not insecure like other new rulers would be. Werjau is, wanting to punish people for little things that Esmenet knows are inconsequential.

So Kellhus’s new government is already getting its people to report on each other. Dictatorships love this. It makes trusting your neighbors, even your own family members, more difficult. What if they’ll report you? Now Kellhus has a legitimate threat to be reported on, but the system is in place to exploited to give him greater control over the population.

Now we see Kellhus’s religion has evolved into flagellation with sinners coming to be punished for their inequities. Being punished is a way of making penance for sins, for relieving the burden that guilt and stress can cause on us by believing another, more moral force, has removed them from us.

We see the first hint of Esmenet’s guilt when she realizes Achamian can hear her moaning during sex with Kellhus. Her happiness with Kellhus is slowly chipped away by this guilt. Achamian is the witness to her sin.

They’re first exchange is prickly. She’s feeling defensive about what she’s done, and reading is merely what they’re using as a proxy. Achamian doesn’t want to accept it, is confused by it, that she could betray him. And she needs him to understand and forgive her because of her guilt for the betrayal. Hence her: “The old world is dead. The old rules are dead.”

Poor Achamian. He tried, but she realized it. She still cares for him, still can easily fall into that role as his wife despite everything. You can see how she musters derision and scorn for him, trying to rip her heart away from caring for him because of the guilt and the longing she’s feeling. But she can’t do that. He meant to much for her. So she’s truthful about her feelings for him as she rationalizes why she’s with Kellhus now.

So long as Achamian won’t forgive her, she’ll feel guilty. Even though Kellhus forgave her acting as the God, it’s not enough for her. Kellhus is having to do some course correcting here. Achamian’s return is a surprise to him, I think. Not something he planned on. So he moved up his seduction of Esmenet thinking he could use her grief at Achamian’s death. But now it’s proving the wrong method. I firmly believe that Kellhus would have worked on Achamian and Esmenet over time to lead the pair to believe Esmenet needed to be his wife and bear his children. Guilt and anger have complicated his task now and with so many demands on his time, he’s not quite able to do it. Especially not once Cnaiür poisons Achamian against him.

It looks like Eleäzaras is in the bargaining stage of grief. He doesn’t want Kellhus to be a prophet, so he’s begging for what he witnessed with his own eyes to be false. But he saw Kellhus pull out a heart from his chest. All the stress that’s been building in Eleäzaras is breaking him now. He’s drinking. He’s despondent. He’s cracking. And we’ll see just how bad it gets by the end of the novel.

Bakker has shown us how the proud and noble warrior can be destroyed by the world, next he’s showing us the cunning and ambitious sorcerer falling to a similar fate. Eleäzaras could be a villain in another fantasy work, and here he is a broken man, driven to drink because the weight of his ambition is slowly crushing him. He feels guilt for what he’s done to his school.

Click here for the Chapter 3!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 12

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

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


Though you lose you soul, you shall win the world


My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esmenet stood staring, dumbstruck.

For the God to sing His own song…

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

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

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

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

My girl! My baby girl is dead!

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

“Then where is my daughter, Akka?”

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

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

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

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

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

I love you.

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

He waved.

Then he disappeared beneath a strand of black willows.

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

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

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

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

So he didn’t think of it.

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

Prince Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

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

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

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

He had…

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

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

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

He’s our savior! I know it!

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

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

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

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

He would simply give. Without expectation.

His School. His calling. His life…

The Gnosis would be his sacrifice.

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

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

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

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

He did his best not to think of Kellhus.

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

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

Achamian could think of no abandonment of self more profound.

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

He wouldn’t remember falling asleep.

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s already—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was, he thought, a good song.

Forgive me, Kellhus.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

And then Esmenet realizes why. She knows Achamian well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter 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.


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.


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? But I suffer!”

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

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

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

Of course she did.

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

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

A whore of word and a whore of body.

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

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

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

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

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

“Like a child,” he said.

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

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

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

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

She was his covenant. Esmenet was his wife.

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

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

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

Submission. Truth lay in submission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue onto Chapter 11!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Eight

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 8

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

 All men are greater than dead men.


Every monumental work of the State is measured by cubits. Every cubit is measured by the length of the Aspect-Emperor’s arm. And the Aspect-Emperor’s arm, they say, stands beyond measure. But I say the Aspect-Emperor’s arm is measured by the length of a cubit, and that all cubits are measured by the works of the State. Not even the All stands beyond measure, for it is more what lies within it, and “more” is a kind of measure. Even the God has His cubits.


My Thoughts

You can’t do anything dead. As we see, even Kellhus knows this principal. It is why he reveals too much in his contest with Sarcellus to stave off dying. Which would ruin his mission. Definitely not the Shortest Way. We also see this principal in action with the Eleäzaras wanting to protect the Scarlet Spire from combat for as long as possible.

So the second is titled the Psûkalogues, and it is clearly a treaties on the metaphysics of Cishuarim sorcery: the Psûkhe. So why is it talking about measurements? The text uses the cubit as an example, showing how it measures everything, from the emperor’s arm to monuments and then says God also has his cubit. In other words, the world is measured by the God’s arm and in turn the God’s arm is measured by the world. I think this is a key insight into why the Psûkhe doesn’t leave a mark. The Cishaurim are so in tune with the relationship between the real world and the Outside, that when they change the world they are able to measure their work perfectly against “the God” and thus their work fits into the world, where other sorcerers work is imperfect. In essence, a shoddy finish. Both build a chair, but the Mandate chair, while strong and sturdy, wasn’t sanded, wasn’t stained with a finish, and has splinters jutting from it. The Cishaurim chair, while perhaps not able to hold as much weight, is a work of beauty, carved with pleasing lines, sanded to a polished finish, stained a deep, rich color. Both are then placed at a table filled with other beautiful chairs. The Cishaurim chair blends in, the Mandate chair stands out. Both work, but one is aesthetically better.

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

Kellhus walks through the Galeoth encampment guided by the young Earl Athjeäri. He asks the Earl questions about his people, knowing that the young man is filled with pride for his people and will remember this walk. Kellhus finds manipulating him “at once so easy and so difficult.” The shortest path to learning more about Saubon. At the central campfire, they find two Galeoth men engaged in a contest of strength. Both men had their wrists bound to opposite ends of two poles, each pulling or pushing on their end to bring their opponent to the ground with the fire between them. They dance around it. Athjeäri comments the pair hate each other, wanting to hurt the other than winning coin.

Kellhus questions the game, which is called gandoki or “shadows.” Athjeäri explains this game proves his people do not lack subtly like Ketyai claim. As he speaks, Sarcellus steps between the pair, bowing to Kellhus. Athjeäri demands to know why Sarcellus is here. He’s here to speak with Kellhus. Athjeäri accuses Sarcellus of following, but the thing pretending to be Sarcellus guessed Kellhus would be with the Battle-Celebrant and his revelry.

Athjeäri glanced at Kellhus, his look, his heart rate, even the draw of his breath striking a note of scarcely concealed aversion. He thought Sarcellus vain and effete, Kellhus realized, a particularly repellent member of a species he’d long ago learned to despise. But then, that was likely what the original Cutias Sarcellus had been: a pompous caste-noble. Sarcellus, the real Sarcellus, was dead. What stood here in his stead was a beast of some kind, an exquisitely trained animal. It had wrenched Sarcellus from his place and had assumed all he once was. It had robbed him even of his death.

No murder could be more total.

Kellhus agrees to speak to Sarcellus alone. Athjeäri, reluctantly, says he’ll wait by his uncle’s tent. He shoves his way through the crowd. Just then, the game of shadows turns deadly. The smaller man has fallen into the fire and is held their by the larger. Friends rush to both men’s aid. Knives flash and a fight breaks out. Kellhus notices Sarcellus growing aroused by the violence, beset by an involuntary response and fighting the urge to masturbate.

The thing called Sarcellus fairly trembled with ardor. These things hungered, Kellhus realized. They ached.

Of all the rude animal impulses that coerced and battered the intellect, none possessed the subtlety or profundity of carnal lust. In some measure, it tinctured nearly every thought, impelled every act. This was what made Serwë so invaluable. Without realize, every man at Xinemus’s fire—with the exception of the Scylvendi—knew they best wooed her by pandering to Kellhus. And they could do naught but woo her.

But Sarcellus, it was clear, ached for a different species of congress. One involving suffering and violence. Like the Sranc, these skin-spies continually yearned to rut with their knives. They shared the same maker, one who harnessed the venal beast within their slaves, sharpened it as one might a spear point.

The Consult.

Sarcellus makes derisive comments about Galeoth harming themselves as they brawl is ended, several bleeding bad. Kellhus responds by quoting scripture. Kellhus feels the tightrope he walks. He knows the Consult is aware of his role in Skeaös’s unmasking. But do they know if it was accidental or intentional. If they suspected he could see his skin-spies, they would need to know how. Kellhus has to make himself “a mystery that they must solve.” So Kellhus says Sarcellus that there is something about his face. Sarcellus asks if that was why he was studying him at the meeting. Kellhus “opened himself to the legion within” to ponder his reaction, realizing that this was a new Sarcellus.

Was I that indiscreet?” Kellhus said. “I apologize… I was thinking of what you said to me that night in the Unaras at the ruined shrine… You made quite an impression.”

And what did I say?”

It acknowledges its ignorance as any man would, any man with nothing to hide… These things are well trained.

Sarcellus makes a joke out of saying many things and can’t remember. Kellhus asks if this is a game and then explains how Sarcellus told him about the “endless hunger” and how he wasn’t what he seemed. Wasn’t even a Shrial Knight. The thing’s face twitches “like a spider answering a shiver through its silk.” Kellhus he realizes he can read their reactions. He presses on, wanting to know why Sarcellus doesn’t remember. The thing grows confused. Kellhus continues, explaining how Sarcellus admitted to spying on Achamian and seducing Esmenet. How he feared his masters believed him responsible in a disaster at the Emperor’s court. Kellhus asks why he’s so coy now.

So much. In the span of moments, Kellhus had confirmed his hypothesis regarding the Consult’s immediate interests, and he’d uncovered the rudiments of what he needed to read these creatures. But most important, he’d sown the threat of betrayal. How could Kellhus possibly know what he knew, they would ask, unless the original Sarcellus had actually told him? Whatever their ends, the Consult depended, through and through, upon total secrecy. One defection could undo everything. If they feared for the reliability of their field agents—these skin-spies—they would be forced to restrict their autonomy and to proceed with more caution.

In other words, they would be forced to yield the one commodity Kellhus required more than any other: time. Time to dominate this Holy War. Time to find Anasûrimbor Moënghus.

He was one of the Conditioned, Dûnyain, and he followed the shortest path. The Logos.

A man holds up the gandoki sticks, calling for new contestants. Sarcellus seizes Kellhus, pulling him forward. Kellhus realizes the thing believed him and wonders if Sarcellus is improvising or panicking. Or was it the things intent to challenge him to gandoki all along. Before the warriors, Kellhus would have no choice but to play. “The resulting loss of face would be crippling.” They are bound to the poles and begin their contest, separated by the fire.

Everything melts away from Kellhus save Sarcellus. He studies the inhuman muscles moving, the creatures growing arousal. It speaks, saying “We are old, Anasûrimbor, very, very old.” Kellhus realizes that Sarcellus is bound to a beast, created by Tekne. “Possibilities bloomed, like branches twining through the open air of the improbable.” It taunts Kellhus, saying others have tried to do this and all failed. Kellhus thinks his strategy. The creature is strong, and if Kellhus beats the thing it might prove him too much a threat. He had to find a balance. But the thing is strong. They dance around the fire as Kellhus asks who Sarcellus is and what he wants.

Kellhus does a surprising move, almost knocking Sarcellus down. His foot hits the fire and he kicks up a cloud of ash and soot, blinding those watching. At that moment, Kellhus realizes the creature means to kill him. They struggled, and Sarcellus pushes Kellhus backward, bowling him through the crowd and into the tent. His goal is to carry Kellhus into the darkness and kill him. Not wanting to die, Kellhus leverages the poles and lifts Sarcellus from the ground, slamming him to the earth hard, winning the contest.

To save his life, Kellhus had demonstrated too much skill. Sarcellus knows it. Kellhus realizes he has made a mistake.

Saubon is drunk in his tent. His nephew, Athjeäri, complains, asking why Saubon now wants Kellhus sent away. Saubon sees his beloved sister in Athjeäri’s face. But in the wake of Kussalt’s death, it has him questioning if his sister ever actually cared for him like he thought Kussalt had. He almost tells Athjeäri about Kussalt, but Athjeäri isn’t his sister, and he would only despise Saubon’s grief. He bellows that he doesn’t want Kellhus to see him like this and to send him away.

Alone, Saubon believes no one ever cared for him.

Eleäzaras cannot sleep despite the hour. He feels like he had slept for weeks while away from the Holy War. “For what was sleep, if not unconsciousness of the greater world?” Already, he had Iyokus, his spymaster, studying the battlefield and interviewing agents on what happened. He needed information, particularly on the faceless spies of the Cishaurim. Iyokus finally returns and they go for a walk.

The talk about the battle, particularly how the Shrial Knights charge saved the day, discussing the tactics the Cishaurim used. Eleäzaras is elated that a dozen Cishaurim are dead. He estimates the Cishaurim can field between 100 and 120 sorcerers of the rank. Near the numbers of the Scarlet Spire.

When one counted in the thousands, the loss of twelve scarcely seemed significant, and Eleäzaras had no doubt that many in the Holy War, among the Shrial Knights in particular, gnashed their teeth at the thought of how many they had lost for the sake of so few. But when one counted, as Schoolmen did, in tens, the loss of twelve was nothing short of catastrophic—or glorious.

Eleäzaras decides their strategy will be to conserve themselves no matter what. Allow the Inrithi to kill as many Cishaurim. He wants the Scarlet Spire saved for Shimeh. He is confident that, though the Psûkhe remained mysterious, the Anagogis will defeat them. He sees only more power for the Scarlet Spire in the wake of their defeat. Iyokus isn’t certain it will work again, that the Cishaurim won’t use the same tactics they did here. They acted arrogantly upon seeing no Scarlet Spire on the field, and relied on no cavalry support like they normally would. They paid for it. They won’t again.

They reach the ruins of Mengedda and Eleäzaras realizes something broke this place. Feeling breathless, he asks about Achamian. Iyokus fears Eleäzaras suspicious are correct but doesn’t know that it’s significant. Eleäzaras says they have to capture Achamian to find out and interrogate him. This is what Iyokus fear, that Achamian will maintain that Skeaös was from the consult even under torture and compulsion. Eleäzaras brings up faceless Geshruuni.

I know these arguments,” Iyokus said. He turned to once again scrutinize the moonlight ruins, his expression translucent and unreadable. “I simply fear there’s more to this…”

There’s always more, Iyokus. Why else would men murder men?”

Esmenet is truly happy for the first time since her daughter’s death. She tried many ways to “attend to the void within her.” Camping for five days with Achamian away from the ruins of Mengedda, in their own little world, has been a dream she doesn’t want to end. While cleaning the tent, she finds his satchel and notice it has mold on it. She decides to clean it and empties it. She finds Achamian’s “map” as he returns from cutting firewood. They joke about curiosity and smells before she asks about the doll. He refuses, saying she doesn’t want to know about that. Then she goes to the map. His good mood vanishes. She asks about the writing and he tells her who they are, getting emotional when he mentions Inrau. Then she points to the name by itself. The Consult.

Chills pimpled her skin. Achamian, she realized, didn’t belong to her—not truly. He never could. What was she compared with these mighty things?

I can’t even read…

She ignores her pain and asks him why he stopped. She comments how he’s not acting like a spy any longer. He says he asked her not to be a prostitute, so he gave up spying. She tells him not to lie. He says it’s not her, but him. She knows it means Kellhus. Silence falls. They hadn’t spoken about Kellhus since fleeing. “Sometimes it seemed an unspoken accord, the kind lovers used to numb shared hurts.”

For a time, Kellhus had been a troubling figure, but he’d soon become intriguing, someone warm, welcoming, and mysterious—a man who promised pleasant surprises. Then at some point he’d become towering, someone who overshadowed all others—like a noble and indulgent father, or a great king breaking bread with his slaves. And now, even more so in his absence, he’d become a shining figure. A beacon of some kind. Something they must follow, if only because all else was so dark…

What is he? she wanted to say, but looked speechlessly to her lover instead.

To her husband.

Abruptly, Achamian tells her to follow and leads her to the edge of a ledge and gaze at the Holy War marching. “Like the shadows of truly mountainous clouds, they darkened the plain, great columns of them, their arms shining like powdered diamond in the sunlight.” She is awed. Achamian numbers them at 250,000 warriors with as many camp followers. Esmenet feels so powerless. She asks if it is something from his dreams.

He paused, and though he neither swayed nor stumbled, Esmenet suddenly feared he was about to fall. She reached out, clutched his elbow.

Like my dreams,” he said.

My Thoughts

Kellhus can never stop manipulating. Even with Athjeäri, a lesser Name, he is planting seeds to awe and impress the young man while getting information out of him about Saubon.

Shadows is an interesting take on tug-of-war. And, of course, the mud pit’s been replaced with a bonfire just to make the game that much more intense.

Killing someone and then hiding their death and taking their place really does erase them from the world. It doesn’t let their loved ones even grieve their passing.

Rude animal impulses. Great way to describe emotions, Kellhus. We get more insight into Kellhus’s use of Serwë, though I think he is lying to himself here about his motivations. He felt that twinge of pity so long ago when he first met her while watching her being raped. He kept her when the Nansur were hunting even when letting her go would be the smarter decision. He has now justified keeping her around. He does get great use out of her, as we’ll see with Achamian. And he has another use for her, one that will break him fully.

I hate Kellhus a lot because of what he does to Serwë.

The legion within Kellhus is a great hint here how Dûnyain truly think, and which Bakker truly shows us in The Great Ordeal. They have a thousand-thousand thoughts all contributing, working together, to provide the most logical solution. Different ideas heading down different branches, working different angles of the problem.

As much as I dislike him, he makes a compelling character to read. His interactions with Sarcellus, peeling back the layers of these creatures, his feints and moves, make for engrossing reading. An important thing for would-be writers. Make your readers love or hate your characters. Doesn’t matter which. Indifference is the worst thing you can do.

Possibilities bloom…” This quote strikes Kellhus when he realizes that the creature was made by Tekne. We aren’t told what those possibilities are. What does Kellhus envision the Tekne can be used for? The Unholy Consult now has a release date. I can’t wait!

So the fight between Kellhus and Sarcellus is fascinating. Again, Kellhus withdraws until he is only a place, no longer a person. He studies, reacts, waits for the moment. But the thing is so strong, it forces Kellhus to make several mistakes. He was not ready for this fight. He let himself get trapped into it. Sarcellus set an ambush for Kellhus that our Dûnyain did not see coming until it was too late to stop it. His improvisation paid off with Saubon weeks earlier, but he has now overplayed his hand to the Consult. He may not have bought himself the time he hoped for.

Poor Saubon. To have the one man you thought cared for you use his dying breath to tell you how much he despites you has messed him up. Now it has him questioning every other person who cared for him. He has lost all trust. Can hardly blame him for drinking?

Iyokus wanting to visit the ruins is a great character moment but it also sets up his later plan to capture Achamian. Iyokus is, as Eleäzaras thinks, much like a Mandate Schoolman in his fascination with antiquities. Iyokus uses that same fascination on Achamian for his trap.

The arrogance of twelve men caused the Fanim defeat. If they just took precautions, the Fanim Calvary could have shielded them and the day would have been lost. It’s always interesting how battles can pivot sometimes on such small things and have such great effects.

We get hints that you cannot torture the Mandate Schoolman for the Gnosis. Eleäzaras fear of Achamian returns, awakened by Mengedda itself and the realization that the No-God really did die here. The fear that he’s led his school into its destruction compels his actions, which his why he’s afraid of Achamian. If the Mandate and the Cishaurim conspire… Acting out of fear rarely ends well.

Esmenet and Achamian camping is their honeymoon. Just five days of enjoying each other’s company, not worrying about anything. It’s a powerful emotion for her. Something that finally drowns out the grief (and guilt) of her daughter’s “death.” Such wonderful, little details are speckled through the text about their domesticity. Bakker does a great job of navigating through all the emotions of this chapter. We start out with Kellhus maneuvering then fighting for his life, transitions to Eleäzaras plotting Achamian’s own kidnapping. And now we’re here with Achamian and Esmenet happy. We don’t want them to leave, because we the reader know what’s lurking when they do. Bakker just showed it to us.

We get our first glimpse of the Wathi Doll as Esmenet cleans Achamian’s leather satchel. Even before it’s properly introduced. A good technique for a Chekhov gun is to introduce something, remind the readers later, then have it being used even later.

I love the domesticity of this scene, and so does Esmenet. The sure joy she gets out of seeing the mighty sorcerer bare-chested from cutting firewood. And Achamian seems well suited to it. Even fashioned a flint ax. Foreshadowing… Maybe.

The little touch of Esmenet grasping his knee when he exposes pain over Inrau. Wonderful characterization.

Esmenet always has great observations about Kellhus and how he changes, molding himself in their eyes, moving step-by-step into something greater and greater. In a few weeks, she went from mistrusting him to almost worshiping him.

And there at the end, we see the Holy War begin it’s Second March. It’s hard to even imagine. Half a million people marching across a plain all for one purpose.

Part 1 has come to an end. Already, this book has thrown a lot at us and now the stakes are even greater. Kellhus and the Consult’s hidden war has escalated while the most powerful school of sorcerers plots Achamian’s capture and torture. The Fanim have been bloodied, but this war if far from over. The Cishaurim won’t be so reckless. The next victory won’t be so “easy.”

Click here to continue on to Chapter Nine!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 3

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

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


See your enemies content and your lovers melancholy.


My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He paused, looked at each Great Name in turn.

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

The Holy War agrees to wait for the Scarlet Spire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But their Art is too crude…”

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

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

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

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

“You suppose—”

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

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

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

Iyokus’s expression darkened.

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

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

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

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

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

“And the Second Apocalypse. What about that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah ,the question. More drink was required.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he felt the touch. Heard the voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She really believes… All along she’s believed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stared, dumbstruck. Was that what she thought?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And certainty in the dark.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue onto Chapter 4!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 2

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

Duty measures the distance between the animal and the divine.


The days and weeks before battle are a strange thing. All the contingents, the Conriyans, the Galeoth, the Nansur, the Thunyeri, the Tydonni, the Ainoni, and the Scarlet Spires, marched to the fortress of Asgilioch, to the Southron Gates and the heathen frontier. And though many bent their thoughts to Skauras, the heathen Sapatishah who would contest us, he was still woven of the same cloth as a thousand other abstract concerns. One could still confuse war with everyday living…


My Thoughts

Duty is putting something ahead of you own desires. Whether it is the duty to go to your job, the duty to stay faithful to a spouse, the duty to die for your country, you are putting something ahead of yourself. Animals don’t do this. But the divine does. And then in this chapter we have Kellhus equating the Holy War to an animal offering, a sacrifice to the divine to see if their duty is righteous or not, if they are saved or damned.

Again, we have Achamian writing about these events after the fact. They serve the purpose of foreshadowing future events as well as providing historical background for events. This one is a comment on humans adaptability to make a life in all most any circumstance, no matter how extreme or out of the ordinary. We will find ways to have routine, to make it familiar, to trick ourselves into some amount of safety. Even in prison, you see this. At the same time, Bakker’s reminding of us of the players of the war, the nations on the Inrithi side and the general who will be contesting them at the end of the first march.

Late Spring 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the province of Anserca

The Conriyan host marches south and after a few days, Achamian realizes the host had settled into a pattern, people camping with the same people. Achamian makes camp with Xinemus, his lieutenants—Iryssas, Dinchases, and Zenkappa—Kellhus, Serwë, and Cnaiür Proyas makes the occasional visit, but he usually summons Xinemus, Kellhus, and Cnaiür to for council. One night, during a holy day, Achamian finds himself alone in the camp with Cnaiür. Achamian has many questions for Cnaiür about Kellhus, about his relationship with Serwë (people have noticed how she dotes on Kellhus but goes to bed with Cnaiür), and on the disposition of the Sranc clans who border the Utemot territory, but he’s unnerved by the barbarian and they just ignore each other until Achamian tries to broach the silence with a “I guess we’re the heathens, eh, Scylvendi?”

An uncomfortable silence followed while Cnaiür continued gnawing at the bone he held. Achamian sipped his wine, thought of excuses he might use to withdraw to his tent. What did one say to a Sclyvendi?

“So you teach him,” Cnaiür suddenly said, spitting gristle into the fire. His eyes glittered from the shadow of his heavy brow, studying the flame.

“Yes,” Achamian replied.

“Has he told you why?”

Achamian shrugged. “He seeks knowledge of the Three Seas… Why do you ask?”

Instead of answering, the Sclyvendi marches off into the darkness, leaving Achamian baffled Achamian means to ask Kellhus, but forgets by the time the man returns. Achamian seeks his bed. Like most nights, he is plagued by doubts and recrimination because of Kellhus. He worries about Esmenet and what will happen to the Holy War when it faces Fanim. The nightmares grow worse and he grows unable to sleep. He would pray to the gods who damned them both to keep Esmenet safe and his thoughts turn to Kellhus.

Achamian realizes he can talk to Xinemus about his problem, seek his friend’s advice. But he is scared. He had lied to Xinemus about what had happened in the Emperor’s dungeon, unable to tell the truth in the stunned aftermath.

At the time, the lies simply… happened. The events of that night and the revelation that had followed had been too immediate and far too catastrophic in their implication. Even now, two weeks later, Achamian felt overmatched by their dread significance. Back then, he could only flounder. Stories, on the other hand, were something he could make sense of, something he could speak.

How can Achamian explain to his friend that he lied, that he betrayed his trust. As he thinks, he gazes at his companions and wonders if they realize the end is coming. He has to share his burden, and if can’t to the Mandate, then he had to someone else. “If only Esmi had come with… No. that way lay more pain.” So Achamian goes to Xinemus, telling his friend they need to talk. And though Kellhus is distracted, Achamian has the impression the man is watching. He brings up the night of the palace, struggling to speak. But just as Achamian starts to speak, Iryssas interrupts, wanting Xinemus to hear Kellhus’s words.

“It’s just a parable,” the Prince of Atrithau said. “Something I learned while among the Scylvendi… It goes like this: A slender young bull and his harem of cows are shocked to discover that their owner has purchased another bull, far deeper of chest, far thicker of horn, and far more violent of temper. Even still, when the owner’s sons drive the mighty newcomer to pasture, the young bull lowers his horns, begins snorting and stamping. ‘No!’ his cows cry. ‘Please, don’t risk your life for us!’ ‘Risk my life?’ the young bull exclaims. ‘I’m just making sure he knows I’m a bull!’”

Everyone laughs after a moment, then Iryssas gives his interpretation that a man’s dignity and honor are worth more than anything “even our wives!” Xinemus dismisses it as a joke, but Cnaiür interrupts, saying, “It is a parable of courage.” Everyone is silent as he explains it is a way to tell youths that “gestures are meaningless, that only death is real.” Achamian asks Kellhus’s interpretation Kellhus speak, his voice hushing those around him as he says that courage, honor, love are “problems, not absolutes. Questions.” Iryssas disagrees, demanding to know what the solutions are. “Cowardice and depravity?”

“No,” Kellhus replied. “Cowardice and depravity are problems as well. As for solutions? You, Iryssas—you’re a solution. In fact, we’re all solutions. Every life lived sketches a different answer, a different way…”

“So are all solutions equal?” Achamian blurted. The bitterness of his tone startled him.

“A philosopher’s question,” Kellhus replied, and his smile swept away all awkwardness “No. Of course not. Some lives are better lived than others—there can be no doubt. Why do you think we sing the lays we do? Why do you think we revere our scripture? Or ponder the life of the Latter Prophet?”

Examples, Achamian realized Examples of lives that enlightened, that solved… He knew this but couldn’t bring himself to say it. He was, after all, a sorcerer, an example of a life that solved nothing. Without a word, he rolled to his feet and strode into the darkness, not caring what the others thoughts. Suddenly, he needed darkness, solitude…

Shelter from Kellhus.

As Achamian leaves, he realizes he didn’t speak to Xinemus. He decides that’s for the best with all that’s going on. “Xinemus would just think him mad.” An angry Serwë confronts Achamian. He wonders if she’s jealous of the time Kellhus spends with Achamian.

“You needn’t fear,” she said.

Achamian swallowed at the sour taste in his mouth. Earlier, Xinemus had passed perrapta around instead of wine—wretched drink.

“Fear what?”

“Loving him.”

Achamian’s heart beats faster. He asks if Serwë dislikes him. As he waits for her answer, he longs for her, desires her beauty. “Only because you refuse to see,” is her answer. Then she flees, leaving Achamian wondering what he doesn’t see as he cries.

Later, Achamian is alone at the fire weeping when Kellhus approaches. He asks what’s wrong. “Is it the Dreams.” Achamian agrees but Kellhus sees it is something more, pressing Achamian on his sleepless nights. Achamian answers “I see his blood in your face, and it fills me with both hope and horror.” Kellhus appears disturbed that Achamian is troubled about him. Achamian explains about the dream of the Celmomas Prophecy and its importance to the Mandate. Achamian grows emotional, speaking in the first person, momentarily forgetting that he isn’t Seswatha.

“You don’t understand! J-just listen… He, Celmomas, spoke to me—to Seswatha—before he died. He spoke to all of us—” Achamian shook his head, cackled, pulled fingers through his beard. “In fact he keeps speaking, night after fucking night, dying time and again—and always for the first time! And-and he says…”

Achamian looked up, suddenly so unashamed of his tears. If he couldn’t bare his soul before this man—so like Ajencis, so like Inrau!—then who?

“He says that an Anasûrimbor—an Anasûrimbor, Kellhus!—will return at the end of the world.”

Kellhus’s expression, normally so blessedly devoid of conflict, darkened. “What are you saying, Akka?”

Achamian says he is the harbinger. That he means the world will end. The Second Apocalypse Kellhus points out the absurdity of it. Kellhus has existed since he was born, that “an Anasûrimbor has always been ‘here.’” Achamian realizes it is just a coincidence. Achamian yearns to hug Kellhus as he grapples with this idea. But then he talks about discovering the Consult and what happened, about how Skeaös was the skin spy.

“But how does that make me the Harbinger?”

Because it means the Consult has mastered the Old Science, Bashrags, Dragons, all the abominations of the Inchoroi, are artifacts of the Tekne, the Old Science, created long, long ago, when the Nonmen still ruled Eärwa It was thought destroyed when the Inchoroi were annihilated by Cû‘jara-Cinmoi—before the Tusk was even written, Kellhus! But these, these skin-spies are new. New artifacts of the Old Science. And if the Consult has rediscovered the Old Science, there’s a chance they know how to resurrect Mog-Pharau…”

And that name stole his breath, winded him like a blow to the chest.

“The No-God,” Kellhus said.

Achamian nodded, swallowing as though his throat were sore. “Yes, the No-God…”

“And now that an Anasûrimbor has returned…”

“That chance has become a near certainty.”

After a studious pause, Kellhus asks what Achamian will do. Achamian says his mission, which is to spy on the Holy War. But he has to decide whether or not to tell the Mandate about Achamian, revealing that he betrays not only them but the world for doing so. Kellhus asks why he hasn’t told them.

Achamian took a deep breath. “Because when I do, they’ll come for you, Kellhus.”

“Perhaps they should.”

“You don’t know my brothers.”

Cnaiür crouches over a sleeping Serwë, studying her as he ponders the events that led him here to advising the Holy War as it marched on Shimeh, home of the Cishaurim. “Anasûrimbor Moënghus was Cishaurim.” Cnaiür is amazed that the “deranged scale of its ambition” Kellhus’s plan is working. Cnaiür understands that this is the only way to get his revenge. He ponders the extant of Moënghus’s power, fearing it includes the Holy War and Kellhus.

Send them a son. What better way could a Dûnyain overthrow his enemies.

Already, the nobles fall silent out of respect to Kellhus, deferring to him, “not the way men acceded rank or station, but the way men yield to those who possess something they need.” Kellhus had convinced them he wasn’t ordinary, but special, using their beliefs and preying upon them. Cnaiür reflects on Kellhus using those beliefs to make himself appear special. When Ingiaban, Palatine of Kethantei, claims that “God favors the righteous” as proof they’ll win. Kellhus interrupts, asking if Ingiaban is righteous Ingiaban says they are because they raise arms against the heathens.

[Kellhus]: “So we raise arms against the heathen because we’re righteous?”

“And because they’re wicked.”

Kellhus smiled with stern compassion. “’He who’s righteous is he who’s found wanting in the ways of God…’ Isn’t this what Sejenus himself writes?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“And who finds men wanting in the ways of the God? Other men?”

The Palatine of Kethantei paled. “No,” he said. “Only the God and his Prophets.”

“So we’re not righteous, then?”

“Yes… I mean, no…” Baffled, Ingiaban looked to Kellhus, a horrible frankness revealed in his face. “I mean… I know longer know what I mean!”

Concessions. Always exacting concessions. Accumulating them.

Kellhus explains that man can only hope he is righteous and can never judge himself to be it. He explains that they are the sacrifice on the altar not the priest making it. “We’re the victim.” They won’t know if they’re righteousness until the end. Proyas finds great merit in it.

Cnaiür feels his own shame while watching Kellhus manipulate others, remembering how Moënghus manipulated Cnaiür as a child. Sometimes he wants to give them warning. But he fears having anything in common with these men.

Sometimes crimes seemed crimes, no matter how ludicrous the victim.

But only sometimes. For the most part Cnaiür merely watched with a numb kind of incredulity. He no longer heard Kellhus speak so much as observed him cut and carve, whittle and hew, as though the man had somehow shattered the glass of language and fashioned knives from the pieces. This word to anger to that word might open. This look to embarrass so that smile might reassure. This insight to remind so that truth might injure, heal, or astonish.

How easy it must have been for Moënghus One stripling lad. One chieftain’s wife.

Cnaiür remembers his mother’s execution for giving birth to Moënghus’s son and Cnaiür wonders why he let it happen. He comes to himself, still kneeling over Serwë, and finds him stabbing his knife into the dirt. He realizes he is feeling remorse for Proyas and the others. Which shocks him.

“So long as what comes before remains shrouded,” Kellhus had said on their trek across the Jiünati Steppe, “so long as men are already deceived, what does it matter?” And what did it matter, making fools of fools? What mattered was whether the man made a fool of him [Cnaiür]; this—this!—was the sharp edge upon which his every thought should bleed Did the Dûnyain speak true? Was he truly his father’s assassin?

I walk with the whirlwind.

He could never forget. He had only his hatred to preserve him.

And Serwë?

Kellhus enters and realizes Cnaiür overheard the conversation with Achamian. Cnaiür avoids a debate, getting dressed while Serwë comes awake. Kellhus brings up Cnaiür’s Chorae, asking if he still has it. Cnaiür says of course you know I have it. Kellhus asks how he would. “You know.” Cnaiür calls killing sorcerer’s “treacherous work.” And then horns sound outside.

Late Spring 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the province of Anserca

As Emperor Xerius steps from the bath, feeling like a god no, he is surprise to find his mother watching. He implies she’s there to stare at his penis. She, however, is there because she has a gift, a young, virgin slave girl, a Galeoth.

Gifts from Mother—they underscored the treachery of gifts from those who were not ones tributaries. Such gifts weren’t gifts at all, in fact. Such gifts always demanded exchange.

His Mother always knew which men or women would please him, and he can’t deny his joy at her gift. She asks about Skeaös, offended she wasn’t told about what happened. Xerius’s attention is split as he confirms it was the Cishaurim who made Skeaös. She is afraid they know of his plans, but he points out they already know of his plans to betray the Holy War, since he made them with the Fanim. She wants him to reconsider his pact with the Heathens. She points out that he’s been a snake in his bosom, hearing all his plans, which reminds Xerius that there could be others. He isn’t convinced, using what she taught him against her. She only grow angry, throwing out a tirade about using the Holy War to destroy the Cishaurim instead of sparing them.

“This isn’t like you, Mother. You were never one to cower before damnation. Is it because you grow old, hmm? Tell me, what’s it like to stand upon the precipice? To feel your womb wither, to watch the eyes of your lovers grow shy with hidden disgust…”

He’d struck from impulse and found vanity—the only way he knew to injure his mother.

But there was no bruise in her reply. “There comes a time, Xerius, when you care nothing for your spectators. The spectacles of beauty are like baubles of ceremony—for the young, the stupid. The act, Xerius. The act makes mere ornaments of all things. You’ll see.”

He tries to wounder her again, but she doesn’t get hurt, instead whispers that he’s a “monstrous son.” He asks what she regrets, and she responds that regret is inevitable. Xerius doesn’t like that. He suddenly feels pity for his mother, remembering when they had been close, intimate. But those times were gone. He comes close to apology but warns her to drop the subject or she will regret it.

Then he turns his attention to the young slave girl. He pulls her to him and she trembles, crying, as she lowers herself on him and loses her virginity. As he enjoys her, he sees his mother about to leave, and asks her to stay and watch. She says no.

“But you will, Mother. The Emperor is difficult to please. You must instruct her.”

There was a pause, filled only by the girl’s whimper.

“But certainly, my son,” Istiya said at length, and walked grandly over to the couch. The rigid girl flinched when she grasped her hand and drew it down to Xerius’s scrotum. “Gently, child,” she cooed. “Shussh. No weeping.”

Xerius groaned and arched into her, laughed when she chirped in pain. He gazed into his mother’s painted face suspended over the girl’s shoulder, whiter even than the porcelain, Galeoth skin, and he burned with that old, illicit thrill. He felt a child again, careless. All was as it should be. The Gods were auspicious indeed.

“Tell me, Xerius,” his mother said huskily, “how was it that you discovered Skeaös?”

My Thoughts

I like how Bakker describes Achamian interacting with Iryssas, Dinchases, and Zenkappa without Xinemus around. Always weird when you’re hanging out with the friends of your friends, that strange awkward stage. It’s also good to remind us about them and their personalities.

Cnaiür is being Cnaiür, trying to puzzle out Kellhus motions, probably debating whether or not to warn Achamian while debating how that might effect his goal of killing Moënghus Cnaiür knows he’s playing a deadly game with Kellhus, but he has no choice but to play it.

The subtle plants of Kellhus plan to be seen as a prophet are already bearing fruit in Achamian’s mind as he thinks about praying to the gods and his thoughts turn to Kellhus.

Achamian finds comfort in stories over lies. Stories can be so much simpler than real life. It is probably why humans are so fascinated with them. They are ways to make sense of the world, to put the chaos into order and tame them. From the earliest mythological tales are ancestors created to explain the world around them to parables of today trying to explain the events of our world by proxy.

Cnaiür’s version of the parable, that only gestures are real, is shown by the young bull. He has to prove he is a bull by not just saying it, but by fighting the stronger one where he’ll probably die. But he does it anyways.

Iryssas is painted as a person who think their feelings trump logic and grow angry when those feelings are called into question, making him “dull-witted.”

We see some of Kellhus’s Dûnyain philosophy in his talk of solutions. That courage, honor, love and other emotions are not absolutes but questions that have to be solved. The Dûnyain believes they have to be removed from the equation to solve it, to distill everything down to the Absolute, the self-moving soul not bound to the examples of the past, like the Latter Prophet, revered for their solutions. They stop people from finding their own.

Achamian’s bitterness during the exchange with Kellhus probably stems from being interrupted right when he had worked up the nerve to talk to Xinemus. Isn’t that so annoying when you try to talk to someone, and someone else butts in and messes it all up. Then we get into Achamian’s depression, focusing on being damned and sees his life as wasted because Kellhus brought of Inri Sejunes. Now, Kellhus is a smart guy. He had to know his words would sting Achamian, to make him face damnation again. The time will come when Kellhus promises salvation for sorcerers.

And avoiding Damnation, as we know from the Consult, is a powerful motivation.

Serwë believes Kellhus is the God. And like all believers, they want others to believe the same, to reinforce that they have chosen the right belief. We all do this. We all cherry pick the data that confirms and reinforces our biases. It is very hard to recognize in yourself and make different choices.

What must it be like to dream another man’s life every night. No wonder Achamian confuses himself for Seswatha when he grows emotional, when logic is at its weakest as emotion overwhelms thought.

And we see once again how Kellhus manipulates, feigning being troubled over Achamian’s revelation of the prophecy than instantly cutting through the problem of it, casting doubt. It’s enough to snap out Achamian from it until he goes on to talk about the skin spy and the its implication. Despite Kellhus’s attempts, Achamian remains fixated on the harbinger. Kellhus had a good plan, but Achamian is too dedicated to it. But he’s also conflicted because he loves Kellhus. Which is the Dûnyain’s most potent weapon. It’s also good to see that Kellhus doesn’t always succeed even on people who aren’t Cnaiür. But now he has more data, understands more of Achamian’s problem. And emotions, after all, are solutions looking to be solved.

Learn a bit more about the Inchoroi here. Ancient race of sci-fi aliens crash-landed on a fantasy world. But they came for a reason. And though the bulk of the race is dead, two survive and the Consult is helping further their goals of escaping Damnation. No wonder a group of human sorcerers went over to the Inchoroi.

As always, Cnaiür’s drive, revenge on Moënghus, is present in his thoughts. This scene reinforces that while simultaneously reintroducing the character, his motivations, and background to re-familiarize readers with what has happened before.

Cnaiür’s understanding of Kellhus is a great insight for us as readers as he is constantly questioning everything, wondering at Kellhus’s motives, what his true aims are. That is what we need to do. We can’t be lulled into liking or trusting this character. Otherwise we are deceived just like Achamian, Serwë, Proyas, Xinemus, and others are.

Kellhus’s exchange with Ingiaban is a great strategy when dealing with someone who believes in something, whether it’s religion or philosophy or another belief structure. If you argue outside of their frame of belief, coming at it from the outside, you will have a hard time convincing them. It is better to use their own beliefs to educate them, to show them how they are wrong, to expose any hypocrisy or mistake in it. Kellhus uses this, adopting their beliefs, to appear greater than he is. Notice how Proyas finds merit it in.

Cnaiür thinks himself better than Proyas and the others, his own vanity keeps him from warning them. He doesn’t want to admit he is them.

Bakker, with Cnaiür’s reflection on how Kellhus manipulates, is reintroducing us to him. But first, Bakker showed us Kellhus doing this to Achamian early in the chapter, first driving him away in anger, then later coming and getting the truth from him. And now we see that it wasn’t accidental, but purposeful.

Nothing Kellhus does is accidental.

Cnaiür struggles to focus on the true question—can he trust Kellhus. Nothing else can matter except that. He had to get his revenge, and he needs to keep his hatred to preserve him. But he wonders if Serwë also is enough. He questions it. She is his proof that he is still Scylvendi, his captive bride. But she is Kellhus’s tool.

Cnaiür’s “You know” about the Chorae is an indication he’s made the connection that if Moënghus is a sorcerer, than Kellhus is probably one too.

Serwë’s comments about the horns not having sounded yet has caused some people theorize that she had a premonition about the horns that then sound just a few lines later. Of course, she could just be complaining about being woke up before the Holy War’s equivalent of an alarm clock. And who wants that?

Cnaiür thinks Kellhus wants the Chorae to kill Achamian, but Kellhus, I think, is looking for a way to protect himself against the other Mandate. If he fails to convince Achamian not to tell his colleagues, everything could fail. He knows he can’t stand against sorcerery. Kellhus learned that in the prologue of book 1 against the Nonman.

And now back to the the Emperor and his dysfunctional relationship with his mother. She likes to bring him men and women to please him to get concessions out of him.

So, this is a bit spoilery for book 3, but it’s hard to talk about Xerius’s mother here without touching on this. She is interrogating him about what happened with Skeaös, what he believes he was, and what he plans on doing about it. She tries to manipulate him into seeing this deal with the Fanim to betray the Holy War is a bad idea, trying to frighten him. Why? Because as Xerius fears, there are other skin spies, and the Empress is one of them. His mother was replaced before even the last book started. We see her in The Darkness that Comes Before working with Skeaös to preserve the Holy War and arguing against betraying it. The Consult wants the Holy War to succeed and Xerius’s betrayal could jeopardize all. She’s focused on sparing not the Fanim but the Cishaurim. Our first clue as to why the Consult wants the Holy War to succeed. I think the Empress was replaced when Skeaös failed to be convincing enough. The Consult realized they needed a second person manipulating him, one that he couldn’t ignore like a counselor.

So why didn’t the Consult replace Xerius directly? He is key to their plans. He can make or break the Holy War. Simple. When is he ever alone? He is surrounded by slaves and servants and officials. Even in the bath, he is attended to. Easier to replace his more vulnerable confidants and use them. Of course, they are up against a paranoid, glory-hungry man with delusions of godhood, so it doesn’t go perfectly.

And we end with Xerius finding his happy place, having sex while his mother watches, remembering when they were lovers when he was a child before he became a man (emperor) and could not allow himself to be controlled by his mother. He yearns for those simpler times. She did a really good job fucking him up.

And then she presses again to learn about Skeaös. How in particular Xerius discovered who he was. To the Consult, having a skin spy unveiled is devastating. They are counting on their agents to manipulate events and pass unseen So on the surface, this scene comes off as perverse, Xerius enjoying a young girl, a gift form his mother, but beneath Bakker is advancing the story of the Consult, showing how they manipulate and operate. It’s not much different than Kellhus. Only he’s so much better at it because even us readers can be seduced by him and think he’s a good guy.

Click here to continue onto Chapter Three!

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