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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 7
Jocktha

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

Every woman knows there are only two kinds of men: those who feel and those who pretend. Always remember, my dear, though only the former can be loved, only the latter can be trusted. It is passion that blackens eyes, not calculation.

—ANONYMOUS LETTER

It is far better to outwit Truth than to apprehend it.

—AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

Wow, those are some quotes. But they really boil down to this: you can only be hurt by someone you love. And you can’t really love someone who pretends. So that guy who’s just faking it, he doesn’t really care, so he’s not going to inspire any real emotions, whether good one or bad ones. So what does that say about Esmenet. Only Achamian can hurt her? That she can’t actually love Kellhus because he fakes it (and the moment Esmenet realizes that Kellhus fakes it, her passion for him is lost).

Still, what a depressing thing to say. Makes you wonder who this anonymous woman is. Someone abused. Someone whose known a lot of men in her life. This letter says you can either have love and fear, or safety and emptiness.

The proverb does come off as very Ainoni. They are ones who like to shape reality to their liking. Better to find a work around to an unpleasant truth, then understand it. It’s easier on your conscience. It’s two interesting quotes to start the chapter with. On the surface, the second quote could be about the first one with a woman who outwits the truth about the two types of men. But these quotes are both about Cnaiür.

Cnaiür is a man who has passion. He blackens the eye. He’s not Kellhus. He doesn’t calculate. This is also why Esmenet falls out of love with Kellhus and stays in love with Achamian. Achamian never hits her, but he has passion for her. Kellhus doesn’t have passion, but he does have safety. And it’s for that safety that Esmenet stays. The second quote relates to Cnaiür at the end when he realizes by trying to outwit Truth, Kellhus, he instead apprehends it. But that doesn’t matter, because it leads to his capture.

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

Cnaiür is eating in the privy dining hall of the Donjon Palace, noting how this place feels not only Fanim, but Kianene. He’s dining with Conphas and his generals plus the two nobles on loan from Proyas. They all are taking pains not to rub knees, a problem with Kianene tables requiring you to sit on cushions.

Conphas mentions lights were seen on Cnaiür’s terrace a few nights ago with Sompas providing half-hearted support, leading Cnaiür to think Sompas isn’t happy Conphas agreed to dine with Cnaiür. Meanwhile, Conphas is waiting for Cnaiür’s answer. Cnaiür ignores it, drinks wine, and notes Conphas still has bruises from his beating. He notes how Conphas had his “wardrobe dragged across the desert, Cnaiür mused, spoke volumes.”

Cnaiür had ostensibly summoned Conphas and his Generals here to discuss the arrival of the transports and the subsequent embarkation of his Columns. Twice now, he had quizzed the man on the matter, only to latter realize afterward that the answers the fiend provided only made apparent sense. But in truth, he cared nothing for the transports.

Conphas presses that the lights were “unnatural,” still waiting for Cnaiür’s answer. Refusing didn’t get the message through to Conphas since men like him “did not embarrass.” They do fear, though. As Cnaiür drinks his wine, he approaches Conphas, noting the man’s canny eyes, his cleverness, but also his worry. He’s spooked by this sorcerer. Cnaiür’s not surprised by that.

Was this, he wondered, how the Dûnyain felt?

Cnaiür wishes to speak about Kiyuth. As Conphas eats in the “effete twin-fork manner of the Nansur caste-nobility.” Cnaiür senses an elated manner about him. Conphas thinks he’s won. Cnaiür asks what Conphas would have done if Xunnurit didn’t attack. Conphas claims the genius of his plan was Xunnurit had to attack. Trinemus doesn’t understand but Sompas explains how Conphas used the demands of the seasons on the Scylvendi’s herds, how they would react to their fellows being raped, and then he brings up their arrogance but trails off looking at Cnaiür. General Imyanax takes it up, explaining how the Scylvendi see buggery as the “greatest of obscenities.” Cnaiür notes how the other generals reacts while Conphas is mater-of-fact about saying he did it.

For a long moment no one dared utter a word. Devoid of expression, Cnaiür watched the Exalt-General chew.

“War…” Conphas continued, as though it were only natural that men should hang on his enlightened discourse. He paused to swallow. “War is no different than benjuka. The rules depend on the moves made, no more, no less.”

Before he continued, Cnaiür said, “War is intellect.”

That gives Conphas pause, realizing that Cnaiür must have been among the dead when he talked to Martemus about his tactics after the battle. Conphas asks Cnaiür didn’t try to kill him, though Cnaiür believes he could have. Cnaiür says he was tangled up in thick grass and couldn’t move. Everyone else in the room feels the danger from Cnaiür save Conphas, who makes a joke about how “the field was mine.” No one laughed. Cnaiür orders everyone to leave.

At first no one moved—no one even breathed. Then Conphas cleared his throat. With an intrepid scowl he said, “Do it… do as he says.”

Sompas began to protest.

“Now!” the Exalt-General barked.

After they leave, Cnaiür stares at him. Conphas realizes if Cnaiür was the King-of-Tribes, Conphas would have lost. Cnaiür hints he would have then conquered the Empire. Cnaiür almost feels wonder as her realizes Conphas is just a boy, not the Lion of Kiyuth. He was in Cnaiür’s power now, another neck “as slender as any Cnaiür had broken.”

The Exalt-General pushed back his plate, turned to him in a manner at once jocular and conspiratorial. “What is it that resides in the hearts of hated foes, hmm? Save the Anasûrimbor, there’s no man I despite more than you…” He leaned back with a friendly shrug. “And yet I find this… unlikely repose in your presence.”

“Repose,” Cnaiür snorted. “That is because the world is your trophy room. Your soul makes flattery of all things—even me. You make mirrors of all that you see.”

Conphas laughs it off and doesn’t want to beat around the bush. Cnaiür slams his knife into the table and declares that this is the truth of the world. Conphas manages to “maintain his facade of good humour” despite his fear. Cnaiür say it is fear that moves Conphas, though Conphas tries to deny it but is cut off by Cnaiür cuffing him hard.

“You act as though you live this life a second time!” Cnaiür leapt into a crouch upon the table, sent plates and bowls spinning. Eyes as round as silver talents, Conphas scrambled backward through the cushions. “As though you were assured of its outcome!”

Conphas cries for Sompas, but Cnaiür hits him in the back of the head. He then bends Conphas over the table. Cnaiür undoes his belt then smashes Conphas’s face “against its own reflection” a few times. The watching slaves cringe and weep.

“I am a demon!” he cried. “a demon!”

Then he turned back to Conphas shuddering on the table beneath him.

Some things required literal explanation.

Cnaiür wakes up the next morning, hung over, and cleans himself of the “blood and soil smeared across his thighs.” Out the window, he sees the Nansur ships had arrived. He leaves and finds a captain named Troyatti, part of a group called the Hemsilvara (Scylvendi’s Men) who ride with him, to send word to ships that they harbor chain will be lowered only after they are searched, then he wants Conphas and his officers assembled on the Grand Quay. He orders the captain to make sure Ikurei is captured. Troyatti asks what worries Conphas. Cnaiür wonders if he can trust Troyatti and decides he can, saying the fleet arrived too soon like it was “dispatched before Conphas’s expulsion.” Cnaiür fears they hold reinforcements.

“Think of Kiyuth… The Emperor only sent a faction of the Imperial Army with Conphas. Why? To guard against my kinsmen, when they have been ruined? No. He saved his strength for a reason.”

The Captain nodded, his eyes bright with sudden understanding.

“Secure Conphas, Troyatti. Spill as much blood as you have to.”

Cnaiür rides to the Grand Quay and his men take fishing boats out to the Nansur boat while Sanumnis arrived with more soldiers. Soon, Cnaiür learns that while three of Conphas’s generals were found, Conphas and Sompas were somewhere in the city, looking for a physician to treat Conphas after he was beaten last night. Cnaiür orders the city sealed. Cnaiür’s nervousness is spreading by the time the Nansur officers are brought. Cnaiür threatens them if the transports are not empty. This angers them and General Areamanteras implies he knows what Cnaiür did to Conphas.

Scowling, Cnaiür approached the General, pausing only when he towered over him. “What did I do?” he asked, his voice strange. “There was blood when I awoke… blood and shit.”

Areamanteras fairly quailed in his shadow. He opened his mouth to answer, then tried to purse away trembling lips.

“Fucking swine!” Baxatas cried to Cnaiür’s immediate right. “Scylvendi pig!” Despite his fury there was fear in his eyes as well.

Cnaiür demands to know where Conphas is. Baxatas won’t meet his gaze. The boats he sent out to the waiting transports are now signaling. The ships are empty. By that afternoon, the ships are in the harbor, but Cnaiür keeps the gates shut because Conphas still hasn’t been found. Tarempas, the Nansur admiral, claims they had unexpectedly favorable winds.

Word comes that the Nansur Columnaries are rioting and protesting because they know the ships have arrived but they aren’t boarding. It grows worse when they learn Conphas has escaped. They are assembling outside the gate before a thin line of a hundred Conryian knights. Cnaiür says not to fight them, they are too outnumbered, and not to be concerned since they lack weapons and siege equipment and are not forming up as soldiers.

Troyatti brings word of a tunnel they found leading out of the city. Conphas had escaped. Cnaiür orders the search canceled and the tunnel collapsed. He feels something is wrong. “After so long with the Dûnyain, he knew the smell of premeditation.”

This would not be another Kiyuth.

Something… something…

Cnaiür abruptly rides to the Donjon Palace and finds Saurnemmi, the Scarlet Schoolman. He asks the man if he can burn the ships from the distance. They are interrupted by a signal horn blasting from the walls. He orders the Schoolman to burn the ship and rides for the walls. He gains the walls, joining Baron Sanumnis, and sees Nansur reinforcements marching from the hills, both Kidruhil cavalry and infantrymen.

“You’ve doomed us,” Sanumnis said in his periphery. His tone was strange. There was no accusation in his voice. Something worse.

Cnaiür turned to the man, saw immediately that Sanumnis understood their straits all too well. He knew that the Imperial transports had set ashore in one of the natural harbours to the north of the city, and there disembarked who knew how many thousands—an entire army, no doubt. And he knew, moreover, that Conphas could not afford to let even one of them escape alive.

Sanumnis complains that Cnaiür didn’t kill Conphas. Cnaiür feels week again as he says he’s no assassin. Sanumnis relaxes and they have a moment of understand before Cnaiür has intuition and glances at the harbor where he sees flashes of sorcery, realizing there are Imperial Saik Schoolmen on the transport. Cnaiür realizes someone has to survive so orders their four Chorae bowmen to kill a sorcerer and make them afraid. “With no infantry to prise their way, they’ll be loath to advance. Sorcerers are fond of their skins.”

Cnaiür is only giving the order to give hope to Sanumnis and his men that they are foiling Conphas’s plan, when in reality Cnaiür believes the Schoolmen are just to keep them from escaping by sea while Conphas forces through the main gate. But it helps with his men’s morale. Then Cnaiür says under cover of dark, they will withdraw from the city and attack the forces, bleeding them. To inflict as many casualties as possible upon them. Saying these words sparks something in Sanumnis and Cnaiür must fan it. He turns to the soldiers, telling them that the Nansur will grant no quarter because they can’t afford the Truth to escape.

He [Cnaiür] let these words ring into silence.

“I know nothing of your Afterlife. I know nothing of your Gods or their greed for glory. But I do know this: In days to come, widows shall curse me as they weep! Fields shall go to seed! Sons and daughters shall be sold into slavery! Fathers shall die desolate, knowing their line is extinct! This night, I shall carve my mark into the Nansurium, and thousands shall cry out for want of my mercy!”

And the spark became flame.

“Scylvendi!” they roared. “Scylvendi!”

Later that night, Cnaiür waits with his soldiers while the Nansur’s outside prepare for their assault while the Imperial Saik stay on the ships, controlling the harbor. The defenders have been busy destroying knocking down walls in the warren of tenements outside the main gate, turning it into a confusing labyrinth. His men wait dispersed through it to lie in ambush.

This was not, Cnaiür realized, what the Dûnyain would do.

Either Kellhus would find a way—some elaborate or insidious track—that led to the domination of these circumstances, or he would flee. Was not that what had happened at Caraskand? Had he not walked a path of miracles to prevail? Not only had he united the warring factions within the Holy war, he had given them the means to war without.

No such path existed here—at least none that Cnaiür could fathom.

Cnaiür wonders why he isn’t fleeing by himself instead staying with these “doomed men.” Kellhus had taught Cnaiür that he was “enemy of all.” He had only “coincidental interests” with these men. Cnaiür stood “beyond origin or outcome.” He was beyond everything and stood “nowhere.” Troyatti asks what amuses Cnaiür. “That I once cared for my life.”

The attack begins. The gates are battered down by sorcery. The Nansur’s march in rank by rank, following their training to “strike hard and deep, cut upon your enemy’s flank, sever him from his kinsmen.” This leads the Nansur into Cnaiür’s ambush. They fall on the infantrymen’s flanks from both sides, hacking deep into the middle of their ranks only to retreat into the ruined buildings.

The battle that followed was unlike any Cnaiür had experienced. The pitch of night struck in the hues of sorcerous light Catching unawares and being so caught. Hunted and hunting through a labyrinthine slum then warring in open streets, hilt to hilt, spitting blood form one’s teeth. In the dark, his life hung from a thread, and time and again only his strength and fury saved him. But in the light, whether by moon or, more likely, the burning of nearby structures, the Nansur flinched from him and attacked only with the haft of their spears.

Conphas wanted him.

Cnaiür had not the arms for the swazond he earned that night.

As the night goes, Cnaiür loses more men, including Sanumnis and Troyatti. He finds himself down to three Conryians and six Thunyeri. They make their last stand in a ruined Fanim Tabernacle. They fight and kill until Cnaiür stands with a lone Thunyeri while “the dead formed a skirt of tangled limbs across the steps below them.” The Thunyeri takes a spear in his throat. Alone, Cnaiür roars “Demon!” as they try to kill him. He kills them, iron to their “rotted leather.”

He was of the People.

Without warning, the Nansur relented, crowded back into the shields of those behind, away from the advance of his dripping aspect. They stared in horror and astonishment. All the world seemed afire.

“For a thousand years!” he grated. “Fucking your wives! Strangling your children! Striking down your fathers!” He brandished his broken sword. Blood spilled in loops from his elbow. “For a thousand years I have stalked you!”

He throws away his broken sword and grabs a spear, killing a soldier. Conphas is in the background now, screaming for them to take Cnaiür. They surge at him and beat him down like “howling apes.” After he’s captured, he’s brought before Conphas whose face is still bruised and swollen from Cnaiür’s. However, Conphas’s eyes are the same. He says Cnaiür is no different from Xunnurit

And as the darkness came swirling down, Cnaiür at last understood. The Dûnyain had not sent him to be Conphas’s assassin…

He had sent him to be his victim.

My Thoughts

Interesting that Cnaiür knows Conphas is stalling, but then so is Cnaiür. He just has to kill the man, but is putting it off, inadvertently giving Conphas a lifeline.

Of course Conphas is spooked by the possibility of another sorcerer since he believes he has Cnaiür’s Scarlet Schoolmen under compulsion.

Well, Cnaiür, reading people like books is how the Dûnyain see the world. Feel… well, that’s a word they don’t really know since they murder their emotions or end up lobotomized.

Biaxi Sompas, coming from a rival family, has been won over by Conphas’s prowess. He’s like a fresh religious convert who usually number among the most zealous. He was raised seeing the Ikurei’s as the bad guys only to learn how amazing Conphas is, which means he has to be the most fervent in showing his support.

Once again, Bakker reminds us of Conphas’s intelligent with him figuring just how Cnaiür must have heard that phrase. This is followed by Bakker showing us how Conphas’s narcissism has handicapped him because he can’t sense the danger, only that he sees a chance to belittle Cnaiür, clearly taking his excuse of being knotted in grass as a weakness in the man.

You know what they say, never meet your idols. In a way, Cnaiür has obsessed over Conphas, too, adopting his war is intellect motto. Unlike Moënghus, Conphas is a man Cnaiür can best, not the mighty Lion of Kiyuth that was somehow more than human. Of course Cnaiür is disappointed.

More cutting observation from Cnaiür on Conphas’s narcissism. People see what they want to see in someone’s actions.

It takes a very self-deluded arrogance and narcissism to go through life like nothing will hurt you. To forget that suffering and misfortune comes to us all. We cannot keep the chaos of the world from intruding upon the order of our lives forever.

Nice touch on Bakker, making the table mirror-smooth as a motif then having Cnaiür bash Conphas’s head into his own refection, driving home the man’s narcissism.

Well, I guess raping Conphas is a “literal explanation” about the powerlessness Conphas truly is at the moment.

If you don’t know what a harbor chain is, they’re real things. It’s a long, thick chain that is stretched over the mouth of a harbor and can be raised. Ships can’t pass it. The most famous of these chains would be the one across the Bosphorus at Constantinople

I generally think Bakker is an author who sets things up and remembers about all the diverse groups. So it’s weird that suddenly the Hemsilvara, these young Conryian men who hero worship Cnaiür and to whom he had taught them about being Scylvendi until right now when he needs to use this character versus one of the other Conryians. His first mention, in this book, is at the start of the dinner in this chapter. They could have been mentioned earlier in the book, even explaining what the Hemsilvara where before this moment. This should have been fixed in rewrites as it strikes me as, while writing the rough draft, Bakker realized he needed this character and his background then forgot to seed it into the earlier part of the manuscript. It’s a little nitpick that doesn’t from the rest of the story.

Cnaiür does not remember the previous night. He had raped a man and probably didn’t like how much he enjoyed it and, to protect his identity, forgot he had done something so blatantly homosexual.

Nice bit of subversion. We’re expecting the transports to be full, and clearly Conphas knows this will be expected. But he’s fled, using is own assault last night as an excuse to vanish from his lodgings. Cnaiür knows something is up, but he has no idea what.

Cnaiür, despite teaching Conphas fear, despite all his care, was outmaneuvered. Just like he was at Anwurat. Cnaiür is a great tactician and a keen intellect, but that doesn’t mean he can’t mistake. Just like despite Kellhus’s intelligence, he can’t make mistakes. Bakker is reminding that while at the same time building the tension. You know the trap is about to be sprung, but will Cnaiür see it and counter it in time.

The narrative shifts from Cnaiür being in power to how he’s Cnaiür getting out of this alive.

Ultimately, fear ruled Cnaiür. He was afraid of killing Conphas because it would mean he no longer had any use to Kellhus. Therefore, Cnaiür would lose his only path to Moënghus and vengeance. Not killing Conphas definitely has lead to that path. Good thing the Consult is throwing him a lifeline.

Nothing like being the underdog and thinking you did something to the giant enemy. It could give Cnaiür’s forces the morale that might allow some of them to survive.

Great speech from Cnaiür. We’re going to die, but we’re going to make them pay. Get them angry. Get them mad at the situation. Then give them an enemy to destroy.

His plan is great. The Nansur are rigid soldiers designed to fight on open battlefield. So he gives them asymmetrical warfare, hitting the disciplined soldiers in their flanks then not standing to fight. It’s a great plan, but he doesn’t have the numbers to prevail. So it’s why they’re just turning it into a bloodbath, a final fuck you to the Nansur and Conphas.

“Cnaiür had not the arms for the swazond he earned that night.” Great world building allows you to have lines like that to say, “Cnaiür killed a lot of men.”

“He was the People.” Cnaiür has embraced being Scylvendi. He’s going to die killing the Nansur. This is the only way he can feel like a Scylvendi: killing. Murdering. Butchering.

Conphas’s eyes are the same. All he’s been through hasn’t changed him at all. He is the only character not to change at all. Even Kellhus changes. That’s some commentary on a true narcissist right there.

So Cnaiür thinks this is all to Kellhus’s plan, and maybe it is, but I have my doubts. If Achamian hadn’t stepped up to stop the Nansur army, because Cnaiür survived this and revealed the truth to Achamian, then the Nansurs would have fallen on the Holy War. Kellhus probably would have prevailed, but it’s better to have Cnaiür just kill him here. It’s possible an all options prove beneficial. But Kellhus isn’t fallible. He made mistakes. He got lucky with giving Saubon his blessing. And he got lucky that he survived the Circumfix. He didn’t see how to get passed it, only that he needed to get passed it to win. He gambled and paid off. But Cnaiür, he sees Kellhus as near omnipotent.

And we end this chapter with a variant of Bakker’s favorite expression “darkness came swirling down” instead of death.

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If you want to keep reading! Click here for Chapter 8!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 24
Caraskand

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

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

ONTILLAS, ON THE FOLLY OF MEN

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The secret of battle. He remembered…

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

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

What was it the Dûnyain said?

Lie made flesh.

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

Did lies have a taste?

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

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

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

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

Lie made flesh…

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

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

Lie made flesh.

A name.

Sarcellus’s name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sinerses fled.

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

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

Malice.

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

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

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

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

Find ecstasy.

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

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

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

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

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

Hatred, and hatred alone, had kept him sane.

Of course the Dûnyain had known this.

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

Moënghus! He named him Moënghus! My son!

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

But it did not matter.

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

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

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

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

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

How can she be dead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, but—”

“Then tell us, how does he see them?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I carry his child.”

How? How could she betray him?

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

But he was. He was alone.

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

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

He did it! He took her!

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

Was it?

Was it?

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

It was no different for these men.

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

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

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

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

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

Let it be now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He had to tell a story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The No-God,” Proyas said quietly.

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

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

“Need I tell you what that means?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Lords of the Holy War had made their wager.

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

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

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

I shall butcher.

All hungered here. All starved.

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

Knowing that if he survived . . .

The secret of battle!

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

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

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

Emptiness always laughed.

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

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

A powerful voice pierced the roar of the Holy War.

Sarcellus!”

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

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

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

“My lord, I’ve—”

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty-Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 22
Caraskand

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

For all things there is a toll. We pay in breaths, and our purse is soon empty.

SONGS 57:3, THE CHRONICLE OF THE TUSK

Like many old tyrants, I dote upon my grandchildren. I delight in their tantrums, their squealing laughter, their peculiar fancies. I willfully spoil them with honey sticks. And I find myself wondering at their blessed ignorance of the world and its million grinning teeth. Should I, like my grandfather, knock such childishness from them? Or should I indulge their delusions? Even now, as death’s shadowy pickets gather about me, I ask, Why should innocence answer to the world? Perhaps the world should answer to innocence…. Yes, I rather like that. I tire of bearing the blame.

STAJANAS II, RUMINATIONS

My Thoughts

Both quotes are about the hardships of life, that we have only a finite amount of time before it’s taken from us. The second quote deals more into the guilt of actions. Stajanas II (based off the II) was a ruler, and all rulers have to make terrible decisions. He clearly regrets his. He’s made some that he wishes to undo, so know he yearns to shelter his grandchildren from that same pain. He wishes for a world without suffering, a world that answers to goodness. A delusion that helps to ease his own turmoil.

A world that answers to innocence sounds like many fantasy series of the past, the ones full of hope and idealism, of heroes incorruptible, of clear delineation of good and evil. But our world, like this book series, isn’t that. The world does not answer to the innocence. But we can always try to make that happen. We can protect children from the world for a time before they have to discover harsh realities and the “million grinning teeth” hungry to rip them apart.

And as we see in this chapter, the only innocent character in the series also couldn’t be protected from the “million grinning teeth.”

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

The morning after the siege, smoke hangs over Caraskand. The dead pile the streets and burned tabernacles. A horn awakens the Men of the Task, but not one to start the expected day of “repentance and sombre celebration.” The alarm sounds.

Kascamandri I, Padirajah of Kian, arrives with his host.

The Great Names muster their forces, but it’s difficult, their men scattered through the city. Gothyelk is in mourning for his son, the Thunyeri shattered into feuding clans with the death of their leader, Prince Skaiyelt. Even the Ainoni feud as Chepheramunni lies dying. The Fanim seize the Holy War’s camps, including stockpiled food and the siege engines. The sick left behind are massacred. Those still outside the walls flee for the city as the Holy War prepares to defend Caraskand’s walls. Worse, they learn Imbeyan had burned the city’s granaries to die provisions and whatever supplies the Citadel of the Dog held were lost to the Scarlet Spire’s assault, the fortress still burning.

Kascamandri watches his army envelop the city. After ignoring the Holy War and idling in the “fleshpot sanctuaries” of his palace, he realizes the Inrithi are not hapless in war like he thought. So he raised a host “worthy of his jihadic fathers.” He rallies the survivors of Anwurat and adds the southern grandees to them, fielding as many soldiers as the Holy War. Fresh troops with proper equipment. That evening, his army makes its assault, hoping to find the Inrithi disorganized. They use Inrithi ladders and siege towers, and batter at the gates with the Holy War’s own rams. But the Iron Men hold the wall.

When the sun finally set, the Men of the Tusk greeted the darkness with both relief and horror. For they were saved and they were doomed.

Proyas listens to Fanim drums beating while standing the battlements with Cnaiür. He peers at the Kianene army that “teemed across the landscape, dragging Inrithi wares and shelters to immense bonfires.” They mass at the same spot the Holy War chose to make their assaults on the city. He can’t believe this is happening, remembering the rapture of Caraskand’s fall, then the crushing despair of the Padirajah’s appearance. He first thought it “a catastrophic mistake, that everything would resolve itself once the chaos of the city’s ransacking passed.” Proyas feel they are so close to Shimeh, believing Caraskand’s smoke could be seen fro the holy city. He asks Cnaiür for his estimate of the enemy strength. Cnaiür says it doesn’t matter.

Unnerved by the man’s turquoise gaze, Proyas turned back to the smoke-grey vista. Yesterday, while the dimensions of the disaster slowly unfolded, he’d found himself asking why over and over again. Like a wronged child, his thoughts had stamped about the fact of his piety. Who among the Great Names had toiled as he’d toiled? Who’d burned more sacrifices, intoned more prayers? But now he no longer dared ask these questions.

Thoughts of Achamian and Xinemus had seen to that.

It is you,” the Marshal of Attrempus had said, “who surrender everything…”

But in the God’s name! For the God’s glory!

Proyas says the size matters, they have to find some way out of this mess. Cnaiür agrees. Proyas then asks if Cnaiür trusts Conphas’s count on the food, which Cnaiür does. Proyas is less sure, since he’s a good liar. “We’ll have to wait… See if he stays fat while we grow thin.” Proyas is angered how Cnaiür can bait him at times like this. Cnaiür then continues, explaining about how the Holy War spent weeks starving. It doesn’t matter if Conphas hordes food. They have to strike now with the Scarlet Spire before the Cishaurim can be assembled. The Holy War has to attack. Proyas already tried, but Eleäzaras says they’ve already suffered needless losses, which Proyas scoffs at, balancing a dozen sorcerers against a hundred thousand faithful souls.” He wishes all wars to be so bloodless.

Cnaiür says they are doomed then. Proyas mutters about them being cursed, that the God is punishing us. He wonders if Conphas is right about Kellhus. And then Proyas realizes he is floundering, like other man have in times of crisis. Despite knowing this, it doesn’t give him strength. Knowing it only makes it worse. Proyas then admits that Gotian, Gothyelk, and others are calling Kellhus a False prophet. They’ve asked for Proyas’s help to move against him.

“You would risk a war within these walls? Inrithi against Inrithi?”

Proyas swallowed, struggled to shore up his gaze. “If that’s what the Gods demands of me.”

“And how does one know what your God demands?”

Proyas stared at the Scylvendi in horror.

Proyas begin to cry, the burdens of everything too much. All the battles, the deaths, his sickness, and abandoning Achamian and Xinemus. “The two men he respected most in the world, given up to the Holy War.” Not enough. He’s never good enough. He then begs for Cnaiür to tell him what to do.

Now it was the Scylvendi who looked horrified.

“Go to Kellhus,” the barbarian said. “But I warn you”—he raised a mighty, battle-scarred fist—“secure your heart. Seal it tight!” He lowered his chin and glared, the way a wolf might…

“Go, Proyas. Go ask the man yourself.”

Kellhus strokes Esmenet’s cheek as she sleeps, staring at the signs of her pregnancy, his blood continuing on. He learned from Achamian that “only sons could conquer death.” Kellhus wonders if his father is dying, prompting the summons.

Esmenet wakes up, asking him what’s going on. Then Proyas bursts in “without warning” struggling with two guards. Proyas is shouting, telling Kellhus to order his men to stand down. Kellhus does and focuses his senses on Proyas, realizing the man is desperate, but the “wildness of his passion made the specifics difficult to ascertain.” Kellhus realizes Proyas needs to know if he’s a false prophet or not. He asks Proyas whats wrong.

But the Prince’s eyes had found Esmenet, rigid with shock. Kellhus instantly saw the peril.

He searches for excuses.

An interior porch had been raised about the doors; Proyas took an unsteady step toward the railing. “What’s she doing?” He blinked in confusion. “Why’s she in your bed?”

He doesn’t want to understand.

Kellhus says she’s his wife, but Proyas grows angry at that. Kellhus deduces that Proyas heard the rumors but gave him the benefit of the doubt. Kellhus tries to explain how the desert changed them, but Proyas is angry. That’s Akka’s wife. He loved her. He was Kellhus’s friends. Kellhus claims Achamian would want this. Which only angers Proyas more, questioning that Achamian would want “his best friend fucking the wo—” Esmenet cuts him off, angry that he’s speaking about Achamian to her. That sets him back. Kellhus sees an opportunity in Proyas’s passions, opened by horror.

“But you already know,” Kellhus said. “Of all people, you’ve no right to judge.”

The Conryian Prince flinched. “What do you mean?”

Now… Offer him truce. Show him understanding. Make stark his trespasses…

“Please,” Kellhus said, reaching out with word, tone, and every nuance of expression. “You let despair rule you… And me, I succumb to ill manners. Proyas! You’re among my dearest friends…” He cast aside the sheets, swung his feet to the floor. “Come, let us drink and talk.”

But Proyas had fastened on his earlier comment—as Kellhus had intended. “I would know why I’ve no right to judge. What’s that supposed to mean, ‘dear friend’?”

Kellhus drew his lips into a painted line. “It means that you, Proyas, not we, have betrayed Achamian.”

Horror strikes Proyas. Kellhus knows he must move carefully. Proyas disagrees. Kellhus says Proyas accuses them [Kellhus and Esmenet] because he knows he’s the one responsible, that he betrayed Achamian when he cut his deal with the Scarlet Spire. Proyas makes an excuse, saying no one knows what happened to Achamian. Kellhus presses, saying Proyas does know. He can see it. But Proyas stumbles back, shouting Kellhus sees nothing. Kellhus knows he’s close.

“Of course I do, Proyas. How, after all this time, could you still doubt?”

But as he watched, something happened: an unforeseen flare of recognition, a cascade of inferences, too quick to silence. That word…

Proyas asks how can he doubt when the Holy War is on the verge of annihilation. Kellhus shifts gears, putting on a Xinemus-like smile and says the God is testing the Holy War but hasn’t passed sentence. “How can there be trial without doubt?” Kellhus urges Proyas to open his heart to the truth.

“Open my…” Proyas trailed, his eyes brimming with incredulous dread. “He told me!” he abruptly whispered. “This is what he meant!” The yearning in his look, the ache that had warred against misgivings, suddenly collapsed into suspicion and disbelief.

Kellhus realizes Cnaiür warned him and realizes he should have killed Cnaiür after all. Angry, Proyas demands if the “great Warrior-Prophet” has doubts or fears for the future. Kellhus looks to Esmenet, sees her crying, and takes her cold hand.

“No,” he [Kellhus] said.

I do not fear.

Proyas was already backing out of the double doors, into the brighter light of the antechamber.

“You will.”

The days passed with the starving Men of the Tusk defending Caraskand’s Triamic Walls, proving that the emperor who raised them, Triamis I, had proved his detractors right when he said: “No Man can conquer the future.” Even as the Kianene curse their enemies as another sortie is beaten back, they can only “marvel at their [the Inrithi’s] desperate fury.” Athjeäri even leads raids to hamper enemy sappers. But their doom was obvious “as only men stalked by famine could know.”

At the same time, the plague of hemoplexy died down, with Chepheramunni lingering at death and others dying. The funeral pyres burn but “more and more they took casualties, and not the sick, as their fuel.” As famine grows, the god Bukris stalking the city, the men hunt cats, dogs, and rats for food. Horses are butchered. Leather boiled and eaten. “When the horns sounded the harnesses of many would swing like skirts, having lost their straps and buckles to some steaming pot.” Starving men wander the streets and rumors persist about cannibalism. New sicknesses arrive, brought on by famine, teeth lost to scurvy, dysentery afflicting cramps and diarrhea.

The debate about Kellhus intensifies with Conphas, Gothyelk, and Gotian condemning him as False Prophet. “Who could doubt the God punished them?” Only Inri Sejenus could be their prophet. Proyas no longer defends Kellhus, but holds his tongue. But still none move against Kellhus, his Zaudunyani now numbering in the tens of thousands. Riots break out and Inrithi kill each other as people take sides, even against lords, brothers, and countrymen. Only when the horns sound did they put aside their differences. “They roused themselves from the torpor of disease and sickness, and they battled with a fervour only those truly wracked by the God could know.” To the Kianene, it appeared dead men held the walls, their hate manifesting as wights.

Caraskand, it seemed, named not a city, but misery’s own precinct. Her very walls—walls raised by Triamis the Great—seemed to groan.

The palace Kellhus lives in reminds Serwë of her time as a concubine to House Gaunum. But here she reclines in luxury, her “pink son” cradled to her breast. Kellhus surprises her from behind and she asks what he’s doing here. He says much happens and asks after Esmi.

It always seemed so strange to hear him ask such simple questions. It reminded her that the God was still a man. “Kellhus,” she asked pensively, “what’s your father’s name.”

She asks after his father’s name, and he has to make up a lie why his father is named Moënghus despite the King of Atrithau, his supposed father, is named Aethelarius. Serwë then declares her son to be named Moënghus. Though she says it as a statement, it’s really a question. Kellhus agrees. She then asks about what kind of man his father is. “A most mysterious one.” She asks if he knows his son is a prophet. Kellhus isn’t sure.

Serwë, who’d grown accustomed to cryptic conversations such as this, smiled. She blinked at the tears in her eyes. With her child warm against her breast, and the breath of the Prophet warmer still across her neck, the World seemed a closed circle, as though woe had been exiled from joy at long last. No longer taxed by cruel and distant things, the hearth answered to the heart.

A sudden pang of guilt struck her. “I know that you grieve,” she said. “So many suffer…”

He lowered his face. Said nothing.

“But I’ve never been so happy,” she continued. “So whole… Is that a sin? To find rapture where others suffer?”

“Not for you, Serwë. Not for you.”

Serwë gasped and looked down at her suckling babe.

“Moënghus is hungry,” she laughed.

Two soldiers named Rash and Wigga are talking about how Wigga saw Kellhus’s child at the public anointing. The other soldier missed it. Wigga comments on how dark the child’s hair is, surprised since Kellhus and Serwë are blondes. Cnaiür appears, demanding to know the child’s name. They stare at the wild figure before them, more myth than man. Wigga says its Moënghus.

The air of menace suddenly vanished. The barbarian became curiously blank, motionless to the point where he seemed inanimate. His manic eyes looked through them, to places far and forbidding.

A taut moment passed, then without a word, the Scylvendi turned and walked into the darkness.

Sighing, the two men looked to each other for what seemed a long time, then just to be certain, they resumed their fabricated conversation.

As they’d been instructed.

Kellhus has doubts, wanting another way. In the Probability Trance, he can’t see any farther because “all the lines were extinguished, either by disaster or by the weight of excess permutations.” He’s worked hard, but now only Saubon still supports him. While Proyas hasn’t condemned him, he’s ignored all of Kellhus’s overtures. Things only worsen between Zaudunyani and the Orthodox. Worse, the threat of more Consult attacks limits his movement.

Meanwhile, the Holy War died.

You told me mine was the Shortest Path… He’d relived his brief encounter with the Cishaurim messenger a thousand times, analyzing, evaluating, weighing alternate interpretations—all for naughty. Every step was darkness now, no matter what his father said. Every word was risk. In so many ways, it seemed, he was no different from these world-born men…

What is the Thousandfold Thought.

Esmenet finds him, and he asks her how. She just gives him a grin of “pure mischief.” Though she’s also concerned. She says Werjau told her. Kellhus notes the man fears women. Then she almost falls and Kellhus is surprised by “a sudden shortness of breath” before she caught herself, almost falling to her death. Esmenet then declares that Werjau fears her before she laughs and hugs them looking out over the city and the world.

She knows… She knows I struggle.

“We all fear you,” Kellhus said, wondering at the clamminess of his skin.

She comes to comfort.

“You tell such delicious lies,” she murmured, raising her lips to his.

Kellhus’s nine senior disciples, the Nascenti, arrive at dusk. Esmenet watches them from the shadows. They seem more upset than usual. She knows that they, as the administrators of the Zaudunyani, no more about the Holy War’s problems than she does. They fall silent as Kellhus enters, Serwë behind him, a retinue of guards around them.

Esmenet cursed herself for catching her breath. How could he make her heart pound so? Glancing down, she realized she’d folded her right hand over the tattoo marring the back of her left.

Those days are over.

Esmenet greets her husband and sits to his right. He’s dressed like a warrior, a mix of Galeoth and Ainoni styles which Esmenet suspects Serwë had a hand in. Kellhus says all gathered here are “branches of me” and they know what moves them. As he speaks, Esmenet reflects on the differences between this serious meeting and her old life in Xinemus’s camp, full of “mirth and mischief.” She misses Achamian holding her too tight. She imagines that even then, she must have loved Kellhus and Serwë secretly, like she didn’t know about it. She remembers the last time she saw Xinemus and his two men, wondering what happened to them.

Had he found Achamian.

She suffered a moment of gaping horror… Kellhus’s melodic voice retrieved her.

Then Kellhus says Esmenet is his second, to be obeyed when he’s not around. This shocks them and she realizes “old bigotries die hard.” Werjau says it sounds like Kellhus fears being taken from them. Then Esmenet realizes they aren’t shocked that a woman is put above them, but that Kellhus fears his own death, which he doesn’t contradict. Fear strikes her. Serwë squeezes her hand, the girl trembling in shock. “The lunatic dimensions of Serwë’s belief had always baffled and troubled Esmenet.” It’s so great, her belief feels unmovable. Esmenet thinks that this belief, this love for Kellhus, is what lets her share him with Esmenet. The Nascenti argues, some wanting to fight, others to negotiate. With a look, Kellhus silences them.

It frightened her [Esmenet] sometimes, the way he effortlessly commanded these men. But then it could be no other way. Where others blundered from moment to moment, scarcely understanding their own wants, hurts, or hopes, let alone those of others, Kellhus caught each instant—each soul—like a fly. His world, Esmenet had realized, was one without surfaces, one where everything—from word and expression to war and nation—was smoky glass, something to be peered through…

He was the Warrior-Prophet… Truth. And Truth commanded all things.

She stops herself showing joy that she was here at the right hand of “the most glorious soul to have walked the world.” She lies with Truth. To her, this is beyond a gift. Werjau gets angry at her smiling. Kellhus says it’s because she can see what Werjau can’t. Esmenet doesn’t feel the same, thinking she daydreamed like a teenager in love. But she feels something in the air and wonders what she sees.

Her skin tingled. The Thanes of the Warrior-Prophet watched her, and she looked through their faces, glimpsed their yearning hearts. To think! So many deluded souls, living illusory lives in unreal worlds! So many! It both boggled her and broke her heart.

And at the same time, it was her triumph.

Something absolute.

Her heart fluttered, pinioned by Kellhus’s shining gaze. She fell at once smoke and naked flesh—something seen more through and something desired.

There’s more than me… More than this—yes!

“Tell us, Esmi,” Kellhus hissed through Serwë’s mouth. “Tell us what you see!”

There’s more than them.

“We must take the knife to them,” she said, speaking as she knew her Master would have her speak. “We must show them the demons in their midst.”

So much more!

The Warrior-Prophet smiled with her own lips.

“We must kill them,” her voice said.

The skin-spy Sarcellus heads to Conphas’s pavilion after receiving a message speaking of an imminent threat. He pushes through starving men, begging for food. He barrels through them. Normally, he didn’t begrudge the beggars because he could kill them and satiate his other hungers.

Besides, they were apt reminders of what Men were in truth.

Pale hands reached from looted silks. Piteous cries seed through the gloom. Then, in the gravelly voice of a drunkard, a rag-draped man before him said, “Truth shines.”

This surprises Sarcellus. He turns on the speaker and sees iron eyes. The man says truth doesn’t die. Sarcellus thinks it’s robbery, but the man shakes his head. Then Sarcellus understands it’s a Zaudunyani. The man smile momentarily frightens the skin-spy. Then he remembers what he is and gets an erection, calling them slaves and growing arrogant with what he is, asking if they know what he is.

“Dead,” someone said from behind.

Sarcellus laughed, sweeping his gaze over the necks he would break. Oh, rapture! How he would shoot hot across his thigh! He was certain of it!

Yes! With so many! This time…

But his humor vanished when his look returned to the man with the iron eyes. The face beneath his face twitched into a vestigial frown… They’re not af—

Oil suddenly drenches him, dousing his would-be assassins. He calls them fools, saying they’ll burn with him. But that’s the plan. The iron-eyed man leaps at Sarcellus as a flaming arrow sets him alight. “The thing called Sarcellus howled, shrieked with its entire face.” Horror fills him. As they burned, the iron-eyed man whispers “Truth…”

General Martemus watches Conphas, thinking him looking like a child as he sleeps. The general is here to kill Conphas on Kellhus’s orders.

Martemus had spent most of his life following commands, and though he’d unstintingly tried to execute each and every one, even those that proved disastrous, their origins had always haunted him. NO matter how tormented or august the channels, the commands he followed had always come from somewhere, from someplace within a beaten and debauched world: peevish officers, spiteful apparati, vainglorious generals… As a result, he had thought that thought, so catastrophic for a man who’d been bred to serve: I am greater than what I obey.

But the command he followed this night…

Martemus believes obeying this commands is more than worship or prayer, it was a lesson from Kellhus. He raises the knife. He already pictures his commander dead, wondered how the army would react when he’s found. Martemus thinks that he has wanted to do this for so long. Tells himself to strike now.

Conphas wakes up, shocked. “Truth,” declares Martemus and strikes. But Sarcellus, roasted, unable to keep his face closed, stops him, smacking away the blade. Snarling curses at Kellhus, the skin spy kills Martemus.

Conphas is shocked to see Martemus’s head sever from his neck. In fear, he scrambles back from the death, shocked by the death of his general. He realizes Sarcellus killed him and thinks he’s having a nightmare. Still stunned, he asks what happens.

“Belonged to him,” the voice from the dark corner said.

“Prince Kellhus,” Conphas said in dawning recognition. Suddenly he understood all that he needed to know: a battle had just been fought—and won. He grinned in relief—and wondrous admiration. The man had used Martemus! Martemus!

And here I thought I’d won the battle for his soul!

Conphas asks for light, but Sarcellus tells him not to, saying he was also attacked. This irks Conphas. It’s his tent. Conphas starts to object, but Sarcellus says they have to act now or the Holy War is lost. Conphas realizes Sarcellus was burned, smelling roasted pork. Sarcellus races out to the balcony. Conphas, calling for guards, follows. He doesn’t find Sarcellus, only notices Martemus’s blood on his body. He returns to his guards, telling them to hurl Martemus body at the Kianene then send for General Sompas. “The truce had ended.” The guards asks about what to do with the head.

“No,” Ikurei Conphas said, slipping into a robe held out by one of his haeturi. He laughed at the absurdity of the man’s head, which lay like a cabbage near the foot of his bed. It was odd how he could feel so little after all they suffered together.

“The General never leaves my side, Triah. You know that.”

Fustaras, a Proadjunct in the Selial Column of the Nansur army, is on a mission for General Sompas with several others. “When children go astray, they must be beaten.” He’s a “Threesie,” a veteran who’s enlisted three times. The senior NCOs that form the “stubborn heart” of any unit. “They were men who saw things through.” Him and the others with him enter an area Zaudunyani gather. They find a judge and asks him is said about truth. The man answers, “That it shines.” holding his cudgel, Fustaras asks if instead bleeds.

The man’s [the judge’s] sparkling gaze darted from Fustaras’s eyes to the club, then back. “That, too,” he said in the rigid manner of someone resolved to master their quailing heart. He pitched his voice so those nearby could hear. “If not, then why the Holy War?”

Thinking the judge too clever, Fustaras clubs him to death. His men form up around him as they are mobbed by so many Zaudunyani. He has doubts about the plan now, bur remembers he’s a Threesie. He yells defiance but is struck by a rock. It dazes him. His men are cut down around him. He’s more confused, General Sompas promising an easy task. But then a Thunyeri “with three shriveled Sranc heads jangling between his thighs” crushes his throat before a spear is rammed through his back.

The wounded Sarcellus has spent the last three days hiding “unable to close its face for pain.” As it stomps through a burned out tabernacle kicking charred skulls, it’s reminded of the Plains of Agongorea covered in snow, remembering how soothing those winds were. But that snow was far away. As far as Holy Golgotterath. While the fire burns so near. He curses Kellhus over and over. The Synthese arrives, asking if he suffers, calling Sarcellus by his skin spy name Gaörta. Sarcellus looks at it, studying its inscrutable face.

In the shell of the Old Father… Aurang, Great General of the World-Breaker, ancient Prince of the Inchoroi.

Sarcellus cries out that it hurts. He’s told to savor it. “A taste for what is to come.” The skin spy pleads and blubbers as the Synthese says he failed. The Holy War will perish. Sarcellus is terrified, knowing what failure means, but compelled to obey the Architect. He tries to shift the blame on the Cishaurim.

Fault, Gaörta?” the Old Father said. “The very poison we would suck from this world?”

Sarcellus begs for forgiveness. He’s given one more task “in the name of spite.” Sarcellus will do anything. The Synthese orders Sarcellus to make sure Kellhus is killed with the Holy War. No longer does Sarcellus think about snow to cool his burning flesh. Vengeance will soothe him.

Now,” the palm-sized expression grated, and Gaörta had the sense of vast power, ancient and hoary, forced through a reed throat. Here and there, small showers of dust trailed down the broken walls.

“Close your face.”

Gaörta obeyed as he must, screamed as he must.

Cnaiür crumples Proyas’s missive in his hand as he strides through Proyas’s residence in the city. Spotting a discarded orange peel in a pile of dust, his hunger compels him to eat it. As he does, he’s minds in turmoil that Kellhus would name his son Moënghus. He believes Kellhus did this to gall Cnaiür, to remind him who to hate.

He reaches Proyas and is angry to be summoned by words, reminding the man he can’t read. Proyas apologizes, trying to regain his composure, and says that his guests have made claims and wants Cnaiür to confirm it. The Scylvendi realizes Conphas is in the room. He hadn’t even noticed and thinks his madness lifts. He barks, demanding to know what he wants while also noticing Sarcellus is with them. Sarcellus, it seems, has word from Atrithau.

Cnaiür stared at the man [Sarcellus], for the first time noticing the bandages about his hands and the odd network of angry red lines across his sumptuous face. “Atrithau? But how is that possible?”

Sarcellus spins a story about three men who say they knew a fourth, conveniently dead in the desert, who claims Kellhus is lying. King Aethelarius has no living children. Kellhus is a pretender. As he speaks, Cnaiür notes the obvious pain Sarcellus is in. Then Cnaiür asks what these men want. Conphas gets annoyed. Proyas says there might be a way to prosecute Kellhus as a False Prophet without causing civil war. Cnaiür asks why he’s needed. Proyas trust him.

Cnaiür swallowed. Outland dogs! someone raged. Kine!

For some reason a look of alarm flickered across Conphas’s face.

Proyas refuses to trust hearsay on such an important matter, which irks Sarcellus. Cnaiür studies the Shrial knight, reminded of fighting the thing that looked like Kellhus. This makes him think of Serwë, “first wife of his heart.”

I will have her! someone within him wept. She belongs to me!

So beautiful… My proof!

Suddenly everything seemed to slump, as though the world itself had been soaked in numbness and lead. And he realized—without anguish, without heartbreak—that Anasûrimbor Moënghus was beyond him. Despite all the hate, all his tooth-gnashing fury, the blood trail he followed ended here… In a city.

We’re dead. All of us…

If Caraskand was to be their tomb, he would see certain blood spilled first.

But Moënghus! someone cried. Moënghus must die! And yet he could no longer recall the hated face. He saw only a mewling infant…

“The man you call Prince Kellhus is an impostor… A prince of nothing.”

Saubon sits upon Imbeyan’s throne as the King of Caraskand, even though his mighty and ostentatious throne room, in the Sapatishah’s Palace, feel like a hovel. But it didn’t matter, because he was king. Kellhus asks why he was summoned. Saubon warns him that he has to flee. Kellhus can’t because of the besieging army and won’t abandon his followers.

“But you must! They will condemn you. Even Proyas!”

“And you, Coithus Saubon? Will you condemn me?”

“No… Never!”

“But you’ve already given them your guarantees.”

“Who said this? What liar dares—”

“You. You say this.”

“But… But you must understand!”

“I understand. They’ve ransomed your city. All you need do is pay.”

Saubon pleads for understanding, saying it’s not that way. But Kellhus explains how Saubon has acted for “the trappings of a tyrant” just like his father. Kellhus asks who Saubon fled to after being beaten. Saubon objects he never was beaten and Kellhus deduces it was Kussalt. He then asks what was worse, Kussalt dying or learning the man hated him.

“Silence!”

“All your long life, no one has known you.”

“Silence!”

“All your long life you’ve suffered, you’ve questioned—”

“No! No! Silence!”

“—and you’ve punished those who would love you.”

Saubon slapped burly hands about his ears. “Cease! I command it!”

“As you punished Kussalt, as you punish—”

Silence-silence-silence! They told me you would do this! They warned me!”

“Indeed. They warned you against the truth. Against wandering into the nets of the Warrior-Prophet.”

Saubon asks how Kellhus could know this, struck by woe. Kellhus says it is Truth. Saubon curses the truth. Kellhus asks about Saubon’s soul. He’s willing to be damned. He embraces damnation. He would accept it all the pain and suffering “to be King for a day!” He would even pluck out God’s eye. His words echo as he falls to his knees. Soldiers come running. But Kellhus isn’t there. Saubon realizes he never was, but he’s still haunted by his guilt, imagining Kellhus is beating him.

For days, every sunrise and sunset, Esmenet would leave a bowl of water for Kellhus as he spends his time “lost in whatever worlds he searched in his trances.” She also left him food, though he only wanted water. She would watch him, feeling like a child kneeling before an idol offering sacrifices. But he touched none of the food. Then one dawn, he was gone. In a panic, she rushes through the palace and finds him joking with Serwë.

Serwë asks Esmi to bring her Moënghus. So relieved she doesn’t object and fetches the baby and “found the winter blue of his eyes unnerving.” When she returns, Kellhus reveals the Great Names want to parley.

He mentioned nothing, of course, about his mediation. He never did.

Esmenet is fearful, saying this parley is meant to be a trap. Serwë is confused by this, saying “Everyone loves Kellhus.” But Esmenet objects and says that he is hated by many. They want to see him dead.

Serwë laughed in the obvious way of which only she seemed capable. “Esmenet…” she said, shaking her had as though at a beloved fool. She boosted little Moënghus into the air. “Auntie Esmi forgets,” she cooed to the infant. “Yeeesss. She forgets who your father is!”

Esmenet watched dumbstruck. Sometimes she wanted nothing more than to wring the girl’s neck. How? How could he love such a simpering fool?

“Esmi…” Kellhus said abruptly. The warning in his voice chilled her heart. She turned to him, shouted Forgive me! with her eyes.

But at the same time, she couldn’t relent, not now, not after what she had found. “Tell her, Kellhus! Tell her what’s about to happen!”

Not again. Not again!

Kellhus tells her that he has to. They can’t go to war with the Orthodox. But she begs him that the Holy War, the city, is meaningless compared to him. She knows this is too important “for selfish grief” but she’s lost everyone else she loves. She reminds him of Akka’s belief that he’s “the world’s only hope.”

“Sometimes, Esmi, we must cross death to reach our destination.”

She thought of King Shikol in The Tractate, the demented Xerashi King who’d commanded the Latter Prophet’s execution. She thought of his gilded thighbone, the instrument of judgment, which to this day remained the most potent symbol of evil in Inrithidom. Was this what Inri Sejenus had said to his nameless lover? That loss could somehow secure glory?

But this is madness!

“The Shortest Path,” she said, horrified by the teary-eyed contemptuousness of her tone.

But the blond-bearded face smiled.

“Yes,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Logos.”

Serwë watches, dumbstruck, as Gotian condemns Kellhus as a False Prophet and pretender to the warrior-caste. He is condemned to be “scourged in the manner decreed by Scripture.” She holds her sobbing son, surrounded by Kellhus’s bodyguards who face the Shrial Knights. She looks at the multitude on the verge of war.

It seemed a thousand half-starved faces cried a thousand hungry things. Accusations. Curses. Laments. The air was flushed by humid cries. Hundreds had gathered within the ruined shell of the Citadel of the Dog to hear the Warrior-Prophet answer the charges of the Great and Lesser Names. Hot in the sun, the black ruins towered about them: walls unconsummated by vaults, foundations obscured by heaped wreckage, the side of a fallen tower bare and rounded against the debris, like the flanks of a whale breaching the surface of a choppy sea. The Men of the Tusk had congregated across every pitched slop and beneath every monolithic remnant. Fist-waving faces packed every pocket of clear ground.

Instinctively pulling her baby tight to her breast, Serwë glanced around in terror. Esmi was right… We shouldn’t have come! She looked up to Kellhus, and wasn’t surprised by the divine calm with which he observed the masses. Even here, he seemed the godlike nail which fastened what happened to what should happen.

He’ll make them see!

Violence is on the cusp of breaking out. The Great Names even look nervous as the mobs began skirmishing. One man breaks through the Hundred Pillars to knife Kellhus, only for Kellhus to disarm him “as though he were a child.” As Kellhus holds the man by the neck with one hand, silence spreads out from him. Serwë is confused why they would risk Kellhus’s anger.

“What is it that you fear?” the Warrior-Prophet asked. His tone was both plaintive and imperious—not the overbearing manner of a King certain of his sanction, but the despotic voice of Truth.

Gotian says the God’s punishment for harboring a false prophet. Kellhus says they fear their power fading as his rises. “You wouldn’t tolerate even the God to possess your Holy War.” He tries to implant doubt in their actions. But Conphas screams for silence. Kellhus asks Conphas what he hides.

“His words are spears!” Conphas cried to the others. “His very voice is an outrage!”

“But I ask only your question: What if you are wrong?”

Even Conphas was dumbstruck by the force of these words. It was as though the Warrior-Prophet had made this demand in the God’s own voice.

“You turn to fury in the absence of certainty,” he continued sadly. “I only ask you this: What moves your soul? What moves you to condemn me? Is it indeed the God? The God strides with certainty, with glory, through the hearts of men! Does the God so stride through you? Does the God so stride through you?”

Silence descends. Serwë cries in triumph, believing they see it. Then Sarcellus quotes from the Tusk about how both good and evil things speak to men’s heart, confusing them. Kellhus responds with a quote that Truth cannot be denied.

Possessed by a beatific calm, Sarcellus answered: “Fear him, for he is the deceiver, the Lie made Flesh, come among you to foul the waters of your heart.”

And the Warrior-Prophet smiled sadly. “Lie made flesh, Sarcellus?” Serwë watched his eyes search the crowds, then settle on the nearby Scylvendi. “Lie made flesh,” he repeated, staring into the fiend’s embattled face. “The hunt need not end… Remember this when you recall the secret of battle. You still command the ears of the Great.”

“False Prophet,” Sarcellus continued. “Prince of nothing!”

With those words, the Shrial Knights attacked. Men are cut down as the watching mob joins them. Serwë holds her baby and Kellhus’s sleeve in disbelief that it’s over. In moments, the Shrial knight are upon them. Kellhus fights back, killing a knight who attacks him, his punch so powerful the knight’s head ruptures like a melon. Gotian yells at them to stop. A knight then grabs her. But he’s cut down, killed by Cnaiür. Serwë is shocked at that.

The Shrial Knights back down from their assault on Kellhus. Gotian demands Kellhus yield to be scourged while Serwë rips herself free of Cnaiür’s grasp. She reaches Kellhus’s side, pressing herself and her child into him. She begs him to yield. To not die in this place.

She could feel her Prophet’s tender eyes upon her, his divine embrace encompass her. She looked up into his face and saw love in his shining, god-remote eyes. The love of the God for her! For Serwë, first wife and lover of the Warrior-Prophet. For the girl who was nothing…

Glittering tears branched across her cheeks. “I love you!” she cried. “I love you and you cannot die!”

She looked down at the squalling babe between them. “Our son!” she sobbed. “Our son needs the God!”

Rough hands pull her back. She shrieks that Kellhus is The god. Sarcellus grabs her, asking to Gotian, “According to Scripture?” Gotian agrees. Cnaiür objects, saying she has an infant. Serwë is so confused. Cnaiür is a dark blur in her tear-stained vision. Gotian says that doesn’t matter.

“My child!” Was there desperation, pain in the Scylvendi’s voice?

No… not your child. Kellhus? What happened.

“Then take it.” Curt, as though seeking to snuff further mortification.

Someone pulled her wailing son from her arms. Another heart gone. Another ache.

No… Moënghus? What’s happening?

Serwë shrieked, until it seemed her eyes must shimmer into flame, her face crumble into dust.

The flash of sunlight across a knife. Sarcellus’s knife. Sounds. Celebratory and horrified.

Serwë felt her life spill across her breasts. She worked her lips to speak to him, that godlike man so near, to say something final, but there was no sound, no breath. She raised her hands and beads of dark wine fell from her outstretched fingers…

My Prophet, my love, how could this be?

I know not, sweet Serwë…

And as sky and the howling faces beneath darkened, she remembered his words, once spoken.

You are innocence, sweet Serwë, the one heart I need not teach…”

Last flare of sunlight, drowsy, as though glimpsed by a child stirring from dreams beneath an airy tree.

Innocence, Serwë.

The limb-vaulted canopy, growing darker, warm-woolen like a shroud. No more sun.

You are the mercy you seek.

But my baby, my—

My Thoughts

The Holy War anticipated a “day of repentance.” Which sins are they repenting? The guilt of the massacre they performed while taking the city, or do most of the Holy War only expect to pray for other sins, not seeing what they did as wrong at all.

Does not look good for the holy war. Bakker sets it up elegantly. The Padirajah arrives before the Holy War can regroup and mount a defense outside the city, to at the very least bring in their supplies and destroy their own siege engines. Now the very weapons they used on Caraskand’s walls will be used against them. And they have no food. They’ll starve. It looks hopeless for the Holy War.

Of course Sirol, the Padirajah’s youngest daughter, weeps at the burning mastodons. Humans would rather weep for an animal than their fellow species dying by the hundreds. It shows how we’re so desensitized to human death, even in modern times thanks to media. It also shows how sheltered his daughter is. Humans who spend time around livestock are not nearly as emotional about animals as those who by their meat from the supermarket.

Also shows the arrogance of the Padirajah. He ignored the Holy War all this time, and now that he realized he can’t ignore them any longer, he brings his daughters with him on the campaign. He expects to win just like he expected to win at Mengedda and at Anwurat. It’s clear he loves his daughters, cares for them greatly (last chapter he did not look forward to telling his daughter her husband Imbeyan is dead).

The relief and horror quote is great. Humans want to survive, will keep fighting and fighting even if they’re only bough themselves a little more time. It’s like in the show Babylon 5 where John Sheridan is talking about standing on the edge of the cliff with the choice of staying and dying or jumping. You should jump because you might always learn to fly before you hit the ground. He does exactly that when faced with the situation. And while he didn’t learn to fly, he was caught.

I think we’ve all had that Proyas moment, getting such bad news that we can’t believe it happened, that we first want to deny it. The first stage of grief. It’s not just about mourning a dead one. Losing a job or an opportunity, beset by an illness, all of it can send us down that path.

Proyas is realizing his piety and belief that made him better is childish because he realizes others have suffered too. The child is selfish. That’s one of the defining trait. They can’t see past themselves. They haven’t learned to care for others needs. It’s something humans do for survival, to build communities and tribes, small bands of trusted people. And that means thinking about other’s and what they go to, as well.

Cnaiür is right. The Holy War has to take the initiative. They have to force a breakout, and to do that, they need to surprise the Padirajah’s army. Hit them with the Scarlet spire, fight their way free. It’s the end of the Holy war’s mission, but they might live to see their homes.

Proyas is utterly crushed and broken by the weight of everything. How worse to know it and still be unable to do anything, like drowning when you know how to swim but it doesn’t matter. You’re just too tired to keep kicking.

Cnaiür is horrified because he respects Proyas. Likes him. And now to see him so broken, weeping. Just like Cnaiür does. The same weakness Cnaiür hides in himself on display before him. And then he betrays Kellhus, armoring Proyas against the Dûnyain. Out of compassion. In the Unholy Consult, I wonder if Cnaiür felt the same, seeing the broken, dying Proyas in the pavilion.

As I read this passage, I’m thinking of the same Proyas at the end, broken by Kellhus, sinking into madness for his God, doing everything he can for Kellhus. He gave up his humanity for his God, and still wasn’t enough.

I hate Kellhus even more after reading that book.

An interesting moment from Kellhus. His vestigial emotions are bubbling up. He claims he loves her in the Unholy Consult, that is why he doesn’t kill Kelmomas. Maybe he does. She’s carrying his son right now, the only way for immortality. But that doesn’t stop him from using her, from making her miserable in the end, from taking her from a man that could truly love her and giving her only the illusion of it. Because even if Kellhus loves her in his own, stunted way, she learns the truth about what he is and can never believe it, especially not with the way he acts.

So in the Proyas and Kellhus exchange, we see how Kellhus isn’t infallible in numerous ways. He’s caught abed with Esmenet by the one person who needed to be eased into this new reality: Proyas. It’s unanticipated and “without warning.” Then he makes the mistake by using doubt, a word that Achamian always uses with Proyas, which forces the skeptical part of Proyas back up, focusing it on the betrayal to his mentor he is witnessing. Then Kellhus is blind-sided by Cnaiür’s interference. He didn’t anticipate Cnaiür doing that at all. Now Proyas is wholly lost to him without proving he’s a prophet.

Despite knowing that the Circumflex is coming, Kellhus doesn’t have enough emotions to be afraid of what will most likely lead to his death. This probably explains why he’s getting touch emotional with pregnant Esmenet and the knowledge that the only true immortality is through offpsrings. He’s facing his imminent death and doesn’t see a way out of it, even if he kept Proyas’s aid.

He only has to hope for a miracle. See, Kellhus is already crazy. I think all the Dûnyain are, they just don’t realize it. But Kellhus’s madness is accelerated by learning that effect can precede cause. That miracles can happen. The Shortest Path is now to prove himself a prophet, and only a true miracle, something he can’t fake, can do it.

Triamis I had a lot of practical wisdom. You can never conquer the future. That’s why people have to think about their actions and not just assume the status quo will continue. Say, if you don’t mind passing laws that will affect your political enemies because you can’t envision your political enemies gaining power one day and using those very laws on you.

It is not going well for the Holy War. Just when it seemed likes nothing worst can happen, it does. But still they fight. Desperation to live keeps them going. They have come so far, survived the desert. These are the men who don’t give up. Those who did perished a long time ago.

Serwë has a pink son. Not a blue baby.

Serwë has a lot of detractors. I’ve always liked her. People hate her naivety, her innocence. They see in her what we’ve all lost, what the world has stolen from her. She, like Xinemus, are our most stock fantasy characters. Those people from other, more romantic tales of the fantastic. Ones full of hope and optimism. With clear delineations between good and evil. And she’s stranded in this murky, gray, brutal world of Grimdark Fantasy. And like Xinemus, it ends badly for her. She’s not fit for this world. She’s got too much of us in her. Too much of what we secretly yearn for. Such simple joy and happiness even while the world burns around her, unburdened from the stresses of life.

She’s free. For now.

Another clue that Kellhus does love Esmenet, and probably Serwë, is his sudden fear when she almost falls to her death. Kellhus’s first emotion as an adult was for Serwë. And he’s feeling others with Esmenet and the child she carries. His child, which is why Serwë’s pregnancy doesn’t stir these feelings him him. But I do think he loves Serwë. The guilt for her death, and subsequently learning of her damnation, I believe is one of the things driving his actions in the next series. If such an innocent girl like her is damned, then something really has to be done about it.

He loves Esmenet, but she doesn’t really love him. We see that when Achamian returns, how it conflicts her, eats at her. And while she ultimately chooses to stay with Kellhus because of her pregnancy, she never stops loving Achamian and only grows to hate Kellhus more as she realizes what he did to her and those around him.

But with Kellhus’s weak emotions, does that even bother him? Her hatred? Her love for Achamian? We got so little POV of Kellhus in the last series. So little insight into him. I think that’s the greatest shame of The Aspect Emperor Series. Bakker had to keep us out of Kellhus’s head to keep us from guessing his motivations, about what would happen in Golgotterath there at the end. And yet we don’t get to know anymore about his character, not really, after the Thousandfold Thoughts. He’s a cipher that’s impossible to truly puzzle out from the outside.

Kellhus has an Ainoni style beard and Galeoth styled hair. A mix of Norsirai and Ketyai, showing he’s for the two different races of the Holy War.

Kellhus speaks to his followers like a cult-leader, love-bombing them by telling them how special they are. Flattery is such a hard thing to resist.

Esmenet almost realized that she never had confirmation of Achamian’s death, and it fills her with horror. Why? Because she knows, deep down, that she betrayed their love, tossed it aside for something new.

We see Esmenet take her first steps to become Empress, giving counsel. She’s so smart, she realizes just how Kellhus is manipulating her, how even Serwë’s voice is really coming at Kellhus’s manipulation. He’s molded her for this moment, and she surrenders utterly to him. Because she believes in him. It’s not romantic love Esmenet has for him, it’s worship. Adoration. It’s delusional.

Just like Serwë’s. Only that girl never had her delusions of Kellhus’s shattered.

Kellhus turned Martemus, one of the most loyal men in the series, the Xinemus in Conphas’s retinue, into an assassin. He led him down a road by first appearing as more than men, then helping Xinemus to understand that he’s better than the men who gave him commands, then even Conphas. That he had more worth than following the orders of a narcissist. Then Kellhus just had to build that into resentment, into murderous hate and unleash him.

In other stories, Conphas would have done something that galled Martemus. Something that went beyond the general’s moral code. An act too far across the pale, or something personal. But that never happens.

Conphas narcissism is on full display. Martemus is the closest thing he had to a friend, and learning that the man betrayed him, came to kill him, and now is dead has no negative effect. He has the sense of relief at surviving and admires the skill Kellhus said, like one general admiring the tactics of his rival. Especially one he just “beat.” Notice how Conphas thinks he won though he did nothing. If Sarcellus hadn’t survived his own assassination, Conphas would be dead.

So Kellhus’s last ditch effort to advert the Circumfix has failed. Readers like to believe Kellhus is infallible. That he doesn’t make mistakes, but he does. He has weaknesses that Bakker puts in the text, and those weaknesses come to matter in the Unholy Consult. He can plan and strategize, but no one can predict how something as messy as combat will fall out.

Fustaras has all the hallmark of that gruff NCO trope. Which Bakker subverts by the man getting terrified when it all goes wrong, shocked that the plan of marching into the heart of Zaudunyani territory and attacking their judges (which are their priests) wouldn’t result in the massacre.

Fault is the poison the Consult wishes to cleanse from the world. Fault is sin. Fault is condemnation. Fault is blame. It’s answering for your actions. And in this world, those actions mostly lead to damnation. This maybe the first real clue we get about the Consult’s motivations in the book. (It’s all so jumbled up when you learn what information after reading the books so many times).

We can see Cnaiür’s madness is still lurking. He’s still trying to be of the People, and Proyas’s admittance of trust is a further reminder that Cnaiür likes the man as a friend. But he shouldn’t. He’s “kine,” prey for the hunter.

First wife of my heart.” Serwë has become a proxy for Anissi. She was his proof to manhood before but also the on he could be weak with. He didn’t have to be the perfect Scylvendi with her. Serwë never gave him that no matter how hard he tried. Perhaps this is what drove him to be more and more harsh with her, to mold her into what he needed her to be. But she refused. She instead let Kellhus mold her. Just like Moënghus did with Cnaiür. In a way, Cnaiür tried to be Dûnyain with Serwë but his anger and madness thwarted his attempts at communication, at forming that connection he had with Anise. But he still wants her, needs her. And he needs his son. He can’t hate Moënghus any longer. Because it’s his son now.

And he’s found his way to get it all back.

Despite how bad everything is going, Saubon is happy. He got what he wanted. He won’t be king long at this rate. But he’ll hold it for as long as he can.

Well, Saubon, you will be damned. Maybe not for what you did by betraying Kellhus, but by all the acts of your life. You will suffer an eternity of torment, buried in the mud of Mengedda, wracked by your guilt.

Kellhus was never there, he’s hallucinating out of guilt. Perhaps he had this conversation with Kellhus, or perhaps he’s spent enough time with the Dûnyain to know the sort of words he would say, the Truths that Saubon tries so hard to deny in his heart. But Truths he knows because of Kellhus before.

Also notice it is Kellhus beating him at the end of this section. “But the gold-ringed fists kept falling. They would never stop.” No longer is he haunted by his actual father’s beatings, but by the metaphysical beatings of the prophet he’s betrayed, as seen by the haloed hands administering his current beatings.

We see Kellhus is deep in the probability trances for days trying to find a way out. He doesn’t.

Esmenet finding baby Moënghus’s eyes unnerving is a subtle reminder to who his real father is.

Serwë’s faith in Kellhus is absolute. I’ve often wondered about what Serwë did to earn damnation. And I think this is it. She put her faith in a man and not in one of the gods. She believed in Kellhus, and it earned her damnation for it. Perhaps this is part of what motivates Kellhus in his plan going forward. After all, he ensured she’d die so Esmenet would live in case Kellhus survived crossing death to reach his destination.

Esmenet spells it out though. Kellhus has found the Shortest Path. Submitting to the Circumflex. Just like he saw in a vision at far earlier in the novel. Possibly given to him by Ajolki, the horned god. The god of murder. The trickster.

Then we do the literary equivalent of the smash cut to Kellhus being condemned. As a reader, you expect Kellhus to somehow talk his way out of this, to plead his case, to win over his enemies. And it is taken away, witnessed from the one person who has the most faith in Kellhus: Serwë.

All things both sacred and vile speak to the hearts of Men, and they are bewildered, and holding out their hands to darkness, they name it light.” This quote from the Tusk is very telling. The Inchoroi wrote the tusk, twisting the beliefs of the humans to their own end. This maybe one of their verses put in there to muddy the waters even more by making sacred and vile equals.

And even in the midst of his last attempt to stop the circumflex, Kellhus is planting the seeds for Cnaiür’s intervention. After all, the Scylvendi is about to lose his prize, the reason he betrayed Kellhus to begin with. And at the hands of another “lie made flesh” like he fought at Anwurat.

Innocence is slain, throat slit, her blood allowed to pour out like dark wine. The heroine of a thousand fantasy stories, the beautiful maiden who’s the lover of our hero, executed. Condemned to torment for believing in him. Seduced by the Dûnyain’s lies.

But she had one child born pink.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Twenty

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Third March
Chapter 20
Caraskand

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

The vulgar think the God by analogy to man and so worship Him in the form of the Gods. The learned think the God by analogy to principles and so worship Him in the form of Love or Truth. But the wise think the God not at all. They know that thought, which is finite, can only do violence to the God, which is infinite. It is enough, they say, that the God thinks them.

MEMGOWA, THE BOOK OF DIVINE ACTS

…for the sin of the idolater is not that he worships stone, but that he worships one stone over others.

8:9:4 THE WITNESS OF FANE

My Thoughts

The first quote is how men can only see the god through their own, limited views of an infinite being, having to use imprecise metaphors and to see the god as the ultimate king or the ultimate expression of truth, to worship them in how they think they’d want to be worship. The last line about the wise don’t think the God is any analogy. A wise man knows his limitations, that he doesn’t understand everything. And thus realizes, as a finite being, he can never understand the infinite. Not really. So to try, is to shove the God into a hole that he doesn’t fit. This can also connect to Esmenet’s thoughts on the two halves of humans and how we cannot appreciate the full of ourselves or others or even the God. Kellhus says wisdom is recognizing this.

The quote from Fane is similar to the above quote. The Fanim believe in the Solitary God, the one God, not a bunch of lesser beings who are aspects of the god (as Inrithism interprets the polytheism of the Cultic religion of the Tusk). And thus, by worshiping one rock over another, you are putting the god into too fine of categories, putting him in a hole he doesn’t fit. Kellhus is doing this with the Holy War, transferring their worship of the God and the Hundred onto solely himself.

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

Catapults hurl rocks at Caraskand’s walls as siege towers creep forward. The Holy War assaults, crying “Die or conquer!” The Inrithi gain the walls, fierce fighting erupts. However, Imbeyan and his Grandees counterattack and drive the Inrithi back. Very few escape alive. Two more times over the next two weeks, the Inrithi attack and are repelled.

Worse, the plague known as the hollows (to the commoners) and hemoplexy (to the nobles) strikes hundreds. The High Priest of Akkeägni informs the Holy War that “the dread God indeed groped among them with his hemoplectic Hand.” Panic grips the Holy War and many desert into the hills. The healthy launch attacks while the sick huddle in tents. After a week of fevers and chills, a person recovered or fell into a deathlike sleep. Lazarets are organized by the priests. The scent grows terrible. And no one is spared as Cumor, Proyas, Chepheramunni, and Skaiyelt all fall sick within days. 300 die in a single night. And through it all, the rains continue.

Athjeäri returns from scouting and pillaging with “news of doom.” After numerous battles and sieges, crushing Heathens when he can, he captured the Sapatishah of Xerash. He cut a deal with the man for information and learned the Padirajah Kascamandri himself led a host northward.

That night, Prince Skaiyelt, leader of the Thunyeri, dies. Other nobles follow and the physician-priests believe Proyas and Chepheramunni would follow. A fear seizes the surviving leaders. Caraskand stands defiant, their own god Akkeägni hurts them, and a new army advances. The God has turned his back on them far from their homes. The grow desperate.

And for such men questions of why, sooner or later always become questions of who

Sarcellus meets with Conphas. It is the first time they had met formally, though Conphas had seen the Shrial Knight with Grandmaster Gotian. Conphas finds Sarcellus’s white surcoat “improbably clean, so much so that he looked an anachronism, a throwback to the days when the Holy War still camped beneath Momemn.”

Sarcellus just want tot talk about troubling things. Conphas is always interested in that, joking that he’s a masochist. Sarcellus jokes back that council meetings have proved that true.

Conphas had never trusted Shrial Knights. Too much devotion. Too much renunciation… Self sacrifice, he’d always thought, was more madness than foolishness.

He’d come to this conclusion in his adolescence, after perceiving just how often—and how happily—others injured or destroyed themselves in the name of faith or sentiment. It was as though, he realized, everyone took instructions from a voice he couldn’t hear—a voice from nowhere. They committed suicide when dishonored, sold themselves into slavery to feed their children. They acted as though the world possessed fates worse than death or enslavement, as though they couldn’t live with themselves if harm befall others…

Conphas just can’t understand such levels of self-sacrifice. At an intellectual level, he understands about scripture and damnation, which he considers rubbish. He understands people motivated by avoiding damnation, even it it was ludicrous. Because scripture was external, not this internal voice. And hearing voices “made one mad.” He had heard enough hermits in markets to know that fact. And Shrial Knights became fanatics when they hear this voice.

Conphas asks Sarcellus what is the trouble. He answers, Kellhus. Sarcellus starts to talk, implying he and others know something. Conphas asks who the “we” are. This irritates Sarcellus and makes Conphas reevaluate the man, sensing a “whiff of conceit.” Conphas thinks he might be a man of reason. Sarcellus says the we is just him and a few other knights, but not Gotian, They know Conphas tried to assassinate Kellhus. Conphas denies it. Sarcellus says his group shares Conphas’s sentiment, especially after the desert.

Conphas frowned. He knew what the man meant: Princes Kellhus had walked from the Carathay commanding the worship of thousands, and the wonder of everyone, it sometimes seemed, save himself. But Conphas would’ve expected a Shrial Knight to argue signs and omens, not power…

Conphas had found the desert madness. He had shambled on foot with the rest, cursing General Sassotian who commanded the Imperial Fleets. For a while, Conphas even thought “the prospect of death seemed something he merely indulged for decorum’s sake.”

Please, he thought. Who do you think I am?

Then he begins to doubt that until it became a certainty. He realizes that his life’s destination led him to die in a desert. And then he found Prince Kellhus wading in a well, drinking while he died of thirsts. Conphas realizes he is saved by a man he tried to kill. It was galling and ludicrous. And yet, he felt a flutter in his heart. He wondered if Kellhus was a prophet. “The desert had been madness.”

Conphas studies Sarcellus, pointing out the man saved the Holy War, both their lives. Sarcellus says that’s the problem. Before, Kellhus was just another zealot, but now he claims more. And the Holy War is being punished by the Dread God. Half of the knights acclaim Kellhus as the next Inri Sejenus, the other half as the cause of their misery. Division is coming, and someone is needed to preserve the Holy War.

“After you’ve killed Prince Kellhus…” Conphas said derisively. He shook his head, as though disappointed by his own lack of surprise. “He camps with his followers now, and they guard him as though he were the Tusk. They say that in the desert a hundred of them surrendered their water—their lives—to him and his women. And now another hundred have stepped forward as his bodyguard, each of them sworn to die for the Warrior-Prophet. Not even the Emperor could claim such protection. And you still think you can kill him.”

A drowsy blink, which made Conphas certain—absurdly—that Sarcellus had beautiful sisters.

“Not think, Exalt-General… Know.”

Serwë is in labor, in pain, screaming, with Esmenet and a Kianene midwife assisting. Kellhus watches, looking both wise and sad. Esmenet is worried, but his eyes speak reassurances. Still, her apprehension remained. She reflects on how long it had been since Achamian left her.

Not that long, perhaps, but the desert lay between them.

No walk, it seemed, could be longer. The Carathay had ravished her, fumbling with knot and clasp, thrusting leathery hands beneath her robe, running polished fingertips across her breasts and thighs. It had stripped her past her ski, to the wood of her bones. It had spilled and raked her across the sand, like seashells.

It had offered her up to Kellhus.

In the beginning, she was drunk on just walking with Kellhus and Serwë, laughing and talking, sharing their new intimacies. She remembers what it was like in her adolescence “before whoring had placed nakedness and coupling beyond the circle of private, secret things.” Making love to Kellhus and Serwë had transformed sex back to something demure. She feels whole. When Kellhus walks with his Zaudunyani, she and Serwë held hands and joke, laugh, and “plot pleasures.” They hold back nothing because “the bed they shared brooked no deceit.” But when the water failed, did she truly walk in the desert. She remembers becoming a stranger walking in her own body, Serwë a stranger being held in Kellhus’s arms.

Nothing branched in the Carathay. Everything roamed without root or source. The death of trees: this she had thought, was the secret of desert.

Kellhus had asked Esmenet to surrender her share of water in the desert so Serwë wouldn’t lose her baby. She did, watching “him pour her muddy life into a stranger’s mouth.” She understood then that there’s more than just her. Kellhus says she’s the first to realize this. Later, when they reach Enathpaneah and find a river, Kellhus strips Esmenet and bathes her in the water, declaring she is his wife. They crossed the desert. She sees the sun-haloed palms.

They make camp by the river, Kellhus foraging for food, and the three recover while Esmenet feels like they are the only people left alive in the world. That they alone “gazed and understood that they gazed.”

They had become the measure… Absolute. Unconditioned.

When they made love in the river, it seemed they sanctified the sea.

You, Esmenet, are my wife.

Burning, submerged in clear waters—in each other… The anchoring ache.

The desert had changed everything.

Serwë crying out in pain draws Esmenet out of her reflection. Serwë thinks something is wrong, but Kellhus assures her everything’s fine. Esmenet is struck by the fact Kellhus is the Warrior-Prophet. Esmenet has felt like a child being led by the hand her entire life, having no idea where she was going, until now.

But now, after the desert, after the waters of Enathpaneah, she knew the answer. Every man she’d bedded, she had bedded for him. Every sin she’d committed, she had committed for hi. Every bowel she’d chipped. Every heart she’d bruised. Even Mimara. Even Achamian. Without knowing, Esmenet had lived her entire life for him—for Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

Grief for his compassion. Delusion for his revelation. Sin so he might forgive. Degradation so he might raise her high. He was the origin. He was the destination. He was the from where and the to which, and he was here!

Here!

It was mad, it was impossible, it was true.

It makes Esmenet laugh in “joyous wonder.” Before, the holy was distant to her, something she only glimpsed. She hated it and feared it. Not surprising since she was a whore in Sumna. She knew it was hard to reach, witnessing pilgrims who sacrificed what little they had to come to Sumna only to succumb to her charms and sinning with her. And now she was close.

Serwë’s child is born, crying out with strength. Esmenet tells Serwë she has a son and “he isn’t blue.” Serwë laughs and cries while Kellhus exams the child. When Kellhus looks at Serwë, anger strikes Esmenet for an instant. As Serwë holds her child, Esmenet feels grief at her jealousy and flees the tent.

Outside, the tent is surrounded by the men of the Hundred Pillars, Kellhus’s Zaudunyani bodyguards. They protect him from Heathens and Men of the Tusk, “another thing the desert had changed.” Two Galeoth recognize her and greet her with “Truth shines,” discomforted by the obeisance the Zaudunyani show her more and more.

As she hears Shrial Priests blow horns for evening prayers, she wonders why she can’t “give this moment of joy to Serwë.” In the desert, she gave her water. She doesn’t understand why, thinking it is not jealousy since she didn’t feel bitter.

Kellhus is right… We know not what moves us. There was more, always more.

A voice cries out for piteous help, a plague sufferer. He asks for help, begging for her care. He’s lying in his own filth. But she can’t help, saying it’s forbidden, Kellhus comes u behind her, saying the man can’t hear. “They hear only their own suffering.” Like Esmenet, still wondering why she ran. He tells her to be strong, and sometimes she feels strong, feels new. He tells her she is new, reamed by his Father, but her past remains. “Forgiveness between strangers takes time.” She’s struck by how he can always knows her heart, questioning how and then realizes she knew the answer.

Men, Kellhus had once told her, were like coins: they had two sides. Where one side of them saw, the other side of them was seen, and though men were both at once, men could only truly know the side of themselves that saw and the side of others that was seen—they could only know the inner half of themselves and the outer half of others.

Esmenet thought it foolish until Kellhus told her to think about conceited and arrogant behavior. This is why people aren’t themselves, but seek to “secure the good opinion of others.” Because on an instinctive level, they know they aren’t whole, but want to be.

The measure of wisdom, Kellhus had said, was found in the distance between these two selves.

This makes her realize what sets him apart. He could see the whole of both himself and of others. He had closed the distance with his two halves. She realizes he’s inside her, and this brings “wondrous tears” as she rejoices at being his wife. He needs her to be strong because “the God purges the Holy War, purifies us for the march on Shimeh.” She thinks the plague, but he means the Great Names. They are starting to fear him. She realizes he fears “a war within the Holy War” and urges him to speak to the opposition and in them over.

He shook his head. “Men praise what flatters and mock what rebukes—you know that. Before, when it was just slaves and men-at-arms, they could afford to overlook me. But now that their most trusted advisers and clients take the Whelming, they’re beginning to understand the truth of their power, and with it, their vulnerability.”

He says they won’t move yet, but the worse things get, the more likely they will try to kill him. So she says to kill them first. She’s shocked by “the thoughtless ferocity” of her words, but isn’t sorry for saying them. Kellhus laughs, chiding her for saying such words on this night. It reminds her of why she fled, asking Achamian why he left. Then she admits she envied Serwë and feels ashamed.

“You, Esmenet, are the lens through which I’ll burn. You… You’re the womb of tribes and nations, the begetting fire. You’re the immortality, hope, and history. You’re more than myth, more than scripture. You’re the mother of these things! You, Esmenet, are the mother of more…”

Breathing deep the dark, rainy world, she clutched his arms tight against her. She’d known this, ever since the earliest days of the desert, she’d known this. It was why she’d cast her whore’s shell, the contraceptive charm the witches sell, across the sands.

You are the begetting fire…

No more would she turn aside seed from her womb.

Early Winter 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Meneanor coast, near Iothiah

Achamian dreams of Mengedda, the No God asking his question “WHAT DO YOU SEE?” He wakes up without crying out. He’s in a bed, a luxury that once seemed impossible. But after destroying the Scarlet Spire, the Baron Shanipal (Proyas’s representative left in Shigek) took him and Xinemus in as honored guests. They are now in a Kianene villa on the coast. It’s been weeks of convalescing for the pair. Achamian sets out to find Xinemus, who didn’t return to his room last night.

He found himself cursing the Marshal as he searched the rooms. The healthy always begrudged the sick: being shackled by another’s incapacities was no easy thing. But the resentment Achamian suffered was curiously ingrown, almost labyrinthine in its complexity. With Xinemus, every day seemed more difficult than the last.

Achamian feels responsible since Xinemus is his “oldest and truest friend.” That the man sacrificed and suffered to save Achamian only builds on his obligation. But though free, Xinemus still suffers. “Ever day it seemed, he lost his eyes anew.” This makes him accuse Achamian of causing his pain. Achamian would complain that no asked Xinemus to save him, the Marshal responds that Esmi did. Achamian struggles to forgive Xinemus, but it grows harder and harder, making him question how much he truly owed, sometimes thinking the true Xinemus had died.

Achamian cajoles Xinemus to remember who he was, and yet Achamian too has changed. He hasn’t cried for his friend, and Achamian used to cry a lot. He doesn’t cry when waking from the dreams, either. He remembers the act, but it feels hollow. Xinemus appears to need the tears, to know that Achamian was still the weak one, but their roles had reversed and this torments Xinemus more. Achamian mourns for his friend, but can’t weep, like something essential had been cut out of him. Achamian will see Iyokus pay for what happened, thinking hatred had replaced grief in him.

Achamian finds Xinemus drinking on a terrace. As he stares at the drunk, broken man, Achamian reflects on Baron Shanipal’s offer to pay their passage by ship to Caraskand. Achamian needs to go as soon as possible, but he just abandon Xinemus, believing the man would die if left behind. “Grief and bitterness had killed greater men.” Achamian steels himself for the confrontation, but doesn’t know what to say to the drunk man to convince him to leave.

Xinemus talks to the darkness like it’s a leaving thing, demanding where it leads. Achamian still struggles to figure out to say, to explain how he needs to find Esmenet, and knows Xinemus will just yell at him to go and find “your whore” and leave him behind. Achamian is desperate for news about her, he can’t wait to see her, to “smother her with laughter, tears, and kisses.” He believes her alive, knowing she traveled with Kellhus and that he’d protect her. Achamian knows Kellhus will save the world, and he plans on helping the man.

Without thinking, Achamian hastened to him [Xinemus], embraced him.

“You’re the cause of this!” Xinemus screeched into his chest. “This is your doing!”

Achamian held tight his sobbing friend. The broadness of Xinemus’s shoulders surprised his outstretched arms.

Achamian says they need to leave, find their friends. Xinemus agrees, they have to find Kellhus. Despite the emotion, Achamian still hasn’t cried.

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

Conphas is holding a meeting at the estate he had claimed for his residence outside Caraskand. He stands with Martemus as he watches his guest arrival, reflecting on how everything had changed since he left Momemn. The nobles of the Holy War now look like hardened veterans, united into a new and separate people. The fact they are all wearing Kianene clothing and riding their horses only cements their new tribe

Conphas glanced at Martemus. “They look more heathen than the heathen.”

“The desert made the Kianene,” the General said, shrugging, “and it has remade us.”

Conphas regarded the man thoughtfully, troubled for some reason.

Conphas studies Martemus, continuously wanting to suspect him of treason. But even still, he enjoys the man’s company. Conphas reflects how the Empire and the Holy War will soon part company. But first Caraskand and Kellhus have to be dealt with.

They join the arriving Great Names for the counsel, and Palatine Gaidekki asks why Kellhus isn’t here. Gothyelk notes Saubon, Athjeäri, Proyas (who is sick), and Kellhus’s other “ardent defenders” are also absent. Palatine Uranyanak thought this was a council on Caraskand. Conphas says it is, asking why the city resists. Grandmaster Gotian asks for Conphas to explain.

Not for the first time Conphas realized that they despised him—almost to a man. All men hate their betters.

Conphas asks them why so much misfortune has befallen the Holy War after they survived the desert. Gotian says the God is angry at them. This pleases Conphas. While Sarcellus insists that Kellhus will be dead in a few weeks (Conphas has his doubts) they’d need allies in the aftermath. The number of Zaudunyani is unknown, maybe tens of thousands. “The more the Men of the Tusk suffered, it seemed, the more they turned to the fiend.”

Conphas glared at the assembled lords, pausing in the best oratorical fashion. “Who could disagree? The anger of the God does burn against us. And well it should…”

He swept his gaze across them.

“Given that we harbour and abet a False Prophet.”

Howls erupted from them, more in protest than in assent. But Conphas had expected as much. At this juncture, the important thing was to get these fools talking. Their bigotries would do the rest.

My Thoughts

The hemoplectic Hand of Akkeägni. Makes it sound like the God of Disease has a hundred different hands, each spreading a different disease, doesn’t it. Like a Hechtoncheires sworn to Nurgle (for 40k fans and who know their Greek mythology). Great imagery. Also shows how bad life used to be before modern medicine. Large groups of humans breed diseases, usually from contaminated drinking water. Hemoplexy is probably bubonic plague. The welts sounds like bubo. And we saw in the last chapter the Holy War throwing plague bodies into the city, and it was the bubonic plague victims used in the same way in our own history. There is no disease called hemoplexy. In fact, hemoplex is an iron pill for people suffering from anemia.

Bakker just casually mentions that a major character has the plague, slipped in with three names that don’t seem too important (though Chepheramunni, who we’ve been reminded of existing two chapters back, is).

Athjeäri grew bored with the siege so went raiding, captured a few fortresses, having a grand old time out there. Through the Historical accounts, Athjeäri exploits are always shown, this daring leader. But in the character sections, we see he’s just a young man who hero worships his Uncle Saubon. So it’s not surprising he got bored of the siege. So much waiting. And he just wants to go kill Heathens.

With the final line of the historical section, questions of why becoming questions of who, is the first seed of things turning against Kellhus. Things are going badly for the Holy War, and they need a scapegoat. And I am sure Conphas knows just who to blame.

Yeah, a clean, white surcoat is improbable given the holy war’s predicament. And here’s something interesting about white clothing. You know why wedding dresses are white today? This isn’t that old of a tradition, dating back to Queen Victoria in the mid 1800s. Having a white dress was seen as a symbol of wealth and ease, to wear something so easily stained meant you didn’t have to do anything that would dirty you. She wore a white wedding dress. And as the industrial revolution was underway and cleaning clothes became easier and living conditions improved, women began to follow suit until by the 1900s, anyone could have a white wedding dress.

Conphas doesn’t understand self-sacrifice. I am sooooooo shocked. Interesting that he sees it as madness. After all, why are you harming yourself to do something as ludicrous as helping another? And killing yourself or going into slavery, ridiculous. Yes, listen to the scriptures, pretend that there’s eternal damnation, try not to sin, but do real harm to yourself? Madness. And Shrial Knights are all mad to him. Great characterization into the mind of a narcissist. He has no empathy, so he can’t possibly imagine why people do things beyond him. And he hates it because he doesn’t understand it. Because they hear a voice “he couldn’t hear.” He’s denied this internal voice. The great Conphas.

Conphas is rightly confused why Sarcellus is talking about power and not signs or omens, like a fanatic should. Of course, Conphas doesn’t realize Sarcellus is speaking for the Consult, the ultimate Atheists, a group trying to literally kill the gods and the cycle of damnation. They wouldn’t use religious trappings. And just as well, power is the way to talk to Conphas.

And now the Consult is prepared to move openly against Kellhus. He has bought himself a lot of time, building himself into a position of strength. And we know from his “revelation” early in the book, he knows a test is coming, that he’ll have to sacrifice Serwë and survive the Circumfix to prove himself.

Esmenet’s reflection that the desert stands between her and Achamian is profound. The old Esmenet, the whore, died in the desert. She became the Warrior-Prophet’s wife. Even sex is transformed for her, something that didn’t happen with Achamian. Though she did felt like his wife, she never could get past the fact she was used to whore herself, that she had made sex into something so trivial and mundane. And then becoming an other to herself happened as she wasted away, stripping away everything from her.

The line about deserts lacking trees is a true statement. Desertification happens when trees are cut down and bad framing practices are used. The Mongolian Desert has doubled in size because of China’s poor framing tactics. Plants root soil in place, they trap water, and when they’re gone, there’s no evaporation to feed cloud growth. So the land grows drier and drier, more and more plants die, and there’s less water, so it goes dry. Thus, the desert grows. Or look at the Southwest United States. Once there were forests, but the Anasazi cut them down to build their cliff towns. This changed the climate and it grew arid, their population couldn’t sustain itself and crashed, their growing civilization plunged backward into the surviving tribes of the southwest. Or North Africa. It was once the breadbasket of the Ancient World. The Romans and Byzantines fed their empire with grain from North Africa. But slowly, the Saharan desert grew and grew because of poor framing practices.

We see even Esmenet reduced to selfishness in the desert until she surrendered her water, seeing Serwë, this girl she had come to love and share a sexual relationship in Kellhus’s bed, as a stranger. Then she watched her life pour into Serwë’s mouth, reminding her that there is more to the world than herself.

Kellhus, obviously, calculated that Esmenet would survive this. He needs them both still alive for his plans at this point.

I believe after Esmenet’s “rebirth” in the river when Kellhus declares her his wife, she sees his haloed hands for the first time, but I could be mistaken.

And then we see the profound effect surviving had on Esmenet, on the religious revelation she has while recovering. She survived the harshest place on the planet, she had walked on the edge of death, learned the limits of her humanity and reemerged “enlightened.” Bakker is showing us why the desert often produces religious prophets and preachers throughout history.

Esmenet’s revelation about her life’s goal is, of course, the lies she’s telling herself to justify the misery in her life, the things she’s done, betraying Achamian for Kellhus, selling Mimara into slavery and prostitution. And these are the lies Kellhus has crafted in her to use her for his goals. But at least they make her happy. And that’s why we lie to ourselves, so we can be happy with the things we’ve done.

Serwë having a living child is such a powerful moment.

Kellhus examines the child first, studying it like a Dûnyain would, seeing what its defects might be.

Esmenet is uncomfortable with being shown subservience by followers of Kellhus. She’s not used to it, but she will grow so callous about it she won’t even know it in the future. Familiar makes things comfortable, which makes things ignorable.

It’s envy that drove Esmenet out, not jealousy. She wants to bear Kellhus a son. She’s already stopped using her contraceptive talisman. But there’s also anger at Serwë because the girl slept with Achamian months ago. Interesting she is still holding that grudge even though she’s now sleeping with Serwë’s husband, has abandoned Achamian as dead, and moved on with her life. But it’s still there, and seeing Serwë and Kellhus sharing that look reminds her that Serwë also cheated on Kellhus. Esmenet doesn’t know Kellhus sent Serwë to seduce Achamian.

The coin analogy is great. We often don’t realize how are actions are perceived as others. Just witness someone who goes on national TV and says something they believe is right and just only for everyone else to be horrified by their words, seeing it as disgusting and the person being confronted with how others perceive them. And, of course, we can’t see the mind of the person who said that, we can only react to what they said. What they did. So understanding this duality is wisdom, realizing this fact and thinking more about what you say or do, understanding your not whole but doing what you can to come close.

Now we see Kellhus preparing her for the Circumfix. He needs her to be strong, because once Serwë’s dead and he’s hanging from the tree, Esmenet will have to hold together the Zaudunyani. He’s grooming her for leadership for when he’s not available.

Kellhus, speaking on the truth of power, reminds me of a talk by a behavioral psychologist. Male humans have a natural inclination towards hierarchical structure between their members. On the outside, this appears to be the strongest male seizes control, but that’s not what really happens. Power is elective. The strongest male is only in control so long as the other males allow him, seeing this individual as more virtuous (stronger, smarter, more skilled, more experienced, etc). Now a male can achieve power through pure force, but this can force the other males to rise up and supplant him (revolution). We see this same behavior in chimpanzee tribes, where the most successful dominant males maintain a social structure with the lesser who have allowed elected him. If a male chimpanzee is too authoritarian to the other males, they can (and will) revolt and kill him, choosing another. The Greater Names of the Holy War are beginning to realize this fact. If your soldiers and lieutenants, the people you trust to use fear to keep down the larger population, abandon you, electing to serve another, you also lose your power.

And we have Kellhus admit why he seduced her away from Achamian: he wants her to breed children for him. And, of course, he has her seeing this as an amazing thing. She’s so caught up in the mythos he’s created for himself.

Well, at least this jump of a month when we hop over to Achamian seems to be accounted in the timeline in text properly. Unlike our Holy War spending a month or longer dying of dehydration in the desert.

People tend to know that they’re being a burdened on love ones while sick, and often will try to do what they can, feeling embarrassed that they have to have help, or apologizing for imposing. But when they’re ungrateful, when they’re belligerent and spiteful, it makes it so much harder.

Achamian comes up with self-lie after self-lie to justify abandoning his friend. The fact he doesn’t speaks to his character.

Poor Xinemus. The Scarlet Spire broke him while they only hardened Achamian. Things can never go back, and for Xinemus that’s unacceptable, which only drives him to be harsher and hasher, to get the grief from Achamian he feels he’s owed.

Xinemus drunken rant is so sad, attacking the darkness, his world stolen from him, saying mocking things to try and rationalize his new state as he muddles from one thought to the other. And then for him to hate himself for not being able to see, like through sheer willpower, he could open his eyes. Xinemus’s slow death over this book and the next is one of the most heartbreaking thing, to see such a strong man so utterly broken because he did the right thing. He did the honorable thing. Sadly, the world does not respect either.

Xinemus’s torment drowns out the heartbreak Achamian is in for in the near future as he pines for Esmenet, not knowing the very man he believes will protect her has seduced her away.

Xinemus know hopes that Kellhus can restore his vision, can heal him the way prophets in the past were supposed to be able to. But Kellhus is a fraud.

Martemus is the closest thing Conphas has to a friend. And even a man as narcissistic as Conphas yearns for that relationship. So even though he’s pretty sure Martemus is a traitor, he just enjoys being around the man, talking with him, hearing his blunt observations.

Conphas’s narcissism has caused him to misinterpret why everyone hates and despises him—he’s an asshole. Men can respect and even love their betters. This goes back to male elective hierarchy. Monarchies bypass this, using tradition and custom to give them power, and so long as their soldiers by into it (and Conphas’s soldiers definitely do) they can maintain their power. But such arrogance and poor diplomacy doesn’t build that respect with the other males on the outside or who are being repressed. It is also an example of how wisdom is found between the two halves. Conphas has no inkling to how his outside half is seen by others and does a poor job understanding how other people’s inside halves work.

Conphas does know how to manipulate fear. He’s doing a great job here, using the Holy War’s own religious language (a language he doesn’t subscribe to) as his goad to drive them down the road towards Kellhus’s death.

The pieces are moving into place for the climax of the novel.

To continue on to Chapter Twenty-one, click here!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 14
Anwurat

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

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

GOTAGGA, THE PRIMA ARCANATA

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

ANONYMOUS, LETTER FROM ANWURAT

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martemus said nothing for a stone-faced moment.

“But I told you… He’s…he’s…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Scylvendi” Moënghus said from his side.

That voice!

Cnaiür looked to Kellhus, blinking.

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

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

Kellhus fixed him with shining, empty eyes.

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

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

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

Something is wrong.

Behind him, the Inrithi lords began singing.

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

The sermon was simple.

Break.

Die.

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

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

Gods could die. The Scylvendi worshipped a dead god.

Does Kellhus fear?

That too, was unimaginable.

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

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

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

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

“Convince?”

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

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

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

As I said, it is honest.

Skauras! I must concentrate upon Skauras!

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

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

Their Conviction,” Kellhus said.

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

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

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

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

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

“Speak of me…”

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

“And why, sweet Serwë?”

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

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

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

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

“And why does he call me Dûnyain?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always the same…

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

Because, General, he’s a Cishaurim spy…

But no spy could speak such words.

That’s his sorcery! Always remember—

No! Not sorcery, truth!

As I said, General. That is his sorcery.

Martemus watched, unmoved by the prattle around him.

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

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

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

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

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

The Prophet seemed to be…listening.

No. Bearing witness.

Not him, Martemus thought. I cannot do this.

The first of the assassins approached.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cnaiür is warring with himself. His madness is growing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth is such a powerful tool.

Click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Eleven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 11
Shigek

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

If all human events possess purpose, then all human deeds possess purpose. And yet when men vie with men, the purpose of no man comes to fruition: the result always falls somewhere in between. The purpose of deeds, then, cannot derive from the purposes of men, because all men vie with all men. This means the deeds of men must be willed by something other than men. From this it follows that we are all slaves. Who then is our Master?

MEMGOWA, THE BOOK OF DIVINE ACTS

What is practicality but one moment betrayed for the next?

TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

So both these quotes are clearly about compromise and how you do not get what you want. The first quote comes at it from a predestined point of view, in that events have purpose and are not random chance, and therefore our acts have purpose, and since we have to compromise our desires against the desires of other humans, something else is driving things. From a deterministic universe, in one in which all events will happen the way they happen tracing back all causes to the beginning of everything, we do not have free will. We only think we do. Why am I writing this paragraph? Because the events in my life have shaped me to the point where I’m obsessed with R. Scott Bakker’s works and am compelled to write my analysis of his stories.

Thus, I am a slave to cause like all of us. Or, in other words, I am a slave to the darkness that comes before.

Now, Memgowa is not talking about that sort of determinism, or so I’d guess based on the title of the book. He surmises that the divine, the Outside, is what directs events And that we are therefor slaves to the divine. That the gods will our actions and influence them. Now this is a true statement in the Second Apocalypse. There is plenty of evidence in later books about this. This causality stands in violation to the Dûnyain philosophy and Kellhus, like all Dûnyain, has the goal of being a self-moving soul. One unchained from cause-and-effect. He will have to deal with this new wrinkle interfering with events.

The other quote is less about determinism and more about just how no one is happy for compromise. That we betray our goals to get something. Because it’s better than nothing. It’s how humans have to interact. If we didn’t, we would be killing each other left and right. And yet for a man like Triamis, a great conquering emperor, compromise must be so hard for him. He is so powerful, and yet even he has to betray his vision for the present.

And, of course, we have Martemus in this chapter, “the soul of practicality” (to quote David Eddings description of Durnik from the Belgariad). A man who has allowed practicality to make him a slave to Conphas’s ambition. A willing slave. But he has betrayed his own future for Conphas’s. And, we shall see, he has a new will he has to compromise with in this chapter.

Late Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, southern Gedea

The chapter opens with Bakker describing how abrupt the rugged Gedean interior ends at the floodplains of the River Sempis and the city of Shigek. Coithus Athjeäri is the first scout to find it. Bakker gives us the history of the city, how it once was the capital of an empire in far antiquity. But to Men of the Tusk, she’s a cursed place. Athjeäri learns that Skauras has abandoned the north bank of the Sempis and burned every boat he could find. Two weeks later, the Holy War arrives at the floodplains.

At first, there is little fighting, the Men of the Tusk in awe of the beauty around the river. The villagers found living on the river do no resist. Though they are Fanim, they are used to be conquered and give food and drink and even women to the conquerers, which bemuses the Men of the Tusk. Though the Tractate described Shigek as home to a tyrant, the place is vastly different, peaceful.

But then one small city, Chiama, bars its gates to a Tydonni earl. They want to negotiate, their grain stores low after a blight last year. But Earl Cerjulla doesn’t want to negotiate. He storms it and butchers the town. More massacres follow, such as a garrison of Fanim soldiers who mutineered and surrendered their fortress to a Ainoni Palatine only to be executed themselves. Uranyanak could tolerate heathens but not traitors.

Then, as though murder possessed its own unholy momentum, the Holy War’s occupation of the North Bank degenerated into wanton carnage, though for what reason, no one knew. Perhaps it was the rumors of poisoned dates and pomegranates. Perhaps bloodshed simply beget bloodshed. Perhaps faith’s certainty was as terrifying as it was beautiful. What could be more true than destroying the false?

As word spreads, the Fanim take refuge in their tabernacles only for the Inrithi to massacre them, the tabernacles destroyed. Anything Fanimry was destroyed. And those Inrithi faithful who had lived among Fanim rule, called Kerathotics, rose up, getting revenge on generations of persecution at the hands of their neighbors. The bloodshed became so frenzied, Men of the Tusk attacked each other by mistake. Shigek tried to surrender to Conphas to avoid bloodshed, but then mistakenly opened their gates for a Thunyeri force. Conphas tried to intervene, but were driven out after Yalgrota Sranchammer killed General Numemarius under a parley flag. The Fanim priest suffered the worse, tortured to death while their wives and daughters were raped.

Two weeks passed, then suddenly, as though some precise measure had been exacted, the madness lifted. In the end, only a fraction of the Shigeki population had been killed, but no traveler could pass more than an hour without crossing paths with the dead. Instead of humble boats of fishermen and traders, bloated corpses bobbed down the defiled waters of the Sempis and fanned out across the Meneanor Sea.

At long last, Shigek had been cleansed.

Kellhus climbs a ziggurat to survey the land, seeing another ancient land. He wonders if his father had seen this. Meanwhile, Achamian labors to climb the ziggurat and Kellhus tells a joke, asking why he’s taking so long. As Achamian continues his climb, Kellhus studies the ruined ziggurat.

Faith. Faith had raised this black-stepped mountain—the belief of long dead men.

So much, Father, and all in the name of delusion.

It scarcely seemed possible. And yet the Holy War wasn’t so different. In some ways it was a far greater, if more ephemeral, work.

Kellhus reflects on his own ziggurat he is building, the foundations laid. He has assumed the role of prophet after letting others thrust it on him. He is moving faster than he wants, but after Sarcellus almost killed him, he realizes he has to go faster. He needs to seize the Holy War before the Consult loses patience. “He had to make a ziggurat of these men.”

Kellhus wonders if his father had seen the skin-spies and that is why Kellhus was summoned. He sees all the thousands moving in the distance. Any could be a skin-spy. Achamian reaches the top, and Kellhus wonders how the sorcerer would react to learn about Kellhus’s war with the Consult. But Kellhus can’t let the Mandate get involved until he had power to equal there’s.

Kellhus turns to manipulating Achamian, bringing up Serwë’s name, making Achamian feel shame after his drunken tryst with the girl. Kellhus feigns suspicious that she might be unfaithful. Achamian pretends disinterest, but Kellhus reads the terror in the man.

Of all the souls Kellhus had mastered, few had proven as useful as Serwë. Lust and shame were ever the shortest paths to the hearts of world-born men. Ever since he’d sent her to Achamian the sorcerer had compensated for his half-remembered trespass in innumerable subtle ways. The old Conriyan proverb was true: no friend was more generous than the one ho has seduced your wife…

And generosity was precisely what he needed from Drusas Achamian.

“Nothing,” Kellhus said with a shake of his head. “All men fear their women venal, I suppose.” Some openings must be continually worked and worried, while others must be left to fester.

Achamian complains about his back, mentioning Esmenet. Kellhus has plans for her. “She too had a part to play.” Kellhus reflects on how Xinemus and Esmenet, those who love Achamian best, see him as week, even fragile. They often blunt their words towards him. Even Achamian think himself weak, but Kellhus sees differently. Achamian is the type of man who needs to be “hewed by the crude axe of the world. Tested.”

Kellhus asks Achamian how much a teacher has to give, flattering Achamian’s ego since he likes to think of himself as a teacher. Achamian gives a vague answer about it depending on the student. Kellhus presses and gets an contradictory answer. Unlike most men, Achamian likes “revealing the complexities that lurked beneath simple things.” Most men would rather see things as simple than to have to live with uncertainties. They begin talking about Proyas and how Achamian had hoped to teach him doubt and tolerance, lost to faith. Kellhus makes a quip to put Achamian at ease.

Kellhus laughed Xinemus’s laugh, then trailed, smiling. For some time he’d been mapping Achamian’s responses to the finer nuances of his expression. Though Kellhus had never met Inrau, he knew—with startling exactitude—the peculiarities of the young man’s manner and expression—so well that he could prompt Achamian to thoughts of Inrau with little more than a look or a smile.

They talk about fanaticism with Achamian claiming not all fanaticisms are equal. By bringing up Inrau, Kellhus has reminded Achamian about the duty the Mandate has put upon him and suggesting to Achamian that the Mandate and the Holy War are not different. Achamian says Truth distinguishes fanaticism even if the consequences (men die or suffer) are the same. It’s what they suffer or die for.

“So purpose—true purpose—justifies suffering, even death?” [asks Kellhus.]

“You must believe as much, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.”

Kellhus smiled as though abashed at having been exposed. “So it all comes to Truth. If one’s purpose are true…”

“Anything can be justified. Any torment, any murder…”

Kellhus rounded his eyes the way he knew Inrau would. “Any betrayal,” he said.

Achamian stared, his nimble face as stony as he could manage. But Kellhus saw past the dark skin, past the sheath of fine muscles, past even the soul that toiled beneath. He saw arcana and anguish, a yearning steeped in three thousand years of wisdom. He saw a child beaten and bullied by a drunken father. He saw a hundred generations of Nroni fishermen pinioned between hunger and the cruel seas. He saw Seswatha and the madness of war without hope. HE saw ancient Ketyai tribesmen surge down mountain slopes. He saw the animal, rooting and rutting, reaching back to time out of memory.

He didn’t see what came after; he saw what came before…

“Any betrayal,” the sorcerer repeated dully.

He is close.

Kellhus asks about Achamian’s cause, if it is Truth, asking if there is any act or betrayal Achamian will commit. Achamian doesn’t respond the way Kellhus expects, saying how what can sound so sure to one can sound outrageous when repeated by another. Kellhus sees this as good, a shorter path to manipulate Achamian.

“It troubles you,” Kellhus said, “because it shows that conviction is as cheap as words. Any man can believe unto death. Any man can claim your claim.”

So you fear I’m no different from any other fanatic.”

Wouldn’t you?”

How deep does his conviction go?

“You are the Harbinger, Kellhus. If you dreamed Seswatha’s Dream as I did…”

“But couldn’t Proyas say the same of his fanaticism? Couldn’t he say, ‘If you spoke to Maithanet as I did’?”

How far will he follow it? To the death?

Achamian acknowledges that is the dilemma of faith. Kellhus pressing, asking who’s dilemma’s his or Achamian’s. The world’s dilemma. Kellhus pushes, mimicking Inrau, asking what that means for him if he his the Harbinger, that he predicts mankind’s extinction. Pushed to the limit, Achamian cries out that Kellhus has come for a reason, for a purpose. This Kellhus knows to be false, since it would mean something had to begin the world, had to cause it to happen, and that’s impossible to the Dûnyain. No effect could precede a cause. Not even sorcery appears to violate that law. Kellhus keeps pressing, asking what his purpose is. Achamian thinks it is to save the world.

Always it came to this. Always the same delusion.

“So I’m your cause?” Kellhus said incredulously. “I’m the Truth that justifies your fanaticism?”

Achamian could only stare in dread. Plundering the man’s expression, Kellhus watched the inferences splash and trickle through his soul, drawn of their own eight to a single, inexorable conclusion.

Everything… By his own admission, he must yield everything.

Even the Gnosis.

How powerful have you become, Father?

Without warning, Achamian stood and started down the monumental stair. He took each step with weary deliberation, as though counting them. The Shigeki wind tousled his shining black hair. When Kellhus called to him, he said only, “I tire of the heights.”

As Kellhus had known he would.

“See. Appraise. Act.” These are the words General Martemus lives by. The man believes in being clearheaded and practical. He lived his life by it. So his orders to watch Kellhus and gain his confidence appeared easy. He just had to fake a crisis of faith. But Martemus was learning it wasn’t so easy. He had to attend a dozen Imprompta before he was noticed.

Of course, Conphas, who always faulted his executors before his assumptions, had held Martemus responsible. There could be no doubt Kellhus was Cishaurim, because he was connected to Skeaös, who was indubitably Cishaurim. There could be no way the man knew that Martemus was bait, since Conphas had told no one of his plan other than Martemus. There, Martemus had failed, even if Martemus was too obstinate to see this for himself.

But this was merely one of the innumerable petty injustices Conphas had foisted on him over the years. Even if Martemus had cared to take insult, which was unlikely, he was far too busy being afraid.

Martemus now believes Kellhus to be a true prophet. He doesn’t believe this intellectually, being too practical, but the dichotomy of his thoughts has unnerved him. And the more he debated it, the more he questions if he can be loyal to Conphas. If Kellhus is a true prophet, how can he stay loyal to the man plotting against him? This is what scares him.

Martemus ponders his problem as he listens to Kellhus’s first sermon since the butchering in Shigek ended. As he waits, he realizes those around him are avoiding looking at him, frightened by his general uniform. He wants to say something to ease their fears, but can’t think of anything. He feels suddenly lonely.

Kellhus approaches and he wonders what he says. At first, Martemus assumed Kellhus would preach heresy, but he didn’t. He quotes sermons and nothing he says contradicts anything Martemus has heard preached. “It was as though the Prince pursued further truths, the unspoken implication of what all orthodox Inrithi already believed.” Martemus understand why Kellhus is called He-who-sheds-light-within.

His white silk robes shining in the sunlight, Prince Kellhus paused on the ziggurat’s lower steps and looked over the restless masses. There was something glorious about his aspect, as though he’d descended not from the heights but from the heavens. With a flutter of dread Martemus realized he never saw the man ascend the ziggurat, nor even step from the ruin of the ancient godhouse upon its summit. He had just…noticed him.

The General cursed himself for a fool.

Kellhus starts talking about Angeshraël the Burned Prophet and how, in his eagerness to bow down to the god Husyelt, knelt before a fire. Kellhus making a joke about it young men making errors out of eagerness. Husyelt commands Angeshraël to bow despite the fire. And he does, pressing his face into the flames. Martemus has heard the story, but this time he feels it Kellhus continues that they are like Angeshraël and are before the fire.

Truth!” Prince Kellhus cried, as though calling out a name that every man recognized. “The fire of Truth. The Truth of what you are…”

Somehow his voice had divided, become a chorus.

You are frail. You are alone. Those who would love you know you not. You lust for obscene things. You fear even your closest brother. You understand far less than you pretend…

You—you!—are these things. Frail, alone, unknown, lusting, fearing, and uncomprehending. Even now you can feel these truths burn. Even now”—he raised a hand as though to further quiet silent men—“they consume you.”

He lowered his hand. “But you do not throw your face to the earth. You don not…”

His glittering eyes full upon Martemus, who felt his throat tighten, felt the small finishing-hammer of his heart tap-tap-tap blood to his face.

He sees through me. He witnesses…

Kellhus asks why they don’t kneel. God lies in the fire’s anguish. He tells them they each hold the key to their redemption. They kneel, but don’t bow because they are afraid, alone. Because they lust, they pretend. Martemus realizes Kellhus speaks of him. People weep as Kellhus asks for any to deny these truths. None answer. Kellhus accuses them of denying it anyways because they cheat their hearts, they lie about the fire, saying it’s not truth, that they’re not strong enough to endure. They deceive themselves.

How many times had Martemus lied thus? Martemus the practical man. Martemus the realistic man. How could he be these things if he knew so well of what Prince Kellhus spoke?

“But in these secret moments—yes, the secret moments—these denials ring hollow, do they not? In the secret moments you glimpse the anguish of Truth. In the secret moments you see that your life has been a mummer’s farce. And you weep! And you ask what is wrong! And you cry out, ‘Why cannot I be strong?”

He leapt down several steps.

Why cannot I be strong?”

Martemus’s throat ached!—ached as though he himself had bawled these words.

Because,” the Prince said softly, “you life.”

And Martemus thought madly: Skin and hair… He’s just a man!

Kellhus continue preaching about their self-deception. The tragedy of of it. How scripture urges me to be better than then frail, envious liars they are. “Men who remain frail because they cannot confess their frailty.” That one word changes everything for Martemus. He realized he is in the presence of the God. He finds it to be a miracle to be here, to finally truly be himself before the God. Kellhus screams at them to kneel before the fire, and Martemus cries out with the multitude, weeping with them.

Martemus is in a daze, vaguely remembering the rest of the sermon, as Kellhus talks about was as fire and “the very truth of our frailty.” He teaches them a song he learned in his dreams. “For the rest of his days, Martemus would awaken and hear that song.” Then Martemus joins the masses kneeling to kiss the hem of Kellhus’s robe. Now no one cared that he wore a general’s uniform. Kellhus says he has awaited the general. This excites the others. Kellhus says Conphas sent him but things have changed.

And Martemus felt a child before his father, unable to life, unable to speak truth.

The prophet nodded as though he had spoken. “What will happen to your loyalty, I wonder?”

Suddenly, a man tries to kill the Prophet. But Kellhus snags the attacker’s arm with “golden-haloed hand” and stops the knife from plunging into his flesh. Martemus is unconcerned as he realizes Kellhus cannot be killed. As the mob beats the assassin to death, Kellhus says to Martemus: “I would not divide your heart. Come to me again, when you are ready.”

Conphas is meeting with Proyas in private, warning him that Kellhus must be dealt with. Proyas seems amenable, and Proyas says they need to call a council and bring charges under the “auspices of the Tusk.” Using the Old Law. Proyas asks under what charge. For being a false prophet, but Proyas only grows angry.

Conphas laughed incredulously. He could remember once—long ago it now seemed—thinking he and Proyas would become fast and famous friends over the course of the Holy War. They were both handsome. They were both close in age. And in their respective corners of the Three Seas, they were considered prodigies of similar promise—that was, until his obliteration of the Scylvendi at the Battle of Kiyuth.

I have no peers.

Proyas won’t hear it, considering Kellhus his friend. Conphas demands if he’s heard of the sermons while at the same time berating Martemus for being a fool in his mind. Martemus acting like a fool when he isn’t one has Conphas worried about Kellhus. He presses, pointing out that the soldiers call Kellhus the Warrior-Prophet. Proyas does not care because Kellhus doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Conphas points out they march for the Latter Prophet of Inri Sejenus, but if Kellhus gains power, they will march for a new prophet.

Dead prophets were useful, because one could rule in their name. But live prophets? Cishaurim prophets?

Conphas debates telling Proyas about Skeaös while Proyas asks what Conphas expects him to do about Kellhus. Proyas believes the man is special, that he has dreams, but points out he doesn’t claim to be a prophet. Conphas says that doesn’t change him from being a False Prophet. Proyas asks why Conphas’s cares since he’s not pious. Conphas says that doesn’t matter, but Proyas disagrees. He talks about the time he’s spent with Kellhus, their talks on scripture, and nothing he says is heretical. He calls Kellhus “the most deeply pious man I’ve ever met.” He is disturbed that people call him a prophet, but Kellhus isn’t doing it. People are just weak.

Conphas felt sweet disdain unfold across his face. “Even you… He’s ensnared even you.”

What kind of man? Though he was loath to admit it, his briefing with Martemus had shook him deeply. Somehow, over a matter of weeks, this Prince Kellhus had managed to reduce his most dependable man to a babbling idiot. Truth! The frailty of men! The furnace!

What nonsense! And yet nonsense that was seeping through the Holy War like blood through linen. The Prince Kellhus was a wound. And if he was in fact a Cishaurim spy as dear old Uncle Xerius feared, he could well prove mortal.

Proyas is angry, attacking Conphas’s lack of faith and his ambition. But Conphas believes he has planted doubt into Proyas. Conphas turns to leave, done dealing with idiots, when Proyas stops him and asks about the assassination attempt. Conphas gives a flippant answer when Proyas says that the man was one of Conphas’s officers.

Conphas stared at the man blankly, realizing he’d been duped. All those questions… Proyas had asked them in order to implicate him, to see whether he had motive. Conphas cursed himself for a fool. Fanatic or not, Nersei Proyas was not a man to be underestimated.

This is becoming a nightmare.

“What?” Conphas asked. “You propose to arrest me?”

“You propose to arrest Prince Kellhus.”

Conphas grinned. “You would find it hard to arrest an army.”

“I see no army,” Proyas said.

Conphas smiled. “But you do…”

Conphas leaves, knowing Proyas can’t do anything. The Holy War needs his soldiers. He reflects on his aphorism that war is intellect, and he would teach Kellhus that. He joins his waiting cavalrymen, he brought two hundred for an escort since the Holy War remains scattered and there were Fanim raiders running about. He spots Martemus with his soldiers, wondering what happened to the man as Martemus watches without expression. He spits at the hooves of Martemus horse “like a Scylvendi” then glances back at Proyas’s pavilion.

He turned back to his wayward General.

“It appears,” he said in a fierce voice that wouldn’t carry, “that you aren’t the only casualty of the spy’s sorcerery, Martemus… When you kill this Warrior-Prophet, you will be avenging many, very many.”

My Thoughts

Once again, Coithus Athjeäri is leading the scouts. Bakker does a great job making you excited to read about his adventures, often through the remote third-person POV of the historical sections of the novel. Athjeäri could almost have his own series about his adventures completely oblivious to all the political machinations and plotting and Dûnyaininess (yes, I made that word up, and I don’t care if it sounds silly) going on in the main story.

The River Sempis is very Nilesque (another word I made up, probably). A good trick for world building, take something already familiar to readers and use it as the foundation to build upon, to evoke a certain feeling in them.

So, as we can see, men vied in Shigek and it did not end well. A few misunderstandings, some impatient men, and then destructive rumors. Suddenly, the Holy War lost their discipline. Only the Imperial columns maintained theirs while everyone else was raping, pillaging, butchering, punishing their enemies, doing “gods” work. As much as Conphas is a slimy snake, he’s the guy I would surrender to over any of the other Inrithi. These sort of atrocities are common in warfare. It’s a dark thing. Humans have to put themselves into an us versus them mentality and stop seeing the other side as humans. And once that happens, it’s very easy to kill and brutalize. Unless, like that knight from the last chapter, you witness their humanity and it knocks you out that mindset.

Bakker does a good job giving plausible reasons for his characters to explore philosophy, in this case Kellhus musing on the irrationality of faith while standing atop a stone structure that would have taken decades to build and thousands of men working in concert to raise.

If we never had a POV from Kellhus, he would be the most likable character ever. Imagine this scene of Kellhus bringing up the possibility of Serwë’s infidelity from Achamian’s point of view, the feeling of shame and betrayal, wanting to make up for it even while to terrified to ever admit the truth. Because Kellhus is such a good man. An honest man. One who knows the truth and preaches it. He makes everyone around him better. And what did Achamian do? Slept with his wife. And now he sees the pain in Kellhus as the man wonders if Serwë might be unfaithful. How it must twist Achamian’s guts. We, the readers, would have all our sympathy with Kellhus.

But we don’t. It’s all with Achamian as we watch him being manipulated, played with. His life nothing but a tool for Kellhus to manipulate.

Kellhus, as always, is right about Achamian’s character needing to be hewn. As we see as the story goes forward, Achamian is “hewed by the crude axe of the world” and finds strength. He does what only one other character in series does later on.

Humans love simplicity. It’s why stories with such archetypal characters always resonate. The ones so different from our real lives with people acting how we wish the world was. Black and white. No complexities, no gray areas, no weakness of actions. We don’t want to really think about how things work, just accept them and move on. It takes a certain degree of freedom from everyday struggles to even get this mindset. If you can spend your time studying all day, pondering questions, it’s easier to shake off these illusions. When your day is spent waking up, doing the backbreaking labor to survive another day, and going to bed, well, you really don’t have the energy to think about complex things.

And here we see how Kellhus manipulates Achamian, and others, to think about past relationships by imitating vocal cues and expressions (Inrau and Xinemus), becoming a chameleon to provoke the responses he needs.

Anything can be justified when you believe you’re actions are moral. When you think you’re on the right side of history. You can persecute people for race, sex, beliefs, creeds, and more when you think you have the moral authority because you’ve found the Truth. It’s happening right now in our world.

Kellhus is salivating for the Gnosis. Not literally, obviously, he doesn’t have enough emotions for that, but you can tell as he uses Inrau’s death to prod Achamian down the path to surrendering the sorcery to make him equal to the Mandate so he could finally negotiate with them.

The conversation between Kellhus and Achamian on faith and fanaticism is engrossing. Kellhus needs to know how far Achamian will go in his dedication to the Mandate’s cause. He’s not sure if Achamian is a true fanatic. He’s experimenting right now, pushing him to go farther and farther, finding the line in his convictions, seeing if Achamian will betray the Mandate and give Kellhus the Gnosis.

And there it comes, Kellhus has manipulated Achamian to blurt out his beliefs about Kellhus himself, the reasons that Achamian found to support his passions to protect Kellhus. By making Kellhus not only the Harbinger, but also the Savior of the World, Achamian has found a reason to hide him from the Mandate. And now that he as acknowledged this Truth while at the same time having Kellhus remind him that any act in service of the Truth is a just act, like betraying the Gnosis to the Warrior Prophet.

Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” David Hume, On Reason. According to Hume, we come up with reasons to satiate our passions. And we can see this philosophy in action with Achamian rationalizing his protection of the Harbinger.

Conphas identifies that Kellhus knows Martemus is bait and yet blames Martemus instead of his obvious plan. Conphas is a brilliant strategist, but his ego can get in the way. Everyone knows Martemus is his right hand man and that he opposes Kellhus. Even an idiot had to know why Martemus is there. But, of course, the great Conphas can never be wrong. His ego defeats his intellect time and time again.

I can hear Conphas’s condescending lecture to Martemus echoing through the prose of the text.

Martemus has one of the most fascinating character arcs in the series. At the start, you would never believe him capable of betraying Conphas. The man knows that Conphas is a narcissistic asshole, but also knows him to be a military genius, the man he was destined to support, to aid, the great Emperor who would save Nansur. And then a little bit of doubt enters his mind. It poisons him bit by bit. Once, he told Conphas he would save the Concubine, Conphas’s standard, over the Tusk, and now he is confronted with that choice in reality, with choosing the words of the gods over his earthly commander, and his prioritizes are shifting. It is easy to boast in the abstract but when confronted by circumstances, it can be so much harder.

Martemus is more a soldier than a noble. I bet he would fit in with the common people he sits among. But they are afraid of him. We’ve seen how nobles act in this world. Who wouldn’t be afraid of this man?

Martemus struggle is great, at one moment awed then his intellect reminding him that it can’t be true, calling himself a fool. He’s a war with himself.

Preachers often make jokes at the start of sermons like Kellhus does. It’s a good way to relax your audience before you get into the deep stuff. Get the crowd warmed-up, make sure you’re listening, then you hit them with the truths you have to tell. It can be powerful, and Kellhus is the master of it. His sermon is spoken for all and just for one man tonight. Martemus.

Humans do love their self-deception, and Kellhus is peeling it away to make martyrs. To make the sort of men that will die for him out of faith. It’s a mindset if you can achieve will get people to do anything for you.

Martemus is trying so hard to hold onto rational fact in the face of Kellhus’s sermon. As Kellhus truths. Doubts are assailing Martemus over and over. He’s fighting as hard as he can, but Kellhus wants him. Kellhus has plans for him. He is, after all, second-in-command of the Nansur columns.

Martemus is no longer alone after embracing Kellhus’s divinity. People want to belong. No one likes feeling alone. It can bind us to groups even when doubts make us question why we’re there. It can hold us in place, drive us to do acts just to fit in.

Kellhus knows Martemus is a loyal man. He can’t ask Martemus to betray Conphas. He needs Martemus to realize fully where his loyalty is. To the god or his earthly master. Of course, Kellhus knows this act will only bring Martemus back to him. Martemus is seeing him as divine, seeing the haloed hands.

The haloed hands is a much discussed topic. They are only seen by true believers in Kellhus’s divinity. Serwë sees them first, but now we have Martemus seeing them. There is nothing in the text that shows people who have seen them telling others about haloed hands to spark off a mass hallucination, and yet that’s how it appears. But this is a world where the Outside, the supernatural is real. Maybe the haloed hands are born out of a belief in the Three Seas that prophets must have them, or maybe when you believe in him, one of the Gods of the Outside lets you see it. It might be a mass delusion, but I am leaning towards something intrinsic into this world’s metaphysics, like the Judging Eye we meet in the second series, or topoi. The Outside is bleeding into the world around Kellhus’s hands. This might explain how Kellhus pulls Serwë’s heart out of his chest at the end of the novel.

Oh, Conphas, you could never be friends with anyone. You were just deluding yourself, believing that Proyas would be this perfect companion to only enhance your prestige without even considering his agency.

Dead prophets are useful for the powerful. But there’s nothing like a man taking away the loyalty of the common folk and undermining your power base to get you scared, eh, Conphas? Especially when your only confidant, the most solid man you know, is transforming into a fanatic before your eyes. We’re also seeing the groundwork laid in for the novel’s climax here. So long as Proyas has faith in Kellhus, Conphas can’t enact his False Prophet Trial. But if Kellhus was careless (like that happens) and allows Proyas to see something disturbing…

Conphas’s hatred of Kellhus is rooted in both fear of losing his power and fear of his enemies destroying them. Yes, he’s wrong that Kellhus is a Cishaurim spy, but he’s not wrong that Kellhus is a threat to the Holy War. Kellhus is transforming it, and he can see it. And he’s maddened that no one else can or cares. That would drive a normal person nuts, let alone a narcissist like Conphas.

And once again, Conphas’s ego gets in his way. He truly thought he could convince the pious Proyas, a man who has Kellhus staying in his army’s camp, who sponsored him to the other Great Names, would turn his back on him just because Conphas has concerns he’s a false prophet. And instead, he walked into a trap. I think Conphas needs to stick to the battlefield.

And now Kellhus is having another secret war with Conphas. Well, to Conphas it is a war, to Kellhus, I imagine, it’s an annoyance. Unlike his war with the Consult. Sadly for Conphas’s ego, everything he does ends up furthering Kellhus’s plan. As we’ve seen, Kellhus has either anticipated the Circumfix (the result of a trial by Tusk) or was granted a vision of it (which I lean towards). But Conphas’s actions will have consequences. And for a first time reader, this is exciting. Will Martemus betray Kellhus or Conphas? Who will win his loyalty?

And since we like Martemus and hate Conphas, we’re all rooting for Kellhus’s success. I suspect Kellhus seduces every first time reader. We’re predisposed to root for the “heroic” archetype Kellhus superficially occupies. It’s only after it’s over, when we look back on the story, can we see how Bakker manipulated us.

I think it’s why I love this series.

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Twelve!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 9
Hinnereth

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

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

AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

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

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will show them! They will see!

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

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

You look an Emperor in the eye?

Go!” Xerius roared. “Into them! Go!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No?”

I’m injured, Shriah, that you would—”

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

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

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

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

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

Into Screams.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Xinemus raised his eyebrows. “He troubles you?”

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

And that’s what troubles you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Men like him need love… Men unlike me.

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

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

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

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

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

Then you cannot believe the Tusk.”

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

So true.

I simply go by the Word!

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

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

Proyas narrowed his eyes and nodded.

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

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

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

A dead wife.

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

There was revelation.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue on to Chapter Ten!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Six

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 6
The Plains of Mengedda

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

One sorcerer, the ancients say, is worth a thousand warriors in battle and ten thousand sinners in Hell.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

When shields become crutches, and swords become canes,

some hearts are put to rout.

When wives become plunder, and foes become thanes,

all hope has guttered out.

ANONYMOUS, “LAMENT FOR THE CONQUERED”

My Thoughts

Interesting that the Inrithi believe that one sorcerer is worth ten thousand sinners in Hell while the Fanim believe one Cishaurim is worth the breath of thousands. One group is revered, the other tolerated. Which is the point of Achamian’s quote, to show us just how much value sorcerers have on the battlefield.

The second quote shows the plight the Fanim of Gedea are about to endure. They have just been conquered. We see the wives and other women of the Fanim camp-followers are taken as plunder at the end of the battle, and Saubon’s dream is to be king of Gedea. It’s why he marched in the first place. To be Thane. It is also a Norsirai lament, since it uses Thane to describe the leader. The poems language is visceral, conjuring limping Northmen leaning on swords and canes, fleeing the battle only for their wives to be taken as plunder and the men who just beat them to be their new rulers. Who wouldn’t despair?

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

Morning dawns to war horns blaring for the Inrithi host. Despite dozens of small battles, Saubon has reunited with the Tydonni and Thunyeri hosts in the hills adjacent to Mengedda. The three hosts have agreed to march together and press their advantage, believing they have the best terrain on which to fight the Fanim. As the host assembles, some soldiers in it wonder if others had troubled sleep and can hear the hissing sound.

The soldiers assemble, the lords marshaling their men. Wives and concubines embrace their men while priests lead everyone in prayers or sacrificial rites. Everyone is preparing for battle, calling upon any superstition to see themselves and their loved ones through the battle.

Augurs cast their bones. Surgeons set knives upon fires, readied their kits.

As the Men of the Middle North finish forming their line of battle, the Fanim appear. The “entire horizon seemed to move, winked as though powdered by silver.” The Grandees of Gedea and Shigek have arrived to do battle. At the same time, scouts find the bones of the Vulgar Holy War rotting in the field. “The ruin of an earlier Holy War.” Then hymns are sung by the Inrithi, at first a multitude, bu tone wins through.

A warring we have come

A reaving we shall work.

And when the day is done,

In our eye the Gods shall lurk!

The song was old, hailing from the Sagas. It inspires the soldiers, invigorating them. “A thousand years and one song!” The Inrithi are prepared to stand and fight, crying as they sing their hymn as the flashing Kianene ride out to fight. The Agmundrmen with their yew bows are the first to fire on the advancing enemy. Then the Inrithi knights charged, Athjeari the first with more following. The footman watch the avalanche, cheering them on. The knights are hit by Kianene arrows but keep riding as “the madness fell away. Once again it was the pure thunder of the charge. The strange camaraderie of men bent to a single, fatal purpose.”

They charge over brush and the bones of the Holy War. Twenty-thousand heavily armored men bear down on the Kianene. “The fear dissolved into drunken speed, into the momentum, became so mingled with exhilaration as to be indistinguishable from it.” Then they slam into the Kianene lines. Men die.

But the Kianene do not stand and fight. They retreat, firing arrows behind them. They are swifter, not encumbered by all the armor. And then the lightly armored Kianene break apart and heavily armored cavalry slam into the Inrithi charge. The Fanim let out ululating cries. “But war was bloody work, and the iron men hammered their foes, split skulls through battlecaps, cracked wooden shields, broke the arms battering them.”

The fighting is viscous. Yalgrota Sranchammer lays death about him as if the Fanim “were children.” The great names fight, rallying their men. Some die. It is chaos. The Fanim are everywhere, hitting their flanks, even charging into their rear.

Beset on all sides, the Men of the Tusk died. Taken in the back by lances. Jerked by hooks from their saddles and ridden down. Pick-like axes punched through heavy hauberks. Arrows dropped proud warhorses. Dying men cried to their wives, their Gods. Familiar voices pierced the cacophony. A cousin. A mead-friend. A brother or father, shrieking. The crimson standard of Earl Kothwa of Gaethuni toppled, was raised once more, then disappeared forever, as did Kothwa and five hundred of his Tydonni. The Black Stag of Agansanor was also overcome, trampled into the turf. Gothyelk’s householders tried to drag their wounded Earl away, but were cut down amid a flurry of Kianene horseman. Only a frantic charge by his sons saved the old ear, though his eldest, Gotheras, was gored in the thigh.

Retreat is sounded, but they are surrounded and unable to flee. Until suddenly, an opening appears. Shrial Knights shout to flee. Panicked Inrithi knights follow. Many of the retreating men are slaughtered within sight of the safety of the lines. The song has died.

“Dread and the heathen were upon them.”

Saubon is furious, screaming that they had them. But Gotian argues with Saubon, telling him that they were fools to keep pursing. When fighting the Kianene, you retreat back to the lines when they break. They regroup to fast. Saubon is furious still, ranting about how the Kianene broke like children. Then an arrow strikes him in the chest, but stopped by his armor. Gotian gets through to him. And Saubon realizes he’s doomed them.

Gather your wits, man!” Gotian roared. “We’re not like the heathen. We’re hard, but we’re brittle. We break! Gothyelk is down. Wounded—perhaps mortally! You must rally these men!”

“Yes… Rally…” Abruptly, Saubon’s eyes shone, as though some brighter fire now moved him. “The Whore would be kind!” the prince cried. That’s what he said!”

Gotian could only stare, bewildered.

Coithus Saubon, a Prince of Galeoth, the seventh son of old evil Ereyeat, hollered for his horse.

Now the Kianene lancers charge the Inrithi lines, facing pikemen and falling dead from arrows. Some Fanim throw the heads of dead noblemen at the Inrithi, who just throw them back. Their charge falters in parts, stunned by the ferocity and stout hearts of some of the Norsirai. The Fanim keep charging, looking for the weakness in the iron men’s lines to exploit. But each time, they fail and are forced to retreat, leaving scores of dead in their wake.

By a marsh, Crown Prince Fanayal, the Padirajah’s son, lead famed heavy cavalry, the Coyauri, against the Inrithi. Despite their initial success, a charge of surviving Inrithi knights drive them away after taking heavy losses. This heartens Saubon, and he musters more of the Inrithi knights to counter-charge the Fanim. They have learned from their earlier mistake, and retreat back to their lines instead of pursuing the Fanim and becoming enveloped.

The sun climbed high, and scoured the Battleplain with heat.

The Earls and Thanes are learning to respect and fear the Fanim, their skill at horsemanship, and their archery. Thousands of Inrithi lie dead from the arrows alone. In a lull in the fighting, exhausted men break down crying while the camp followers give first aid. Then word comes that the Fanim seek to outflank them, but Saubon anticipated it and the attack is undone, which bolsters Inrithi spirits.

Then Skauras himself, the Sapatishah-Governor of Shigek, appears before his forces, taunting the Inrithi surrounded by a group of retainers. Archers try to shoot him, spurred on by a reward offered by Saubon. Some of the Agmundrmen arrows come close, but Skauras and his retinue pretend not to notice until one is killed. The escort scattered, but Skauras doesn’t. He remains there, unmistakable in his battle garb.

Arrows fletched in faraway Galeoth pocked the turf about him [Skauras], but he didn’t move. More and more shafts feathered the ground as Agmundrmen began finding the drift and distance. Facing the Inrithi, the remote Sapatishah pulled a knife from his crimson girdle—and began pairing his nails.

Now the Fanim began to laugh and roar as well, beating their round shields with sun-flashing scimitars. The very earth seemed to shiver, so ferocious was the din. Two races, two faiths, willing hate and murder across the littered Battleplain.

Skauras raises his hand, and the Fanim advance. The Inrithi ready to fight as the Fanim charge across the entire line, lances lowered. Others fired arrows. The charges came in waves, crashing over and over into the northmen. “Entire companies were sacrificed for mere lengths of earth.” The fight is brutal, chaotic, lacking any tactics. It is a desperate struggle. And then the Cishaurim appear.

Saubon is fighting on horseback, screaming, “The God wills it!” He kills men over and over, hacking hard with his sword, the Coyauri he fights grew nervous, retreating from his ferocity as he calls them cowards. And then his fourth horse is killed out from beneath him. He is on the ground, struggling to get back to his feet, but he his attacked and knocked down on to his face.

By the gods, his fury felt so empty, so frail against the earth! He reached out with his bare left hand and grabbed another hand—cold, heavily callused, leathery fingers and glass nails. A dead hand. He looked up across the mattered grasses and stared at the dead man’s face. An Inrithi. The features were flattened against the ground and partly sheathed in blood. The man had lost his helm, and sandy-blond hair jutted from his mail hood. The coif had fallen aside, pressed against his bottom lip. He seemed so heavy, so stationary—like more ground…

A nightmarish moment of recognition, too surreal to be terrifying.

It was his face! His own hand he held!

He tried to scream.

Nothing.

Then Kussalt, Saubon’s groom, helps him to his feet, saving him. Saubon is reeling, realizing the ground is cursed. He recovers thanks to Kussalt’s fatherly manner. Saubon gathers himself and then demands Kussalt’s horse, calling him old and slow. Kussalt sours and Saubon berates him. Then the old man is hit with an arrow in the back. As the old man’s dies, he laughs, one of the few time Saubon ever heard. He grieves, not wanting Kussalt to die.

I would have you know…” the old man wheezed, “how much I hated you…”

A convulsion, then he spat snotty blood. A long gasp, then he went utterly still.

Like more earth.

Saubon grows empty, and then realizes this place is cursed. He can’t believe that Kussalt, the nearest thing to a father to he has, hated him. He tries to believe it’s a joke, to shake it off. And then people scream Cishaurim. Sorcery explodes. Gotian shouts for him. Saubon grows angry at Kussalt, but transfers it to Gotian. He remembers Kellhus words for the Shrial knights to be punished.

“Charge them,” the Galeoth Prince said mildly. He hugged his dead groom tight against his thighs and stomach. What a joker.

“You must charge the Cishaurim.

Fourteen Cishaurim walked into battle to elude Chorae crossbowmen instead of striding the sky where they would be obvious and vulnerable. No Cishaurim can be risked since the Scarlet Spire marches with the Holy War. “They were Cishaurim, Indara’s Waterbearers, and their breath was more precious than the breath of thousands. They were oases among men.” They walk among the lines of the Fanim, casting sorcerery, burning Inrithi arrows into ash. Wherever their sightless eyes gazed, Inrithi died in “blue-blinding light.” Many northmen remember their training, huddling behind shields while others fled, including the Agmundrmen archers. The center dissolves. “Battle had become massacre.”

Fanayal and his Coyauri cavalry withdraw in the confusion, pursued by four thousand Shrial Knights. Only they aren’t charging the Coyauri, but the Cishaurim, howling, “The God wills it!” Gotian’s horse is burned out from beneath him. Sarcellus is killed by the shrapnel from a knight exploding beside him. Hundreds of knights die in heartbeats. But they keep charging across the “smoldering ruin of their brothers, racing one another to their doom, thousands of them, howling, howling.”

Then a lone rider, a young adept, swept up to one of the sorcerer-priests—and took his head. When the nearest turned his sockets to regard him, only the boy’s horse erupted in flame. The young knight tumbled and continued running, his cries shrill, his dead father’s Chorae bound to the palm of his hand.

Only then did the Cishaurim realize their mistake—their arrogance. For several heartbeats they hesitated…

A tide of burnt and bloody knights broke from the rolling smoke, among them Grandmaster Gotian, hauling the Gold Tusk on White, his Order’s sacred standard. In that final rush, hundreds more fell burning. But some didn’t, and the Cishaurim rent the earth, desperately trying to bring those with Chorae down. But it was too late—the raving knights were upon them. One tried to flee by stepping into the sky, only to be felled by a crossbow bolt bearing a Tear of God. The others were cut down where they stood.

They were Cishaurim, Indara’s Waterbearers, and their death was more precious than the death of thousands.

Silence falls as the Shrial Knights limp back to the Inrithi, Gotian carrying a burnt youth. But Skauras isn’t dismayed. He has realized the Cishaurim have done their work. The Inrithi center has collapsed and struggles to reassemble So he orders his men to charge again. But the the iron men reform in time, heartened by the Shrial knights charge. And they began to sing their song once more. “As the afternoon waxed, many more joined the fallen.”

But that doesn’t matter, the Northmen have rallied. They are heartened, all singing together. The Fanim resolve falters as they crash over and over into the Inrithi lines. “For they saw demons in the eyes of their idolatrous enemy.” And then Proyas’s banner is seen, his Conriyans have arrived, and Skauras sounds the retreat. The haggard Northmen charge in pursuit and the Fanim panic and rout instead of retreat in an orderly fashion. “The knights of Conriya swept into their midst, and the great Kianene hosts of Skauras ab Nalajan, Sapatishah-Governor of Shigek, was massacred.” The Fanim camp is looted, women are raped, slaves murdered, and plunder taken.

By sunset, the Vulgar Holy War had been avenged.

Over the following weeks, the Men of the Tusk would find thousands of bloated horses on the road to Hinnereth. They had been ridden to death, so mad were the heathen to escape the iron men of the Holy War.

Saubon watches the camp-followers of Proyas’s host walking wearily, and he realizes Proyas had pressed hard to reach the battle. He notices Achamian and asks where Kellhus is. Saubon takes offense that Achamian called him by name. Achamian doesn’t know. Saubon grows angry but then is unsettled by the memory of seeing himself dead and buried. He then asks Achamian for help. Bemused, the sorcerer agrees.

“This ground… What is it about this ground?”

The sorcerer shrugged again. “This is the Battleplain… This is where the No-God died.”

“I know the legends.”

“I’m sure you do… Do you know what topoi are?”

Saubon is hit with fatigue as Achamian explain that topoi are like tall towers built from trauma and suffering. And like tall towers, they let you see farther than you can from the ground. Only topoi let you see into the Outside. “That’s why this ground troubles you—you sand perilously high… This is the Battleplain. What you feel isn’t so different from vertigo.” Saubon agrees, exhausted. And blames that on his experience. But Achamian continues, saying that this topoi is special. Saubon asks him to explain what that means.

The soul that encounters Him,” the Schoolman continued, “passes no further.”

“And just fucking what,” the Galeoth Prince said, shocked by the savagery of his own voice, “is that supposed to fucking mean?”

The sorcerer looked out across the dark plains. “That in some way, He’s out there somewhere… Mog-Pharau.” When he turned back to Saubon, there was real fear in his eyes.

“The dead do not escape the Battleplain, my Prince… This place is cursed. The No-God died here.”

My Thoughts

The troubled sleep and hissing sound is our first hint that Mengedda is, as later explained, a topoi. A place where the Outside bleeds into reality. The land is marked by the many battles and witnessing the death of the No-God. These whispers are only the beginning of the weird stuff that happens.

The opening section of this chapter is Bakker writing in the historical mode, more recounting events than having characters experience it. He mixes that close, personal style of POV with these more sweeping ones so he can describe chaotic battles in their total instead of limiting the reader to only small snippets of it. He also uses it to pass time and describe the impact of events. I rather like the mix of the omniscient and the limited third person.

And, of course, the Norsirai, based on Germanic Europeans, ride into battle drunk. You’ll notice how some, like the Galeoth, have been “Inrithi” long enough to lose most of their pagan ways while the Thunyerus only converted in the last generation, still very much barbarians and not civilized wholly yet.

The song the Inrithi sing is haunting. I can just imagine thousands upon thousands of soldiers singing it, this deep, rumbling bellow coming from these barbaric men in armor on foot as the graceful Fanim in their colorful silks and nimble horses advance.

The Sagas are a collection of works about the First Apocalypse that Achamian is dismissive of. Well, he does live the events in his dreams.

I love how Bakker differentiates the two forces. The Kianene are a race of the sun, the desert, all brilliant and colorful, while the Norsirai are dour men of the gray north, from haunting woods and cloudy days.

We also see some of the problems of feudal warfare. Since each lord has his own troops, there is disparity in size. Some spots on the Inrithi line don’t have enough men, while others have far too many. And there is plenty of arguments, the command structure iffy at the best of times. These men like to see themselves as equals, not officers. But despite that, they are united in common cause.

Of course Athjeari is the first to charge. He’s a minor character, but the young man and his cavalry are always out in the fore, scouting, raiding. He seems to want to be first in everything, full of that brash confidence of youth.

Bakker really captures the charge of the Inrithi, his prose bringing to life the armored men, noting the differences in their appearance, the fall of arrows. I particularly love the line right before they reach the Kianene “Saw eyes whiten in sudden terror.” Twenty-thousand heavily armored men charging at me would do that.

Reading this part is enthralling. You can almost hear the Fanim cry like Bedouin tribesmen of our own world.

And through the battle, Bakker drops all these names of characters we may never even heard of or who might have been mentioned in passing. But it doesn’t overwhelm us. It’s like reading history, hearing about this noble dying, this group of soldiers perishing. His world building is on full display, giving us a peek into all the back story that the novels are built upon, the foundation unseen because it is sunk so deep into the dirt.

Saubon has lost it, seeing victory turn into disaster. He saw the enemy break, not realizing the Fanim don’t break like soldiers normally do. They are used to retreating. It doesn’t demoralize them. They regroup fast. But soldiers who don’t think retreat is an option, like the Inrithi, have a hard time. They can last far longer but when they do retreat, it is a rout, broken, fleeing. They are not flexible. It’s both a strength and a weakness. They can take a lot, but it’s bad when they lose. But then, he remembers Kellhus’s words. He clings to them. They are his only hope now.

The fighting grows fiercer, but now the Inrithi’s iron stubbornness becomes their strength, their footman holding time and time against enemy charges. The Fanim don’t have the weapons to face the Inrithi in melee. With their heavy shields, two-handed weapons, and pike formations, they are butchering the lighter cavalry. Even the heaviest cavalry the Fanim have, are driven back.

We also get our first glimpse of Fanayal. Remember his name, he’ll be mentioned quite a lot as the series heads farther and the Holy War continues against the Fanim. He’s brave, fighting with his men, doing dangerous work. And he’s the heir of his country.

Skauras pairing his nails is a brilliant bit of writing. Here we are seeing the personality of the general commanding the Kianene forces, a wily tactician we’ve heard about since the series started. The man respected by Conphas of all people. Unwilling to show fear as archers come closer and closer to killing him, defiant, inspiring his men while risking his own life, and keeping his nails tidy in the process. It is posturing at its greatest and most deadly. War is belief. When you believe your winning, you keep fighting. When you believe your losing, you stop. Numbers rarely matter unless they are vastly lopsided. And even then, belief can keep men fighting.

What a sad sentence to write about how truly pointless war can be sometimes: “Entire companies were sacrificed for mere lengths of earth.”

Remember Saubon seeing his own face and hand stick out of the earth. The Battleplain is a topoi, and this event will be revisited one day in the series. (And for those who have read that part, such chills reading this passage again knowing what is to come).

Saubon sees Kussalt as the father he yearned for instead of the abusive one he had. And yet he is as abusive to the old man as his own father was. “You’re old and slow.” Just takes away the man’s pride, right when he was actually showing some affection for Saubon, pride at him for stemming the breach. As he dies, he finally tells Saubon how he feels. Just like Saubon hates his father for being abused, Kussalt hates Saubon for the same reason.

And then Saubon tries to deny those words. Kussalt appears to be the only person Saubon cares for, a man he respects and loves. And then to learn the man hated him, it sends him reeling. He transfers his anger at Kussalt onto “the fucking picks.” Picks, of course, a racial slur for Ketyai, like Gotian and the Kianene.

Bakker always describes sorcery as something at once both beautiful and horrific. “Filaments of blue incandescence, fanning out, glittering with unearthly beauty, burning limbs to cinders, bursting torsos, immolating men in their saddles.”

How many authors would kill a major character like Sarcellus with such a bare bones mention, almost off-hand, in the catalog of casualties suffered by the charging Shrial Knights. Just like that, the skin-spy masquerading as Sarcellus is killed by a piece of shrapnel. No fanfare. Nothing to draw attention to the significance of the event. But killing Sarcellus was the whole point of Kellhus’s “punish the Shrial knights.”

Nothing hammers home in Bakker’s work on both the rarity of sorcerers and their value when fourteen are killed and it is a disaster. But you see why. They ravaged the Inrithi. Even Skauras thinks that the amount they killed was enough.

And here we see belief at work. The Northmen are heartened despite taking so many causalities because of the Shrial Knight’s suicidal charge worked. The Cishaurim, this great and terrible force that was decimating them, was defeated through impossible odds and insane courage. And then, charging the Fanim when they retreat, finally broke them because they believed they had lost. They are flexible, but even the most stretchiest rubber can snap thanks to Proyas’s timely arrival.

Saubon is so haunted by the battle, he speaks to Achamian despite the man being his lesser. You can see that same off-handed insulting manner Saubon has. He probably doesn’t even realize that he does it. The sort of casual abuse that sours a man against you over time.

How utterly horrible to die fighting on the Battleplain and end up stuck here, buried in the ground maybe, reaching up at your own living self. All those men who had trouble dreams, all those men who heard strange noise, how many of them are trapped in the vacuum left by the No-God’s passage. Bakker truly has a horrifying afterlife. (And it only grows more disturbing the more you learn).

So, Saubon did it. Even without Proyas, he had one the battle. Proyas just ensured it was such a one-sided victory. Kellhus’s gamble paid off. The first Great Name now has proof that Kellhus is a prophet like he claims.

Click here to continue on to Chapter 7!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Five

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 5
The Plains of Mengedda

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

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

TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Only what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Kellhus said, “I suppose not.”

More lies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madness.

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

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

Any indignity… Anything!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moënghus had taught him that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As well he should be.

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

The Whore will be kind to you.

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

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

“No,” Kussalt said, still frowning.

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

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue on to Chapter Six!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 4
Asgilioch

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

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

XIUS, The TRUCIAN DRAMAS

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

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet…” Achamian added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like being free,” Kellhus said,

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

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

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

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

His throat tightened. “How can I?”

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

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

So what should I do? Achamian wanted to cry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s come for my counsel.

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

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

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

Another one. Another Skeaös..

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

He bowed lower than his rank demanded.

What does this mean, Father?

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

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

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

Silence.

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

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

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

Could it?

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

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

The study is so deep, Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence.

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

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

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

“Then why come to me now?”

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

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

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

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

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

I know so little of war. Too little…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You loved him, didn’t you?”

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

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

“Come,” he said. “Night waxes.”

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

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

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

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

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

She no longer wanted to run.

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

Achamian pursed trembling lips. Swallowed. “We?”

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

“We.”

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to continue on to Chapter Five.

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