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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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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 1
Anserca

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

Ignorance is trust

—Ancient Kûniüric Proverb

Thoughts

What a true statement. When you don’t know the real things a person is saying, doing, or thinking, it is easy to trust them. If you don’t know they’re talking behind your back and undermining your chance at, say, a promotion, then you have no reason not to trust them when they say they’re helping you.

Now how does this apply to our current chapter? Who is ignorant? Well, all men are ignorant of the darkness that comes before, something that Kellhus is constantly exploiting. We have Achamian in this chapter warring with himself whether or not to turn over Kellhus to the Mandate. H doesn’t want to hand him over. Ignorant of the truth of Kellhus, Achamian finds him trusting the Dûnyain

Late Spring 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, south of Momemn

Drusas Achamian, our sorcerer and spymaster protagonist, sits in his tent muttering an incantation. “Though the moon-shining length of the Meneanor Sea lay between him and Atyersus, he walked the ancient halls of his School—walked among sleepers.” Achamian moves from dream to dream, nightmare to nightmare, until he finds Nautzera, dreaming as Seswatha and cradling the dead king Anasûrimbor Celmomas. A dragon lands and breathes fire, killing the soldiers around Nautzera, but he is protected by sorcerous wards. Achamian knows what will happen in the dream, he’s experienced it many times.

Our Lord,” the dragon grated, “hath tasted thy King’s passing, and he saith, ‘It is done.’”

Nautzera stood before the golden-horned abomination. “Not while I draw breath, Skafra!” he cried. “Never!”

Laughter, like the wheezing of a thousand consumptive men. The Great Dragon reared his bull-chest above the sorcerer, revealing a necklace of steaming human heads.

Thou art overthrown, sorcerer. They tribe hath perished, dashed like a potter’s vessel by our fury. The earth is sown with they nation’s blood, and soon thine enemies will compass thee with bent bow and whetted bronze. Wilt thou repent thy folly? Wilt though not abase thyself before our Lord?”

“As do you, mighty Skafra? As the exalted Tyrant of Cloud and Mountain abases himself?”

Membranes flickered across the dragon’s quicksilver eyes. A blink. “I am not a God.”

Nautzera smiled grimly. Seswatha said, “Neither is your lord.”

Skafra is not pleased by the answer. As the dragon attacks, Nautzera notices Achamian and is confused. Their souls touch and they speak through thoughts. Nautzera is shocked Achamian is alive. The concern shocks Achamian, Nautzera has never liked him. “But then Seswatha’s Dreams had a way of sweeping aside petty enmities.” Achamian reports he is with the Holy War and that it marches on Kian, the debate over the Emperor’s indenture resolved. He shows images of the mighty host marching.

Nautzera asks if Achamian learned anything about Maithanet and his reasons for calling the Holy War. Achamian has not, saying his former Student Proyas, a great prince and one of the leaders of the Holy War, belongs to Maithanet.

What is it with your students, Achamian? Why do they all turn to our rivals, hmm? The ease with which Nautzera had recovered his sarcasm both stung and curiously relieved Achamian. The grand old sorcerer would need his wits for what followed.

Achamian relates what happened in the Emperor’s dungeon at the end of the last book, the unveiling of the skin spy. Achamian has found the Consult, the ancient enemy of the Mandate and the world. He shows the imagery, proving that the skin spy are not marked by sorcerery. Despite Achamian hating Nautzera, he went to him first because he is a fanatic, a Mandate Schoolman who still believes in the Consult after centuries of their absence. He is shocked by what Achamian has seen, realizing the Consult has mastered new arts of the Tekne, the Old Science. He tells Achamian to share the dream with others.

But…

But what? There’s more?

Far more. An Anasûrimbor had returned, a living descendant of the dead king Nautzera had just dreamed.

Nothing of significance, Achamian replied. Why had he said this? Why conceal Anasûrimbor Kellhus from the Mandate? Why protect—

Nautzera interrupts Achamian’s thoughts, urging him to tell all the Quorum this dream. Nautzera realizes what it means if the Consult can put their spies in even the Imperial Court, they could infiltrate anyone. “Send this dream to the entire Quorum! All Atyersus trembles this night.

The next morning, Achamian is walking with his mule Daybreak down the Sogian Way as the sun rises, reflecting on the beauty of the morning. He is reeling. He was used to the waking world not possessing the horrors of his dreams. Bad things happened, but not like the atrocities of two thousand years ago. That had changed he realizes, staring at the Men of the Tusk, the vast army crossing the country side.

The vast host had broken up as they marched through the Empire partly out of prudence for foraging in case the Emperor failed to provision him, but also because the Great Names couldn’t decide on the route south. Achamian finds that a bad start, but his friend Xinemus thinks it is a good thing because Proyas, Xinemus’s lord, chose the road. On a map, it looked longer, but the other hosts cutting across the countryside will learn that roads allow for faster travel. “Even the Scylvendi know roads are fucking better!”

Achamian skulls in the baggage train with his mule during the march. Achamian wonders why he is in the baggage train instead of riding with the Great Names like Seswatha would have. He could. Proyas would, grudgingly, allow Achamian to ride with his party. At first he wonders if it is nostalgia or habit when he realized what it was—aversion. He realizes he is hiding from Kellhus, avoiding him, going out of his way because he feared scrutiny of others, including Kellhus, and because he kept staring at the beautiful Serwë and not like the worshipful way she stares at Kellhus.

Am I going mad?

Several times now, he’d found himself cackling aloud for no apparent reason. Once or twice he’d raised a hand to his cheek to discover he’d been weeping Each time he’d simply mumbled away his shock: few things are more familiar, he supposed, than finding oneself a stranger. Besides, what else could he do? Rediscovering the Consult was cause enough to go mad about the edges, certainly. But to suspect—no, to know—that the Second Apocalypse was beginning… And to be alone with such knowledge!

How could someone like him bear such weight?

Achamian grapples with telling the Mandate about finding Kellhus, but he knows Nautzera would have Kellhus seized and interrogated. Everything had changed in the Andiamine Heights. No longer was the Consult an abstract thing to Achamian, it was far too real. Achamian finds knowing worse than speculating.

But he can’t understand why he conceals Kellhus. “Within the space of days, the Three Seas had assumed the same bloated dimensions as the world he suffered night after night.” It frustrates Achamian that he says nothing. He vows that he will tell them tonight.

Kellhus appears, acting jovial, and Achamian finds himself reacting with equal levity, trying to banish dark thoughts. They joke. Achamian is surprised to find Kellhus walking. Caste Nobles never walked when they could ride.

Kellhus winked. “I thought I’d let my ass ride me for a change.”

Achamian laughed, feeling as though he’d been holding his breath and could only now exhale. Since that first evening outside Momemn, Kellhus had made him feel this way—as though he could breathe easy. When he’d mentioned this to Xinemus, the Marshal had shrugged and said “Everyone farts, sooner or later.”

Kellhus points out that Achamian promised to tutor him and begins leading Achamian’s mule. Kellhus asks the name of the mule, which shocks Achamian with the banality of the question. Not even Xinemus ever asked it, not caring. Kellhus sees Achamian’s turmoil and Achamian realizes “He reads me like any scroll.”

“Is it so easy?” Achamian asked. “So easy to see?”

“What does it matter?”

“It matters,” he said, blinking tears and turning to face Kellhus once again. So I weep! something desolate within him cried. So I weep!

“Ajencis,” he continued, “once wrote that all men are frauds. Some, the wise, fool only others. Others, the foolish, fool only themselves. And a rare few fool both others and themselves—they are the rulers of Men… But what about men like me, Kellhus? What about men who fool no one?”

And I call myself a spy!

Kellhus shrugged. “Perhaps they are less than fools and more than wise.”

Kellhus again asks what troubles Achamian. He deflects, instead answering the question about his mule’s name. Daybreak. “For a Mandate Schoolman, no name was more lucky.”

Achamian reflects on teaching Kellhus over the next few days, in awe of the man’s intellect. They discuss every topic, plants, animals, philosophy, and history. There is no curriculum. Achamian answers Kellhus’s curiosity, letting the student guide the discussion. Achamian is soon in awe of Kellhus’s intellect. No matter the topic “the Prince unerringly struck upon the matter’s heart.” Achamian finds Kellhus offering “explanations and interpretations as fine as any Achamian had read.”

“How?” Achamian blurted on one occasion.

“How what?” Kellhus replied.

“How is it that…that you see these things? No matter how deep I peer…”

Kellhus laughs it off and simply calls it a gift. Achamian is stunned by it. He was more than a genius. Achamian is shocked by how the man thinks. It is like Kellhus Is from a different age entirely.

Most, by and large, were born narrow, and cared to see only that which flattered them. Almost without exception, they assumed their hatreds and yearnings to be correct, no matter what the contradictions, simply because they felt correct. Almost all men prized the familiar path over the true. That was the glory of the students, to step from well-worn path and risk knowledge that oppressed, that horrified. Even still, Achamian, like all teachers, spent as much time uprooting prejudices as implanting truths. All souls were stubborn in the end.

Not so with Kellhus. Nothing was dismissed outright. Any possibility could be considered. It was as though his soul moved over something trackless. Only truth led him to conclusions.

Kellhus asks questions after questions, challenging Achamian’s own interpretations of events. It makes Achamian reflect on his youth when he argued with his teacher Simas, wondering why the older man couldn’t see what, to Achamian, was so clear. Never once do they ever cover the same topic again. Achamian realizes that even as he teaches Kellhus, Kellhus teaches him.

Who am I? he would often think, listening to Kellhus’s melodious voice. What do you see?

They move on to talk about the First Apocalypse, which Achamian finds easy to bring up but hard to discuss. He had lived it, so talking about it in detail is like taking about any other traumatic experience, welling up all the emotions. And Kellhus only makes it worse, reminding Achamian that he betrays his school by not telling them about Kellhus. One day, Kellhus asks about the No-God. Achamian is shocked that someone from Atrithau wouldn’t already know about the No-God. Kellhus says he’s read the Sagas, but wants first-hand accounting. Achamian has seen them.

No, Achamian wanted to say, Seswatha has seen these things. Seswatha.

Instead he studied the distance, gathering his thoughts. He clutched his hands, which felt as light as balsa.

You’ve seen these things. You…

“He has, as you likely know, many names. Men of ancient Kûniüri called him Mog-Pharau, from which we derived ‘No-God.’ In ancient Kyraneas, he was simply called Tsurumah, the ‘Hated One.’ The Nonmen of Ishoriol called him—with the peculiar poetry that belongs to all their names—Cara-Sincurimoi, the ‘Angel of Endless Hunger’… He is well named. Never has the world known a greater evil… A greater peril.”

Kellhus asks if he is an unclean spirit. Achamian answers he is not a demon. “He is more and his less…” Kellhus tries to change the subject and Achamian goes on about how he saw the No-God fight the Kyraneas at the Plains of Mengedda. Achamian realizes he has forgotten something. Kellhus asks what.

“That the Holy War would be crossing the Plains of Mengedda. That I would soon trod earth that had witnessed the No-God’s death…” He looked to the southern hills. Soon the Unaras Spur, which marked the ends of the Inrithi world, would resolve from the horizon. And on the far side…

“How could I have forgotten?”

“There’s so much to remember,’ Kellhus said. “Too much.”

“Which means too much has been forgotten,” Achamian snapped, unwilling to absolve himself of this oversight. I need my wits! The very world…

Kellhus thinks Achamian is being too harsh on himself, but Achamian reminds him what the No-God was like “Every infant stillborn for eleven years—for eleven years, Kellhus!” He relates how “every womb a grave.” Everyone could feel the No-God in their heart, now which direction it lay. He talks about the High North destroyed, Kyraneas on the verge of defeat, their capital sacked. On the Plains of Mengedda, the Kyranease awaited the foe, Seswatha at the side of Anaxophus V, the High King and an old friend to Seswatha.

Achamian abruptly stopped, turning to the north. “Imagine,” he said, opening his arms to the sky. “The day wasn’t unlike this, though the air smelled of wild blossoms… Imagine! A great shroud of thunderheads, as broad as the horizon and as black as crow, boiling across this sky, spilling towards us like hot blood over glass. I remember threads of lightning flashing among the hills. And beneath the eaves of the storm, great cohorts of Scylvendi galloping to the east and west, intent on enveloping our flanks. And behind them, loping as fast as dogs, legions upon legions of Sranc, howling… howling…

Kellhus says Achamian doesn’t have to tell this. But Achamian has to. He needs Kellhus to know this, to understand who Achamian is. Achamian continues, describing the Scylvendi attach, the horde of Srancs, how they fought with reckless abandoned, singing laments for their faces, knowing this was the end of mankind. Dragons attacked, including Skafra.

“Just south of here,” he [Achamian] said, shaking his head. “Two thousand years ago.”

“What happened next?”

Achamian continues, saying the impossible happened. Seswatha killed Skafra, drew back another dragon called Skuthul the Black. The Kyranease stood against the tide. It looked like they might have one. And then the No-God came. The sranc shrieked, scratching at their eyes. Seswatha struggled to breath. Horses reared. Men clutched their ears. Bashrag pounded the ground as “a great whirlwind, like a black umbilicus joining earth and cloud.”

And then the voice, spoken through the throats of a hundred thousand Sranc.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

I don’t understand…

I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE

Death. Wretched death!

TELL ME

Even you cannot hide from what you don’t know! Even you!

WHAT AM I?

“Doomed,” Seswatha whispered to the thunder. He clutched the Kyranean Great King by the shoulder. “Now, Anaxophus! Strike now!”

I CANNOT S—

Anaxophus fires the Heron Spear and a “thread of silver light” strikes the No God’s Carapace. It explodes, destroying the whirlwind. Achamian is dazed by telling the story, caught up in his memories, thinking he is Seswatha with Anaxophus again. Kellhus pulls him out of it, asking about the Heron Spear. But Achamian can’t answer. He’s drained by telling the story. Achamian can not remember ever telling this tale, one the Mandate are all loath to speak about. But he told Kellhus.

He’s doing something to me.

Stupefied, Achamian found himself staring at the man with the candor of a sleepy child.

Who are you?

Kellhus responded without embarrassment—such a thing seemed too small for him. He smiled as though Achamian were in face a child, an innocent incapable of wishing him ill. The look reminded Achamian of Inrau, who’d so often seen him for what he wasn’t: a good man.

Achamian looked away, his throat aching. Must I give you up, too?

A student like no other.

A group of soldiers start singing a hymn and Kellhus takes off his sandals, asking Achamian to do the same and “bare feet with the others.” Achamian realizes that Kellhus is always giving lessons. “While Achamian taught, Kellhus continually gave lessons.” Achamian didn’t know what the lessons were about, but he knew he was a student to Kellhus and his education was incomplete.

Again, Achamian comes close to using the Cants of Calling at night to tell his brethren about the fulfillment of the Celmomian Prophecy, which most saw as the very reason they exist. He can’t believe he waged world “on a man he’d known no more than a fortnight.” He finds it madness and keeps telling himself “One more day.”

Kellhus believes (or pretends to) that Achamian is worried about the Holy War’s success. Achamian is because he’s seen so many defeats in his dream. But despite being in the war, surrounded by soldiers, it’s not his concern. Achamian starts talking about how Seswatha was a youth when the wars with Golgotterath began. Even then, the wise didn’t understand the stakes. The Norsirai just wanted to subdue. They ruled the north, driven back the Sranc, defeated the Scylvendi They were the power, better than everything. Not even in the beginning, when Shauriatas, Grandmaster of the Mangaecca (the Consult) awakened the No-God did the Norsirai believe they would loose. That in eleven years, only ruins would remain.

Shielding his eyes he looked into the Prince’s face. “Glory doesn’t vouchsafe glory. The unthinkable can always come to pass.”

The end is coming… I must decide.

Kellhus nodded, squinting against the sun. “Everything has its measure,” he said. “Every man…” He looked directly at Achamian. “Every decision.”

For an instant Achamian feared his heart might stop. A coincidence… It has to be!

Suddenly, Kellhus picks up a small stone and throws it at a stone shelf, knocking it over. Achamian asks if he meant to do that. Kellhus says no. “But then that was your point, wasn’t it? The unforeseen, the catastrophic, follows hard upon all our actions.” Achamian didn’t think he had a point.

That night, Achamian can’t even begin the Cants of Calling. Achamian knows Kellhus is the Harbinger and soon the “horrors of his nights” would afflict the world. All the great cities would die like all the past ones did. What right did Achamian have to risk the future.

Because there was something… something about him. Something that bid Achamian to wait. A sense of impossible becoming… But what? What was he becoming? And was it enough? Enough to warrant betraying his School? Enough to throw the number-sticks of Apocalypse? Could anything be enough?

Other than the truth. The truth was always enough, wasn’t it.

He looked at me and he knew. Throwing the stone, Achamian realized, had been another lesson. Another clue. But for what? That disaster would follow if he made the wrong decision? That disaster would follow no matter what his decision?

There was no end, it seemed, to his torment.

My Thoughts

I love this description “dimensionless geometry of dreams” as Achamian reflects on how dreams can transport us across great distances, and how things sort of blend and merge together, bleeding from one thing to another.

It is telling that Achamian as he walks from dream to dream of his fellow Mandate Schoolman, instead only sees nightmares. They all are relieving Seswatha’s life, the harrowing moments as he witnessed the First Apocalypse.

I love the exchange between Nautzera and Skafra. Thought it is really Seswatha, the founder of Mandate School, who speaks these words, as Bakker shows in the the final line of the exchange.

Bakker has mention dragon, Wracu, but here is first good look at one. Huge beasts, servants of the No-God and the Consult. They are engineered beings like the sranc, bashrag, and the skin spies, made from the Tekne. But they possess far more free will than any other creations of the Inchoroi and their successor the Consult as we’ll see in later books.

It is also nice to see what happens after the Celmomian Prophecy, which we saw a number of times in the last book. And Nautzera is completely embroiled in the dream. He doesn’t know he’s not reliving the past until Achamian shakes him out of it.

Nautzera, for such a minor character making his first appearance in the story since Chapter Two of the first book, is a well-drawn out character. He has his reasons for disliking Achamian.

Poor Achamian. Discovering that the horrors of the past would be unsettling. For someone that his always self-reflecting like Achamian is, probing his motivations, it would be familiar to think of yourself as a stranger, to wonder why you do the things you do. Especially how you would change after what Achamian’s been through.

Achamian vow to tell them tonight is so familiar. We all tell ourselves that, wondering if we truly have the strength to do it or are we just lying to ourselves, placating the turmoil inside of us, saying we will do something but knowing we can’t or won’t.

“Everyone farts, sooner or later.” What a profound yet vulgar sentiment. We are all human, all afflicted with the same bodily functions no matter how lofty or pretentious we might feign. And it also shows just how much of a chameleon Kellhus is. He will be whatever he needs to be to master circumstances and the hearts of men. And when you’re ignorant of who Kellhus truly is, like Achamian, it is so easy to trust him.

Ajencis quote about fools is a great one. How often do we lesson to people for truth, whether theologians or scientist or talk show hosts. We imagine they know all these things with certainty while forgetting that they are humans, that they have our same self-doubt and, worse, can be wrong. Will be wrong. And then fools, of course, deluding themselves which leads us to rulers, politicians. Who both believe what they say to get you to support them.

Bakker, through Achamian, equates teaching with fatherhood. The point of a teacher is to shape, just like a father, or any parent, wishes to shape their children into a proper adult. Well, the good parents. The joy of a teacher for a student is akin to the joy of a parent.

“There was something about the way Kellhus thought, an elusive mobility Achamian had never encountered. Something that made him seem, at times, a man from a different age.” Achamian is touching on just how vast the intellect the Dûnyain have bred and trained for the last two thousand years. The ease with which Kellhus interrupts and exceeds the great minds of bygone eras is going to overawe an intellectual man like Achamian. All part of the seduction.

Narrow thoughts definitely characterizes humans. We all cherry-pick things that flatter are own believes. Even intelligent people can fall into this trap. Most like to lock themselves in an echo chamber and ignore those ideas that cause them to question their own world-view. Achamian’s insight in Kellhus thoughts as “trackless” is exactly how Kellhus is. Achamian is learning what a Dûnyain is, but he is still ignorant.

What do you see? Achamian asks that question in his mind to Kellhus. It is the same question the no-god asks. The no-god is one thing I am greatly looking forward to getting answers on. In this very chapter, we discuss the no-god after Achamian asks the question. Is Bakker trying to subtly hint that the no-god is seeking understanding of his own purpose, his own role even as he destroys the world? A blind entity flailing about, unable to control the damage he inflicts? Maybe.

Atrithau is one of the two cities remaining in the dead north, built on anarcane ground, a place where sorcery doesn’t exist. Achamian is right to be shocked by the holes in Kellhus’s knowledge about the No-God. OF course, Kellhus is good enough to cover up those holes. It is interesting that Atrithau and Sakarpus are the two cities that survived. Sakarpus has the Chorae Horde (small, iron balls that make a person immune to sorcerery) the largest collection of trinkets in the world, and Atrithau is built on a place were sorcery cannot exist.

We get reference to the Scarlet Spires consulting with demons, a branch of magic called the Daimos.

Mengedda sounds like a wonderful place. Only witnessed the death of the No-God. It is also the place where the Vulgar Holy War was defeated in the last novel. Mengedda of course, brings up the Valley of Meggido from the bible, a real place where armies throughout history have fought. A place soaked in blood. The word Armageddon derives from the Hebrew word Valley of Meggido. A fitting place for the No-God to die and the Holy War to cross.

Remembering the past is so very important. And the world has forgotten the Consult, the No-God, and the First Apocalypse. It is the Mandate’s job to keep it alive, and they failed. So it is no wonder that now, with the Consult back and the Harbinger appearance, that Achamian has to inform Kellhus, to make him understand.

Bakker’s description of the Battle of Mengedda is chilling, haunting. Just the idea that for 11 years no humans were born is terrifying. An entire generation that never even lived. Knowledge that there would be no youths growing up to join the fight. That they had to win or it was over. A true Apocalypse.

What do you see? What am I? These are the questions the No-God needs answering. This may be related to damnation. The No-God may be asking someone with the judging eye to see if he is still damned. It is one explanation of this. The whole motivation of the Consult is to avoid the very real damnation of Bakker’s universe. I CANNOT S— The No-God’s final words. What couldn’t he see? I am eager for The Unholy Consults release, hopefully next year since the manuscript is complete.

The Heron Spear is a laser. It’s Inchoroi technology. What happened to it after the No-God’s death is a question everyone asks. It has been lost. It is the only thing that can kill the No-God. Sorcery is out since the No-God’s carapace, a golden sarcophagus, is studded with magic-nullifying Chorae

Achamian has lost his two favorite students, one to actual death and the other to fanaticism. And now he has a new student to love, a student who he should turn over to the Mandate. Again, he will betray his school for the love of his pupil.

The lesson, Achamian, that Kellhus is teaching you is to trust him, to believe in him, to be in awe with him, so you’ll do what he wants.

Shauriatas and his school the Mangaecca were a Gnostic school, like Seswatha’s Sohonc. They broke through the Nonmen’s protective magics over Golgotterath, the crashed spaceship of the Inchoroi, and awakened the last two Inchoroi (one of whom is the Synthese directing the skin spies from the last novel). The No-God is a weapon they “awoke.” Something the Inchoroi had bet never used even as they lost their wars with the Nonmen The consult is born from the union of the Mangaecca with the last two Inchoroi

It wasn’t a coincidence that Kellhus mentions decisions just when Achamian is grappling with a big one. Though we aren’t getting Kellhus’s POV, we are reminded of just how skillful he is at reading people.

Kellhus has done a great job of keeping Achamian from telling the Mandate. We’ll learn later on that Kellhus knows to be wary of the Mandate. He is deliberately manipulating Achamian. He has figured out Achamian love of teaching and affection for his students. He has made Achamian love him. That’s what the Dûnyain do.

All in all, this is a great chapter. Bakker gets us all caught up on both the immediate story of the Holy War and the more vague threat of the Consult and the Second Apocalypse No other character than Achamian could have served to do that, mixing dreams, his mission, and his interactions with Kellhus allow Bakker to pen a masterful recap chapter.

Bakker has set the stage for Achamian’s moral dilemma and sets the stage for what the Holy War can expect.

Click her to continue on to Chapter Two!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

latestAfter I finished The Darkness that Comes Before, there was no way I could stop there. I had to find out where this story was going. I had to know more about the Consult, what happened into the past, how the characters would handle the Holy War, who truly was behind the events shaping the world, and, lastly, I had to read more about one of the most intriguing characters I have ever read—Anasûrimbor Kehllus.

I was glad that the Prince of Nothing Trilogy was all published (only to learn later it was just the first of three series of the greater Second Apocalypse Metaseries). The Warrior Prophet did not disappoint me, leading us from the politicking of the first book into the harsh reality of ancient and medieval warfare.

Bakker never once flinches from the depths of human depravity. It lurks in all of us, this capacity to do great harm. The Warrior Prophet is brutal at times. Bakker has been accused of misogyny for how women are treated in his series, but he is illuminating a fundamental part of humans—we forever divide ourselves into nations, tribes, races, and other divisions. And once we have, we are capable of great cruelty on others. A man who would die to protect his wife will have no compulsion murdering the wife of his enemy.

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

Like with the first book, Bakker opens the Warrior Prophet with a quote. Not a fictitious quote from his own setting, but a quote from Immanuel Kant.

“Here we see philosophy brought to what is, in fact, a precarious position, which should be made fast even though it is supported by nothing in either heaven or earth. Here philosophy must show its purity as the absolute sustainer of its laws, and not as a herald of laws which implanted senses or who knows what tutelary nature whispers to it.”

—Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals

My Thoughts

Bakker is a philosopher of human consciousness. So it should not be surprising that philosophy plays a huge role in his stories. We have several philosophies introduced in the first book, especially the Dûnyain and their pursuit of the Logos—the Absolute. They have stripped everything from the world in the application of their philosophy. They have trained out as much passion and emotion from their students, breeding them for intelligence. They have tried to make its purity sustain itself, as Kant describes above.

But Kant is talking about morality, something wholly alien to the Dûnyain Morality has to be its own law, something pure, something remote, something not apart from religious dictations (heaven) or the whims of capricious man (earth). It is something which must be pure. If it doesn’t sustain itself by its own power, then it is suspect because something whispers to it, something unseen, unknown.

Something whispering out of the darkness that comes before it.

This is a great quote for the book we’re about to read. Morality clashes against morality as religion battles religion. Whose right is moral? Who are the just ones? The Fanim defending their lands, or the Inrithi reclaiming what has been stolen?

Maybe neither of them are, and we are about to watch unfold a great tragedy of death and suffering while something whispers from the shadows. Something manipulating, something corrupting. I hope you are excited for The Warrior Prophet!

If you haven’t gotten bored yet, click her for Chapter One.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Eighteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 18
The Andiamine Heights

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

…and that revelation murdered all that I once did know. Where once I asked of the God, “Who are you?” now I ask, “Who am I?”

ANKHARLUS, LETTER TO THE WHITE TEMPLE

The Emperor, the consensus seems to be, was an excessively suspicious man. Fear has many forms, but it is never so dangers as when it is combined with power and perpetual uncertainty.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

While Bakker doesn’t give us a clue what the revelation Ankharlus received, his reaction is similar to what Achamian experiences in this chapter. Finally, after all these years, he has found the Consult in the wake of discovering the harbinger of the Celmomas Prophecy. Of course he’s reeling.

The second quite about Xerius we have seen borne true time and time again. He is a man always afraid, always suspicious, schooled by his mother in all the ways his ancestors died in the palace he lived, all the ways his rule can end. This chapter exists because of that paranoia

Late Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Xerius is shaken after the debacle in the garden and is drinking anpoi, joined by Conphas and Gaenkelti, the Captain of the Eothic Guard. Xerius asks if they have Skeaös and then demands to see him. Gaenkelti thinks that is a mistake. Xerius asks if sorcery is being used, and the Imperial Saik says no. But the man has been trained.

“What do you mean ‘trained’? Spare me your riddles, Gaenkelti! The Empire has been humiliated this day. I’ve been humiliated!”

“He was…hard to take. Three of my men are dead. Four more have broken limbs—”

“Surely you jest!” Conphas cried. “Was he armed?”

“No. I’ve never seen the like. If we hadn’t had extra guards assigned for the audience… As I said, he’s been trained.”

Xerius realized that Skeaös could have killed him at any time and is shaken. Conphas insists it has to be sorcery, which the Saik disagree with. Xerius gets paranoid and asks for another school to confirm, such as the Mysunsai. Gaenkelti has already done this, but agrees with the Saik. He used a Chorae on Skeaös and nothing. Xerius is stunned to learn his most trusted advisor was a spy. He was so sure that Skeaös knew the truth. “The others call me a God, but Skeaös, ah good Skeaös, he knows I’m divine.” in a fit of rage, he begins destroying things while demanding Skeaös is tortured and skinned.

There is silence as he calms down and then Gaenkelti breaches the subject of Kellhus. Xerius orders him to be be watched “Scrutinize him like no other.” Xerius finds satisfaction that even Conphas is disturbed by the events. Xerius dismisses Gaenkelti, after complimenting him, and orders the his chief sorcerer, spy, and augur to attend him. Gaenkelti leaves Xerius alone with Conphas.

Conphas is concerned, wondering just how much Skeaös knows. Xerius will have it tortured out of him and learn who he spies for. Conphas asks after the Holy War and the indenture. Xerius repeats what his mother would have said: “Our own house, Nephew. First, our own house…” Then he tells Conphas to personally summon the Mandate Schoolman in the Holy war.

“Why? Mandate Schoolmen are fools”

“Fools can be trusted precisely because they are fools. Their agendas rarely intersect with your own. These are great matters, Conphas. We must be certain.”

Alone, Xerius looks out from the summit of the Andiamine Heights. He could see far, but never far enough. He will listen to his sorcerer and spymaster squabble then go and see Skeaös himself. He would personally punish Skeaös

Achamian finds walking through Momemn at night, escorted by Conphas and Kidruhil soldiers, a nightmarish journey. At night, the already complex city is a maze. Achamian studies Conphas, self-conscious that he is a portly man when compared to Conphas’s physical perfection, and because the Prince-Imperial is too self-assured because he was “possessed either of a terrible strength or a frightening lack.”

Achamian is shocked Conphas is escorting him, wondering what could have caused the Imperial Nephew to fetch him personally. Conphas won’t say. “I have been sent to fetch not to banter.” The moment he received the summons, Achamian’s has experienced dread. Conphas attitude reminds Achamian just how little people think of his school as nothing more than desperate fools which the powerful avoid.

“Which was why this request was so unsettling. What could an Emperor want with a desperate fool like Drusas Achamian?

As far as he could tell, only one of two things could induce a Great Faction such as the Ikureis to call on him. Either they had encountered something beyond the abilities of their own school, the Imperial Saik, or the mercenary Mysunsai to resolve, or they wished to speak of the Consult. Since no one save the Mandate believed in the Consult any more, it had to be the former. And perhaps this wasn’t as implausible as it seemed. If the Great Factions commonly laughed at their mission, they still respected their skill.

The Gnosis had made them rich fools.

They arrive at the palace and Conphas leads him in. Achamian’s dread is not alleviated, especially when Conphas leads him into the “buried heart” of the mountain the palace is built on instead of the Heights. Achamian’s hesitates. Conphas tells Achamian this does lead to the dungeons. Achamian demands an explanation.

“Mandate sorcerers,” Conphas said ruefully. “Like all misers, you assume that everyone is after your hoard. What do you think, sorcerer? That I’m so stupid as to publicly barrel through Proyas’s camp just to abduct you?”

“You belong to House Ikurei. That’s cause for apprehension enough, don’t you think?”

Conphas realizes Achamian won’t go without answers and says they found a spy and need verification if sorcery is involved. The Emperor doesn’t trust the Imperial Saik and fear the Mysunsai’s “limited talents” won’t be enough. Achamian realizes something has scared them and that is why they sent for him. He agrees to enter.

As they walk, Conphas abruptly brings up Kellhus, shocking Achamian and he wonders if Kellhus is involved. Conphas attributes Kellhus’s cunning swaying the results of the meeting, which Achamian counters as Wisdom. Conphas grows angry and demands an answer to his “simple question.” But the question isn’t simple and Achamian reflects on what little he knows. “An Anasûrimbor had returned.” Achamian asks if this has to do with the spy and Conphas hesitates, thinking.

They truly are terrified.

The Exalt-General snorted, as though amazed he could worry about what a Mandate Schoolman might make of the Empire’s secrets. “Nothing whatsoever.” He smirked. “You should comb your beard, sorcerer,” he added as they continued down the passaged. “You’re about to meet the Emperor himself.”

Xerius, attended by his chief sorcerer Cememketri, Gaenkelti, his spymaster Tokush, the torture Kimish, and Skaleteas, the Mysunsai mercenary. The emperor examines Skeaös bound to the wall in the Truth Room. Skeaös has no fear and “blinked the way a child, awakened in the dead of night, might blink.”

Xerius asks his torturers opinion on Skeaös’s lack of fear, and Kimish answers that he has plied Skeaös already. Kimish has never seen a man like Skeaös Xerius grows impatient with Kimish’s need to play storyteller and demands answers.

Kimish shrugged. “Sometimes it’s better to show than to say,” he said, grasping a small set of pliers fro the rack of tools beside the Counsel. “Watch.”

He knelt and grasped one of the Counsel’s feet in his left hand. Slowly, with the boredom of a craftsman, he wrenched out a toenail.

There was nothing. O Shriek. Not even a shudder from the old frame.

Inhuman,” Xerius gasped, backing away.

The sorcerous all agree that no sorcery is at work. Xerius demands answers. Skeaös replies, but his voice is broken, “like many voices.” Xerius grows dizzy and grabs Cememketri for support. He calls the sorcerer a liar, insisting it must be at use. “This room reeks of it!” He accuse the Imperial Saik of plotting against him but is then caught short by Conphas and Achamian’s entrance. Conphas thinks Xerius’s accusation against the Saik is rash.

Xerius greets Achamian, feeling the need to be gracious when Achamian bowed, touching forehead to the ground. Achamian declares himself “your slave, God-of-Men” and asks what Xerius needs. Xerius brings Achamian forward before Skeaös, showing Achamian off.

The old face remained passionless, but the eyes glittered with a strange intensity.

“A Mandati,” it said.

Xerius looked to Achamian. The man’s expression was blank. And then Xerius felt it, felt the hatred emanating from Skeaös’s pale form, as though the old man recognized the Mandate sorcerer. The splayed body tensed. The chains tightened, link biting against link. The wooden table creaked.

Achamian backs up as Xerius demands to know if it is sorcery. Achamian demands to know who the man is, horror in his voice. Xerius answered and Achamian is in a panic, wanting to know what Skeaös confessed to. Xerius demands his answers. Achamian say there is no sorcery here unless it is invisible to the few. Skaleteas tries to brown-nose, which angers Xerius.

Meta ka peruptis sun rangashra, Chigra, Mandati—Chigraa,” the old Counsel spat, his voice now utterly inhuman. He writhed against his restraints, the old body rippling with thin, greasy muscles. A bolt snapped from the walls.

Achamian is struck dumb while the chains break. Xerius cries for help. Then Gaenkelti died, his neck broken. Conphas is hit with a chain and Tokush was “broken like a doll.” Sorcery is unleashed, Achamian using his Gnosis while Cememketri curses at him.

It is over. Achamian has saved Xerius’s life, leaving Skeaös is charred. Xerius realizes he is alive and safe. Achamian heads to the burned body of Skeaös and demands answers, wanting to know what Skeaös is.

“You are the first, Chigra,” Skeaös wheezed, an ambient, horrifying whisper. And you will be the last…”

What followed would haunt Xerius’s dreams for the rest of his numbered days. As though gasping for some deeper breath, Skeaös’s face unfolded like a spider’s legs clutched tight about a cold torso. Twelve limbs, crowned by small wicked claws, unclenched and opened, revealing lipless teeth and lidless eyes where a face should have been. Like a woman’s long fingers, they embraced the astounded Mandate sorcerer about the head and began to squeeze.

Achamian screams in pain. Xerius is shocked. But Conphas acts, decapitating the creature and saving Achamian’s life. The sorcerer stands, surveys the stunned faces, then goes to leave without a word. Cememketri blocks the way. Bluntly, Achamian says he is leaving. Xerius gives him permission while Conphas gives a look that asks if letting him leave is wise.

“He would have lectured us about myths, Conphas. About the Ancient North and the return of Mog. They always do.”

“After this,” Conphas replied, “perhaps we should listen.”

Xerius is dismissive: “Mad events seldom give credence to madmen.” Exhilaration surges through Xerius. He lives and he knows. He is no longer ignorant about the skin spies. He decides the skin spy must be Cishaurim in origin. Xerius surveys the room, the dead, and counts the cost of purchasing this knowledge. It did not beggar him.

“Perhaps,” Conphas replied, scowling, “but we’re debtors still.”

So like Mother, Xerius thought.

Esmenet hurries through the camp of the Holy War as they celebrate the victory over the Emperor and the impending march. Esmenet waited for Sarcellus to fall asleep before living his camp and heading out into the night. In the heady celebration, men grab her, some just to spin her, others to kiss her or grope her, and one tries to have sex with her, but she punches him in the face, bringing confusion to the man’s face.

She lies, crying and shaken after the encounter, but she regains herself and continues on. She is finally heading to Xinemus’s camp to find Achamian. She hides her tattooed hand, proclaiming her a prostitute, as she moves through the camp.

She finally finds Xinemus’s camp and stares at his banner, imagining Achamian before the fire and how he would burst with joy when he sees her. She imagines hugging him, smelling him, hearing him speak her name, joke about how old-fashioned it is (she was named for the wife of a prophet).

She wiped her eyes. That he would rejoice at seeing her, she had no doubt. But he would not understand the time she’d spent with Sarcellus—especially once she told him of that night in Sumna and what it meant for Inrau. He would be cut, outraged even. He might strike her.

But he would not turn her out. He would wait, as he always did, for the Mandate to call him away.

And he would forgive. As he always did.

She feels pathetic and struggles to gather herself, realizing she was still a mess from her earlier crying. She moves along the canal, spying on the camp, feeling the need to be secretive or “like a misbegotten creature from some nursery tale, one who must hide from lethal light.” She finally spies the fire, but doesn’t see Achamian. She does see Xinemus looking strong and in command, whom she thinks looks like Achamian’s older brother.

So you’re his friend, she thought, both watching and silently thanking him.

She didn’t know anyone else, but spies Cnaiür, hearing about him, and then sees Kellhus and Serwë and realizes he must be the Prince of Atrithau who had the dream. She wonders if Proyas is also with them.

She watched wide-eyed, a sense of awe squeezing the breath from her lungs. She stood, she realized, at the very heart of the Holy War, fiery with passion, promise, and sacred purpose. These men were more than human, they were Kahiht, World Souls, locked in a great wheel of great events. The thought of striding into their midst beckoned hot tears to her eyes. How could she? Awkwardly concealing the back of her hand, instantly branded for what she was by their far-seeing eyes…

What’s this? A whore? Here? You must be joking…

What had she been thinking? Even if Achamian had been her, she would have only shamed him.

Someone, probably Proyas based of the description, gives a sermon about the trials the Holy War shall endure and what the war’s goal is—Shimeh. Then Xinemus intones the High Temple Prayer. Things are sombre when he finishes until the celebration starts up again. She again wants to join them, seeing them as bright and regal, but fears they would vanish. Then Kellhus speaks to Xinemus while looking towards her, then the pair walk at her. She shrinks back and hides behind a tent. The pair urinate into the canal, trading jokes which make even Esmenet smile as she watches. She realizes a friendship has just formed between the two men. As they head back, again Kellhus appears to look at her. But he makes no notice of her and they rejoin the camp.

They seemed good people, Esmenet thought, the kind of people Akka would prize as friends. There was… room between these people, she decided. Room to fail. Room to hurt.

Alone in the darkness, she suddenly felt safe, as she had with Sarcellus. These were Achamian’s friends, and though she did not exist for them, somehow they would keep her safe. A sense of drowsiness embalmed her. The voices lilted and rumbled, shining with honest good cheer. Just a snooze she thought. Then she heard someone mention Akka’s name.

They talk about Conphas summoning Achamian to the Emperor, worried about him. As they talk, she falls asleep and dreams that the stump she leans against is a dead tree holding her emplace. And then someone wakes her up.

Sarcellus. She is scared as he hushes her, not wanting her to make a scene. “This might be hard to explain.” The camp is quiet, almost everyone asleep. She accuse him of following her, but he merely awoke and figured this is where she would be.

She swallowed. Her hands felt light, as though they were preparing of their own volition to shield her face. “I’m not going back with you, Sarcellus.”

Something Esmenet could not decipher flashed in his eyes. Triumph? Then he shrugged. The ease of the gesture terrified her.

“That’s good,” he said absently. “I’ve had my fill of you, Esmi.”

She stared at him. Tears traced hot lines across her cheeks. Why was she crying? She didn’t love him… Did she?

But he had loved her. Of this she was certain… Wasn’t she?

He tells her to go to Achamian because he doesn’t care. She tries to understand his change of mood, wondering of Gotian had commanded Sarcellus to get rid of her. She was the source of much gossip. Her thoughts drift, to the stranger in the market place, to four years ago when the famine came and she grew so skinny and when she almost died. A part of her wants to beg his forgiveness. But she doesn’t. She only stares and he grows impatient and leaves.

Dawn brightens the sky as she heads into the camp and scavenges wine and a crust of bread to eat, feeling like a child awake before her parents or a scavenging animal. She wonders where Akka is. She hears footsteps, turns, and sees Achamian walking towards her, recognizing his portly frame.

As he neared, she glimpsed the five stripes of his beard, then the first contours of his face, cadaverous in the gloom. She stood before him, smiling, crying her wrists held out.

It’s me.

He looked through her, beyond her, and continued walking.

She stands in shock. She had imagined so many different ways their reunion would play out. But not for Achamian to pretend not to see her. Crying, she runs from the camp and trips into the dust. She sobs, demanding why when she came to save him, to tell him about Inrau. Her self-esteem plummets. Why would he want a whore. She pleads to herself that Achamian has to love her while her doubts say no one ever loved you.

“M-m-my d-daughter… Sh-she loved me!”

Would that she hated!… Hated and lived!

She cries on the ground, her thoughts drifting through her memories she sobs, tormented by anguish and guilt. Time passes until she remembers what an old harlot told her many years ago. “That’s why we’re more. More than concubines, more than priestess, more than wives, more than even some queens. We may be oppressed, Esmi, but remember, always remember, sweet girl, we’re never owned.” Esmenet finds comfort in the thought as she realizes Sarcellus and Achamian do not own her. She rises stiffly.

Oh, Esmi, you’re getting old.

Not good for a whore.

She began walking.

My Thoughts

Here we see what a skin spy can do. The Eothic guard are Norsirai (think German or Scandinavian) and are on average bigger than the Ketyai like Xerius, which Achamian, through Esmenet’s ruminations at the end of the chapter, attributes to the greater amount of red meat. The thing called Skeaös kills three of them and injured four more. Skin spies are deadly

Xerius takes it badly learning the truth. Skeaös has been his number one advisor. He knows the true scope of their plan for the Holy War. Xerius has new fears to focus on. He has to learn. He can’t trust anyone in the court.

But a Mandate Schoolman Xerius can trust. They are fools, so he thinks, obsessed with the Consult. But they do not play the game, as the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire believed until they found the butchered Geshruuni, the Javreh Captain from Chapter 1. A safe bet to confirm even with sending for a Mysunsai Sorcerer. He is so rattled, he sends Conphas personally.

Achamian isn’t sure if Conphas is terribly strong or has a lack in his personality. Conphas is a narcissist. Everything revolves around him and it breeds his arrogance. The fact that he has physical perfection, a tactical mind, and the power as the heir of the Nansur Empire only fosters it. His no doubt sexual relationship with his Grandmother and her shaping of him at a young edge no doubt led to this.

Achamian is not smart enough not to go into the dungeons of Xerius without an answer. Again, the Ikureis’ reputation proceeds them.

Achamian comments that mercenaries are rarely gifted souls from the previous chapter apply to the Mysunsai’s reputation. Of course, Achamian says he himself joins the Holy War for mercenary reasons, but his isn’t for money so maybe that is the difference.

As they walk into the mountain the Andiamine Heights is built upon, Achamian feels its weight above him. That is a creepy feeling if you’ve ever been underground. Of course, we walk into skyscrapers, man-made mountains, and don’t have that same reaction. It is purely psychological and speaks to the deepest fears in all of us—being trapped.

It appears that Conphas wasn’t expecting Achamian to be so perceptive, but a fool easily manipulated. Bringing up Kellhus, out of nowhere, is extremely clumsy, alerting Achamian immediately to the connection. By thinking less of of the Mandate, Conphas underestimates Achamian and gives away too much information.

Skeaös’s strange, many-voiced tone isn’t shocking. He is a mimic. He would be capable of producing the entire range of human speech. He can shape his body so he probably has control over his vocal cords.

Xerius does enjoy it when people give him the respect he needs. He might not understand why he was moved to graciousness, but he wants answers and Achamian is here to deliver. He is showing to the other sorcerers “This is how you treat me, as a god. And then I am benevolent in return.”

The Consult definitely hates the Mandate. Looks like they passed that on to their skin spies. Remember the pleasure Sarcellus took in striking Achamian the day he met Inrau at the tavern. At the time, it’s played off as Sarcellus enjoying beating an arrogant low-caste, but it wasn’t. He enjoyed striking his enemy.

Skeaös had the strength to free himself from the chains. He just didn’t care to until Achamian was there and he saw his enemy. These skin spies are so dangers and powerful. Far stronger than any normal human.

We see the skin spies unveiled now. Like Kellhus speculated, fingers simulating a face. And it is horrifying. Note how Xerius will remember this till the day he dies. I’m sure he will.

Also, the Consult use a from of the Gnosis. They Synthese had the Mark deep on him when Inrau so him. And yet the skin spies are not created by sorcery. They are the first hint we get of the Consult’s other skills.

Xerius is very dismissive of the No God, calling him Mog instead of Mog-Pharau. There you are, dismissing and belittling. No wonder Xerius never discovers the second skin spy in his court until it’s too late.

Conphas is clearly shaken by the events.

Xerius deduction of the Cishaurim is fair. There has been no sign of the Consult for 300 years. Even Mandate sorcerers like Achamian had lost faith in their mandate.

Poor Xerius. He can never have that moment where he feels like a genius. Some one, usually his mother, is there to let the hot air out of his swollen head.

Interesting that the eyes of the dead bull’s head reminds Esmenet of Sarcellus. She knows something is off in the man, smart enough to detect the wrongness but doesn’t have Kellhus trained perception to identify it.

Esmenet has a preference for tall, muscular Norsirai men “muscle trees” as clients. We’ll see this again in the second series.

Esmenet needs secrecy because she’s scared. As much as she wants to see Achamian, she spent that time with Sarcellus and she feels guilty. She knows he won’t understand, will be angry, and she’s delaying the confrontation.

Interesting how she thinks of the World Souls as locked into a great wheel of great events. They are chained to fate. Slaves to the Darkness that Comes Before.

Esmenet’s low self-esteem rears its head again as she gazes at the fire. We’ve all had those moments, outsiders looking at the warm fire, wishing we were included while too afraid to march up for fear of rejection. It is easier to skulk in the shadows and hide.

It is interesting how Kellhus puts her at ease simply by going off with Xinemus and urinating. I wonder what he made of the woman watching them. He felt it was important enough to ease her fright. Was he curious at her purpose in hiding and watching or did he recognize her from Achamian’s talk about Esmenet?

Easement may not love Sarcellus, but she liked that he loved her and to realize how little he cares for her stings her and shakes her up. As a whore, she prides herself on reading men. And she has read him badly. She clings to the idea he was ordered to discard her because of the rumors, it flatters her ego more than the truth that he doesn’t care. But he’s not human, so she wouldn’t be able to.

Esmenet has a lot of guilt over her daughter Mimara’s death. “Would that she hated!… Hated and lived.” We’ll learn more about Mimara’s fate, but it has to do with the famine and Esmenet nearly staving to death.

Poor Esmenet. She picked the wrong time to run into Achamian. He’s in shock from what happened with the Emperor. He does love you, Esmenet.

Esmenet’s realization that she is her own woman, unlike all those others the old whore named. Her profession has given her freedom. She doesn’t have to rely on one man to take care of her, slave to his whim. She can go out and make her fortune, using the men as they use her. She walks off into the camp back to the life she left in Sumna.

What a sad place to leave off Esmenet’s story until book 2, at her lowest point, rejected by both the men she thought loved her.

Click here to continue on to Chapter 19!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 17
The Andiamine Heights

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

The event itself was unprecedented: not since the fall of Cenei to the Scylvendi hordes had so many potentates gathered in one place. But few knew Mankind itself lay upon the balance. And who could guess that a brief exchange of glances, not the Shriah’s edict, would tip that balance?

But is that not the very enigma of history? When one peers deep enough, one always finds that catastrophe and triumph, the proper objects of the historian’s scrutiny, inevitably turn upon the small, the trivial, the nightmarishly accidental. When I reflect overmuch on this fact, I do not fear that we are “drunk as the sacred dance,” as Protathis writes, but that there is no dance at all.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

Wow, there is a lot to unpack in this epigraph. For one thing, Bakker is setting up how monumental the events in this chapter will be, and not only the maneuvering between the Emperor and Proyas on who will lead the Holy War, but the simple glances exchanged between Kellhus and Skeaös. Something so small changes everything. Bakker’s discussion of how history focuses on the big events, great wars, great loss of life, great upheavals, and how those are really called by such mundane things is epitomized by Kellhus studying Skeaös. Or in our world, how a plane can crash and kill 300 people because a maintenance worker didn’t tighten a bolt properly.

Or even the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand that was the final catalyst to World War 1. The original attempt failed. The Duke and his wife escaped to safety and one of the assassins escaped. He went to a cafe, ordered lunch, to gather himself, to think what to do next. Meanwhile, the Duke wanted to visit the hospital and see the people injured in the bombs that went off meant for him. On the way to the hospital, his driver made a wrong turn and passed in front of that cafe. The assassin, seeing his target delivered, attacks. An entire generation of men in Europe would die in the trenches because of that wrong turn.

Achamian final line about being drunk while the sacred dance, meaning that the gods are in control but we are to besotted in our own vices to notice and how he fears that no fate actually governs anything. He fears it is all so pointless.

Late Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Kellhus walks with Cnaiür, Xinemus, and the five Conryian Palatines behind Proyas through the Andiamine heights, Proyas bouncing between elation and anxious by turns. Currently, he is elated, sure his plan will work. Proyas plays down the grandiose palace to the Scylvendi, fearing Cnaiür will be overawed. Cnaiür responds by spitting, which Proyas warns would be a bad idea to do before the Emperor.

A week had passed since they had joined the Holy War and secured the hospitality of Nersei Proyas. In that time, Kellhus had spent long hours in the probability trance, assessing, extrapolating, and reassessing this extraordinary twist of circumstance. But the Holy War had proven incalculable. Nothing he’d thus far encountered could compare with the sheer number of variables it presented. Of course, the nameless thousands who constituted its bulk were largely irrelevant, significant only in their sum, but the handful of men who were relevant, who would ultimately determine the Holy War’s fate, had remained inaccessible to him.

That would change in a matter of moments.

Today, the matter of who would lead the Holy War and if the Emperor’s Indenture had to be signed would be settled. Before Xerius, all parties would plead their case and respect the judgment of the Shriah’s representative. “One way or another, the Holy War was about to march on distant Shimeh.” Kellhus does not care which side wins since everyone acknowledges Conphas as a brilliant tactician. Kellhus only cares that the Holy War gets him to Shimeh. Kellhus ponders if war is his father’s lesson.

Xinemus cracks a joke about how the Emperor will react to Cnaiür’s presence. Cnaiür has little patience for this. Kellhus and Cnaiür both understand this is his trial, but Kellhus will also be judged through him. Kellhus assesses how much humiliation in these “games” Cnaiür can endure for vengeance.

“The game is never over,” Proyas asserted. “The game is without beginning or end.”

Without beginning or end…

Kellhus was eleven when he first heard that phrase during his training from Kessriga Jeükal, a Pragma (senior Dûnyain). Kellhus is frighted. He arrives and gazes at the trees on the mountain slope and feels the sun. Jeükal asks if Kellhus drunk his fill of water, which he has.

The Logos is without beginning or end, young Kellhus. Do you understand this?”

The instruction had begun.

No, Pragma,” Kellhus replied. Though he still suffered fear and hope, he had long before overcome his compulsion to misrepresent the extent of his knowledge. A child had little choice when his teachers could see through faces.

Thousands of years ago, when the Dûnyain first found—”

After the ancient wars?” Kellhus eagerly interrupted. “When we were still refugees?”

The Pragma strikes Kellhus hard, drawing blood from his nose. It was a lesson. “Among the Dûnyain, everything was a lesson.” Pragma instructs that interruptions are a weakness of emotion, rising from the “darkness that comes before.” The Pragma continues his lecture, explaining that the Dûnyain only knew one principal of the Logos.

That which comes before determines that which comes after.”

Two thousand years, and the Dûnyain have never found a violate of cause and effect. This principal is without beginning or end because it is apart from time, it can never age like a man or mountain. They then began talking about what separates men from beasts, despite men being born and dying.

Because like beasts, Man stands withing the circuit of before and after, and yet he apprehends the Logos. He possess intellect.”

“Indeed. And why, Kellhus, do the Dûnyain breed for intellect? Why do we so assiduously train young children such as you in the ways of thought, limb, and face?”

“Because of the Quandary of Man.”

Man is not in control of his actions, compelled by appetites that rise “from the darkness of his soul” even though he understands Logos. To solve the Quandary of Man, he has to be freed of “bestial appetite.” To abandon emotions and command how cause creates effect. “To be the perfect instrument of the Logos and so attain the Absolute.” Kellhus explains how he is not a “perfect instrument” because he has emotions “afflicted by passions.” He does not know the source of his thoughts, which the Dûnyain call “legion.”

Kellhus is about to enter his most difficult part of his “Conditioning: the mastery of the legion within.” If he does, he can survive the Labyrinth.

“This will answer the question of the Thousand Thousand Halls?”

“No. But it will enable you to ask properly.”

In the present, Kellhus and his companions arrive at the Emperor’s Privy garden, and intimate location after the grandeur of the rest of the palace. Here the lords gather, drinking and eating as they politic Kellhus begins his study. Most of the gathered lords are impressed by Cnaiür’s “feral strength,” seeing him for the first time. Kellhus reflects on Proyas and his mix of doubt and certitude, realizing that though Proyas was a man of faith, he was trained to be suspicious by Achamian, forcing Kellhus to “move at tangents” when manipulating him. Kellhus comments that the other lords seem nervous.

“And why not?” Proyas replied. “I bring them a Prince who claims to dream of Shimeh and a Scylvendi heathen who could be their general.” He glanced pensively at his fellow Men of the Tusk. “These men will be your peers,” he said. “Heed them. Learn them. To a man they’re exceedingly proud, and proud men, I’ve found, aren’t inclined to make wise decisions…”

The implication was clear: soon their lives would depend upon the wise decisions of these men.

Proyas then points out the notable lords. Prince Coithus Saubon, leader of the Galeoth an able military leader but defeated by Conphas. Saubon and will aid Proyas if he can get something out of it; his nephew Athjeari, Earl of Faenri. Kellhus observes about Saubon: “He fears nothing more than the estimation of other men. Proyas points out Hoga Gothyelk, leader of the Ce Tydonn, a great warrior but also a pious man, implying Gothyelk is on Proyas’s side. The old man upbraids three of his many sons for being drunk. Kellhus reads deeper into Gothyelk’s behavior, realizing the old man is here to find redemption for some crime. “He’s come to die. Die cleansed.” Next is Chepheramunni, King-Regent of High Ainon wearing a mask, which Kellhus enquirers on.

“The Ainoni are a debauched people,” Proyas replied, casting a wary glance at their immediate vicinity. “A race of mummers. They’re overly concerned with the subtleties of human intercourse. They regard a concealed face a potent weapon in all matters concerning jnan.”

“Jnan,” Cnaiür muttered, “is a disease you all suffer.”

Kellhus asks about jnan. Proyas has a hard time defining it beyond quoting an author and shrugs “simply something we do.” Kellhus thinks on how little men know about themselves. Proyas changes subject, and points out Incheiri Gotian, Grandmaster of the Shrial Knights and the man who will be Maithanet’s proxy. Kellhus notes that Gotian “does not feel equal to his burden” and that he “yearns to be moved… Moved by someone more holy than he.” Kellhus plans on convincing Gotian he is that holy thing. Next Proyas points out Prince Skaiyelt of Thunyerus and a huge man named Yalgrota. The Thunyerus are the only lords girded for battle. Kellhus cracks a dick joke about the giant which annoys Cnaiür

Proyas laughed aloud, but Cnaiür’s ferocious eyes seized Kellhus. Play these fools if you must, Dûnyain, but do not play me!

You’re beginning,” Proyas said “to remind me of Xinemus, my Prince.”

Of the man he esteems above all other.

Kellhus notice that the Thunyerus carry shrunken sranc heads as fetishes. Proyas explains that the Thunyerus are recent converts to Inrithism only in the last fifty or so years. They are very zealous, but because they are the northernmost people, they war with sranc constantly Proyas dismisses them as uncouth barbarians who don’t know the rules and have no business here. Cnaiür points out he is the same, and Proyas is confident Cnaiür will change minds.

At that moment, a Scylvendi is brought out in chains, naked, emaciated, tortured, his eyes gouged out. Kellhus asks who is is while Cnaiür spits, watching the guards chain the prisoner to the emperor’s seat.

“Xunnurit,” he [Cnaiür] said after a moment. “Our King-of-Tribes at the Battle of Kiyuth.”

“A token of Scylvendi weakness, no doubt,” Proyas said tightly. “Of Cnaiür urs Skiötha‘s weakness… Evidence in what will be your trial.”

The narrative returns to Kellhus’s training as a boy before the Logos. He is instructed to repeat: “The Logos is without beginning or end” until told to stop. He sits down before the Pragma and begins. He is puzzled at first. It was easy. The words soon lost all meaning. Then he is instructed to say it within his thoughts.

This was far different and, as he quickly discovered, far more difficult. Speaking the proposition aloud had braced the repetition somehow, as though propping thought against his organs of speech. Now it stood alone, suspended in the nowhere of his soul, repeated and repeated and repeated, contrary to all the habits of inference and drifting association.

Kellhus notices his face grows slack “as though the exercise had somehow severed the links shackling expression to passion.” He grows tense in waves as something within him balks, fighting the repetition. As he repeats, the sun moves across the sky. He wars with “Inchoate urges reared from nothingness, demanding thought.” But he keeps repeating.

Long afterward, he would realize this exercise had demarcated his soul. The incessant repetition of the Pragma’s proposition had pitted him against himself, shown him the extent to which he was other to himself. For the first time he could truly see the darkness that had preceded him, and he knew that before this day, he had never truly been awake.

When the sun sets, Kellhus is told by the Pragma that every time the sun rises he shall “cease repeating the last word of the proposition.” Kellhus understands. He passes through the night, struggling with his passions. He feels at times drunk. His emotions “howled within him—like something dying.”

Then the sun broke the glacier, and he was dumbstruck by its beauty. Smouldering orange cresting cold planes of shining snow and ice. And for a heartbeat the proposition escaped him, and he thought only of the way the glacier reared, curved like the back of a beautiful woman…

The Pragma leapt forward and struck him, his face a rictus of counterfeit rage. “Repeat the proposition!” he screamed.

Back in the present.

For Kellhus, each of the Great Names represented a question, a juncture of innumerable permutations. In their faces, he saw fragments of other faces surfacing as though all men were but moments of one man. An instant of Leweth passing like a squall through Athjeari’s scowl as he argued with Saubon. A glimpse of Serwë in the way Gothyelk looked upon his youngest son. The same passions, but each cast in a drastically different balance. Any one of these people, he concluded, might be as easily possessed as Leweth had been—despite their fierce pride. But in their sum, they were incalculable.

They were a labyrinth, a thousand thousand halls, and he had to pass through them. He had to own them.

What if this Holy War exceeds my abilities? What Then, Father?

Cnaiür asks “Do you Feast, Dûnyain?” noticing Kellhus’s scrutiny. Kellhus reminds the Scylvendi they have the same mission. Kellhus is pleased things are working out better than he predicted, by claiming he is a prince it had secured him “almost effortlessly” among the lords. Proyas treated him like a prince, so did the others. His claim to dreams granted him a more perilous position, and though people interpreted him differently (disbelief, belief, or problematic) they all accorded him the same position.

For the people of the Three Seas, dreams, no matter how trivial, were a serious matter. Dreams were not, as the Dûnyain had thought before Moënghus’s summons, mere rehearsals, ways for the soul to train itself for different eventualities. Dreams were the portal, the place where the Outside infiltrated the World, where what transcended men—be it the future, the distant, the demonic, or the divine—found imperfect expression in the here and now.

But it was not enough to simply assert that one had dreamed. If dreams were powerful, they were also cheap. Everyone dreamed. After patiently listening to descriptions of his [Kellhus’s] dreams, Proyas had explained to Kellhus that literally thousands claimed to dream of the Holy War, some of its triumph, others of its destruction. One could not walk ten yards along the Phayus, he said, without seeing some hermit screech and gesticulate about his dreams.

“Why,” he asked with characteristic honesty, “should I regard your dreams any different?”

Dreams were a serious matter, and serious matters demanded hard questions.

Perhaps you shouldn’t,” Kellhus had replied. “I’m not sure I do.”

Kellhus’s reflectance to believe his own claim to prophethood secured him his position. He pretends to act like a compassionate, cross father when people bow to them. When they beg his touch, he lifts them up and chides them for bowing to another. By feigning he wasn’t a prophet, men like Proyas and Achamian, entertain the possibility he might be. Kellhus would never claim it, but would create the circumstance to make it true. Then those who watch in secret would also be swayed, unable to doubt him any longer.

Kellhus would step onto conditioned ground.

So many permutations… But I see the path, Father.

A young Galeoth perches on the emperor’s seat by chance and when he realizes everyone watches him, strikes poses in mockery of the Empire, bringing laughter. Not long after, the Emperor with Conphas and Skeaös, enters. He sits on his chair and adopts the pose the young man used to mock him, bringing more laughter. This angers Xerius. It takes Xerius several moments to regain himself. During that time, Kellhus studies Xerius’s retinue, noticing Conphas’s arrogance, the fear among the slaves, the disapproval of the Counsels, and one face that catches his attention.

A different face, among the Counsels… a troubling face.

It was the subtlest of incongruities, a vague wrongness, that drew his attention at first. An old man dressed in fine charcoal silk robes, a man obviously deferred to and respected by the others. One of his companions leaned to him and muttered something inaudible through the rumble of voices. But Kellhus could see his lips:

Skeaös…

Kellhus studies the man, allowing his thought to slow, shedding his persona he maintains to others, retreating until his thoughts were entirely focused on the old man’s face. “He became a place.” Kellhus detects no blush reflex, a disconnect between the man’s heartbeat and face. Five heartbeats have passed and Kellhus has to pull out of his deep thought because the Emperor was about to speak.

What could this mean? A single, indecipherable face among a welter of transparent expressions.

Skeaös… Are you my father’s work?

Back to Kellhus’s narrative. He is repeating the phrase missing only the final word. He keeps his concentration, soiling himself. The Pragma pours water across his lips and Kellhus “was merely a smooth rock embedded in moss and gravel beneath a waterfall.” The sun climbs high then sinks towards night. Over and over he witnesses the sun rise, shortening the phrase. As time passes faster for Kellhus, his thoughts work slower as he whispers only “The Logos.” He sees himself himself dwindling to a point, “to the place where his soul fell utterly still.” Then the sun rises and he repeats “The. The. The.”

And it seemed at once an absurd stutter and the most profound of thoughts, as though only in the absence of “Logos” could it settle into the Rhythm of his heart muscling through moment after moment. Thought thinned and daylight swept through, over, and behind the shrine, until night pierced the shroud of the sky, until heavens revolved like an infinite char riot wheel.

The. The…

A moving soul chained to the brink, to the exquisite moment before something, anything. The tree, the heart, the everything transformed into nothing by reception, but the endless accumulation of the same refusal to name.

A corona of gold across the high slopes of the glacier.

…and then nothing.

No thought.

In the present, Xerius greets the assembled men then notices Cnaiür and greets him by name. Xerius is proud to show off his captured Scylvendi but Cnaiür is dismissive. “He is nothing to me.” Xerius is still confident that he would make a fool of Cnaiür and asks if he nothing because he is broken.

“Broken whom?”

Ikurei Xerius paused. “This dog here. Xunnurit, King-of-tribes. Your king…”

Cnaiür shrugged, as though puzzled by a child’s petty caprice. “You have broken nothing.”

There was some laughter at this.

The Emperor soured. Kellhus could seen an appreciation of Cnaiür’s intellect stumble to the forefront of his thoughts. There was reassessment, a revision of strategies.

He’s accustomed, Kellhus thought, to recovering from blunders.

Xerius continues on, talking about breaking a man is meaningless, but a people is something else. Cnaiür doesn’t respond and Xerius brings up Conphas’s victory over the People of War. Cnaiür again doesn’t respond. Xerius asks if Cnaiür was broken at Kiyuth. “I was”—he [Cnaiür] searched for the proper Sheyic term—“schooled at Kiyuth.” The emperor asks what he learned.

Conphas. Cnaiür learned about Conphas and explains where the general had learned his various tactics. Cnaiür learned “that war is intellect.” That shocks Conphas and silences the Emperor. He needs to show Cnaiür as incompetent to prove that Conphas was worth the price of the indenture. Coithus Saubon wants the debate to end, the Great Names have decided. But it is up to Gotian to make the decision and Gothyelk asks the Shrial Knight what missives Maithanet has given him. Xerius protests it is too soon. Need to interrogate Cnaiür out more. But the others cheer for Gotian.

Xerius adapts and demands Gotian to decide if he wants a heathen to lead the Holy War. “Would you be punished as the Vulgar Holy War was punished on the Plans of Mengedda?” Proyas counters that Cnaiür would advice the great names. Xerius is disgusted with the ridiculousness of that. He protests how Cnaiür is a blight on the Holy War. Blasphemy. Proyas schools Xerius on using such language and how ridiculous it is coming from the impious Emperor.

Finally, Conphas speaks, and people quiet. He talks of Scylvendi with a great deal of familiarity, saying how they are heathens without gods, different from the Fanim. He points at Xunnurit’s swazond.

“They call these scars swazond,” he [Conphas] said, as though a patient tutor, “a word that means ‘dyings.’ To us, they are little more than savage trophies, not unlike the shrunken Sranc heads that the Thunyeri stitch onto their shields. But they’re fare more to the Scylvendi. Those dyings are their only purpose. The very meaning of their lives is written into those scars. Our dyings… Do you understand this?”

Conphas stirs apprehension in the Great Names. He then says Xunnurit is “a token of their humiliation.” He says Cnaiür is here for vengeance, to plot the destruction of the Holy War. Conphas looks to Proyas. “Ask him what moves his soul.”

Kellhus studies Skeaös again, trying to read the man like he can every other person in the room. Skeaös baffles him. He sees only mimicry in Skeaös. Then he realizes that Skeaös has muscles anchored to different bones.

This man [Skeaös] had not been trained in the manner of the Dûnyain Rather, his face was not a face.

Moments passed, incongruities accumulated, were classified, cobbled into hypothetical alternatives…

Limbs. Slender limbs folded and pressed into the simulacrum of a face.

Kellhus is surprised and questions how it is possible, turning to Sorcery and remembering his fight with the Nonmen. Sorcery was grotesque “like the scribblings of a child across a work of art.” Kellhus can see sorcery and there is none in the skin spy He wants to know who Skeaös is. Skeaös notices the scrutiny and “the rutted brow clenched into a false frown.” Kellhus nods back, pretending embarrassment at being caught looking. Xerius sees the exchange, however, and is alarmed but doesn’t now Skeaös’s face is false. As this happens, everyone turns to Cnaiür for his answer. He spits at Conphas.

In the past, Kellhus sits without thought, the “boy extinguished. Only a place.” It was almost a place outside of cause and effect. The Pragma studies Kellhus then produces a knife and throws it at Kellhus. The place that was Kellhus grabs the knife out of the air. This triggers the place to collapse back into a boy. Into Kellhus.

I have been legion…

In his periphery, he could see the spike of the sun ease from the mountain. He felt drunk with exhaustion. In the recoil of his trance, it seemed all he could hear were the twigs arching and bobbing in the wind, pulled by leaves like a million sails no bigger than his hand. Cause everywhere, but amid countless minute happenings—diffuse, useless.

Now I understand.

In the present, Cnaiür responds and criticizes that Inrithi hearts can’t be used to measure Scylvendi. That you think Xunnurit is bound to Cnaiür by blood and therefore he wants vengeance. But he is Scylvendi, which is why he puzzles them. “Xunnurit is not a shame to the People. It is not even a name. He who does not ride among us ins not us. He is other.” So to the Sclyvendi, Xunnurit’s degradation is not theirs so it doesn’t need to be avenged. Then Cnaiür says that the Nansur should be sounded out. Conphas protests that their heart is known.

The argument turns back to Nansur motives, with Saubon pointing out the hypocrisy of Conphas accepting the Scarlet Spire, which are just as blasphemous, as Cnaiür Saubon turns Conphas’s arguments on him, forcing him to comprise and weaken his position. Proyas asks why the Empire provisioned the Vulgar Holy War if they knew he was doomed.

Kellhus realizes that the Empire were behind the Vulgar Holy War’s destruction. Before, Kellhus did not think it mattered who owned the Holy War, but know realizes that the Empire is a threat to it and therefore to his mission.

“The question,” Conphas ardently continued, “is whether you can trust a Scylvendi to lead you against the Kianene!”

“But that isn’t the question,” Proyas countered. “The question is whether we can trust a Sclyvendi over you.

Conphas pleads with them, calling it madness that they wouldn’t trust the Nansur over Cnaiür But it is the Nansur’s fault that they need Cnaiür because of the Indenture. Conphas tries to protest that the land belongs to the Nansur Empire, stolen from them by the heathens. Proyas calls it “God’s land” and asks if the Empire should be put against scripture.

“And who are you, Proyas, to ask this question?” Conphas returned, rallying his earlier claim. “Hmm? You who would put a heathen—a Scylvendi, no less!—before Sejenus.”

“We are all instruments of the Gods, Ikurei. Even a heathen—a Scylvendi, no less—can be an instrument, if such is the God’s will.”

Everyone turns to Gotian and asks what Maithanet says. Kellhus detects that Gotian is still undecided. He asks Cnaiür why he came. The Scylvendi says for the “promise of war.” Gotian dismisses that, there are no Sclyvendi mercenaries. Cnaiür is disgusted. He would never sell himself. If he needs, he seizes. He then explains his lie about the Utemot being destroyed. Cnaiür turns to Kellhus and says he learned outlanders could have honor because of him. And when he learned Kellhus had “God-sent dreams” he accept his wager.

Everyone looks on Kellhus and he debates acting or letting Cnaiür continue. Gotian asks on the wager. Cnaiür answers that this would be a war unlike any other. Cnaiür says he is still Scylvendi, that they are all boys playing at war.

“War is dark. Black as pitch. It is not a God. It does not laugh or weep. It rewards neither skill nor daring. It is not a trial of souls, not the measure of wills. Even less is it a tool, a means to some womanish end. It is merely the place where the iron bones of the earth meet the hollow bones of men and break them.”

Cnaiür has been offered war and he accepts. He will not mourn their loses or celebrate their victories. But he will fight and suffer and kill Fanim with them. The crowd is stunned and then the elderly Gothyelk speaks of his experience and that he’s “learned to trust the man who hates openly, and fear only those who hate in secret.” He trusts Cnaiür and glowers at the Empire. Saubon is also in agreement that Cnaiür speaks wisdom. But Gotian is still undecided, fear gripping him that he’ll make the wrong decision in Maithanet’s name and destroy the Holy War.

So Kellhus speaks of his dream. He doubts what they mean, but then goes on to outline the decision before him. You have Cnaiür leading the war or bind yourself to the interest of the Empire. “Which concession is greater?” Kellhus knows that from now on, the Great Names will look at him as someone who has every right to speak as their equal. He continues, bringing up the shady acts of the Empire in provisioning the Vulgar Holy War and letting it be destroyed versus trusting a murdering Scylvendi. “In my homeland, we call this a dilemma.” Everyone but Xerius and Conphas laugh or smile. Kellhus has side-stepped Conphas’s prestige by making the comparison between Cnaiür and Xerius, making them seem equally untrustworthy. Kellhus can vouch for Cnaiür, but no one can vouch to him.

“So let’s assume that both men, Emperor and Chieftain, are equally untrustworthy. Given this, the answer lies in something you already know: we undertake the God’s work, but it’s dark and bloody work nonetheless. There is no fierce labor than war.”

Everyone stands on the brink. Gotian makes the realization that with the Empire they concede the wages of their labor in addition to the other issues of trust both men share. Conphas realizes the weakness in Kellhus’s argument too late to make a difference because Gotian has already opened his canister and produced two messages. He pics one and opens it.

He has chosen to trust Cnaiür and the Emperor is ordered to provision the Holy War by the “authority of the Tusk and Tractate, and according to the ancient constitution of Temple and State.” Everyone cheers as Gotian speaks about faith, but the men of the tusk are too busy celebrating to listen, eager to march.

As the celebration rages, Kellhus notes Xerius ordering for Skeaös to be taken, fearing the man hides treason. Skeaös is led away by a pair of guards and Kellhus wonders what they would discover. “There had been two contests in the Emperor’s garden.” Xerius has fear and rage in his face, believing Kellhus is part of Skeaös’s treachery. Kellhus realizes the Emperor searches for a reason to seize him, too. He tells Cnaiür they have to leave right now because: “There has been too much truth here.”

My Thoughts

I do love how Proyas explains the Nansur’s need to have such colossal works, like their palace or Xerius’s obelisk, forever living in the shadow of the greater Ceneians and Kyranaens civilizations of near and far antiquities.

Kellhus ambivalence to who wins is not surprising. Either end fulfills his mission. He has no loyalty to Nersei Proyas whose soldiers rescued him from the Nansur.

Kellhus has used the probability trance to try and predict the Holy War. His father has had 30 years to learn about all these men, to perform his probability trance. It is no coincidence that Kellhus arrives just as the Holy War is ready to take the field. All these events dance to Moënghus’s tune. So what is his mission?

The Dûnyain, as horrific as they are in their stripping of humanity from their sons and turning them into living logic machines, are always fascinating. I relish any chance we get to see of them. Here we have a young Kellhus still feeling emotions but learning to control them while his teachers seek to stamp it out.

The Dûnyain’s ancestors “forgot” about the supernatural to pursue the Logos. They denied those that came after valuable knowledge. With the Celmomas’s Prophecy, we see an effect preceding the Cause of Kellhus arrival at the end of the world. “You cannot raise walls to that which is forgotten.”

The Absolute. The goal of the Dûnyain to be free of emotion. Not even Kellhus has attained it since he is still moved by the faintest of emotion: the outrage he feels for Serwë, the way he holds onto Cnaiür even when killing Cnaiür in the Mountains was the safer route.

The Dûnyain consider emotion an “affliction.” Sad. They are a monstrous people. As “cool” as Kellhus is, the more you study the books the more Bakker shows how horrific the Dûnyain are. On the others side of the coin are the Consult, a race of lovers, of beings who revel in their “bestial appetites.”

Proyas telling Kellhus to learn the other lords is ironic. That’s what Kellhus does.

Coithus Saubon will play a large roll to come in the story, note that he is the seventh son of the King of Galeoth. A man with little chance to become king. Note him being describe as a “mercenary.” One of those Achamian talked about in the previous chapter’s epigraph. Kellhus’s observation about Saubon comes from a simple flush and quickened heartbeat. And Saubon’s nephew, who grows an infamous reputation over the next two books as a raider.

Proyas is dismissive of the Ainoni. That is always a dangerous thing. When you are dismissive you see a person or group as less, easy to underestimate and thus be caught by surprise. As he said, Ainoni are a race of mummers, especially their King-Regent.

Kellhus plan with Gotian, providing the divine to move him, will bear fruit in book 2.

Classic Cnaiür when Proyas points out Yalgrota’s scrutiny. Cnaiür doesn’t brag when he states he will fight and beat Yalgrota. Cnaiür is not threatened by the huge man.

Kellhus is making progress on his seduction of Proyas. Poor guy. Kellhus has big plans for Proyas.

Xunnurit being blinded is something the Byzantine Empire did to valuable prisoners. Another connection between it and the Nansur Empire.

We go back to the training. By repeating the same phrase over and over, Kellhus has to war with urges of both his emotion and body, demands upon his soul that try to compel it to act without Kellhus even realizing it. Learning that, he can now understand and be free of his inner beast, on the path to being a self-moving soul—the Absolute.

The Pragma fakes rage when he hits Kellhus at the first sunrise. And Kellhus reads it in his face. When he started his training, Kellhus knows he can’t read faces, and yet he is already picking it up. Of course the Pragma had to fake it, he has gone through this process and has divorced himself, mostly, from his emotions.

Kellhus is certain that learning to master these men is something his father wants him to achieve. But Kellhus assesses himself and wonders if he can. In another, this would be called doubt, but for a Dûnyain, it is merely truth. He knows his abilities and the task before him is daunting for a Dûnyain to do.

Dreams as a way to train for different eventualities is an interesting outlook. So the Dûnyain believed they have purpose. Do they teach their adepts to lucid dream? To make use of it? Or to reject it as more cause trying to affect them out of the darkness?

Serious matters demand hard questions is very true. Take heed, readers, if you want to assert something that matters, make sure you can answer hard questions. Don’t run from them, don’t dismiss the questioner, but answer them and if you’re answers are lacking, then refine your argument. It will only make your position stronger.

Interesting that why Kellhus realizes that the young Galeoth predicting how the Emperor would sit had premeditated him which was “the most galling insults. In this way even an Emperor might made a slave.” Kellhus realizes this but doesn’t know why. Rare that Kellhus doesn’t understand something. Xerius is a slave because he is forced to change his posture, his plans, and bow to peer pressure, a slave to the darkness that comes before which has conditioned him to act in this manner. A free soul would not have cared that others laughed.

When Kellhus studies Skeaös he loses his personhood nothing more than “a blank field for a single figure.” This is the skill he is being taught in his training flashbacks. At the end of his training, Kellhus becomes “a place.”

When Kellhus is repeating only the, he mentions the tree. Trees are a common symbol of possibility in the books. They forever branch in many directions. The fight for control of their space, to condition the world in their favor. Kellhus often notices trees.

As you can see, Kellhus is coming close to being a self-moving soul. He is chained at the brink, almost at the Absolute. And then he has no thoughts. He has transitioned to become a Dûnyain As we see in the previous sequence when Kellhus retreats to nothing, not even a person, to consider the old man. This trial is the foundation of the Dûnyain probability trance, what Kellhus is attempting to do by predicting how all those myriad of people will react, to figure out the shortest path to harnessing the Holy War and kill his father.

Which is exactly what his father wants, as seen by Kellhus constantly speaking to his father in his thoughts. Not directly, but in abstract, staging the question is this what Moënghus expects of me. It this what he his teaching me. Conditioning me.

Love Cnaiür talking about Conphas’s tactics and then the moment he reveals to Conphas he listened to his conversation with his Martemus back at Kiyuth. Kellhus ignores that shock, needing to pay attention to the real game.

Love the irony of Xerius bringing up the Vulgar Holy War that he manipulated into marching to their deaths and then using religious language to shame them not to choose Cnaiür Politics are great. The lies people tell to get their true agenda.

Conphas does a great job with the truth to convince the Great Names. He explains just who the Scylvendi are. And he is right, Cnaiür is here for vengeance, just not against the Inrithi.

Kellhus in a few minutes has just penetrated the Consult’s greatest asset—their skin spies. Only a few other characters, like Conphas, has even noted something strange in skin spies. Esmenet saw something with Sarcellus and Conphas with Skeaös and the other skin spy in the imperial court. Both are intelligent characters.

Kellhus depiction of sorcery as child scribbles on a work of art is a great metaphor for what the Mark is. Why sorcery bruises the world. Because it is grotesque. It is sloppy. It doesn’t come close to creation. Except for the Cishaurim somehow do a better job with their scribbles. This is why there works aren’t seen by the Few. Kellhus is one of the Few, like his father. He can become a sorcerer. And sorcery is all about the Purity of Meaning according to Akka. A man with no emotions and an intellect beyond even the smartest human… What can Kellhus do with it?

Skeaös and Kellhus, both putting on fake expressions as they look on each other. Masks. Neither man honest in the least. What a great metaphor for politics.

When Kellhus is only a place, no thought, and catches the knife, he collapses like a probability waveform in quantum mechanics. He was all things and nothing until acted upon. Then he became something again. He was close to the absolute. Almost apart from cause and effect, almost separate from the Darkness that Comes before. And his lesson, that most cause create effects that are unimportant in the backdrop of the million other causes and effects. But the knife flinging at his neck was a cause not to be ignored.

Cnaiür no longer rides among the Scylvendi. He never really has. He has always walked trackless steppes. His kin sensed this which is why he had to be so strong, so violent, to control them. But he uses this to win over the Inrithi, speaking like a Scylvendi. Pretending.

The Nansur’s scheming and plotting really bites them in the ass when everyone else would rather trust the heathen barbarian over them. It is a satisfying moment in the book.

Cnaiür says he never would sell himself, and yet he did to Kellhus for vengeance. He did not seize, like he claims he would, but bargained.

When Kellhus gives his speech, he uses Cnaiür’s language about war in it, parroting it and changing it enough to sound original. The shortest path once again. It is also a rather clever move changing the debate entirely. Conphas is a known general, but if you can’t trust the Empire he fights for over Cnaiür, what does that matter.

Love how the “pious men of the tusk” are too busy celebrating to listen to all of Massenet’s message beyond the part that gave them the victory they wanted.

And we’ve heard about Xerius’s paranoia and here it rears up. Trusted Skeaös undone because Kellhus stares at him too much. And now Xerius’s paranoia is focused on Kellhus. More problems for our Dûnyain

What a chapter. From Kellhus’s training, the unmasking of a skin spy, and Cnaiür chosen to be the general of the Holy War.

Let’s talk about Skeaös. Through all the book he and Xerius’s mother have objected to the plan of destroying the Holy War. Skeaös is now a revealed to be a pawn of the Consult. So why do they want the Fanim destroyed. What do they fear? Well, if Moënghus is a Cishaurim as Kellhus deduces, then he should also spot skin spies. What a shock that must have been to the consult to have their perfect spies undone. Not even the Mandate have detected them (remember, someone is telling the Consult about the activities of their agents as discussed between Simas and Nautzera in chapter 2, though they don’t know who the spy is).

Want to read on, click here for Chapter 18!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 16
Momemn

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

 Those of us who survived will always be bewildered when we recall his arrival. And not just because he was so different then. In a strange sense he never changed. We changed. If he seems so different to us now, it is because he was the figure that transformed the ground.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

I don’t think there’s any doubt who the “he” above is: Anasûrimbor Kellhus. We have already seen how Kellhus can manipulate normal humans through his vast intellect and his ability to read minute micro-expressions and involuntary reactions which reveal a person’s true emotions even when they seek to dissemble. Throughout the various quotes of the Compendium of the First Holy War we have heard of it being transformed or hijacked and we know Kellhus is here to do just that.

Sounds like he succeeds. But how does he do it? And how will people like Achamian change? It is a unique form of foreshadowing to give us foreknowledge of the story to come but painted only in the broadest of strokes. Now the narrative has to fill in those details.

Late Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

The following evening after Kellhus’s arrival, Achamian finds himself studying the men at a campfire, Serwë at his side. Out of her rags, she is a very beautiful woman. Achamian is bemused, studying the man, trying to understand him. The pair share an exchange of greeting and Kellhus smiles.

The man [Kellhus] smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was unlike any smile Achamian had ever seen. It seemed to understand him much more than he wanted to be understood.

Then the revelation struck.

I know this man.

But how does one recognize a man never met? Unless through a son or other kin… Images of his recent dream, holding the dead face of Anasûrimbor Celmomas in his lap, flickered through his soul’s eye. The resemblance as unmistakable: the furrow between the brows, the long hollow of the cheeks, the deep-set eyes.

He is an Anasûrimbor! But that’s impossible…

And yet the times seemed rife with impossible things.

One of those impossible things is the Holy War, which Achamian had only seen its like in his dreams of the Old Wars. Achamian realizes that Kellhus arrival was history walking in the presence. The prophecy echoes through Achamian’s mind. He is shocked to find out the great blood line survived the First Apocalypse. Kellhus has been warned of Achamian and his dreams by Proyas, no doubt in ridicule, but Kellhus is not hasty in his judgment and then makes a joke. Achamian, laughing, finds himself liking the man, put at ease.

Achamian doesn’t have much of a plan in ferreting out information about Kellhus. As a spy, he would only have curiosities and would ask questions, allowing the conversation to flow while searching for what he needed to get his info. He realizes that is not a good method with Kellhus, a species of man Achamian has never met. He finds himself enthralled by Kellhus’s master of his voice. “It seemed to whisper: There’s more than I’m telling you… Only listen and see.

Kellhus can shift gears rapidly, being at once innocent then wise, amused then sorrowful, but Achamian detects no guile in his nature, as though Kellhus was honest with his emotions. Even Kellhus’s eyes, knowing but not judging, stir Awe in Achamian.

They turn to why Kellhus came to the Holy War, Achamian still hoping the man lied.

“You’re referring to the dreams,” Kellhus replied.

“I suppose I am.”

For a brief moment, the Prince of Atrithau regarded him paternally, almost sorrowfully, as though Achamian had yet to understand the rules of this encounter.

Kellhus talks about how the dream awoken him from a repetitive life. And now awakened, he could not ignore it. But had to act. The talk of sleep and love, with Kellhus glancing Serwë Then Kellhus asks Achamian why a sorcerer joined the war. Achamian answer is lame “Because I’ve been directed by my school, I supposed.” Kellhus probes and Achamian speaks about the consult with a slow resentment, fearing ridicule. Kellhus understands.

“Perhaps, Achamian, we’re not so different, you and I.”

How do you mean?”

But Kellhus did not answer. He did not need to. The man had sensed his earlier incredulity, Achamian realized, and had answered it by showing him the irony of one man anguished by dreams denying another man the rapture of his. Suddenly, Achamian found himself believing the man’s story. How could he believe in himself otherwise?

Achamian realizes that there is no ego in the conversation, no rivalries being fenced. There talk had “the character of a voyage.” To Achamian, they are merely discovering new ideas instead of convincing the other who is right. Achamian is no longer suspicious of Kellhus. Since Atrithau is so remote, only Galeoth caravans make the journey there and no Mandate had been in the city for several centuries, there was no way to verify Kellhus’s story. And yet, Kellhus had won Achamian over. He was “a man who moved the souls of those around him.” In their conversations, Achamian found answers to questions he feared to ask. Kellhus reminds him of Ajencis, an “exemplar of Truth.”

Serwë has fallen asleep, head on Kellhus’ lap. He asks Kellhus if he loves her. “Yes… I need her,” is his answer. Achamian can tell Serwë worships Kellhus, which saddens Kellhus. “For some reason, she makes more of me than I am… Others do this as well.” Achamian isn’t surprised, seeing that special something in Kellhus. The Dûnyain finds that ironic.

“And what’s that?”

“Here you possess privileged knowledge, and yet no one believes you, while I possess nothing, and everyone insists that I have privileged knowledge.

And Achamian could only think, But do you believe me?

Kellhus talks about a man who kissed his robe, sounding like he finds it absurd. Achamian understands. Then Kellhus says he believes in Achamian’s mission. This touches the sorcerer, and he tries to joke away his emotion, which leads to talk of Esmenet. Achamian is unnerved by how Kellhus is reading his thoughts. Achamian is curt in his response.

Achamian blamed the silence that followed on those sour words. He repented them but could not take them back. He looked to Kellhus, his eyes apologetic.

But the matter had already been forgiven and forgotten. The silences between men are always fraught with uncomfortable significance—accusations, hesitations, judgments of who is weak and who is strong—but the silences with this man undid rather than sealed these things. The silence of Anasûrimbor Kellhus said, Let us move on, you and I, and recall these things at a better time.

Kellhus then asks for Achamian to be his tutor. Despite a hundred questions, Achamian agrees and Kellhus calls him friend. Achamian feels shy now and is relieved when Kellhus rouses Serwë and they retire for the night. Achamian feels a euphoria as he navigates the alleys of tents to his own.. He feels transformed by his encounter with Kellhus. He doesn’t want to sleep, but finally does and dreams of Anasûrimbor Celmomas’s death and prophecy again. He finds the High King’s voice sounds like Kellhus’s.

One of my seed will return, Seswatha—an Anasûrimbor will return… …at the end of the world.

But what did this mean? Was Anasûrimbor Kellhus in fact a sign, as Proyas hoped. A sign not of the God’s divine sanction of the Holy war, as Proyas assumed, but of the No-God’s Imminent return?

…the end of the world.

Achamian began trembling, shaking with a horror he never before experienced while awake.

Achamian prays to Sejenus to let him die before. He finds it unthinkable, pleading and in denial. He is struck, then, by all those souls sleeping around him dreaming of glory and did not know Achamian’s fears. They were innocences “filled by the heedless momentum of their faith” believing what they did now lay at the center of the world’s events. But that center was Golgotterath.

Later, Achamian felt foolish for his fear and tries to convince himself it is only a coincidence that Kellhus has the same name. Still, Achamian pulls out his “map” of how the great names relate to each other. He ponders Maithanet, fearing he would never know how Inrau died. Then he looks at the consult, scratched to the side, isolated.. He writes Kellhus below “the hated name.”

Cnaiür walks through camp, unsure where to go, while reflecting on his meeting with Proyas and his five Conriyan Palatines to discuss how to outmaneuver the Emperor.

Proud men wagging proud tongues. Even the more bellicose Palatines, such as Gaidekki or Ingiaban, spoke more to score than to solve. Watching them, Cnaiür had realized they all played an infantile version of the same game the Dûnyain played. Words, Moënghus and Kellhus had taught him, could be used hand open or fist closed—as a way to embrace or to enslave. For some reason these Inrithi, how had nothing tangible to gain or to lose from one another, all spoke with their fist closed—fatuous claims, false concessions, mocking praise, flattering insults, and an endless train of satiric innuendos

Jnan, they called it. A mark of caste and cultivation.

Cnaiür endured, even when they turned their attention to him. Cnaiür realizes a hardship he had not anticipated—enduring their “peevish unmanly ways.” He has accepted dealing with Kellhus to get his revenge, but did not realize what else he faced. Cnaiür leaves in disgust when the council ends and stars at the scars, remembering his father teaching him the Scylvendi view of the sky and that the World is a lie, only the People were true. Cnaiür questions why he is here “among the cattle.”

Hearing Kellhus’s voice, and fighting his own demons and memories, he spies on Kellhus as he speaks to Achamian.

Cnaiür had intended to scrutinize what the Dûnyain said, hoping to confirm any one of his innumerable suspicions, but he quickly realized that Kellhus was playing with this sorcerer the way he played all the others, battering him with closed fists, beating his soul down paths of his manufacture. Certainly it did not sound like this. Compared with the banter of Proyas and his Palatines, what Kellhus said to the Schoolman possessed a heartbreaking gravity. But it was all a game, own where truths had become chits, where every open hand concealed a fist.

How could determine the true intent of such a man?

Cnaiür realizes Kellhus is even more inhuman than he thought, having no truth or meaning to them but adopting whatever they need, slithering from idea to idea. He ponders what the Shortest Way leads to.

Cnaiür finds himself watching sleeping Serwë and he fears for her caught in Kellhus’s machinations. He thinks of stealing her away in the night and fleeing away from Kellhus, but he knows they are merely fears leading him away from his purpose—revenge. He feels himself weak again for wanting to depart from the path. Cnaiür tries to convince himself Serwë is nothing while he beats his fist into the dirt. As Kellhus leads the sleepy Serwë to their tent, Cnaiür sees her as a little girl—innocent.

And pregnant.

Kellhus returns after she is asleep and asks Cnaiür how long he’ll lurk in the darkness. Cnaiür said until the sorcerer is gone, since Sclyvendi despise them. Cnaiür finds himself fearing the man physically since their flight and seeing what he can do. So Cnaiür hides his fear with questions, asking why Kellhus is talking to Achamian. Instruction. Cnaiür doesn’t believe and presses. Kellhus asks Cnaiür why his father is in Shimeh. Cnaiür thinks and realizes the possibility Moënghus is Cishaurim, which Kellhus confirms by talking about the dream. Cnaiür had mentioned the possibility when he first met Kellhus but not realized what it meant that Moënghus was Cishaurim.

Cnaiür scowled. “You said nothing to me! Why?”

“You did not want to know.”

Cnaiür ponders it while Kellhus studies him. Cnaiür recognizes something not quite human in Kellhus. Then Cnaiür realizes why he didn’t want to know about Moënghus because that meant he would have to ask Kellhus for information and show ignorance and need—weakness. And that was dangerous around a Dûnyain So Cnaiür instead informs Kellhus that the Mandate do not share their Gnosis with outsiders, ignoring Moënghus entirely. But Kellhus will need it. Cnaiür marches to the pavilion

“Thirty years,” Kellhus called from behind. “Moënghus has dwelt among these men for thirty years. He’ll have great power—more than either of us could hope to overcome. I need more than sorcery, Cnaiür I need a nation. A nation.”

Cnaiür paused, looking skyward once again. “So it is to be this Holy War then, is it?”

“With your help, Scylvendi. With your help.”

Cnaiür knows it is all lies. He enters the tent to rape Serwë again.

The emperor is not pleased to hear from Skeaös, his Prime Counsel, that Proyas has found a Scylvendi and offers him as replacement for Conphas. Xerius has a temper tantrum, railing against Proyas. Skeaös dismisses the possibility that a Scylvendi could lead the Holy War as a joke.

Suspicion enters Xerius and he demands Skeaös look him in the eye (an offense to do so to the Emperor). Xerius wonders what he’ll see. Fear. Xerius is pleased by that.

Achamian has been in a funk since meeting Kellhus. He can’t figure the man out. He keeps trying to use the Cants of Calling to inform the Mandate about Kellhus, and seven times he has stopped himself. He knew he had to, but also knew Nautzera would be convinced, a man who had strong certainties, and would act. Achamian is plagued with doubts, not sure if Kellhus was the harbinger or just a coincidence. Every generation of Mandate had those who were convinced the end was nigh.

Achamian fears the Mandate will seize Kellhus if they learn of him after so many years of inaction. His guilt over Inrau hold him back. Unsure what to do, Achamian asks Xinemus over the breakfast fire, what he makes of Kellhus. Xinemus is unsure, sensing something about the man, but he doesn’t know what to think. Achamian thinks Kellhus is better than most men.

“Most men? Or do you mean all men?”

Achamian regarded Xinemus narrowly. “He frightens you.”

“Sure. So does the Scylvendi, for that matter.”

“But in a different way… Tell me, Zin, just what do you think Anasûrimbor Kellhus is?”

Prophet or prophecy?

“More,” Xinemus said decisively. “More than a man.”

A silence falls, interrupted by the arrival of the Scarlet Spire whose movement through the camps is about to spark off a riot by flying their banner openly, but Achamian realizes the Spire are doing it to put him at ease, to show they are coming openly, risking a riot rather then startling a Mandate Schoolman. Achamian tells Xinemus to get his Chorae anyways. Xinemus is not happy, ordering his soldiers to get ready. He tells Achamian to tell the fool to skulk away. Achamian is hurt his friend blames him for what is happening.

Xinemus’s soldiers push back the rioters as the Scarlet Spire approaches. The Scarlet Spire grow closer, their Javreh slave-soldiers pushing their way through the mob until the reach Xinemus soldiers, then they are through the palanquin they carry approaches Achamian while the mob throws stones, bones, wine bowls, and more.

Eleäzaras, Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire, steps out, shocking Achamian. The mob falls silent at the sight since he is the third most powerful man in the world, behind the Shriah and the Padirajah. The mob amuses Eleäzaras They exchange greetings, Eleäzaras joking and dismissive. They banter about Scarlet Spire’s jealousy of Mandate Gnosis. Eleäzaras begins insulting Achamian, asking why such a clever man was still I the field, wondering who he offended or if he buggered Proyas as a child. Achamian is shocked by Eleäzaras’s bluntness.

Angry, Achamian asks what the Grandmaster wants, Achamian hoping to learn more about how Maithanet knew the Scarlet Spire warred with the Cishaurim. Eleäzaras claims he just wants to meet Achamian.

“I needed to meet the man who has utterly overturned my impression of the Mandate… To think that I once thought yours the gentlest of Schools!”

Now Achamian was genuinely perplexed. “What are you talking about?”

Eleäzaras knows Achamian was in Carythusal, the Scarlet Spire’s home city. Achamian believes Geshruuni, the Javreh Captain Achamian recruited way back in Chapter 1, has been uncovered and wonders if he killed the man by recruiting him, like Inrau. Achamian shrugs and says the Scarlet Spire’s secret war is out. He fears this is a preamble to Eleäzaras trying to abduct Achamian to learn the Gnosis. Eleäzaras responds that the Mandate secret is also exposed.

That puzzles Achamian. Eleäzaras speaks like the Mandate has a shameful secret. Achamian is confused. Eleäzaras explains how they found Geshruuni dead by chance, dredged up in a fisherman’s net. The Scarlet Spire is disturbed by how Geshruuni was killed, him. Achamian is dismissive, pointing out why he would kill the Mandate’s best spy in the Scarlet Spire in years. Achamian claims Eleäzaras is being played for a fool.

Someone plays both of us… But who?

Eleäzaras glared, pursing his lips as though holding a bitter segment of lime against his teeth. “My Master of Spies warned me of this,” he said tightly. “I’d assumed you had some obscure reason for what you did, something belonging to your accursed Gnosis. But he insisted that you were simply mad. And he told me I’d know by the way you lied. Only madmen and historians, he said, believe their lies.”

“First I’m a a murderer, and now I’m a madman?”

“Indeed,” Eleäzaras spat in a tone of condemnation and disgust. “Who else collects human faces?”

And then stones pelt them from the mob.

The next day, Eleäzaras reflects on the disastrous meeting with Achamian, and the riot he almost caused. He is joined by Iyokus, his Master of Spies. Iyokus reports that there last spy in the Thousand Temples is surely dead. Eleäzaras is worried that he has “delivered the greatest School in the Three Seas to its greatest peril.” Without spies, they don’t know what Maithanet’s intentions are.

“It means we must have faith,” Iyokus said with an air of shoulder-shrugging fatalism. “Faith in this Maithanet.”

“Faith? In someone we know nothing of?”

“That’s why it is faith.”

The decision to join the Holy War was Eleäzaras’s most difficult. But the six trinkets offered by the Shriah were hard to ignore. They meant the Shriah was serious. He offered them vengeance. Eleäzaras orders more resources spent on spies in Sumna. They have to know what Maithanet is up to.

Eleäzaras is reminded of ten-years ago, Iyokus falling wounded against Eleäzaras, their Grandmaster dead along with the Cishaurim. The pair had survived the assassination attack. Despite the years, Eleäzaras remembers that day clearly, haunted by it. Eleäzaras would end their war. The Shriah gave them vengeance, but it was a treacherous gift, forcing Eleäzaras to surrender to the Holy War, to the whims of other men. It was a first for their order.

Their talk to turns to the Emperor and the rumors that Ikurei Conphas received a message from the Fanim after the Vulgar Holy War was destroyed, but its contents are unknown, whether a warning or peace overtures. The fact that Conphas will be the general worries Eleäzaras Iyokus then speaks frankly, saying the Scarlet Spire shouldn’t even be here. They are degraded by this. He pleads with Eleäzaras to abandon it.

You too, Iyokus?

Eleäzaras felt coils of rage flex about his heart. The Cishaurim had planted a serpent within him those ten years ago, and it had grown fat on fear. He could feel it writhe within him, animate his hands with womanish desires to scratch out Iyokus’s disconcerting eyes.

Eleäzaras counsels patience, but Iyokus counters with the riot almost sparked by their supposed allies. If it wasn’t for Achamian stopping Eleäzaras, the Grandmaster would have killed the mob in his anger. Achamian had threatened Eleäzaras indirectly with the Gnosis. It galled Eleäzaras because he knew the Gnosis was superior to his schools lesser magic. The Gnosis was the one thing the Scarlet Spire lacked.

How he despised the Mandate! All the Schools, even the Imperial Saik, recognized the ascendancy of the Scarlet Spire—save for the Mandate. And why should they when a mere field spy could cow their Grandmaster?

Eleäzaras says that while their position is fragile, they will destroy the Cishaurim. Then only the Mandate would stand up to them. “…an arcane empire—that would be the wages of his [Eleäzaras] desperate labor.”

Then Iyokus says they checked the records and found another faceless man was found half-rotted in the delta five years ago. Iyokus believes the Mandate have put aside their “tripe about the Consult and the No-God” and play the game for real. Iyokus believes this changes everything, making the Mandate the strongest school if they are going for political power.

“First we crush the Cishaurim, Iyokus. In the meantime, make certain that Drusas Achamian is watched.”

My Thoughts

Kellhus uses humor to humanize him in Achamian’s eyes. Laughing, Achamian is less troubled and relaxes, finding himself liking Kellhus. Having been warned by Proyas about Achamian, Kellhus must know the threat the Mandate can pose to him. Seducing Achamian is vital to that and Kellhus’s goal of learning the Gnosis. It is efficient to accomplish multiple things at once.

We see Kellhus, as he told Cnaiür on their journey, acting fatherly. To the Dûnyain, normal men are children, and he is here to treat them as such. To bend them to his will with the promise of reward and the threat of punishment.

Kellhus talk of sleep as something that can’t be wanted or forced, the harder you strive, the harder it is to get is so true. Who hasn’t been desperate for sleep. Here Kellhus uses his tactic of telling universal truths to promote his wisdom and remoteness to awe and win over a person.

The way Kellhus seduces Achamian with words, pointing out hypocrisy, sharing a common thing that others are skeptical of, binding them together.

Kellhus and Serwë are complicated. She worships him, believes he is a god, and he is using that, feigning that he is nothing special, and the humility combined with his insights only encourages Achamian to believe it. As Kellhus says, he needs her. She is a beacon, drawing men to Kellhus, showing them that he is special, and then they hear the proof from his own lips all while denying it. No one likes a braggart, a person inflated by his own ego. Does Kellhus love her? Can he even love? Or will he only use her? Bakker has said Serwë is one of the most important characters to the story. We need to pay attention to her and Kellhus’s relationship.

I love Achamian’s selfish “but do you believe me” thought. Bakker is always showing humans for what we truly are. Creatures who strive against our true, selfish nature because we think something better will come form it.

See how dangerous Kellhus is. All Achamian had to do was glance at Serwë while speaking on Esmenet and Kellhus understood Achamian finds Esmi beautiful.

Achamian’s nightmare, his desperate believe that it can’t be, then using logic to explain away fears into self-denial.

Cnaiür can’t even insult the Inrithi without them finding it funny, poor guy. He’s straining. He’s haunted by his past. How long before he breaks?

Cnaiür’s question, wondering how he could ever know Kellhus’s intentions is something you’ll run into later in the series. How can we, the reader, trust a man who uses the truth as a goad, who has no ego but only his mission. He will say or do anything for it. And how do we even know what his mission truly is?

Cnaiür’s obsession with Serwë is one of the reasons she is important to Kellhus.

Cnaiür’s intelligence is shown again, but his fears interfered with him connecting the doubts of his logic about Moënghus being a Cishaurim. But he also understands why Kellhus is seducing Achamian—for the Gnosis.

Well, we’ve had hints that Kellhus would take over the Holy War. Now we have it stated as why he has to. But will it be enough to overcome his father and the Cishaurim?

Even here, telling people he loves Serwë, Kellhus still lets Cnaiür rape her at night. It also proves that Cnaiür, despite what he claims, can’t get Serwë out of his mind.

When the Scarlet Spire comes, I love Xinemus’s comment “They forgot how much they’re hated,” as the riot swells. Achamian’s answer, “Who doesn’t,” is great. Who wants to believe your actually hated? How many people, especially those in power, convince themselves that they are not despised despite the screaming mobs. Look at Xerius and how he acts in his self-deluded word.

Eleäzaras thinks he’s a smart man, but he comes to Achamian so sure he knows the answers that even when he sees the shock in Achamian’s eyes, the man simply believes Achamian is such a skilled liar. An answer should never seek for the question to prove it.

So now we know what the skin spy did to Geshruuni. It cut off Geshruuni’s face so he couldn’t be easily identified then went to assume him. But, of course, Achamian was recalled so the skin spy abandoned that plan to keep following him (as we learned a few chapters back when Achamian spots the skin spy following him in the market). Good thing since the Scarlet Spire found Geshruuni far too early than I think the skin spy intended.

Chanv is a great mystery in the series. A drug that extends your life, sharpens the intellect, but also leads to sterility. It is also said to sap the will, making someone more biddable perhaps. It sounds a lot like spice and no one in the Three Seas knows where it comes from. I suspect the Consult. There goal is too limit human life on the planet. Eleäzaras, despite his other failings, is not dumb enough to use Chanv because he has no idea where it comes from.

We get our first glimpse of Sorcerers fighting in the Eleäzaras remembering the assassination attempt ten years ago. He is suffering from PTSD about it which is driving him to get revenge. He can’t forget. But now he is questioning if he made the right decision, or was vengeance too enticing to resist. His story parallels Cnaiür’s, both allying with something they find anathema to get revenge on a stronger foe.

Iyokus and his eyes being scratched out… Foreshadowing.

So, who in the Ainoni camp has been replaced by a skin spy? Not a lot of prominent candidates to choose from. I love the unintended consequence happening here. The Consult didn’t intend this, but now the Scarlet Spire are convinced our lovable Drusas Achamian is a threat. A dangerous man who cuts off people’s face. Watch out, Achamian.

 

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 5
The Holy Warrior
Chapter 14
Momemn

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

Many have condemned those who joined the Holy War for mercenary reasons, and doubtless, should this humble history find its way into their idle libraries, they will blast me as well. Admittedly, my reasons for joining the Holy War were “mercenary,” if by that one means I joined it in order to procure ends outside of the destruction of the heathen and the reconquest of Shimeh. But there were a great many mercenaries such as myself, and like myself, they inadvertently furthered the Holy War by killing their fair share of heathen. The failure of the Holy War had nothing to do with us. Did I say failure? Perhaps “transformation” would be a better word.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Faith is the truth of passion. Since no passion is more true than another, faith is the truth of nothing.

AJENCIS, THE FOURTH ANALYTIC OF MAN

My Thoughts

Well, we know what that greater reason was for Achamian, the purpose of the Mandate. And in this very chapter, the harbinger that Achamian has been dreaming about his appeared. He further eludes to the fact that something goes wrong with the Holy War. Something causes it to transform? What? Perhaps Kellhus? Another great point is on mercenaries. Just because they’re fifing for reasons other than faith doesn’t mean they’re not helping. But people like Proyas clearly have an issue with it. It makes them uncomfortable and yet he will use them because he has to.

The second passage goes to the argument between Achamian and Proyas. Proyas even quotes it, though he leaves of the last part of the passage about faith is the truth of nothing since Proyas believes his faith has all the truth he won’t acknowledge the possibility it has not truth. It contrast with Achamian’s faith where he’s willing to doubt and question.

Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Momemn

Finally, Xinemus leads Achamian to see Proyas. They enter Proyas’s pavilion, Xinemus cautioning Achamian to be formal. Proyas is seeing Achamian just to get Xinemus to shut up about it. “You wielded too much influence over him as a child, Akka, left too deep a mark. Zealous men often confuse purity with intolerance, particularly when they’re young.”

Achamian is surprised that Proyas’s pavilion is only half-unpacked, remembering his student as “fastidious to a fault.” Xinemus explains it as the stress of dealing with the Emperor and his indenture. Proyas has his men out on busy work, “counting chickens” as the Conriyans put it. Things are bad because Proyas is losing the game. Akka has second thoughts, not wanting to further burden Proyas, but they are swept in to see him by a slave. Proyas’s greeting isn’t as welcoming as Achamian hoped.

Undeterred, he presses on. The talk turns to the Holy War and Achamian asks if it is true that Proyas is raiding the valley. Proyas isn’t happy that Achamian is questioning his tactics. Xinemus also isn’t happy that Proyas is raiding, but the Emperor has left them little choice. They hardly have enough grain to eat that they are now raiding Inrithi. Xinemus angers Proyas by objecting to the raiding.

Proyas scowled and waved his hand. “Enough! You says this, while I say that, over and over again. For once I’d rather hear Achamian speak! Did you hear that, Zin. You’ve irritated me that much…”

From Xinemus’s grave look, Achamian gathered Proyas was not joking.

So changed… What’s happened to him? But even as he asked this, Achamian recognized the answer. Proyas suffered, as all men of high purpose must, the endless exchange of principles for advantages. No triumph without remorse. No respite without siege. Compromise after anxious compromise, until one’s entire life felt a defeat. It was a malady Mandate Schoolmen knew well.

Proyas is frustrated by dealing with all the stress of feeding his army, keeping them in line, and trying to outwit the Emperor to deal with “the niceties of jnan.” Achamian realizes this meeting was a mistake, but he presses on and asks his student if he remembers what Achamian taught him. Those recollections are the only reason Achamian is here, answers Proyas. Achamian guides the conversation to why the Mandate would be in the Holy War, why Achamian would be here.

This was the question. When one warred with the intangible, convolutions were certain to abound. Any mission without purpose or with a purpose that had evaporated into abstraction, inevitably confused its own means as its ends, took its own striving as they very thing striven for. The Mandate was here, Achamian had realized, to determine whether it should be here. And this was as significant as any mission. But he could not tell Proyas this. No, he had to do what every Mandate agent did: populate the unknown with ancient threats and seed the future with past catastrophes. In a world that was already terrifying, the Mandate had become a School of fear-mongers.

“Our business? To discover the truth?”

Proyas is not happy to be lectured about truth and have his faith challenged. Achamian merely wants to temper it, reminding Proyas when “we’re most certain, we’re most certain to be deceived.” They move into discussing “troubling possibilities,” Proyas full of sarcasm. Achamian realizes that the Mandate have been crippled by become stale. He doesn’t know how to regain credibility. He opens the possibility the Holy War is not what it seems. Proyas immediately launches into a rant about the Emperor’s lecherous desires to regain his Empire, others who lust for glory, and he has no idea why the Scarlet Spire is involved. Proyas has prayed that the Holy War was more than it seemed, because it seems so base.

But prayers are not enough. Despite that, Proyas clings to the possibility that the Holy War is divine and a good thing. He asks if that is so hard to believe. Achamian concedes it is not. Proyas anger retreats and he apologizes for his outburst and admits this isn’t the best time since “I fear the God tests me.” Achamian questions and learns that Galeoth troops under Coithus Saubon massacred a Nansur village. Achamian asks if Maithanet knows.

Proyas grimaced. “He will.”

Suddenly Achamian understood.

“You defy him,” he said. “Maithanet has forbidden these raids!” Achamian could scarce conceal his jubilation. If Proyas had defied his Shriah…

“I like not your manner,” Proyas snapped. “What care you—” He stopped, as though struck by a realization of his own. “Is this the possibility you wish me to consider?” he asked, wonder and fury in his tone. “That Maithanet…” A sudden gallows laugh. “That Maithanet conspires with the Consult?

“As I said,” Achamian replied evenly, “a possibility.”

While Proyas respects the Mandate mission, knowing about their dreams, he will not allow Achamian to drive a wedge between him and the Shriah. It is blasphemous. Proyas asks if Achamian has any proof. All Achamian has is poor, dead Inrau, which Proyas dismisses since spying would be punished by death. Achamian then says that Maithanet is one of the few, but Proyas already knew and doesn’t care.

What of it?” Proyas repeated. “What does it mean other than he, unlike you, chose the path of righteousness.”

Achamian turns to talking about the intensity of his dreams and how he feels something is happening. But Proyas points out that they are at in impasse. What Achamian believes of the Consult is what Proyas believes of his God. All Achamian has is faith, like Proyas. “Faith is the truth of passion, Achamian, and no passion is more true than another.” Achamian is hurt, realizing he can’t convince his student anymore. Proyas has grown too certain in his faith. He loves his God more than a blaspheming sorcerer. Proyas says they will not speak again.

As Achamian leaves, he asks Proyas to inquire to Maithanet about Paro Inrau and learn if he committed suicide or was executed for spying. Achamian has to know. Proyas asks why. “Because you loved me once.” Then Achamian leaves, grieving for his lost students. Once Achamian is gone, Proyas asks what Xinemus disapproves of this time, his tactics or proprieties in dealing with Achamian. Xinemus disagrees with both.

Ask yourself, Proyas—for once set scripture aside and truly ask yourself—whether the feeling within your breast—now, at this very moment—is wicked or righteous.”

Earnest pause.

But I feel nothing.”

That night, Achamian first dreams of Esmenet and then Inrau crying out “from the Great Black: ‘They’re here, old teacher! In ways you cannot see!’” But then the dream turns to the nightmares. He is on the Fields of Eleneöt and witnesses the Celmomas Prophecy once more, hearing that an Anasûrimbor will return at the end of the world.

Esmenet is shopping in the Kamposea Agora, the great market of Momemn, accompanied by Sarcellus’s two slave girls, Ertiga and Hansa. She had bumped into a handsome officer of the Eothic Guard, and finds herself subtly flirting with the man as he watches her sharp, bending over, revealing parts of her body. But she is irritated by the two body slaves with her.

Sarcellus’s Cepaloran body-slave, Ertiga and Hansa, had spotted the man as well. They giggled over cinnamon, pretending to fuss over the length of the sticks. For not the first time this day, Esmenet found herself despising them, the way she had often found herself despising her competing neighbors in Sumna—particular the young ones.

He watches me! Me!

The man is very handsome, and she can’t get him out of her thoughts as he loiters, watching her. She grows annoyed with the slave girls, and they get petulance when Esmenet asks them a question. The spice-monger grows angry with the girl while showing deference to Esmenet, taking her for the wife of a humble caste noble. Easement realizes that the two girls do not obey her out of jealousy of her relationship with Sarcellus. Instead, she suspect Sarcellus has ordered the two girls to watch her. They wouldn’t let her leave the compound alone. She tries to order the two to go home, but they refuse until the spice-monger beats Ertiga. Hansa pulls Ertiga to safety and they flee.

Esmenet realizes this is the first time she’s been alone since Sarcellus saved her. He was always around a great deal to her, often taking her on trips to see the sights of the city, including the Imperial Precincts.

But he never left her alone. Why?

Was he afraid she’d seek out Achamian? It struck her as a silly fear.

She went cold.

They were watching Akka. They! He had to be Told!

But then why did she hide from him? Why did she dread the thought of bumping into him each time she left the encampment? Whenever she glimpsed someone who resembled him, she would instantly look away, afraid that if she did not, she might make whoever it was into Achamian. That he would see her, punish her questioning frown. Stop her heart with an anguished look…

The spice-monger asks her what she’ll buy, but she has no money on her. Then she remembers the man and feels stirring inside of her. She glances at him and he nods to an alley. She follows, eager to be with the strong man. The moment she reaches him, he’s on her, pinning her, eager for her, but she stops him.

“What?” He leaned against her elbows, searching for her mouth.

She turned her face away. “Coin,” she breathed. False laugh. “No one eats for free.”

“Ah, Sejenus! How much?”

“Twelve talents,” she gasped. “Silver talents.”

“A whore,” he hissed. “You’re a whore!

The man hesitates then agrees until he notices her tattoo marking her as a prostitute from Sumna. He realizes that she’s a “bruised peach” and will only pay twelve copper talents. She agrees, eager for him. They have sex, hard and fast, and she revels in it. He spills in her and then feels guilty, stumbling away and not able to look at her. She takes a moment to find composure, or to fake it, and then she feels dirty. She remembers the syntheses and his black seed. She dropped the money. “Then she fled, truly alone.”

She returns to Sarcellus’s camp and finds him waiting for her. He’s missed her, asking where’s she been. She finds it curious that he smells her. Then he seized her, so fast she gasps. He rips up her gown. She tries to stop him from having sex with her. She wants to wash, aware of the other man’s seed staining her thighs. He then sees the evidence of her encounter in the market. He demands to know who she was with.

“Who what?”

He slapped her. Not hard, but it seemed to sting all the more for it.

Who?

She said nothing, turned to the bedchamber.

He grabbed her arm, yanked her violently around, raised his hand for another strike…

Hesitated

“Was it Achamian?” he asked.

Never, it seemed to Esmenet, had she hated a face more. She felt the spit gather between her teeth.

Yes!” she hissed.

Instead of hitting her, he looks broken and begins to weep, begging for her forgiveness. She is shocked. Then he embraces her, crying and she relents and relaxes. She doesn’t understand how such a confident man could weep after “striking someone like her.” She’s treacherous, adulterate. Sarcellus says he knows she loves Achamian, but she isn’t so sure anymore.

Proyas is joined by Achamian as he watches the sun rise on the edge of the Holy War. Proyas is excited. Everything changes. The debate “of dogs and crows, crows and dogs, would be over.” Achamian is surprised, a week after being told he would never see Proyas, to be summoned to his side. Proyas chastises his teacher while Achamian is grumpy and cut, which Proyas attributes to the the Dreams. Proyas hasn’t summoned Achamian, but a Mandate Schoolman to fulfill the treaty between them and House Nersei. Proyas needs advice, not to be needled. Not today. But Achamian brings up their last discussion, what he had learned form it, and lectures about faith.

“There’s faith that knows itself itself as faith, Proyas, and there’s faith that confuses itself for knowledge. The first embraces uncertainty, acknowledges the mysteriousness of the God. It begets compassion and tolerance. Who can entirely condemn when they’re not entirely certain they’re in the right? The the second, Proyas, the second embraces certainty and only pays lip service to the God’s mystery. It begets intolerance, hatred, violence…”

Proyas scowled. Why wouldn’t he relent? And it begets, I imagine, students who repudiate their old teachers, hmm, Achamian?”

The sorcerer nodded. “And Holy Wars…”

Proyas is unsettled, but he counters by quoting the Tractate about submitting to faith and having no doubts, which only annoys Achamian. Proyas feels he resorted to a shoddy trick, which shocks him since he used the Latter Prophet’s words. Proyas is angered that Achamian judges him.

Achamian asks why he was summoned. Proyas explains about the fugitives that Iryssas, Zin’s nephew, found a few days ago, which include a Scylvendi (yes, Cnaiür, Kellhus, and Serwë). They should arrive at any time. Achamian is shocked that a Sclyvendi would want to join the Holy War, since they see the others as sacrificial lambs to their dead god. The Scylvendi claims to know how the Fanim make war.

Achamian understands why he is here. Proyas hoped to use the Sclyvendi to defeat the Emperor. He presses Achamian if it is possible that he knows how to fight Fanim, and Achamian talks about the Battle of Zirkirta and concedes it is possible, but he still finds it doubtful that a Scylvendi would join.

The Crown Prince pursed his lips, looked out over the encampment, searching, Achamian supposed, for a sign of his dashed hopes. Never before had he seen Proyas like this—even as a child. He looked so…fragile.

Are things so desperate? What are you afraid you’ll lose?

“But of course,” Achamian added in a conciliatory manner, “after Conphas’s victory at Kiyuth, things might have changed on the Steppe. Drastically, perhaps.” Why did he always cater to him so.

Proyas gives Achamian a sardonic grin, realizing what Achamian is doing, but then he spots them and grows excited. Achamian fears Proyas will make a dangerous king because of his ability to go from despair to eagerness so fast. Achamian dread makes him realize with so many warriors round, a lot of people will die, including himself. He spots Xinemus in the approaching group and wonders if he will die. Then Achamian spots the Scylvendi and is shocked. He looks just how they did in his dreams and for a moment, Achamian is confused, thinking he is in ancient times, speaking about how the Scylvendi road for the No-God and sacked Sumna. He finds it so bizarre to see a Scylvendi here, especially after all the drams of Anasûrimbor Celmomas.

He urges Proyas not to tryst the Scylvendi, but all Proyas can see is the enemy of the Nansur, and thus his potential ally. They bicker because Proyas does not like the counsel he’s getting and his words sting Achamian when he realizes Proyas meant to injure. He wants obedience right now.

Proyas then greets Cnaiür congenial. Achamian is worried about Proyas’s ability to change emotions so swiftly, fearing it “demonstrated a worrisome capacity for deceit.” Things are rocky at first, with Achamian whispering advice to Proyas about how to treat with the Sclyvendi. When Achamian learns Cnaiür is Utemot, he is unnerved since an Utemot led them during the Apocalypse.

Proyas nodded. “So tell me, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, why would a Scylvendi wolf travel so far to confer with Inrithi dogs?”

The Scylvendi as much sneered as smiled. He possessed, Achamian realized, that arrogance peculiar to barbarians, the thoughtless certitude that the hard ways of his land made him harder by far than other, more civilized men. We are, Achamian thought, silly women to him.

Cnaiür first claims to be a mercenary, but Proyas doesn’t believe it. Then Cnaiür spins a tale about how his tribe was destroyed by others after Kiyuth. His tribe is no more. Proyas still doesn’t believe that he would join them, but is too eager to find out what the barbarian knows about fighting Fanim to press Cnaiür on his true motives.

Cnaiür, after a little verbal sparring, admits that he fought at Zirkirta and nows how to defeat them. Achamian fears that Cnaiür tells Proyas exactly what he wants to hear. Despite that, Achamian starts paying attention to Kellhus and realizes he is the answer to why Cnaiür Achamian hopes Proyas figures it out, but the young man is too eager to hear about Cnaiür’s fighting ability. Cnaiür is cautious, which Proyas prays, then explains why Cnaiür can trust him. Because Proyas needs the barbarian. Proyas explains about the politics keeping them in place and why he needs Cnaiür as an alternative to Ikurei Conphas leading the Holy War.

When Cnaiür laughs about being “the Exalt-General’s surrogate,” Proyas is puzzled. Achamian sees an opportunity and points out because of Kiyuth, the man must hate Conphas. Proyas asks if Achamian thinks Cnaiür wants revenge. Achamian tells Proyas to ask Cnaiür why he has come and who the others are. Proyas grows chagrined for letting his passion almost dupe him into trusting a Scylvendi without any hard questions. He asks the question and Kellhus steps forward. Everyone stares at him.

“And just who are you?” Proyas asked the man.

The clear blue eyes blinked. The serene face dipped only enough to acknowledge an equal. “I am Anasûrimbor Kellhus, son of Moënghus,” the man said in heavily accented Sheyic. “A prince of the north. Of Atrithau.”

Achamian is stunned, almost at a panic, the Celmomas Prophecy echoing in his head as Proyas questions why Kellhus would be here. How he could have even heard of the Holy War all the way in Atrithau which barley has in contact with the Three Seas.

Hesitation, as though he [Kellhus] were both frightened and unconvinced by what he was about to say. “Dreams. Someone sent me dreams.”

This cannot be!

“Someone? Who?”

The man could not answer.

My Thoughts

Xinemus always has sage words to tell. He has much practical wisdom and is a great foil to Achamian’s more book learning. He is also a very moral person, more so than Proyas for all the man’s piety and faith.

The chicken counting proves very important for Kellhus and Cnaiür. Without that busy work, they would be dead right now.

I feel bad for Proyas as Achamian realizes how compromise is destroying him. He wants to be that good man, but he has to play politics. Having strong principals doesn’t make it easy to compromise them to make necessary deals.

The mandate sound like the our modern media, needing to populate the world with half-truths, to make us afraid so we’ll keep watching. Without fears, whether they have any truth or are blown so out of proportion to make them interesting, the media wouldn’t have anything to report. It is such a toxic cycle.

I think we have our first mention of Coithus Saubon here, the blond beast. His troops causing a massacre is not surprising. Don’t forget about him. Come Book 2 and on, he’ll be playing a far larger role in the story.

Achamian’s jubilation that he might have an opening between Proyas and Maithanet is quickly squashed. Proyas’s faith is very strong, not easily shaken. He is too certain that what he believes is right, and that is a very dangerous thing as our own history has shown. And it doesn’t have to be a religious faith. Any belief, political, economic, social can lead to those ends.

Poor Achamian. He’s just trying to get Proyas to think instead of believe and is getting so much flack. Faith is fine, but it needs to be tempered by rational thought.

Xinemus is not happy about how Proyas treated Achamian, but Proyas is ambivalent. He has gone beyond his tutor, or so he thinks.

I think that Inrau might have actually cried out from the Great Black, from beyond, and spoke to Achamian right there. “In ways you cannot see” is too specific to skin-spies, something Achamian doesn’t know about yet. Given the info of the Great Ordeal and the speculation that something chooses which dream a Mandate Schoolman sees, it is interesting that Achamian has the Calmemunis Prophecy dream right after. Bakker is both reminding us of the dream and possibly setting up a reveal on how the dreams work and the significance of their timing.

Fear of rejection such a powerful motivator, especially when someone’s self-esteem is so low. Poor Esmenet left Sumna to find Achamian and now is too scared of the consequences if he doesn’t want her. Not when she has the comfort of Sarcellus’s camp, which still bewilders her. Of course, she doesn’t know she’s being watched by the consult.

Esmenet can’t help playing the whore. And it sickens her when she’s done. She’s been traumatized by the syntheses’s visit. She doesn’t see herself as having any value. When she returns to Sarcellus, she notices skin-spy Sarcellus’s inhuman properties, though dismisses then. He has to control himself, almost losing it before remembering he supposed to keep an eye on her, not beat her, then he breaks down crying. It works, it makes her keep questioning her love for Achamian. Her self-esteem is very low right now. Explains why she is displaying such self-destructive behavior like provoking Sarcellus.

The irony of Proyas not liking to be judged when he is famous for judging others made me chuckle.

Proyas is shocked that Achamian, a blasphemer, had been to Shimeh. But to Achamian, it was just another place, nothing special like Proyas had made it become. Proyas has obsessed about it so much, he transformed it into something it’s not. And then we’ll see how he acts when he gets to Shimeh.

Achamian is shrewd enough to know that a lot of people have understatement Cnaiür by noticing the number of swazonds adorning his arms.

Cnaiür figures out Proyas’s plan before Proyas can explain it to him, pointing out that, essentially, the Shriah is turning the holy war into a band of mercenaries by “selling” them to the Emperor.

Kellhus speaks in “heavily accented Sheyic” which has to be him faking it because he speaks flawless Sheyic to Serwë. He’s already begun his seduction of the Holy War. He’s planted the first seeds. He has been sent dreams. He’s special.

Achamian is reeling from the revelation. The prophecy that his order has been obsessed with for two thousand years was just fulfilled. The harbinger, which I can safely say is Kellhus, has arrived. The end of the world is upon them. But is Kellhus the end or just the signaled that it’s started?

Click here to continue onto Chapter 16!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 4
The Warrior
Chapter 14
The Kyranae Plain

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

Some say men continually war against circumstances, but I say they perpetually flee. What are the works of men if not a momentary respite, a hiding place soon to be discovered by catastrophe? Life is endless flight before the hunter we call the world.

Ekyannus VIII, 111 Aphorisms

My Thoughts

Isn’t that they way of life. Trying to get ahead on bills. Worrying when the next problem is going to happen: the car break down, injury, or losing your job. Just when you think everything is fine then, bam! Of course, it also speaks to Cnaiür, Serwë, and Kellhus fleeing the Kidruhil in this chapter in a very literal sense.

Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Nansur Empire

Cnaiür and Kellhus have started to travel at night across the Nansur Empire. For the first time, Serwë wakes up in the afternoon sleeping next to Kellhus. He had resisted her joining his sleeping mat for a while, but this morning had relented. Serwë enjoys the feel of Kellhus sleeping form against hers and marvels at how much she loves him and how he loves her despite her past.

Cnaiür is up and washing in a stream and Serwë watches him and fells no fear for the fist time, just pity at his loneliness. She notices a boy on the other side of the river and in her mind pleads with the boy to run. Kellhus, awake, whispers to Cnaiür in Scylvendi. Cnaiür sees the boy, and tells him to come close. Serwë yells at the boy to run and begs with Kellhus to spare the boy as Cnaiür chases him. Kellhus followed Cnaiür and Serwë realizes he also means to kill the child. Serwë follows.

As Serwë follows, it occurs to her she is no fugitive in the Nansur. This is her home and and she would not have to suffer Cnaiür anymore. However, she thinks on how Kellhus loves her, the first, and returning to the Empire would just mean more Gaunum wives and more blue babies. Serwë is pregnant and has convinced herself it is Kellhus’s child.

Serwë has lost Cnaiür and Kellhus and can’t locate the camp. She hears horses and believes it’s Kellhus come looking for her but instead runs across two Kidruhil cavalry of the Imperial Army. She is fearful, thinking the Kidruhil have been warned by the boy and that Kellhus may be dead because of her.

The older of the two Kidruhil sees her fear and thinks Serwë must be “with them.” The pair of soldiers argue, the younger saying they don’t have time for this while they older says there’s always time for sport with a girl as pretty as Serwë. The man advances on her and she begs for him to spare her. The man drives his dagger into the ground as he begins to grope her.

There is a sound, and the younger man is decapitated by Cnaiür. Cnaiür asks Serwë if she was hurt, and the scarred Kidruhil begins to beg to Cnaiür, apologizing for touching Serwë.

The officer moved away from Serwë, as though to disassociate himself from his crime. “C-come now, friend. Hmm? T-take the horses. All y-yours—”

To Serwë it seemed that she’d floated to her feet, that she’d flown at the scarred man, and that the knife had simply appeared in the side of his neck. Only his frantic backhand knocked her back to earth.

She watched him fall to his knees, his bewildered hands fumbling at his neck. He threw an arm backward, as though to ease his descent, but he toppled, lifting his back and hips from the ground, kicking up leaves with one foot. He turned to her, retching blood, his eyes round and shining. Begging her. . .

Cnaiür grabs Serwë and places the knife she killed the Kidruhil at her temple. She begs for her life and Cnaiür warns her never to betray them again or he will kill her. Then Cnaiür cuts her forearm, giving her a swazond, the ritual scaring of the Sclyvendi for kill the Kidruhil and calls her by name for the first time.

I don’t understand,” Serwë whimpered, as bewildered as she was terrified. Why was he doing this? Was this his punishment? Why had he called her by name?

You must suffer him . . .

You are my prize, Serwë. My tribe.”

Cnaiür and Serwë find Kellhus at camp and she raced to him and hugs him fiercely and he comforts her as she cries like a father. Kellhus confronts Cnaiür and tells him that Serwë is no longer his prize. Cnaiür laughs, and says more Kidruhil come, we have killed only a dozen out of fifty. Serwë apologizes to Kellhus for warning the boy.

Cnaiür laughs, and says the boy warned know one. “What mere boy could escape a Dûnyain?” Serwë is horrified and looks at Kellhus. She sees grief welling in his eyes and she feels shame, forcing Kellhus to commit this crime. Cnaiür announced they will ride the Kidruhil horses to death first.

For two days, the trio had eluded the Kidruhil thanks to the forest and Cnaiür’s skill. Serwë find the next two days an ordeal. At the end of the second day, Cnaiür thinks they may have lost the Kidruhil and they make camp. Cnaiür explains that the Kidruhil would think they went west, like any raiding party would after making contact with the Kidruhil. If they found their trail heading east, the Kidruhil would think it a ruse.

They ate a meal of raw fish, and Cnaiür explains they are safest in the western provinces, long abandoned because of Scylvendi raids. Once they cross the Phayus River, it will be a different matter. Serwë wonders why these two would risk this journey. The next day as they traveled, Serwë finds herself hungry. At midday, Kellhus stops and asks her is she’s hungry.

How do you know these things?” she asked. It never ceased to thrill her each time Kellhus guessed her thoughts, and the part of her that held him in reverent awe would find further confirmation.

How long has it been, Serwë?”

How long has what been?” she asked, suddenly fearful.

Since you’ve been with child.”

But it’s your child, Kellhus! Yours!

But we’ve not yet coupled,” he said gently.

Serwë suddenly felt bewildered, unsure as to what he meant, and more unsure still whether she had spoken aloud. But of course they had coupled. She was with child, wasn’t she? Who else could be his father?

Serwë starts to cry and Kellhus apologizes and tells her they will eat soon. Kellhus rides up to talk with Cnaiür and Serwë studies Kellhus and realizes she didn’t speak and he sill knew her thoughts and she begins to think he is a God. She remembers in the time of the Tusk, the Gods communing with Men. Serwë begins to think that her beauty was given her because one day her betrothed, a God, would arrive.

Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

She smiled tears of rapturous joy. She could see him as he truly was now, radiant with otherworldly light, haloes like golden discs shining about his hands. She could see him!

Later, as they chewed strips of raw venison in a breezy stand of poplars, he turned to her and in her native tongue of Nymbricani said, “You understand.”

Serwë nods, and answers that she is to be Kellhus’s wife, and Kellhus promises her that it will be soon.

That afternoon, after crossing a valley, they catch glimpse of pursuers. Cnaiür leads them on, telling the group that these pursuers will not stop till they hunt them down. Their only advantage is reaching the plains ahead and using their extra mounts by running them to death and reach the Holy War ahead of their pursuers.

They ride until it is too dark to see, then lead their horses on foot. Serwë finds the pace almost more than she can handle. At dawn, they are able to ride their horses again and gallop over pastures. Serwë finds it exhilarating. They enter cultivated lands, passing slaves working in fields and small villas were minor nobles lived. They rode down roads know, passing teamsters who cursed at them and forcing people to dive out of their way or be trampled.

At mid-afternoon, they stop and Serwë falls off her horse in exhaustion. Cnaiür curses and Serwë looks behind them to see a dust cloud trailing them. Cnaiür asks Kellhus what he sees, and Kellhus says the same sixty-eight men, except know they have different horses. Cnaiür didn’t expect them to get remounts and asks Kellhus if they could take them at night. Kellhus is unsure, but says they should press their lead and continue riding.

They continue riding into twilight when Serwë’s horse, “her prize for having killed the scarred man” dies and she falls hard to the ground. Cnaiür urges them to abandon Serwë. To their pursuers she’s just stolen property. Kellhus, however, will not leave her.

This is not like you, Dûnyain… Not like you at all.”

Perhaps,” she heard Kellhus say, his voice now very close and very gentle. Hands cupped her cheeks.

Kellhus . . . No blue babies.

No blue babies, Serwë. Our child will be pink and alive.

But she’ll be safer—”

Darkness, and dreams of a great, shadowy race across heathen lands.

Serwë regains conscience on Kellhus’s horse, her hands tied around his waist. The three are still being chased. She looks around and realizes they have no spare mounts and the Kidruhil were closer. Cnaiür cries out a warning, as another group of horseman force the three to ride up a hill.

Three horseman erupt from some trees to intercept them, one felled by Cnaiür’s bow. A second hurls a javelin at Kellhus who easily catches it out of the air and throws it back, killing the man. The third raised a sword and prepared to attack Kellhus, but was disemboweled by the faster Dûnyain.

At the top of the hill, they find a sharp drop and abandon the horses and they skid down the drop. At the bottom, Serwë hits hard and is surprised by Cnaiür concern when he gently helps her up and asks if she’s fine. Kellhus is the last down and reports that they won’t follow them down the slope. Cnaiür fears that others have already started to go around the hill and Serwë begins to panic because they have no horses, now.

Kellhus knelt before her, his heavenly face blotting out the sun. Once again she could see his halo, the shimmering gold that marked him apart from all other men. He’ll save us! Don’t worry, my sweet, I know He will!

But he said, “Serwë, when they come, I want you to close your eyes.”

But you’re the promise,” she said, sobbing.

Kellhus brushed her cheek, then wordlessly withdrew to take his place at the Scylvendi’s side. She glimpsed flashes of movement beyond them, heard the neigh and snort of fierce warhorses.

A group of horseman, not Kidruhil, burst out of brush and surround them. Each wore mail skirts and had white-and-blue surcoats. Silver war masks cover their faces and Serwë thinks these men are here to save them, “to shelter the promise.” The leader identifies himself as Krijates Iryssas, one of Xinemus’s knights. Iryssas asks, “Have you seen any fugitive criminals about?”

Stunned silence. At last Cnaiür said, “Why do you ask?”

The knight looked askance at his comrades then leaned forward in his saddle. His eyes twinkled. “Because I’m dying for the lack of honest conversation.”

The Scylvendi smiled.

My Thoughts

Serwë has a moment of peace with Kellhus. It seems like Serwë’s lot is improving slightly with Kellhus taking an interest. Sadly, Serwë is suffering some serious Stockholm Syndrome here. She’s even starting to feel pity for Cnaiür.

So, Serwë is pregnant and thinks Kellhus is the father even though this morning was they only time they’ve shared a bed and they didn’t even have sex. Serwë is delusional, but I don’t blame her for wanting the man she loves to be the father than her rapist.

I am wondering how long they’ve been traveling. It doesn’t seem more than a week or two since she was captured. She might just now be missing her period. Seems a little early for her to jump to pregnancy just yet. Unless they’ve been traveling longer.

Gah! Just when she’s thinking she’ll be fine if anyone from the Empire finds her, they do and try to rape her. Their is a great amount irony of Cnaiür, her rapist, asking if the other rapist hurt her. Cnaiür is a dick.

Go Serwë! Stab that asshole. Great description here. The shock hasn’t worn off and she just finds herself killing the guy. By killing the Kidruhil, Cnaiür seems to think of Serwë as Scylvendi now. Its like in his mind she’s one of his wives know. Didn’t know women in Scylvendi could get a swazond. But then, Cnaiür does think outside of the norm for a Scylvendi. I do want to draw attention to what Cnaiür says about the swazond:

The man you have killed is gone from the world, Serwë. He exists only here, a scar upon your arm. It is the mark of his absence, of all the ways his soul will not move, and all the acts he will not commit. A mark of the weight you now bear.”

In light of what we learn in The Great Ordeal about the gods, damnation, and souls, this is a very interesting statement. I won’t say more, but try to remember it when you get to the end of The Great Ordeal and what is seen in through the Judging Eye. It might answer why the person seen is damned more than other men.

Kellhus can even cry on demand. Poor Serwë, now she feels guilty for forcing Kellhus to kill the boy. Don’t, Serwë, don’t. You gave the boy a chance to live, don’t feel guilty about that. You were the only decent human at that camp. Don’t let the Dûnyain take that away from you.

Serwë is amazed that she could not only eat raw fish, but enjoy it. Hunger is the best seasoning, they say. She is a resilient character. She doesn’t complain when she’s hungry, she does her best to keep up. She thinks she is weak, but I see strength in her.

And Serwë now thinks Kellhus is a God. And why not, he seems to read her mind, he’s kind to her. She has contextualized her years of rape and suffering as preparing her for the arrival of Kellhus. Why else was she given the gift to be so beautiful that every man who comes across her, wants her. “She was also something too beautiful for the world.” So convinced is she, that halos appear about his hands. And Kellhus allows this delusion to continue because it most benefit him. Can’t blame Serwë, though. Who doesn’t want to think that their suffering mattered, that all that pain wasn’t in vain.

Kellhus doesn’t want to abandon Serwë, even though it would increase his and Cnaiür chance of success. It’s hard to say what’s going through Kellhus mind right now. He must see some greater advantage with Serwë, unless seeing her tormented night after night by Cnaiür has actually affected him. He was stirred to some emotion in the last chapter and was surprised by it. I’m siding with seeing a greater advantage. After all, she has proven very useful in dealing with Cnaiür. Kellhus is seeing how men view Serwë. And, as we’ll see, Kellhus will use that over and over again.

Don’t know if its Serwë’s concussion or delusion (probably both) that makes her think Kellhus is communicating in her mind with the “our baby will be born pink and alive.”

Kellhus comforts Serwë, an unnecessary thing to do. I think pity has moved Kellhus. Even a Dûnyain doesn’t see a way out of their predicament. There’s just too many hunters. And then they are saved by Xinemus’s men. Even by proxy, Xinemus continues to be awesome. This was quite an exciting chapter. Luckily for them, the Man of the Tusk really hate the Nansur Empire.

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 4
The Warrior
Chapter 13
The Hethanta Mountains

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

Even the hard-hearted avoid the heat of desperate men. For the bonfires of the weak crack the most stone.

Conriyan Proverb

So who were the heroes and the cravens of the Holy War? There are already songs enough to answer that question. Needless to say, the Holy War provided further violent proof of Ajencis’s old proverb, “Though all men be equally frail before the world, the differences between them are terrifying.”

Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the Holy War

My Thoughts

Stay away from people who are desperate. They will do stupid stuff and drag you down with them. It’s a good Proverb. These Conriyan are full of good advise. Of course, it is a warning to Kellhus, too. Cnaiür is a desperate man. Will Cnaiür crack Kellhus’s hearthstone and ruin everything? By the end of the chapter, Kellhus has plenty of reasons to kill Cnaiür, but stays his hand.

Achamian quote is obviously about the politics behind the Holy War, the differences between Cnaiür and Kellhus are terrifying to Cnaiür (and me). Glad I don’t have to deal with a Dûnyain.

Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the Central Jiünati Steppe

Cnaiür and Kellhus encounter fewer tribesman then they would have before the disaster of Kiyuth. Those they do encounter are typically made up of youths. As they travel, Kellhus presses Cnaiür for information on Shimeh. Cnaiür informs him it is a holy city to the Inrithi but the Fanim captured it. The Fanim believe it is their mission to the destroy the Tusk and thus have been at war with the Nansur Empire for many years. Cnaiür tells Kellhus of when he lead the Utemot in battle against the Fanim at Zirkirta to the south.

Kellhus asks about the Tusk and Cnaiür explains it is the first scripture of Men and the Scylvendi followed it before the birth of Lokung, the Scylvendi’s now dead god. Kellhus asks about Lokung, and Cnaiür reveals that Lokung is the Scylvendi name for the No-God. Kellhus then asks if the Fanim will tolerate their presence. Cnaiür thinks that he is unsure because of the Holy War. The Fanim were supposedly very tolerant of Inrithi pilgrims to Shimeh before the Holy War. Because of this, Cnaiür has chosen to head to the Nansur Empire to learn more about the situation instead of striking southeast across the Steppes to Kian. Cnaiür tells Kellhus that Fanim are tolerant of pilgrims.

As they travel, Cnaiür constantly thinks of murdering Kellhus in his sleep, but fears he would never find Moënghus without him. Occasionally, Kellhus would break the silence by asking about sorcery, and Cnaiür, thinking it was harmless to speak of, would indulge Kellhus. After a few days, Cnaiür realized that Kellhus used the subject of sorcery to carefully guide the conversation to more important topics.

That night, Cnaiür tries to murder Kellhus but a “paroxysms of self-doubt and fury” seized him and he went back to his blankets. Weeks pass like this when they encounter the camp of that Akkunihor tribe in the shadow of the Hethanta Mountains. Xunnurit, King-of-the-Tribes, was the Chief of the Akkunihor. The camp was abandoned, dead. Kellhus asks what happened, and Cnaiür states “Ikurei Conphas.”

Then, with unaccountable certainty, he realized that Kellhus would kill him.

The mountains were looming, and the Steppe swept out behind them. Behind them. The son of Moënghus no longer needed him.

He’ll kill me while I sleep.

No. Such a thing could not happen. Not after traveling so far, after enduring so much! He must use the son to find the father. It was the only way!

We must cross the Hethantas,” he declared, pretending to survey the desolate yaksh.

They look formidable,” Kellhus replied.

They are . . . But I know the shortest way.”

They camped in an abandoned yaksh and Cnaiür ignored Kellhus and pondered his circumstances and question his own motives. He realizes how foolish it is to use a Dûnyain and crawls out into the Steppes to cry and beat the earth in fury while howls of wolves seemed to mock him.

Afterward, he put his lips to the earth and breathed. He could feel him listening from somewhere out there. He could feel him knowing.

What did he see?

It did not matter. The fire burned and it had to be fed.

On lies if need be.

Because the fire burned true. The fire alone.

So cold against swollen eyes. The Steppe. The trackless Steppe.

The next morning, they enter the foothills and encounter a group of Scylvendi returning from pilgrimage. A group breaks off to ride towards them while others guard a group of captives. Unlike other groups, these are young men, not youths, of the Munuäti tribe. Cnaiür remembers the Munuäti being decimated by the Imperial Saik. Their leader appears arrogant and Kellhus warns he “sees us as an opportunity to prove himself.”

Cnaiür tells Kellhus to be quite. The man introduces himself as Panteruth urs Mutkius and is distrustful of Cnaiür. He tells him there are rumors of Scylvendi spies for the Empire, which explains how they were defeated. An argument ensues and the man mocks Cnaiür. Cnaiür strikes Panteruth and then a fight breaks out.

Some charge at them while others fire arrows which Kellhus easily swats out of the sky. Cnaiür draws his own bow and uses his horse as cover and fires back while Kellhus faces eight charging Munuäti. Cnaiür momentarily thinks Kellhus is dead but Kellhus kills all of them. In the end, Cnaiür and Kellhus killed or incapacitated all the Munuäti save one who prepares to charge Kellhus.

Leaning into his lance, the horseman howled, giving voice to the Steppe’s fury through the thud of galloping hoofs. He knows, Cnaiür thought. Knows he’s about to die.

As he watched, the Dûnyain caught the iron tip of the man’s lance with his sword, guiding it to turf. The lance snapped, jerking the Munuäti back against his high cantle, and the Dûnyain leapt, impossibly throwing a sandaled foot over the horse’s head and kicking the rider square in the face. The man plummeted to the grasses, where his leathery tumble was stilled by the Dûnyain’s sword.

What manner of man. .?

Anasûrimbor Kellhus paused over the corpse, as though committing it to memory. Then he turned to Cnaiür. Beneath wind-tossed hair, streaks of blood scored his face, so that for a moment he possessed the semblance of expression. Beyond him, the dark escarpments of the Hethantas piled into the sky.

Cnaiür kills the wounded until only Panteruth is left. Cnaiür beats him and yells at him. “Spies! … A woman’s excuse!” Cnaiür beats and kicks the man, who weeps and cries out in pain before Cnaiür chokes the life out of the man. Kellhus watches and realizes that Cnaiür is mad. When Cnaiür finishes, Kellhus tells him the captives are all women. Cnaiür states that the women is “our prize.”

Serwë, one of the female captives, begs for Cnaiür’s help as he approaches. The other women huddled in fear behind her. Cnaiür just slaps her to the ground. Cnaiür and Kellhus make camp and Cnaiür claims Serwë as his prize because she reminds him of Anissi.

Kellhus feels a sense of outrage as he watches Cnaiür rape Serwë and wonders from what darkness the emotion came from. Kellhus believes something is happening to him. Kellhus observes that Serwë has suffered much and has learned to hide it. He watches as Cnaiür speaks to her in a foreign language that sounds like a threat. Then Cnaiür frees her.

You’ve freed her, then?” Kellhus asked, knowing this was not the case.

No. She bears different chains now.” After a moment he added, “Women are easy to break.”

He does not believe this.

Kellhus asks what language they spoke, and Cnaiür answers, Sheyic, the language of the Nansur Empire. Cnaiür says he questioned Serwë about the state of the Empire and learned that there is a Holy War against the Fanim to retake Shimeh. Kellhus instantly wonders if this is why his father summoned him. Kellhus asks what’s Serwë’s name. “I didn’t ask,” answers Cnaiür.

That night, as Cnaiür and Kellhus slumber, Serwë grabs a knife and goes to kill Cnaiür but is stopped by Kellhus who disarms her and pulls her away. He tells her his name and she replies with her own and starts to cry as he covers her gently with a blanket. She falls a sleep sobbing.

The next morning, Serwë’s continues to feel the dread she’s felt since she was capture by the Munuäti. She’s even more scared with Cnaiür. She felt utterly alone and thought her Gods had abandoned her. She watches Cnaiür walk to the other women, who, like Serwë, came from the Gaunum household. The women begin to plead with Cnaiür, including wives of several nobles who had hated Serwë. One had an ugly bruise on her face and asked Serwë to tell Cnaiür that she was beautiful. Serwë pretended not to hear, too scared.

Cnaiür draws his knife and the women think he means to kill them. He uses his knife to pry open their manacles and sets them free. He tells the women that others will find them and that he will shoot any who follow. Now the women begin to beg for him to stay. Others are envious that Serwë was staying with the Scylvendi and Serwë felt glad.

Barastas’s wife marched forward, shrieking at Serwë to stay, that she owns her, and Cnaiür causally fires an arrow and kills her. Serwë feels a surge of terror and thinks she might vomit.

During the day, Serwë passed the time talking to Kellhus, who seemed to exude trust to her. She that she was a Nymbricani and was sold as a concubine to a the Nansur House of Gaunum. The wives of the Gaunum nobles were jealous of her beauty and how they strangled her first child when it was born. She was told “Blue babies… That’s all you’ll ever bear, child.” After three days, Kellhus had mastered Sheyic, a tongue that took Serwë several years to learn. At night, Serwë belonged to the Scylvendi.

She could not fathom the relationship between these two men, though she pondered it often, understanding that her fate somehow lay between them. Initially, she’d assumed that Kellhus was the Scylvendi’s slave, but this was not the case. The Scylvendi, she eventually realized, hated the Norsirai, even feared him. He acted like someone trying to preserve himself from ritual pollution.

At first this insight thrilled her. You fear! she would silently howl at the Scylvendi’s back. You’re no different from me! No more than I am!

But then it began to trouble her—deeply. Feared by a Scylvendi? What kind of man is feared by a Scylvendi?

She dared ask the man himself.

Because I’ve come,” Kellhus had replied, “to do dreadful work.”

Serwë begins to wonder why Kellhus doesn’t take her from the Scylvendi, but she knew the reason. “She was Serwë. She was nothing.” A lesson she learned early on. She had a happy childhood. Her parents, particularly her mother, doted on her. When she was fourteen, her father sold her as a slave to the Gaunum family, and she had much of her delusions knocked out of her. Her life as a concubine was full of anxiety, she was trapped between the wives, who hated her beauty, and the husbands who lusted for her. She begin to take pride in seducing the husbands. It was all that was left to her.

Once, she was taken to Peristus’s bed with his wife. Peristus’s wife was an ugly woman and Peristus was using Serwë to get him ready to impregnate his wife. Serwë, out of spite, excited Peristus too much and stole his seed. She became pregnant, and Peristus’s wife spent the entire pregnancy tormenting her about her child’s impending death. She went to Peristus who just slapped her for bothering him. Serwë prayed to the gods for mercy but her child was “born blue.”

Serwë begin to pray for vengeance on the Gaunum, and a year later all the men rode off to join the Holy War. Then the Scylvendi raided the villa, and she learned a new level of suffering with the Munuäti. It filled her with outrage.

Despite all her vanities and all her peevish sins, she meant something. She was something. She was Serwë, daughter of Ingaera, and she deserved far more than what had been given. She would have dignity, or she would die hating.

But her courage had come at a horrible time. She had tried not to weep. She had tried to be strong. She had even spit in the face of Panteruth, the Scylvendi who claimed her as his prize. But Scylvendi were not quite human. They looked down on all outlanders as though from the summit of some godless mountain, more remote than the most brutal of the Patridomos’s sons. They were Scylvendi, the breakers-of-horses-and-men, and she was Serwë.

But she had clung to the word—somehow. And watching the Munuäti die at the hands of these two men, she had dared rejoice, had dared believe she would be delivered. At last, justice!

When Cnaiür raped her after killing the Munuäti, Serwë realized that there was no justice, just the whim of powerful men. Serwë thought she was nothing, that was why everyone hurt her. Even Kellhus abandoned her at night.

After crossing the Hethantas, Cnaiür confronts Kellhus, telling him he brought him to the Empire to kill him. Kellhus asks if Cnaiür actually wants to be killed by Kellhus. Kellhus had known for days that Cnaiür feared that Kellhus would kill him once they crossed the mountains. If Cnaiür could not kill the father, he would settle for the son. Crossing the Empire with a Scylvendi will just get them killed and Cnaiür knows there is nothing but the mission for a Dûnyain.

Such penetration. Hatred, but pleated by an almost preternatural cunning. Cnaiür urs Skiötha was dangerous. . . Why should he suffer his company?

Because Cnaiür still knew this world better than he. And more important, he knew war. He was bred to it.

I have use for him still.

Kellhus knows now he must join the Holy War to reach Shimeh. Kellhus doesn’t know enough about war to properly harness it and needs a tutor. Kellhus points out to Cnaiür his father has had thirty years to build his power base. Kellhus has need of a man who is as immune to Moënghus’s methods. Cnaiür thinks Kellhus is trying to lull him into lowering his guard.

Kellhus decides to demonstrate his skill and attacks Cnaiür with his sword. Serwë cheers for Kellhus to kill him as the pair trade blows. At the right moment, Kellhus grabbed Cnaiür sword arm but is not quick enough to stop Cnaiür landing a punch to Kellhus’s face, and he realized he misjudged Cnaiür reflexes. Kellhus drops his sword and catches Cnaiür blade between his hands and disarms him. Then Kellhus proceeds to beat him on the ground on the ledge of a cliff. Kellhus subdues Cnaiür and holds him out over the edge.

Do it!” Cnaiür gasped through snot and spittle. His feet swayed over nothingness.

So much hatred.

But I spoke true, Cnaiür. I do need you.”

The Scylvendi’s eyes rounded in horror. Let go, his expression said. For that way lies peace. And Kellhus realized he’d misjudged the Scylvendi yet again.

He’d thought him immune to the trauma of physical violence when he was not. Kellhus had beaten him the way a husband beats his wife or a father his child. This moment would dwell within him forever, in the way of both memories and involuntary cringes. Yet more degradation for him to heap on the fire.

Kellhus hoisted him to safety and let him drop. Another trespass.

Serwë is weeping because Kellhus spared Cnaiür. Kellhus asks Cnaiür if he believes him now. Cnaiür finally answer that Kellhus thinks he needs him. Kellhus is perplexed and thinks Cnaiür becomes more erratic. Cnaiür points out that he is a heathen, no better than a Fanim. Kellhus tells him to pretend to convert. “…the Inrithi think they are the chosen ones… Lies that flatter are rarely disbelieved.” Cnaiür points out the Nansur won’t care.

Kellhus doesn’t understand Cnaiür reluctance to find Moënghus, and then Kellhus realizes that Cnaiür despaired and had abandoned hope. Kellhus had missed this. He momentarily contemplates disposing of Cnaiür but knows he must posses the Holy War to succeed, but he would need instruction on how to properly wield it and thinks the odds of finding someone else with Cnaiür experience are slim. For now, he will stay this course unless crossing the Empire with a Scylvendi proves to difficult. Kellhus tells him their story, that Cnaiür is the last of his tribe who found Kellhus, a prince traveling from Atrithau to join the Holy War.

Though Cnaiür now understood, even appreciated, the path laid for him, Kellhus knew that the debate raged within him still. How much would the man bear to see his father’s death avenged?

The Utemot chieftain wiped a bare forearm across his mouth and nose. He spat blood. “A prince of nothing,” he said.

The next morning, the trio finds the spiked Scylvendi’s heads that Conphas had lined the road to Momemn with. Serwë urges Kellhus to kill Cnaiür before the Nansur find them and Kellhus tells her that she mustn’t betray them. Serwë would never betray Kellhus, who she has fallen in love with. Kellhus tells her she must suffer and she weeps bitterly. Cnaiür tells her “Hold tight this moment, women… it will be your only measure of this man.”

Cnaiür gestures to the road line with spiked heads and says, “This is the way to Momemn.”

My Thoughts

Fanim are tolerant of Inrithi pilgrims. I bet the economy of Shimeh is dependent on these wealthy Inrithi coming to Shimeh, buying supposedly holy trinkets. Even in horribly dysfunctional fantasy worlds its funny to think the tourist trap exists, and that it bridges religious differences. Historically, Muslims have been tolerant of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Lands at times.

Kellhus relates his encounter with the Nonman from the prologue, trying to learn everything he can about sorcery. However, Cnaiür is so distrustful of Kellhus that even when Kellhus tells a true story, Cnaiür doesn’t believe him. Kellhus, this is the same problem people have with politicians. I just assume there lying whenever they speak, which is the same policy one should take with a Dûnyain.

What do you see?” is a question Cnaiür asks himself as he studies Kellhus. This is a significant question. In one of Achamian’s dreams, he relives the Battle of Mengedda (taking place on the same plain where the Vulgar Holy War was destroyed). Here, the No-God was struck down and defeated 2000 years ago. The No-God, through the mouths of thousands of Srancs, asks “What do you see?” It’s a mystery that Bakker hasn’t yet revealed (though I’m hoping the Great Ordeal coming out Tuesday, July 12th will hold answers). When Cnaiür asks this question several times and it pops out of me.

When they approach the mountains, Cnaiür suddenly realizes his danger. Cnaiür is right, once his usefulness is over, Kellhus will discard him. However, Cnaiür, just because Kellhus doesn’t need you doesn’t mean he’ll kill you. However, given how much Dûnyain philosophy that Cnaiür knows, it might be a safe bet. It is great how he use Dûnyain Logos to continue his usefulness by pointing out Kellhus still doesn’t know the paths through the mountains. “I know the shortest way.”

But Cnaiür is beginning to crack beneath the pressure. His outburst in the raided village will not be the first time he screams and gibbers. It’s no wonder Kellhus has trouble understanding Cnaiür. He is irrational, which is what makes him such a great foil to the Dûnyain.

The name Ikurei Conphas stirs nothing in Cnaiür know. He has abandoned his people for vengeance. He is focused on killing Moënghus even as he lost all hope that he’ll succeed.

When they enter the foothills, Cnaiür thinks of it as Dûnyain country because anything could be concealed around the corner but one might also climb a summit and see. It’s a nice analogy that is proven right as they wonder right into the hostile Munuäti.

Cnaiür’s battle madness and Kellhus’s inhuman Dûnyain training allow the pair to destroy the Munuäti. Another thing to note, it is a staple among fantasy that the nomad/barbarian archetype has a great bond with their mount. Cnaiür never names his horses and here uses his horse as cover. It is wounded by an arrow and no doubt put down or left to roam wounded on the plain. In the next chapter, we’ll see the practicality again. Horses, while important to the Scylvendi, are still just tools to be used and discarded when they break. Cnaiür has no fear in the battle. As we see later on in the chapter, Cnaiür has a death wish. When Cnaiür beats Panteruth, he starts to beat him more harshly for crying. Cnaiür is beating Panteruth for displaying Cnaiür’s own perceived weakness, that he cries.

Poor Serwë. Your life sucks. I’m so sorry.

Kellhus, its called compassion. That’s what you feel when you watch Serwë’s rape. Maybe embrace this feeling of caring for others instead of being a damned robot. We are starting to see these little bits of humanity in Kellhus, particularly with Serwë. Also note how Cnaiür says Kellhus thinks he needs him.

Kellhus instantly recognizes that the Holy War and his summons are not a coincidence.

As Serwë works up the nerve to kill Cnaiür she remembers his warning, “If you leave, I will hunt you, girl. As sure as the earth, I will find you… Hurt you as you have never been hurt.” It gives her the courage to attempt to kill him. Shame Kellhus stopped her. Kellhus begins his work on Serwë that very night. Don’t be fooled, Serwë, the man will use you and discard you. Yes, he might have some vestigial outrage at your rape, but notice he does nothing to intervene.

The other captives are faced with a terrible choice. To be abandoned in the wilderness or staying with your rapist. Living is better than dieing, even if that life isn’t very great. Interesting that the only one Serwë names is a fellow concubine, the other’s she just thinks of as So-and-so’s wife.

Wow, starting not to feel so bad for Barastas’s wife now after Cnaiür followed through on his threat and killed her. Not cool killing babies. All Serwë known her entire life is rape. Sold by her father to be a concubine, which is nothing more than sex slave. No wonder Serwë is a little glad that they got left behind, up until Cnaiür put an arrow through Barastas’s wife’s throat.

You are worth something Serwë!

The Cnaiür-Kellhus throw down is a great fight. Cnaiür holds his own for a while and even lands a blow, much to Kellhus surprise. In the end, Kellhus pulls off the ninja blade catch, which Mythbusters had a great episode on. It also is a reference to the D&D class, Monk, which Kellhus is so clearly represents from the way he can catch arrows (another ability) to his superb martial arts.

Serwë has fallen in love with Kellhus so the Dûnyain seduction is well underway. Now, Kellhus is starting to get her to understand that being raped nightly by Cnaiür is important and that there is a promise at the end of it. She is still bitter that he won’t rescue her from the Sclyvendi. Cnaiür even tries to warn her about Kellhus, letting her know that tears is all she’ll really get from the man. Poor Serwë. She’s trapped between two despicable men.

Click here to continue onto Chapter Fourteen.

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