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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Twelve

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 4
The Warrior
Chapter 12
The Jiünati Steppe

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

I have explained how Maithanet yoked the vast resources of the Thousand Temples to ensure the viability of the Holy War. I have described, in outline, the first steps taken by the Emperor to bind the Holy War to his imperial ambitions. I have attempted to reconstruct the initial reaction of the Cishaurim in Shimeh from their correspondence with the Padirajah in Nenciphon. And I have even mentioned the hated Consult, of whom I can at long last speak without fear of ridicule. I have spoken, in other words, almost exclusively of powerful factions and their impersonal ends. What of vengeance? What of hope? Against the frame of competing nations and warring faiths, how did these small passions come to rule the Holy War?

Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the Holy War

…though he consorts with man, woman, and child, though he lays with beasts and makes a mockery of his seed, never shall he be as licentious as the philosopher, who lays with all things imaginable.

Inri Sejenus, Scholars, 36, 21, The Tractate

My Thoughts

So, eventually the knowledge that the Consult is back must common knowledge, else Achamian wouldn’t be fearful of speaking of them without ridicule. While this passage is foreshadowing for the events to come we should ask why Bakker put it here. At no point is the Consult discussed. So why does Bakker reveal the consult is unmasked. Who does it. Well, this chapter reintroduces Kellhus. Our young man who is descended from kings and setting out on a traditional Campbellian hero’s journey. Only he’s not an innocent youth but a cold, calculating, unemotional man. A man who sees far more keenly than “world-born men.”

The Tractate is like the New Testament to the Tusk’s Old Testament. Apparently, Inri does not like philosophers. There is something to what he says about philosophers, but they are trying to tackle the great mysteries and truths of life, logic, morality, religion, society, etc. Inri makes it sound distasteful, and Bakker seems to be saying that religion and philosophy are mutually exclusive, or, I should say, between rigid, fundamental thoughts and asking questions and seeking answers wherever those thoughts lead. Which provides a parallel in the chapter on how the Dûnyain work and how Cnaiür is seduced into betraying his father.

Early Spring, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Northern Jiünati Steppe

Cnaiür is riding across the steppes north of the Utemot camp. Since the disaster at Kiyuth, the Utemot have become a “thin people.” They lost more men then their neighboring tribes and while Cnaiür had accomplished much, the Utemot are still close to extinction.

On the horizon, Cnaiür spots a vulture circling in the air and goes to investigate what has died. He finds a dead man, felled by arrows, and signs that Sranc had killed the man. But they did not have a chance to mutilate his corpse. Cnaiür examines the body and sees it is a blond Norsirai but learns nothing else.

He follows the tracks and finds another dead man, murdered in Sranc fashion, strangled by his own bowels. Cnaiür continues on and finds a dead Sranc at the base of the large barrow where Utemot chieftans are buried. When Sranc die they become “rigid as stone.” This one was felled by a Sranc weapon. Cnaiür grows more confused. The summit of the barrow is covered in vultures, and Cnaiür begins to climb. At the summit, Cnaiür finds the summit covered by corpses of Sranc.

The last stand of a single man. An impossible stand.

The survivor sat cross-legged on the barrow summit, his forearms resting against his knees, his head bowed beneath the shining disc of the sun. The Steppe’s pale lines framed him.

No animal possesses senses as keen as those of vultures; within moments they began croaking in alarm, scooping the wind in great ragged wings. The survivor lifted his head, watching them take flight. Then, as though his senses were every bit as keen as a vulture’s, he turned to Cnaiür.

Cnaiür could discern very little of his face. Long, heavy-featured but aquiline. Blue eyes, perhaps, but that simply followed from his blond hair.

Yet with horror Cnaiür thought, I know this man…

Cnaiür is stunned with disbelief. He recognizes the man and raises his sword. “Bloodied, pale, but it was him. A nightmare made flesh.” The man calmly studies Cnaiür. Cnaiür advances, sticks the point of his sword into the man’s throat. “You are Dûnyain,” Cnaiür states. The man continues his study of Cnaiür, then passes out from blood loss. Cnaiür, bewildered, realizes where he stands, the hill was his father’s barrow.

Later, Cnaiür lies in bed with Anissi, “the first wife of his heart.” Anissi is reporting to Cnaiür what the man, now revealed to be Kellhus the son of Moënghus, said to her. Kellhus had set out from Atrithau with followers.

A pang of apprehension clutched his heart. Followers. He is the same . . . He possesses men the way his father once possessed—

What does it matter,” Anissi asked, “the identity of dead men?”

It matters.” Everything mattered when it came to the Dûnyain.

Kellhus revealed he is looking for his father and Cnaiür hopes to use Kellhus to find Moënghus to get revenge, to see him die at his feet the way his father, Skiötha, died at Moënghus. Cnaiür is fearful of Kellhus possessing him like Moënghus did once.

Cnaiür remembers when he was sixteen and Anasûrimbor Moënghus was found on the steppes, captured by a band of Sranc. He was “rescued” by the Utemot and made a slave, given to Skiötha as tribute. For several weeks, Moënghus played the role as slave perfectly and only revealed himself on when Cnaiür returned from the Rite-of-the-Spring-Wolf, an Utemot coming of age ritual. Cnaiür was light-headed from blood loss and collapsed and Moënghus stanched his bleeding.

You’ve killed the wolf,” the slave said, drawing him up from the dust. The shadowy encampment swam about Moënghus’s face, and yet his glistening eyes seemed as fixed and immovable as the Nail of Heaven. In his anguish, Cnaiür found a shameful reprieve in those outland eyes—sanctuary.

Thrusting aside the man’s hands, he croaked, “But it didn’t happen as it should.”

Moënghus nodded. “You have killed the wolf.”

You have killed the wolf.

Those words captured Cnaiür. The next day, as Cnaiür recoveres from his wounds, Moënghus returns and abandons all pretense of being a slave. Cnaiür is outraged that a slave would look him in the eye and beat him. All the while, forgiveness shows in Moënghus’s eyes. The second time Moënghus look Cnaiür in the eye, Cnaiür beat Moënghus badly and was shamed by how he reacted.

Only years afterward would he understand how those beatings had bound him to the outlander. Violence between men fostered an unaccountable intimacy—Cnaiür had survived enough battlefields to understand that. By punishing Moënghus out of desperation, Cnaiür had demonstrated need. You must be my slave. You must belong to me! And by demonstrating need, he’d opened his heart, had allowed the serpent to enter.

The third time Moënghus matched his gaze, Cnaiür did not reach for his stick. Instead he asked: “Why? Why do you provoke me?”

Because you, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, are more than your kinsmen. Because you alone can understand what I’ve to say.”

Cnaiür was captured fully and Moënghus begin to teach him about the Logos. Moënghus carefully leads Cnaiür to the realization that the traditions of his people limit them, they there are more than one way to accomplish something.

The ways of the People, he’d been told, were as immutable and as sacred as the ways of the outlanders were fickle and degenerate. But why? Weren’t these ways simply different trails used to reach similar destinations? What made the Scylvendi way the only way, the only track an upright man might follow? And how could this be when the trackless Steppe dwelt, as the memorialists said, in all things Scylvendi?

For the first time Cnaiür saw his people through the eyes of an outsider. How strange it all seemed! The hilarity of skin dyes made from menstrual blood. The uselessness of the prohibitions against bedding virgins unwitnessed, against the right-handed butchering of cattle, against defecating in the presence of horses. Even the ritual scars on their arms, their swazond, seemed flimsy and peculiar, more a mad vanity than a hallowed sign.

Cnaiür learned to ask “why.” Moënghus teaches him on the trackless steppes there are “no crime, no transgression, no sin save foolishness or incompetence, and no obscenity save the tyranny of custom.” Moënghus asks what Cnaiür wants more than anything and Cnaiür wants to become a great chieftain. Moënghus promises this to Cnaiür, “I shall show you a track like no other,” and seduces the youth. Months later, Skiötha was dead, Cnaiür was chief, and Moënghus was free to continue his journey.

Two seasons later, his mother gave birth to a blonde girl and was murdered by the other women for adultery Cnaiür realizes that Moënghus seduced his mother to get access to himself and that he was used as a knife to win Moënghus his freedom. Cnaiür is stunned by Moënghus’s betrayal and that Moënghus never loved Cnaiür.

In bed, Anissi breaks Cnaiür from his reminiscing, asking him why he refuses to see Kellhus. Cnaiür replies that the man has great power. Anissi tells Cnaiür she has senses his power and is both frightened by Kellhus and by Cnaiür. Cnaiür demands to know why he frightens her.

I fear him because already he speaks our tongue as well as any slave of ten years. I fear him because his eyes . . . do not seem to blink. He has already made me laugh, made me cry.”

Silence. Scenes flashed through his thoughts, a string of broken and breaking images. He stiffened against the mat, tensed his limbs against her softness.

I fear you,” she continued, “because you’ve told me this would happen. Each of these things you knew would happen. You know this man, and yet you’ve never spoken to him.”

She reports that Kellhus asks why Cnaiür waits. Cnaiür asks if she has said anything about him to Kellhus, and she says she hasn’t. Cnaiür realizes that Kellhus sees him through Anissi’s actions. Anissi thinks Kellhus is a sorcerer. Cnaiür disagrees: “No. He is less. And he’s more.”

The next day, Cnaiür finally meets with Kellhus, who has already mastered the Sclyvendi language. Cnaiür tells Kellhus his wives think he’s a witch and tosses a Chorae at Kellhus who catches it and asks what it is. Cnaiür replies it kills witches, a git from “our God.” Kellhus asks if Cnaiür fears him.

I fear nothing.”

No response. A pause to reconsider ill-chosen words.

No,” the Dûnyain finally said. “You fear many things.”

Cnaiür clamped his teeth. Again. It was happening again! Words like levers, shoving him backward over a trail of precipices. Rage fell through him like fire through choked halls. A scourge.

Cnaiür tells Kellhus that he knows that Kellhus had learned much about him from his wives. Cnaiür tells him he knows exactly who he is and Cnaiür will be purposefully random. Cnaiür tells Kellhus to explain his purpose and what he’s learned since arriving or Cnaiür will have him executed.

Kellhus has deduced his father passed through here and committed a crime and Cnaiür seeks revenge. Kellhus knows that Cnaiür wishes to use him to this end. Cnaiür is trouble by this then becomes suspicious. Kellhus continues, saying Cnaiür fears that Kellhus is catering to his exceptions, like Moënghus did. Cnaiür becomes angry and decides to act like a Sranc and has Kellhus tortured till he appears to break. Cnaiür believes it to be an act.

After the torture, Cnaiür interrogates Kellhus again, starting out by telling Kellhus he doesn’t believe he has been broken, that Dûnyain can’t be broken. Kellhus agrees and says his mission is all that matters. He has been sent to kill Moënghus.

Silence, save for a gentle southern wind.

The outlander continued: “Now the dilemma is wholly yours, Scylvendi. Our missions would seem to be the same. I know where and, more important, how to find Anasûrimbor Moënghus. I offer you the very cup you desire. Is it poison or no?”

Dare he use the son?

It’s always poison,” Cnaiür grated, “when you thirst.”

Cnaiür’s wives minister to Kellhus’s wounds and until he recovers. When he and Cnaiür depart, the wives cried but they do not know who they cried for “the man who had mastered them or the man who had known them.” Only Anissi knew.

Cnaiür and Kellhus rode towards the Nansur empire, passing into the Kuöti pastures. The Dûnyain persists in making conversation with Cnaiür, and after several days Cnaiür reluctantly asks what he wants to know, disturbed by Kellhus’s flawless Scylvendi. Out here on the steppes, Cnaiür no longer had his wives to act as intermediaries. “Now he was alone with a Dûnyain, and he could imagine no greater danger.”

Earlier that day they met with a band of Kuöti Scylvendi, and Kellhus is curious why they were allowed to pass unmolested. Cnaiür explains that it is custom to raid the empire for “slaves. For plunder. But for worship, most of all.” The Scylvendi’s God was murdered and the Scylvendi worship by killing men of the Three Seas who slew their God. Cnaiür regrets talking, knowing silence is his greatest ally. Kellhus persists, and Cnaiür asks why Kellhus has been sent to kill his father.

Kellhus declines to answer and instead asks how his father crossed the Steppe alone after leaving Utemot. Cnaiür explains that Moënghus scarred his arms in secret, dyed his hair, and shaved his beard. After that, it was easy for him to pretend he was on pilgrimage This is why Cnaiür has denied Kellhus access to clothing. Kellhus asks who gave Moënghus the dye and Cnaiür answers he did.

I was possessed!” he snarled. “Possessed by a demon!”

Indeed,” Kellhus replied, turning back to him. There was compassion in his eyes, but his voice was stern, like that of a Scylvendi. “My father inhabited you.”

And Cnaiür found himself wanting to hear what the man would say. You can help me. You are wise . . .

Again! The witch was doing it again! Redirecting his discourse. Conquering the movements of his soul. He was like a snake probing for opening after opening. Weakness after weakness. Begone from my heart!

Cnaiür asks again why Kellhus was sent to kill his father. Cryptically, Kellhus says because Moënghus summoned him. He explains how the Dûnyain have hid for two thousand years. When Kellhus was a child, a Sranc warband found them. After they were destroyed, Moënghus was sent into the wilderness to find out if others knew about them. When he returned, he was deemed contaminated and banished. Then he sent dreams, used sorcery. The “purity of our isolation had been polluted,” so Kellhus was sent to kill him. Cnaiür doesn’t believe him.

The Dûnyain,” Kellhus said after a time, “have surrendered themselves to the Logos, to what you would call reason and intellect. We seek absolute awareness, the self-moving thought. The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before? Only the Logos allows one to mitigate that slavery. Only knowing the sources of thought and action allows us to own our thoughts and our actions, to throw off the yoke of circumstance. And only the Dûnyain possess this knowledge, plainsman. The world slumbers, enslaved by its ignorance. Only the Dûnyain are awake. Moënghus, my father, threatens this.”

Cnaiür still doesn’t believe a son would be sent to kill the father. Kellhus explains that a son’s love for his father “simply deliver us to the darkness, makes us slaves of custom and appetite…” Kellhus does not love his father, and will kill him for his brethren’s mission.

As they talk, Kellhus focuses all his senses on Cnaiür, ignoring the Steppes. Since he had left Ishuäl, the men he encountered were easy to master. 47 left with him from Atrithau and they all died out of love for him. Cnaiür was different. Normally, suspicious men “yielded more than most when they finally gave their trust.” His most devout followers had been doubters at first. But after thirty years of obsession, Cnaiür had figured out several truths of the Dûnyain and was able to avoid Kellhus snare thus far. “He knew too much.” Kellhus tries to figure out Moënghus mistake, and see if he can undo it.

Kellhus realized, he need to make Cnaiür suspicion work for him instead of trying to work around them. “Kellhus saw the Shortest Way. The Logos.” Hesitantly, he apologizes. Defiantly, Cnaiür asks how do you control thoughts like horses. Kellhus is pleased that Cnaiür saw the lie.

What do you mean?” Kellhus asked sharply, as though he were deciding whether to be offended. The tonal cues of the Scylvendi tongue were numerous, subtle, and differed drastically between men and women. Though the plainsman did not realize it, he’d denied Kellhus important tools by restricting him to his wives.

Even now,” Cnaiür barked, “you seek to steer the movements of my soul!”

The faint thrum of his heartbeat. The density of blood in his weathered skin. He’s still uncertain.

Kellhus has realized truth is the best way to deceive “Every man I’ve met, I understand better than he understands himself.” Cnaiür asks how. The Dûnyain have been bred and trained. Kellhus explains that men cannot see where their thoughts and deeds come from. “What comes before determines what comes after.” The puppet strings of men are language, custom, passion, and history and they may be seized.

If he knew how deep I see . . .

How it would terrify them, world-born men, to see themselves through Dûnyain eyes. The delusions and the follies. The deformities.

Kellhus did not see faces, he saw forty-four muscles across bone and the thousands of expressive permutations that might leap from them—a second mouth as raucous as the first, and far more truthful. He did not hear men speaking, he heard the howl of the animal within, the whimper of the beaten child, the chorus of preceding generations. He did not see men, he saw example and effect, the deluded issue of fathers, tribes, and civilizations.

He did not see what came after. He saw what came before.

Cnaiür is stunned by the abilities of the Dûnyain. Cnaiür realizes the logical conclusion that men are slaves to what comes before. Cnaiür is outraged that the Dûnyain use such womanish deception. Kellhus asks if Cnaiür never deceived his foes in battle. Cnaiür objects, those are his enemies, does that make all men the Dûnyain’s enemies. Kellhus is impressed by Cnaiür insight. Kellhus asks, what if all men the Dûnyain’s children and “what father does not rule his yaksh?”

Cnaiür asks if that what they are to him, children and Kellhus answers yes, “How else could my father have used you so effortlessly?” Cnaiür is angry, and Kellhus tells him he wept easily as a child. Kellhus learned this from Anissi, because Cnaiür loves her because “she weathers your torment and still loves.” Cnaiür roars in outrage.

If Cnaiür urs Skiötha suspected Kellhus, then Kellhus would pay the wages of his suspicion. Truth. Unspeakable truth. Either the Scylvendi preserved his self-deception by abandoning his suspicion, thinking Kellhus a mere charlatan whom he need not fear, or he embraced the truth and shared the unspeakable with Moënghus’s son. Either way Kellhus’s mission would be served. Either way Cnaiür’s trust would eventually be secured, be it the trust of contempt or the trust of love.

Kellhus asks if all warrior’s flinch from truth. Cnaiür suddenly calms down and sneers at a Dûnyain telling truth. This was not the response Kellhus wanted, Cnaiür knowledge once again hindered him. Kellhus switches tactics and begins using an analogy of men’s thoughts and the trackless steps.

Cnaiür instantly grows angry, and Kellhus realized his error. Moënghus had used this metaphor. It was a simple strategy but allowed Cnaiür too much insight. Cnaiür is incensed with anger and Kellhus sees murder in his eyes.

By the end of the Steppe. I need him to cross Scylvendi lands, nothing more. If he hasn’t succumbed by the time we reach the mountains, I will kill him.

That night, sitting around the fire, Cnaiür asks why Moënghus summoned him. Kellhus doesn’t know and explains the dreams were images of Shimeh. “A violent contest between peoples.” Cnaiür persists, and Kellhus answers his father is at war, and what “father fails to call on his son in a time of war?” Cnaiür answers, if that son is his enemy, and then asks who Moënghus wars against.

I don’t know,” Kellhus replied, and for instant he almost looked forlorn, like a man who’d wagered all in the shadow of disaster.

Pity? He seeks to elicit pity from a Scylvendi? For a moment Cnaiür almost laughed. Perhaps I have overestimated—But again his instincts saved him.

With his shining knife, Cnaiür sawed off another chunk of amicut, the strips of dried beef, wild herbs, and berries that were the mainstay of their provisions. He stared impassively at the Dûnyain as he chewed.

He wants me to think he’s weak.

My Thoughts

Well its been a bad times for the Utemot. Probably was a bad idea for the Utemot to sacrifice so many of their tribe to try to kill Cnaiür. Just saying, doesn’t seem like it would have been worth it in the long run even if they won at Kiyuth. Oh well, idiots never plan far ahead.

Page 336 of my Kindle edition, Anasûrimbor Kellhus finally renters the story. We’ve been through three whole parts of the book without the series titular character. And we are immediately reminded to the level of skill Kellhus has with the sword by the carpet of dead at the hilltop.

Cnaiür relationship with Anissi is interesting. She is the only one of his wives that Cnaiür cares for. She’s the only one that has the courage to hold him when he weeps in the night. She isn’t afraid of him. While Cnaiür thinks he loves her for her great beauty, as Kellhus rightly points out, she’s the only one that loves the whole of Cnaiür, even the weak one that cries at night.

For a Dûnyain, even degradation was a potent tool—perhaps the most potent.” Cnaiür reflects on how Moënghus used degradation to illicit emotions in his captor. We pity the degraded and find sympathy for them. But we never fear them. We’re not cautious around them but underestimate the. Exactly the way a Dûnyain would want you to feel. A Dûnyain never wants you to see the trap he is fashioning and that most will willingly walk into.

You alone understand.” What a powerful thing for Moënghus, or anyone, to say to teenager. Especially one who’s trying to so hard to fit in with his people. Even as a child, I get the feeling, Cnaiür wasn’t the average Sclyvendi. He cries easily and flinches whenever his dad tries to beat him. Even his coming of age right doesn’t work out for him, though we aren’t told exactly why. Maybe the Cnaiür was disappointed by the hype of the ritual and didn’t find it this transformative experience he was led to believe it to be. Or maybe, he wasn’t supposed to get wounded.

The way Moënghus uses violence to bind Cnaiür to him is interesting. First, it shows Dûnyain commitment to their goals. This is followed up by Moënghus giving Cnaiür a crash course on Nietzsche’s philosophy, leading him slowly off the path of Scylvendi custom into the decadent world of sin and going back to our quote from the Tractate.

And now, a Dûnyain has returned in to Cnaiür’s life. Worst, it is the son of the Moënghus. Cnaiür is uniquely prepared to deal with Kellhus. His obsession has made him a fitting foil to Kellhus and makes their back and forths some of the best philosophical musing you can find in literature. It is verbal fencing at its finest. Or more like Kellhus fencing and dodging Cnaiür claymore. It also shows that, despite Kellhus’s intellect, he can make mistakes. He is not infallible, but there are times he comes close.

Even when a Dûnyain tell you the truth, it’s troubling. He knows the cup is poisoned, but he thirsts for vengeance. He is desperate. Cnaiür can’t decide if Kellhus is speaking the truth. But Cnaiür, in the end, cannot resist the carrot of revenge on Moënghus. Even when you understand how Dûnyain work, they making it so hard not to play into their hands.

When they leave only Anissi know who she cried for, but for which one? While you might hope it is for Cnaiür, she probably weeps for Kellhus. Because he was the man who knew her. Also, Cnaiür is abandoning his people when they are weak and only his reputation is keeping their enemies from destroying them. He is leaving Anissi to rape or murder or both. His need for revenge is greater than even the love for “the first wife of his heart,” let only the responsibility for his people. His drive for revenge consumes him and we shall see where it leads him. Going forward, he hardly spares her a thought, especially after finding a surrogate. He discards everything for his vengeance.

We learn a lot about how the Dûnyain think as Cnaiür and Kellhus spar on the Steppes. Kellhus has his first failure in trying to seduce Cnaiür. The man is to smart and knows to much about how the Dûnyain operate. Moënghus had made a mistake with Cnaiür. Maybe Moënghus figured it wouldn’t matter if some random tribesman knows about the Dûnyain’s methodology. Moënghus is not infallible.

Cnaiür points out something interesting. Moënghus had to know how the Dûnyain would respond to his summons. They would send Kellhus to kill him for two reason, to get rid of Moënghus and by sending Kellhus, there would be no reason for Moënghus to continue bothering them if Kellhus fails to kill him. Moënghus most have a way to convince Kellhus to betray the Dûnyain and aide him in his plan.

We also know Moënghus is in Shimeh and is preparing for a war. He must be a Cishaurim since he knows sorcery and Shimeh is the home of the Cishaurim. The Cishaurim, Mallahet, was a foreigner and despite that had risen to the second highest position in the Cishaurim. He knew of the Holy War before Maithanet ever took power. Coincidentally, Maithanet came from the south, and while he’s too young to be Moënghus, we can’t discount the possibility he was been molded into a weapon by him. It would explain how the Shriah knew of the secret Cishaurim-Scarlet Spire war.

Moënghus should know about how long it would take for Kellhus to reach the Nansur Empire (the most logical route to take to cross the Steppes from Atrithau). Not a coincident that Kellhus is nearing it just as the host of the Holy War gathers at Momemn.

Click here to continue on to Chapter Thirteen!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Ten

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Harlot
Chapter 10
Sumna

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

 How should one describe the terrible majesty of the Holy War? Even then, still unblooded, it was both frightening and wondrous to behold, a great beast whose limbs were composed of entire nations—Galeoth, Thunyerus, Ce Tydonn, Conriya, High Ainon, and the Nansurium—and with the Scarlet Spires as the dragon’s maw, no less. Not since the days of the Ceneian Empire or the Ancient North has the world witnessed such an assembly. Even diseased by politics, it was a thing of awe.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

“Even diseased by politics, it was a thing of awe,” is a great line. A nice passage to set up the Holy war and I do love the “dragon’s maw” line since one of the greatest Angogic Sorceries practiced by the Scarlet Spires is the Dragon’s Maw.

Midwinter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

It is night now since Esmenet left Sumna on her journey to Momemn. At times she is intoxicated by the journey, running through grass and twirling “beneath the Nail of Heaven.” Other times she remembers the nauseating horror of the stranger and his black seed. Shame filled her, not the shame of betraying Achamian (who would understand), but the shame of enjoying her violation.

But not that night. The pleasure had been more intense than any she’d ever experienced. She had felt it. Gasped it. Shuddered it. But she had not owned it. Her body had been notched that night. And it shamed her to fury.

She often grew wet at the thought of his abdomen against her belly. Sometimes she flushed and tensed at the memory of her climaxes. Whoever he was, whatever he was, he had taken her body captive, had seized what was hers and remade it not in his own image, but in the image of what he needed her to be. Infinitely receptive. Infinitely docile. Infinitely gratified.

Esmenet realized that the stranger knew about Inrau and concluded that Inrau did not kill himself. Achamian almost broke thinking Inrau killed himself and this is the most important thing Esmenet needs to tell him. The Consult has appeared and murdered Inrau.

In the morning, she joins a group setting out from a hostel. A short time latter, the band on her sandal snapped and slowed her down. She’s forced to take off the sandal and walk with just a sock on. Soon, her sock is worn ragged and her foot pains her, forcing her to limp and fall farther and farther behind her group until she is alone.

Esmenet was talking the Karian Way to the Pon Way which lead to Momemn. Despite never looking at a map, Esmenet knew from her customers the best way to Momemn. As a prostitute, she sought out clients that had experienced the world, mostly soldiers, so that she could vicariously live through their experiences. She always questioned them, both flattering them and cajoling them to speak. Only Achamian ever saw the truth behind her questions.

“You do this with all your custom?” he [Achamian] once asked without warning.

She wasn’t shocked. Others had asked as much. “It comforts me to know my men are more than cocks.”

A half-truth. But true to form, Achamian was skeptical. He frowned, saying, “It’s a pity.”

This had stung, even though she had no idea what he meant. “What’s a pity?”

“That you’re not a man,” he replied. “If you were a man, you wouldn’t need to make teachers of everyone who used you.”

She had wept in his arms that night.

Thanks to her studies, she knew it was safest for a lone woman to take the Karian Way to the Pon Way to get to Momemn and that she would need to stay with a group. With her sandal broken, Esmenet could not keep up with her group and was becoming more frightened as she fell farther and farther behind.

Esmenet spies a village and hopes she can get her sandal repaired here. Esmenet hobbles into the village and starts looking for a cobbler. A group of five boys spot her and one walks up to her and asks if she is a whore, spotting the tattoo on her hand that marked her as one from Sumna. Esmenet tries to scare the boy off with soldier curses and strikes the boy when tries to grab her hand.

The boy she struck grabs a stone and throws it at her, and the other four boys follow suit. Esmenet, being pelted by stones, grabs her own and returns fire, hitting a fat boy in the face and drawing blood. The local village priest walks up to her and asks if she’s a whore. Esmenet sees the look in his eyes and realizes she’s in trouble. She lies, saying she’s not, and walks away.

“Do not walk away from me!” the old priest howled. “Do not walk away from me!”

She continued walking with what dignity she could muster.

“Suffer not a whore to live,” the old priest recited, “for she maketh a pit of her womb!”

Esmenet halted.

“Suffer not a whore to breathe,” the priest continued, his tone now gleeful, “for she mocks the seed of the righteous! Stone her so that thy hand shall not be tempt—”

Esmenet whirled. “Enough!” she exploded.

Stunned silence.

“I am damned!” she cried. “Don’t you see? I’m already dead! Isn’t that enough?”

A stone hits her in the back of the head, and a crowd forms around her and begins to stone her. Esmenet curls up, weeping, and tries to protect herself. She cries for help and then realizes the stones have stopped. A Shrial Knight has ridden up, demanding what is going on.

The priest starts to explain and the knight strikes him in the face. The priest protests and the knight begins to beat him. Esmenet struggles to her feat, bruised and bloodied and calms down. Finally, the knight finishes beating the priest and turns to Esmenet, introducing himself as Cutias Sarcellus, First Knight-Commander of the Shrial Knights.

The story jumps to Achamian as he moves through the camp of the Men of the Tusk and is amazed by how many men are gathered. He had climbed hills in the midst of camp and saw their campfire spread across the entire landscape. Achamian finally finds Krijates Xinemus’s camp, his old friend and Marshal of Attrempus. Xinemus and Achamian greet each other, hug, and joke with each other.

Xinemus helps Achamian set up his tent and care for his mule. The two exchange small talk and Achamian is a little embarrassed meeting his friend while on a mission and unsure if his presence in Xinemus camp will be a problem seeing as he’s an unclean sorcerer in the midst of a holy war. Xinemus doesn’t have a problem with it.

Xinemus asks about the Dreams, and Achamian changes the subject to the Scarlet Spire. Xinemus tells Achamian where the Scarlet Spire is camped and asks if he’s worried about them. Achamian explains how they covet the knowledge of Gnosis, saying “the Gnosis is iron to their bronze.”

Xinemus figures out that Achamian is here to spy on the Scarlet Spire and sees the pain in Achamian’s face about Inrau. Achamian wants to tell Xinemus everything, but can’t bring himself to. They return to Xinemus’s fire where three men waited. Two are captains, Dinchases and Zenkappa, and the third is Iryssas, Xinemus’s Majordomo.

Iryssas is uncomfortable with Achamian’s presence and Xinemus points out that the Scarlet Spire are part of the Holy War. Iryssas drunkenly insults Achamian and Xinemus kicks the fire at the man. The other two men apologize the Achamian for Iryssas behavior.

Iryssas scrambled back to his seat, his hair askew and his black beard streaked with ash. At once smiling and frowning, he leaned forward on his camp stool toward Achamian. He was bowing, Achamian realized, but was too lazy to lift his ass from his seat. “I do apologize,” he said, looking to Achamian with bemused sincerity. “And I do like you, Achamian, even though you are”—he shot a ducking look at his lord and cousin—“a damned sorcerer.”

Zenkappa began howling anew. Despite himself, Achamian smiled and bowed in return. Iryssas, he realized, was one of those men whose hatreds were far too whimsical to become the fixed point of an obsession. He could despise and embrace by guileless turns. Such men, Achamian had learned, inevitably mirrored the integrity or depravity of their lords.

Jokes are shared and for the first time in a while, Achamian laughs.

The next morning, Achamian joins Xinemus in a chess-like game called benjuka. The pair talk about the Holy War and Achamian reveals he was at the Hagerna when it was announced. Xinemus appeared annoyed that Achamian had been in the Hagerna and Achamian remembers how benjuka always causes the pair to bicker like “harem eunuchs.”

Achamian makes a bad move and Xinemus mocks him. Then he brings up Proyas and the disaster of the Vulgar Holy War. Achamian has heard of the march of the Vulgar Holy War but not its disasters end. Xinemus explains how Calmemunis feared Proyas’s arrival, knowing he would just be Proyas’s lapdog. Calmemunis was still angry that Proyas had him whipped for impiety at the Battle of Paremti a few years ago. Achamian is stunned, asking how far Proyas’s fanaticism has gone.

“Too far,” Xinemus said quickly, as though ashamed for his lord. “But for a brief time only. I was sorely disappointed in him, Akka. Heartbroken that the godlike child you and I had taught had grown to be a man of such . . . extremes.”

Proyas had been a godlike child. Over the four years he had spent as court tutor in the Conriyan capital of Aöknyssus, Achamian had fallen in love with the boy—even more than with his legendary mother. Sweet memories. Strolling through sunlit foyers and along murky garden paths, discussing history, logic, and mathematics, and answering a never-ending cataract of questions…

At the time, Xinemus was Proyas’s sword trainer. Achamian and Xinemus became friends through their tutelage of Proyas. Xinemus continues his story, explaining that he left the court in disgust over what Proyas had done. Proyas tracked him done and rebuked him for abandoning him. Proyas was in trouble, Calmemunis had protested his punishment. Achamian points out the Proyas just wanted his approval.

Xinemus continues, saying that after listening to Proyas’s rant, he gave Proyas a training sword and told Proyas to punish him. Proyas fought tenaciously and Xinemus soundly defeated him.

“The following morning he said nothing, avoided me like pestilence. But come afternoon he sought me out, his face bruised like apples. ‘I understand,’ he said. I asked him, ‘Understand what?’ ‘Your lesson,’ he replied. ‘I understand your lesson.’ I said, ‘Oh, and what lesson was that?’ And he said: ‘That I’ve forgotten how to learn. That life is the God’s lesson, and that even if we undertake to teach impious men, we must be ready to learn from them as well.’”

Achamian stared at his friend with candid awe. “Is that what you’d intended to teach him?”

Xinemus frowned and shook his head. “No. I just wanted to pound the arrogant piss out of him. But it sounded good to me, so I simply said, ‘Indeed, my Lord Prince, indeed,’ then nodded the sage way you do when you agree with someone you think isn’t as clever as you.”

Proyas returned to court and before his father, the king, offered to allow Calmemunis to whip him as compensation. Calmemunis agreed, and “lashed away his last shreds of honor.” This is the reason that a hundred thousand men are dead. Achamian makes a good move on benjuka plate and wonders if the death of the Vulgar Holy War was someone’s move.

Xinemus explains how the Emperor is capitalizing on the Vulgar Holy War’s destruction, pointing out the folly of marching without Ikurei Conphas. Achamian asks Xinemus his opinion on the politicking surrounding the Holy War. Xinemus is worried about Proyas’s reaction. All know of Proyas’s close relationship with Maithanet and the pious men are waiting to see how he’ll react. Xinemus fears that the Emperor will provoke Proyas into something rash.

Whether the Holy War fights for Inri Sejenus or Ikurei Xerius III depends on whether Proyas will be able to outmaneuver the Emperor. Achamian realizes how difficult it will be to tell Proyas that his beloved Shriah plays “some dark game.”

The chapter ends with Esmenet, sore from riding, in Sarcellus’s tent, sharing his bed. She sits up and Sarcellus asks if she’s thinking of Achamian.

“What of it?” she asked.

He smiled, and as always she found herself at once thrilled and unsettled. Something about his teeth maybe? Or his lips?

“Exactly,” he said. “Mandate Schoolmen are fools. Everyone in the Three Seas knows this… Do you know what the Nilnameshi say of women who love fools?”

She turned her face to him, fixed him with a languid look.

“No. What do the Nilnameshi say?”

“That when they sleep, they do not dream.”

He pressed her gently to his pillow.

My Thoughts

Not sure what the Nail of Heaven is. I think its a star like the North Star. The point in the sky where the stars seem to rotate about. Like the North Star, it would always be in the same place, I guess like a nail holding in the roof of the heavens. Other times, it is described as shining bright enough to give light. So maybe it’s not a star. The moon? A spaceship in orbit (and that’s not that crazy given the Inchoroi are aliens who crash-landed on the planet and Golgotterath is the ruins of their crashed ship).

Why, Nansur Empire, is it illegal for women to wear boots? To force them to stay home? It also outlaws pants for men to wear.

We see Esmenet’s keen intellect again. As she dissects what happened to her in Sumna (“But where her body groped, her intellect grasped.” She realizes the significance of the Consult syntheses coming to her. It means Achamian was right and Inrau found out something important. He did not kill himself and Achamian could alleviate the guilt of believing he drove Inrau to suicide.

And then there is her selfishness. She hates how she acted and blamed Inrau for Achamian leaving her. We are all selfish creatures. And now, in light of her new knowledge, she feels such guilt for how she acted. Someone I knew online once died and my first thought was, “He promised to do X, how’s that going to happen now.” I felt so guilty the second afterward.

As she walks, Esmenet “styled herself a character from The Sagas, like Ginsil or Ysilka, a wife mortally ensnared in her husband’s machinations.” How true this will be over the course of the series.

Esmenet’s fears of being left alone turn out not to be unfounded. Teenage bullies exist everywhere. It was nice to see Esmenet nail one of the boys with a rock. And then the adult bully wonders out. What a shitty guy.

While I’m not in favor of legal prostitution, stoning a woman for it is really wrong. Especially in this world where women have very few ways to support themselves. If they’re not married, and not a priestess (which apparently just makes you a legal prostitute), how is Esmenet supposed to survive when society denies her any other way to make a living?

Cutias Sarcellus, the Consult abomination, just happens to run into Esmenet the day after her encounter with the syntheses. Coincident, I think not. Why is he rescuing her? The Consult must think they have some use for her still. After all, she was compliant.

The hand gesture Esmenet gives to the boys who started everything, implying the one that bullied her had a small penis was hilarious.

Achamian reunion with his friend was great. Xinemus is one of my favorite characters in the series. A great guy. He doesn’t put up with his men talking shit to Achamian. And the way they all end up laughing afterwards was great.

Benjuka is an interesting game with the rules changing based on the players actions, mimicking life more than other games. I’m not surprised Achamian isn’t good at the game. He’s not that great at life, either.

We learn a lot learned about Proyas. He sounds like a pretty immature guy, but hopefully Xinemus’s lesson has stuck with him. Especially since the fate of the Holy War is now riding on his shoulders. Fanaticism and politics is not a good combination. Fanaticism rarely allows for any sort of comprise and that is at the heart of politics.

The last scene with Esmenet in bed with the abomination Sarcellus is not a story development I liked. Not cool, Consult. Haven’t you done enough to Esmenet?

I do like this little observation Esmenet has of Sarcellus. “He smiled, and as always she found herself once thrilled and unsettled. Something about his teeth maybe? Or his lips?” Yeah, because he’s a skin spy, Esmenet. But good on you for noticing something off.

If you want to keep reading, click here for my reread of Chapter Eleven.

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Nine

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 3
The Harlot
Chapter 9
Sumna

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

And the Nonman King cried words that sting:

Now to me you must confess,

For death above you hovers!”

And the Emissary answered ever wary:

We are the race of flesh,

We are the race of lovers.”

—“Ballad of the Inchoroi,” Ancient Kûniüri Folk Song

My Thoughts

Our first mention of the Inchoroi, the race behind the Sranc, the Second Apocalypse, and the other horrors. This poem describes the first meeting between the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. We learn the most important aspect of the Inchoroi: they are the race of flesh and lovers. Sex is everything to them. They use it as a weapon, they use it to interrogate, and they motivate their creations with it. Back in the prologue, Leweth tells Kellhus how Sranc hunt men for other hungers.

Inchoroi seems derived from inchoate, a word that means (from Merriam-Webster online dictionary) “being only partly in existence or operation; especially imperfectly formed or formulated.” This implies that the Inchoroi, or their creations, are flawed (probably both). Bakker is always adding to my vocabulary.

Early Winter, 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Esmenet has just finished with a client, a priest named Psammatus, who tells her this will be his last visit. Esmenet tells him he’s found a younger whore and he apologizes. Esmenet responds, “No. Don’t be sorry. Whores know better than to pout like wives.” As he dresses, Esmenet thinks that she’s becoming old, and that is one of the reasons Akka left her.

Inrau’s death had broken Achamian and he left Sumna. She had begged him to take her with him or to stay with her. She doesn’t want her life to return back to the drudgery. She was enamored with greater events.

And this was the irony that held her breathless. For even in the midst of enjoying that new life through Achamian, she’d been unable to relinquish the old. “You say you love me,” Achamian had cried, “and yet you still take custom. Tell me why, Esmi! Why?”

Because I knew you would leave me. All of you leave me . . . all the ones I love.

Esmi,” Psammatus was saying. “Esmi. Please don’t cry, my sweet. I’ll return next week. I promise.” She shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. Said nothing.

Weeping for a man! I’m stronger than this!

Esmenet wipes her tears and asks Psammatus if he knew Inrau. Psammatus answers that he’s the priest who killed himself in the Hagerna, causing a scandal. She asks if he’s sure, and he answers yes. Psammatus leaves, and Esmenet lies in her bed, depressed. She thinks of Inrau, Achamian, and her daughter. Esmenet notices someone at her door.

The man is handsome and richly dress. Esmenet tells him her price, twelve silver talents, and the man strikes her hard, telling her she’s not a “twelve-talent whore.” He tells her relationships should not begin with lies and reveals he’s after information on a Mandate Schoolman, Achamian.

Before Achamian left, he warned her that someone might come, that she would need to play the whore and not ask questions. So she agrees to sell both herself and the information. The pair negotiate the price and the man pulls out a single, gold coin. Esmenet agreed, staring at the coin with greed. The man begins to caress her and Esmenet instantly realizes something is wrong, something inhuman.

Pleasure floods Esmenet, more than she’s ever felt. She is willing to tell the man anything as he interrogates her in the midst of their coupling. She just wants the “nightmarish ecstasy” to continue. She realizes she would do anything to keep feeling this pleasure. She tells him everything about Achamian. Finally, as dawn approaches, the man finish, spilling his seed on her belly.

The golden coin fluttered in his hand, bewitching her with its glitter. He held it above her and let it slip between his fingers. It plopped onto the sticky pools across her belly. She glanced down and gasped in horror.

His seed was black.

Shush,” he said, gathering his finery. “Say a word of this to no one. Do you understand, whore?”

I understand,” she managed, tears now streaming. What have I done?

Esmenet is trying not to throw up as the man opens the shutters. She hears a flap of wings and the man is gone. The man leaves an inhuman stench behind and Esmenet vomits on the floor.

When she finally recovers, Esmenet washes and leaves her room, knowing she can never return. She wanders to the Ecosium Market. It is busy in the morning, and Esmenet is drinking in the sights. She loves Sumna but she had to leave.

She remembers that Achamian told her this might happen. That she would have to barter with whoever comes and be compliant. She would have to sell him out and tell them the truth and she’ll survive. She asks why they would spare her. Achamian answers, by hiding her strength and being useful, they will hope to use you again. She asks if that won’t put him in danger.

I’m a Schoolman, Esmi,” he had replied. “A Mandate Schoolman.”

At last, through a screen of passing people, she saw a little girl standing barefoot in dusty sunlight. She would do. With large brown eyes the girl watched Esmenet approach, too wary to return her smile. She clutched a stick to the breast of her threadbare shift.

I survived, Akka. And I did not survive.

Esmenet stooped before the child and astounded her with the gold talent. “Here,” she said, pressing it into small palms.

So like my daughter.

Achamian is ridding on a mule through the valley of Sudica on his way from Sumna to Momemn. Achamian is taking a longer route to avoid people. The valley, once inhabited in the days of Kyraneas, is no mostly abandoned thanks to Scylvendi raids. Achamian makes his way up to the ruined Fortress-Temple of Batathent and absently wanders through the ruin until nightfall, making his camp in the ruins.

In his sleep, he dreamed of that day when every child was stillborn, that day when the Consult, beaten back to the black ramparts of Golgotterath by the Nonmen and the ancient Norsirai, brought emptiness, absolute and terrible, into the world: Mog-Pharau, the No-God. In his sleep, Achamian watched glory after glory flicker out through Seswatha’s anguished eyes. And he awoke, as he always awoke, a witness to the end of the world.

Achamian is suffering from guilt and depression, fearing that if Inrau really committed suicide then Achamian murdered his student. Achamian tried to find the truth of Inrau’s death but got no where. He was relieved when Nautzera and the Quorum ordered him to Momemn to join the Holy War, to watch the Scarlet Spire.

After Inrau’s death, Achamian relationship with Esmenet deteriorated. He wanted her to distract him from his problems while she endlessly asked him questions, debated the meanings of what he learned. She also continued to see clients. When Achamian offered to pay for her exclusivity, she cried. Esmenet does not want to be Achamian’s whore. Achamian thinks about why he fell in love with her.

Often, in his soul’s eye, she was inexplicably thin and wild, buffeted by rain and winds, obscured by the swaying of forest branches. This woman who had once lifted her hand to the sun, holding it so that for him its light lay cupped in her palm, and telling him that truth was air, was sky, and could only be claimed, never touched by the limbs and fingers of a man. He couldn’t tell her how profoundly her musings affected him, that they thrashed like living things in the wells of his soul and gathered stones about them.

Regret fills Achamian, and he realizes he has become overwhelmed by circumstances and decides to try to make sense of things. He pulls at a sheet of parchment and writes Maithanet’s name in the center, whom Achamian suspects of murdering Inrau. He writes Holy War to the right, “Maithanet’s hammer.” Below, he writes Shimeh, the objective To the right of Shimeh he writes, Cishaurim. He writes Scarlet Spire and traces a line from Cishaurim through Scarlet Spire to the Holy War. Achamian again wonders how Maithanet knew their secret war. Adjacent to Holy War, he writes the Emperor, based on rumors of Xerius’s Investiture.

In the upper, right corner, he adds the Consult. Achamian ponders the Consult, wandering where they were and if they were involved. Finally, he writes Inrau below Maithanet. Achamian shakes away thoughts of guilt, he could not avenge Inrau if he wallowed in self-pity. The answers were on this map.

Achamian often made such maps—not because he worried he might forget something, but because he worried he might overlook something. Visualizing the connections, he found, always suggested further possible connections. Moreover, this simple exercise had often proved a valuable guide for his inquiries in the past. The crucial difference this time, however, was that instead of naming individuals and their connections to some petty agenda, this map named Great Factions and their connections to a Holy War. The scale of this mystery, the stakes, far exceeded anything he had encountered before . . . aside from his dreams.

His breath caught.

A prelude to the Second Apocalypse? Could it be?

Achamian is certain the Consult is involved They could never stay out of something this large. Achamian fixes on Maithanet and ponders how to learn his secrets. And then it comes to him—Proyas. Achamian writes Proyas’s name between Maithanet’s and the Holy War. Proyas, his former student, was a confident of Maithanet. If Achamian could mend his relationship with Proyas, he could learn more of Maithanet. “He needed answers, both to quiet his heart and, perhaps, to save the world.”

Achamian breaks camp and continues his lonely journey.

Esmenet walks through the Gates of Pelts and leaves Sumna. She pauses, looking out over the landscape, fearful. She told herself that everything would be fine. She would “sell peaches” as the soldiers say. “Men mights stand midway between women and the Gods, but they hungered like beasts.”

The road would be kind. Eventually, she would find the Holy War. And in the Holy War she would find Achamian. She would clutch his cheek and kiss him, at long last a fellow traveler.

Then she would tell him what had happened, of the danger.

Deep breath. She tasted dust and cold.

She began walking, her limbs so light they might have danced.

It would be dark soon.

My Thoughts

The Synthese returns, in the guise of a man, and know we have a name to call this abomination—an Inchoroi. As the folk song at the start of the passage says, they are a race of lovers. His interrogation is a hard part of the book to read. The Inchoroi violates her and makes her enjoy it more than anything she’s ever felt.

My heart breaks for Esmenet.

The Inchoroi has polluted her home and Sumna. Even the gold coin, a lot of money for Esmenet, was tainted. And as always with Esmenet, her thoughts turn to her daughter. She’s trying to have some good come out of that terrible encounter.

The Inchoroi embodies sex and yet his seed is black: death. This informs why they make creatures the Sranc, dragons, and the abominations like Sarcellus. They are a the race of flesh and they seem masters forming new things. His very touch stirs pleasure. We’ll learn later that this is a sorcerous glamor.

Achamian has been deeply depressed since Inrau died. And as often happens, it creates a rift between Achamian and Esmenet. He wants to forget his problems and she, I believe, is trying to help Achamian move past his hurt. Achamian, however, was not ready. He needed more to time to grieve.

Finally, sitting in these ruins, Achamian takes action. He realizes he has been wallowing in self-pity and to avenge Inrau, he needs to stop being overwhelmed. The map he draws is a great way to do this. Putting everything on paper, drawing lines, trying to see how everything connects. Achamian has a plan for the first time in the book.

We learn more about the horror of the No-God. The fact that once it was created, every child was stillborn. That is horrible. It goes back to the Inchoroi and what really makes them flawed. While they are creatures of sex and thus of creation, all they create is death. Achamian fears that the first steps of the Second Apocalypse have begun.

And we come back to Esmenet, who like Achamian is also making her own plans, seizing her own actions. She knows the Consult is involved and she is going to track Achamian down and tell him. I’m concerned that she doesn’t appear to have supplies. She is putting a lot of trust into her fellow travelers. Esmenet, you need to be careful. This world is terrible to women, watch your back.

I also hope that Esmenet thoughts on “men stand midway between women and Gods” as lies that men tell women as opposed to actual scripture. Though, in this world, it might be actually in there. And, of course, there is a clear that beliefs shape the metaphysics of this world which is why there is a theory that the Tusk, the old testament of this world, came from the Inchoroi. As Esmenet rightly points out, men are no more holy then women.

Below is a scan of Achamian’s map from the end of the book. I edited out the changes Achamian adds later on in the story. I really like the script that Bakker came up with. Similar to Arabic in its cursive style, but written top to bottom like many Southeast Asian languages (Chinese, Japanese, Korean).

Click here to go onto Chapter 10

achamian

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Review: The Darkness That Comes Before

The Darkness That Comes Before (The Prince of Nothing 1)

by R. Scott Bakker

Reviewed by JMD Reid

darkness-that-comes-beforeThe Darkness that Comes Before is the start of R. Scott Bakker’s metaseries The Second Apocalypse. Here he unfolds the rich, grimy world of the Three Seas and beyond. I was hooked with this series right from the beginning reading about refugees fleeing the end of the world and the founding of the Dûnyain. I was intrigued by the history teased before me and glad I found this book in the SeaTac Airport’s Borders.

What follows is a Fatnasy series unlike any I had read. Its roots are firmly in the heroic fantasy that developed over the twentieth century, including Tolkein. There are many illusions and parallels to the Lord of the Rings, but make no mistake, Bakker isn’t copying, he’s twisting, bending, creating a world that is grimy, filthy, myriad in the perversity of human lust, greed, envy, and religious fervor.

When a young man name Kellhus, who unknowingly carries the blood of ancient kings sets out on a quest inot the greater world, it is a familiar story. But Kellhus is a product of two thousand years of breeding by his secretive group the Dûnyain. His intellect is beyond normal men. He has been trained to understand the source of men’s passions. To us world-born, we are but children before him. With cold logic, Kellhus will do anything to accomplish his mission—even dominating an entire Holy War.

In the average Fantasy, Kellhus would be our protagonist. But he’s not. That is Achamian, the middle-aged sorcerer and spy, an overweight man prone to drink, drugs, and prostitutes. A man whose decades working as a spy has made him cynical of the world. He has drunk with kings and beggars and realizes not much separates them. He is on another mission for the Mandate, his order of sorcerers, to discover if the Consult has any role in the Holy War called by the new Shriah (Pope). Achamian will return to the holy city of Sumna, and to Esmenet the Whore, perhaps the only person who truly knows him.

Politics and maneuvering dominate this book. While there is warfare and action, much of the book is a contest between men seeking to dominate their circumstances, from Emperor Ikurie Xerius who plans to harness the Holy War to restore the glory of his waning Empire to Cnaiür urs Skiötha who seeks to prove himself the best of his nomadic people. And at the heart, Kellhus, the Prince of Nothing and harbinger of the Apocalypse, arriving out of the wastelands. He is one of the conditioned and all will yield before him.

Intrigue, politics, cryptic prophecies declaring the end of the world, philosophy, faith, sin, sorcererous battles, warfare and the battered souls who strive to make sense of their world. The Darkness that Comes Before is both sweeping and historical at the same time is it deeply personal as R. Scott Bakker delves into human nature in all its vagaries, the good and the ill. This series has a rich cast of flawed characters.

You can buy The Darkness that Comes Before on Amazon!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Four

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 4
Sumna

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

To be ignorant and to be deceived are two different things. To be ignorant is to be a slave of the world. To be deceived is to be slave of another man. The question will always be: When, when all men are ignorant, and therefore already slaves, does this later slavery sting us so?

—Ajencis, the Epistemologies

But despite stories of Fanim atrocities, the fact of the matter is that the Kianene, heathen or no, were surprisingly tolerant of Inrithi pilgrimages to Shimeh—before the Holy War, that is. Why would a people devoted to the destruction of the Tusk extend this courtesy to “idolaters”? Perhaps they were partially motivated by the prospect of trade, as others have suggested. But the fundamental motive lies in their desert heritage. The Kianene word for a holy place is si’ihkhalis, which means, literally, “great oasis.” On the open desert it is their strict custom to never begrudge travelers water, even if they be enemies.

—Drusas Achamian, Compendium of the First Holy War

My Thoughts

The quote from Ajencis ties into what the Dûnyain says in the prologue and is one of the themes of the series. So long as men are ignorant, they are slaves to what came before. When someone lies they can get you to believe things that are wrong, to do things for the wrong reasons, I can see how that could be a type of slavery. And of course it would sting more, because being lied to is a purposeful act. The world doesn’t conspire to enslave with ignorance. It just happens.

The Achamian quote just provides some background on the Kianene and a great way to add world building. Water is a big deal to the Kianene. Their Cishaurim sorcerer-priests are known as the Water-Bearers of Indara.

Section 1

The Holy War of the Inrithi against the Fanim was declared by Maithanet, the 116th Shriah of the Thousand Temples, on the Morn of Ascension in 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk. The day had been unseasonably hot, as though the God himself had blessed the Holy War with a premonition of summer. Indeed the Three Seas buzzed with rumors of omens and visions, all of which attested to the sanctity of the task that lay before the Inrithi.

Word spreads through the Inrithi nations of the Holy War. The Shrial and Cultic priests preach against the Fanim. In markets and taverns, people gossiped about which lords have declared for the Holy War. Children play at Holy War. The faithful proclaimed their desire to cleans Shimeh and kneel where the Latter Prophet walked.

The lords declared themselves Men of the Tusk and summoned their knights. Trivial wars were forgotten and lands were mortgaged. Great fleets of ships gathered to take the armies to Momemn were the Holy War was to gather.

Maithanet had called, and the entire of the Three Seas had answered. The back of the heathen would be broken. Holy Shimeh would be cleansed.

My Thoughts

I always like these sort of omniscient overviews of an area. It lets us see how people are reacting to the Holy War. Loved the veterans in taverns arguing who’s lord was more pious. And this is a rather telling quote about the piety of the average man: “The Thousand Temples issued edicts stating that those who profited from the absence of any great lord who had taken up the Tusk would be tried for heresy in ecclesiastical courts and summarily executed. Thus assured of their birthrights, princes, earls, palatines, and lords of every nation declared themselves Men of the Tusk.”

Their self-interests protected, they do not have a problem joining the holy war. A shrewd move on the part of Maithanet. For someone who is such a holy person, he has a shred understanding of the true nature of humans.

Mid-Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Esmenet watches Achamian sniff a prune before eating it and is reminded of her dead daughter sniffing an apple. The apple’s vendor saw the tattoo an Esmenet’s left hand and she knew he wouldn’t sell to a prostitute. Esmenet told her daughter no. Esmenet’s eyes tear up at this memory as regret for her dead daughter, Mimara, fills her.

Achamian had been staying with Esmenet for a while now. Long enough for them to almost feel married. Esmenet realizes that being a spy is a lot of waiting and Achamian waited here. They had fallen into a routine and would spend the day talking and joking. Eventually, a customer would arrive and Achamian, slightly hurt, would leave to get drunk. When he returned, he would try to appear happy and a pang of sadness would strike Esmenet.

What was it she felt? Many things, it seemed. Pity for him, certainly. In the midst of strangers, Achamian always looked so lonely, so misunderstood. No one, she would often think, know him the way I do. There was also relief that he’d returned—returned to her, even though he had gold enough to buy far younger whores. A selfish sorrow, that one. And shame. Shame because she knew that he loved her, and that every time she took custom it bruised his heart.

But what choice did she have?

Achamian would never enter her room if he thought she had a customer. Once, she was badly beaten and just crawled to bed afterward instead of waiting at the window for Achamian. In the morning, she found Achamian sleeping in front of her door. She knew then that he loved her.

Theirs was a strange marriage, if it could be called that. A marriage of outcasts sanctified by inarticulate vows. A sorcerer and a whore. Perhaps a certain desperation was to be expected of such unions, as though that strange word, “love,” became profound in proportion to the degree on was scorned by others.

Achamian tried to find the man that hurt her, and though she protested that this was part of business, she was secretly thrilled. Esmenet suspects he still searches for the man. Esmenet thinks Achamian wants to murder all her customs. Achamian wants Esmenet to himself, but Esmenet has to continue seeing her clients because Achamian will eventually leave her and her regulars will have found new prostitutes.

There is a knock at the door and Inrau enters the hovel. Inrau has important news and is afraid he may have been followed. Achamian tells Inrau not to worry, even priests visit prostitutes and no one will think it unusual. Inrau, uncomfortable with this subject, asks Esmenet for confirmation.

“They’re much like sorcerers that way,” she said wryly.

Achamian shot her a lock of mock indignation, and Inrau laughed nervously.

Esmenet sees the childlike qualities of Inrau and understands why Achamian fears for the young man. Inrau’s news is the Scarlet Spire has joined the Holy War. Inrau heard this from an Orate of the College of Luthymae. Maithanet offered six Chorae as a gesture of good will and the College controls the Temple’s Chorae and had to be told the reason.

Achamian is excited by this news and starts to explain the Scarlet Spire to Esmenet. Achamian likes to explain things, even if his audience knows the information. His explanation is interrupted by his realization that the Temples gave six Trinkets to a School of blasphemers. Esmenet ponders why she loves Achamian and thinks when she is with Achamian, her small, sordid world becomes so much larger.

Trinkets. This reminded Esmenet that despite the wonder, Achamian’s world was exceedingly deadly. Ecclesiastical law dictated that prostitutes, like adulteresses, be punished by stoning. The same, she reflected, was true of sorcerers, except there was just one kind of stone that could afflict them, and it need touch them only once. Thankfully, there were few Trinkets. The world, on the other hand, was filled with stones for harlots.

Inrau asks why Maithanet would pollute the Holy War with the Scarlet Spire. Achamian explains that a School would be needed to fight the Cishaurim. The forces of Kian would protect the Cishaurim from Chorae troop. The Scarlet Spire is the best school for the task. Inrau hates the Scarlet Spire, and Esmenet knows the Mandate hate the Spire for their envy of the Gnosis. Ikurei Xerius III, the Emperor, has been trying to co-opt the Holy War using his control of the Imperial Saik. Maithanet has blocked this attempt by allying with the Scarlet Spire.

Then a question occurred to her.

“Shouldn’t—“ Esmenet began, but she paused when the two men looked at her strangely. “Shouldn’t the question be, Why have the Scarlet Spires accepted Maithanet’s offer? What could induce a School to join a Holy War? They make for odd bedfellows, don’t you think? Not so long ago, Akka, you feared that the Holy War would be declared against the Schools.”

There was a moment of silence. Inrau smiled as though amused by his own stupidity. From this moment on, Esmenet realized, Inrau would look upon her as an equal in these matters. Achamian, however, would remain aloof, the judge of all questions. As was proper, perhaps, given his calling.

Achamian explains about what he learned about the Scarlet Spires secret war against the Cishaurim. This is their chance to conclude the war. Another reason is none of the schools understand the Psûkhe, the metaphysics of the Cishaurim. All the schools, Mandate included, are terrified by not being able to see Cishaurim sorcerery. Esmenet asks why that is so terrifying. Achamian criticizes her question and, annoyed, Esmenet asks Inrau if this is what Achamian is like when he teaches.

“You mean fault the question rather than the answer” Inrau said darkly. “All the time.”

But Achamian’s expression darkened. “Listen. Listen to me carefully. This isn’t a game we play. Any of us—but especially you, Inrau—could end up with out heads boiled in salt, tarred, and posted before the Vault-of-the-Tusk. And there’s more at stake than even our lives. Far more.”

Esmenet is shocked by the reprimand. She had forgotten the depths of Achamian. She remembers holding him in the night as he dreams, crying out in strange languages. Achamian tries to confront Inrau on the possibility that Maithanet has connections to the Consult. Inrau flares up with anger, saying Maithanet is worthy of devotion and this is just a fool’s errand.

Esmenet realizes something important as they argue. Achamian sees the expression on her face and realizes she has an insight and asks her what it is. Esmenet points out the Scarlet Spire hid their war from the Mandate for ten years, how did Maithanet find out? Achamian agrees with Esmenet, Maithanet would never approach the Scarlet Spire unless he knew they would agree. Inrau argues the Thousand Temple could have learned the same way Achamian had. Achamian concedes Inrau’s point as a small possibility, but thinks Maithanet needs to be closely watched.

Inrau looked momentarily at Esmenet before turning his plaintive eyes to his mentor. “I can’t do what you ask … I can’t.”

“You just get close to Maithanet, Inrau. Your Shriah is altogether to canny.”

“What?” the young priest said with half-heated sarcasm. “To canny to be a man of faith?”

Not at all, my friend. Too canny to be what he seems.”

My Thoughts

They way women are treated in the three seas is appalling. The fact that Esmenet thinks getting beaten by a customer is just part of business and that she has absolutely no legal recourse is terrible. And the fact that her remembering of scripture says that adulteress get stoned to death, which it makes it sound like the man committing adultery with her gets off with either no or a less sever punishment. We also are given the comparison with whores and sorcerers. They are both outcasts in society, but useful outcasts. Even in Sumna, the center of this worlds equivalent to the Catholic church, Esmenet makes a living selling her body to priests, pilgrims, and soldiers.

In the last chapter we got Achamian’s view on their relationship. He suspects that her affection is just an act, that she pretends to care for him because that’s what she does for a living. Here we learn that she does love Achamian, but she knows that he will leave her eventually. His mission is more important than their relationship. She has to keep seeing her customers to be able to survive. It’s sad.

Esmenet’s banter with Achamian’s morning bowel movements is hilarious.

Esmenet’s life is so dreary that she loves it when Achamian visits, and may be what she loves about the man. When he is around, he tells her of far off places, of intrigue of lords. She gets to vicariously live through his stories.

Inrau’s blushing realization that priest visit prostitutes is funny. Particularly when Esmenet compares them to sorcerer’s.

Achamian must trust Esmenet. He has no problems discussing Mandate business in front of her with Inrau. He also respects her opinion. He knows she is intelligent. It is a terrible shame that Esmenet never was able to receive an education. She has a keen mind and is the first to realize the implications of Inrau’s news.

Esmenet’s insight on Maithanet and the Scarlet Spire is troubling. How does Maithanet know? There’s a lot of suspicious things going on with him. He’s one of the Few, but without the Mark of ever practicing sorcery, he came from Kian, and he knows of the very secret Scarlet Spire-Cishaurim war.

Late Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Inrau is in the Hagerna, reeling from a secret he has learned about the Shriah. Inrau is conflicted by his faith and the debt he owes Achamian for saving his life when he left the Mandate. How can he repay Achamian by risking his own life? It seem wrong to Inrau. He feels he should give another gift, but obligation compels him

Conflicted, Inrau heads to the Irreüma, where small shrines to the Cultic gods resided. Inrau goes to shrine of Onkis, the Singer-in-the-Dark, a goddess of knowledge. Inrau cries before her. Inrau wonders if Onkis would forgive him for returning to the Mandate.

The idol was worked in white marble, eyes closed with the sunken look of the dead. At first glance she appeared to be the severed head of a woman, beautiful yet vaguely common, mounted on a pole. Anything more than a glance, however, revealed the pole to be a miniature tree, like those cultivated by the ancient Norsirai, only worked in bronze. Branches poked through her parted lips and swept across her face—nature reborn through human lips. Other branches reached behind to break through her frozen hair. Her image never failed to stir something within him, and this is why he always returned to her: she was this stirring, the dark place where the flurries of his thought arose. She came before him.

Inrau leaves on offering of food. Everything cast a shadow on the Outside, where the Gods moved, including his offering. He pulls out his list of ancestors and prays to them for intercession. Inrau cries out for the goddess to answer him and is met with only silence. Inrau thinks he should run.

The silence is broken by the sound of flapping wings up in the clerestory. Thinking it is a sign from Onkis, he heads up stairs to investigate. He wonders onto a balcony, exited that Onkis was communicating with him.

“Where are you?” he whispered.

Then he saw it, and horror throttled him.

It stood a short distance away, perched on the railing, watching him with shiny blue eyes. It had the body of a crow, but its head was small, bald, and human—about the size of a child’s fist. Stretching thin lips over tiny, perfect teeth, it smiled.

Sweet-Sejunes-oh-God-it-can’t-be-it-can’t-be!

A parody of surprise flashed across the miniature face. “You know what I am,” it said in a papery voice. “How?” can’t-be-cannot-be-Consult-here-no-no-no

Cutias Sarcellus, the Knight-Commander from the last chapter, steps out of the shadows with another Shrial Knight and explains Inrau is Achamian’s student. Inrau is stunned that Sarcellus is consorting with a Consult Synthese. Inrau whirls to flee and is cut off by a second Shrial Knight: Mujonish. Inrau sees the signs of sorcery on the bird, the Synthese, binding a soul to the vessel.

“He knows this form is but a shell,” the Synthese said to Sarcellus, “but I don’t see Chigra within him.” The pea-sized eyes—little beads of sky blue glass—turned to Inrau. “Hmm, boy? You don’t dream the Dream like the others, do you? If you did, you would recognize me. Chigra never failed to recognize me.

Inrau realizes prayers are useless and struggles to remember his Mandate training. He asks what the Synthese wants to buy time. The Synthese answers the same thing Inrau was doing in Maithanet’s apartment; overseeing our affairs. The two Shrial Knights and the Synthese close upon Inrau. Inrau remembers his training.

Inrau sense Mujonish looming behind him. Prayer seized his tongue. Blasphemy tumbled from his lips.

Turning with sorcerous speed, he punched two fingers through Mujonish’s chain mail, cracked his breastbone, then seized his heart. He yanked his hand free, drawing a cord of glittering blood into the air. More impossible words. The blood burst into incandescent flame, followed his sweeping hand toward the Synthese. Shrieking, the creature dove from the railing into emptiness. Blinding beads of blood cracked bare stone.

He would have turned to Sarcellus, but the sight of Mujonish stilled him. The Shrial Knight had stumbled to his knees, wiping his bloody hands on his surcoat. Then, as though spilling from a bladder, his face simply fell apart, dropping outward, unclutching

No mark. Not the faintest whisper of sorcery.

Distracted, Inrau is struck by Sarcellus. Inrau tries to use ghostly wards but they are useless. Sarcellus has a Chorae. Sarcellus grabs Inrau and touches the Chorae to his cheek. Part of Inrau’s cheek turns to salt. Inrau focus on the Synthese and prepares to unleash another attack on it. The Synthese conjures light that breaks through Inrau’s wards and pierces Inrau’s chest.

Inrau is drowning in his own blood. The Synthese watches him die. Inrau thinks of Achamian and of Onkis, struggling to breath. Inrau collapses and is hauled up to his knees by Sarcellus and brought face to face with the Synthese. The Synthese taunts him, saying he is an old name and could show him the Agonies. Inrau asks, “Why?”

Again the thin, tiny smile. “You worship suffering. Why do you think?”

Monumental rage filled him. It didn’t understand! It didn’t understand. With a coughing roar, he lurched forward, yanking his hair from his scalp. The Synthese seemed to flicker out of his path, but it wasn’t its death he sought. Any price, old teacher. The stone rail slammed against his hips, broke like cake. Again he was floating, but it was so different—air whipping across his face, bathing his body. With a single outstretched hand, Paro Inrau followed a pillar to the earth.

My Thoughts

Goodbye, Inrau. You did not deserve to die.

Whatever Inrau learned in searching Maithanet’s quarters had nothing to do with the Consult. My first read through that’s what I actually thought. But, Inrau is surprised to see the Synthese. If he learned Maithanet was connected to the Consult, this would not be surprising. Inrau killed himself to avoid torture, but also because he realized the Synthese did not know what he knew about Maithanet and thought it was important to prevent the Consult from learning and to protect Achamian.

Inrau makes a good point on debt repayment. If you saved someone life and they owe you, how can they repay that back with their own death. It defeats the purpose of saving the person in the first place.

Inrau revealed more of these abominations hiding in the Shrial Knights. Sarcellus referred to the Synthese as Old Father, implying the Synthese created him. We have our confirmation that the abominations are skin spies and why Sarcellus took such delight in hitting Achamian—the Mandate are his enemy.

Poor Inrau. You went out swinging though. And ripping out a monsters heart and turning his blood into liquid flames, that was pretty badass. Not bad for a guy who never actually used sorcery before. Shame Sarcellus had his Chorae.

Careful readers will note that Inrau did not die from being touched by a Chorae. A Chorae turns a sorcerer into salt, but the speed at which it does depends on how much sorcery they have performed. Inrau had only just now used Sorcery for the first time. He had been trained right to the point of using sorcery, but never crossed the line. Achamian would be killed almost instantly, and nonman sorcerers, like the one we meet in the prologue, could have his skin turned to salt just coming near a Chorae.

Achamian feared this would happen. He hadn’t been told of the spy in Atyersus. An Old Name is in the Synthese. It is a construct, like the abominations, and the Old Name’s soul is projected onto it. It does limit the creature’s sorcery, which is why it points out it still has the power to hurt Inrau.

Click here to head on over to Chapter 5!

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Reread of the Darkness that Comes Before: Chapter Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 1: The Darkness that Comes Before

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The Sorcerer
Chapter 3
Sumna

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

 If the world is a game whose rules are written by the God, and sorcerers are those who cheat and cheat, then who has written the rules of sorcery?

Zarathinius, A Defense of the Arcane Arts

My Thoughts

That is a very good question. I wonder if Bakker will ever draw back the curtains on his universe. It seems to run on belief of the inhabitants of the planet. They believe in the supernatural, and the supernatural exists. But still, who wrote the rules for magic?

Early Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, En Route to Sumna

On a boat in the storm tossed Sea of Meneanor, Achamian awakens from a Seswatha Dream. The dream is of a battle during the Apocalypse where the dragon Skafra fought Seswatha. It takes a moment for Achamian to separate the sounds of the storm from his dream of battle. Up on deck, the Nroni sailors prey to Momas, Aspect of storm and sea, and God of dice.

The boat reaches Sumna safely. From the ships railing, Achamian watches a pilot boat guide the ship to the docks. Achamian looks out at the great city and could see the Hagerna (Vatican) and rising in the center the Junriüma where the Tusk rested.

He [Achamian] could feel the tug of what should have been their grandeur, but they seemed mute in the distance, dumb. Just more stone. For the Inrithi, this was the place where the heavens inhabited the earth. Sumna, the Hagerna, and the Junriüma were far more than geographical sites; they were bound up in the very purpose of history They were the hinges of destiny.

Achamian remembers the awe Inrau spoke of this place and how Inrau’s enthusiasm alienated Achamian. This was why Maithanet should be feared: he spread certainty. Achamian could never understand how belief in the mysterious God could lead to an absence of hesitation.

The ship’s captain joins Achamian at the railing, and warns him about going into the city. The Nroni people had grown used to the Mandate, but they still were Inrithi and had to deal with the contradiction of helping heresy.

“They never know what we are,” Achamian said. “That’s the horrible fact of sinners. We’re indistinguishable from the righteous.”

“So I’ve been told,” the man [captain] replied, avoiding his eyes. “The Few can see only each other.” There was something disturbing about his tone, as though he probed for the details of some illicit sexual act.

Achamian remembers seeing processions of Mandate Schoolman as a child. He would watch them in awe, thinking these were the men of the Sagas. Mere months of training dispelled Achamian of this fantasy. Sorcerer’s were no different then fishermen, save the scale of their worries. The captain appears relieved to be called away by his crew which hurts Achamian a little.

Achamian’s thoughts turn to the Three Sea’s comparison between sorcerer’s and poet’s, which Achamian finds absurd. No sorcerer can create with his words, his only destroy.

“It was as though men could only ape the language of God, could only debase and brutalize his song. When sorcerers sing, the saying went, men died.”

And Mandate Schoolman are anathema amongst their own kind. The other schools are jealous of their possessing of Gnosis. Before the Apocalypse, the Great Schools of the North were taught sorcery by the Nonman Magi, the Quya. Achamian needed to remember that compared to most people, he was like a god, and that is why they hated them. Hate enough to fuel a Holy War.

The Chronicle of the Tusk, holy scripture of the Inrithi, recorded the migration of the Men of Eärwa in the distant past. The Ketyai tribe brought the Tusk to Sumna and the place has been sacred ever since, drawing pilgrims. Achamian finds Sumna more crowded then ever and learns that Maithanet has called the faithful and will reveal the object of the Holy War. Achamian realized the Quorum most have known this and had omitted it to manipulate him into coming to Sumna.

Later on, Achamian is lying in bed with Esmenet in her hovel. Achamian is have a relapse of the Fevers, a disease he contracted six years earlier and is not contagious. Bitterly, Esmenet says that is the same year her daughter died. They are silent for a while.

Esmenet is a prostitute in Sumna that Achamian had met. She was the first person Achamian had sought out when he arrived. The four years since he had last seen her, had changed her. She was more weary, her humor gouged by small wounds. Achamian confides in Esmenet his plans for Inrau. Esmenet was always good at nursing both the loins and the heart.

“I’ve spent my entire life among those people who think me mad, Esmi.”

She laughed at this. Though born a caste menial and never educated—formally anyway—Esmenet had always possessed a keen appreciation of irony. It was one of the many things that so distinguished her from the other women, the other prostitutes.

“I’ve spent my entire life among people who think me a harlot, Akka.”

Achamian smiled in the darkness. “But it’s not the same. You are a harlot.”

Esmenet giggles girlishly, which makes Achamian think this is just her act, that they really aren’t lovers, but that he’s just another client. Achamian asks if she thinks he is mad to believe in the Consult. She hesitates, before answering that she believes the question of the Consult exists. Achamian changes the subject back to Inrau. Esmenet says the two of them make a sad couple: the sorcerer and the harlot.

The next morning, Achamian finds Inrau in a tavern. Startled, Inrau warns Achamian to leave. Shrial Knights, holy warriors of the church, sit at a nearby table. Achamian greats Inrau warmly, letting Inrau know he is posing as his uncle. Achamian then tells Inrau the Mandate need him to spy on Maithanet.

“But you promised, Akka. You promised.

Tears glittered in the Schoolman’s eyes. Wise tears, but filled with regret nonetheless.

“The world has had the habit,” Achamian said, “of breaking the back of my promises.”

Inrau objects. Maithanet is more the Achamian can understand. Some worship him, though he says Maithanet wishes only to be obeyed. That’s why Maithanet took his name, from mai’tathana. Inrau sees the confusion of Achamian face and explains it is Thoti-Eännorean (language of the Tusk) for instruction. Achamian wanders what the lesson is.

Achamian asks if Inrau is not troubled by Maithanet’s effortless rise. Inrau is thrilled. Maithanet is clearing out the corruption from the Thousand Temples. Achamian asks what Inrau will do if Maithanet declares against the Schools. Inrau is conflicted and Achamian finds his opening.

Achamian asks why Inrau, a Shrial priest, would go against the Tusk and the teachings of the Latter Prophet. Inrau replies the Mandate are different then the other schools. Inrau respects the Mandate mission and would grieve at Maithanet’s choice.

“Grieve? I don’t think so, Inrau. You’d think he’s mistaken. As brilliant and as holy as Maithanet may be, you’d think , ‘He hasn’t seen what I’ve seen!’ ”

Inrau nodded vacantly.

Achamian continues, Maithanet is the first Shriah in centuries to reclaim the preeminence of the Thousand Temples amongst the Great Factions. Every faction wants to know how Maithanet will instruct them with his Holy War. All of the Great Factions have sent their spies to minimize or exploit this Holy War. Achamian reminds Inrau the Mandate stand outside such petty concerns. It is an old spy trick, to make your recruit see it not a betrayal but a greater fidelity.

Achamian points out this is the best place for the Consult to be hidden. Achamian has conjured a story where Inrau is the only one who can save the Thousand Temples from the Consult. Inrau is almost convinced when the Shrial Knights in the tavern recognize him. Achamian tells to let him do the talking.

Lord Sarcellus, a Knight-Commander of the Shrial Knights, approaches the table and greets Inrau. Sarcellus asks if Inrau is being bothered by Achamian. Achamian plays the role of Inrau’s angry uncle, sent here by Inrau’s mother to chastise him. Achamian acts drunk and provokes Sarcellus. Sarcellus backhand’s Achamian, throwing him to the ground. Achamian cries out “murder!” and the tavern erupts in chaos. Sarcellus grabs Achamian and calls him pig.

Sarcellus lets Achamian go and rejoins his fellow knights. Inrau helps Achamian up and asks if he’s okay. Achamian assures him he’s fine. Achamian asks Inrau if he saw how he had worked Sarcellus to get him to leave. As Inrau pours Achamian another bowl of wine, a rage suddenly takes Achamian.

“The furies I could have unleashed!” he spat, low enough to ensure he couldn’t be overheard. What if he comes back? He glanced hurriedly over at Sarcellus and the other two Shrial Knights. They were laughing about something. Some joke or something. Something.

“The words I know,” he snarled. “I could have boiled his heart in his chest!”

Another bowl quaffed, like burning oil in his frigid gut.

“I’ve done it before.” Was that me?

Several days later, Achamian is standing in central square of the Hagerna with a massive crowd, waiting to hear Maithanet’s announcement about the Holy War. Inrau had agreed to spy without the use of cants. Not all of the Few became sorcerers. Some became priest and joined the College of Luthymae and used the “gift” to war against the schools. They would see the mark of sorcery the Cants would have left on Inrau and killed him.

The most the Compulsion would do was purchase time—that, and break his [Achamian’s] heart.

Perhaps this was why Inrau had agreed to be a spy. Perhaps he’d glimpsed the dimensions of the trap fate and Achamian had set for him. Perhaps what he’d feared was not the prospect of what would happen to him if he refused, but the prospect of what would happen to his old teacher. Achamian would have used the Cants, would have transformed Inrau into a sorcerous puppet, and he would have gone mad.

Days later, Achamian is the great square before the Thousand Temples awaiting the new shriah. The Summoning Horns blow and Achamian is reminded of Sranc war horns. A parade priests led Maithanet through the throng. Maithanet had come from the deep south, through the heathen lands of Kian. Maithanet’s outsider status helped him seize power. He was outside the corruption and the Inrithi loved him for that. Achamian wanders if the Consult figured this out, crafted Maithanet to fulfill this role. Maithanet begins his sermon, denouncing Fanimry as an affront to the God. Achamian finds himself moved by Maithanet’s voice.

“These people, these Kianene, are an obscene race, followers of a False Prophet. A False Prophet, my children! The Tusk tells us that there is no greater abomination than the False Prophet. No man is so vile, so wicked, as he who makes a mockery of the God’s voice. And yet we sign treaties with the Fanim; we buy silk and turquoise that have passed through their unclean hands. We trade gold for horses and slaves bred in their venal stables. No more shall the faithful beat down their outrage in exchange for baubles from heathen lands! No, my children, we shall show them our fury! We shall loose upon the God’s own vengeance!”

Maithanet declares Holy War upon the Fanim faith. The Cishaurim have made their den at the sacred heights of Juterum. The Faithful will take back Amoteu, the Holy Land, Shimeh, the Holy City of Inri Sejunes, and the Juterum, where the Ascension took place. The masses erupt in cheers.

Achamian’s fever strikes, and he has trouble standing as Maithanet speaks. The crowd, thinking he is having a religious experience, lifts him up and began bearing him forward to Maithanet like a mosh pit. Others in the crowd who also swooned are likewise being carried forward. Achamian is brought to the front and finds himself face to face with Maithanet’s retinue. Achamian recognizes one of the men with Maithanet as Prince Nersei Proyas of Conriya, his former student.

Proyas recognizes Achamian with disgust. Achamian tutored Proyas for four years in the non-sorcerous arts. Before either men can speak, Proyas is pulled aside and Maithanet stands before Achamian.

The multitudes roared, but an uncanny hush had settled between the two of them.

The Shriah’s face darkened, but his blue eyes glittered with … with …

He spoke softly, as though intimate: “Your kind are not welcomed here, friend. Flee.”

And Achamian fled. Would a crow wage war upon a lion? And throughout the pinched madness of his struggle through the host of Inrithi, he was transfixed by a single thought:

He can see the Few.

Only the Few could see the Few.

Proyas watches Achamian flee and is stunned and furious at seeing him here. Maithanet grabs Proyas’s arm and says they need to speak. Maithanet has Proyas follow Gotian, Grandmaster of the Shrial Knights, through the Junriüma. As they walk, Proyas can’t get over his outrage at a sorcerer, even one he loved once, here in this holy place. Gotian leads Proyas to the Tusk, a great horn of mammoth ivory carved with the scriptures.

Proyas falls to his knees and thanks Gotian for bringing him here. Proyas begins to pray. Maithanet joins him and Proyas sees Maithanet as his new teacher. Maithanet leads their conversation towards those who would pervert the Holy War. Proyas answers the Emperor and the Schools.

The Shriah turned his strong bearded profile to him, and Proyas was struck by the crisp blue of his eyes. “Tell me, Nersei Proyas,” Maithanet said with the voice of edict. “Who was that man, that sorcerer, who dared pollute my presence?”

My Thoughts

Momas being the god of both sea and storm and dice is interesting (and amusing). Of course the patron god of sailors would be both about the sea and gambling, because even in modern times, sea voyages can be a gamble. Weather can change, ice bergs can drift, etc.

Sorcery in Bakker’s world is interesting. It is a sin because it cheapens the voice of the God. It uses the God’s power, but not for anything useful, but only to cause destruction. To mar the world with their imperfect use of that power. The religion of Bakker’s world is an interest mix of Judeo-Christian-Islam and paganism.

With the Tusk you have very Old Testament commandments, concepts of sin and damnation, mixed with near-east pantheism. Hundreds of gods and goddess, idolatry, temple prostitutes with the priestess of Giera, sacrifices, etc.

Then along comes Inri Sejunes who preaches something like the New Testament. The concept of all the gods and goddess are in fact the God made manifest in different aspects is like a hundredfold version of the trinity of Christianity. INRI is an acronym in Latin for Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum (Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews), which the roman soldiers wrote on Jesus’s cross when he was crucified.

And lastly comes Fane, wandering out of the Carathay Desert. Preaching a new version of the God—the Solitary God. Fane rejects the multitude of gods and goddess, saying there is only one God and he is not split into multiple aspects. Like Muhammad, Fane rejects the “trinity” of the previous religion. The desert tribesmen of Kian are converted and take the Holy City of Shimeh (Jerusalem), leading to the present Holy War which resembles the medieval crusades in many ways (including how Nansur [the Byzantines] clash with the War later in the story).

Achamian as one of the Mandate’s spies, is almost always in the company of men who fear and revile him. Whether they know he is a sorcerer or not. No wonder Achamian is jaded, to be constantly reminded because of his “gift” he is damned. Achamian has to take insults from lesser men, knowing full well the damage he could reek if he wanted to.

Esmenet is an interesting character. An intelligent, strong-willed woman born in a world that sees her as nothing more than an object to sate men’s lust. Women in the three seas fall into one of three role: the wife, the harlot, or the priestess (who practice temple prostitution). Women are marginalized and thought of as less then men. Esmenet is an underdog and you can’t help rooting for her.

Achamian and Esmenet’s relationship is very schadenfreude. They enjoy each other’s company on several levels. But, Esmenet’s occupation always causes a painful rift between them. Achamian always wonders if its the real Esmenet he is with or the act she puts on for her clients. Esmenet is hurt by the wary distance Achamian keeps her at because he is unsure.

Achamian’s fevers remind me of malaria. If you survive malaria untreated, or if the treatment fails to kill the parasite, you can have recurrences of malaria. The parasite can lay dormant in the liver for years. Malaria is also not contagious, like the Fevers Achamian has.

Inrau still seems to be his innocent self. He is as enamored by Maithanet as everyone else is. And on the surface, Maithanet seems great. He’s cleansed the heart of religion from its petty corruption, broke the church free from the yoke of the Nansur Emperor. What’s not to like? Oh, wait, he appeared out of know where from the south. The faithful Inrithi who walked out of heathen lands. That’s not suspicious. And now he calls a Holy War against the very place he just left. Oh, and he’s one of the Few and has blue eyes, not a Ketyai trait.

Achamian’s handling of Sarcellus is great. I love how he momentarily regrets having so many teeth as he provokes Sarcellus. There is also something sinister about Sarcellus. Bakker describes his white Shrial uniform to almost have no shadows, but Sarcellus face seemed to have more shadows then normal.

“How I’ve longed to do that pig,” the man [Sarcellus] whispered.

On a reread, the words Sarcellus hisses when he grabs Achamian are significant. In all, I love this scene. As a writer, I love a scene that serves multiple purposes. At once this introduces Sarcellus, a character important as the story develops, gives us a taste of his character (an asshole) while at the same time demonstrating Achamian’s quick wits and skill at acting. He manipulates Sarcellus into dismissing him, “playing his levers.”

Manipulation is a major theme of this series. The way Achamian uses his words to “open a safe place” to lead Inrau into betrayal is well handle. I’ve read that the CIA found there are four reasons why men turn spies on their country, organization, or faction. Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego. Inrau is Ideology while earlier Geshruuni was definitely Ego. If someone is going to spy for Ideological reason, it means his handler [Achamian] would need to keep Inrau focused on that Ideology. To re-frame the betrayal in the terms of that Ideology.

Maithanet’s words in his sermon are so powerful, even jaded Achamian finds himself being moved by them. “Such a voice. One that fell upon passions and thoughts rather than ears, with intonations exquisitely pitched to incite, to enrage.”

In this chapter we meet both of Achamian’s former students. Nersei Proyas core dilemma is introduced here—he wants the world to be holy, and it’s not. What is it with Achamian’s former students and becoming faithful Inrithi?

Click here to go onto Chapter Four!

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