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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Nine

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Nine

Momemn

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

A beggar’s mistake harms no one but the beggar. A king’s mistake, however, harms everyone but the king. Too often, the measure of power lies not in the number who obey your will, but in the number who suffer your stupidity.

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

So, pretty self-evident. Rulers’ mistakes (or politicians passing ill-thought-out laws) cost their people. This is an Esmenet chapter, so it primes you to watch what she does. What decisions will she make in this chapter that will cause others to suffer?

Let’s read and find out!

Well, I read this chapter and I thought this was referring to Esmenet. But the only decision she makes is to leave Kelmomas in favor of her audience with Sharacinth. It’s hard to call that a mistake. She doesn’t know he’s a homicidal homunculus pretending to be a little boy. Whether or not Sharacinth lived or died, would not stop Nannaferi cementing her control over the Yatwerians via such a blatant demonstration of the Dread Mother’s power.

So is it Nannaferi the leader? No. She doesn’t make a decision. She’s just Yatwer’s puppet. So is this a critique on Yatwer? A lot of people are about to suffer from her actions. And she is making a mistake in opposing Kellhus.

Kellhus doesn’t appear to make any mistakes here, either.

Honestly, the only mistake is Esmenet with Kelmomas and trusting him. It’s going to lead to him becoming the No-God. That’s a lot of people suffering.

Of course, there will be real mistakes that are made in this storyline ending in Esmenet and Maithanet feuding. Either way, this is a quote that we should pay attention to.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Sakarpus

Her face seemed numb for tingling.

Kelmomas asks his mother if Samarmas hears them. She’s clutching tight to his hand as she says, yes because he’s a god’s son. She has her cheeks marked with a line of her dead son’s ashes. She would do this every full moon until she no longer wept.

Even now, she could feel his residue across her cheeks, burning, accusing, as though transmuted, Samarmas had become antithetical to his mother, a kind of poison that her skin could not abide.

As though he had become wholly his father’s.

She has to wear these because the tradition goes back thousands of years as she inters her son’s ashes in the High Royal Ashery in the Temple Xothei. She doesn’t get to keep him in her household’s shrine. This makes her grief public and not “tender and private.” The mobs have gathered to watch her procession to the temple. It’s a “seething carnival of mourning and anticipation.” Even in the bowels of the temple, she can hear them.

What would they say when they saw that her cheeks were dry? What would they make of an Empress who could not weep for the loss of her dearest child?

They pass niches for those interred here, including Ikurei Xerius and Conphas. Theirs are unadorned. She finds it ironic to put her son’s ashes by Conphas. She ignores the offerings left before his urn.

Someday, she thought, all her children would rest in this immobile gloom. Static. Speechless. Someday, she would reside here, cool dust encased in silver, gold, or perhaps Zeümi jade—something cold, for all the substances that Men coveted were cold. Someday the heat of her would leach into the world, and she would be as dirt to the warm fingers of the living.

Someday she would be dead.

She feels relief at the thought and is shocked by it. She sways and is on the floor before she realizes it. Kelmomas watches. She tries to smile. He seems vulnerable like his dead brother. Then he spoke and asks her if Samarmas hears them. She sees her dead son lying broken on the spear he’d landed on every time she sees Kelmomas. The boy clarifies that he means when he thinks things, does Samarmas hear them. He starts crying and she hugs him. She feels like her soul has been split in half, one half grieving with Kelmomas, the other numbed and confused.

How could she protect him? And if she could not, how could she love him?

She laid her head across his scalp, blew at the hairs stuck to the seal of her lips. Her cheeks were wet, but whether the tears were her own she could not tell. No matter. The mob would be appeased. Her Exalt-Ministers would be relieved, for the Yatwerian matter had become far more than a Cultic nuisance. Who would raise voice or hand against a bereaved mother? And Kellhus…

She was so tired. So weary.

“The dead hear everything, Kel.”

Iothiah…

A life lived, no forgotten.

And in its place…

A man in a small room is confused as he stares at a young woman nursing an infant. She grows concern at him and calls him love, asking if he’s fine. She says he looks like he’s dreaming. He gets up and heads to an open doorway and walks outside. He reaches the gate. The baby is crying now as the woman rushes after him, asking what he’s doing. She keeps asking if she did something wrong. He batters her from him and keeps walking.

Two hundred and fifty-seven years before, a Shigeki builder had saved twenty-eight silver talents by purchasing brunt brick form farther up the River Sempis, where the clay was riddled with sand. Aside from the tan hue, the tenement he raised was indistinguishable from the others. Over the course of the following centuries, the flood-waters had twice risen high enough to lave the southernmost pylons. Though the damage appeared minimal, sheets of material had fallen from the base of outermost support, lending it a gnawed looked, which for some reasons, seemed to attract urinating dogs.

It toppled exactly when it should, drawing with it an entire quadrant, collapsing four floors of apartments and crushing all the unfortunates within. There was a roar, a collective peal of screams punched into silence. Afterwards, dust sweeping out and up. The earthen clap and tinkle of raining bricks. The streets packed with shouting passers-by

The woman and her infant were gone.

A life forgotten…

The man walks away, threading through a crowded market place without ever once jostling someone, taking the perfect path. He spots an old woman begging and marches up to her. She looks no different than the other wretches in the temple’s shadow. A poorly thrown coin at the beggar causes her to look up at the right moment and see the man. He helps the old woman stand. She has childish awe on her face and identifies herself as Nannaferi.

The pulse and fork of blood. A voice so close the speaker could not be seen. The pulse and fork of blood behind this place…

“I am the White-Luck… I walk. I breathe.”

Nannaferi says they are siblings while quivering like a girl just past menarche. He wipes away her tears for “a life forgotten.” He calls her beautiful.” She sheds more tears for “what stood in its [a life forgotten’s] place.”

Momemn…

Esmenet, gazing at her stand mirror, glimpses Kelmomas lurking in the corner of her room. She’s thinking about plans, hardly noticing her reflection. She’s gazed at herself too many times for her appearance to hold her attention. She is about to meet with Hanamem Sharacinth, the Yatwerian Matriarch. Kelmomas is spying on her and she pretends not to see him. She remembers how Samarmas and Kelmomas had played this game before. Grief grips her. Finally, she acknowledges her son. He doesn’t answer her right away and she dismisses her body-slaves. Then she asks him where his nursemaid Porsi is before remembering that the woman had been scourged and fired. When he still doesn’t answer, she turns back to her appearance, making sure her clothing is perfect.

“I c-can be Sammy…”

She heard these words more with her breast it seemed than her ears. A flush of cold about the heart. Even still, she continued to face the mirror.

“What do you mean? Kel, what are you saying?”

Our children are so familiar to us that we often forget them, which is why the details of their existence sometimes strike us with discomfiting forces. Either because she watched him through the mirror or in spite of it, Esmenet suddenly saw her son as a little stranger, the child of some unknown womb. For a moment, he seemed too beautiful to be…

Believed.

Kelmomas cries that if Esmenet wants him to be Samarmas he will be. Heartbreak fills her, and she realizes she’d been selfish in wallowing if she was truly mourning Samarmas or not. She tries to speak but is too choked as Kelmomas continues that he looks just like his twin. She rushes to him and sees how her “circles of self-pity” had let her ignore Kelmomas’s pain. Though she grieved, she also knew the truth that children died in a cruel world. She had an internal strength to weather it, but she realizes that Kelmomas has lost himself and doesn’t understand.

I’m all he has left, she thought, stroking his fine, golden hair.

Even still, something dark in her recoiled.

Children. They wept so much.

Esmenet is in the Imperial Audience Hall. It hasn’t changed, other than the banners, from when Xerius was emperor. She remembers something Kellhus told her: “Monuments were as much prayers as they were tools, overreaching arrested in dwarfing stone.” It proves the men like to look strong especially when dealing with Gods. Esmenet is going to need this for her audience with Sharacinth.

She sits on her throne in the center of all the frozen pageantry. Behind her, the sunlight streamed over her, forcing people to see her against the bright sky, especially at sunset when the sun is setting behind her. It makes her feel more powerful as they squint to stare at her. Above, birds fluttered. Some would get caught in a net to keep them from nesting in the rafters. They would struggle to escape, their shill shouts hurting the ears and not inspiring compassion. Sometimes, at night, she would let Samarmas help free the trapped birds.

Orisons (an archaic word for prayer) rise from the galleys, singing praise to Kellhus. This announces the Matriarch’s arrival. Thinking of Samarmas now makes her think of Kelmomas whom she left sobbing and begging her to stay while promising he would be Samarmas.

We l-love you, Mom-mommy… So-so m-much…”

Hearing him use “we” still makes her emotional. But she can’t afford this as Hanamem Sharacinth, the figurehead of the Cult of Yatwer, approaches. Despite custom saying Sharacinth should dress in poverty, she has wealth on her. Maithanet is accompanying her. As the orisons fade, the pair reach them. The Matriarch kneels and addresses her. Esmenet tells her to rise, saying they’re all “children of the Ur-Mother.” The Matriarch agrees and rises. For a moment, she glances at Maithanet as if questioning why he’s not helping her stand then remembers who he is. She’s used to being around subordinates and has trouble showing deference. She acts defensively.

Esmenet bluntly asks about the White-Luck Warrior. Sharacinth isn’t surprised that this is why she’s here. She says she’s heard the rumors. Esmenet calls it treason and Sharacinth agrees. Esmenet is annoyed that Sharacinth speaks to her as an equal. The Matriarch didn’t even offer condolences. Esmenet swallows it and presses Sharacinth for information.

A calculated pause. Sharacinth’s eyes seemed bred to bovine insolence, her lips to a sour line.

Esmenet struggled to draw breath around her outrage. Arrogant ingrate! Treacherous old bitch!

Was this what she had imagined all those years ago, sitting on her sill in Sumna, enticing passers-by with a glimpse of the shadows riding up and down her inner thighs? Knowing nothing of power, Esmenet had confused it with its trappings. Ignorance—few things were so invisible. She could remember staring at the coins she had so coveted, those coins that could ward starvation or clothe bruised skin, and wondering at the profile of the man upon them, the Emperor who seemed to stand astride her every bounty and privatization. To hated. Not feared. Not loved. These were passions better spent on his agents. The emperor himself had always seemed… far too far.

She remembers her life as a whore as she tried to imagine what I was like for Ikurei Xerius III to sit here and she can’t quite understand how she got here. She thinks once when she showed Samarmas a silver coin and asked who was on it. He couldn’t even though it was herself on the coin. She feels grief now. It’s easy picking at her wound to find the pain. She hopes her makeup hides it as she presses Sharacinth for what she’s heard about the White-Luck Warrior. She answers that she’s heard many rumors.

It’s obvious that the plan of honoring the prideful Sharacinth with an audience to swell her ego and make her pliable is not working. Esmenet changes tactics and rebukes Sharacinth, and receives a sneer in answer. This sends terror through her, one only someone with a position of power can feel. A reminder that one day someone else will be in charge. Sharacinth has reminded Esmenet that power “came down to recognition.”

It was all naked force otherwise.

Maithanet roars at Sharacinth with the force of his position. She begins to talk back to him when she is seized by fear. She wheezes as a bright light appears above her. It spirals outward, too bright to look at. Esmenet shields her eyes with her forearm. When she looks again, Kellhus has appeared just as she remembers him, the two demon heads dangling from his belt. He descends to the ground, his presence almost shaking the building. Sharacinth stands stunned while Maithanet kneels. Esmenet doesn’t stare at her husband as he takes his place to her right. She projects confidence like she knew this would happen. She can’t let anyone know it surprises her.

With a mild rebuke that carries the penalty of death, Kellhus asks why she’s standing. She throws herself sobbing to the floor, begging for his forgiveness. He asks if she’ll oppose the sedition and blasphemy. She wails yes.

“For make no mistake, I shall war against you and yours.” The grinding savagery of his voice swallowed the entirety of the hall, battered the ear like fists. “Your deeds I shall strike from the stones. Your temples I shall turn into funeral pyres. And those that still dare take up breath or arms against me, I shall hunt, unto death and beyond! And my Sister, whom you worship, shall lament in the dark, her memory no more than a dream of destruction. Men shall spit to cleanse their mouths of her name!”

The old woman shook, arched back as if gagging in terror.

“Do you understand what I say, Sharacinth?”

Yessssh!”

He tells her to obey Esmenet and Maithanet and to stop being a figurehead but claim the leadership of the Cult then root out the faction opposed to him. It seems like the entire world is behind Kellhus as he orders Sharacinth to hunt down Psatama Nannaferi and end her. Sharacinth begs for Nannaferi. He roars at her demanding if she would offend him in his house. She shrieks and pisses herself. The world seems to return to normal and Kellhus moves to Sharacinth and tells her to taste the air, for her every breath is at his mercy. He tells her not to embrace humiliation and the “shrill poison” of conceit. He tells her to embrace the life he offers her.

Esmenet had heard these words so many times they should have seemed more a recitation than something meant, an incantation that never failed to undo the knots of pride that so bound men. And yet each time, she found herself sinking through the surface, floating utterly submerged. Each time, she heard them for the first time, and she was frightened and renewed.

Over the years, her husband had ceased being many things to Esmenet. But he was a miracle still.

Sharacinth begs forgiveness over and over. Kellhus asks Maithanet to comfort her. He does while Kellhus turns to Esmenet and holds out his hand. She takes them, And he teleports them from the throne room to their quarters where he immediately collapses in exhaustion. She barely gets him to their bed. He calls her wife as he rolls onto his back. She asks how many times he teleported. He can only travel to where he can see, from horizon to horizon. “Many,” he answers.

Simple, her soul whispered. I must make things simple.

“You came…” she began, shocked to find she was already crying. “You came as s-soon as you heard?” She knew this could not be true. Each and every night Mandate Far-Callers spoke with him in his dreams, appraised him of all that happened on the Andiamine Heights and elsewhere. He had come because of the situation with the Yatwerians, because of Sharacinth. Not because of his idiot son.

There were no accidents with Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

She cries in his arms that they’re cursed. He catches her eyes and says it’s only misfortune. She finds his words to be a drug. She protests that the White-Luck is just that then adds Mimara has run away and can’t be found and now Samarmas is dead. She adds people celebrated his death. Kellhus cuts her off to tell her to do no reprisals over that. The Yatwerians are not a people who can be massacred. They are spread across the entire Three Seas, impossible to root out. He says only the Great Ordeal and conquering Golgotterath matters. He talks about how other problems might seem important. She cuts him off to protest their son is dead.

Her voice pealed raw across the polished stone hollows.

Silence. Where for others the lack of response augured wounds scored or truths too burdensome to ignore or dismiss, for her husband it meant something altogether different. His silence was always one with the world about it, monolithic in the way of framing things. Without exception it said, Hear the words you have spoken. You. It was never, ever, the mark of error or incapacity.

Which was why, perhaps, she found him so easy to worship and so difficult to love.

He then speaks her name with such warmth and compassion that she starts crying. He tells her that he doesn’t expect her to take comfort in the Great Ordeal’s importance but to know that it has taken precedence over even the collapse of the New Empire or the death of their son. For a moment, staring into his eyes is liking staring into her own. She understands this. He knows her better than herself and, in fact, had already known the words he told her. “His tone had told her so.”

She asks how much tragedy must happen and he says all of it so long as the world isn’t destroyed. She beats on his chest and asks why the Gods hunt Kellhus. Why they want to stop him unless they want toe Second Apocalypse.

She had chosen Kellhus over Achamian. Kellhus! She had chosen her womb. She had chosen power and sumptuous ease. She had chosen to lay her hand upon the arm of a living god… Not this! Not this!

Kellhus has knows Maithanet has explained this to her, but she is still confused. He talks about how they are different from others, thinking about the future and walking the Shortest Path through the Thousandfold Thought. The Gods are jealous Kellhus has this task. She hears his inhuman voice that had conquered not only the entire world but “first her thighs and then her heart.”

She thought of that final afternoon with Achamian, the day that Holy Shimeh fell.

She sobs that she doesn’t have the strength for this and asks him to put Maithanet in charge. He’s half-Dûnyain. He can handle it. Kellhus says she is strong and Maithanet has his task as Shriah. She demands why her.

“Esmi, you have my love, my trust. I know that you have the strength to do this.”

He says the White-Luck will break against her. She asks how he can know. He cups her face in a haloed hand. He says her fear and grief and regret makes her pure.

Iothiah…

“Cursed!” Nannaferi cried. “Cursed be he who misleads the blind man on the road!”

All old voices failed in some manner; they cracked and they quavered, or they dwindled with the loss of the wind that once empowered them. But for Psatama Nannaferi, the breaking of her voice, which had once made her family weep for its melodic purity, seemed to reveal more than it marred, as though it were but paint, hoary and moulted, covering something furious and elemental. It struck over the surrounding clamour, reached deep into the packed recesses of the Catacombs.

The Charnel Hall is packed with hundreds and lit by torches. Smoke ripples across the ceiling. She curses the thief who steals from those and causes starvation. As she speaks, she’s standing naked and wrinkled, her body covered in white sigils. She’s covered in sweat. Before her on a “slave’s chair” sits the White-Luck Warrior. She then curses the murderer who kills his brother as she parts her legs. Period blood runs down her thighs. She stands proud, showing off the strength of her womb. She is fertile once more. People weep at the miracle. Everyone is roaring as she next curses the whore for choosing “gold over seed, for power over obedience, for lust over love!” She smears her palm in period blood and raises it before the crowd.

“Cursed be the false—the deceivers of men! Cursed be the Aspect-Emperor!”

There are pitches of passion that are holy simply for the intensity of their expression. There is worship beyond the caged world of words. Psatama Nannaferi’s hatred had long ago burned away the impurities, the pathetic pageant of rancour and resentment that so often make folds of the great. Hers was the grinding hatred, the homicidal outrage of the betrayed, the unwavering fury of the degraded and the dispossessed. The hatred that draws tendons sharp, that cleanses only the way murder and fire can cleanse.

And at long last she had found her knife.

She approaches the White-Luck warrior and marks him with a line of period blood across each cheek. These are the wurammi, the counterpart to the lines of ash mourning mothers wear. She preaches about how those in the shadows are always giving because they are weak. But Yatwer knows why the weak are the ones abused. Why the strong do “everything save kill!” She mounts the White-Luck Warrior and impales herself on his penis.

“Because without Givers,” she shouted in a voice hoarse for passion—doubly broken, “there is nothing for them to take! Because without slaves, there can be no masters! Because we are the wine that they imbibe, the bread that they eat, the cloth that they soil, the walls that they defend! Because we are the truth of their power! The prize they would conquer!”

And she could feel it; he the centre of her, and she the circumference of him—an ache encircled by fire. Hoe and Earth! Hoe and Earth! She was an old crone splayed across a boy, her eyes the red of blood, his the white of seed. The crowd before them bucked and heaved, a cauldron of avid faces and sweat-slicked limbs.

“We shall stoke!” she moaned and roared. “We shall foment! We shall teach those who give what it means to take!”

It’s important that he’s young and the father of only one child. He was not yet broken by the world but not at his full strength either. She says that they will no longer just be the “sea that drowns” but the “knife that cuts.” The White-Luck is their knife. As she rides him, the earth kicks like an unborn child in the womb. As she does, she feels his strength filing him. She’s growing young while he becomes older. His youth is transformed into a man worn by the years while she becomes firm and fair. The pair reach their climax.

Beaten and battered she had been tipped in libation. And now the dread Goddess raised her, a bowl cast of gold.

A vessel. A grail. A cup filled with the Waters-Most-Holy. The Blood and the Seed.

“Cursed!” she shrieked in a singer’s heart-cutting voice, high and pure, yet warmed by the throngs, a never-diminishing pool that was passed from palm to palm. She watched the Ur-Mother’s children mark their cheeks with the red line of hatred…

“Cursed be he who misleads the blind man on the road!”

My Thoughts

Esmenet’s guilt is on full display. It’s why she can’t stand having her son’s ashes on her because it reminds her that she was too busy running the kingdom and not paying attention to her son like a mother should have. Now Samarmas has become like Kellhus, something she rebels against. It’s one of the biggest insights into just how much she has come to hate Kellhus over the years.

Who is leaving offerings to Conphas’s ashes? No idea. But it’s also very East Asian. Leaving food is a common thing in Japan and China. I was at the temple where the Forty-Seven Ronin are buried with their lord and his wife. Though they died in 1702, their descendants are still leaving offerings to this day. Cans of Asahi Beer, lit incense, and canned salmon from Hokkaido. If you ever go to Japan, visit the Sengakuji Temple.

Esmenet’s going to outlive most of her children. By the end of this series, Samarmas, Theliopa, and Inrilatas are dead. Serwa is badly wounded. No idea if Kayûtas is alive or dead. Kelmomas is the No-God. Is there anything left of him?

If the dead hear everything, then she must feel even guiltier for feeling this revulsion to Samarmas. In death, he’s become a Dûnyain. No longer human. What she’s always feared. Now she’s afraid Kelmomas will suffer the same fate. He’ll stop being human become something inhuman.

And with that, we switch to the White-Luck Warrior. A young man with a young wife and a new child who has just forgotten everything. He’s about to die with his wife. His life is about to be over, but now Yatwer has possessed him. She has stolen everything from him to make him into the perfect warrior. Beyond a mere Narindar.

We see how the gods see the world. They know the history of everything at once. The history of the building, the man who throws the coin badly, are all known to Yatwer at once. She can guide him through the marketplace because she knows where everyone is going to move because, to her, it’s happened, is happening, and will happen all at once. She delivers the White-Luck Warrior to Nannaferi. At this point, the readers have to understand the Gods are real and are moving against Kellhus.

“Our children are so familiar to us that we often forget them, which is why the details of their existence sometimes strike us with discomfiting forces.” Bakker is addressing the reader using present tense with this sentence before turning it back to Esmenet. He’s including himself in it. This is probably something he’s realized with his own children (I suspect he’s a father, but I do know he’s married).

Kelmomas plays Esmenet like his fiddle. He gets her out of her inward grief and gets her to channel it to him so he can be at the center of her world again. After all, he killed Samarmas to have her all to himself. He can’t let her own pain steal her away either.

Even still, she finds his grief a burden “Children. They wept so much.” She can’t find herself morning for Samarmas because he feels to Dûnyain to her know that he’s dead. It’s like Kellhus has stolen another of her children.

Monuments are like prayers and both overreach. They both seek to go beyond the mortal life. A monument will outlast the man who erected it. A prayer reaches to the Outside to sway a divine being into intervening on this world. They’re both grasping beyond our reach.

Kelmomas failed to capture her attention. He sprung on her right before her audience. This is a test. But she goes with obligation and goes to see Sharacinth. Is it any wonder that the little shit murders her next. He’s killed one person for her love. It’s so much easier to kill the next.

Esmenet is a reminder that the people we see in power, the politicians and presidents and prime ministers, and even the famous actors, might seem remote. Might seem wise and authoritative. But they’re just people. They’re no different than you save, “A beggar’s mistake harms no one but the beggar. A king’s mistake, however, harms everyone but the king. Too often, the measure of power lies not in the number who obey your will, but in the number who suffer your stupidity.”

Remember that lesson. They get mad. Angry. They get offended. They make mistakes. They’re not savors. They’re not mighty. This is the very lesson the Frank Herbert wanted to show with Dune and Paul Atreides over the first three books. He’s a good man. Heroic, even. He’s the sort of man that you want to be your leader. And he couldn’t stop the results of his actions. He could barely keep the ship going straight.

Not surprisingly, Samarmas couldn’t recognize his mother on a coin. The parts of his brain that lets humans see images in patterns might not work with him. He might be able to tell faces apart (yes, that is something that can happen to you where all faces are the same to you because our brains spend a lot of time processing other’s expressions and if that gets damaged this happens). This might also be a hint at the theory that the Anasûrimbor line has nonman blood in it. Nonman cannot see two-dimensional, frozen images. Their art shows things blurring through motion and always has some level of three dimensions to them. Their brains just do not work like ours.

Power is an illusion. You have it because people give it to you. When they stop giving it to you, you either use actual power (violence) to force them to capitulate or you reveal just how empty it truly is.

As ever, Kellhus knows how to make an entrance. This both sets up the end of Book 3 when he returns to her as well as the fact that he can teleport. We’ll see this used greatly in the next books. It also reminds of his planning. He has anticipated when things will happen. When they’ll go wrong. When he needs to act.

Even hating Kellhus, even knowing the truth of him, Esmenet still worships him.

And poor Sharacinth. She got a brute force lesson in dealing with a Dûnyain. No time to pussyfoot around. Break her, remake her, and send her on her way to root out the cult plotting against him. And if it wasn’t for one crazy child, it might have done something.

Probably not since the White-Luck Warrior is already born and hooked up with Nannaferi and she’s about to find her tool in Fanayal.

For one moment, Esmenet wants to believe she’s married to a human. That her husband came because their son is dead. But then she remembers, he doesn’t love. Well, he does, but so weakly as not to matter. He cares for her, but their children, there appears no evidence of that.

Kellhus is never wrong the God is never wrong. How can you love something that isn’t human? That doesn’t make mistakes. That you can’t affect emotionally. She said those words to hurt him because he’s not showing pain. He should be grieving with her, but he can’t. How can she love something like him?

She chooses her children, power, and prestige over Kellhus and is learning how this hasn’t worked out. All her children are not human save Mimara who hates her. She has the power but realizes how hollow it is. The ease comes at the stress and fear of ruling. What seemed luxurious from the outside only reveals more problems. The idyllic life she wanted for herself and children was a lie. Now she has the Gods wanting to kill her family.

It’s clear she regrets not going with Achamian, that she thinks she’s made the wrong choice. Of course, Kellhus never would have let her go. He needed her womb.

“Esmi, you have my love, my trust. I know that you have the strength to do this.” I think these are true words from Kellhus. He does love and trust her. He rescued her from the collapse of the New Empire. I do not think he faked the fatigue. Teleporting all that way is tiring. Serwë, half-Dûnyain and a prodigy with the Gnosis herself, could only teleport a single time without needing rest. To come fetch her at the end of the Great Ordeal, he had to travel four or five times as far. He then spared Kelmomas for her. Love is both what lets Kellhus choose to save the world over stopping his damnation and what also causes him to fail because he could never love enough. He put his all into saving the world and ignored his family. His sons who were of no use to him.

You can tell Esmenet still worships Kellhus because she still sees the halos.

So the White-Luck Warrior sits on the slave chair. He’s here to be bound to Yatwer’s will. She has stolen him from his life, wiped it from his memory, and made a perfect warrior out of him. It is the feminine dominating the masculine in this ritual. The woman’s sexuality conquering the males with her talk of “gluttonous Phallus Eater.” We also see the beginning of her fertility returning to her. Once again, her womb is being washed clean by her menstrual blood to prepare for another egg to be released and another chance of creating life.

Nannaferi rails about slavers who take even as she is taking from the White-Luck Warrior on the chair. He is giving her his seed, his youth, so that she can be young again. She is conquering him with her sexuality.

Knife that cuts is martial force. The power of the few that dominates the many. The sea that drowns is the multitude that sweeps over and no amount of force can stop the tide of sheer numbers. The poor and abused have always been the later, only able effect change through mass riots instead of precise use of force. The White-Luck Warrior changes this. He’s their knife.

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Seven

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Seven

Sakarpus

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

…conquered people live and die with the knowledge that survival does not suffer honour. They have chosen shame over the pyre, the slow flame for the quick.

—TRIAMIS 1, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

This is very applicable considering were delving back into Sorweel. He has survived. This was something his father couldn’t do. Harweel had chosen honor over suffering the shame of living with the aftermath. Now Sorweel has to. He faces that slow pain, having to live with it every day. It’s so much, he’s suicidal. He wishes he didn’t survive because it has stripped away his self-delusions about his heroic nature.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Sakarpus

In the aftermath of Sakarpus’s fall, the soldiers of the Ordeal marvel at the large flocks of storks that cover the hills. None could agree with what they meant since every people viewed storks differently. Kellhus merely forbade them from behind hunted because the Sakarpi considered them holy. They guard them against predators while collecting their droppings to use as fuel since wood was scarce. Several soldiers are executed for hunting the birds before the Men of the Ordeal learn to live with them. They even began to see them as holy.

Meetings are held and preparations made for the march, overseen by the “all-seeing eyes of their Aspect-Emperor.” There is some trepidation. They are on the edge of the Lands of Men. From here, only Sranc rule. King Saubon was heard saying, “Men are more lamb than lion.” They had two-thousand miles of wildness to cross and they know the march will be bloodier than fighting the Consult.

That is why the New Empire has prepared for a decade, gathering resources. Even now, a road is being constructed from Sakarpus to Oswenta to allow the fast transportation of the supplies they would need. They would live on amicut, what the Scylvendi survive on while campaigning. With them would travel herds of sheep and cattle. Still, this wouldn’t be enough food. They would have to hunt as they traveled. Legendary Imperial Trackers had scouted these lands at great cost of life to map the terrain they would cross. They would have until Winter to reach Golgotterath. If they failed to do so, they would die in the northern winter.

Then there are the Sranc. Though they’ve had their numbers decimated by the Bounty, there are still unknown thousands, maybe millions, the Ordeal will face. Forced to divide their forces to forage to survive will weaken them against his threat. They can’t anticipate how the Consult will employ the Sranc, if at all. Their odds of surviving are slim.

For all these reasons, Sakarpus was vital. They didn’t just need her Chorae Hoard. They needed the people here to be cooperative. They didn’t crush them with the rod but offered hands of friendship. If the Sakarpi rebelled, it would disrupt their supply lines and delay their departure.

This was how the fateful decision was made to place the young King of Sakarpus, Sorweel, in the care of the Aspect-Emperor’s two eldest sons, Moënghus and Kayûtas.

“When he becomes a brother to them,” his Arcane Holiness explained to his old friends, “he will be as a son to me.”

Moënghus and Kayûtas enter Sorweel’s room without much fanfare. Kayûtas speaks flawless Sakarpic and tells Sorweel that he’s riding in his command tomorrow. Moënghus merely snags leftovers from Sorweel’s plate and fixes “Murderous blue eyes” on Sorweel. The young King makes a joke bringing a growling laugh from Moënghus who answers in Sheyic. Kayûtas turns this into his own joke that makes Sorweel smile, losing his first battle.

They’re hunters, he [Sorweel] told himself, sent to run down my heart.

The weight of the defeat is crushing Sorweel. He has trouble sleeping thinking, “I am a king of widows and orphans.” He replays the defeat in his mind over and over, knowing he’s a prisoner. Despite his sleepless nights, they’re also his reprieve from everything. He can remember his father clearly at night, especially talking about his dead mother. Sorweel’s days are different. He is the puppet king holding court. It’s a theater. He plays at ruling at Kellhus’s command while knowing it’s a betrayal of his people.

He learned that he lacked the ability to do and to believe contradictory things. Where a nobler soul would have found consistency in his acts, he seemed to find it in his beliefs. He simply believed what he needed to believe in order to act as his conquerors wished him to act. While he muddled through the schedule his foreign secretaries arranged for him, while he sat in their perfumed presence, it seemed that things were as the Aspect-Emperor claimed, that the world turned beneath the shadow of the Second Apocalypse, and that all Men must act of one accord to preserve the future, no matter how much it might offend their pride.

All Kings answer to holy writ,” the godlike man had told him. “And so long as that writ is otherworldly, they willingly acknowledge as much. But when it comes to them as I come to them, wearing the flesh of their fellow man, they confuse the sanctity of obeying the Law with the shame of submitting to a rival.” A warm laugh, like a dear uncle admitting a harmless folly. “All men think themselves closer to the God than others. And so they rebel, raise arms against the very thing they claim to serve…

Against me.”

Whenever Sorweel is before Kellhus, he’s overwhelmed by awe for him, he believes that his father’s pride had interfered with his duty to his people. It was all a mistake. But when Sorweel leaves Kellhus’s presence, the memory of his father’s warning that Kellhus is a demon return. He feels like an idiot for succumbing once more and remembers his father’s last words that Kellhus needs Sakarpus and Sorweel. The young king is confused about his father’s words would mean the Great Ordeal is a sham. All these people have been tricked. “It seemed impossible that so many could be so thoroughly deceived.”

When King Proyas’s tells Sorweel of Kellhus’s miracles, it’s so honest. Sorweel wonders if he’s being stubborn like his father, refusing to see the truth. By day, he sees signs of his father’s mistake everywhere. But at night, he is free of it all and his father’s words, his presence, surrounds him. He even pretends to hold conversations with his father.

At night, the young King could simply close his eyes and refuse. This was the secret comfort of orphans: the ability to believe according to want and not world—whatever it took to numb the ache of things lost.

I miss her too, Da…

Almost as much as I miss you.

A slave fetches him the next morning. He’s relieved that the farce of pretending to be king is over. He’s leaving Sakarpus. He pretends it’s a simple outing but knows he’s abdicating, abandoning his people.

More than walls had been overthrown with the coming of the Aspect-Emperor.

Sorweel looks ahead, afraid to meet the gazes of his countrymen, as the slave leads him out the Herder’s Gate. As he leaves the strong walls that had stopped the No-God, he can’t believe his people’s naivety. How could the Aspect-Emperor be stronger? Then he thinks of his father dying on those walls. They reach the camp and pass through the maze of tents. The Men of the Ordeal are getting ready to leave, hardly giving him a glance. Sorweel sees men from every nation as the silent slave leads him on with confidence.

Before meeting the Aspect-Emperor, Sorweel would have thought it impossible that one man could make an instrument of so many disparate souls. The Sakarpi were a sparse people. But even with their meager number, not to mention common language and traditions, King Harweel had found it difficult to overcome their feuds and grudges. The more Sorweel pondered it, the more miraculous it seemed that all the Men of the Three Seas, with their contradictory tongues and ancient animosities, could find common purpose.

Everywhere he looked, he could see it, hanging slack in the windless morning: the Circumfix.

Wasn’t there proof in miracles? Isn’t that what the priest said?

Sorweel realizes he can get lost in the vast numbers of the Great Ordeal and be anonymous. It’s comforting. That’s shattered when he spots Tasweer, the son of a High Boonsmen, being led in chains. This shocks Sorweel and he remembers seeing Tasweer in the battle. The prisoner glares with sullen anger at everyone and Sorweel looks away. Tasweer sees him. He’s at first shocked. Then he begs Sorweel to fight back. To resist. He’s clubbed down by the escorts.

As had happened so many times since the city’s fall, Sorweel found himself divided, struck into two separate soul, one real, the other ethereal. In his soul’s eye, he slipped from his saddle, his boots slapping into wheezing mud, and shouldered his way past the Conryians. He pulled Tasweer to his knees, held his head behind the ear. Blood pulsed from the captive’s nostrils, clotted the coarse growth rising from his jaw. “Did you see?” Sorweel cried to the broken face. “Tasweer! Did you see what happened to my father?”

But the bodily Sorweel simply continued after his guide, his skin porcelain with chill.

“Noooo!” pealed hoarse into air behind him, followed by raucous laughter.

The young King of Sakarpus resumed his study of the nonexistent weather. The true horror of defeat, a kernel of him realized, lay not in the fact of capitulation, but in the way it kenneled in the heart, the way it loitered and bred and bred and bred.

The way it made fate out of falling.

Finally, Sorweel is led to the northern edge of the army where horseman are running drills on horses similar to the small, hearty breeds of Sakarpus. He’s taken to a nearby command tent. Passing soldiers call out in greeting, but Sorweel doesn’t understand their words. Are they insults or greetings? The command tent has the Kidruhil heavy cavalry’s banner. The guard nods and lets Sorweel and the slave enter.

Inside, Anasûrimbor Kayûtas lounges at a table with a secretary writing on papyrus. Kayûtas studies the papers on the table, ignoring Sorweel. The slave kneels and leaves. After a few more moments, Kayûtas says Sorweel is wondering if it was an insult or not to have a slave fetch him. Sorweel says it’s an insult.

A handsome smirk. “I fear no court is so simple.”

Kayûtas drinks water while Sorweel trembles, uncomfortable standing before “the son of a living god.” Kayûtas looks so much like his father down to “the same unnerving manner.” Everything seems deliberate, decided beforehand. However, it’s not quite as over-awing as Kellhus. Kayûtas still feels mortal. He could bleed.

Kayûtas, knowing the Sakarpi hate useless pleasantries, says they’ll dispense with jnan and speak honestly. Sorweel agrees to Kayûtas’s relief. He tells Sorweel that his people’s obedience is needed, so the Great Ordeal needs Sorweel. Kayûtas then speaks Sorweel’s fears that this conversation is just to trick him into betraying his people. He gives a guarded answer.

“Perhaps,” Kayûtas repeated with a snort., “So much for not measuring tongues!”

A dull and resentful glare.

Kayûtas says he’ll keep speaking plain. He says while he’s not a sorcerer, he has Kellhus’s talent at languages and can read people’s souls through their faces. Maybe not as good as Kellhus, but he can see Sorweel’s anguish. Kayûtas thinks Sakarpus’s defiance is idiotic but understands it. He just won’t commiserate, treating Sorweel the way Harweel would. “Men weep to wives and pillows.” That comment makes Sorweel wonder if spies watch him sleep.

Kayûtas then continues he’s not happy having to hold this conversation with Sorweel or has this task, given to him by Kellhus. He hates politics and wishes his and Sorweel’s relationship was an honest one. But Kayûtas will obey his father, who’s a God.

He [Kayûtas] paused as though to leave room for Sorweel to reply, but the young King could scare order his thoughts, let alone speak. Kayûtas had been every bit as direct as he had promised, and yet at the same time his discourse seemed bent to the point of deformity, charged with a too-penetrating intelligence, pleated with an almost obscene self-awareness…

Who were these people?

Kayûtas says he can see sedition and vengeance in Sorweel’s eyes. He also sees that Sorweel struggles with whether Kellhus is a demon or the Savior of Mankind. Kayûtas understands this doubt and asks Sorweel to be open-minded because the proof will come. And, if they survive, their conversations might be different.

Sorweel stood rigid, braced against the sense of futility that whelmed through him. How? was all he could think. How does one war against foes such as this?

Kayûtas then says he has to learn Sheyic, the instructor already chosen, since he’s now a captain of the Kidruhil’s Company of Scions with Kayûtas his general. He asks if Sorweel is okay with this and he asks if he has a choice. Kayûtas says as a son of a warlike people riding into battle will let Sorweel find out what sort of kin he is. Otherwise, he can stay a puppet in Sakarpus.

He scares understood what was happening, so how could he know what he should or shouldn’t do? But there was heart to be found in the sound of resolution. And besides, he was developing a talent for petulant remarks. “As I said,” Sorweel replied, “what choice.”

Anasûrimbor Kayûtas nodded, rather like a field surgeon regarding his handiwork, Sorweel thought.

It is enough that I obey…

Kayûtas says the slave, Porsparian, that brought Sorweel shall be his teacher in Sheyic until a proper instructor can be found. Sorweel is then given the slave’s writ of bondage. This shocks Sorweel while Kayûtas says he knows Sorweel will care for the slave. Sorweel feels numb and retreats, but is stopped.

“Oh, yes, and one final thing,” he [Kayûtas] said to the papyrus. “My elder brother, Moënghus… Beware him.”

The young King tried to reply but came to a stammering halt. He grimaced, breathed past the hammering of his heart, then tried again. “Wh-why is that?”

“Because,” Kayûtas said, his eyes still ranging the inked characters, “he’s quite mad.”

Sorweel leaves confused at what he should do. He feels the full weight of the Great Ordeal and knows Sakarpus is nothing compared to the New Empire’s might. These men saw Sorweel’s people as shit-herders. He feels a blankness reach through him and is beset by loneliness. Porsparian comes up to him. Sorweel starts to speak, but tears cut him off.

The old man gawked in voiceless alarm. He grasped Sorweel’s forearms and gently pressed the writ against the padded fabric of his tunic. And Sorweel could only think, Wool, her stands the King dressed in woolen rags.

I failed him!” he sobbed to the uncomprehending slave. “Don’t you see? I failed!”

The old Shigeki gripped him [Sorweel] by the shoulders, stared long and hard into his anguished eyes. The man’s face, it seemed, was not so different from the writ Sorweel held against his breast: smooth save where scored with lines of unknown script, across the forehead, about the eyes and snout, as dark as any ink, as if god who had carved him had struck too deep with the knife.

Sorweel asks what he’s to do. The man just nods, his eyes fixed on Sorweel. This calms him and “the roaring in his ears fell away.” Porsparian leads Sorweel to his tent. It holds a cot and a mat for the slave. He spends sits in a daze for hours at Porsparian, hardly noticing when his belongings are brought. Then he clutches his father’s torc, a relic of Sorweel’s family.

Near dusk, King Proyas arrives and says some encouraging words in Sheyic that fail to rouse Sorweel. Proyas gazes at Sorweel like he recognizes his past in the young king. The slave stays bowed the entire time. When he leaves, Sorweel sits with his slave in silence, thinking. He can hear the evening bustle outside. The sound of someone pissing outside their tent causes Sorweel to smile at his slave. They share a moment of absurd laughter.

Porsparian lights a lantern and fetches Sorweel dinner after that. While waiting, he just stares at the burning lamp wick, thinking the flame is pure and almost believes that “burning was the most blissful of death of all.” Sorweel has no appetite and gives it to his slave after some convincing.

He thought it strange the way Men did not need to share a language to speak about food.

After accepting, the slave digs at the floor and forms a ritual mouth in the earth in the middle of the tent. He exposes the black soil and places the bread in it. Sorweel thinks it’s a trick of the light when the mouth closed. The slave is satisfied and then eats the meal with the “crude honesty of a Saglander.” It makes Sorweel feel sad. He then realizes how different he is from this slave and yet they share in this, neither talking since they don’t speak the same language.

Nothing needed to be spoken because all could be seen.

A fit of generosity seizes Sorweel, and he pulls out Porsparian’s slave papers. “What did it matter, he thought, when he was already dead?” Sorweel finds freedom in loss, but Sorweel grows nervous. When Sorweel goes to burn it, Porsparian snatches, cursing at Sorweel. For a moment, Sorweel thinks the slave will hit him, but Porsparian just puts out the flames burning the paper. They face each other, the king confused and the slave defiant.

“We are free people,” Sorweel said, warring against a renewed sense of dread and futility. “We don’t trade Men like cattle.”

The yellow-eyed Shigeki shook his head in a slow and deliberate manner. As though relinquishing a knife, he set the writ onto the mussed blankets of Sorweel’s cot.

Then he did something inexplicable.

Covering his finger in soot, he traces sickle over his heart and says “Yatwer” over and over. Sorweel is confused. Porsparian grabs Sorweel’s arm and turns his hand over, forming the king’s hand into a cup. The slave kisses his palm and a tear falls on Sorweel.

It seemed to burn and cut all at once, like something molten falling through snow.

Then the slave uttered a single word in Sakarpic, so sudden and so clear that Sorweel nearly jumped.

War…”

Sorweel is awed that even slaves in the Ordeal have powers. As Porsparian sleeps, Sorweel stares at his blistered palm through the night. The slave snores. As night deepens, the silence outside makes him feel like his tent is all there is. In a moment of absolute silence, he asks death to take him, the closest he’s come to prayer since his father’s death. A sound after that disturbs him. It grows, loud and rippling around him. For a moment, he thinks it’s the Ordeal butchering his people before he realizes its the storks all crying out like they always do every year. His people believe they each sing to a different star, praying for their hatching goslings. This makes him think of his mother and he falls asleep. He thinks about his mother taking him to the Viturnal Nesting. He was awed to see all those storks.

Do you know they come here, Sorwa?”

No, Mama…”

Because our city is the Refuge, the hinge of the Worldly Wheel. They come here as our forefathers once came, Darling…”

Her smile. It had always seemed the world’s most obvious thing.

They come so that their children might be safe.”

He wakes up to his father weeping for Sorweel’s mother. Sorweel tells his dad that she still watches over them. This straightens his father. He turns to face him and Sorweel recoils from the sight.

The ghost of Harweel turned its burned head, revealing a face devoid of hope and eyes. Beetles dropped from the joints of his blasted armour, clicked and scuttled in the dark.

The dead, it grated without sound, cannot see.

At dawn, the Ordeal breaks camp. A large team of ox drags a huge wagon to the top of a hill. It’s a massive construct, reinforced with iron plates. Slaves unfurl the felt covering the frame and reveal a cylinder of iron with the script of the Tusk copied on it. This is the Prayer Hammer. A eunuch strikes it once at the command of the High-Priest, ringing the Interval. Everyone turns to the North. The Thunyeri break the silence with curses to the Sranc and Consult. Then the entire Ordeal is hurtling their defiance at Golgotterath, repeating Thunyeri curses. They all picture the destruction of the dread fortress. They believe their victory is assured.

Hur rutwas matal skee!

Hur rutwas matal skee!

The Interval rings again. Then Kellhus appears walking across the sky shining like the sun. He looks messianic. Cries of adoration rise from the host to him, people raising hands to touch him. He begins speaking to them, telling them to take hold of his light as they head into the shadows. The sun rises as he speaks. Everyone falls to their knees in adoration, crying “for the light had come to them…”

And the sun had followed.

“AMONG ALL PEOPLES, ONLY YOU HAVE TAKEN UP THE YOKE OF APOCALYPSE. AMONG ALL PEOPLES, ONLY YOU…”

The Sakarpi are shocked, realizing that the Great Ordeal really was marching for Golgotterath. That their conquest wasn’t part of Unification Wars. They witnessed the Aspect-Emperor’s majesty. None mocked him. Instead, they listened to him even though he speaks a foreign tongue. They realize they’re witnessing history like something from The Sagas.

The day the Great Ordeal marched beyond the frontiers of Men.

The proudest Sakarpi think the Ordeal are fools and will die, but after watching the massive army march north, many are listening to the sermons of the Judges left behind. Many of them have embraced the Circumfix, full of awe and disdain for those who refuse to believe. “Pride, the Judges had told them, was ever the sin of fools.”

That night they knelt for what seemed the first time, gave voice to the great unanswered ache in their hearts. They held their Circumfixes hot between moist palms, and they prayed. And the chill that pimpled their skin seemed holy.

They knew what they had seemed, what they had felt.

For who could be such a fool as to mistake Truth?

My Thoughts

Denied hunting the birds, the Men of the Ordeal (and I keep wanting to type Men of the Tusk FYI), rationalize their decision not to kill these annoying birds because they must be holy. Their reasons have given shape to their illogical actions so it harmonizes with their sense of self.

Bakker sets out the problems facing the Great Ordeal (NOT the Holy War, which I also want to type), letting us know what dangers and trials they’ll face on the march. Nothing that comes will be surprising save in the level of its brutality.

Kayûtas can speak flawless Sakarpic. I think he’s the closest Dûnyain of all the children, he just didn’t get the magic genes. But he can pull off the charisma, has a gift for language. Serwa is probably the next closets, and she does have some emotions but Kellhus made sure they didn’t develop properly.

We see that Sorweel’s depressing surrender to the events and how he just allows himself to slip into the role of a puppet king. It is a precursor to becoming Yatwer’s Narindar. Her puppet. He’s someone that goes with the flow. Malleable. No wonder Kellhus sees his seduction as something easy to accomplish.

Since we can only know ourselves, it’s easy for us humans to think we’re better than everyone. We know why we’re doing the things we are. Why they are right because they must be right to us. That is the danger for those who don’t have any introspection. They will do so much harm thinking it’s the right thing to do without even realizing they’re pursuing their own selfish greed. Satiating their lusts for power or domination or control.

We see the pressure on Sorweel. The demands to conform. To want to accept the consensus. He thinks that if everyone else believes something is true then it is, but that’s a logical fallacy. The Appeal to Consensus. But it’s a powerful one. It works on you. When you see yourself as the only one plagued with doubts, it’s easy to forget that all those confident people are like you. Their inner turmoil is hidden away. They, too, want to conform. It’s an insidious social pressure that molds humans to act like the in-group.

Sorweel is facing the reality of being a rebel. In defying conquerors. We all believe we would resist, but most of us would adapt. Try to continue our lives without conflict and survive. We might fantasize about it, but when actions are required, we would keep on walking like Sorweel. His imagination is the way the “conquered prince” trope would play out in other fantasies.

We see Kayûtas doing classic Dûnyain tactics. Making Sorweel uncomfortable, asking direct questions to make the king reveal his biases and perceptions, then Kayûtas remarking that he doesn’t like things the way they are. All arranged so perfectly.

Sorweel claims he honest conversation and, of course, almost immediately reveals he doesn’t want that at all by giving a guarded response. He’s nervous here, cagey. He is suspicious of being trapped into betraying his people while Kayûtas is doing the Dûnyain thing of being open and honest, giving real truths to win trust.

Kayûtas laments that the two can’t be friends because of politics, wishing it wasn’t in the way. Words designed to lower Sorweel’s guard. To work to make their friendship a “reality.” Kayûtas even admits to his own weakness, an offering of trust designed to reciprocate an equal action from Sorweel.

I think we are seeing the start of Sorweel’s steps into becoming Narindar here. He’s realizing Kayûtas is acting. It’s a level of sophistication that should be beyond a naïve, young man like Sorweel. He’s being visited by his father weeping about his dead mother, and the slave who is about to introduce Sorweel to the Dread Mother has lead him to this room. In fact, Porsparian guided Sorweel “unerringly” through the camp.

Right before Sorweel breaks down and cries with Porsparian, he feels something reach through him. Then he cries before the follower of Yatwer who guides him on his first steps of the Dread Mother’s plans. As he calms down, the roaring in his ears dwindles. Nannaferi heard roaring in her ears when Yatwer spoke to her.

Fire is such a simple thing. It burns. Sorweel’s life used to be simple, now it’s so complicated. He seems to wish he died with his father on the wall. It would be easier than surviving, which ties in with the epigram for this chapter.

Sharing food with his slave. Something so simple, no language is needed. Sorweel finds comfort in it. Then we see the first overt sign of Yatwer in this storyline with the offering of food. That was no trick of the light, though Bakker is playing with us still, creating the doubt.

“Nothing needed to be spoken because all could be seen.” In other words, language is the source of lies.

We have a contrast between the Dûnyain using words and seeming honesty (though we know you can’t trust Kayûtas’s motivations and reasons for his manipulation). Then we have the slave, not able to speak a word Sorweel can understand, and forges an actual connection between the pair. Open and honest.

Sorweel feels dead. He wishes he was dead. And now he’s going to symbolical sacrifice the writ of bondage to set Porsparian free through the same sort of “loss” that Sorweel is feeling.

I never realized just how suicidal Sorweel is in the beginning. He wants to burn. He begs for death to take him. Surviving and realizing he’s not the strong, heroic man who can defy the evil empire that has conquered his people is too much for him. It’s shattered his illusions of himself and the strength o his people while the actions of Kellhus makes him doubt his father’s courage, seeing it stained with pride and arrogance.

He yearns to be that child with his mother again. He’s having the painful transition into adulthood realizing his parents, or his father, is just as flawed as he is.

Not sure if this is really his father’s ghost or not. I don’t think it is. I think it’s just a nightmare. His fear that his father isn’t what he thought and he’s even being robbed of the comfort of his mother. Perhaps this is Yatwer preparing him for what she needs since he’s now been claimed by her.

“For who could be such a fool as to mistake Truth?” I love the last line of this chapter. Those who believe Kellhus is a god think he must be. That it’s Truth. They think they can recognize it, but humans are terrible at it. The new converts in Sakarpus think those who don’t believe are full of pride even as they take pride in their new religion and use it to elevate their own sense of self-superiority over their neighbors.

Click here for Chapter Eight of the Reread!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

You do not want to miss out on this awesome adventure!

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Six

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Six

Marrow

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

Ask the dead and they will tell you. All roads are not equal. Verily, even maps can sin.

—EKYANNUS 1, 44 EPISTLES

What the world merely kills, Men murder.

—SCYLVENDI PROVERB

My Thoughts

The first quote, while talking about how every life is different, also has that last part about maps sinning. Maps are something made by men. And for it to be a sin, then it was made to lead you astray. To take you down the wrong path. It is probably a warning against false teachers of scripture, since it is from one of the holy books, I believe.

Either way, it is telling you that you can’t just trust what others tell us.

Then we come to the Scylvendi proverb that reinforces this. The world is random. It’s chance. Yes, you might die because of a disease or because you got lost in the woods. Exposure can kill you. Even a hungry beast can kill you, but it’s not done out of intent. But men know what they’re doing and still kill. Murder is the act of taking a life when you don’t have the right.

Murder is all about the intent.

Both of these quotes are about how men are different from the world. From the natural chaos of things. They are warnings to be wary. Fitting since we are heading into meeting the Skin Eaters, rejoining them in story after their introduction in the prologue. These are dangerous men. Men who murder.

But it is Achamian who is their map. And it is Achamian who is knowingly leading these men on a trip that will get them all killed.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), the River Rohil

Achamian is hobbling through the forest to Marrow. It is a settlement that Geraus, his slave, goes to buy supplies. It is also the outpost that the Scalpoi use. Here they set out into the wilderness to collect their bounties of Sranc scalps and then return to sell them. He knows of the place from Geraus’s tales, the slave always reveling in talking about what he saw there for days after his return. The man spoke of the place as dangerous, where buying a bag of beans was a dangerous affair. Geraus would boast of his caution. Survival was a great virtue to him and one he passed on to his children. Not attracting attention was important for a slave.

No different than a spy, Achamian could not help reflecting.

Achamian is slipping back into the man who used to wander the three seas. It had been twenty years since he’d settled down at his tower, but he’s already thinking of his journey and reflecting on how nothing had really changed. Then he finds himself missing Geraus and his family. Though Achamian owned them, it’s not the convenience his slaves gave him he misses, but their presence he missed. He will never see them again.

It made him feel like a weepy grandfather.

Perhaps it was good, this suicidal turn his life had taken.

He stares down at Marrow as it creeps along the escarpment’s base, hacked out of the woods that surrounded it. It looks like a wound on the earth. It’s dark when Achamian reaches it. He reads graffiti by the light of the Nail of Heaven. The writings are crass like scribbles on a bathroom stall. He passes armed and armored men, drunk and many bloody. They are wild men. The Scalpoi who’ve come from across the world to earn money and redemption by killing Sranc. They stare at him, and he huddles, knowing that these brutal men risk everything, so in town, they have given themselves greater licenses to excessive behavior. As he passes them, he realizes despite their origins, from nobles to slaves, they are all the same here: consumed by their hungers. “What had made these men wild wasn’t the wilderness, or even the mad savagery of the Sranc, it was the inability to trust anything more bestial in one another.”

Fear, he told himself. Fear and lust and fury… Trust in these, old man. It seemed the only commandment a place such as Marrow could countenance.

He passes taverns and opium dens. A man beats another man to death. A prostitute begging for his custom. There is no order here. He clutches his knife handle. There’s an Imperial Custom House, a reminder that this is still, technically, civilization. Kellhus’s civilization. He even finds a temple to Yatwer holding a ceremony. Through it all, he tries not to think of Mimara.

He reaches the Cocked Leg, the inn Geraus mentioned. It’s a loud place and reminds Achamian of a more vicious version of the “great polyglot cities” he visited as a spy. But this place is too small to lose yourself in anonymity, but still holds that promise of licentious freedom.

A night in such a place could have a million endings, Achamian realized. That was its wonder and horror both.

He gets the worst room in the inn, mistaken for a pauper. That amuses him and he feels more and more a spy. He heads down to the common room, hoping to be lucky while ignoring the bloodstains decorating the wall.

Achamian is shocked to find another sorcerer in the common room. And an old one given the “black and blasted depth of his Mark.” There is also a Chorae. Achamian could see the Mark on his own hands or in reflections of his face, but he never really notices it. He’s used to it. The other sorcerer’s mark makes Achamian feel “young with fear.”

He swallows it and goes to the barkeeper, a Tydonni named Haubrezer. Achamian introduces himself and is called old and a pick, a racial slur for a Ketyai. That stings, which surprises Achamian. He then drops Geraus’s name, which Haubrezer recognizes. Coming to Marrow has always been the plan, only Mimara’s news accelerated it. Haubrezer points Achamian towards the group of Scalpoi with the sorcerer and the Chorae. Achamian isn’t happy about it. Asks if there’s another group.

“Ho. No mean Scalpoi, those. They the Veteran’s Men. The Skin Eaters.”

“The Skin Eaters?”

A sour grin, as though the man had been starved of the facial musculature needed to pull his lips from his teeth. “Geraus was right. You hermit, to be sure. Ask anyone here around”—he gestured wide with a scapular hand—“they will tell you, ya, step aside for the Skin Eaters. Famed. The whole River knows. They bring down more bales than rutta—anyone. Ho. Step aside for the Skin Eaters, or they strike you down. Hauza kup. Down but good.”

The three men appear more dangerous than the other. They sit alone from the others. Achamian examines them and asks if he needs an introduction. Haubrezer says not from him.

Achamian is hyperaware of his surroundings as he heads to the men. The mix of nations reminds him of the Holy War. He thinks of Kellhus and his determination increases. Achamian understands that he’s meeting with dangerous men. Mercenaries who killed for coin. Achamian knows how to pretend to be weaker because the thinks he knows how to deal with these men.

His first heartbeat in their presence told him otherwise.

The sorcerer and the older man study Achamian, but their leader keeps staring at his wine. He asks if the main is Kosoter “Ironsoul” and Captain of the Skin Eaters. There is a silence that isn’t from surprise. The Captain drinks then studies Achamian. He has the eyes of a man who’d survived the horrors of the First Holy War.

“I know you,” was all he [Kosoter] said in a voice with a hint of a papyrus rasp.

The older man, acting as a second, tells Achamian to address Kosoter as Veteran before making a joke how that’s the Law. Achamian ignores him and says he would know him from the First Holy War. He gets interrupted by the older man who says he’s Sarl. Achamian interrupts him to tell Kosoter he wishes to hire them. Sarl keeps asking for his attention. Finally, Achamian gives it to him. Sarl says Kosoter isn’t a man for haggling. Sarl will handle the negotiations. Achamian asks if Sarl makes the decisions. Sarl laughs and says he just sings what Kosoter tells him. He bows to Kosoter who is now studying Achamian with “something poised between curiosity and malice.”

Achamian snorted dismissively. This was one thing he didn’t miss about the civilized world: the addiction to all things indirect.

Achamian again says he needs to “contract” their company. Sarl says that’s strange since there are no more wars, save the war against the Consult and the Sranc, so mercenaries don’t exist. Achamian is off-balanced by Kosoter’s scrutiny and Sarl’s gibbering. It’s deliberate to put him off-balance.

Achamian says he needs scalpers not mercenary, for a journey. Sarl understands this means heading into the wastes. He finds this interesting and asks where Achamian needs to go in the North. Achamian has dreaded this question. He sighs and gets over answering it.

“Far…” He [Achamian] swallowed. “To the ruins of Sauglish.”

Another spittle-flecked spasm of laughter, this one carving every vein, every web of wrinkles in succinct shades of purple and red. He [Sarl] even yanked his wrists together as though bound, shook up and down, fingers flicking. He looked to the scowled mas as though seeking confirmation. “Sauglish!” He howled, rolling his face back. “Oh ho, my friend, my poor, poor lunatic friend!” He reclined back in his chair, sucking air. “May the Gods”—he shook his head in a kind of astonished dismissal—“keep your bowls warm and full and whatever.”

Something in his look and tone said, Leave while you still can…

Anger seizes Achamian. He wants to use sorcery to kill the man, but Kosoter’s Chorae and the sorcerer’s deep Mark stops Achamian. Sarl’s mirth faces and Kosoter finally speaks, asking what’s in Sauglish. This shocks Sarl and fear seizes him, clearly misreading what Kosoter wants. Achamian realizes Kosoter’s words always cause this reaction.

Achamian asks Kosoter what he knows of it and realizes that answering a question with another is a mistake. However, he doesn’t flinch away from the man’s hard gaze but matches it. He holds it, sounds echoing around them. It’s a contest not just of dominance, or respect, but of everything.

I am the end of you, the eyes in his [Kosoter’s] eyes whispered. And they seemed a thousand years old.

Achamian could feel himself wilt. Wild-limbed imaginings flickered through his soul, hot with screams and blood. He could feel tremors knock through his knees.

Sarl advises Achamian to just answer Kosoter’s questions. Achamian does, saying he is going for the Coffers. Sarl wants Achamian to explain what that means. Instead, Achamian is unnerved by Kosoter’s gaze which embodies “Scrutiny incarnate.” This doesn’t feel right to Achamian. Next, he realizes he has to make Kosoter think he has other options so he says he’ll find someone else. Feeling sick to his stomach, he goes to leave.

“You’re the Wizard,” Lord Kosoter called out in a growl.

The word hooked Achamian like a wire garrote.

Kosoter says he remembers him from the Holy War. That Achamian had taught Kellhus. Achamian asks why that matters. Kosoter blinks for the first time and says, in flawless Sheyic, that he’s a Mandate Schoolman so he can definitely find the Coffers.

“So much the worse for you,” Achamian said. But all he could think was how… How could a scalper, any scalper, know about the Sohonc Coffers. He found himself glancing at the leather-cowled man to the Captain’s left. The sorcerer. What was his School?

“I think not,” Lord Kosoter said, leaning back. “There’s scalpers aplenty in Marrow, sure. Any number of companies.” He hooked his wine bowl with two calloused fingers. “But none who know who you are…” His grin was curious, frightening. “Which means none will even entertain your request.”

The logic of his claim hung like an iron in the air, indifferent to the swell of background voices. Truth was ever the afterlife of words.

Achamian is shocked. Sarl starts making a joke that makes the hooded sorcerer laugh. Achamian recognizes what the sorcerer is as Sarl continues on with his Anus Leaf joke, which is mocking Achamian for being a charlatan trying to scam them.

The Captain watched him [Achamian] with imperturbable care.

They were right, he [Achamian] realized. Derision was all he could expect here in Marrow—or even worse. The Skin Eaters were his only hope.

And they had already struck him down.

Achamian drinks the wine given him, shaking, while Sarl cows about Achamian wanting to loot the Coffers. Achamian says it was the hooded sorcerer who told Kosoter about the Coffers. But he realizes that this is wrong and that the Captain doesn’t play games of words. Sarl calls the mysterious sorcerer Cleric.

The cowl remained motionless. The Captain resumed staring into his wine.

“You should hear him in the Wilds,” Sarl exclaimed. “Such sweet sermons! And to think I once thought myself eloquent.”

“And yet,” Achamian said carefully, “Nonmen have no priests.”

“Not as Men understand them,” the black pit replied.

Shock. Its voice had been pleasant, melodious, but marbled with intonations alien to the human vocal range. It was as though the tones of a deformed child had been woven into it.

Achamian asks if Cleric’s from Ishterebinth. The Nonman doesn’t remember, but he knows he’s been to Ishterebinth went it was called another name. Next Achamian asks who his Quya Master was. Cleric can’t remember.

Achamian licked his lips in hesitation, then asked the question that had to be asked of all Nonmen. “What can you remember?”

“Things. Friends. Strangers and lovers. All of them heart-breaking. All of them horrific.”

“And the Coffers? You remember them?

An almost imperceptible nod. “I was at the Library of Sauglish when it fell—I think. I remember that terror all too well… But why it should cause me such sorrow, I do not know.”

Achamian remembers Seswatha’s dreams of Sauglish’s fall. He’d fled the destruction weeping. While Mandate Schoolmen like Achamian lived two lives, theirs and Seswatha’s, Nonmen had lived thousands of years. Cleric had been alive when human civilization first arouse. And he’d witnessed all the years that separated Achamian from Seswatha. Achamian almost feels whole.

He asks Cleric’s name, prompting Sarl to curse. Incariol answers Cleric. He says it’s not his own name. Achamian didn’t recognize it and is unnerved. “How could any mortal fathom such a cavernous soul?” Achamian declares him an Erratic.

“Am I? Is that what I am?”

How did you answer such a question? The creature before him [Achamian] had lived so long his very identity had collapsed beneath him, dropping him into the pit of his own lifetime. His was a running-over soul, where every instance of love or hope or joy drained into the void of forgetfulness, displayed by the more viscous passions of terror, anguish, and hate.

He was an Erratic, addicted to atrocity for memory’s sake.

Sarl accuses Achamian of calling Cleric mad, but Cleric agrees. Sarl tries to wave that away, but Cleric says, “Memories make us sane.” Sarl exclaims, “Sermons!” He has a manic smile and gloated over proof of his assertion. He then goes on to talk about how Cleric once told them about the greatest treasure. This was how they learned about the Coffers hidden beneath the Library of Sauglish which were destroyed. The Coffers has become a pseudonym to hope, a way of saying that “unluckiest of words” without saying it.

“And now, here you are, as sure as Fate.”

There was something, Achamian decided, altogether too mobile about the man’s expressions.

Sarl then asks Achamian, as an educated man, what he thinks about coincidence. Does he think things happen for a reason? Achamian can only give a half-hearted smile and a perplexed look. Sarl laughs as if to say Achamian does believe in Fate.

Achamian did his best not to gape. He had forgotten what it was like, the succession of trivial surprises that was part and parcel of joining the company of strangers. In the company of strangers it was so easy to forget the small crablike histories that held others together and set you apart.

But this was no trivial surprise.

Achamian reflects that the journey from Marrow to Sauglish would be months of crossing the Sranc-controlled wilds of Kûniüri. Several times, the Mandate has lost expeditions to reach Sauglish or Golgotterath. Achamian is using the Great Ordeal to draw the Sranc to them but knows there will still be dangers. He’s unnerved how he planned on using the Coffers to induce the scalpers and that these ones already lusted for it. He wonders if this could be coincidence

Sarl says this must be the Whore of Fate’s doing, which means everyone is about to be fucked. He’s trying to deter Kosoter. It’s clear Sarl hasn’t. Achamian realizes then that he’s already struck an agreement Kosoter and how they seemed now to be partners. Achamian wonders if he’s a Skin Eater now.

Should he be grateful? Relieved? Horrified?

“I remember…” the blackness wrapped by the cowl said. “I remember the slaughter of…”

A peculiar sound, like a sob thumbed into the shape of a cackle.

“Of children.”

“A man,” the Captain grimly noted, “has got to remember.”

Achamian has a regular dream of Sauglish that night. The Wracu (dragons) leads the assault, burning. Seswatha and his fellow Sohonc brothers are in the sky singing Gnosis. They’re above their sacred Library. They unleash “psalms of destruction.”

Lines of brilliant white mapped the gaping spaces, striking geometries, confining geometries, light that made smoke of hide and fury. Rearing back to bare claws and spew fire, the dragons plummeted into the arcane glitter, shrieking, screaming. Then they were through, bleeding smoke, some writhing and convulsing, one or two toppling to their deaths. The singing became more frantic. Threads of incandescence boiled against iron scales. Unseen hammers beat against wings and limbs.

Then the Wracu were upon them.

In this moment, Seswatha becomes Achamian and he panics as the dragons rip apart the “antique Schoolmen.” He looks around, seeing the Sranc crossing the plains while the No-God whirls behind them, a monstrous whirlwind dominating the horizon. Around him, the greatest School, the Sohonc, died. It’s more like Achamian is remembering these events then witnessing them. He can see the civilians killing themselves as the Sranc have broken through the walls. Fathers and mothers kill their children to “save them from the fury of the Sranc.” Through it all, they cry out to the “heavens shut against them.” The No-God gets closer.

Their High-King was dead. The wombs of their wives and daughters had become graves. The greatest of their thanes and chieftain-knights, the flower of their armed might, had been struck down. Pillars of smoke scored the distance across the earth’s very curve.

The world was ending.

Like choking. Like drowning. Like a weight without substance, sinking cold through him, a knife driven from the snow, even as he fell slack into its bottomless regions. Friends, brothers, shaken apart in grinning jaws. Strangers flailing in fiery blooms. Towers leaning like drunks before crashing. Sranc encrusting distant walls, like ants on slices of apple, loping into the maze of streets. The cries, shrieks, screams—thousands of them—rising like steam from burning stones. Sauglish dying.

Hopelessness… Futility.

Never, it seemed, had he dreamed a passion with such vehemence.

The Sohonc are driven back to their Library. Ballistae manage to kill a few lesser dragons. Skafra, an ancient Wracu, swoops in to attack. Achamian thinks he’s coming for him, but Skafra attacks the Holy Library. He sets it on fire. Achamian watches in horror as it burns. He’s confused, wondering where Seswatha is. How he’s dreaming without him.

He bolts awake, panting in terror. He hears Mimara’s words echoing in his mind that he’s become a prophet of the past.

The next day, Sarl takes him to join Cleric, Kosoter, and another Skin Eater named Kiampas. He’s the sergeant, using his fists to keep everyone in line. He definitely looks like a soldier. Clean-cut and fit. He’s a planner, and he’s not at all pleased with the current goal. He asks for details, like when Achamian needs to reach them. He lies and says it has to be the end of summer, claiming the Wards are tied to the position of heavenly bodies. Kiampas is dismayed and says it’s impossible. Kosoter overrides him.

Kiampas paled, seemed to glance down in unconscious apology. Though he was cut of different cloth entirely, Achamian wasn’t surprised to see him sharing Sarl’s reaction to the chest-tightening rarity of their Captain’s voice.

Kiampas thinks and says they should follow the Holy War out of Galeoth, but Achamian says they have to go along the other side of the Osthwai Mountains. Kiampas thinks that’s insane since it means moving through Sranc territory. But Achamian is a fugitive. It’s too dangerous to cross Galeoth. He says Kosoter knows why. Kiampas, hearing no objecting from Kosoter, believes Achamian. He then points out that Sakarpus has fallen and, thus, they’ll be crossing the New Empire no matter what. Achamian employs jnanic courtesy to Kiampas to show he respect his opinion.

Something told him [Achamian] he would need allies in the weeks and months to come.

Achamian explains that the Great Ordeal is the only reason this will work. The host clears the way, but they won’t cross the army’s path. The Ordeal will be ahead of their party. Kiampas isn’t convinced. He points out hosts move slowly. Achamian adds that Sauglish is out of the way and he says their odds are good of not encountering anyone.

Kiampas nodded with slow skepticism, then leaned back, as if retreating from some disagreeable scent.

The smell of futility, perhaps.

The next morning, the sixty or so Skin Eaters muster. They have an eclectic collection of armor, weapons, nationalities, and background. Only their fear of Kosoter and a “deep spiritual fatigue” unite them. Sarl tells them what they’re going to be up to while Kosoter studied the horizon with Cleric at his side. The nearby sound of rapids reminds Achamian of the way the Holy War cheered on Kellhus. Sarl tells them this will be a longer slog and will take more than a year in the “pit.” But he talks about the Coffers, and that has some murmuring in hope, others seeming to say it like it’s about time, and others as if it’s a holy place, like Shimeh to the First Holy War, begging to be liberated. Only this one can be split into shares.

A lie carved at the joints.

Sarl keeps talking and the mad discipline of the Skin Eaters keeps them silent. If he hadn’t met Kosoter, Achamian would have been surprised. Sarl then says that they have until tomorrow morning to decide. After that, it’ll be desertion, and Cleric will hunt them down. Sarl calls out the rule of the slog: “The knee that buckles pulls ten man down.”

Achamian realizes that though these Skin Eaters are similar to the battle-hardened men at the end of the First Holy War, but these men are vicious instead of ruthless. Numb instead of hard. And most of all hungry. Not driven. They’re ultimately mercenaries, if ones as fierce as the Sranc. Kosoter seems to have the same opinion of his men. He and Achamian are both Veterans of the First Holy War. It’s almost a kinship between them. That troubles Achamian.

That night, Sarl passes word from Kosoter that the renown of the Skin Eaters is from Kosoter. The men are just Scalpoi. Achamian asks Sarl if he believes that. Sarl says he’s been with Kosoter since the wars against the Orthodox and followed him out here. Kellhus himself named Kosoter Ironsoul. But Sarl says Kosoter’s still mortal, only something “watches through him.” Sarl adds, in a crazed way, Achamian should respect Kosoter.

Achamian looked down to his soaked hand. The wine had run from his fingers as thick as blood.

To think he had worried about the Nonman’s madness.

Not that Cleric doesn’t worry him. However, all these fears were canceling each other out. And he would be useful with his sorcery because “there were few powers in the world that could rank a Nonman Magi.” Kosoter used him for a reason.

Only thirty Skin Eaters show up for muster the following morning. Sarl is thrilled, though Achamian isn’t sure why, and Kosoter impossible to read. After this, they spend the next few days gathering supplies. Achamian surrenders his gold to finance things that impresses the average Skin Eaters. They were hungry to make an even greater fortune. Convincing someone to take the first step was always the hard part, now that they believed they can make it, their eager to set off.

How could they know Achamian had no expectation of return? In a sense, leaving the Three Seas was the real reason. He might no longer be a Mandate Schoolman, but his heart belonged to the Ancient North all the same. To the coiling insinuations of the Dreams…

To Seswatha.

Kiampas, one night, tells Achamian the Skin Eaters always are boisterous and celebratory beforehand. Achamian asks before a slog. No, before anything involving blood. Sorrow fills Kiampas, a regret that he knows this isn’t right. This makes Achamian feel the weight of all those lies he told to trick these men. He wonders how many he’ll get killed to learn the truth of Kellhus.

How many pulses had he [Achamian] sacrificed?

Are you doing this for the sake of vengeance? Is that it?

Achamian is drowning in guilt and is reminded by the innkeeper’s warming. “Stand aside for the Skin Eaters.” They don’t suffer fools.

One night, Achamian dreams as Seswatha. He’s talking with High King Anasûrimbor Celmomas who says he has built a refuge. At the same time, Achamian marvels over how he knows this is a dream and yet is Seswatha unaware of Achamian’s presence.

How could it be? How could he feel all the ferment of a free soul? How could he live a life for the first time over and over?

Celmomas has built it in case the war goes wrong. Seswatha is surprised, not worry which Celmomas is plagued with, but speaking it aloud. This is before Celmomas leads the Great Ordeal to attack Golgotterath. Apocalypse wasn’t happening. Seswatha realizes Celmomas worries on the No-God, saying the name as it no more than a distant fear, not a horror.

How did one relive such ancient ignorance?

Celmomas is worried the No-God is as dangerous as the Quya say and they waited too long. Seswatha is certain they haven’t. Celmomas says he can only trust Seswatha. Achamian remembers making love to the queen. Celmomas makes an unexpected move and changes the rules of Benjuka, clouding the game with uncertainty. This almost relieves Achamian. Celmomas then says he made a place for his family to survive. Ishuäl. Achamian bolts upright, desperate to know where it could be.

The truth of men lay in their origins. He knew this as only a Mandate Schoolman could. Anasûrimbor Kellhus had not come to the Three Seas by accident. He had not found his half-brother waiting as Shriah of the Thousand Temples by accident. He had not conquered the known world by accident!

Below his room, the Skin Eaters sing and cheer their upcoming bloodshed. He sits on the bed, peering down at the men through the gaps in the floorboard. Kosoter isn’t here, but Sarl is. Achamian sees Sarl as the problem, the man refusing to remember he’s an old man, unlike the other Skin Eaters. Young and brash with no thought of their mortality. Eager to “fuck or to kill under the guise of whim.” As he studies them, he knows he will kill hundreds or thousands in his quest.

However many fools it took to find Ishuäl.

They leave the last outpost of civilization the next morning. They are entering a chaotic world as treacherous as the Cleric’s soul. The climb up the escarpment out of Marrow hard for Achamian, but he thinks that’s proper.

All passages into dread should exact come chastising toll.

Mimara watches Marrow from the outskirts, knowing it would be deadly for her to enter. She’d soon be raped, beaten, and turned into a whore who’s dressed up like her mother. She’d service every Scalper for miles. Memories of her slavery are never far from her. She thinks about the other girls like her. She remembers how she was found by her mother’s men dressed as the Holy Empress “emptied save for a sip.” Esmenet had ordered the Worm, a slum in Carythusal, razed and every man in it killed.

But it was never clear just whom Mother was avenging.

Mimara has been waiting for Achamian on the far side of Marrow for him to emerge, abandoning her mule. She watches scalpers come and go as she spies on the town. From the hillside, it looks like a toy. “She watches the coming and going, the ebb and flow of miniature men and their miniature affairs.” She realizes men are the same the world over, but humans forget that. This gives them the illusion that they’re seeing something new. Only now does she realizes this truth she’s always known.

She dares no fire. She hugs herself warm. From lips of high-hanging stone, she watches and waits for him. She has no other place to go. She is, she decides, every bit as rootless as he. Every bit as mad.

Every bit as driven.

My Thoughts

We’re primed for Marrow before we arrive with Geraus’s stories.

Though Achamian had owned Geraus, his wife, and children as slaves, they were also the only companions he had. Their relationship really was more of one of master and servant, or employer and employee. And Achamian doesn’t come off as a bad employer. They had become his surrogate family, and now he leaves them behind. I always wonder what happened to Geraus, Tisthana, and their children, but they pass out of the story. No longer needed. Still, I wonder what became of their lives. Where they went. Will they survive what’s coming?

Do you ever wonder about minor characters like this?

A suicidal turn to Achamian’s thoughts. He doesn’t expect to survive this madness, but he’s obsessed with the truth and this his one chance.

The Nail of Heaven is bright enough to read by. And it’s not the moon. WTF is it!

“What had made these men wild wasn’t the wilderness, or even the mad savagery of the Sranc, it was the inability to trust anything more bestial in one another.” When society breaks down, this is what men become. Who we hang out with has a great deal of influence on who we are. If you hang out with successful people, you’ll find success. Hang out with people who just sit around smoking pot all day, well, don’t be surprised if you do the same. And if you find yourself in a world where you can’t trust anyone, you’ll only feed the problem.

“A moment of silence, far too thick to connotate shock or surprise.” This is what comes after Achamian asks Kosoter if he’s the Captain of the Skin Eaters. It’s Bakker’s subtle clue that there is something else at play here. These men are here for a reason. They met with an Imperial Messenger in the prologue. Now they have not just any nonman with them, but King Nil’giccas. Kellhus has made a deal with Nil’giccas, and Achamian is that payment.

I have speculated before that Kellhus might want Achamian to uncover the truth of his origins, to demystify the Dûnyain after Kellhus accomplishes his goal of defeating the No-God and closing the Outside his way. An end to superstition that he used to accomplish his goal. He puts the pieces in place for Achamian to succeed while also making a deal with Nil’giccas who has gone erratic. This allows Kellhus to put his plan into motion to neutralize Ishterebinth on his flank with his daughter.

Kosoter is letting Sarl speak, probably to see how Achamian handles it. Judging the man, both curious about him and brimming with hatred. Probably because Kosoter is a true believer. That was why he was chosen for this task. It is possible he was sent here years ago by Kellhus, an agent in place for when the time came to activate him.

Achamian tried to be intimidating. Tried to hold Kosoter’s terrible gaze. And while our sorcerer has been through a lot, he’s not someone who is so mired in darkness to be able to hold Kosoter’s gaze. Ironsoul is the Abyss. As we’ll later see, he’s so damned he appears like a living demon. This is a man who’s committed atrocities and sees little hope for salvation, even with Kellhus’s promise to him. In fact, to find that salvation, he’ll have to walk deep into hell to get it.

It’s also here that Sarl has no idea about Kosoter’s mission from Kellhus. Only the Captain, and probably Nil’giccas, know what’s going on here. That’s why Sarl is shocked the captain is entertaining Achamian.

Sometimes in a negotiation, you have to show you’re willing to go elsewhere. Kosoter can’t have that.

Achamian doesn’t want to go with the Skin Eaters, but he’s convinced by their argument. Sarl’s mockery is a counterbalance to Kosoter’s indifference. From them, he is seeing what he’ll get from others. Well, who knows if he would. He didn’t actually try to interview another company, so the sales technique worked. They got the better of Achamian and he knows it.

Kosoter has won their first battle.

Achamian is testing to see if Cleric is an Erratic. He’s already losing memories, a bad sign, and if he can only remember pain, then he can’t be trusted. He’ll lose himself and inflict damage so that he relive that pain. Of course, he has Achamian before him. A stand-in for Seswatha. Someone that will let Nil’giccas remember.

In Cleric, Achamian has found someone who understands, someone that helps him feel intact.

“Memories make us sane.” They are what tether us to the real world. To the continuation of our life and help us make sense of our present circumstances. They give us the context to understand the world around us. If that is severed, we would be confused. Befuddled. We might lash out. We wouldn’t even know it was wrong to lash out. We’d act in ways that would seem insane to those who had their memories.

Achamian is wondering if this is Fate, not realizing that his meeting with Kosoter is part of Kellhus’s plan. It makes sense then why it feels so serendipitous that the barkeeper sent them to Kosoter who just happens to be here when Achamian arrives.

Kosoter’s comment after Cleric talks about the slaughter of children makes me think he massacred Fanim children in the Holy War. He’s after redemption, after all. He knows he went way, way too far in the war. He committed atrocities. It’s turned him into a monster, and yet he still wants redemption.

Not surprising Achamian has a normal dream of Sauglish after all that talk of it. He might even be controlling this to some extent, hoping to spot Cleric in it.

It’s so sad to see parents killing children to spare them pain. We know what’s coming from the Sranc, so I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same. Death is coming. There’s no escaping it. Hope has died in Sauglish. All that’s left is pain and despair.

The connection between Achamian and Seswatha is breaking down. This might explain why he starts dreaming of Nau-Cayûti soon. That, perhaps, Kellhus’s hypnotism to unshackle the restrictions on Achamian to teach him Gnosis have unfettered Seswatha further from Achamian.

Yes, Achamian, you are going to need friends and allies. Things are going to get bad with the Skin Eaters.

The cataracts, rapids on a river, sound like cheering soldiers. Not the Skin Eaters. They’re not cheering, are they?

“In the pit” reminds me of modern soldiers who will describe being deployed in a warzone as being in the suck or the shit.

“A lie carved at the joints.” A lie that bends men to a new path? Or a lie that weakens men, because cutting at the joints would do that.

Kellhus had met Kosoter years ago. Called him Ironsoul. Chose him for this mission years and years ago. That name, Ironsoul, tells us what Kellhus has convinced Kosoter he is. A man who won’t break from his mission.

Thirty Skin Eaters… It’s easy to forget there were that many of them in the beginning.

I think Achamian is doing this to prove to Esmenet that he’s right and she was wrong to say with Kellhus. This is some twisted way to win her back. He just needs to show her what he is, but she already knew and chose to stay with him anyway.

As Achamian dreams, he’s faced with the illusion of free will. While he knows he’s dreaming, Seswatha doesn’t. Seswatha will do the same things over and over again as if he’d never done them. He has no choice in a deterministic world. All his actions are down to biology, culture, how he was raised, how his environment has shaped his thoughts. His reactions will be the same in the exact same set of circumstances every time.

By living Seswatha’s life over and over again, Achamian is experiencing the reality of determinism, of the Darkness that Comes Before.

How interesting for Achamian, a cuckold, to dream of being the seducer. He definitely feels guilt at dreaming of Seswatha and the queen’s affair.

Why would the rules become so convoluted that the outcome could no longer be anticipated almost relieve Achamian? In real life, he’s playing against Kellhus. He hopes he’s made an unexpected move that can’t be predicted.

Only he hasn’t.

“All passages into dread should exact come chastising toll.” Remember this, Achamian, at the end of the trip through Cil-Aujas.

I think it’s clear why Esmenet burned the Worm. It’s both for her daughter’s rapes and her own guilt in selling Mimara. That’s rage she unleashed. True pain she’s trying to expedite from her soul through the inflicting of suffering on others.

We get an interesting contrast with Kelmomas and Mimara as she watches the men like termites moving in and out of their mound. She realizes that men are the same everywhere. Kelmomas, however, realizes that he’s a God and better than them. On is rightfully scared by them, the other thinks he can control them.

And where did Mimara get the food? She was starving before Achamian came down from his tower. Now she’s snuck off after him. Did he give her food to see her home thinking she would go? I can’t believe Achamian didn’t see this move on her part coming.

She sat outside your tower for DAYS, Achamian.

She is the source of conflict coming up. Her presence is temptation to these violent men. It’s not just Achamian, either, that will pay for her actions. Kosoter will, too.

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Seven!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

You do not want to miss out on this awesome adventure!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Five

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Five

Momemn

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

Where luck is the twist of events relative to mortal hope, White-Luck is the Twist of events relative to divine desire. To worship it is to simply will what happens as it happens.

—ARS SIBBUL, SIX ONTONOMIES

My Thoughts

This is a primer on one of the important concepts about how the Hundred Gods perceive the mortal world. They see time in its entirety. Because of that, they can see how all events will happen. If you know which number will come up in roulette, you can always make sure you win big. The White-Luck is how the gods enact their will to shape fate, making sure that all the advantages are exploited.

If you read the first series, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Hundred Gods were a myth. But they are quite real. What are their origins? Are they souls who have devoured so many others they are so powerful none in the Outside can defy them? Hard to say, but there is a principal in economics and even stellar evolution: the more you have, the more you get. Have more money, you can make more money. Have more mass, you attract more matter.

In our galaxy, the really big stars, like Betelgeuse, are rare. These are the stars that will go supernova. Most of the stars are smaller than our own sun. Despite the rarity of less than 1% of stars being supergiants, they still hold 90% or more of the visible mass in our universe. It’s a law that can’t be denied.

The Gods maybe that. They just became the super-massive souls of the outside and gained enough power to influence the world through priests and priestess who prayed to them. Maybe this leads to the first shamans, the Sorcerers who were also priests before the Tusk came along and condemned sorcery as a sin.

I think the Gods were just souls who grew so massive they had vast influence on the Outside. Fane called them Ciphrangs. Demons. They reward their worshipers by eating their souls. Even those who are “saved” are merely those claimed by a god and consumed. This is what Kellhus appears to want to destroy, but not through the Consult’s way, which is through annihilation.

Kellhus wants to preserve mankind. But now he’s dead, but his soul escaped Ajokli. We’ll see if this matters in the next series or not.

Also, Ajokli… His name is A Joke. Is that intentional? It just came to me as I was checking the spelling of his name after writing this entire reread. He’s the god of assassins. A beetle god that has his proxy or symbol killed by Kelmomas in the prologue only for Ajokli’s next avatar, Kellhus, to be similarly killed because of Kelmomas’s unseen presence appearing in the climax. Then Kellhus’s soul even appears to escape him.

Poor Ajokli…

Anyways, back to the rest of the reread.

It is fitting, however, to introduce the Gods and their powers as we see that Yatwer has power. That the Gods are able to affect this world. They are not superstition. They can see the Second Apocalypse coming, but they are blind to its cause.

It really, really shouldn’t have been a shock to us readers when we read who activates the No-God. The clues are there. The Gods could see Kellhus, so he COULD NEVER have done it.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Iothiah

Psatama Nannaferi is begging, knowing not to those who give her coin in the eyes so as not to influence them in their decision to give her coin. The words of Sinyatwa echo in her mind: “From seed to womb, from seed to furrow. The right hand cannot give to the left…”

To give was to lose. It was an arithmetic with only one direction.

This was the miracle of the Ur-Mother, Yatwer, the Goddess of Fertility and Servitude, who moved through the world in the form of more and more and more. Unasked for bounty. Undeserved plenitude. She was the pure Gift, the breaking of tit for tat, the very principle of the birthing world. It was She who made time flesh.

Nannaferi realizes that people have figured out she’s the “Priestess-Mother” of the faith and not a simple beggar. Even in a city as big as Iothiah, people have uncovered her from among the teeming masses of beggars. And even though they know coming to her was a violation of the Beggar’s Sermon, they can’t help but assume that their offering will count. If she accused them of trying to bribe Yatwer, they would lie and say they were just wanting to give.

Such a strange thing, giving, as if the arms of beggars could be the balance of the world.

She has to move because she saves no souls now. Ignorance is the path to redemption in Yatwer’s cult. As she gathers to leave, three fat, silver coins fall before her, proving she’s exposed. “Excess generosity was ever the sign of greed.” She leaves them behind even as she knows other priestesses would take them. But she’s Psatama Nannaferi. She’s not like other ones. Her ecstasy falls upon her a step later.

It began as it always did, with a curious buzzing in the ears, as though dragonflies swarmed about her head. Then the ground bucked and flopped like cloth thrown over fish, and watercolour haloes swung about every living form. And she saw her, though she could not turn to look, a shadow woman, spoked in sun-silver, walking where everything and everyone exploded like clay urns, a silhouette so sharp it cut eyes sideways. A hand reached out and pressed the side of her hooded head, irresistibly gentle, forcing her cheek down to the pungent earth.

She gasps out “Mother” and is called child. She is told that her brother has arrived. “The White-Luck Warrior has come.” Psatama is shocked that it’s already happening. She’s told that it will happen on the “anointed day.”

Her body was but a string tied about an infinite iron nail, woolen tailings that trembled in an otherworldly wind.

And the D-D-Demon?”

“Will be driven to his doom.”

Then the roar vanished, sucked up like smoke from the opium bowl. The blasted streets became a wall of onlookers, peopled by vendors, teamsters, harlots, and soldiers. And the shadow became a man, a Nansur caste-noble by the look of him, with concerned yet gentle eyes. And the hand was his hand, rubbing her poxed cheek the way you might massage a sleeping limb.

He does not fear to touch—

He asks her if she’s okay and how long she’s had the Falling Sickness. She ignores him and everyone else, thinking what did any of them know of giving.

Iothiah is an ancient city, far older than the Thousand Temples. Just like the Cult of Yatwer. Now a new temple to Yatwer has been built in Iothiah, the Chatafet Temple. It is reputed to be one of the most popular in the Three Seas. It teems with new converts from the Fanim. “But for those initiated in the greater mysteries of the Cult, it was little more than a point of administrative pride.” Iothiah’s true significance to Yatwer’s followers is the Ilchara Catacombs. The great Womb-of-the-Dead. Though the temple that stood over it, the famous Temple of Ilchara, had been destroyed by the Fanim, the catacombs survived. Now it’s just a small opening hidden amid tenement buildings. Only the flags with Yatwer’s sacred symbol mark it as important

Nannaferi leads her fellow priestesses into the catacombs, fighting against her aged back to keep her head held high. She feels her vision cloaking her and believes the others can tell she’s been blessed, giving her covetous glances. Though she’s short of stature and scared by pox, she imposes herself among them. As an acolyte, older sisters had her punished to uphold their own superiority, sensing the strength of her personality. They would call her the “Shigeki pox-girl” with disdain to ignore and diminish her. But they couldn’t.

Gravitas, the ancient Ceneians would have called it.

They never could hate her, for that would have been admitting she was better. So they were forced to respect her, which was the only way she would not suffocate them with her presence. It took her twenty years to become the Matriarch, the official leader of the Cult, answerable only to Shriah. Six years later, they declared her Mother-Supreme, the outlawed title of the true leader. The Thousand Temples sought to break the Cult by declaring it heresy, but they held the title in secret.

The priestesses descended single-file into the catacombs, murmuring a ritual invocation. The catacombs had been looted of the treasure, but the Fanim hadn’t done more after than seal it, calling the place the Pit of the She-Demon. Even the Fanim knew to fear Yatwer. The Elder Scriptures, the Hirgarata and The Chronicle of the Tusk didn’t write much on Yatwer because the authors were drunk on masculine virtue. Yatwer is feared because she is the one who aids the poor. The downtrodden. The farmers and slaves. The “toiling multitudes who carried the caste-nobility like a foul slime upon their backs.” Yatwer both celebrates and avenges the poor.

Even her brother War, it was said, feared her. Even Gilgaöl from Yatwer’s bloody gaze.

And well he should.

Planting her cane before her, Psatama Nannaferi strode into the shadows of the ancient sandstone lintels. She entered the worldly womb of the Ur-Mother, descended into the company of her long-dead sisters.

The catacombs wind deep into the earth, the recessed walls packed with urns, some so ancient they couldn’t read the script. Here, Yatwer’s priestesses were brought to “slumber in holy community” in the Womb-of-the-Dead. The other high-priestesses with her feel the awe of this place safe Vethenestra, who “posed” as the Chalfantic Oracle, pretended to be unaffected.

Take-take-take. It was a wickedness, a pollution, that knew no bounds.

It was the very essence of the Demon.

She clutches to her anger as she leads the group to the Charnel Hall. She thought of it as her middle anger, just strong enough o singe. “Everything was sinful, everything was accountable; this was simply the truth of an unruly and disordered world.” The Goddess will cultivate the world, using Nannaferi as her hoe and plow. Her fellow priests would be the remade into the soil for the White-Luck Warrior.

There was no vanity in her task. The Goddess had made her into the rule with which the world would be measured—no more, no less. Who was Nannaferi to take heart or pride in this, let alone question the why and wherefore? The knife, as the Galeoth saying went, was no greater for the skinning.

Only more doused in blood.

They sit around the Struck Table where Yatwer had once chastised her wayward daughters. Nannaferi takes Yatwer’s spot, the cracks in the table running from where she sits to each of the other seats. She lets the others have their banter and conversation since many haven’t seen each other in some time. Friendship is one of Yatwer’s gifts, so Nannaferi tolerates this, especially since these women are rarely among equals. Instead, they are surrounded by subordinates. Soon, the enormity of their meeting silences them. They adopt Nannaferi’s rigid pose. Even the oracle does. All save for Sharacinth who is the Matriarch, the “Official” leader.

This is the second time the Struck Table has been called since the heathens took Iothiah. The last was when the Holy War first started. They were celebrating it, not realizing that a Demon would take it over and become the Aspect-Emperor. Nanneferi smacks her cane in emphasis, startling everyone. Then she pulls out a Chorae, a Holy Tear of God, from beneath her robes. This is different. She is not following the normal rituals and prayers, but going straight to the matter at hand. Comprehension dawns in them.

Their Goddess girded for war.

She says they have to deal with a witch, implying one of them could use Sorcery. They all protest in shock save Vethenestra, who pretends she knew all along. “What kind of Oracle would she be otherwise.” Maharta, the youngest member and a political appointee, asks how Nannaferi could know this. Nannaferi says the Goddess let her know.

Eleva reveals herself to be the witch and begins calling on her sorcerery. Sharhild attacks her with a knife but is thrown against the wall. The other priestesses scramble and ran while “shadows twisted about the hinges of things.”

The thwack of iron on wood. A blinking incandescence. A sucking roar.

The witch is salted, killed by the Chorae hitting her. The others are stunned that Eleva could have been a witch. Nannaferi says Eleva was killed and replaced days ago. The witch’s true form is that of a young and buxom girl. She declares that this is proof Kellhus and his followers are depraved. He unleashed his witches, the School of Sawayal, to hunt them. “Yet another of the Aspect-Emperor’s many blasphemies.”

Sharhild, an old Thunyeri shield-maiden, has survived and is helped to her feet, praised for her courage. Maharta cries in snuffling silence, and Vethenestra looks stunned. Questions and comments explode through the room. Vethenestra claims she dreamed of this while others ask if the Shriah is after them, or if it’s the Empress. Phoracia says Eleva touched a Chorae only three months ago. Which means she was replaced after receiving the secret summons. How could that be possible?

“Yes,” Nannaferi said, her tone filled with a recognition of menace that cleared the room of competing voices. “The Shriah knows of me. He has known of me for quite some time.”

The Shriah. The Holy Father of the Thousand Temples.

The Demon’s brother, Maithanet.

She goes on to say her outlawed post is tolerated because the Demon and his ilk prize secret knowledge and think they can control it. Aethiola says they’re doomed like what happened to the Anagkians. A few months ago, five assassins from the Cult of the Goddess of Fate tried to assassinate Kelmomas at his whelming. The Empress reactions had been predictable. The Matriarch had been murdered in one of several rumored, and gruesome, ways while others were arrested by Shrial Knights and never seen again. Nannaferi says they are a different Cult. This isn’t a vain boast. Only Gilgaöl has as many followers as Yatwer. Most Cults didn’t have strong roots. They could be pulled down easily. Yatwer’s Cult flourished wherever there were the poor and slaves.

Phoracia points out that they are up against the Aspect-Emperor. They never speak the “Demon’s” name. Nannaferi points out his most fanatical followers went with him on his Ordeal, and the Orthodox, though numerous, are not in their council chambers. Maharta adds that even Fanayal is growing bold. Phoracia keeps arguing that they don’t understand how powerful Kellhus is. She has met him. Her ranting is cut off as she realized she’s overstepped her bounds and asks Nannaferi’s forgiveness. Nannaferi agrees that they don’t know his power, but though they don’t know, their Goddess does.

Sharhild realizes that Yatwer has given Nannaferi visions. This sparks excitement as the other asks if it’s true. Phoracia continues harping about Kellhus, the others shutting up out of embarrassment for her. She asks what Yatwer says about him.

And there it was, the fact of their blasphemy, exposed in the honesty of an old woman’s muddled soul. Their fear of the Aspect-Emperor had come to eclipse all other terrors, even those reserved for the Goddess.

One could only worship at angles without fear.

Nannaferi struggles to explain how Yatwer sees time non-linearly and calls Vethenestra a fool and a fake when the seer is brought up. That quiets everyone. Vethenestra grows scared, asking if she’s displeased Nannaferi, She regards the seer as if she’s broken and says Yatwer is displeased. Vethenestra is stripped of her title and told to leave and join her dead sisters.

An image of her own sister came to Nannaferi, her childhood twin, the one who didn’t survive the pox. In a heartbeat it all seemed to pass through her, the whooping laughter, the giggling into shoulders, the teary-eyed shushing. And it ached, somehow, to know that her soul had once sounded such notes of joy. It reminded her of what had been given…

And those few things that remained.

Vethenestra at first moves slowly to the exit like she expects to be called back. She pauses at the dark maw. Everyone can fill that something is occupying it. A menstrual-red smoke winds through the opening. Vethenestra, realizing she’s truly banished, steps out of this world and is swallowed. She vanishes in a heartbeat. Silence filled the halls. Everyone but Nannaferi is stunned by the manifestation of the Goddess, the Blood of Fertility, that’s here with them, “lending her fury to the blood dark.” Maharta is the first to kneel. The rest follow. Nannaferi calls out, “Your daughters are clean, Mother.” The women all stare at Nannaferi with frightened reverence. They crawl to her and kiss her knees, knowing she truly is chosen by Yatwer.

“Tell them,” she [Nannaferi] said to her sisters, her voice hoarse with the passion to dominate. “In whispers, let your congregations know. Tell them the White-Luck turns against their glorious Aspect-Emperor.”

They had to take such gifts that were given. Even those beyond their comprehension…

“Tell them the Mother sends her Son.”

Or that would see them dead.

Momemn…

Kelmomas is pretending that the gardens in the center of the Imperial Apartments are the roof of the world. He can see Momemn stretching out to the west, the Meneanor Sea to the east. Every direction spreads out beneath the blue sky. He’s fascinated by the sycamores waving in the wind, their arrhythmic movement entrancing.

He would very much like to be a tree, Kelmomas decided.

His “secret voice” whispers suggestions to relieve his boredom, but instead, he focuses on his mother speaking. He’s lying on his belly and peering through the gaps in a railing to just see her. She is speaking to Maithanet about the Cult of Yatwer, asking if they should move against them. Maithanet says they’re too populous for that while Theliopa says that six out of ten caste menials attend her rites.

The pause in Mother’s reply said it all. It wasn’t so much that she reviled her own daughter—Mother could never hate her own—only that she could find no reflection of herself, nothing obviously human. There was no warmth whatsoever in Theliopa, only facts piled upon facts and an intense aversion to all the intricacies that seal the intervals between people. The sixteen-year-old could scarce look at another’s face, so deep was her horror of chancing upon a gaze.

Thank you, Thel.”

Kelmomas thinks Theliopa is a dead limb unable to feel the world around her. Mother only uses her because Kellhus ordered it. He listens as Esmenet asks Maithanet if he has an idea on what to do. Kelmomas doesn’t care about the subject of the conversation only the fear it breeds in his mother. His “secret voice” thinks she needs them.

The nursemaid, Porsi, brings Samarmas. Kelmomas gets up and skips along the veranda, delighting his idiot twin. As he does, Porsi asks the boys what games they would like to play. As she prattles on, he reads her face. He often pretends to play her games while actually playing one of his own to test her responses. He’s learned how his tone and expression matter as much as the words. He understands how to manipulate her emotions. Every time she compares him to his father, it makes Kelmomas exult that slaves can recognize him.

Using his knowledge of her, he fakes having the Shudders, something he’s done so well it’s fooled the court physician, Hagitatas. He could make himself feverish, control his body temperature. Even Samarmas could do this. So when he tells her it’s starting, she runs off to get his medicine which he’s hidden. He’ll be alone with Samarmas for a while while she frantically searches for his medicine.

Meanwhile, his mother is asking if the Yatwerians are mad because Kellhus is the only chance of salvation. Maithanet points out the Cultists are like all men: “they see only what they know.” They don’t like change.

Kelmomas contemplates his brother at play. “A toy Prince-Imperial poking toys that were smaller still.”

Only the lazy battle of boredom and awe in his [Samarmas] expression made him [seem] real.

Esmenet asks about the White-Luck. Theliopa explains it’s an ancient folk belief from ancient times. It’s “an extreme form of providence, a Gift of the Gods against worldly tuh-tuh-tyranny.”

Samarmas chants White-Luck as he plays. Kelmomas glares at Samarmas to get him to shut up, knowing Maithanet and even Theliopa could hear that.

Maithanet thinks the White-Luck might be more than a “self-serving fraud.”

Samarmas gathers more toys, even one he calls Mommy and kisses it to a dragon, finding wonder in doing that.

Kelmomas had been born staring into the deluge that was his twin’s face. For a time, he knew, his mother’s physicians had feared for him because it seemed he could do little more than gaze at his brother. All he remembered were the squalls of blowing hurt and wheezing gratification, and a hunger so elemental that it swallowed the space between them, soldered their faces into a single soul. The world was shouldered to the periphery. The tutors and the physicians had droned from the edges, not so much ignored as overlooked by a two-bodied creature who stared endlessly into its own inscrutable eyes.

Only in his third summer, when Hagitatas, with doddering yet implacable patience, made a litany of the differences between beast, man, and god, was Kelmomas able to overcome the tumult that was his brother. “Beasts move,” the old physician would rasp. “Men reflect. Gods make real.” Over and over. “Beasts move. Men reflect. Gods make real. Beasts move…” Perhaps it was simply the repetition. Perhaps it was the palsied tone, the way his breath undid the substance of his words, allowing them to soak into the between places, the gem-cutting lines. “Beasts move…” Over and over, until finally Kelmomas simply turned to him and said, “Men reflect.”

A blink, and what was one had become two.

After that, Samarmas’s bestial face disgusted Kelmomas. He sees Samarmas as a foul thing who fooled their mother. He’s kept back his true feelings and grown used to the fact that his brother is nothing more than dog. Mimicking his mother’s smile, Kelmomas shows off a dangerous feat to his brother, extorting him to watch. Samarmas gurgles in pleasure as Kelmomas says you can’t do this. Samarmas agrees.

Meanwhile, Maithanet explains how the Gods can’t see the No-God because “they are blind to any intelligence without soul.” They didn’t see the First Apocalypse coming and therefore can’t see the Second. Esmenet is still confused why Kellhus, a Prophet, would be hunted by the Gods.

As this goes on, Kelmomas mocks his brother, asking if he can do anything.

Inri Sejenus, as Maithanet explains, saw the Gods as fragments of the God. Kellhus is a prophet of the “Voice-Absolute.” This means the Gods war with the desires of the sum total of their existence. Theliopa adds that there are plenty of scriptures that refer to the Gods as similar to men, fearing the darkness and Waring against what they fear.

Kelmomas has an “idea” of what his brother can do. Samarmas is awed that there is something he can do and asks what.

Maithanet explains how humans are full of conflicting desires that war with each other. “We are not is different from the world we live in, Esmi…” She knows this.

Kelmomas asks Samarmas if he can balance. Samarmas proves he can by perching on banister while Kelmomas watches from the playroom.

Maithanet said just the rumors of the White-Luck Warrior are a “dire threat.” Esmenet agrees, but how do they fight one?

Kelmomas could almost see his uncle’s simulated frown.

How else? With more rumours.”

Samarmas is balancing. He’s having fun.

Maithanet suggests inviting the Yatwerian Matriarch to the Andiamine heights.

Samarmas almost falls and is scared as he fights for balance.

Esmenet points out that the Matriarch doesn’t rule the cult. Maithanet says this can work for them since Sharacinth doesn’t like being a figurehead.

Samarmas catches his balance and giggles nervously. Doesn’t stop.

Esmenet realizes Maithanet means to bribe Sharacinth to be Mother-Superior.

The slender body bent about an invisible point, one which seemed to roll from side to side.

The surrounding air deep with the promise of gravity.

Esmenet adds that as Shriah, he has power over her. He believes for this reason Sharacinth is in the dark about the Cult’s plans.

Samarmas has his balance again. Grinning.

Esmenet and Maithanet plan on using Sharacinth to create a schism in the Yatwerian Cult.

Samarmas tottering. A bare foot, ivory bright in the glare, swinging out from behind the heel of the other, around and forward, sole descending, pressing like damp cloth across the stone. A sound like a sip.

A schism…”

The shadow of a boy foreshortened by the high angle of the sun. Outstretched hands yanked into empty-air clutches. Feet and legs flickering out. A silhouette, loose and tight-bundled, falling through the barred shadow of the baulustrade. A gasp flecked with spittle.

Then nothing.

Kelmomas stood blinking at the empty balcony, oblivious to the uproar rising from below.

Kelmomas thinks of himself like his father, able to see more with his “soul’s eye” than others. Ever since he learned Hagitatas’s lesson. This is why that Kelmomas knew that the “love and worship” Samarmas had for him would let him manipulate his brother. Kelmomas knew where the Pillarian Guards would be. Alarms ring out. Soldiers stare in horror at his brother’s body. Kelmomas fakes being stunned and leans out over the railing to stare down at his brother’s broken form. Then he wipes up the olive oil he left on the railing before crying “the way a little boy should.”

Why? the voice asked. The secret voice.

Why didn’t you kill me sooner?

He saw his mother beat her way through the Pillarian Guards, heard her inconsolable scream. He watched his uncle, the Holy Shriah, grasp her shoulders as she fell upon her beloved son. He saw his sister Theliopa, absurd in her black gowns, approach in fey curiosity. He glimpsed one of his own tears falling, a liquid beat, falling, breaking upon his twin’s slack cheek.

A thing so tragic. SO much love would be required to heal.

“Mommy!” he cried! “Mommeeeeeee!”

Gods make real.

Esmenet finds love in preparing Samarmas for burial, staring down at his body in the funerary room. She hums as she cleans his naked flesh. She sometimes cries. When her weeping passes, she resumes her work, memorizing every bit of him.

She absorbed all of it, traced and daubed and rinsed it, with movements that seemed indistinguishable from devotion.

There was such love in the touch of a son.

Kelmomas pretends to weep as Esmenet holds him tight, crying and begging him to never let go. Her grief is special to him. She is his scripture. His paradise isn’t in heaven, it’s right here in her arms as she comforts him.

“Kel,” she sobbed. “Poor baby.”

He keened, squashed the urge to kick his feet in laughter. Yes! he cried in silent glee, the limb-wagging exultation of a child redeemed. Yes!

And it had been so easy.

You are, the secret voice said, her only love remaining.

My Thoughts

Her saying on begging “From seed to womb, from seed to furrow” is a fertility metaphor. It’s meaning is clear, that for a man to reproduce, he has to give something up. It also applies to those giving coins to beggars. And since she is being a symbolic representative of her goddess, and the coins are symbolic seed, she has to make sure they are giving for their own reasons and not to please her. Not to be influenced by her. This is why she has to leave because giving to achieve something greater, like salvation, isn’t truly giving. Because then you are receiving something, too.

The arithmetic for giving only goes one way.

Beggars are a good measure of the world. A judging balance. Think Ma’at’s Feather in Egyptian mythology. Your heart is weighed against it. Lighter, you get to survive. Heavy with sin, you’re thrown to Ammit to be devoured. How you treat those lesser than you is a good measure of who you are.

And who is lesser than a beggar?

We come back to the Christian concept of good deeds for the sake of appearing good is disgusting to God. You can’t bribe your way into heaven by works. You should do the good deeds out of love for your fellow men expecting nothing in return. No reward. A true gift. Yatwer’s cult is similar, but because they know every time they give to a beggar it could be a priestess, especially the priestess, is it every truly a gift? Apparently, it’s good enough it if becomes a habit. Something we do out of rote without thought.

Action performed through IGNORANCE.

Bakker is also drawing us to the contention that religion is born out of ignorance and that rational thought is something that leads away from faith. That the Cult survives because its followers do not question but obey. Yatwer is another Darkness that Comes Before.

Nannaferi is having an “ecstasy.” A religious vision. The description is very much in line with historical records of saints and others. Notice how Bakker then has someone comment she has the Falling Disease. This is an old term for having epilepsy. She’s having a seizure, which causes all manner of neurons to misfire. Bakker is making us question if this woman really is getting a message from Yatwer. At this point in the story, if you’re reading this series for the first time, we don’t realize just how powerful and active the gods are. They didn’t seem to do anything in the last trilogy. But here we have Yatwer truly talking to Nannaferi and telling her of future events.

“Your brother has finally arrived,” and, “On the anointed day,” are how Yatwer speaks of the White-Luck Warrior. She says he has arrived and yet he won’t be here until the future. This is our first clue on how Yatwer sees the world. He’s already arrived for her but not for Nannaferi.

The mysteries of the Cult is a phrase that hearkens us back to Greek and Roman times. This is when the Mystery Religions flourished. Cults of various deities, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and even new gods, dominated. You had to be initiated into secret rites, not unlike the Free Masons of modern times (which are often accused of being successors to the mystery religions). In secret places were performed magic and orgies and sacrificial rites. They were for special people. The chosen enlightened to discover and keep that secret. To hoard the truth from the masses.

The harvest sickle that’s at once a pregnant belly is the symbol of Yatwer. Both the harvesting of the bounty of fertility, the wheat’s death to sustain other life, and the symbol for new life about to be born goes along with the fact that Yatwer is both a fertility cult and a death cult, embracing the full breathy of life. That from death is born new life, for the carbon and other elements that make us up need to be recycled so new life can replace us.

Bakker does a good job introducing us to Psatama Nannaferi and who she is and her past. No deep details, but the board strokes to understand this woman and the iron will. She won’t compromise her morals even when it would be beneficial in the short term.

Taking is the very essence of Kellhus (and the other Dûnyain) and stands at odds with Yatwer. Nannaferi has this assessment correct. Dûnyain do nothing without gain. Any gift they give is like the silvers thrown at Nannaferi’s feet: bribes to get you to do their will. Nothing is free from the Dûnyain. They are the very antithesis to Yatwer and her worshipers. It is no wonder that they are the ones who rise up to oppose him.

“Everything was sinful.” Is it no wonder that later on Nannaferi doesn’t flinch from her goddess being accused of punishing even her followers and devouring them. She’s a fanatic who believed it is necessary. The only way for Yatwer to cultivate the world into order.

We see more of Bakker’s thesis that faith comes out of blind devotion. Something to never be questioned. Something to be followed because the Goddess, in Nannaferi’s case, is something better than her. Something that knows right and wrong. Better to follow her will than to be sinful.

Nannaferi says she has no vanity, but her POV is full of her thinking she’s better than the others. She takes pleasure in cowing them and lording over their sins. When one has a strong personality, how can there not be ego?

The witch scene both show us that Nannaferi’s visions are reliable and refresh us on how Chorae work with sorcery. How it turns a person to salt and undoes their magic. It accomplishes both a recap of lord and world-building along with proving Nannaferi’s bonafide. She’s not a fake seer like Vethenestra.

You can see how Kellhus, from the outside perspective, appears to be the evil tyrant. The false leader that the righteous servants of the beaten-down true gods are seeking to destroy. Another fantasy trope here, only their Goddess operates out of fear and jealousy of losing her followers. Not out of any care of how evil he is. The irony is, Kellhus’s is the world’s best hope to stop the Consult.

Life is a gift. But one that can be taken back. Nannaferi is reminded of those few things left to her as she pronounces judgment on Vethenestra who is about to have her life taken back.

And if you want any proof that Yatwer is real, she just devoured Vethenestra. Bakker wants us to have no doubts about the Gods in this series. They are real entities that have agency and shall be utilizing it in this story.

Trees are equated with Dûnyain time and time again. They war in every direction at once, just the way a Dûnyain should. Kelmomas wants to be a Dûnyain. He yearns for it, but he isn’t a tree. He’s not a true Dûnyain. He knows this at some level.

The tree metaphor continues. Theliopa is a dead branch. She can’t understand social niceties because of her autism. She has the intellect, but not the ability to fake being human. She can never war in every direction at once because she can only be one thing.

Kelmomas is still a child. He plays games throughout the entire series. That’s all this is for him. A way to keep himself amused and to have what he selfishly wants: his mother all to himself. He has no morality, no children do but has to learn it. That’s combined with far, far too much intellect. He doesn’t have the morality to leash his intellect and keep from being utterly dominated by his desires. He’s Inchoroi; he just hasn’t developed physically enough to care about other forms of gratification. Notice how he enjoys being compared to his father.

Gratification.

Reading about Samarmas blissfully at play unaware that his twin brother is plotting his murder is heartbreaking. As I’ve mentioned before, I spent several years working with the handicapped including many with severe autism and other mental handicaps that, though they were adults, they had very children-like personalities. They were often happy, playful, taking joy in life that I sometimes envied.

“Beasts move. Men reflect. Gods makes real.” Beasts just react, men think, and gods make changes to the world. Create miracles. This feeds back into sorcery. Why it leaves the Mark because what sorcerry does is an imperfect creation. Only the Psûkhe with their emotion-charged magic, drawing on feelings and belief instead of logic or arguments like with the other types of magic.

We see here that the Outside is based on belief in how Bakker’s sorcery works. The magic that draws on logic and mathematics, or on arguments and metaphors, doesn’t capture the world perfectly. No, it’s imagination. Feelings. Emotions. It’s more than “thinking” and more than “doing” that is the providence of Gods. Creation cannot come from logic, from math, from the statistic, from making perfect geometries. Nature isn’t perfect. It also can’t come from making a good comparison. Creation is an internal act, not an external one.

“They [the Gods] are blind to any intelligence without a soul.” We learn later on that the No-God is actually some form of AI. One that was directing the Arc and was badly damaged in the crash. It appears to need some sort of biological component, a mind, to do its processing and, hence, why it needs a host. We know Nau-Cayûti is one such host, and Kelmomas is the other. Because Kelmomas is destined to become the “intelligence without a soul,” he also can’t be seen by the gods.

Maithanet’s explanation on Esmenet’s soul is interesting. We all have those conflicting desires in ourselves, the war to do one thing over another. To surrender to vice. To strive for virtue. If there was some entity that perceived our various inclinations as a separate entity, our desire to be lazy and skip work would be one god while our desire to keep paying our bills and demanding we go to work is another. Those two impulses battling in us would be seen as those two gods warring. In fact, they would be bitter enemies with sloth probably the evil god who usually gets beaten.

This entity couldn’t understand how they could, in fact, be part of the same whole.

This feeds into the Oversoul idea Kellhus has spoken of. That all souls are just points in the real world where one vast soul is thrusting out little fillers to understand it. None of these souls can remember they’re really one vast soul. This seems to be how the cosmology works in Bakker’s story. By killing enough bits of these souls thrust into the real world, the Consult will slay this Oversoul and free themselves from damnation and only find annihilation when they die. They would, in fact, be vestiges of something already dead. It’s as if the brain has died, but the cells in stomach haven’t gotten the message yet and are still happily digesting your last meal.

Rumors fighting rumors. Isn’t that politics in a nutshell?

Maithanet is wrong about Sharacinth being in the dark. She was there at the unveiling of Nannaferi’s connection to the goddess.

The cutting between Samarmas balancing and about to fall with the conversation is great at building tension. We can see that, though stunted mentally, Samarmas has a control over his body a boy that age shouldn’t. This section builds and builds until that promise of gravity in the air is fulfilled.

Such a tragic end. You can feel Kelmomas’s plan building and building as he lures his brother to his death. We also get to see the extant of Kelmomas’s delusion. It’s not just any voice that’s in his head, it’s the “real” Samarmas. Kelmomas wants to be a mighty tree, but he has a flaw. That voice isn’t his brother. That’s his own madness whispering the words he wants to hear. He thinks his soul was split in half. So he kills his brother. Now he gets his mother’s love all to himself.

And she needs his love so much right now.

The scene where Esmenet readies Samarmas… Bakker really caught the emotions. Puts you in her shoes. What a terrible thing to have to do. And then we transition to Kelmomas’s exultation. He’s ecstatic. He has his mother all to himself.

Or so he thinks.

Want to read more, Click here for Chapter Six!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

You do not want to miss out on this awesome adventure!

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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Review: The Thousandfold Thoughts (The Prince of Nothing Book 3)

The Thousandfold Thoughts (The Prince of Nothing Book 3)

by R. Scott Bakker

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Holy War has bent knee before Kellhus, proclaiming him the Warrior-Prophet. Thanks to their renewed fanaticism, the siege of Caraskand has been broken. Nothing stands between them and their final march on Shimeh.

Achamian has to adjust to the new reality. His wife, Esmenet, is now Kellhus’s. After thinking he died, she was seduced by the Dûnyain and is pregnant with his child. Believing Kellhus is the Harbinger, the only hope for humanity against the Consult and the threat of the return of the No-God, he swallows his hatred and tries to fight his desire to reclaim his wife.

Conphas is the only great name that still defies Kellhus. He is forced to surrender his legion’s weapons and be interred at Joktha under the brutal watch of Cnaiur. The Scylvendi barbarian knows the truth about Kellhus and realizes he has been put into a trap. If he doesn’t kill Conphas, the Nansur prince will plot and scheme, but if Cnaiur does kill the man, he’ll lose his own life in the backlash of Conphas’s loyal legions.

Around them all, the Consult studies, struggling to understand just who this Kellhus is and what to do about him. They see one tool that will be useful. One tool that can help them destroy the Warrior-Prophet once and for all.

Kellhus’s father awaits him near Shimeh. The Dûnyain’s original mission still needs to be completed. What will happen when father and son reunite? Will Kellhus discover he’s merely a pawn in a greater scheme himself, or will his trials prove too much for even one of his conditioning?

The Thousandfold Thought is the conclusion of the first series in Bakker’s ambitions Second Apocalypse Megaseries. The book does not hold your hand. Bakker philosophy abounds, unveiled on every page mixed in with the poetry of his pose. The entire series has been building towards the moment when Kellhus and Moenghus meets. The fate of the world pivots on the relationship between father and son.

Characters are tested. Some are broken while others finds strength in them they never knew they had. Passions clash. Betrayals and mistakes lead to devastation while chance and misfortune afflict others. No one comes out of the crucible of the Holy War and Kellhus’s manipulation unchanged. The story is gripping. The stakes are high. Bakker has shown himself not adverse to maiming, breaking, and killing characters.

None are safe. The tension has never been higher as the assault on Shimeh begins. Love, religion, vengeance, and more clash and swirl in the conclusion of The Prince of Nothing.

When you finish this book, you’ll want more. You’ll want to know what happen next. You’ll be eager to plunge into the Judging Eye. Bakker’s writing is engaging, enthralling, and enlightening in turns. It will leave you in awe, keep you at the edge of the seat, and have you weeping.

The human soul is laid bare in Bakker’s epic fantasy story!

You can buy Thousandfold Thoughts from Amazon.

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Prologue

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Prologue

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

When a man possesses the innocence of a child, we call him a fool. When a child possesses the cunning of a man, we call him an abomination. As with love, knowledge has its season.

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

Wow, a warning about Kelmomas? He is introduced in this prologue. He’s certainly an abomination.

It’s nice to have Ajencis start us off. After quotes of Achamian’s Compendium of the First Holy War, quotes from The Third Analytic of Men were among the most common. It’s like a welcome sight at the start of this new series. Yes, this is continuing. We’re going to be diving into dark and difficult subjects wrapped up in the guise of a fantasy story.

Knowledge is something you have to gain over time. Having it too early is atypical and not gaining it as you age is disappointing. We do not like things that differ from the norm. We like predictable things. Children may be smart but lack knowledge, and adults may be dumb but possess it. The familiarity is comforting.

The opposite provokes a reaction. So, Kelmomas is the child with too much intellect, so who is the fool?

Samarmas. He might not be an adult, but he’s Dûnyain. The only child of Kellhus that has a normal intellect. And to Kelmomas, that makes him a fool.

Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side”

A horn pealed long and lonely beneath the forest canopies. A human horn.

For a moment all was quiet. Limbs arched across the imperious heights, and great trunks bullied the hollows beneath. Shorn saplings thatched the intervening spaces. A squirrel screeched warning from the gloom of interlocking branches. Starlings burst into the squinting sky.

They came, flickering across bands of sunlight and shadow.

The Sranc come running wearing armor and shield decorated in human trophies: teeth, skin, fingernails, and more. They smell mannish blood and spill their black seed on the ground. Their scouts have reported what they can smell. “It had been so long since they had glutted their rapacious hunger.” They are eager to kill and rape.

They ran, weeping for joy.

They spot their prey. The Sranc charge across the ground. Just as they are about to fall on the men, the ground collapses beneath them. They fall into pit traps. Some manage to stop in time, shocked by what has happened. They stare “in lust and apprehension” at their prey.

Men.

A hard-bitten handful, running as though by magic across the forest floor. They lunged into the Sranc’s midst, their heavy swords high and pitching. Shields cracked. Mouldered iron was bent and broken. Limbs and heads were thrown on arcs of glittering blood.

The Men roared and bellowed, hammered them to earth, hacked them to twitching ruin.

Later, a lone traveler cries out, “Scalper.” They all turn to face him and the traveler thinks they’re like animals. He threads through the slaughtered Sranc, passing one “white as drowned fish, floating face down in a pool of translucent red.” The traveler notes the ambush was very successful with many Sranc killed. He approaches the scalpers taking their grisly trophies with efficiency. A Galeoth washes the scalps off in a stream, treating them with the same care like they were gold. Even with the lowering of the Hallow Bounty offered by Kellhus, they still were worth money.

All the scalpers watch him even as they pretend to indifference. It was unusual for an outsider to find them in the wilderness. “This work, the work of collecting and counting, was the least manly portion of their trade.” Their shameful secret.

It was also the point.

Nearly eleven years had passed since the Aspect-Emperor had declared his bounty on Sranc scalps, before the last of the Unification Wars had ended. He placed the bounty on Sranc because of their vast numbers. He placed the bounty on scalps because their hairlessness made them distinctive to Sranc. Men such as these, the traveller supposed, would be far happier poaching something less inclined to kill back—like women and children.

So began the Scalping Years. Over that time, countless thousands had trudged into the northern wilderness, expedition after expedition, come to make their fortune as Scalpoi. Most died in a matter of weeks. But those who learned, who were wily and every bit as ruthless as their foe, prospered.

And some—a few—became legendary.

The traveler has come looking for one such legend. He studies the man who is dressed in the “traditional costume of his caste and race” only his armor and clothing ripped and rusted, soiled. The man is an Ainoni known as Ironsoul. The man the traveler judged to be him says it and the traveler bows out of respect to a Veteran of the First Holy War. It’s a crime not to “venerate a survivor” of that conflict.

“How did you find us?” the man asked in his native tongue. From the cadence of his voice, it was obvious that he despised speaking, that he was as jealous of his voice as he was of his women or his blood.

The traveller did not care. Men prized what they would

“We find everyone.”

A barely perceptible nod. “What do you want?”

The Ainoni glanced back towards his cowled companion. No words were exchanged, only an inscrutable look.

Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side”

Ever do Men seek to hide what is base and mean in their natures. This is why they talked of wolves or lions or even dragons when they likened themselves to animals. But it was the lowly beetle, the young boy decided, who they must resembled. Belly to the ground. Back hunched against the world. Eyes blind to everything save the small circle before them.

The boy, Anasûrimbor Kelmomas, follows the beetle scurrying across the floor in the wake of his Whelming. Prayers drift through the temple’s columns as he is curious to where the beetle is going. The beetle leaves a trail in the dust and obliterates it as the beetle leads to the statue of Ajokli, the Four-Horned Brother.

“The Thief?”

Kelmomas is not impressed. Ajokli’s godhouse is a poor one compared to the other gods, his brothers and sisters. It’s a statue carved from black diorite to look like a fat man crouching over to chamber pot. He has no jewels or precious metals. Kelmomas finds the expression inhuman. “Grinning like a monkey. Snarling like a dog. Staring like a dew-eyed virgin.”

It [the statue] also watched the beetle as it scurried into its gloomy bower.

Kelmomas follows the beetle and mocks the statue by mimicking its posture by crouching over the beetle. Then he grabbed the insect. “It writhed like a little automaton beneath his fingertip.” He anticipates killing it, knowing he could do it easily and enjoying his power. He rips off two legs and tells the statue to watch. He sets the beetle back down. Missing two legs, it moves in a circle.

See?” he exclaimed to Ajokli. They laughed together, child and idol, loud enough to blot out the chorus of chanting voices.

“They’re all like that,” he explained. “All you have to do is pinch.”

“Pinch what, Kelmomas?” a rich, feminine voice asked from behind him. Mother.

Another boy would have been startled, even ashamed, to be surprised by his mother after doing such a thing, but not Kelmomas. Despite the obscuring pillars and voices, he had known where she was all along, following her prim footsteps (though he knew not how) in a corner of his soul.

He asks if they’re done as he whirls to see his mother, the Empress Esmenet. He finds her the “world’s most beautiful thing” despite her makeup and jewelry. She is finished and rolls her eyes, signaling she’d rather dote on him then do boring things. Kelmomas knows she does things to maintain appearances, just not nearly as good as he did. He asks her if she prefers his company even though he already knows the answer. He doesn’t let her know he knows because “it troubled her when he read aloud the movement of her soul.” She smiles and scoops him up in her arms, adjusting his hair while he savors her embrace. He thinks, “Never was there such a sanctuary.”

Mommy…

She leads him away and he is satisfied the beetle still stalks in circles. Then he hears the sounds of a crowd and he grows nervous, not wanting to leave. She asked him what is wrong, but he lies and says anything. She licks her fingers and attends to his messy hair like any mother would.

“It’s proper that you be anxious,” she said, distracted by her ministrations. She looked him square in the eye, and he stared into the pith of her, past the paint and skin, past the sheath of interlocking muscles, down to the radiant truth of her love.

She would die for you, the secret voice—the voice that had been within always—whispered.

“Your father,” she continued, “says that we need fear only when we lose our fear.” She ran her hand from his temple to his chin. “When we become too accustomed to power and luxury.”

Father was forever saying things.

He sneers inside while faking being an adorable kid. The secret voice tells him to both hate his father but fear him. Kelmomas “must never forget that the Strength burned brightest in Father.” Meanwhile, Esmenet is happy to have such a good son and hugs him. Holding her hand, he allows her to lead him out of the Allosium. They exit the temple onto the Scuäri Campus, the plaza before all the temples. Eothic Guardsmen protect them. He can see the whole vista of the Home City. It’s massive.

On and on it went, the vast and mottled vista of the Home City, the great capital of all the Three Seas. For his entire life it had been encircled him, hedged him its teeming intricacies. And for his entire life it had frightened him, so much so that he often refused to look when Samarmas, his idiot twin, pointed to something unnoticed in its nebulous weave.

But today it seemed the only safe thing.

“Look!” his mother cried through the roar. “Look, Kel!”

He stares at the thousands crowding the square, pilgrims and locals, “churning like floodwaters about the base of the Xatantian Arch.” They all reach for them while his mother tells him they are all here to witness his divinity. He fakes the “bewildered gratitude” she expects; he feels only disgust. “Only fools, he decided, travelled in circles.” He wants to show Ajokli this truth.

People were bugs.

It feels like a long time that Kelmomas and his mother stand in their “proscribed places.” He focus on flying birds and sunlight on rooftops. He wants to ask his mother for a model of the city so he can burn it. Soon Thopsis, Master of Protocol, arrives and all the Imperial Apparati on the steps turn to face Kelmomas and his mother. He studies their faces, seeing all their emotions despite blank spaces. Ngrau, Xerius’s old seneschal, still holds that position. Phinersa is the Holy Master of Spies, and Imhailas is the Exalt-Captain of the Eothic Guard and Esmenet’s sometimes lover. Werjau is the Prime Nascenti and leads the Ministrate while Vem-Mithriti is the Grandmaster of the Imperial Saik and Vizier-in-Proxy. There are sixty-seven in all in descending order of importance to witness Kelmomas’s Whelming. He’s the youngest son of Kellhus. Only his Uncle Maithanet, the Shriah, is unreadable. He doesn’t like Maithanet’s scrutiny.

He suspects, the secret voice whispered.

Suspects what?

That you are make-believe.

The cheers die as the horns sound. Then, at Thopsis’s shout, “the whole world seemed to kneel.” The citizens of the New Empire prostrate themselves save for Maithanet who only kneels to Kellhus. Kelmomas is dazzled by the sun reflecting off small tusks decorating his vestments and loos away. As they descended, he can’t help but laugh at how absurd the Exalt-Ministers look “grovelling in the costumes of kings.”

“They honour you, Kel,” his mother said. “Why would you laugh at them?”

Had he meant to laugh? Sometimes it was hard to keep count.

“Sorry,” he said with a glum sigh. Sorry. It was one of the many words that confused him, but it never failed to spark compassion in his mother’s look.

They walk through the square to the Andiamine Heights under the armed escort of the hallowed Hundred Pillars. The walk makes Kelmomas nervous despite the familiarity of being escorted by towering, armed men. He can smell the unwashed masses, a nauseating reek while they chanted “Bless-bless-bless,” over and over. He stars at the “landscape of kneelers.” A beggar weeps while a young girl watches when she shouldn’t. It stretches forever.

He walked across a living ground.

And then he was among them, in them, watching his own steps, little more than a jewelled shadow behind a screen of merciless, chainarmoured men. A name. A rumour and a hope. A god-child, suckled at the breast of Empire, anointed by the palm of Fate. A son of the Aspect-Emperor.

They did not know him, he realized. They saw, they worshipped, they trusted what they could not fathom.

No one knows you, the secret voice said.

No one knows anyone.

He glances at her mother and sees she’s worrying over Mimara. He asks if she is thinking about Esmenet’s first daughter, “the one she loved with the most desperation—and hated.” Kelmomas drove Mimara away at the secret voices urging while the voice. His mother lies and says she’s worrying for his father and Kellhus. Seeing she still worried for Mimara, Kelmomas isn’t happy that all his manipulations haven’t worked. The secret voice wonders if they should have killed Mimara. He then asks when Kellhus will return.

He knew the answer at least as well as she did, but at some level he understood that as much as mothers love their sons, they loved being mothers as well—and being a mother meant answering childish questions. They traveled several yards before she replied, passing through a fog of please and whispers. Kelmomas found himself comparing her to the countless cameos he had seen depicting her in her youth—back in the days of the First Holy War. Her hips were wider, perhaps, and her skin not so smooth beneath the veneer of white paint, but her beauty was legendary still. The seven-year-old could scarce imagine anyone more beautiful.

She says he won’t return until the Great Ordeal is over. That gives Kelmomas such joy. He wants his father to die and this brings his “first true smile of the day.” As they continue walking, someone yells out cursed. A madman with a knife rushes to attack Esmenet. He watches “battling shadows” and a word pops into his mind.

Assassins.

My Thoughts

A human horn sounds. The fact Bakker has to point this out should let us know, we are in a place humans shouldn’t be. We start with the Sranc. They dominate this series. They are the great concern of the Holy War, which only grows worse as they start marching and began fighting their way across the Sranc to the north. In this wake travels Achamian and his band. It’s fitting that we start with these bestial creatures, reminding the reader what they are. How they wear trophies of human flesh. How they get so excited by the scent of human blood that they ejaculate their black seed. They are pure hunger.

The “traveler” sees the scalpers as nothing more than animals. We see how fighting Sranc dehumanizes men. The Great Ordeal is marching out to fight these same creatures. Bakker is laying the groundwork of what being around Sranc does to humans. How it’s going to twist them into beasts like Ironsoul and his men.

Scalpers must be seen as the most dangerous and deadly men. The ones with the balls to go off into the wilderness and fight the monsters then come back with their trophies. It’s as masculine as you can get, and yet to earn their money, they have to do something almost domestic: washing and counting and organizing.

Trust Bakker to slip in that comment about scalpers needing to bring back something purely Sranc else they’d just be murderers. Most follow the path of least resistance, and those who do this will quickly have the innocence beat out of them. Even if they started off killing Sranc, soon they’d realize easier ways to make money after the dehumanizing work.

Well, Bakker’s really building up Ironsoul and his men. As we’ll see, they earn it. Especially Ironsoul.

Ironsoul is a man cast in the vein of Cnaiür. As brutal and deadly. He’s Ainoni, which in the first series was the most effete of all the races. The most urbane and decadent. Though they had their soldiers who fought in battle with skill, but they were always looked down as being lesser men by the others. Yet here we have Ironsoul, dressed like an Ainoni down to having tattoos mimicking makeup, purple lips, and eyeliner. Still, there’s no denying this man could rip you apart. It’s a nice subversion of expectations of Ainoni, showing that they’re not monoliths but a diverse people.

So who is this Traveler his “cowled companion.” The man is someone who revers the laws of Kellhus Empire by showing defense to a Veteran of the First Holy War. He is someone on a mission, searching these men out. He is delivering them this cowled companion. This is Cleric. We see no mention of Cleric in this passage. No nonman preaching. This is how he was delivered to them. We see the Cleric agree with a silent nod

We later learn Cleric is the last Nonman King Nil’giccas who is supposed to be in their last city of Ishterebinth. Kellhus sends his daughter, adopted son, and Sorweel there ostensibly to negotiate with Nil’giccas. But Kellhus already knew he wasn’t there. Clearly, he has met with Nil’giccas and made an agreement with him. He delivers him to the Scalpers to act as his elju, his book, because the nonman king is an Erratic.

Kellhus appears to have placed these scalpers and Nil’giccas into the path of Achamian. He is arranging protection and the skills for Achamian to make his journey, probably because Kellhus anticipates Mimara will join him. He is protecting those Esmenet loves. Mimara, Achamian, Kelmomas, and Samarmas (well, Kellhus would have if he knew about Kelmomas activities).

I do not think Kellhus cares if Achamian learns anything or not. Maybe he had different plans for Achamian and Mimara after the Consult’s defeat, but Kellhus’s plan failed in the final moments and so we’ll probably never know.

Well, we see Kelmomas’s opinion of people. It has the clinical detachment of a Dûnyain but possesses a spite to it. A delusion of grandeur a sane Dûnyain wouldn’t have. Right there in the opening paragraph about him. He destroys the beetle’s trail, obliterating its history, the evidence of its existence.

It’s fitting knowing where he ends up. Many thought he would be the Narindar (avatar/agent) of Ajokli because of this scene, but Kelmomas is acting as an equal, not a servant, to what he calls “the Thief.” The humans have scurried to the gods to save them. The ones who steal their souls.

“It writhed like a little automaton beneath his fingertip.” What’s an automaton but a slave to what comes before unable to deviate from the cause that set it in motion. He proves it by ripping off the beetles two legs then shares in the joke with the god. Kelmomas is Ajokli’s equal. Or will be.

Kelmomas tracking his mother is something we’ve seen from Kellhus. Of course, Kellhus has gone past that, but it’s showing us that Kelmomas going to have some Dûnyain level of skills and manipulation as we see his interactions with Esmenet. But he’s also untrained. He does this all instinctual.

However, while he’s Dûnyain, he clearly has an emotional attachment to Esmenet. A jealous and obsessive love, as we’ll see. It’s very childish, the only thing childish about him. She’s his favorite toy but also the only place he feels safe. Interesting that he feels fear. He gets scared by the sounds of the crowd though he refuses to admit it and lets himself be mothered by Esmenet.

Kelmomas is scared by the city because it’s too much for him. He can’t possibly take it all in and pay attention to it. Take that line “something unnoticed in its nebulous weave.” Kelmomas needs to control everything, especially his mother. In the palace, he can do it. When Kellhus is absent, he has free rein, or so he thinks. He can’t control a city.

But today, everyone in the city is cheering for him. All the beetles have come to worship him.

Werjau… I remember you. Did that slave plot in Thousandfold Thoughts go anywhere? I’m going to be paying attention to him in this book because I can’t for the life of me remember what he does in this book and the next. Is he still working against Esmenet?

So Kelmomas has a secret voice. This is another indication that he’s a broken Dûnyain like many of his siblings. We later see he’s not sure if he meant to laugh or not. He can’t maintain the facade as well as others.

We have a Dûnyain who is jealously in love with his mother and has the impulse control of a seven-year-old. We can see him struggling to maintain his facade at times. He does acts that could get him caught, like mutilating the insect. He has a god compact. As we see going forward, he’s not as smart as he thinks when dealing with other half-Dûnyain.

This chapter is full of so much foreshadowing. We have glimpses of the Holy War’s fate with the scalpers followed by the introduction of one of the biggest sources of chaos in this series. Kelmomas has the idea of assassins implanted in his head, and that is a big thing he does in this book. He causes so many problems for his mother trying to isolate her. We have the mystery of Cleric and what deal he made with Kellhus. And we learn that the inciting incident for Achamian’s storyline, Mimara’s arrival, was orchestrated by Kelmomas.

A great start to this series.

If you want to read on to Chapter One, click here!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 16
Shimeh

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

Hi, JMD Reid here. Sorry for how long this took to get out. Not only was this one of the longest chapters in the series, but this is also one of the longest writeups. On top of that, I went on vacation for two weeks in March and then I got sick this week. Between that and getting my novels published, I haven’t had the time to put to it. But I’ll be diving into the final chapter of Thousandfold Thought this Weekend and hopefully, it’s not as long!

Please leave comments because it is a great motivator to continue this. And please, check out my fiction. I’ve learned a lot from Bakker on characters that I’ve applied to my writing. I’m not promising his style of fiction, but I’ve learned many lessons from the greats in the genre to make my own!

Doubt begets understanding, and understanding begets compassion.

Verily, it is conviction that kills.

—PAARCIS, THE NEW ANALYTICS

My Thoughts

A very astute observation. It’s one of the themes of Bakker’s series. Doubt is something the wise do. They use their brains and question things. Seek to understand things. When you can step outside your own world view you understand others. Empathy forms.

The best way to counter things you don’t like, bigotry or hatred, isn’t to demonize but to socialize. To engage. To get to know your opponent. Speak to them. Host dialogues and share your ideas. You can open up both your minds and discover maybe you were a little close-minded, too. That common ground can be forged.

The zealot always believes they are right. And that always leads to violence when the “blasphemer” disagrees.

This leads directly to the goal of the Thousandfold Thought. The Dûnyain see the easiest way to unite humans is to make them all zealots for the same thing.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Bowmen huddle in the sewers of Shimeh with a Cishaurim. Above, the buildings burn. The sounds of the Scarlet Spires sorcery has gone quiet. The bald Cishaurim commands the bowmen to douse their torches and cover their eyes. They do. The world goes black.

Then impossibly bright. A thunderous crack.

“Move!” the Waterbearer cried. “Climb! Climb!”

Suddenly all was blue, illuminated by a coin of incandescence that flared on the Waterbearer’s brow. They jostled forward, spitting at the dust. One by one they shouldered their way past the blind man, struggled up a slope of broken and blistering stone, then found themselves dashing through fiery ruins.

Moënghus concludes that the voices Kellhus hear are not from the Thousandfold Thought. Kellhus responds by demanding to see the captives. Moënghus asks what Kellhus will do if he refuses. Kellhus asks why Moënghus would.

“Because I need to revise my assumptions, to explore these unforeseen permutations. I had discounted this possibility.”

“What possibility?”

That the Wilderness would break rather than enlighten. That you would come to me a madman.”

Water, endlessly dropping, pounded air and stone. The thunder of inevitability.

“Refuse me anything, and I will kill you, Father.”

The Kianene boil out of the ruins of the collapsed city wall and race out to attack the Ainoni flank. The Tydonni who spotted the attack keep sounding the alarm, but the dust and smoke have hidden this attack from the rest of the Holy war. The Kianene cross the Jeshimal River, including war mastodons dragging rafts to make improvised bridges. They Tydonni charge into hopeless numbers.

Moënghus leads Kellhus through “absolute darkness,” leaving behind the waterfall. Kellhus explains all he had inferred about his father that he’d gleaned from Cnaiür then speculates what Moënghus did after leaving the Utemot. Unlike Kellhus, his father had carved the swazond into his arms meaning he would find no safety in the Nansur Empire forcing him south to the Fanim. This was before the Battle of Zirkirta, so while they didn’t love the Scylvendi they also didn’t hate them. Moënghus was first a slave, but after his “conversion” to Fane and with his intellect, he was freed by his master. Moënghus made his master love him. Soon, Moënghus’s knowledge of scripture outstripped the Fanic Priests. “Those who would whip you now implored you to travel to Shimeh… to the Cishaurim, and the possibility of power beyond anything the Dûnyain had conceived.”

Five steps. Kellhus could smell the water drying across his father’s bare skin.

Moënghus responds that he had good reason to believe this. Kellhus agrees, pointing out that the worldborn are “less than children to us.” They see deeper in all their philosophies and sciences. Moënghus assumed becoming a Cishaurim and “taking up the Water” would be just as easy. He didn’t know that Psûkhe was all about emotions.

“So you let them blind you, only to find your powers proportionate to your vestigial passions. What you thought to be the Shortest Path was in fact a dead end.”

The Scarlet Schoolmen who are holding back from the main fray as Watchers feel the Chorae moving in the ground before the Thesji Bowmen appear. They cried warning but were confused by what to do. “Not since the Scholastic Wars had the Scarlet Spires waged such a battle.” Rimon is the first salted and killed. They scatter.

Their shouts catch Eleäzaras’s attention. He sees their fear but doesn’t feel any. Instead, he feels relief because the Cishaurim was finally fighting back. He sees the demolition of the city around him, creating a ring where they could fight the Cishaurim.

They come!” he boomed in a laughing, sorcerous voice. “At long last, they come!”

Arrayed across the pitched ruin, so small beneath the fires they had kindled, the Schoolmen of the Scarlet Spires cried out in exultant acclaim. Their Grandmaster had come back to them.

Then threads of incandescence, blinding blue and white, lashed through the encircling walls of flame.

Kellhus continues explaining that though Moënghus, going by Mallahet, was respected by Seökti and the other Cishaurim openly, they all secretly think he’s cursed for having so little Water. Worse, losing his eyes reduced his ability to “discern what comes before.” He could only see pinholes through them. He did what he could with his intellect and rose high, but whenever he left the powerful, the whispers about his weak powers would undermine his work.

Kellhus determines he first found the skin-spies twelve years ago. It shocks the Cishaurim and they blame the Scarlet Spire. What other school would dare to do this? But Moënghus understood that these weren’t made by sorcerers but “were engines of the flesh.” Though Moënghus couldn’t stop the Cishaurim from sending their assassins to kill the previous Scarlet Spire Grandmaster, starting the Holy War. Kellhus’s words are cut off.

Just then, Kellhus inadvertently kicked something lying upon the graven floor. Something hollow and fibrous. A skull?

Kellhus continues without giving the skull another thought, explaining how Moënghus had tortured the skin-spies and learned the truth about them, discovering about the last two Inchoroi, Aurang and Aurax, the Consult, and how they corrupted Meketerig and perverted Shaeönanra.

“These words you speak,” Moënghus said from the black, “‘wicked,’ ‘corrupted,’ ‘perverted’… why would you use them when you know they are nothing more than mechanisms of control?”

Kellhus ignores his father and explains how Moënghus would have thought of the Consult as long dead or Mandate delusion, but discovers the skin-spies story is too consistent. Moënghus became troubled learning that what he had dismissed as nonsense might be true. He had rejected the Sagas. After all who would be mad enough to destroy the world. What could you gain?

“But the skin-spies explained it all. Speaking in shrieks and howls, they taught you the way and wherefore of the Apocalypse. You learned that the boundaries between the World and the Outside were not fixed, that if the World could be cleansed of enough souls, it could be sealed shut. Against the Gods. Against the heavens and the hells of the Afterlife. Against redemption. And, most importantly, against the possibility of damnation.

“The Consult, you realized, were laboring to save their souls. And what was more, if your captives could be believed, they were drawing near the end of their millennial task.”

In the absence of light, Kellhus studied his father through the lens of different senses: the scent of naked skin, the displacement of drafts, the sound of bare feet scuffing through the dark.

“The Second Apocalypse,” Moënghus said simply.

Moënghus says the Consult has to be stopped. He spent years in the Probability Trance and is the only person who knew what the Consult was up to. Who could detect their spies? Kellhus thinks that this labyrinth is a place prepared for him by his father. He then says Moënghus began “contemplating what would become the Thousandfold Thought.” Moënghus agrees. Things change suddenly. They are in a larger room where a few things live but more have died.

“We have arrived,” his father said.

Gothyelk leads the Tydonni in a charge against the Fanim as they cross the river. The Inrithi cry out to Gilgaöl while the Fanim charge at them. The Men of the Tusk cry out to Shimeh as they set lances. The two groups crash together in a maelstrom of hacking death. The Tydonni drive through the horde and reach the riverbank, scattering those who crossed. They regroup like “angry bees” and attack the flanks.

Inrithi lords cajole their men to hold the river crossing. The Fanim began breaking apart their makeshift bridges as archers on the far bank pelt the Inrithi. Despite reaching the river, Gothyelk realizes he can’t hold it and sounds the retreat.

Kellhus lights the room with sorcery. For a nonman room, it’s austere (which means it still is pretty ornate just not excessive). Kellhus realizes it is access to the sewage system and hence why it is not as decorated. There are workbenches and a cistern. In between are four skin-spies spread eagle. Two more hang above pits, all shackled with iron. Kellhus notes a funnel above one’s head that is a force-feeding mechanism. He wonders how long they’ve been here. He then studies them, their facial limbs held back by a system of ropes and pulleys allowing them to be manipulated.

Kellhus asks when Moënghus realized he didn’t have the strength to face the No-God. Moënghus thought it was probably from the beginning. Thinking about it lead him to come upon the Thought. Kellhus continua his examination and notes that the skin-spies are lobotomized and have needles inserted into their brain. He brushes one, causing the skin-spy to defecate.

Kellhus has deduced that his father has some power, hence sending the dream. Moënghus nods while Kellhus ponders the secrets his father had learned from the skin-spies. Moënghus explains he is better at Psûkhe that requires subtly such as Scrying and Calling. The dreams were almost beyond him.

“I was the Shortest Path.” [asked Kellhus.]

“No. You were the only path.”

Kellhus notes a dead child and woman nailed to doors hung before the skin-spies. They are recently dead. Kellhus wanders if it was an interrogation technique or feeding them. As he does, he asks about his half-brother. Kellhus can almost visualize his half-brother from the way he had heard him described. At the same time, he feels his father’s scrutiny.

He uses every heartbeat to reassess. His son has returned to him insane.

Moënghus nodded and said, “You mean Maithanet.”

Esmenet, cuddling beside Achamian, stares up at the tree above them. She’s recently cried. She is astounded by how the tree keeps branching to thinner and thinner limbs, “all reaching for a thousand different heavens.”

She sighed and said, “I feel so young.”

His chest bounced in silent laughter beneath her cheek.

“You are… Only the world is old.”

“Oh, Akka, what are we going to do?”

“What we must.”

“No… that’s not what I mean.” She cast an urgent look to his profile. “He’ll see, Akka. The instant he glimpses our faces, he’ll see us here… He’ll know.”

He turned to her. The scowling hurt of old fears unearthed.

“Esmi—”

He’s interrupted by a horse. Alarmed, Achamian creeps out to view. She follows and is shocked to see Conphas’s Kidruhil riding in formation. She thought he was dead and then realizes Achamian isn’t. She realizes Cnaiür told him about it and to sound the alarm. Achamian was just so shocked by it that he didn’t think about it. He tells her to stay hiding. His tone causes her to shrink back. She asks what he plans to do. He says he can’t let Conphas succeed. She doesn’t want him to go, but he is afraid for her since she’s Kellhus’s wife.

Just like Serwë was.

In her soul’s eye she glimpsed the girl trying to palm blood back into the gash about her throat. “Akka!” she sobbed.

“I love you, Esmenet. The love of a fool…” He paused, blinked two tears. “That’s all I’ve ever had to offer.”

Then suddenly he stood tall. Before she could speak, he had stepped over the broken foundation. There was something nightmarish to his movements, an urgency that couldn’t be contained by his limbs. She would have laughed had she not known him so well.

He walked out and among the cavalrymen, calling…

His eyes shining. His voice a thunderclap.

Conphas is in a good mood as he witnesses Shimeh burning. He’s with Cememketri and asks the guy what it says about men that they find destruction beautiful. “That we are bred to war, God-of-Men,” answers the Schoolman. Conphas disagrees, saying that they’re bred to violence. “War is intellect, and men are stupid.”

Conphas feels everything is going perfectly. He had a smooth landing of his troops this morning and is arriving at just the right time to seize the day. He is delighted to see the Scarlet Spires fighting in the city and that the Holy War split, one half pouring into the city as the Tydonni are trying to stop Fanayal from outflanking them. He has achieved tactical surprise.

Whom do the Gods favour now, hmm, Prophet?

A defect carried from the womb… Please.

He laughed aloud, utterly unperturbed by the ashen looks of his officers. Suddenly it seemed he could see the future to its very limit. It wouldn’t end here, oh my, no! It would continue, first to the south, to Seleukara, then onward to Nenciphon, west to Invishi—all the way to Auvangshei and the legendary gates of Zeüm! He, Ikurei Conphas I, would be the new Triamis, the next Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas!

He scowls, realizing those around him couldn’t see anything but “their precious Holy City” burning. His thoughts are interrupted by General Areamanteras who is startled by Achamian walking towards them. Conphas realizes he’s casting sorcery and grabs his Chorae moments before fire engulfs him. Someone cries out to him and he realizes he’s no longer on his horse but on burned grass, Cememketri floating above protected with “ethereal ramparts.” Meanwhile, Achamian is destroying his troops with lines of light “more perfect than any rule.” His men are being butchered.

A blinding light rewrote all the shadows, and through upraised fingers Conphas saw a sun falling from black-bellied clouds, plummeting onto the figure of the Mandate Schoolman. Bursting fire, ribbons of it, arching off in all directions. Conphas heard himself cry out in relief elation…

But as his eyes adjusted, he saw the flames twining away into nothingness about an invisible sphere, and he glimpsed him, as clear as night beneath the Andiamine Heights, or in the Sapatishah’s Palace in Caraskand: Drusas Achamian, unharmed, untouched, laughing about incandescence as he sang.

From nowhere, a massive concussion. The air just cracked.

Cememketri is buckling, Achamian’s “parabolas of light” are tearing down the Saik Schoolmaster’s wards. Cememketri panics and stumbles on his words. He cries out for Conphas to run. Conphas does as Cememketri is ripped into bloody pieces.

The lone guardsman left to defend the Umbilica curses as he hears something. He’s terrified of what he sees. A figure that doesn’t look right “like a moth’s pupa or a bundle of collapsing cloth.” He wants to run, but he’s a Hundred Pillar. He feels enough shame at being left behind. He draws his weapon and demands it halt.

And miraculously, the thing ceased moving.

Forward, anyway, because it somehow clawed outward, as though soft inner surfaces were being peeled back, exposed to the needling sky.

A face like summer sunlight. Limbs barked in fire.

Reaching out, the thing grasped his head, skinned it like a grape.

Where, bolted a voice through his smoking skull, is Drusas Achamian?

The Scarlet Spire battled beneath the First Temple, led by “the thunder of their Grandmaster’s voice.” They are outnumbered by the Cishaurim. Everywhere, sorcery is unleashed. Cants are sung. Wards are strengthened. The Javreh shield-bearers struggle to block incoming Chorae arrows, but some get through. One kills Hem-Arkidu who, somehow, was perfectly balanced to remain standing as a “pillar of salt amid sizzling ruins.”

The Scarlet Schoolman retreat to each other, uniting their wards to create directed defenses. Protected, they counterattacked with Dragonheads belching fire, Memkotic Furies attack, and Meppa Cataract devours air. Cishaurim die while others are dragged away wounded. The Scarlet Spires own Chorae crossbowman reach the battle and, though they are buried beneath the rubble, killing dozens. The Cishaurim do not falter because “unlike their wicked foeman, they cared not for their lives.”

In the midst of their enemy, they spilled their Water.

The slaughter was great.

The Tydonni knights are in retreat now, pelted by Fanim arrows as they rout. Kianene cavalry overruns some. However, the infantry has formed lines and grow stronger with every moment as more and more men join the ranks. Standing amid a crumbling aqueduct, the ready to face the enemy. Some of the Ainoni are joining them now. The surviving knits reach their lines and ready to fight again. The heathens advance.

Missiles rained among them, like hail across tin.

“Here!” Earl Gothyelk roared. “Here we stand!”

But the Fanim parted before them, content to release storms of whirring arrows. The knights of Kishyat, their faces painted dread white above their square-plaited beards, had exacted a terrible toll on their flank. But even more, Cinganjehoi recalled well the obstinacy of the idolaters once their heels touched ground. As yet only a fraction of the Fanim army had crossed the Jeshimal.

Fanayal ab Kascamandri was coming. Lord of the Cleansed lands. Padirajah of Holy Kian.

Proyas’s men are losing their discipline More and more are raping and plundering the city. He’s given up, his heart grieving as the battle madness consumed them. He “understood what it meant to wager one’s life, and the bestial license that men took as their prize.” He’s realizing Shimeh isn’t any different. He finds himself separated from his soldiers and wandering through a market. Above, the First Temple is wreathed in smoke.

He enters a house and finds several dead men. Cringing in the corner is a woman and a young girl staring at him in fear. He is wearing his war-mark, hiding who he is. He realizes he’s splattered in blood. Memories of the fighting feel him mixing with his memories of kneeling before Maithanet. He approaches the mother. She’s crying out in her tongue and draws something on the floor. The tusk.

She keeps drawing the tusk and begging for mercy. He knows this is wrong, but the girl looks so young and inventing. He feels this urge for the “daughter of his enemy.” He wants to enjoy her, to take her.

An enormous crack shivered the air, thrummed through the building’s bones.

“Run,” he murmured, though he knew she wouldn’t understand. He pulled her back, held a soiled hand out to raise the mother. “You must find a better place to hide.”

This was Shimeh.

Moënghus explains that Dûnyain blood is the most precious commodity, but children born to worldborn women lack their full range of abilities. Maithanet isn’t Dûnyain. “He could do no more than preparing the way.” Kellhus feels a pang as he thinks of Esmenet’s name.

“Only a true son of Ishuäl could succeed,” his father continued. “For all the Thousandfold Thought’s innumerable deductions, for all its elegance, there remained countless variables that could not be foreseen. Each of its folds possess a haze of catastrophic possibilities, most of them remote, others nearly certain. I would have abandoned it long ago, were not the consequences of inaction so absolute.

“Only one of the Conditioned could follow its path. Only you, my son.”

Could it be? A tincture of sorrow in his father’s voice? Kellhus turned from the hanging skin-spies, once again enclosed his father within the circle of his scrutiny.

“You speak as though the Thought were a living thing.”

He could see nothing in the eyeless face.

Moënghus says thought is alive. He uses the Nilnamesh game viramsata (“many-breaths”) as an example. It is a game of truth. They have taken jnan so far, that they spread lies about each other and the person will act out those lies, “especially when they are elegant.” It blurs the line between what is fiction and lies. The best tale is declared Pivirsut (“this breath is ground”). It is a lie that has become truth, the foundation everyone walks on. Kellhus sees the connection to Inrithism and Fanimry.

“Precisely. Lies that have conquered and reproduced over the centuries. Delusional world views that have divided the world between them. They are twin viramsata that even now war through shouts and limbs of men. Two great thoughtless beasts that take the souls of Men as their ground.”

“And the Thousandfold Thought?”

Moënghus sees the Thousandfold Thought as a way to change history and transform the two religion into something new. Moënghus realizes to survive what is to come, then everyone must “all act of one accord.” Religious division cannot be allowed but must surrender to a “new delusion.” Kellhus asks where is Truth in this.

“There is no Truth for the worldborn. They feed and they couple, cozening their hearts with false flatteries, easing their intellects with pathetic simplifications. The Logos, for them, is a tool of their lust, nothing more… They excuse themselves and heap blame upon others. They glorify their people over other peoples, their nations over other nations. They focus their fears on the innocent. And when they hear words such as these, they recognize them—but as defects belonging to others. They are children who have learned to disguise their tantrums from their wives and their fellows, and from themselves most of all…

No man says, ‘They are chosen and we are damned.’ No worldborn man. They have not the heart for Truth.”

Stepping from between his faceless captives, Moënghus approached, his expression a mask of blind stone. He reached out as though to clasp Kellhus’s wrist or hand, but halted the instant Kellhus shrank back.

But why, my son? Why ask me what you already know?”

Esmenet watches Achamian battling the Nansur. He no longer seems like Achamian, but different. Something “godlike and all-conquering.” She’s witnessing “the War-Cants of the Ancient North.” Despite the supernatural cadence of his voice, it’s still Achamian she’s hearing. For the first time, she’s seeing the presence that has always shadowed their love: the Mandate Schoolman. The Nansur are reeling in confusion and panic. They are breaking, but she knows that soon they’ll bring up Chorae bowmen.

She was about to watch him die, she realized. The only man who truly loved her.

He’s attacked by new sorcery, the barrage causing her to stumble backward. Four Imperial Saik Schoolmen are approaching. He kills them one by one with “blistering precision.”

The Cishaurim’s surprise attack kills dozens of Scarlet Schoolman. “Entire cadres were swept away in deluge after glittering deluge.” Chorae bowmen on both sides kill Schoolmen and Cishaurim. The Scarlet Spires coordination is disrupted and a sorcerous melee erupts. Schoolmen are fighting on their own for their own survival. Lesser Cishaurim are killed, but the Scarlet Spires had no idea the true strength of the Nine Incandati, the Cishaurim “whose backs could bear the most Water.” Their power is driving back the Schoolmen.

Eleäzaras is in a battle with two Cishaurim, including Seökti, the High Heresiarch. All Eleäzaras can do is sing his Wards. He uses all his knowledge to protect himself. He couldn’t afford despair. Then he is saved by Prince Hulwarga and his Thunyeri are rushing into the battle under the blare of horns.

Men of the tusk, come to save them.

On the field, the Holy War’s troops watch the Kianene horsemen maneuver to attack them. “All that remained of a proud and fierce nation, come for a final reckoning.” The Men of the Tusk began singing. The Kianene rode faster, howling in rage and anger.

So many wrongs suffered. So many deaths unavenged.

The Kianene charge fast and crash into the ranks of the Inrithi. A wild melee erupts.

“Even the Dûnyain,” Moënghus said, “possess vestigial versions of these weaknesses. Even me. Even you, my son.”

The implication was clear. Your trial has broken you.

Kellhus wonders if he had broken while bound to Serwë’s corpse. The memory of walking away alive when he should have died and all the Inrithi staring at him in awe fills him. He reminds his father that there is more than this world.

He [Kellhus] could remember the voice.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

Even without his eyes, his father’s face still seemed to scrutinize. “You refer to your visions, the voice from nowhere. But tell me, where is your proof? What assures your claim over those who are simply mad?”

TELL ME.

Assurance? What assurance did he have? When the real punished, the soul denied. He had seen it so many times in so many eyes… So how could he be so certain?

Kellhus starts to feign that he’s wavering in as he brings up his “prophecy” of the Shrial Knights coming to pass. Moënghus calls it a “Correspondence of Cause.” It was just happenstance. He repeats that a cause always proceeds an effect, not the other way around. Kellhus knows this is true because if it wasn’t, if what came after could affect what came before, he wouldn’t have risen to power. “The Principal of Before and After simply had to be true.”

His father had to be right.

So what was this certainty, this immovable conviction, that he was wrong?

Am I mad?

Moënghus continues that while the Dûnyain are wrong about the world, and there is something Outside. He calls it “fractured and distorted reflection” of the material world. Moënghus hasn’t found any contradiction to Before and After. He explains that men, thanks to their limitations, can’t see this. They only pay attention to what confirms their basis and dismiss anything that contradicts them. “They are bent upon affirmation.” Moënghus has studied the world and realizes nothing from the outside acts on it.

“The God sleeps… It has ever been thus. Only by striving for the Absolute may we awaken Him. Meaning. Purpose. These words name not something given… no, they name our task.”

Kellhus stood motionless.

“Set aside your conviction,” Moënghus said, “for the feeling of certainty is no more than a marker of truth than the feeling of will is a marker of freedom. Deceived men always think themselves certain, just as they always think themselves free. This is simply what it means to be deceived.”

Kellhus looked to the halos about his hands, wondered that they could be light and yet cast no light, throw no shadow… The light of delusion.

Moënghus continues that they can’t fall into this trap because of the Inchoroi who have twice tried to destroy the world and will do so again. Kellhus nods and says the No-God “speaks to me as well.” Moënghus seems as shocked as a Dûnyain can be before he proclaims Kellhus insane.

Conphas is dazed from Achamian’s sorcerery. His men are shouting, thinking he’s dead. Some are not happy to be fighting for “Fanim pigs” and risking damnation. Then they notice he’s moving. He’s gripping his Chorae in a bloody hand and thinks he’s dead before he gathers himself and orders his mean to kill Achamian. He realizes the blood is Cememketri and thinks he’s useless.

He continues to order for Achamian death, but no one will look at him. He then glances at the battle and sees his Saik Schoolmen dying. Conphas has split his Schoolmen up among his columns. They don’t have the massed numbers to take on Achamian and his Gnosis. He didn’t expect to have a sorcerous battle. Not with the Scarlet Spire and the Cishaurim fighting.

This isn’t happening… not to me!

“My Chorae,” he said numbly. “Where are my crossbowmen?”

No one could answer—of course. All was in disarray. The Mandate filth had obliterated his entire command. The Emperor’s own standard had vanished in an eruption of fire. The sacred standard destroyed! He turned from the spectacle, scanned the surrounding fields and pastures. Kidruhil fled to the south—fled! Three of his Columns had halted, while the phalanxes of the farthest, the Nasueret, actually seemed to be withdrawing.

They thought he was dead.

Laughing, he pressed his way through the clutch of soldiers, opened his bloodied arms to the far-flung ranks of the Imperial Army. He hesitated at the sight of white-garbed horsemen cresting the far rise, but only for a heartbeat.

Your Emperor has survived!” he roared. “The Lion of Kiyuth lives!”

The Cishaurim shift their attacks from the surviving Scarlet Spires to engage the Thunyeri rushing at them. Eleäzaras watches stunned as “one barbarian, his beard and hair aflame, stumble across the pitch of fallen walls, still holding a Circumfix banner high.” Then he realizes he’s not being attacked. He strengthens his wards while realizing the Cishaurim are stronger than they are. He spots Yalgrota Sranchammer strangling a Cishaurim, protected by his Chorae. Seökti retreats to the Sacred Heights while the surviving Scarlet Spires renew their attack. Eleäzaras orders his Schoolman to fight while he realizes only one shield-bearer remains and he cowers on the ground.

Cursing the fool, the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires stepped into the smoke-rent sky.

The Fanim led by Fanayal and the Inrithi battle outside the city. It’s a brutal fight, but then the Fanim retreat. The Inrithi cheer, shouting, “Wait! You forgot your blood!” The Men of the Tusk, seasoned by two years of fighting, regroup with ease as they see the Fanim massing. The sight shocks them.

Horns signaled. Someone, somewhere, resumed their song.

We shall raise glory to the morrow,

we shall bring fury to the now.

As the Fanim form up, they are charged by the outnumbered Shrial Knights lead by Gotian. The Men of the Tusk cheer at the disorder this causes the enemy. The Fanim faced the Inrithi as “the sons of Fane and Sejenus regarded one another.”

Sunlight showered across the fields, gleamed from clammy metal. Blinking, men looked to the heavens, saw vultures circling the glare.

Mastodons screamed among the Girgashi. An anxious rustling passed through the lines, both heathen and idolater. Spotters along the aqueduct’s crown shouted out warnings: heathen horsemen seemed to be re-positioning themselves behind their motionless brethren. But all eyes were drawn to the Coyauri, where the banner of the Padirajah himself pressed forward through the ranks—the Maned Desert Tiger, embroidered in silver on a triangular bolt of black silk. The rows parted and, draped in golden mail, Fanayal himself spurred his black onto the intervening ground.

Who?” he cried to the astonished onlookers—and in Sheyic no less. “Who is the true voice of God?”

The Fanim charge. The Inrithi brace for the attack. Fanayal’s words have shaken up the Inrithi and they are breaking through the Holy War’s lines. The Tydonni knights, lead by Gothyelk, charge into Fanayal’s horseman. Gothyelk and Fanayal find themselves face to face. Fanayal “swift blade” kills Gothyelk.

Death cam swirling down.

Kellhus asks his father what the No-God is. Moënghus states Kellhus was broken by the trial. Kellhus persists, saying if the No-God was destroyed, how can it send him dreams. Moënghus just says he mistakes his inner voice for something without, like any madman. Kellhus then asks what the skin-spy say.

Though walled in by the flesh of his face, Moënghus seemed to scrutinize him. “They do not know. But then, none in this world know what they worship.”

Kellhus asks what his father has considered about the No-God, but his father presses on the madness then starts to say something about Kellhus’s training when the sounds of others approach. Moënghus thinks Kellhus brought them while Kellhus recognizes Cnaiür by his heartbeat. Kellhus presses on and says that he’s been chosen to be the Harbinger.

“These voices,” Moënghus said with slow deliberation, “what do they say of me?”

His father, Kellhus realized, had finally grasped the principles of this encounter, Moënghus had assumed that his son would be the one requiring instruction. He had not foreseen it as possible, let alone inevitable, that the Thousandfold Thought would outgrow the soul of its incubation—and discard it.

“They warn me,” Kellhus said, “that you are Dûnyain still.”

Moënghus asks if this is why he has to die. Kellhus, glancing down at his hallowed hands, then says when the Inchoroi prove to Moënghus that damnation is real and the Dûnyain are all condemned to eternal punishment, his training as a will lead him to side with the Consult. Moënghus will “come to see tyranny in what is holy.” Kellhus assesses his father’s physical capabilities and knows he must strike fast.

“To shut the World against the Outside,” the pale lips said. “To seal it through the extermination of mankind…”

“As Ishuäl is shut against the Wilderness,” Kellhus replied.

For the Dûnyain, it was axiomatic: what was compliant had to be isolated from what was unruly and intractable. Kellhus had seen it many times, wandering the labyrinth of possibilities that was the Thousandfold Thought: The Warrior-Prophet’s assassination. The Rise of Anasûrimbor Moënghus to take his place. The Apocalyptic conspires. The counterfeit war against Golgotterath. The accumulation of premeditated disasters. The sacrifice of whole nations to the gluttony of the Sranc. The Three Seas crashing into char and ruin.

The Gods baying like wolves at a silent gate.

Kellhus isn’t sure if his father has seen this probability, where his plan would lead. Or maybe he had and merely accused Kellhus of being mad to throw off Kellhus. He then declares that His father is Dûnyain. Moënghus starts to say so is Kellhus, but he stabs his father in the chest before he can finish his words.

“I am more,” the Warrior-Prophet said.

Achamian realizes that he’s routed the Kidruhil and that the rest of the imperial army will soon march over the hill. He expects there to be Chorae bowmen and realize he’ll be killed as his Mandate Training kicks in. He then remembers Esmenet and is fearful for her when he sees how close the ruins are. She was alive, watching him. She had witnessed him fighting.

It shamed him for some reason.

She bursts out of cover to race for him as he yells at her to stop. Then the Ciphrang attacks from above. A powerful wind knocks Esmenet to the ground. As the demon descends, Achamian knows it is Iyokus’s doing.

Proyas finds a still-standing building and gazes out across the burning city of Shimeh. He watches the Scarlet Spire and Cishaurim fighting while everything below was destroyed. The First Temple stands untouched overall.

A loud crack almost knocks Proyas to the ground. He sees a pair of Scarlet Schoolman. They are sending sorcery at a floating Cishaurim. They unleash devastation that is answered by water-like energy from the Cishaurim that slams into their wards. The glare is bright. The Cishaurim rises until he’s level with Proyas. The sorcerery battle clashes before Proyas. The Cishaurim wins, killing the two Scarlet Schoolman.

“Sweet God of Gods!” he cried to the acrid wind. With bare hands he tore the Chorae from the chain about his neck.

“Who walk among us…” He drew back his sword-weary arm, secured his footing.

“Innumerable are your holy names…” And he cast his Tear of God, a gift from his mother on his seventh birthday.

It seemed to vanish against the iron horizon…

Then a flash, a black ringed circle of light, from which the saffron figure plummeted like a sodden flag.

Proyas fell to his knees on the brink, leaned out over the fall. His holy city gaped before him. And he wept, though he knew not why.

Despite the Tydonni knights’ charges, it’s not enough to rout the Kianene forces. Despite some victories, Fanayal’s forces are too much. The Inrithi forces are doomed to lose. Despite their loses, the Holy War holds their position.

The Fanim wept with fury, with outrage, as they cut down the Inrithi invaders. They cried out glory to Fane and the Solitary God, even as they wondered that the Men of the Tusk did not flee.

Achamian faces the demon and realizes it is a powerful demon. He struggles to think how to deal with it. He used an Odaini Concussion Cant to throw her clear before it landed on her. The demon advances on him speaking that it must take an eye for an eye. He is horrified by what Iyokus has unleashed and begs Esmenet to flee.

The thing leapt towards him.

Achamian began singing—the deepest of the Cirroi Looms. Glorious Abstractions knitted the air about and before him, a thresher of light. The demon laughed and screamed.

In the nonman ruins, Moënghus staggers back from his wound, his snakes coming out of recessed holes in the wall to curl about his neck. He realizes something in this moment about how Moënghus can see through the serpents, many becoming one. “What was soul became place.”

With three voices he sang, one utteral pitched to the world and two inutterals directed to the ground. What had been an ancient Cant of Calling became something far, far more… A Cant of Transposing.

Kellhus is wrapped up in the spell, illuminating the room in blue light. He sees his father looking so pale. Then he sees Serwë leaping at Moënghus out of the darkness. A moment later, Kellhus teleports away.

Achamian battles the demon while Esmenet is unable to look away. She’s transfixed by Achamian “surrounded by withered, burning grasses, he stood behind his sheets of light, at once glorious with power and dreadful with frailty.” The demon reaches his wards and breaks through them. Achamian’s sorcerer falters for one moment. The demon grabs him and carries him into the air.

She could not scream.

Conphas cries out that he’s alive, but no one cheers or looks relieved. They’ve mistaken him for a common soldier. He glances at a captain and orders him to find General Baxatas. The man hesitates but sees the “cold fire” in Conphas and obeys at a run. He is giving commands, telling a soldier to sound the advance. He hears shouting, thinking it’s his own soldiers only to see an army of horseman racing at him roaring, “There are no more nations!” They fly beneath the Red Lion and the Circumfix.

“Kill them!” Conphas howled. “Attack! Attack! Attack!”

For an instant it seemed nothing would happen, that nobody had heard. His army continued to mill in imbecile crowds; the interlopers continued to ride unmolested among them.

There are no more nations!”

Then the white-clad knights abruptly changed direction, began riding towards him.

As they charge, he remembers his grandmother when she was younger and beautiful. She was teaching him that an emperor needed to stay grounded and to measure “the purses of those who serve you, my little godling.” An emperor needs to know how much loyalty they have to spend. Today, Conphas’s found out the limits. His men don’t rally. They surrender. They flee. They break under the stress.

“I defeated the Scylvendi,” he said to the remainder. “You were there…”

Hooves pounding the turf. The ground shivered through his sandals.

“No man could do such a thing,” he said.

“No man!” one of the kneelers cried. The soldier clutched his hand, kissed his Imperial Ring.

Such a deep sound, the charge of the Inrithi. Thunder about horses snorting, gear clanking. So this was what the heathen heard.

The Emperor of Nansur turned, not really believing…

He saw King Saubon leaning from his saddle, his face ruddy with murderous intent. More than sun glinted in the man’s blue eyes.

He saw the broadsword that took his head.

Eleäzaras closes in on Seökti, the Heresiarch of the Cishaurim. He plans on avenging his “beloved teacher” and his school. He screams his mentor’s name between Cants. Eleäzaras smote Seökti with magma and fire, with suns and fury. Eleäzaras is laughing as he sang because “vengeance had made hatred a thing of rapture and glory.” However, he’s attacked by blue plasma, the Holy Water of Indara-Kishauri. Eleäzaras’s wards crack. Eleäzaras strengthen his defenses and then realizes he’s alone in the skies.

All about him the world had become a tidal surge of brilliant white and blue, tearing, pounding. Markless, as virginal as the Godspun world.

Tearing. Pounding.

The Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires grunted, cursed. Jets of incandescence exploded through his Wards, immolating his left arm even as he screamed deeper defenses. A fissure opened before him. Light blew across his scalp and brow. Like a doll, he was thrown backward.

His corpse toppled into burning tracts below.

Outside the city, Fanayal’s forces are encircling the Inrithi. Things are looking bleak for the Men of the Tusk. Gotian, in a desperate charge, is slain along with most of his Shrial Knights. Then they hear a horn sound. They spot the Imperial Army marching towards the battle. But mixed in among the banners of the Nansur Columns were the Circumfix and the Red lion.

This wasn’t the treachery of an Emperor—an Ikurei—come to seal a pact with their Padirajah. The hated standard of the Exalt-General, with its distinctive Kyranaean disc, was nowhere to be seen.

No. This wasn’t Ikurei Conphas. It was the Blond Beast…

King Saubon.

Cnaiür is struggling to breathe as he sees Moënghus slumped against the walls. The Scylvendi had moved for hours through the halls following Serwë and the other skin-spies. They tracked Kellhus’s scent. He knows he is farther from the Steppe than ever. Serwë attacks Moënghus first, but Moënghus uses a mix of hand-to-hand fighting and Psûkhe to kill her. The other skin-spies attack. One is seized by the throat and consumed from within by flue fire.

Cnaiür advances at a numb shamble. He feels that same dread on the day he approached Kellhus on his father’s barrow. Today is different. Kellhus had been where he departed. “This was his destination.” Moënghus, through his snakes, notices Cnaiür and calls him, “Nayu.” He sounds just like Kellhus. He says that Nayu has returned just as he knew. Moënghus beseeches Cnaiür and he feels a tug of joy and remorse.

Cnaiür stopped at the threshold, mere paces from the man who had butchered his heart. He glanced uneasily about the room, saw Serwë splayed motionless to his right, her long blonde hair swept across a bloodied floor, and captive skin-spies hanging abject within a curtain of pulley sand chains. The walls warred with inhuman images. He squinted at the light that hung impossibly beneath the graven vaults.

“Nayu… put down your sword. Please.”

Blinking, he saw the notched blade in the air before him, though he had no recollection of drawing it. The light rolled like liquid across it.

“I am Cnaiür urs Skiötha,” he said. “The most violent of men.”

Moënghus calls that a lie to hide his weakness. Cnaiür calls him the lie. Moënghus says he sees love in Cnaiür. He screams, “I hate!” Moënghus is full of pity and starts talking about how he showed Cnaiür he was different from the others. Cnaiür calls this deceit. Moënghus asks if they’re lies, why do they torment him. “It is truth that burns, Nayu—as you know… for you have burned in it for uncounted seasons.” Cnaiür feels the weight of the earth and knows he has strayed too far from his people. He drops the sword. He cries.

And Moënghus was holding him, enclosing him, healing his innumerable scars.

Nayu…”

He loved him… this man who had shown him, who had led onto the trackless steppe.

I am dying, Nayu.” Hot whispers in his ear. “I need your strength…”

Abandoned him. Forsook.

He had loved only him. In all the world…

Weeping faggot!

They kiss and Cnaiür feels shame. The snakes curl around his head as he finds this so different from kissing Serwë or Anissi. He can surrender here. He doesn’t have to be strong. He pulls his Chorae out of his breeches.

His eyes leaden with ardour, he murmured, “I wander trackless ground.”

Moënghus gasped, jerked, and spasmed as Cnaiür rolled the Chorae across his [Moënghus’s] cheek. White light flared from his gouged sockets. For an instant, Cnaiür thought, it seemed the God watched him through a man’s skull.

What do you see?

Moënghus spills dead on the ground as Cnaiür cries out in grief, asking how Moënghus could leave him again. He laughs, mad, realizing he has a final swazond to make. It was all too much. “He cackled with grief.” He loses track of time as he cries over Moënghus. Only the fading of the sorcerous light pulls him out. He looks over to Serwë, her face cracked for a moment before it’s smooth. “Seamless and perfect.”

Yes. Serwë… The first wife of his heart.

His proof and prize.

Absolute darkness engulfed him.

Proyas witnesses the destruction of the Scarlet Spires, the five surviving Cishaurim standing over the scorched landscape. Proyas was lucky to have survived without his Chorae. He’s confused, stunned as he witnesses the ruins of Shimeh. He stars up at the sky, the smoke choking out all but a glimmer of the sun. Then he notices something sparkle. The point became a geodesic dome. A burst of air drives back the smoke from the spell.

And Proyas saw a figure standing where the light had been, so distant he could scarce make out his features, save that his hair was gold and his gown billowed white.

Kellhus!

The Warrior-Prophet

Proyas blinked. Shivers splashed across his skin.

Kellhus begins chanting as marches at the Cishaurim. The five turn and face the Warrior-Prophet walking towards them on solid air. Debris begins to circle him, pulled up in various orbits. He uses the orbiting debris to deflect Chorae missiles shot up at him. When they hit, they disrupted the spell, sending the debris flying. At the same time, light flashes from Kellhus, attacking the bowmen.

The five Cishaurim advance on Kellhus. They send their water-like spells to crash against his spherical Wards. “Somehow, perfect lines flicked from the maelstrom, coiled into knifing geometries about the nearest of the Cishaurim.” He’s ripped to pieces. But the attacks from the others are weakening his wards. He has to strengthen them. Proyas fears he can’t win if he has to stay on the defensive.

Suddenly, the Cishaurim stop their attack. Kellhus has vanished. He reappears behind one Cishaurim and rams his sword through the Cishaurim’s back. Kellhus teleports as the three remaining Cishaurim are stunned. “Had they eyes, Proyas was certain they would have blinked.” Kellhus teleports behind another and beheads him. Kellhus catches a Chorae crossbow bolt and throws it at the fourth Cishaurim, turning him into a pillar of salt.

Proyas whooped. Never had he felt so renewed, so young!

And Anasûrimbor Kellhus was singing the Abstractions once again. White robes boiled in the clearing sun. Planes and parabolas crackled about him. The Very ground, to the pith of its ruin, hummed. The surviving Cishaurim floated in a broad and wary circle. He knew he had to keep moving, Proyas realized, to avoid the fate of his brothers. But it was already far too late…

There was no escaping the Warrior-Prophet’s holy light.

On the shores of the Meneanor, a peasant is picking along the beach as the sun sets. He finds a “dead sorcerer” lying on the beach next to a giant figure of salt. The battle is over. He’s chipping away at the salt figure, fearful he’ll get caught. He fills the purse with salt. When he finishes, a voice asks if he’d like to know a secret. He gasps to find the syntheses staring at him. Terrified, the boy nods.

The voice tells him to come closer.

My Thoughts

Looks like Eleäzaras was wrong about those Chorae being beneath the rubble as belonging to dead men. He’s walked right into a trap.

Things have shifted now. You can feel the tension in the conversation between Moënghus and Kellhus. He thinks Kellhus is mad. Is he? We know he saw visions during the Circumfix. He probably saw visions even earlier in book two. He had a ‘revelation” in an early probability trance. The balance of power is shifting in ways Moënghus didn’t expect. It’s interesting that he’s honest. Why would Moënghus refuse?

I have to stall for time and come up with Plan B.

Dûnyain are interesting. They do not lie to each other. They follow logic. They want facts. Truth. Then they will debate and one side will convince the other. Now Kellhus has to convince his father he’s not insane.

Moënghus made a big mistake. Nice of Bakker to have a type of metaphysics that wasn’t tied to intellect. And, interestingly, that’s the one that can’t be seen. It’s the one that matches creation far more closely than Gnosis, even then produced by the Quya.

Mallahet was mentioned as being one of the most influential Cishaurim back in book one. It was said then that the only reason he wasn’t the High Heresiarch was his foreign blood.

There are lots of theories about the skull Kellhus trips over. However, it’s just showing Kellhus is blind so he couldn’t see it, that Dûnyain does have weaknesses, and to break up the conversation with something interesting. I wouldn’t read anything into it.

Moënghus brings up an interesting point. Kellhus is painting the Consult as evil, a subjective description from the point of view of the Dûnyain. Kellhus doesn’t even engage this. Kellhus is preparing to go to war with the Consult.

The woman and the child… Shows you the Dûnyain priorities there. He needs to do something for the skin-spies. I imagine they require some level of violence innate in them. It’s also a preview to what we’ll find in Ishuäl in the next series.

Maithanet being half-Dûnyain explains a lot. We had the clues right from the beginning. He had blue eyes showing he was half-Ketyai and half-Norsirai. Further, he came out of nowhere from the south. The real question is, where did his mother go? Because Kellhus was having a hard time getting kids. He tried a lot of other women besides Esmenet. Smart women. Only she produced any viable offspring, and even most of hers had problems.

Achamian and Esmenet’s brief moment of happiness is ruined. Esmenet is his greatest motivation. It’s behind his actions in the next series. He wants to prove his theories right about Kellhus for her. To get her back. Now, he’s going to fight an army to protect her.

Conphas’s take is interesting about human nature. Bred to violence. It’s in us all. There is something in us that delights in destruction. In seeing something torn down. Not anything that we worked on. Destruction of objects acts as a proxy for darker emotions. Ones we know we can’t act on. Push us hard enough, some harder than others, and we all embrace violence.

Poor Conphas. He’s facing the Gnosis. One man ruins all the fun. And we get to see just why the Mandate are truly to be feared.

Bakker’s demons are truly alien and terrifying. Poor guardsman. Tension is mounting now.

Proyas is a real believer. Shimeh is his Jerusalem, and he’s helping to destroy it. His men are killing, raping, and stealing. He’s reeling, the poor guy. He’s feeling that wild exhilaration of risking his life conflicting with his faith. His illusions are being shattered. The horrors of war are filling him. They’re twisting him, turning him into something like the Inchoroi, losing his humanity, just caring about his own desires.

Remember what Proyas does in The Unholy Consult once his illusions of Kellhus are shattered even worse. We get a preview for the darkness of the human soul while seeing how it can be controlled now. He fights it here. This is what war and violence do to humans. It destroys us.

It will destroy Proyas eventually. Just not in Shimeh.

Kellhus just got confirmation that Esmenet can’t give him full Dûnyain children. This hurt Kellhus because he has that bit of love for her. As much as he can love.

As it has been apparent, Moënghus conditioned the path for Kellhus to walk on. It has been a massive program to see if Kellhus would solve the equation. It’s like a mathematician writing software to calculate something beyond his ability to solve and then letting it run. If he did it right, the solution would be derived.

The Dûnyain philosophy is a bleak one. There is a reason humans have a yearning for belief. Something about religion is important to our survival. Even those who think they’re not religious usually adopt a secular belief and put it in that same position. They can become just as zealous as any fanatic. The Dûnyain see these beliefs as the problem, but it’s really just humans twisting ideas for their own self-interest. That’s what has to be battled against. Not religion, but selfishness. The Dûnyain see the only way forward to unite everyone in the same selfish belief instead of freeing their minds. The Dûnyain want to be self-moving souls but care little for doing the same for others.

Interesting that Kellhus pulls back from his father’s gesture. It’s a clear rejection of Moënghus, almost revulsion. And yet, they’re Dûnyain. Moënghus couldn’t be reaching out like a father to find comfort in his son, and Kellhus shouldn’t be acting in revulsion, but we know Kellhus has emotions. Perhaps this was a test on Moënghus’s part, to see how he would act. To see how “mad” Kellhus is.

In the midst of her fear and seeing Achamian for who he truly is, Esmenet is finally honest with herself. Achamian loves her. Kellhus has some feelings for her. He loves her in the stunted way, but he can’t ever give her what Achamian can. What Kellhus can give her is other things and, being pregnant, she has to think of more than herself.

There is something ironic about Eleäzaras being saved by Men of the Tusk. He’s a sorcerer condemned by the Tusk to Hell, and yet he is being saved by them.

“So many wrongs suffered. So many deaths unavenged.” The cycle of violence. So hard to break.

Kellhus seems to think his survival at the Circumfix was a miracle. And definitely something weird happened. He plucked Serwë’s heart out of his own chest. A topoi had formed there. The outside bled in while he was on the Circumfix. He spoke with the No-God, or, I should say, interfaced with its connection. It’s an indication that Anasûrimbor blood can activate it. I think because they have nonman blood in their veins. The only time, it seems, that a nonman bred a human woman was the ancestor of the Anasûrimbor dynasty.

Kellhus believes he’s special. I think this is what lead him into venturing into the Outside between books. He had to find proof. Assurances of what he thinks. Bakker has an interesting world. He’s a materialist and yet created a world with the spiritual being a real thing. Is Kellhus actually special? Or is it all a delusion on his part? What if it’s a mix of all of it? He’s a fulcrum for the outside. For Ajokli and for the No-God.

Kellhus is an interesting character. A man raised to logic who know has embraced some modicum of faith. He’s seen beyond this world and seen the Outside touch it. Maybe the prophecy to the Shrial Knights was just good luck, but he had a “revelation” of the Circumfix. Bakker chose that word with care. Not a guess, not a probable outcome, but a revelation. He’s realizing it now, and he has to decide if he’s crazy or to trust that he’s not. He has to go against being Dûnyain, which is what keeps him from falling into the logical decision of siding with the Consult like the Mutilated do.

Force of personality is all that has held his army together. With him dead, they are lost. It’s not a good thing for an army. They should be able to survive the loss of any officer. It gave him this loyal force, but now it’s biting him in the ass as they think he’s dead.

I recently read a series with a character that is similar to Conphas. Someone who thought himself better. Someone who believed he was a God because of his abilities. He had the arrogance to think he could reshape the world in his own image, so certain in his vision of what right and wrong meant that he could impose it on the world. I won’t name the character so as not to spoil it, but in the end, when he realizes he lost, he starts to panic. He breaks down in disbelief and becomes a bitch.

Eleäzaras knows they can’t win, but he orders his survivors to fight. He can’t let this go. Not after all he’s done to his school. They have to win. He’s desperate for it.

No one can know what they worship because God stands outside our world. If there is something beyond the physical world, we can never reach it. We can never escape our universe. We’re limited. The more we learn, the more we realize we’ll never reach outside our universe.

He recognized Cnaiür by his HEARTBEAT! Jesus, that’s precise.

Kellhus pronouncement on his father is correct. We see that at the end of the Unholy Consult. I wondered all through the second series if Kellhus would still be Dûnyain. If he was leading the Great Ordeal to their destruction as a bargaining chip to assume command of the Consult and continue their work. Bakker was smart to deny us POV’s of Kellhus in the second series until near the end.

Such a strange heroes journey Kellhus has been upon. Now that we’ve seen the whole of the series and know his true intentions, this is a powerful moment in his story when he says he’s more than Dûnyain. It’s when he rejected his path and accepted the Call. Death and rebirth is also part of the Hero’s Journey. Will that play a role in the final series?

I suspect Achamian is shamed by Esmenet witnessing him killing. Seeing the true him, as she noted: the Mandate Schoolman not her husband.

So the Ciphrang tries to kill Achamian and inadvertently saves him from the Imperial Army’s Chorae bowmen. Iyokus accidentally saves Achamian’s life. I’ve never noticed that.

I think Proyas weeps because he is losing all his innocence. This was supposed to be a special place, and they are destroying it. Not the Fanim, but the Inrithi. To save it, they are defiling it. To protect it, they are breaking it. They came here thinking they were doing good, but only committed evil upon evil.

Kellhus realized that souls are things mapped on the outside. That they can be plotted. They can be a place. So he needs coordinates. He has previously speculated on using a second inutteral, something Achamian claimed impossible. Now he used it and took a two-dimensional spell and made it into three dimensions, inspired by the Cishaurim peering through the souls of their snakes.

Nice touch with the “rumbling climbing into the sky” as the demon carries off Achamian in the background of Conphas’s scene.

So long Conphas. Your men followed you so long as you were winning. Conphas had never run. When he faced the Warrior-Prophet after the Circumfix, he stayed proud, in charge. He was defiant and so they were, too. But today, he ran from Achamian. He broke and spent the last of their loyalty and faith in him.

Eleäzaras, obsessed with vengeance, is slain. His obsession with defeating his enemy has led his school to ruin. Arrogance let him think he was better than the Cishaurim. They’ve learned the hard way.

Oh, Saubon. That guilt got to you. Now you’re sweeping in to save the day. If Achamian hadn’t broken Conphas with his attack and delayed the Nansur advance, who knows how this battle would have resulted. Now the tied has turned.

I wondered why Kellhus didn’t just kill Moënghus but stab him. Cnaiür was here. Kellhus wounded Moënghus enough to give Cnaiür the ability to kill him. Kellhus upheld his bargain with Cnaiür in the end. He didn’t have to. Ensuring Moënghus died would be the more practical thing. The Dûnyain thing.

Kellhus is more than Dûnyain now.

What do you see?” This whispers in Cnaiür’s mind as he thinks he sees God through Moënghus’s dying eyes. The God is asking the question. The same question that the No-God sees. We go back to Kellhus’s theory that every soul is merely a point of the Oversoul, the unity trying to understand itself. The No-God is an artificial soul. It absorbs the pieces of the Oversoul, sucking them up and thus preventing the cycle of rebirth. Diminishing the Oversoul, the God, until it can’t keep the outside manifesting. So it can’t keep claiming the souls of the survivors. The No-God is it’s opposite, it’s inverse, and it asks the same questions. It wants to know the same thing.

What do you see? What am I?

Cnaiür admitted at long last he loved Moënghus. That was why his hate was so great. He loved this man and was abandoned by him. He found him, kissed him, and he knew that Moënghus would just abandon him again. Cnaiür knew that as he felt Moënghus manipulating him. “I need your strength.” That was the only reason Moënghus was so warm. He knew he would be abandoned again.

So he killed him to protect himself. Then he retreats back to his people. He’s come far, but he has Serwë again. It’s the surviving skin-spy brother, hence her face momentarily cracked as it changed appearances. By embracing Serwë, he’s rejecting the freedom of the Dûnyain and the trackless step. He’s choosing to return to the “absolute darkness.”

He’s embraced by the darkness that comes before. The lie is easier than the truth.

When we next see Cnaiür, he’s Scylvendi again.

So, the Psûkhe is different from other sorceries. It’s all about passion. There very best, the five Kellhus just annihilated, are probably on par with an average Mandate with the Gnosis through sheer passion and strength of will. It’s hard to say since we’ve never seen Cishaurim fight the Gnosis save this one instant, and, well, Kellhus.

If you didn’t know it, salt was a valuable commodity in ancient times. It was either found in natural salt flats or gathered along seashores and traded inland. To the boy, finding a demon turned into salt is like finding a huge stack of gold.

So, what is going on with this scene? Somehow, Achamian defeated the demon after it grasped him. A demon’s body seems to turn into salt when it is defeated. Then Achamian landed on the beach. He survives, but the boy thinks him dead.

What is the Synthese’s secret? I have no idea. What does this boy matter? Don’t know. Did the Synthese kill him, tell him some profound secret. Who knows. All we can say is the Synthese was over Achamian while he slept, probably with skin wards around him protecting him. The Synthese doesn’t have the strength to do any physical sorcerers, only glamours. It’s Bakker being cryptic.

Maybe Bakker had plans for this boy in the sequel series and it never manifested. Maybe it’s hinting that something was done to Achamian by the Synthese. After all, something changes with his dreams of Seswatha in the next series. I’ve always attributed it to being hypnotized by Kellhus in this book, but there is no conclusive proof.

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

Click here for Chapter Seventeen, the final part of The Prince of Nothing trilogy!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 15
Shimeh

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

If war does not kill the woman in us, it kills the man.

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

Like so many who undertake arduous journeys, I left a country of wise men and came back to a nation of fools. Ignorance, like time, brooks no return.

—SOKWË, TEN SEASONS IN ZEMÜ

My Thoughts

Wow, there are two quotes that don’t on the surface seem to have anything to do with each other. So let’s figure it out. The first one, I think, refers to fear. War doesn’t kill the fear in you. That sense of being weak and frail and helpless against a world where everything is out to get you. The masculine part, the strength, the nobility, the belief in your superiority can easily be destroyed by what happens in war. It’s a pretty sexist statement, but fitting with the sort of ancient setting of the books.

So it brings us to this other quote. The Holy War, like going to any war, is an arduous journey. You’re going to come back changed. You’re going to see the behavior that used to think of as manly, all the false boasting, the bravado, all the things you thought you were before war killed them and think those who still possess them are foolish.

This chapter is all about how war and the journey have changed the characters. Esmenet is no longer the whore. Achamian no longer believes in the Mandate’s mission. Eleäzaras is bent only on revenge and doesn’t care about anything else. Proyas finds himself disappointed and doubting his faith in ways he never had.

Kellhus is no longer wholly Dûnyain.

Another way to look at the man and woman quote is to look at the Dûnyain versus Inchoroi. Intellect versus Emotion. If man represents raw intellect and woman raw emotion, then war kills rationality. It kills logic. It leaves only wounded hearts. As we see in Kellhus, his monolithic logic has been nudged ever so slightly by emotion. He has had the man in him not killed, but wounded. Bleeding. Pain and loss and love have seeped in to feel the void, shifting his actions ever so slightly.

Enough that he rejects his father.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Morning. The beginning of the world’s slow bow before the sun.

It is time for the Holy War to attack Shimeh. The city awaits them as the sun rises behind it. Preparations are made for the final assault of the Holy War.

Kellhus wanders through Kyudea searching for the one tree in it. He passes ruins swallowed by the grass. Here a “wrecked city had been swamped by the swells of an earthen sea.” Kellhus realizes this city once had been as great as Shimeh. Now shepherds brought sheep to shelter here in storms.

Glories had dwelt here once. Now there was nothing. Only overturned stone, the whisk of grasses beneath the wind…

And answers.

“‘There is but one tree,’” the old man had said, his voice not his own, “‘and I dwell beneath it…’”

And Kellhus had struck, cleaving him to the heart.

Achamian feels utterly betrayed by Cnaiür’s revelation. Achamian had tried to protest to Cnaiür that he wasn’t like the others. “I don’t believe for my heart’s sake!” Cnaiür only shrugged and told Achamian that Kellhus would “concede you your concerns” and foster trust with Achamian. “Truth is his [Kellhus’s] knives, and we are all of us cut!” Achamian wanders dazed through the camp, clutching his “ink-blooded parchment.” He doesn’t see or hear the people bowing and calling him “Holy Tutor.” A knight singing a hymn of Kellhus, Take My Hand, catches Achamian’s attention. The knight falters off, growing angry with embarrassment for Achamian witnessing his raw emotion.

Achamian passes others kneeling and praying before Judges while the Circumflex is painted across shields, worn around necks, and embroidered on banners. “The entire world seemed to rumble with devotion.”

How had this happened?

Achamian reflects on what Kellhus had said about how kneeling to the God “was to stand high among the fallen.” After all, servants of kings often act in their stead, so a pious man can think the same of his own actions. He realizes serving is just another way to glut. To be self-centered by glutting on even the world while claiming to serve a higher power. Achamian still objects that he is Kellhus’s slave.

But my soul is my own!”

Laughter, dark and guttural and vicious, as though all sufferers, in the end, were no more than fools.

He prizes no thought higher.”

Achamian had found certainty in Kellhus, despite losing Esmenet to him. He’d even made his torment a kind of proof. So long as his charge pained him, he told himself, it must be real. He did not, as so many did, belief for flattery’s sake. Seswatha Dreams assured him his importance would be more a thing of terror than pride. And his redemption had been a thing too… abstract.

To love one who had wronged him—that was his test! And he had been rooted—so rooted…

The world spins around Achamian. He feels everything rushing towards Shimeh. Cnaiür’s words pummel him, assaulting him as he struggles to understand. “Ask yourself, sorcerer… What do you have that he hasn’t taken?”

He [Achamian] much preferred his damnation.

The Fanim on Shimeh’s walls watch four massive siege-towers waiting to assault their city. Unlike the Fanim thought, the Holy War didn’t need weeks to ready for an assault. They were forming up right now to do it. The Fanim drums sound from the heights of the Juterum and the Holy War blares trumpets in answer.

Small knots of Inrithi approach. At first, the defenders think it is a parley, but their nobles disagree. Archers are ready the forty or so formations of six men. The Fanim realize they are sorcerers, each protected by three heavy crossbowmen and two armored men with large basketwork shields. Alarm rings through the Fanim.

As though answering a pause in conversation, an otherworldly chorus droned out from the approaching formations, not so much through the air as under the scorched crops and razed structures, and up through the bones of Shimeh’s mighty curtain wall. The engines cast the first of the firepots. Eruptions of liquid flame revealed the Wards curving about each cadre. A cloud swallowed the sunlight, and as one the defenders saw the foundation of spectral towers.

True horror struck then. Where were Indara’s Water-bearers?

Officers cut down their men trying to flee as the sorcerers stop fifty lengths out. A few arrows burst into smoke on against their wards. Then the sorcerers step into the air.

There was a collective intake of breath along the battlements…

Then glittering light.

Proyas watches as his men haul the siege-tower they named Tippytoes across the field from a joke Gaidekki had made. Proyas shudders as his siege-tower almost tips over but is righted. He’s nervous. Ahead, sappers had made a path, filling in irrigation ditches and other barriers. It leads right to Shimeh’s “white-and-ocher walls.”

Sister, another siege-tower, trundles to the left, matching Proyas’s progress. Inside both, ballistae await to assault the walls as the towers close the distance. They were both “miracles of engineering” designed by Kellhus. The city’s trebuchet’s answer, hurtling massive boulders that fall short of the siege-towers. Sister pulls ahead and Gaidekki boasts he’ll “wash up the blood” so Proyas doesn’t slip.

The Scarlet Spire begins their assault. Proyas washes it, feeling “numb as great gouts of flame washed across the barbicans.” Next, the siege-towers began firing their ballistae at the defenders as Proyas orders shields. They are within range of enemy archers. They begin taking fire, the world dimming from the number of arrows arching down at them.

Proyas is now huddling behind his shield, unable to focus on anything as the arrows rain around him. Flaming pots began striking his tower. Sister catches fire while Tippytoes takes a hit from the trebuchet. The tower shakes but doesn’t fall over or collapse. The sister takes a firepot at the upper deck, setting knights on fire. Proyas thinks Gaidekki is dead only to hear the man calling for him. The man appears out a small window smiling. Then he’s killed by a trebuchet stone.

Proyas is stunned at how fast death happened. Tippytoes lumbers on, the sky growing black with smoke. The Sister burns while his siege-tower comes closer and closer to the wall. He can see the First Temple on the sacred heights.

Shimeh! He thought. Shimeh!

Proyas lowered his silver war-mask, glimpsed his stooped kinsmen doing the same. The flying bridge dropped, its iron hooks biting the battlements. Tippytoes was tall enough to kiss after all.

Crying out to the Prophet and God, the Crown Prince leapt into the swords of his enemy…

Kellhus finds the tree. It couldn’t be missed at the edge of a hill, a twin to the tree Kellhus hung from during the Circumfix. He exams the old tree, the bark eaten by worms. He can hear distant thunder from Shimeh. There is an opening hacked into the roots of the tree, revealing faint staircases descending into the dark.

He [Kellhus] pressed his way forward, descended into the belly of the hillside.

Cnaiür reins his horse to a stop, spotting carrion birds and horseless riders. Cnaiür and the skin-spies examine the carnage they find. Though they haven’t reach Kyudea, where “the fat fool” said Kellhus traveled, Serwë insists they are on the Dûnyain’s trial. “She could smell him.”

After speaking with Achamian, Cnaiür feels a strange intensity to his actions. “A vigor he could only identify with hate.” He knows Kellhus travels to see Moënghus. He feels that impulse as he examines the dead Kidruhil, likely men hunting for Cnaiür, that Kellhus had caught by surprise and slaughtered. One of the skin-spies says they smell Fanim and aren’t sure this is Kellhus’s work, but Cnaiür is certain because “only one had time to draw his weapon.”

War, she [Esmenet] realized—war had given the world to men.

They had fallen to their knees before her, the Men of the Tusk. They had beseeched her for her blessing. “Shimeh,” one man had cried. “I go to die for Shimeh!” And Esmenet did, though she felt foolish and so very far from the idol they seemed to make of her; she blessed them, saying words that would give them the certainty they so desperately needed—to die or to kill. In a voice she knew so well—at once soothing and provoking—she repeated something she had heard Kellhus say: “Those who do not fear death live forever.” She held their cheeks and smiled, though her heart was filled with rot.

How they had thronged about her! Their arms and armour clattering. All of them reaching, aching for her touch, much as they had in her previous life.

And then they left her with the slaves and the ill.

Some called her the Whore of Sumna, but in reverent tones like they thought of her namesake from The Chronicles of the Tusk. She wonders if she’ll be only a reference “buried among holy articles.” Would she be Esmenet-the-other, the Prophet-Consort, or the Whore of Sumna?

She hears the battle begin. She can’t stand the sound and retreats into the Umbilica which his empty save for a few slaves and a single guard of the Hundred Pillars. It’s quiet in here, the Holy War seems “impossibly distant, as though she listened to another world through the joints of this one.” She finds herself in her chambers staring at the bed where she sleeps with Kellhus. She lays down on it surrounded by her books and scrolls, not reading, but just touching them, treating them like “a child jealous of her toys.” She counts them.

“Twenty-seven,” she said to no one. Distant sorceries cracked faraway air, made the gold and glass settings hum with their rumble.

Twenty-seven doors opened and not one way out.

“Esmi,” a hoarse voice said.

For a moment she refused to look up. She knew who it was. Even more, she knew what he looked like: the desolate eyes, the haggard posture, even the way his thumb combed the hair across his knuckles… It seemed a wonder that so much could be hidden in a voice, and even greater wonder that she alone could see.

Her husband. Drusas Achamian.

Achamian asks her to come with him. She agrees, ignoring Moënghus crying. She’s forever following.

The battle progresses. The Scarlet Spire unleashes their sorcerery on the battlements. They breathe dragon fire over the Fanim, roasting them. Stones fracture. The gate’s foundations buckle. Smoke and dust billows.

At long last, the Scarlet Spires marched.

Kellhus descends deeper, using a lantern, whose origins he doesn’t recognize, that waited for him. He realizes these ruins are not human. The way the drafts move through it causes his soul to calculate possibilities “transforming inferences into space.” It reminds him of the Thousand Thousand Halls of Ishuäl. He keeps going, seeing statuary’s carved into the walls. They are everywhere, stacked on each other, and he realizes this is the work of Nonmen.

He notices a trail “scuffed across the hide of ancient dust.” The person who left this trail has a stride identical to Kellhus’s his. He follows his father’s footsteps. He gains insight into the difference of Nonmen culture from Men. He ignores branching paths, following the track. He passes through a library, storerooms, bedrooms, more. He studied everything he passed and knows he “understood nothing of the souls for whom these things were natural and immediate.

He pondered four thousand years of absolute dark.

As the trail passes, by necessity, friezes and sculptures, Kellhus finds himself moving around them to study them, “heeding some voice from nowhere.” He realizes the Nonmen were obsessed with cutting their living forms into dead stone. They had turned the mansion into their Temple. “Unlike men, These Nonmen had not rationed their worship.” He thinks it speaks to their terror.

Collapsing possibilities with every step, Anasûrimbor Kellhus followed his father’s trail into the blackness, his lantern raised to the issue of artisans, ancient and inhuman.

Esmenet wonders where Achamian is taking her. He doesn’t speak as he leads her from the encampment and Shimeh. She finds herself feeling like they were their odd selves: “the sorcerer and his melancholy whore.” She even held his hand.

What harm could come of it?

Please… keep walking. Let us flee this place!

Only once they were outside the camp does she truly pay attention to Achamian and his appearance. She realizes he’s leading her to the very place where Kellhus waited last night. He breaks the silence, saying she didn’t come to Xinemus’s funeral. She says she couldn’t bear it. She feels guilty for missing out on the funeral for Achamian’s only friend even with what happened to her that night. She asks the customary platitude. He leads her farther in silence before making the customary response.

The sound of the battle is distant. She finds herself studying this place in the light of day, drinking in the details she missed last night. She wonders again what she’s doing. A flash of fear shots through her, and she wonders if Achamian seeks revenge for what she did to him. She finds herself angry that he hadn’t fought for her. She demands to know why they are here.

Achamian is oblivious to her anger and says she wanted her to see the camp of the holy war from a height. She stares out across the empty camp to the walls of Shimeh where the battle rages. Metal flashes on the rampart. Proyas’s siege-towers had arrived. Smoke rises from the Massus Gate. Above it all looms the First Temple.

She raised a balled fist to her brow. Perhaps it was some trick of scale or perspective, but it all seemed so slow, as though it happened through water—or something more viscous than human understanding.

Nevertheless, it happened…

She cries out that they have taken the city and are winning. She feels horror and awe. She reflects on everything she had endured to reach here. The battles. The pain. The atrocities committed. She feels it all as she stares at Achamian.

But he shook his head, his eyes still fixed on the vista before them. “It’s all a lie.”

Confused, she asks what he means. She sees the same blank numbness in his face she saw when he returned from death. He tells her “The Scylvendi came to me last night.”

The Fanim drums beat as the Javreh slave-soldiers charged the ruins of Massus Gate. The Scarlet Spire has entered Shimeh. Their soldiers fan out through the narrow streets, cutting down civilians in their way.

Ptarramas the Older was the first to die, struck in the shoulder by a Chorae as he pressed his cadre forward. He fell to the street, cracked like statuary. Bellowing arcana, Ti sent flocks of burning sparrows into the black windows of the adjacent tenement. Explosions spit blood and debris across the street. Then, from the ruins of the outer wall, Inrûmmi struck the building’s westward face with brilliant lightning. The air cracked. Burnt brick walls sloughed to the ground. In an exposed room, a burning figure stumbled over the lip of the floor and plummeted to the ruin below.

Eleäzaras enters the city, inspecting his school. He wanted to fight the Cishaurim in a head-on fight, but they Seökti, their High Heresiarch, is denying them. He sees the warren of the city stretching to the Juterum and feels Chorae around them, waiting to strike.

Everywhere. Hidden enemies.

Too many… too many.

“Fire cleanses!” he cried. “Raze it! Burn it all to ash!”

Yalgrota Sranchammer leads the Thunyeri though the Massus Gate after the Scarlet Schoolmen. His men race through the devastation of sorcery. On the wall, Proyas and his men are fighting on the ramparts. To the south, the Ainoni led by Chinjosa sees the Fanim flee before their siege-towers get in place. The Thunyeri spill through the city, not finding any defenders.

Soon the Kianene and Amoti were dissolving in panic. Everywhere they looked, they saw chain-armored myriads, loosed like blond wolves into the streets.

As Kellhus moves through the Nonmen mansion, his lantern runs out of fuel. Instead of finding darkness, a faint light comes from the sound of falling water. He presses on, not using sorcery to announce his presence. The sound of water grows louder while mist coats his skin. The light grows brighter. He uses touch to feel the floor to make sure he still followed his father’s path.

He finds a balcony overlooking a large cavern, a mighty waterfall plummeting below. Near where it lands, braziers burn beside an oily pool. He descends stairs, passing more “pornographic reliefs.” The stair spirals around the falls, passing “horns” that thrust into the waterfall to collect the water and transport it elsewhere. He passes signs of an ancient battle fought near the bottom.

“They gathered here in the hundreds,” a voice called across the gloom, clear despite the ambient rumble. “Even thousands, in the days before the Womb-Plague…”

A Kûniüric voice.

Kellhus paused on the steps, searched the gloom.

At last.

From the darkness, as Kellhus reaches a pool surrounded by squatting statues, the voice continues, saying, “Bathing was holy for them.” Kellhus examines the voice and finds it “seamless and inscrutable.” It sounds just like his own. He circles the pool and finds Moënghus sitting behind one of the sheets of water pouring from the statues. Moënghus says the fires are for Kellhus. Moënghus doesn’t need them. He’s lived in the darkness for a long time.

Achamian is scared by how calm Esmenet is as she repeats that Kellhus uses everyone. “Don’t you mean he uses me?” Achamian admits he’s still struggling to understand it, but he thinks Kellhus wants intelligent children.

“So he breeds. Is that it? I’m his prized mare?”

“I know how hateful these words must—”

“Why would you think that? I’ve been used my whole life.” She paused, glared at him with as much remorse as outrage. “My whole life, Akka. And now that I’ve become the instrument of something higher, higher than men and their rutting hunger—”

“But why? Why be an instrument at all?”

“You speak as if we had a choice—you, a Mandate Schoolman! There’s no escape. You know that. With every breath, we are used!”

He asks why she sounds so bitter at being used as a “prophet’s vessel.” She cuts him off, because of you. She says that he’s clinging to the fact she loved him, and it’s hurting her because he refuses to let go. He points out he asked, she came. That makes her silent for a while. She then pretends that she already knew this information, but Achamian, ignoring the Holy War, knows it’s a lie. She asks how he knows.

“Because you say you love him.”

The Scarlet Spire “laid waste to all before them.” They incinerate everything. A few “adept Watchers” move across the sky, the rest of the seventy-four move on the ground, sheltered by the Javreh. They step over the dead. “The whole world seemed rendered in luminous bloods and abyssal blacks.” The First Temple and the Ctesarat loom over them.

The Fanim ran before them, like flame-maddened beasts.

The Ciphrang are flying above Shimeh, the one place that gives them “reprieve from spikes of terrestrial congestion.” Zioz, Setmahaga, and Sohorat are flying as high as possible. The Voice calls them back. They plummet towards the war-torn city of Shimeh. The envy all the mortal “raping, murdering, warring.” They want to devour all of that, but the Voice controls them, hurting them until they obey and land on the First Temple.

Inside, they sensed the Cishaurim. They are ordered to attack, the Voice telling them they’ll be safe from Chorae only amid the Cishaurim. They rip through the roof and descended on a dozen Cishaurim. Psûkhe assaults them. They kill, ripping away heads. Then a loud voice yells, “Demon!” The newcomer is old but appears powerful. The Voice tells them to flee.

Setmahaga fell first, struck in the eye by an absence affixed to the end of a stick. An explosion of burning salt…

Flee!

Then Sohorat, his slavering form caught in torrents of light, screamed.

Zioz leapt into the clouds.

Return me, manling! Throw off these chains!

But the Scarlet Schoolman was obstinate.

One last task… One more offending eye…

Water falls around Kellhus. Moënghus begins talking about how Kellhus found that humans were like children and thus believe the same as their fathers. “Men are like wax poured into moulds: their souls are cast by their circumstances.” It’s why Fanim are not born to Inrithi and vice versa. If you raised an infant with Fanim, you get Fanim. The same infant given to Inrithi parents, you get Inrithi.

“Split him in two, and he would murder himself.”

Moënghus’s face thrust through the waterfall at seemingly random, like he was just readjusting his posture. Kellhus knows it’s all premeditated. “For all the changes wrought by thirty years in the Wilderness, his father remained Dûnyain…” Kellhus stands on “conditioned ground.” Moënghus continues that even though this is obvious, men don’t realize that anything comes before them. “They are numb to the hammers of circumstance.” They think they have free will. This leads them to rely on their intuition and get mad at people who disagree with them because they think they know “absolute truth.”

“And yet part of them fears. For even unbelievers share the depths of their conviction. Everywhere, all about them, they see examples of their own self-deception… ‘Me!’ everyone cries. ‘I am chosen!’ How could they not fear when they so resemble children stamping their feet in the dust? So they encircle themselves with yea-sayers, and look to the horizon for confirmation, for some higher sign that they are as central to the world as they are to themselves.”

He waved his hand out, brought his palm to his bare breast. “And they pay with the coin of their devotion.”

Esmenet throws back Achamian words in his face, pointing out he surrendered his “precious Gnosis” as easily as she surrendered her body. She wants to hate him as she says this. He agrees and she presses him, asking why would a Mandate Schoolman go against his school. He begins by saying because of the Second Apocalypse and she jumps at that.

“The very world is at stake and you complain that he makes weapons of all things? Akka, you should rejoi—”

“I’m not saying he’s not the Harbinger! He may even be a prophet for all I know…”

“Then what are you saying, Akka? Do you even know?”

Two tears threaded his cheeks.

“That he stole you from me! Stole!”

She is disdainful, claiming she feels worthless. Saying that Achamian says he loves her, but always treated her like she was a whore. Before she can say that word, he cuts her off by saying she’s only seeing her love for Kellhus. “You’re not thinking of what he sees when he gazes upon you.”

A moment of silent horror.

Esmenet then protests that you can’t trust a Scylvendi and Achamian demands to know what Kellhus sees in her. She finds her self shaking as she says, “He sees the truth!” She finds him hugging her.

He whispered into her ear. “He doesn’t see, Esmi… He watches.”

And the words were there, at once deafening and unspoken.

…without love.

She looked up to him, and he stared at her with an intensity, a desperation, she knew she would never find in Kellhus’s endless blue eyes. He smelled warm… bitter.

His lips were wet.

Eleäzaras lets out a mad cackle as he stares out at the ruins of Shimeh. He feels this strange, dark enjoyment “like watching a hated sibling struck at last.” He feels drunk now. High. Sorcerous battle rages around him. Buildings are destroyed. Lightning and fire unleashed.

The Grandmaster cackled as the wave of dust rolled over him. Shimeh burned! Shimeh burned!

A sorcerer, Sarothenese, reaches Eleäzaras and says he is pressing them too hard, wasting their energy on mindless destruction. Eleäzaras just wants them to kill, not caring about anything else. His subordinate pleads with him to conserve their strength for the Cishaurim.

For some reason, he [Eleäzaras] thought of all the slaves who had swallowed his member, of clutching tight silken sheets, of the luxurious agony of release. This was what it was like, he realized. He had seen them, the Men of the Tusk, filing back from battle, matted in blood, smiling with those terrifying eyes…

As though to show those eyes to Sarothenese, he turned to the man, held out a hand to the sulfurous calamity before them.

“Behold!” he spat contemptuously. “Behold what we—we!—have wrought.”

The soot-stained sorcerer stared at him in horror. Lights flashed across his sweaty cheek. Eleäzaras turned back to the exult in the wages of his impossible labour. Shimeh burned… Shimeh.

“Our power,” he grated. “Our glory!”

Proyas stares in shock from the top of Shimeh’s walls as the dark clouds rising up from the ruins. The First Temple feels so close to him even with though Fanim soldiers are between him and the Sacred Heights. Despite his awe for the Holy Sight, he is stunned by the destruction the Scarlet Schoolman are wreaking upon the city. Proyas shouts at a Schoolman, demanding to know what they are doing. They’re destroying Shimeh.

That gets the Schoolman’s attention and he is mad, saying they are fighting the Cishaurim and have to be so indiscriminate because of the Chorae lurking out there. He doesn’t give a shit about Holy Shimeh. The man’s vehemence shocks Proyas.

The sorcerer before Proyas began singing as well. A sudden wind bellied his gaping sleeves.

And a voice whispered, No… not like this.

Moënghus continues his lecture on how circumstance mold men, and that is what power is. He then asks what is about men that makes them this malleable. He answers it for Kellhus, saying he learned this lesson fast when he saw them all in a “circle of repeating actions, each one a wheel in the great machine of nations.” If men stop obeying, then leaders stop leading. To be a king, a man “must act accordingly.” If a man thinks he is a slave, he acts like one. Like Moënghus already had, Kellhus had learned that men have hierarchies and expect people to act in whatever role circumstance has handed them. “This is what makes them emperors or slaves.”

“Nations live as Men act,’ Moënghus said, his voice refracted through the ambient rush of waters. “Men act as they believe. And Men believe as they are conditioned. Since they are blind to their conditioning, they do not doubt their intuitions…”

Kellhus nodded in wary assent. “They believe absolutely,” he said.

Achamian leads Esmenet by the hand towards the ruined mausoleum. She’s smiling and crying. He finds her beautiful before the smoke rising from Shimeh. He leads her inside and they kiss with passion. They are on the ground. He realizes this is wrong.

And he knew—they both knew!—what it was they were doing: blotting one crime with another… But he couldn’t stop. Even though he knew she would hate him afterward. Even though he knew that was what she wanted…

Something unforgivable.

She’s crying, moaning something he can’t hear. He feels this terror beating through him even as he hikes up her dress. She’s squirming on the ground then she gasped that Kellhus has to love her and will kill them. Then he plunges into her.

The defenders of Shimeh flee the sorcerous fire, cursing the Holy War and wondering where their Padirajah and the Cishaurim are. Smoke fills the city. The Conryians hunt down routed shoulders, putting them to death. In a square, they defenders regroup and reform to face the Conriyans. They threw up barriers. However, after a few assaults, they are broken again and flee farther into the city. “Death came Swirling down.”

But the Prince pulled Ingiaban aside.

“What is it?” the burly Palatine said, his voice ringing through his war-mask.

“Where are they?” Proyas asked. “The Fanim.”

“What do you mean?”

“They only pretend to defend their city.”

Kellhus studies what little he can see of his father as Moënghus continues talking about how Kellhus acted, saying as a Dûnyain, he had no choice but to “master circumstance.” So he set about taking control of the Holy War by making their beliefs the focus of his study. “It was axiomatic.”

“You realized those truths that cut against the interests of the powerful were called lies, and that those lies that served those interests were called truths. And you understood that it had to be this way, since it is the function of belief, not the veracity, that preserved nations. Why call an emperor’s blood divine? Why tell slaves that suffering is grace? It is what beliefs do, the actions they license and prohibit, that is important. If men believed all blood was equal, the caste-nobles would be overthrown. If men believed all coin was oppression, the caste-merchants would be turned out.

“Nations tolerate only those believes that conserve the great system of interlocking actions that make them possible. For the worldborn, you realized, truth is largely irrelevant. Why else would they all dwell in delusion?”

Thus, Kellhus claimed to be a noble to receive the benefits of the position. This way he could command instead of being commanded. Now Kellhus had to figure out the next lie to take him from equal to their master.

Achamian and Esmenet writhe in passion, their bodies remembering how to please each other. It’s wild. Unbridled. She cries as she kisses him.

You were dead!”

I cam back for you…”

Anything. Even the world.

Akka…”

For you.”

Esmi. Esmenet. Gasping and crying out…

Such a strange name for a harlot.

The mist creates false tears flowing down Moënghus’s cheeks as he continues his explanation of Kellhus’s actions. Kellhus saw that belief was just another hierarchy for humans with their own levels. Religious ones are at the top, proven by the Holy War’s existence. “The actions of so many could be pitched with single purpose against so many native weaknesses: fear, sloth, compassion…” Kellhus thus studied their scriptures and understood how Inrithism worked. Since it was pinned to the unseen, to the God, doubting the faith meant doubting their creator. It acts as the base for all other relations of power. The arbiter of all mankind. “The servant shakes his fist at the heavens, not his master.”

His father’s voice—so much like his own—swelled to seize all the dead Nonmen spaces.

“And here you saw the Shortest Path… For you understood that this trick, which turns the eyes of the oppressed skyward and away from the hand that held the whip, could be usurped to your ends. To command circumstance, you must command action. To command action, you must command belief. To command belief, you need only speak with the voice of heaven.

“You were Dûnyain, one of the Conditioned, and they, with their stunted intellects, were no more than children.”

Scouts watching Shairizor Plains were the first to see movement. The Lords of the Holy War had searched for Fanayal and his army but hadn’t found it. They realize he must be in the city and will attack their flank out of Shimeh’s eastern gate. They are ready for this with defenses deployed along the River Jeshimal.

The Fanim had, instead, undermined the walls of Shimeh. “Walls meant nothing, their bright-eyed Padirajah assured them, when Schools went to war.” With Psûkhe sorcery, a section of the walls is destroyed and out charges Fanayal and his horseman, racing across Shairizor Plains.

The sound of heathen drums suddenly redoubled.

Moënghus continues explaining how Kellhus became the Warrior-Prophet by convincing “them [the Holy War] that the distance between their intellect and yours was the distance between the World and the Outside.” If he succeeded, they would give him complete control and their devotion. It wouldn’t be easy to execute but was clearly the only way. So Kellhus “cultivated their awe” by telling them things he shouldn’t know by reading their hearts. He “showed them who they were” while simultaneously exploiting their weaknesses.

“You gave them certainty, though all the world is mystery. You gave them flattery, though all the world is indifference. You gave them purpose, though all the world is anarchy.

“You taught them ignorance.

At the same time he did this, Kellhus feigned to be humble. He didn’t claim to be special or different. He sprinkled out his revelations to many, giving them pieces of his machine, then let the masses assemble it. That way, they figured out revelation on their own and came to the conclusion that he was their Prophet.

However, Moënghus continues that this wouldn’t be enough. Though the powerless don’t care who stands between them and “the God,” those with power did. “To rule in the name of an absent king is to rule outright.” The nobles would resist. A crisis would happen. Moënghus stands and steps through the water. His empty eye sockets stare into Kellhus’s eyes.

“This,” the eyeless face said, “was where the Probability Trance failed me…”

“So you did not anticipate the visions?” Kellhus asked.

His father’s face remained absolute and impassive.

“What visions?”

Eleäzaras stands in the midst of the inferno he and his mage cadres had crated of Shimeh. He stares at the Juterum, eager to find the assassins. They are so close to it. He’s eager for it.

The Cishaurim had sent their invitation, and they had come. After innumerable miles and deprivations—after all the humiliation!—they had come. They had kept their end of the bargain. Now it was time to balance the ledgers. Now! Now!

What kind of game do they play?

No matter. No matter. He would raze all Shimeh if he had to. Upend the very earth!

He orders his school to fight even as he’s warned that there are lots of Chorae nearby. He dismisses them, claiming they are held by the dead buried by the rubble of the buildings they destroyed.

The world about him seemed black and hollow and glittering white. Kellhus raised his palm. “My hands… when I look upon them, I see haloes of gold.”

Scrutiny. Calculation.

“I have not my eyes with me,” Moënghus said, and Kellhus understood instantly that he referred to the asps used by his Cishaurim brethren. “I walk these halls by memory.”

For all the signs he betrayed, this man who was his father could be a statue of stone. He seemed a face without a soul.

Kellhus continues, asking if the God speaks to Moënghus. He doesn’t, which Kellhus finds curious. Moënghus asks where the voice comes from. Kellhus doesn’t know. He only knows the thoughts aren’t his. Moënghus dips into the probability trance and concludes that Kellhus has become deranged by what he suffered. Kellhus concedes it’s a possibility. Moënghus continues that it wouldn’t benefit Kellhus to deceive him unless Kellhus has come to actually assassinate him. Kellhus asks if his father apprehends that.

Scrutiny. Calculation.

“You do not have the power to overcome me.”

“But I do, Father.”

Another pause, imperceptibly longer.

“How,” his father finally said, “could you know this?”

“Because I know why you were compelled to summon me.”

Scrutiny. Calculation.

“So you have grasped it.”

“Yes… the Thousandfold Thought.”

My Thoughts

This was one hard chapter to summarize. I just wanted to copy and paste everything Moënghus says. It’s Bakker writing out the philosophy of the Dûnyain in one place. How they think. How they go through problems. How they see the world. How Bakker does, too.

The end is about to begin. The final battle dawns. You can feel this chapter building towards those climaxes. The Holy War assembling, Kellhus searching for that tree where his father awaits, and Achamian grappling with the revelation that he is Kellhus slave.

By thinking himself free, he doesn’t question the chains wrapped about his soul. Kellhus wants everyone blind to that truth. Cnaiür thought he could be chaotic and not be controlled. He was wrong. Achamian thought he served the Mandate and the world by helping Kellhus. He, too, is wrong. And now he has to come to terms with it.

By serving Kellhus, Achamian had taken a perverse pride in his sacrifice of Esmenet. He was showing how virtuous he was. That he was putting the world ahead of his own pain. That he was serving something that mattered. He glutted on it and now he realizes how false it was. How manufactured. That it was all lies. He prefers damnation because he’s now in a living hell.

Can’t blame those Fanim for running. We’ve seen how destructive sorcery is in this series. The demon attack has caused havoc among the Cishaurim, giving the Scarlet Spire the freedom to assault the walls without fear of them or the Chorae bowmen.

A tense section with Proyas on the siege-tower and the slow lumber towards the enemy wall with everyone in the city wanting to take you out. Then just like that, Gaidekki is killed. Smiling. A cold, impersonal death. The type of war is filled with.

The only tree in Kyudea is a twin to Umiaki back in Caraskand. Kellhus is facing another test, one just as dire and important as that. Trees are symbolically linked with Dûnyain from the very beginning of the story. Kellhus was bemused by trees branching in all their directions when he first left Ishuäl. When he learns to fight, he was trained to be a tree warring in every direction at once. Trees represent different paths. That one can travel to reach the sky. Every choice leading to more and more decisions, each more fragile, thinner, more ephemeral the way the probability trance must become when Kellhus plots out how events might happen and what he can do to influence them.

The dead Kidruhil makes me think back to Kellhus racing as a jackal on the plain. This might have been when he killed these men. Or maybe it was such an insignificant moment to Kellhus, Bakker doesn’t even bother giving us a hint of it in his POV.

War is the territorial fighting of animals taken to the most extreme. Not one pack or herd fighting another, but tribes and nations with a level of regimentation and ferocity not found with our animal cousins. We took it to the extremes and seized our planet. We exerted our will upon it and shaped it. To do so, you have to overcome your survival instinct and all manner of innate programming that keeps you from wanting to actually kill another. You have to believe there’s a reward, that you have nothing to fear, that you’re doing the right thing, that you’re fighting monsters.

War is belief. And that feverish belief gave humans the world.

Esmenet is lost. We see this focused in her surrounding herself by what she gained as Kellhus wife: books. They are the thing she most values. Learning to read allowed her to continue that passion her character has always had to hear stories. Look back to book one where she talks about her preferred clients as a whore: travelers. Men who had gone places, seen things beyond her little section of Sumna. Now that she’s traveled, she’s learned that books can take her into the past, into new ideas, into far-flung lands.

But right now it won’t change her inner turmoil that she doesn’t love Kellhus like she thought. She’s floundering. And then Achamian walks in and she thinks of him as first her husband. When he invites her to go with him, she doesn’t hesitate. She ignores crying Moënghus to go to him.

Kellhus trip through the mansion is, literally, on conditioned ground. He’s following the path his father left for him. These are Kellhus’s last steps as a Dûnyain. After this, he will have utterly diverted, forming his own path from his father and the rest of his people. As he follows these steps, he makes minor deviations to admire the Nonmen sculptures. He responds to “some voice from nowhere.” A Dûnyain shouldn’t be listening to a voice “from nowhere.”

Esmenet finds herself angry he hadn’t fought for her. She wants to be valued by Achamian, especially now that she’s realized she never really loved Kellhus. That she still loves Achamian, and now she realizing that what they had she can’t get back, even though she wants it so badly now. She wants them to leave the Holy War.

But she’s pregnant.

It’s a powerful moment as she stares at Shimeh. This is what they all suffered for. Will it be worth it in the end? Can it be once she learns the truth that has broken Achamian?

Eleäzaras’s fear that has been building over the course of the last two books is now unleashed in all its paranoia. He’s out of control. He just ordered his men to attack indiscriminately because they are surrounded by “hidden enemies.” This is more than he can handle.

Kellhus’s touch can detect disturbed dust. Dûnyain…

The battle is no doubts from when men wiped out the Nonmen from this mansion. There were many such pogroms run against them.

Now we come to it. Moënghus at last. Even now, reading this for the dozenth time, that tingle of excitement races through me. Bakker has built us up to this moment for the last three books. The goal of the series.

We have three different battles underway in this part. Kellhus versus Moënghus. The Holy War versus the Fanim. Achamian versus Kellhus’s manipulation. The Thousandfold Thought, Shimeh, and Esmenet are the stakes. Bakker cuts between them, moving from the opening salvos to the clashes as we cut from Achamian’s first attack, “Because you say you love him.”

So we learn that demons turn to salt when killed in their attack and that there is an old Cishaurim you do not want to mess with. Then Bakker is setting up the foreshadowing for what happens to Achamian and Iyokus’s revenge. A nice little scene that gives us some insight into the Daimos and how it works.

Moënghus remains Dûnyain, but not Kellhus.

We are getting into how Dûnyain sees the world. Moënghus’s first wards part is reiterating what we’ve read this entire time, the cliff-notes of the series. It’s about humans, especially how self-centered we are. I’m a writer, and taking criticism is hard. There’s a part of me that instantly reacts with the nasty impulse that they are wrong, mistaken. I have to batter it down and try not to fall into the trap of confusing my “narrow conditioning for absolute truth.”

Achamian’s doubt in this conversation, on just what Kellhus is, is what compels him to embark on his long journey in the next series as much as his desire for Esmenet. He needs to prove that losing Esmenet was truly worth it, I think. He has to know if Kellhus really is a prophet and the savior of the world.

“He stared at her with an intensity, a desperation, she knew she would never find in Kellhus’s endless blue eyes.” A powerful line. Esmenet realizes right here Kellhus can never love her. There’s that quote earlier in this novel about how a man without passion is safe, but he also can never love. Achamian might hurt her, but he can also love her. Kellhus can just watch her.

And if she wasn’t pregnant…

So Eleäzaras has completely snapped. He’s gone battle mad, knows it, and doesn’t care. He is beyond responsibility. It’s easier now just burning and destroying. It takes no effort to destroy. To tear down. To ruin. You can do it in moments, breaking something that could have taken days, weeks, months, or years to build.

Proyas is having more and more of his illusions shattered. He saw the Holy War as saving Shimeh, but they have to destroy it to take it. This crisis will send Proyas to his darkest moment until, well, we get to the end of The Unholy Consult.

There is a great deal of truth in what Moënghus is talking about to Kellhus about how the world works. It’s the social contract. In a functional, liberal society like ours, there’s a great deal more flexibility in roles and moving, but we still expect people to do certain things, to have certain responsibilities, in their roles. Society, companies, families, organizations, and more can punish and coerce those who buck it. It can be used to enslave or to empower. The Dûnyain have their own belief on how it should be used.

Esmenet is still clinging to the belief that she loves Kellhus and he loves her. She has to do something to prove it. She has to do something to prove it by making him react emotionally. If Kellhus loved her, he will be hurt by her adultery. At the same time, she will now feel guilty for hurting Kellhus instead of Achamian. She hopes to be free of Achamian. Will she? Does she know what she truly wants? Even knowing this, Achamian wants her too much. He can’t help himself.

A slave to the Darkness that comes before.

I have no idea what a Wellkeeper is. I thought it was a reference to the Cishaurim, but then Bakker names them as Water-bearers. Maybe it’s a reference to Chorae archers. The Amoti are burning in sorcerers fires and dying. They need relief. This word is only referenced in this one spot in this novel.

The way Moënghus talks about Kellhus makes it sound like the more you follow logic, the less free will you have. His father talks about how Kellhus “had to master circumstance.” He had to take control of the world. “It was axiomatic.” For all that the Dûnyain attempt to become self-moving souls, they have merely replaced one set of custom that guides them for another: the Logos.

Then Kellhus makes a choice. He goes against his conditioning. He is influenced by something beyond this world and acts on it.

We get more biting insight into human behavior. We all let our biases cherry pick the information we take in. What we agree with, we embrace. What we disagree with, we throw away. It’s hard to break this habit. To be truly open. This delusion is how we can all work together. It’s what allows our society to function. Humans are innately creatures of hierarchy. We always arrange ourselves into them, and the behaviors that lead to the greatest stability in that arrangement are the ones to be prized.

Back to Achamian and Esmenet. All Achamian wants is her. He doesn’t care about the world. It’s his motivation. I think exposing Kellhus in the second series is all about proving that he was right to put Esmenet before the world. Ahhamina wrote his History of the Holy War and went on that vast journey to prove he was correct.

That he was the center of the world like all us humans think.

Moënghus lists compassion as a weakness with fear and sloth. Insight into Dûnyain’s thoughts. They have divorced themselves from emotions. It is compassion, though, that has broken Kellhus from the mold. That first outrage he felt at Serwë being raped by Cnaiür way back in book one. The horror he felt at being chained to her dead body, the guilt as he wanted to take back his actions that lead to her death. Compassion is the root of love, not lust, but that desire to help those you care for. To act in selfless ways. But to a Dûnyain, it is the Will to Power that matters. They are the “übermench” of Nietzsche. The super-men.

Let’s not forget, this entire series started out with Nietzsche being quoted.

Faith without doubt is a big problem. When you’re told not to question, but obey, you’re being controlled. You should absolutely question things. You shouldn’t just blindly followed what you’re trained. One thing I’ve never seen the Dûnyain do in their training is the question what they’re told. The flashbacks we get of Kellhus is of him answering questions, but not challenging his teacher’s principals. He accepts that they know what is correct and acts on them. It leads to a predictable life. After all, Moënghus has figured out everything Kellhus would do before he ever summoned him. He created the circumstances that would force Kellhus to become the Warrior-Prophet and lead the Holy War to Shimeh.

A smart plan from Fanayal. Kellhus didn’t see it coming. He had his men ready to defend a sally from the Eastern Gate, not an attack onto the Ainoni Plain. Kellhus can be fought by being erratic and doing out of the box thinking because Kellhus in very much in the box. Tactics that are less than advantageous, ones that pose greater risks, can be useful at first. Of course, Kellhus will adjust with his new data, but it shows the Dûnyain aren’t omniscience.

Ignorance is the most powerful tool of the Dûnyain. Once you know what they are capable of, it becomes vastly more difficult for them to manipulate you. They have to use proxies, trade for things you value, make you dependent in other ways. This we saw with Cnaiür. If everyone knows these things, it’ll become vastly more difficult. Of course, I imagine if everyone mistrust a Dûnyain, they could work that mistrust to their advantage, but… it would be harder.

Ignorance is the same tool the Consult is using.

It’s true. When you’re powerless, isn’t it better to choose your master than have one chosen for you? It doesn’t bother you if Kellhus is in charge versus Proyas or Conphas. It’s even better because you believe in him. You gladly serve him. But when you have power, well, that’s different. Who wants to give that up?

We’ve come to know the Dûnyain so well through Kellhus that even though Moënghus gives no reaction to and asks a simple question, you can feel his shock at Kellhus revelation. He did not anticipate Kellhus hearing a voice. This wasn’t part of the plan. This was something not part of the Dûnyain philosophy.

Kellhus has strayed from the Conditioned Grounds.

Eleäzaras comes off as a spoiled child. He wants his vengeance so bad. He’s swept up in it, crushed by the stresses and now just wants his release. He’s denied it. So he’s being petulant. He doesn’t care about the cost. Nothing matters to him, not even his school.

A face without a soul… Dûnyain. That is a powerful statement of what they are. They have cut out what it means to be human. But Kellhus, he’s seeing the halos. Those who believe in him as the Warrior-Prophet see it. When they doubt, like Achamian, it goes away. Kellhus is seeing them. He’s believing that he can change things. He’s affected by the outside because of Serwë and Esmenet. Both these women touched his soul. It’s barely there, an atrophied thing, but as we see in the next series, he does care in his own, fumbling, impotent, ineffective way.

If you think Kellhus is lying about the halos, notice the opening of his passage: “The world about him seemed black and hollow and glittering white. Kellhus raised his palm.” Glittering white. Where is that coming from? The weak torch barely illuminating anything? Or the halo around his hand that he now talks about.

What a way to end the chapter. The Thousandfold Thought. What the Dûnyain have been trying to achieve forever. Moënghus couldn’t get it, so he manufactured a way for his son to get it but giving him this mighty task, forcing him to use his Probability Trance to its fullest with real stakes. No theory now. Real-world application.

Only Moënghus didn’t count on interference coming from outside of cause and effect.

Want to keep reading, click here for Chapter 16!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 14
Shimeh

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

Some say I learned dread knowledge that night. But of this, as so many other matters, I cannot write for fear of summary execution.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Truth and hope are like travelers in contrary directions. They meet but once in any man’s life

AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

Wow, those are some quotes. The one is foreshadowing. Clearly, Achamian is going to learn something that he’s too terrified to write. Mind you, this is in his heretical book after he’s already rejected Kellhus and gone into voluntary exile. Even Achamian knows not to put what he learns. Even reading this the first time, you can only imagine the truth he learned.

Which leads us to the Ainoni proverb that truth and hope are so rarely meet up that you get it once in a lifetime. It implies that hope is built on lies, on self-fabrication. That the truth doesn’t care about what sustains you. And when you learn that truth, it can kill that hope. However, once in a blue moon, they compliment each other.

Will it happen here?

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Esmenet dreamed that she was a prince, an angel fallen from the dark, that her heart had beaten, her loins had ached, for tens of thousands of years. She dreamed that Kellhus stood before her, an outrage to be blotted, an enigma to be dissected, and above all a burning question…

Who are the Dûnyain?

She awakes confused about who she is for a few moments. Then she doesn’t find Kellhus beside her, but she’s not surprised. She feels a “sense of finality in the air.” A dread has been building in her since reading The Sagas. She’s felt strange desires since her possession, seeing memories of the Inchoroi flooding her mind. Those desires, while alien in origin, still were hers. Kellhus tried to comfort her while questioning her, telling her what Achamian had already explained about Xinemus and his compulsion. Kellhus says that she was Aurang for a bit, which is why she felt like all those dark lusts were hers. He even says that is why Aurang tried to provoke Kellhus to kill her so she wouldn’t retain any of his secrets. But she argues that she felt them too strong. That they were her desires.

“Those desires weren’t yours, Esmi. They only seemed to be yours because you couldn’t see where they came from… You simply suffered them.”

“But then, how does any desire belong to me?”

She thought the dread building in her was knowing Xinemus was dying. She tried to convince herself after she learned of his death, but couldn’t. It was “too obvious for even her to believe.” Then Achamian moved out, giving her a new lie. But it, too, faded when she beheld Shimeh and believes they all will die here.

She dresses and learns Kellhus is wandering the camp without an escort. Once, Esmenet would have been fearful. No longer. She knows the Holy War is the safest place for him now. She heads out looking for him, moving through the nighttime camp, finding some still awake carousing or drinking. She bumps into an Ainoni and realizes he’s a former customer before she reunited with Achamian. She realizes from his smirk that he takes pride in having bedded the Prophet-Consort, revealing that Esmenet’s belief she had controlled her activities a lie. He grabs her arm, drunk, clearly looking to enjoy her again.

“Do you know who I am?” she said sharply.

“Yes,” he repeated, his manner lurid. “I know you…”

“Then you know how close you stand to death.”

A look of dank puzzlement. She advanced and struck him with an open palm.

“Insolent dog! Kneel!”

He stared, stunned, unmoving.

“Kneel! Or I’ll have you flayed alive… Do you understand?”

Terror breaks through his drunkenness. He blubbers for forgiveness. She contemplates having her agents find the man. Different ways he could be punished flash through her. She knows it’s petty, but she revels in them. She normally hated “the brutality that her new station had forced upon her.” She isn’t sure why she feels this way if it was his shame or his delight. “Or was it the mere fact that she could do these things?” She feels giddy knowing she’s Kellhus’s “vessel.”

She climbs the hills over the Meneanor Sea, thinking, and comes across Kellhus staring at Shimeh. He’s atop the ruins and contemplates joining him, but thinks it’s too risky considering she’s pregnant. Instead of seeming lonely, he dominates the situation as always. Without even glancing at her, he says she’s worried that he’s getting distant like he was before the Circumfix. She thinks he’s doing something dangerous, though she admits she’s trying not to. She asks why he’s here. He says he has to leave soon then offers her a hand.

With ease, he hauls her up to join him on the narrow ruin. She is dizzied by it and holds him, savoring his presence “as she always did.” She asks where is going. He answers Kyudea, which was the twin city to Shimeh, destroyed a long time ago. She mutters, “Your father’s house.”

“Truth has its seasons, Esmi. Everything will be made clear in due course.”

“But, Kellhus…” What did it mean that they had to assail Shimeh without him?

“Proyas knows what must be done,” he said decisively. “The Scarlet Spire will act as they see fit.”

Desperation welled through her. You can’t leave us.

“I must, Esmi. I answer to a different voice.”

She realizes it’s not her voice. “The things that moved her simply didn’t touch him.” She feels that they are moving through the heavens. He feels like a stranger to her. “The son of something terrible.” She asks if Akka should go with him as protection. Kellhus says he has to go alone and that he’s beyond needing Achamian for defense. Esmenet points out Achamian will want to know where he goes and Kellhus smiles and nods in that knowing way and says Achamian’s already asked. His levity makes her want to try, though she isn’t sure why. She finds herself kneeling before him, “playing out in pantomime what others did.”

No matter where they turned, men found themselves encircled by greater things. Usually, they ignored them. And sometimes, moved by pride and base hunger, they warred against them. But either way, those things remained just as great, and men, no matter how lunatic their conceit, remained just as small. Only by kneeling, by offering themselves as one might offer the haft of a weapon, could men recognize their place in this world. Only by submitting could they recognize themselves.

There was rapture in submission. The vulnerability of another towering overhead—precarious, like letting a stranger touch one’s face. The sense of profound communing, as though only those who acknowledged their insignificance could themselves be acknowledged. The relief of surrender, the disburdening that accompanied the yielding of responsibility.

The paradoxical sense of license.

Everything grew silent. She finds this moment euphoric and arousing. He laughs, helps her stand, and says he loves you. Though a part of her “gushed like an adolescent,” the old whore in her watches with “callused eyes.” She says she knows and he says she afraid, as all man are. She claims she can’t survive without him.

Hadn’t she told Akka the same thing?

He touches her pregnant belly and says he can’t without her. Then he kisses her. She holds onto him, not wanting to let go of him even as he looks away from her to Shimeh. She’s desperate and he knows.

“Fear for the future, Esmi, not me.” Fingers combed through her hair, drew tingling lines across her scalp. “This flesh is but my shadow.”

Kellhus reflects on how far he had come from Ishuäl and thinks he hears someone shouting his name. “How far had he come?” He had departed for Kyudea after sending Esmenet back to camp. He walks through hills and starts talking to the world, saying he knows the world can hear him. Wind answers him. He asks what he was supposed to do when they only attend “to what lies before their eyes.” If it doesn’t make them happy, they hurt it. They entrust “things unseen” to the world. The wind dies.

“What was I to do? Tell them the truth?”

He stooped, pulled a twig from the straps of his right sandal. He studied it by the moonlight, followed the thin, muscular branchings that seized so much emptiness from the sky. Tusk sprouting from tusk. Though the trees about him had died seasons previously, the twig possessed two leaves, one waxy green, the other brown…

“No,” he said. “I cannot.”

The Dûnyain had sent him into the world as an assassin. His father had imperiled their isolation, had threatened Ishuäl, the great sanctuary of their hallowed meditations. They had no choice but to send Kellhus, even knowing that they served Moënghus’s ends… What else could they do?

He reflects how he had mastered the three great weapons: faith, war, and sorcery. “He was Dûnyain, one of the Condition.” He followed the Shortest Path and yet “he had come so far.” He remembers weeping against Serwë’s corpse on the Circumfix. Thinking that, he takes off running across the broken ground.

He ran. Not once did he stumble, nor did he slow to determine his bearings. His ground was his… Conditioned.

Everywhere, all about him, one world. The crossings were infinite, but they were not equal.

They were not equal.

In the night, Kianene and Amoti hear a sound “like tapestries being beaten” moving across the sky. A shadow crosses the First Temple. Something inhuman watches. “It drank with its eyes, while its soul dreamed a million years.” It hates where it is, feeling like it is being cut.

Thorns. Its every glimpse speared like thorns.

The stone is weak. We could wash it away…

Do nothing, the Voice replied. Just watch.

They know we are here. If we do not move, they will fund us.

Then test them.

The creature is a Ciphrang named Zioz. It comes across a Cishaurim and attacks it, ripping the soul from the manling’s body and throwing the corpse to the ground. It thinks they are weak, but the voice says there are others. The Ciphrang speculates it might die, but the voice says Zioz is too strong.

Perhaps you will die with me… Iyokus.

Achamian feels “a pendulous absence” circling him and thinks he should wake up. He is dreaming he is Seswatha vomiting in the bowels of Golgotterath while Nau-Cayûti watches. The pair is still moving through the “endless dark” as they climb through new horrors.

Seswatha had heard rumors of the horrors of this place, speaking with Nil’giccas and hearing his account of fighting through the “horrid immensity of the Incû-Holoinas.” The Nonmen said 1 in a 100 Inchoroi died in the Ark’s crash, but they still had thousands left. Nil’giccas had warned the Ark “was an ingrown world.” A maze. You always have to be on guard in it.

Nau-Cayûti spots a light. They douse theirs and creep towards it across eons of detritus and filth. There is a swelling clamor. The passage leads to a mighty void, a great space. They are looking down upon a city in the bowels of the ship. “The steaming heart of Golgotterath.”

He [Achamian] should be awake.

He keeps dreaming of Seswatha staring at what he realizes is the hold of a vast ship where the city has been built in it. “Structures of mortise and hacked stones climbed their foundations, crusting their sides like stacked hornets’ nests, not dwellings but open cells, squalid and innumerable.” In it, they see human captives toiling amid Bashrag and Sranc while others. There are “open-air harems” where men, women, and children are used. Achamian again thinks he should be awake.

Screams and roars echo as Nau-Cayûti slumps in horror realizing that the woman he’s here for is down there. He attacks Seswatha demanding to know where she is. Achamian struggles awake at his point, realizing that his wards are trying to wake him up. He claws to consciousness and finds a Chorae dangling over his head.

“Some time ago,” the Scylvendi grated, “during all the empty hours thinking, I understood that you die as I do…” A tremor passed through the hand holding the string.

“Without Gods.”

Eleäzaras is watching the Ctesarat Tabernacle, the heart of the Cishaurim power, from his tent, Iyokus beside him. There are circles of blood painted around them. Tomorrow, he thinks, they will face their “mortal enemy.” Eleäzaras can’t hold back anything. He is employing demons. Iyokus retorts that the Cishaurim flee the Ciphrang. They have no Chorae up there but are summoning those who bear them to deal with the Ciphrang.

That was what Eleäzaras wants, for the “Snakeheads” to pull away some of the Chorae guarding the wall to defend them from Ciphrang, giving the Scarlet Spires a better chance in the assault tomorrow.

However, he disagrees with using such a powerful demon, a Potent, when a Debile would have worked. He thinks Zioz is becoming too strong. Iyokus is dismissive, saying all is well. Eleäzaras wonders how he’d become so cowardly and accuses Iyokus of recklessness.

Iyokus turned to him. Blood soiled his bandages where they pressed against his translucent cheeks.

“They must fear us,” the man said. “Now they do.”

Achamian is both terrified by waking up to Cnaiür and the Chorae and shocked, thinking he must still dream. Cnaiür demands to know where Kellhus is. Achamian begins to say he doesn’t know, but Cnaiür says he lies, that Achamian is his protector.

Please…” he gasped, tried to cough without raising his chest. The Chorae had become unbearable. It seemed his heart might crack his sternum, leap into its absence. He could feel the stinging of his skin about his right nipple, the beginnings of the Salt. He thought of Carythusal, of Geshruuni, now long dead, holding a Trinket above his hand in the Holy Leper. Strange how this one seemed to have a different… taste.

I was never meant to escape.

Achamian feels Cnaiür’s murderous rage. The Scylvendi warns he won’t give Achamian another chance. Achamian tries not to panic as he manages to tell Cnaiür that he won’t betray Kellhus. Achamian says he’s willing to die.

Cnaiür thinks then offers a trade. Achamian is shocked by this as Cnaiür puts away the Chorae “like a child with a well-practiced toy.” Relief floods him but he’s still confused and frightened. Achamian asks what they will trade and notes there are a man and woman in the shadows behind Cnaiür.

“Truth.”

This word, intoned as it was with exhaustion and a profound, barbaric candour, struck him like a blow. Achamian pressed himself onto his elbows, glared at the man, his eyes wild with outrage and confusion.

“And what if I’ve had my fill of Truth?”

“The truth of him,” The Scylvendi said.

Achamian says he knows the truth, but Cnaiür cuts him off, spitting out he knows nothing. Like the rest of the salves. Achamian protests his freedom, but Cnaiür says he is because “all men are slaves.” Cnaiür says Kellhus is Dûnyain with such hatred in the word. It’s a curse, the way Achamian thinks of the Consult. Achamian has never heard the word but knows it means Truth in a dead tongue.

“The tongue is not dead,” Cnaiür snapped, “and the word no longer means ‘truth.’”

Achamian remembers the first time met Cnaiür, Serwë, and Kellhus, and realizes that they lied. Cnaiür didn’t come on a wager. Achamian has to know if Kellhus also lied about dreaming of the Holy War. Cnaiür wants to know where he is, but Achamian insists on the Truth not willing to “barter untested wares.”

The barbarian snorted, but it didn’t strike Achamian as an expression of derision or contempt. There was a pensiveness to the man, a vulnerability of movement and manner that contradicted the violence of his aspect. Somehow Achamian knew that Cnaiür wanted to speak of these things, as though they burdened him in the way of crimes or powerful grievances. And this realization terrified him [Achamian] more thoroughly than any Trinket ever could.

Cnaiür explains that Kellhus wasn’t sent, but summoned, that he’s not unique, and nor is he a savior. He’s a slaver. The blood drains from Achamian’s face. He doesn’t understand, but Cnaiür continues on explaining how the Dûnyain have bred themselves for millennia until humans were “little more than children to them.” Achamian listens as Cnaiür explains it all. Achamian finds it too “naked not to be true.” He listens to Cnaiür talk about his experience with Moënghus, how Cnaiür helped to murder his own father while claiming he wasn’t willing.

“They see our thoughts through our faces—our hurts, our hopes, our rage, and our passion! Where we guess, they know, the way herdsmen can read the afternoon’s weather in the morning sky… And what men know, they dominate.”

Cnaiür continues his story how he helped Moënghus kill his father. To Achamian, only Cnaiür and the Chorae exist. Cnaiür explains how Kellhus’s “every heartbeat” wars against the world. He conquers and makes men into his dog.

“They make us love! They make us love!”

Kellhus runs through the wilderness. Jackals start running beside him. He outruns them and he seems to hear them ask who he is. He calls them their master as he runs off into the night. He begins laughing, though the humor was foreign to him. He finds saying “your master” amusing.

Achamian is shocked by Cnaiür’s words after the barbarian leaves. He is bewildered by what he is learning. Off-balanced, he struggles to think. He knows that Cnaiür plans to kill Kellhus, Achamian’s “final, greatest student.” Despite that, he has betrayed Kellhus even after seeing that one of the figures with Cnaiür is “dead” Serwë. A skin-spy.

You gave him up. The Warrior-Prophet… You told the barbarian where he goes!

Because he lies! He steals what is ours! What is mine!

But the world! The world!

Fie on the world! Let it burn!

“The beginning!” he cried. Please.

Achamian pulls out a fresh paper and redraws his map of events, the one he lost to the Scarlet Spire. He stares at Inrau’s name after writing it, feeling grief. Then he writes “THE CONSULT” in violent strokes. He gave up Kellhus to the Consult.

When he finished, it seemed he held the very same parchment he had lost, and he pondered the identity of things, the way words did not discriminate between repetitions. They were immortal, and yet they cared.

He crosses out THE EMPEROR and replaces it with CONPHAS. Achamian knows he has to warn the Holy War of the threat marching from the West. He adds new lines to the map, things he’s learned since escaping the Scarlet Spire. In a steady hand, he adds DÛNYAIN and connects it to KELLHUS. Then, as if spurred, he writes Kellhus’s father, MOËNGHUS. “The man who summoned him [Kellhus] to the Three Seas…”

He dipped his quill into his inkhorn, his hand as light as an apparition. Then, as though crowded forward by dawning apprehension, he slowly wrote,

ESMENET

against the top left margin

How had her name become his prayer? Where did she fall in these monstrous events?

Where was his own name?

He studies his completed map, unaware of how long. The Holy War rouses around him. He feels like a ghost searching for a secret in the ink. All these important institutes representing the world. Representing prophets and lovers.

There was no pattern to these breathing things. There was no encompassing thought to give them meaning. Just men and their warring delusions… The world was a corpse.

Xinemus’s lesson.

He connects all the names to SHIMEH, the “bloodthirsty city.” He draws the line last to Esmenet’s name, knowing that she needed the city more than any other except, perhaps, Achamian. After drawing it, he keeps drawing it over and over until, in a frenzy, he rips through the vellum.

For he was sure that his quill had become a knife…

And that flesh lay beneath the tattooed skin.

My Thoughts

Aurang is compared to a fallen angel. The Inchoroi are rebelling against the Outside. They don’t want to follow the rules but want to their own thing. They think they’re right. Prideful.

Esmenet’s having the same issue as Xinemus. She felt those desires of Aurang as her own. Even though Kellhus explains it to her, she still feels that violent lust for rape.

How can you have a sense of identity after something like that? Where you became someone else and felt everything they do. Where their desires were your desires. What does it say about yourself? How can you trust anything after that?

After that, she’s having more illusions shattered from the knight she encounters about her own sexuality. She thought she was taking from men when she was selling her body, but to a man, spreading seed is a primal motivation. He takes pride in having done it to a woman so powerful. To protect her ego, she has to lash out, to prove that she’s not that woman any longer. That she’s risen above him. She has every right to be angry though she’s shocked by how quickly she came to ordering his death. How much the power has already changed her. We all have those dark impulses in us. Murder lurks in every human’s heart, but we usually control those impulses. We are ashamed of them, often pretending we don’t have them. She is in a position to exercise those impulses, and she knows it. It’ll be a test of her character going forward how she wields that ultimate power.

She calls Achamian “Akka” to Khellus. She’s starting to realize she doesn’t love Kellhus. The possession has eaten away at her worship. She’s realizing that her voice doesn’t move him. Her concerns are not his. That’s not good for a healthy relationship. Then he seems like a stranger to her, something dangerous, and she instantly asks about Akka.

She kneels in supplication before her husband and thinks she’s just imitating worship, that she’s his wife. But this is not something a wife does. Not in a real relationship. She’s prostrating herself before her prophet.

More doubt seeps into Esmenet. She’s seeing Kellhus like a whore now, too. She’s growing cautious around him even as he’s manipulating her to get that giddy, lovey-dovey response. Then the realization that she had told “Akka” the same things as Kellhus. That she meant these words for another.

She holds onto him with desperation because the lie is slipping from her that she loves him. She was only infatuated and never formed anything deeper. How can she when Kellhus’s emotions are as shallow as they come.

Kellhus is almost praying to the world. To the Darkness that Comes Before. He isn’t sure if he’s doing the right thing. He is having doubt, but he can’t see any other way. Just like the Dûnyain who sent him despite the fact they were doing what Moënghus wanted. “What else could they do?” Not even the Dûnyain, even Kellhus, are self-moving souls. They are still bound by cause.

Now we’ll see what effect all those causes have had on Kellhus. How they have changed him from the standard Dûnyain. How the Outside has affected him. He’s like Cnaiür. He’s been nudged from the Dûnyain tracks onto something else.

Kellhus remembers weeping. He’s feeling it. That he’s not wholly Dûnyain any longer. His mission has changed. He has come to a decision as he takes off running across that he know thinks as his. He knows longer is following the Conditioned path of his father, but one of his own choosing.

What a cool way to introduce demon summoning. From the point of view of the demon thrust into this world and constrained by reality. It hurts it and has to obey the voice. It knows who summoned it, and is eager to hurt the summoner. Rumor has it, the Ciphrang you summon get to play with you in the Outside.

Iyokus, it’s going to suck when you die.

Then we switch to the dream of the true horrors of Golgotterath, the slaves, the rape-pits. It’s disturbing. It is a place of true evil. A true Hell, the place the Inchoroi want to escape from experiencing they have unleashed on those they dominate. It is a place where reprehensible atrocities are committed in the name of satiating selfish desires. That is all the Inchoroi are. They don’t control themselves. If they can brutalize you, they will and enjoy it.

Achamian wakes up from one form of danger to another. To another man who doesn’t control his desires. Cnaiür seizes what he wants, kills men to get it, and brutalizes those when he needs to satiate his mad urges.

We get just a tease about Ciphrang. Two different classifications. Potent and Debile. I hadn’t heard of that word before, debile. It’s an archaic word for feeble, where our word debility originates from. Interesting to call one Potent and the other Feeble. Such a glimpse into this one bit of magic. I’ll have to pay attention to the end of The Unholy Consult when Ciphrang are next employed in the series.

“I was never meant to escape.” A curious thought for Achamian to have at this moment. To escape the Scarlet Spire? Probably. Kellhus never expected to see him, moving into the seduction of Esmenet from him, causing all sorts of problems when Achamian returned. I am convinced Kellhus would have tried to convince the pair that it was only right for Esmenet to be Kellhus’s queen, instead it gave Achamian that wedge of anger that ultimately led him to reject Kellhus and for Esmenet to never surrender her love for Achamian but only to bury it beneath her infatuation with Kellhus.

Or, perhaps, Achamian thinks he should have died that day in the tavern of Carythusal, when Geshruuni spared him. He can’t think that he will escape the fate of the Chorae a second time. Not with Cnaiür looming above him.

This meeting is great between Achamian and Cnaiür. The reversal. The bewilderment. The discussion of Truth and what Kellhus is. The Dûnyain spared Cnaiür out of pity when he witnessed the man’s madness on the beach. Kellhus, a good Dûnyain, should have killed him. But even then, he was splitting off from Conditioned Ground.

Of course, Cnaiür wants to speak. Who likes to swallow a secret. Especially one that causes such harm. Cnaiür, for all his hatred, has come to like Proyas as a friend. He hates what Kellhus is doing and, clearly, he has had his fill of it. He’s out for vengeance. He’s ready to unburden himself. It’s like his deathbed confession. Time to get his sins off his chest before he crosses the threshold.

“What men know, they dominate.” There is so much truth in that sentence. The crux of humans. We crave knowledge so we can make order out of chaos. We seek to dominate everything around us for stability. Familiarity. So then we can indulge in our desires. Our passions. We take nature and divide into plots. We take plants and cultivate them into crops. We’ve breed beasts into pets and livestock. We tamed the atom because we understood it.

Kellhus running with jackals right after we have Cnaiür compare humans as dogs eager to obey their Dûnyain master out of love. A loyal pack trained to obey.

For the first time since Inrau’s suicide, Achamian begins acting like a proper Mandate. He’s had his faith in Kellhus destroyed. He was manipulated by Kellhus all this time to not report in on him. So he put aside his map. He didn’t use it. Now he’s redrawing it, seeing the new state of the world.

He understands as he connects Esmenet’s name to Shimeh why she has fallen to Kellhus. The promise of salvation. That same promise, of being freed from the sin of sorcery, had enraptured Achamian, too. Remember back in book two when Kellhus scraped away the ink in the scripture that condemned harlots like Esmenet. How she wept. How she surrendered to him thinking it was love, but it was really worship.

Shimeh is the representation of the lie of Kellhus’s divinity. He has promised them salvation and then lead them to commit terrible acts. They are murdering their fellow men out of a delusion. They are slaves to Kellhus and the darkness that comes before him.

Esmenet is his slave. She’s Achamian’s prayer, and Kellhus stole her. Now that the truth is revealed, Achamian realizes just how utterly betrayed he was by Kellhus.

Click here to continue on to chapter fifteen!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 13
Holy Amateu

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

What frightens me when I travel is not that so many men possess customs and creeds so different from my own. Nay, what frightens me is that they think them as natural and as obvious as I think my own.

—SERATANTAS III, SUMNI MEDITATIONS

A return to a place never seen. Always it is thus, when we understand what we cannot speak.

—PROTATHIS, ONE HUNDRED HEAVENS

My Thoughts

So the Sumni Meditations leads me to believe that Seratantas III was a Shriah. We all hold our beliefs as if they are truth, and it is hard when they are challenged. It’s terrifying to meet people who think the opposite of you. It can cause you to retreat into echo chambers (like the ones social media is creating for us these days), to quarantine ourselves in little spheres safe from dangerous ideas. It makes us insular. It makes us fanatics.

If we can’t face these fears, then we will never change. We will never grow. We will stay mired in beliefs that might do more harm than good.

This also ties into to Kellhus musing on how he trained the Holy War, giving them new customs so that they’ll act the way he wants.

The second quote’s a little denser. How can you describe a place you’ve never been? How can you know when you’re even there. If you can’t speak of something that you understand, it’s impossible to describe. To share. To experience. This might feed into the first quote and the dangers of staying in your insular area. You can’t speak those truths that maybe, just maybe, are lurking inside of your soul.

Or I’m completely spinning my wheels here. Protathis’s quote is… intriguing. He’s referenced a second time in the chapter proper, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with this excerpt.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Atyersus

Nautzera, the Mandate Schoolman, is drawn by shouts from his studies in the Rudiments Library at Atyersus, the Mandate fortress. He spies some initiates pointing at the sea where fifteen ships are anchored at the mouth of the harbor all flying the Tusk. This throws the Mandate into a frenzy of activity and panic. Nautzera joins the Quorum atop the Comoranth Tower to observes the fleet. Nautzera thinks it is a blockade from the Thousand Temples to keep them for heading to Shimeh. “Did the Shrial ingrates think themselves a match for the Gnosis?” wonders Nautzera.

Simas wants them to attack, arguing the Second Apocalypse might have begun and that this is a Consult attack trying to keep them from reaching Kellhus. Nautzera councils that it would be folly to “act in ignorance.” Before they come to an agreement, a rowboat is launched from the fleet and the Quorum, over Simas objects, agreed to at least parlay.

Soon, slaves are carrying Nautzera and the others on palanquins to the docks, descending down the switchback from their fortress. Nautzera studies the boats, wondering just who and why they’re here. They reach the quay, crowded with soldiers and adepts. They assemble up just as they realize who is on the boat. It reaches the docks and five Shrial knights (each carrying Chorae) form up around the Holy Shriah. Maithanet, too, wears a Chorae.

Smiling with radiant warmth, the man [Maithanet] studied their faces, raised his eyes to the dark bastions of Atyersus behind them… He lunged forward. Then somehow—his movement had been too quick for surprised eyes to comprehend—he was holding Simas by the base of the skull.

The air was riven with sorcerous mutterings. Eyes flared with Gnostic light. Wards whisked into shimmering existence. Almost as one, the members of the Quorum fell into a defensive posture. Dust and grit trailed down the sloped sides of the jetty.

Simas had gone limp as a kitten. His white-haired head lolling against the fist bunched at the base o his neck. The Shriah seemed to hold him with impossible strength.

The Quorum demand that Maithanet releases him while he explains that by holding “them” just so, it incapacitates them. Nautzera demands answers. He hadn’t summoned words or retreated. He places himself between the Shriah and the Mandate while Maithanet says if they’re patient, Simas’s “true aspect will be revealed. Nautzera notices something is wrong about Simas and orders silence.

“We learned of this one through our interrogations of the others,” Maithanet said, his voice possessing a resonance that brushed aside the alarmed prattle. “It’s an accident, an anomaly that, thankfully, its architects have been unable to recreate.”

It?

“What are you saying?” Nautzera cried.

Thrashing slack limbs, the thing called Simas began howling in a hundred lunatic voices. Maithanet braced his feet, rocked like a fisherman holding a twisting shark. Nautzera stumbled back, his hands raised in Warding. With abject horror, he watched the man’s oh-so-familiar face crack open, clutch at the skies with hooked digits.

“A skin-spy with the ability to work sorcery,” the Shriah of the Thousand Temples said, grimacing with exertion. “A skin-spy with a soul.”

And the grand old sorcerer realized he had known all along.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Proyas reigns up his horse and stares at Shimeh for the first time. He’s shocked by the “dismaying sense of banality” he feels upon witnessing it. Before now, Shimeh had seemed “a monument so terrible with holiness that he could do naught but fall on his belly when confronted by its aspect.” He doesn’t feel that now. He just stares at it, wondering if seeing a dream come to life was always this disappointing.

Then the tears come before he realizes it, followed by the pain of Xinemus’s death, remembering his promise to describe the sight to his mentor. He grieves until he regains himself. He’s not the only man crying, but only he cries for Xinemus. The others are feeling that reverence Proyas expected. They cry out in prayers.

The words swelled with deep-throated resonance, became ever more implacable and embalming as horseman after horseman took them up. Soon the slopes thrummed with cracked voices. They were faithful, come with arms to undo long centuries of wickedness. They were the Men of the Tusk, bereaved and heartbroken, laying eyes on the ground of countless fatal oaths… How many brothers? How many fathers and sons?

May your bread silence our daily hunger…”

Proyas joined them in their prayer, even as he grasped the reason for his turmoil. They were the swords of the Warrior-Prophet, he realized, and this was the city of Inri Sejenus. Moves had been made, and rules had been changed. Kellhus and the Circumfixion had hamstrung all the old points of purposes. So here they stood, signatories to an obsolete indenture, celebrating a destination that had become a waystation…

And no one knew what it meant.

Proyas realizes that Shimeh wasn’t holy before this, but was made holy by all who died, Xinemus included, on the long road here. “There was no working back from what was final.”

Uranyanka, the Palatine of Moserothu, leads Kellhus to a vantage point to stare across the Plains of Shairizor to Shimeh, the city sprawls across it from the sea, surrounded by walls. At long last, the Holy War has arrived.

Some fell to their knees, bawling like children. But most simply stared, their faces blank.

Names were like baskets. Usually, they came to men already filled, with refuse, banalities, and valuables mixed in various measures. But sometimes the passage of events overthrew them. Sometimes they came to bear different burdens. Heavier things Darker things.

Shimeh was such a name.

They had come from across Eärwa, suffered much, to arrive here. “Now, at last, they apprehended the purpose of their heartbreaking labour.” For some, they wonder how Shimeh could ever be worth what they suffered.

But as always, the words of the Warrior-Prophet circulated among them. “This,” he was said to have said, “is not your destination. It’s your destiny.”

The Holy War visits all those shrines and relics they’ve read about. Then they notice the Juterum, the Holy Heights, where the Later Prophet had risen to Heaven. On that spot lies “the cancer they had come to excise.”

The great tabernacle of the Cishaurim.

Only as the sun drew their shadows to the footings of the man-eyed walls did they abandon the hillsides to strike camp on the plan below. Few slept that night, such was their confusion. Such was their wonder.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Amoteu

General Biaxi Sompas is obsessed over the threat Conphas delivered. If Sompas doesn’t re-capture Cnaiür, every last member of Sompas’s family will be burned alive. Sompas knows that Conphas could do it, but isn’t sure he’d dare? Xerius wouldn’t have. The Biaxi family possess too much power. However, despite this, Biaxi believes Conphas will do it because “Who would raise arms against the Lion of Kiyuth?” The army sided with Conphas over Kellhus.

Sompas forces his down to his captain, a sorcerer, and eleven Kidruhil. They are no longer the hunters, but are being hunted. Early on, he split his forces to better find Cnaiür, and it is proving a mistake as they move through the foothills of the Betmulla Mountains. He realizes he’d panicked, driven by the fear of Conphas’s warning, and had spread himself out too soon. Day after day, they find more groups of his men slain. He’s breaking under the stress because, “Demons hadn’t been part of the bargain, Saik or no Saik.”

Captain Agnaras is arguing they’ve gone too far towards the Holy War or the Fanim. They are in Amoteu now and are in danger. However, Sompas presses on through the forest they ride through, not caring. Suddenly, Captain Agnaras orders a halt in a clearing. They start pitching camp, none look at Sompas. They ignore him.

Very little was said.

When the sorcerer slipped away to relieve himself, Sompas found himself joining him. He was not quite willing things to happen anymore—they just… happened.

I have no choice!

The pair are pissing side-by-side when the sorcerer talks about how this was a disaster and how he’s going to write a report. Sompas kills him with “such a naughty knife.” He returns to his soldiers. He can understand them, unlike a sorcerer.

“He had no choice. It simply had to happen.”

His entire family existence is on the line. He realizes he has failed to recapture Cnaiür, so he must kill Conphas. He plans on reaching the Holy War and betraying Conphas’s plans to Kellhus. He even has thoughts of becoming emperor. After all, it was terrible that the Ikurei’s plotted with the Fanim. “The more Sompas had considered it, the more it seemed that honour and righteousness bound him to this course.” Realizing he has no choice, he feels calm at his decision. He then pretends to be worried about the sorcerer, but no one else cares.

As he warms his hand, she realizes that his men are waiting for the chance to slit his throat, their faces too blank. Sompas feels he has to speak with great care to survive, asking who guards the perimeter while his panicked thoughts tell him to run. Shouts erupt, soldiers crying out there’s something in the trees. Captain Agnaras yells to be quiet. They grow tense, weapons drawn, waiting. They stare at the trees, waiting.

Then they heard it: a rasp from blackness above. There was a small rain of grit, then bark twirled across the clearing.

“Sweet Sejenus!” one of the cavalrymen gasped, only to be silenced by barks of anger.

There was a sound, like that of a little boy pissing across leather. A sizzling hiss drew their attention to the main fire. It seemed all their eyes focused upon it at once: a thread of blood unwinding across the flames…

Something crashes into the flames. It’s the sorcerer, Ouras. His corpse has landed on the campfire, scattering coals and frightening the horses. Before Agnaras can cry orders, the Serwë skin-spy drops into the middle of them “falling like rope.”

All Sompas could do was stagger backward. He had no choice…

Agnaras dies. More follow as the Serwë skin-spy fights, “blonde hair whisked like silk in the gloom, chasing a pale face of impossible beauty.” His men fall back from her when more attack, including Cnaiür, looking mad and beyond human. As Sompas realizes he’s the last one standing, surrounded, he’s glad he relieved his bladder earlier. But they don’t kill him.

“She saw you murder the other,” the Scylvendi said, whipping spattered blood into a smear across his cheek. “Now she wants to fuck.”

A warm hand snaked along the back of his neck, pressed against his cheek.

That night Biaxi Sompas learned that there were rules for everything, including what could and could not happen to one’s own body. These, he discovered, were the most sacred rules of all.

Once, in the screaming, snarling misery of it all, he thought of his wives and children burning.

But only once.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Many of the Holy War bathe in the River Jeshimal the next day in an “impromptu rite of penance,” believing they are now cleaned. Others are unnerved by the mocking size of the Tatokar Walls around the city.

We’re given a history lesson about how Shimeh grew so large, from a small city during Inri Sejenus’s time, to a massive cityscape turned fortress by a Nansur emperor, to the Kianene rulers who glazed the walls and added the eyes painted upon the wall to remind the Inrithi that “the Solitary God does not blink.” The men debate about those eyes, some with curiosity, others are enraged by them. It made the city seem like “some great and unfathomable beast, like a vast, ramshackle crab sunning onshore after crawling up from the deep.” It makes some feel nervous.

Who knew what living things might do?

Meanwhile, Kellhus thinks he will see his father soon.

Where there had been many voices, many wills, now there was but one. With the Logos he had sown, and now with the Logos he would reap.

Kellhus turns from Esmenet to face the Council of Names, his hands radiant. More than them throng the hills to watch them. He stands midway down the slope, Shimeh positioned behind him to halo his body. He seems both eagerness and caution in their expressions. Even the Scarlet Spire have come if nervously. Eleäzaras keeps glancing at Achamian. Kellhus begins his sermon, saying he sees them now as the Tribe of Truth, watched over with pride by the ghosts of the fallen.

There could be no forgetting. They had paid for this moment in terror and blood.

Kellhus declares that they shall reclaim “my brother’s house.” He remembers the last three years since he left Ishuäl’s Fallow Gate, all those possible futures that almost overwhelmed him. “With every step he murdered alternatives, collapsed future after future, walking a line too thin to be marked on any map.” Once, Kellhus believed that he walked his own line, made his own decisions, but now realizes that “the ground he traveled had been Conditioned through and through.” Thirty years, his father had prepared his steps so that “even here, his [Kellhus’s] every decision, his every act, confirmed the dread intent of the Thousandfold Thought.”

Kellhus continues his speech, reminiscing about the council before the Emperor, joking how they were all fat then. They laughed. “He was their axle, and they were his wheel.” He talks about Proyas’s contest with Xerius over the indentured, how Proyas had to sully is faith for politics. “For your entire life you yearned for a bold God , not one who skulked in scriptoriums, whispering the inaudible to the insane.” Kellhus looks around the room, calling out others, giving them insights to make them weep while holding back the truth that Kellhus sees, like with Proyas: “Now you rail at the old habits and mourn the toll of the new.”

This exercise had become a custom of his [Kellhus’s]. By calling out the truth of a few faces, he made them all feel known—watched.

He continues, saying everyone had their reasons for coming to Shimeh—to conquer, boast, find glory, atonement—and then asks if any came for “Shimeh alone?” Silence descends save for their heartbeats. “It was as though their breasts had become ten thousand drums.” He repeats his question.

What he [Kellhus] wrought here had to be perfect. There had been no mistaking the words of the old man who had accosted him in Gim. The sails of the Mandate fleet could appear any day now, and the Gnostic Schoolmen would not yield their war lightly. Everything had to be complete before their arrival. Everything had to be inevitable. If they had no hand in the work that they witnessed, they would be that much more reluctant in advancing their claims. “Your father bids me tell you,” the blind hermit had said, “‘There is but one tree in Kyudea…’”

The question was whether the Men of the Tusk could prevail without him.

Kellhus says none did because they are humans, “and the hearts of men are not simple.” He says men, unable to fully express their emotions, pretend that their words are their passions. They make the complicated simple, but that doesn’t exist.

To speak was to pluck the lute strings of another’s soul. To intone was to strum full chords. He had long ago learned how to speak past meanings, to mine passion with mere voice.

He says humans are conflict and think that’s bad, something they have to defeat. But it’s the simple truth that no one does anything for pure reasons. Nothing is done “for the love of the God alone.” This shames his audience and he continues, pointing out the selfish reasons for why people act the way they are. He then asks if that makes them sinful or “unworthy.”

That final word rang like an accusation.

“Or does it mean that you are Men?”

Only the wind is heard. He smells their stink seasoned with perfumes. He finds himself standing for a moment “within a great circle of apes, hunched and unwashed, watching him with dark and dumbfounded eyes.” He then pictures himself at the heart of them as he knows the words to make them burn and “grind down their cyclopean walls.” He knows how to wield them by speaking “from the darkness that came before me.” He wonders what it means to use them as puppets, and if that mattered if “they were wielded in the name of the God?”

There was only mission.

He continues that there is no “undiscovered purity lying obscured in our souls.” He says even God is conflict. That means that humans are war. The Holy War fills the air with battle cries. Almost everyone, even Esmenet, is affected. All save for Achamian who “stood part from the spectacle.” Kellhus quotes from the Book of Songs that “war is heart without harness” then Protathis, saying, “war is where the gag of the small is cut away.” He points out that you only find peace when fighting. “War is our soul made manifest.”

He [Kellhus] held the Holy War in the palm of his intent. The Orthodox had all but dissolved away in the face of his manifest divinity. As his Intricati, Esmenet had effectively silenced the remaining dissenters. Both Conphas and the Scylvendi had been removed from the plate…

Only Achamian yet dared look at him in alarm.

Kellhus says tomorrow they will take Shimeh, and he, “the Prophet of War,” will be their reward. He had trained them for months to “recognized without realizing.” Proyas is the one who voices what everyone’s understanding: Kellhus won’t be there for the fight.

Kellhus smiled as though caught withholding a glorious secret.

“Every brother is a son… and every son must first visit my father’s house.”

Again the look from Achamian. Again the need to subdue the man’s endless misgivings.

The Lords of the Holy War agree they have to assault the city. They can’t starve it out. They are dismayed that they have to do it tomorrow without Kellhus. They are assured by Kellhus that their enemy is reeling from disasters and they have to strike first. They had scouts scouring the land around them because the locals claim that there Fanayal is regrouping and has reinforcements or that the Holy War will prevail. The Great Names don’t know what to believe while Kellhus says that these are all rumors planted by Fanayal to sow discord. “He makes noise to obscure truth’s call.”

In the end, they decide to attack Shimeh’s west wall and take the Juterum as fast as possible. They have to defeat the Cishaurim with haste. There is squabble on whether the Scarlet Spire should lead the attack or not, which leads Kellhus to admonish them and says that points of honor don’t matter now. Just success. The Holy War begins its preparations for their assault. As the night wears on, soldiers are troubled by the haste of it, though they all just want it to end.

And as the fires went out, leaving only the most stubborn and thoughtful awake, the skeptics dared argue their misgivings.

“But think,” the faithful retorted. “When we die surrounded by the spoils of a long and daring life, we will look up to those who adore us and we will say, ‘I knew him. I knew the Warrior-Prophet.’”

My Thoughts

Have to like the panic conveyed by the Mandate leadership in such a hurry to get together that some are still garbed for sleep and another is wearing dirty clothes. But the sight of the Thousand Temples on the doorstep would send any School into an uproar.

Hi Simas. Interesting that you want the Mandate to attack. He’s behind a lot of the stuff that sent Achamian into motion spying at the start of the series.

This is a plot twist! Maithanet’s last appearance on screen was way back in Book 1 where he told Achamian to flee and asked Proyas about the man. Then we got his letter, which showed him interested in protecting Achamian. We’ve gotten hints that he’s more than he seems. He came from the south, has the skin of Kianene, but has blue eyes like a Norsirai. He’s young and can see skin-spies. Who is he?

It’s a great mystery that Bakker set up from the beginning, and this scene only heightens it.

There was a definite change in Simas. Nautzera was surprised in book one at how ruthless the quiet man was vis-a-vis using Achamian and Inrau. Then he still had good eyesight despite his age. Now he’s unmasked as the first, and only so far, skin-spy who can use sorcery.

Have to love Maithanet’s clam here. Definitely has Dûnyain blood in him.

And then it all clicks for Nautzera. All those little clues Bakker seasoned into the earlier books are paying off now. What a great sequence. It has you wondering where this sequence is going. Makes you ask even more questions.

Yes, Proyas, reality always disappoints compared to dreams and fantasy. Ask any author. It’s always perfect in your mind, then you never can find the words to quite capture what you pictured when you type sequences of bytes into your word processor program.

Proyas’s grief comes across so believable. The way it can just sweep over you as you are reminded about something of your passed loved one. A promise unfulfilled, impossible to ever complete, a wound that will remain on his heart.

Bakker does a great job setting the mood of the Holy War as they gaze on Shimeh. He has a great skill for conveying the reactions of armies and peoples, mixing in enough variation along with his understanding of psychology to be a treat.

Destiny… Kellhus knows to appeal to men’s self-inflated sense of worth. Even the lowliest slave wants to believe they are the center of the universe.

So we have the Cishaurim building their tabernacle on the sight of a holy sight. It’s like the Mosque of the Rock built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A nice historical allusion to draw upon, since the three Monotheistic religions are the foundation of Bakker’s fictitious religious.

Bakker has said throughout the books that power is given to the person in charge. You don’t claim it, you just convince others to hand it to you. So when they stop permitting you to lead, you find yourself in Sompas’s situation. Impotent. He’s so crushed by the dread that he can’t even object. He knows it’s over, that his men have rebelled. He took then farther than their social contract would allow. And just like that, it’s broken.

I want to talk pronouns. I don’t often critique Bakker, but sometimes he needs to adjust his pronoun usage: “When the sorcerer slipped away to relieve himself, Sompas found himself joining him. He was not quite willing things to happen anymore—they just… happened.” So we have Sompas followed by “himself” than “him.” Now that him should refer to Sompas, but it’s actually referring to the sorcerer. Then it’s followed by the next sentence starting with “He.” You can infer it’s pointing to Sompas, but it could be the sorcerer. Maybe the sorcerer who’s not willing things to happen any longer. It’s probably Sompas since it’s his POV, but… It muddy things.

The social contract is broken again with Sompas this time between him and his commander. He was loyal until Conphas pushed him too far. Threatening to wipe out the man’s entire family. His entire house. That’s not something he’s willing to let happen. He no longer is giving Conphas power but is switching over to another: Kellhus. Will his men let him?

Conphas is another person that doesn’t understand that power is given. He thinks it comes from within himself.

To cope with all of this stress, Sompas has just given up any personal responsibility in his action. The strain has broken Sompas. It’s easier pretending your actions aren’t your own fault. Just the way life goes. It’s a fatalistic and nihilistic view.

Bakker shows us in the final moments what Sompas was really scared of, not his family dying, but the loss of his power. He would burn if he failed. He would die if he didn’t return. He really didn’t care much about the others. It was all about his ambition, after all, we saw flashes of him imagining being emperor himself.

Wow, silting your own harbor to force people to come to your city on foot can’t be the best decision for trade, but the Kianene did just that to shame the pilgrims coming to Shimeh by forcing them to walk beneath those towering, unblinking eyes on the wall. It’s a nice bit of world building. I always like when Bakker goes off on this historical tangents. I write fantasy, and it can be hard to just drop so much exposition like this, but when Bakker’s in his “Historical Oration” sections, it just fits. It’s an interesting style he’s cultivated.

“Who knew what living things might do?” That’s the thing you never can predict. How will a living creature, especially a human, react. I used to play D&D as the DM (dungeon master, the person running the scenario and controlling all the NPCs and monsters), and my players rarely reacted in ways I could predict. Sometimes, they would go off in baffling directions or utterly stun me with their decisions. It made things fun for the game, but in real life, with real stakes…

Kellhus is seeing his halos now. Interesting.

Even Kellhus has been manipulated without realizing it until he spoke with that beggar man. When he realizes just what his father has prepared for him. The Holy War was created for Kellhus to use, as we’ll see. It would have all gone according to Moënghus’s plan except for one thing: Kellhus went insane.

He felt emotions. Love. He “broke” on the Circumfix. A trial so great his Dûnyain conditioning couldn’t prepare him for it. He felt guilty for allowing Serwë to die. Empathy formed, and it’s that empathy that has caused him to make a different choice from the other Dûnyain. He’s broken their mold and doesn’t act like they do when they learn the Outside is real and that Damnation is their future.

Kellhus tactic of calling out a few people during these meetings and exposing their inner thoughts not only lets everyone feel “known,” but allows him to minimize the mental energy that “knowing” all those thousands of people would require. The shortest path.

Kellhus needs the Holy War to perform without him. Not just for today, but the future. He can’t be everywhere in his plans that he’s already forming. He has to mold them and unleash them. So he needs to sound them out and ready them like he will later do with Proyas over the course of the next series.

Such truth in Kellhus’s statement about how we humans want to make things simple, when everything is actually complicated. We boil things down to bold statements. We want to “love without recrimination, to act without hesitation, to lead without reservation.” But it’s a fiction we use to make the world easier to understand, including ourselves.

Why does Kellhus think about wielding the Holy War in the name of the God? He then says everything is about his mission. But is his mission still the same now? He questions what it means that he’s done this and then muses if he does it for the right reason, it’s fine. It’s for his mission.

What is his mission now? If it’s not to kill his father, what has it become? We know from the next series what it is, though we have to wait a long time for the picture to become clear.

Achamian stands apart because he knows what Kellhus is doing. He knows Kellhus is manipulating them, that it’s an act. It can’t affect him now. He’s armored against this form of manipulation, but, of course, Kellhus had found a new way to puppeteer Achamian.

Those two quotes from The Book of Songs and Protathis are interesting, they’re about passions being unleashed to their fullest. No restraint on the beast within us. On our hearts. We cut the gags that keep our darkest impulses from crying out. We let our passions charge unrestrained.

If you ever think Kellhus is infallible, right now he thinks Cnaiür and Conphas are DEAD. That Cnaiür went through with the command and perished in the backlash. He hadn’t realized how badly things have gone with that plan. Kellhus made a mistake with that plan, and now Conphas marches with an army to stop the Holy War at Shimeh.

Kellhus is troubled by Achamian still not fully on board, but he doesn’t have time to deal with him. Tomorrow, he sees his father and the Holy War assaults Shimeh without him. He’s trained his army of dogs, and now it’s time to unleash them.

Click here for chapter fourteen!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

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