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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Four

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Four

Hûnoreal

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

For He sees gold in the wretched and excrement in the exalted. Nay, the world is not equal in the eyes of the God

—SCHOLARS, 7:16, THE TRACTATE

My Thoughts

This is about the subject view on who is and isn’t saved. It echoes the sentiment from Christianity that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven. To Christians, this is a statement that material possessions are a path into sin because you focus on them and not putting God first. Bakker’s scripture is saying that it is better to suffer than to be praised. That pain in this life brings reward in the next while those who take glory in this world are in for a surprise. It echoes another Christian teaching about salvation in that doing good deeds to earn salvation is offensive to God like soiled menstrual rags, I believe, is how the translations often go.

In Bakker’s universe, damnation is something seen and judged. This is our first allusion to the title of the book and Mimara’s ability. Fittingly, it is her POV that starts off the chapter and her first unveiling of this power.

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

Mimara has no choice but to camp by Achamian’s tower. Where will she go? The brothel? Her mother’s palace (which is like a brothel)? She doesn’t tether her mule, Foolhardy, hoping he will wander free and escape then fearing that he’ll be eaten by wolves at night because of her carelessness. So far, he’s still there when she wakes up. As the days past, she tends her fire, thinking its “singularity of purpose” is divine.

Flare. Wax. Consume.

Like a human. Only with grace.

The children, learning she’s a witch, spy on her and gives fake screams of fright when she spots them. She is a witch because she can see the Wards that Achamian has put around his tower as well as the bruises to the world his violent defense of the valley against the Sranc had left. “The eyes of the Few were with her always, prodding her onto this path she has chosen, fortifying her resolve.”

But more and more the different eye seems to open, one that has perplexed her for many years—that frightens her like an unwanted yen for perversion. Its lid is drowsy, and indeed it slumbers so deep she often forgets its presence. But when it stirs, the very world is transformed.

For moments at a time, she can see them… Good and evil.

Not buried, not hidden, but writ like another colour or texture across the hide of everything. The way good men shine brighter than good women. Or how serpents glow holy, while pigs seem to wallow in polluting shadow. The world is unequal in the eyes of the God—she understands this with intimate profundity. Master over slaves, men over women, lions over crows: At every turn, the scriptures enumerate the rank of things. But for terrifying moments, the merest of heartbeats, it is unequal in her eyes as well.

She believes this “judging eye” is a madness brought on by what happened to her. “It has to be madness.” She wonders what Achamian will look like. She stares at his tower in the morning sun and thinks it’s not so tall. It’s height an illusion.

The world hates you…

This thought afflicts her when she least expects it. She knows this truth and didn’t need her little brother to remind her: “It hurts Momma to even look at you! She wishes she would have drowned you instead of sold you…” As she starves outside Achamian’s tower, she believes this more and more. She traveled all this way to be a witch and is denied.

There is no other place. So why not cast her life across the Whore’s table? Why not press Fate to the very brink? At least she will die knowing.”

She cries though she feels empty. She sees “the Wizard” pacing in his window. She can’t remember when she had cried and felt the emotion. She thinks maybe as a child. She stays because she has nowhere to go. All her choices are the same. Despair lies in all directions.

A broken tree, as her brothel-master once told her, can never yield.

Two days became three. Three become four. Hunger makes her dizzy, while the rain makes her clay-cold. The world hates you, she thinks, staring at the broken tower. Even here.

The last place.

One night, he appears, haggard like he hadn’t slept because of guilt. He has food and wine. She devours it like a “thankless animal.” He watches her and mentions Dreams like they are an old enemy he’s long fought. As she eats and stares at him, he speaks of his Dreams and what it’s like. She finds herself asking the lame question if they’re bad. In the firelight, she can see that though he’s suffered much, he still remembers how “to be tender and honest.” He answers her with a wink then fills a pipe and lights it. He tells her the dreams used to be. That confuses her. He then asks her why Mandate Schoolmen have the dreams.

She knows the answer. Her mother always resorted to talk of Achamian to salve the abrasions between her and her embittered daughter. Because he was her real father, Mimara had always thought. “To assure the School of Mandate never forgets, to never lose sight of its mission.”

“That’s what they say,” Achamian replies, savoring the smoke. “That the Dreams are the goad to action, a call to arms. That by suffering the First Apocalypse over and over, we had no choice but to war against the possibility of the Second.”

Achamian disagrees and says that her adopted father, Kellhus, is right that every life is a riddle that can be solved. He knows this to be a truth before telling her about the First Holy War and his “forbidden love” for Esmenet. He’d been willing to risk the World to have her. He is open and vulnerable with her, making it compelling. She’s heard this story before, but listens with “childish attentiveness,” letting herself feel his emotions. During it, she realizes that he doesn’t know that his love for Esmenet is a story told around the empire.

The only secret is that he still lives.

With these thoughts her wonder quickly evaporates into embarrassment. He seems over-matched, tragically so, wrestling with words so much larger than himself. It becomes cruel to listen as she does, pretending not to know what she knows so well.

“She was your morning,” she ventures.

This interrupts him, and he gets angry, glaring at her. He asks her to repeat it. And she does, explaining how Esmenet told her about what she meant to him. He then says he no longer fears the night because he doesn’t have the same Dreams as other Mandate Schoolman.

“I no longer pray for the morning.”

She leans back to pluck another log for the fire. It lands with rasping thump, sends a train of sparks twirling up through the smoke. Watching their winking ascent to avoid his gaze, she hugs her shoulders against the chill. Somewhere neither near nor far, wolves howl into the bowl of the night. As though alarmed, he glanced away into the wood, into the wells of blackness between the variant trunks and limbs. He stares with an intensity that makes her think that he listens as much as he hears, to the wolves and to whatever else—that he knows the myriad languages of the deep night.

It is then that he tells his tale in earnest…

As though he has secured permission.

Achamian thinks about how Esmenet, after his capture by the Scarlet Spire, had waited for him like Mimara had. He hadn’t come to see the girl out of anger, not wanting to reward her. He did it out of ear not wanting to be caught with missing Princess-Imperial. That he was doing her a favor because she was too old to learn the Nonman tongue to use magic. He used every excuse to hid from his pain.

Her mother, Esmenet, had waited for him on the banks of the River Semis over twenty years previous. Not even word of his death could turn her from her vigil, so obstinate, so mulish was her love. Not even sense could sway her.

Only Kellhus and the appearance of honesty.

Achamian recognizes Esmenet’s stubbornness in Mimara. How else could the girl have traveled so far alone? He finally realized he had to tell her the truth because she would die and he’d be destroyed by guilt. So he came with compassion and food and told her everything, including how his dreams had started changing. It had been twenty years since he spoke without issue. He explains how while the Mandate dream about Seswatha, they don’t witness the normal, day to day stuff. “‘Seswatha’ the old Mandate joke goes, ‘does not shit,’”

All the things that were forgotten, he realized.

The dreams took on new a character, subtle at first. Achamian merely thought it was his change in perspective. Achamian dreamed of Seswatha stubbing his toe to fetch a scroll. Mimara, as he speaks, stars at him the way Esmenet had. “Another abject listener.” He can’t read her, but she’s letting him speak. He explains how he was flabbergasted upon awakening. It wasn’t anything profound. He brings up how the Mandate have cataloged the variation of all the dreams. They could misfire, playing things out of order or corrupted. More than a few Mandate had become obsessed with them, thinking they found some greater truth. But they never could convince anyone else. So Achamian writes off the dream as his own. For two months, he dreamed the usual things, then he has one of Seswatha reading a scroll.

He trailed, though whether to let the significance settle in or to savour the memory, he did not know. Sometimes words interrupted themselves. He pinched the hem of his cloak, rolled the rough-sewn seam between thumb and forefinger.

Achamian notices how Mimara finishes off her gruel like a slave would before she asks what the scroll was. He says it’s a lost scroll by Gotagga. Parapolis. It’s famous. Mimara asks if Achamian invented it. He doesn’t think so. He wrote down what he remembered and it was far better than he could write. It proved they were real. He remembers that morning and the heady feel or realizing “he had begun dreaming Seswatha’s mundane life.” No other Mandate Schoolman had.

How strange it had been, to find his life’s revelation in the small things; he who had wrestled with dying worlds. But then the greater turned upon the small. He often thought of the men he’d known—the warlike ones, or just the plain obstinate—of their enviable ability to overlook and to ignore. It was like a kind of willful illiteracy, as if all the moments of unmanly passion and doubt, all the frail details that gave substance to their lives, were simply written in a tongue they couldn’t understand and so needed to condemn and belittle. It never occurred to them that to despise the small things was to despise themselves—not to mention the truth.

But then that was the tragedy of all posturing.

She asks why this happened. Why him. He has no idea, maybe Fate is fucking with him or maybe he’s gone mad, “for one cannot endure what I’ve [Achamian has] day and night without going mad.” Maybe since he’s abandoned his life, a new one filled it or Seswatha is reaching out to him. He comports himself and says there is a bigger question. He stares at her, watching her even while knowing he must appear as a bitter, old man.

But if there were judgment in her eyes, he could detect nothing of it.

“My stepfather,” she said. “Kellhus is the question.”

This makes him realize that she’s not ignorant of much of what he’s been talking to. She knew Kellhus personally. She’s his stepdaughter. It hadn’t clicked in his mind and he feels like an idiot for how obvious it was. Then he wonders why she came here. Did Kellhus send her even if she doesn’t know it? Is she a spy? Kellhus had seduced the Holy war. Mimara stood no chance.

How much of her soul was hers, and how much had been replaced?

Achamian asks if Kellhus sent her. She looks confused and bewildered. She says he’d drag her home in chains and return her to her mother. Achamian persists. She’s crying as she protests she’s not lying.

“This is the way it works,” Achamian heard himself rasp in an utterly ruthless voice. “This is the way he rules—from the darkness in our own souls! If you were to feel it, know it, that would simply mean there was some deeper deception.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! He-he’s always been kind—”

“Did he ever tell you to forgive your mother?”

She’s confused by that. He asks if he ever knew her heart better than she did. She says he had, not sure why it matters. He asks her if she felt awe in him. Saw him as more than a man. Did his attention make her feel gratified? Achamian is manic, shaking, frightening her. She calls him Akka, sounding to him like her “whore-mother.”

“When you stood before him!” he roared. “When you knelt in his presence, did you feel it? Hollow and immovable, as if you were at once smoke and yet possessed the bones of the world? Truth. Did you feel Truth?”

“Yes!” she cried. “Everyone does! Everyone! He’s the Aspect-Emperor! He’s the Saviour. He’s come to save us! Come to save the Sons of Men!”

Achamian stared at her aghast, his own vehemence ringing in his ears. Of course she was a believer.

“He sent you.”

Her presence returns him to the mindset of being in the First Holy War. In her eyes, he sees hope dying, like it had to him. When he approached her, she’d weakened, dared to believe finally something good would happen to her, and he’d snatched it from her. He believes she’s not a willing slave now and is reminded of Cnaiür who had “a soul at once strong and yet battered beyond recognition.” He sees Esmenet in her.

She was precisely the kind of slave Kellhus would send him [Achamian]. Part cipher. Part opiate.

Someone Drusas Achamian could come to love.

Achamian talks about the day Kellhus arrived at the Holy War. How Achamian was there. Kellhus had been a beggar claiming to be a prince with a Scylvendi. “It was my back he broke climbing to absolute power,” Achamian tells her. He goes on how Kellhus was his friend, his student, and how Kellhus stole his wife anyways. His morning. He dares her to speak now and she stays silent.

“The only thing,” he continued, his voice wrung ragged with conflicting passions. “The only thing I took with me from my previous life was a simple question: Who is Anasûrimbor Kellhus? Who?”

Achamian stared at the bed of coals pulsing beneath the blackened wood, paused to allow Mimara fair opportunity to respond, or so he told himself. The truth was that the thought of her voice made him wince. The truth was that his story had turned into a confession.

Mimara gives the obvious answer to his question: Kellhus is the Aspect-Emperor. Achamian isn’t surprised. Anyone, let alone Kellhus’s adopted daughter, would give this answer. People wanted things to be simple. They would mock questions “for fear it would make their ignorance plain.” Then they would claim to be open.

This was the iron habit of Men. This was what shackled them to the Aspect-Emperor.

He shook his head in slow deliberation. “The most important question you can ask any man, child, is the question of his origin. Only by knowing what a man has been can you hope to say what he will be.” He paused, brought up short by an old habit of hesitation. How easy it was to hid in his old pedantic ruts, to recite rather than talk. But no matter how woolly his abstractions always became snarled in the very needling particularities he so unwittingly tried to avoid. He had always been a man who wanted to digress, only to find himself bleeding on the nub

She gives the official answer, that Kellhus is “the Son of Heaven” as if it were the only one that could be. Achamian points out he’s a real person with parents born like anyone else. Where did that happen? She brings up Atrithau, but he cuts her off and says that Cnaiür, a dead man, told him. A memory of Cnaiür’s conversation, his warning on how Dûnyain “war against circumstances” and see men as dogs to be tamed. How they use love to control. The Dûnyain are Kellhus’s people.

She asks about his bloodline, and Achamian says he is an Anasûrimbor, the only clue to where he’s from. Where had that kingly family survived? She asks where else besides Atrithau since the North is ruined. The Sranc rule it. He says the Kûniüric High Kings must have created a refugee, something Cnaiür had mentioned in their conversation. Hidden in the mountains. Isolated for a thousand years so they could breed themselves into something better than world-born humans.

As he talks about the sanctuary, Achamian knows he sounds desperate to be believed even as he struggled to control how fast he gives Mimara the information. However, when calling the Aspect-Emperor a liar, their words never could come out slow enough. Mimara has gone blank, hiding her offended beliefs. Achamian thinks she sees him as a bitter cuckold railing against the better man who’d taken his wife and now paints a story with himself as the hero.

He breathed deeply, leaned back from the fire, which suddenly seemed to nip him with its heat. He resolved to refill his pipe, but he could only clench his fists against the tremors.

My hands shake.

Mimara watches Achamian as his voice grows shriller, his gestures wilder. At first, she was excited, but then she realizes he’s not free at all, but bound by the past. He’s not speaking to her, either, but to her mother. The irony that he mistakes her for her mother after she mistook him for her father hurts her. She realizes he’s more her brother, another person hurt and betrayed by Esmenet.

Mimara realizes she’s been wrong about him. Her imagination the opposite of reality. He lives only for vengeance against Kellhus. He’s ranting about how keeping Cnaiür alive was Kellhus’s mistake. The Scylvendi knew too much about Kellhus’s past. So now Achamian is using his mutated Dreams to get his vengeance. He’s spent twenty years sifting through Seswatha’s life to find what he needed.

It’s more than a fool’s errand; it is a madman’s obsession, on par with those ascetics who beat themselves with strings and flint, or who eat nothing but ox-hides covered in religious writings. Twenty years! Anything that could consume so much life simply has to be deranged. The hubris alone…

His hatred of Kellhus she finds understandable, though she herself bears no grudge against her stepfather. She barely knows the Aspect-Emperor, and those fare times she found herself alone with him on the Andiamine Heights—twice—he seemed at once radiant and tragic, perhaps the most immediate and obvious soul she had ever encountered.

You think you hate her,” he once said—referencing her mother, of course.

I know I do.”

There is no knowledge,” he had replied, “in the shadow of hate.”

She ponders those words and sees how Achamian has focused everything in his life towards unmasking Kellhus. His Dreams and his Hatred. If you can’t get your revenge, it devours you which only feeds your outrage at the source. She sees Achamian as the same as her.

She asks if he’s found what he’s been searching for in the dreams. He’s found a name, sounding embarrassed because it sounds so paltry compared to his boasts about his work. She nearly laughs, earning a bitter glare.

She reminds herself to take care. Her instinct, given all that she has endured, is to be impatient with the conceits of others. But she needs this man.

He says the name: Ishuäl. It’s almost a whisper. He explains it means ‘Exalted Grotto’ or ‘High Hidden Place’ in a Nonman dialect. She asks if that’s where Kellhus is from and sees it disturbs him when she speaks Kellhus name with familiarity. He is certain, however. She asks how he can find it. He says he’ll know soon. More and more of Seswatha’s life is opening to him. He’s getting the secrets.

A life spent mining the life of another, pondering glimpses of tedium through the lenses of holy and apocalyptic portent. Twenty years! How can he hope to balance the proportions? Grub through dirt long enough and you will prize stones.

“Like he’s yielded,” she forces herself to say.

Achamian says that’s just what it likes. He speaks as if Seswatha knows it and is helping him. She can’t imagine what sort of drive it would take to spend twenty years researching this. She doesn’t think any sane person could have such conviction and perseverance.

Faces. All conduct is a matter of wearing the appropriate faces. The brothel taught her that, and the Andiamine Heights simply confirmed the lesson. It’s as though expressions occupy various positions, a warning here, a greeting there, with the distance between measured by the difficulty of forcing one face from the other. At this moment nothing seems so difficult as squeezing pity into the semblance of avid interest.

She asks him again if no other Mandate’s had this happen. He says no and asks her what it means. She’s shocked and offended that he’s showing weakness. At that point, the Judging Eye opens, though she doesn’t know what this is. She sees more than the Mark on him. She sees the “hue of judgment, as though blessing and condemnation have become a wash visible only in certain kinds of light.” He bleeds evil. Damnation.

He is damned. Somehow she knows this with the certainty with which children know their hands. Thoughtless. Complete.

He is damned.

The Judging Eye closes and he’s just Achamian again. She feels great sorrow for this once strong man who is now a wreck. She knows, thanks to the brothel, that a madman needs to be believed. She tells him he’s a prophet from the past and leans in to kiss. “Her whole life she has punished herself with men.”

The memory of his power is like perfume.

After they have sex, they both regret it. She feels lonely as he sleeps beside her, wondering why that should be. She crawls to the fires, wrapped up in blankets, and tries to forget what they did. When he touches her shoulder, giving her kindness, she starts to cry.

“We have made our first mistake together,” he says, as though it were something significant. “We will not make it again.”

The forest is silent and suddenly she can’t stand it and sobs out, asking if she’s broken. If that’s why she runs. He says everyone carries silent burdens that bend them. She throws that back in his face, even as she hates herself for calling him broken. His hands stay on her in a comforting manner, though. He tells her he needs to find the truth more than for his hatred. She asks what difference does it make, and he’s shocked to learn the Great Ordeal has marched for Golgotterath. In a year, the Consult will be destroyed. Already, Sakarpus has already fallen.

Silence. Remorse comes crashing in.

Can’t you see? Something shrikes in her. Can’t you see the poison I bring? Strike me! Strangle me! Pare me to the core with your questions!

But she laughs instead. “You have shut yourself away for too long. You have found your revelation too late.”

My Thoughts

Why is the palace like a brothel? It’s a place where people are seen as objects. As things to be used and manipulated. As the Empress’s daughter, she would be seen as a valuable piece to be claimed as a wife. As an ear to her mother. As a wedge against a political rival. The brothel is, at least, honest.

Flare. Wax. Consume. Be energetic, get tired, and then eat food before you do it all over again. Life reduced to its most basic and honest form.

Unlike the Judging Eye, seeing sorcery’s mark on the world never goes away.

We get our first description of the Judging Eye and what our opening epigram is about: in this world, things are not equal. Men are seen as better than women. Why? I think it’s belief. The Outside exists so long as enough souls on this planet believe in it. That’s why the Inchoroi and the Consult want to depopulate it. To destroy this extra-dimensional realm that is being fed upon by the psyche of intelligent beings. Nonmen are evil because the majority species on this planet believe it. Whatever effect the Nonmen had on the Outside is gone. They’ve been depopulated. It’s all human now. Men think they’re better than women, which is a common thing we’re shown as a great evil in this series.

Bakker is accused of misogyny, but the whale room is his greatest condemnation of women being used as objects. The Dûnyain, who prized intellect above all others, who wanted to breed themselves into perfect beings, realized that the sex differences between women and men made it necessary to turn their women into better breeders. They destroyed their women because they had no emotions.

They did it through logic.

Then you have the other end. The Inchoroi. They are all about sex but don’t care about its biological purpose. Just the pleasure. They are all just men looking to rut with whatever holes they can find. They have a thousand words for ejaculate. Tells you a lot of their priorities.

Esmenet is the perfect person to show the flaws of these beliefs. An intelligent woman denied any chance to use it, forced to sell her body, even her own child, to survive. Achamian came close to treating her as an equal. Considering their culture, he went far beyond what’s normal. Kellhus used this to seduce her by respecting her and feeding her knowledge. However, his logic still led to the same position: she became a breeder for him.

How can Mimara ever heal and find resolution with her relationship with Esmenet when she has Kelmomas poisoning the well, polluting her thoughts with lies? We’ve seen Esmenet’s POV. We know the greatest mistake she’s ever made was selling her daughter.

A broken tree can never yield. A tree yields to the wind that blows past it, bending and swaying. To the forces of nature until those forces are too much and it breaks. The trunk collapses. Then it just lies there, unable to do anything. Unable to yield because it has collapsed. Is this what Bakker means? Maybe.

Reading this section of Mimara is something I can relate to. That feeling of helplessness. That nothing matters so why do anything. Just like you’re in a pit and will die because no one cares about you to come look for you. No one will miss you. Why even bother trying to escape? It takes too much effort. Just lie there and let it end.

Poisonous thoughts. The loss of hope is crippling.

Achamian says he no longer prays for the morning, and yet he just spent all this time talking about what Esmenet meant to him. What he was willing to give up for her. He would have condemned the world if it meant having the woman he loved. He isn’t over her at all. He is, after all, still trying to prove that Kellhus is not what he says. To find proof that he’s lying about salvation for sorcerers and even for Esmenet. That the Great Ordeal isn’t what he claims.

I don’t know about you, but I have dreamed of invented books before. I once heard you can’t read in dreams, but that’s not true. I have. Usually, it’s on the eve of a book I’m looking forward to reading coming out. The Wheel of Time books caused me to have them a few times. I’d be so excited to read them, but I could never find the same place in the books and sometimes would frantically be flipping through pages to find it.

The small things of life are where your true self comes out. Not the mask you wear around others, the various roles we all shift through like chameleons. The good employee. The patient friend. The polite cashier. Spouse. Confidant. Adviser. We never fully act our real selves around anyone but modify our behavior because it’s expected or to avoid friction.

And a brutal critic on those who pretend it doesn’t happen. Who project themselves as something more than the truth: they’re no better than any other human being.

Dûnyain influence on people is almost like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Only it’s still the person you love who betrays you because of Kellhus. Like what happened with Conphas and Martemus in the last series. Martemus was loyal until Kellhus began whispering. Then he nearly killed Conphas. And Conphas never betrayed Martemus. Conphas never did anything to Martemus that would have prompted a sense of betrayal. It was all Kellhus rewriting his soul.

Making Martemus into a new person.

It’s insidious if you’re trying to war against Kellhus. There’s no test like with the skin-spy. No mark left on the person physically. Not even the Mark.

Mimara, of course, was sent by a Dûnyain. Just not Kellhus. So Achamian is right, but, lucky for him, Kelmomas cares nothing about Achamian. He just needed Mimara to go away. She’s lucky not to be dead.

My theory is that Kellhus expected Achamian to try and find Ishuäl and use the Holy War as cover. I believe that’s why he arranged for the nonman king to be with the Ironsoul and his men. He cut a deal with the nonman erratic to let him relive his past through Seswatha (aka Achamian) in exchange for knowledge. He used that knowledge to send Serwa on an attack on Ishterebinth and secure his flank for the march on Golgotterath. Was Achamian supposed to be killed by the erratic? Was he supposed to find the truth about Kellhus?

I don’t know.

Once Kellhus had achieved his goal of defeating the No-God, he didn’t need to rule everything. Perhaps he was readying for some form of enlightened atheism. To have Achamian began to destroy his own myth after Kellhus achieved his plan. I think Kellhus wanted to close the Outside but not the way the Consult wanted to. Not through genocide. I could be just talking out of my ass here because Kellhus died without giving us any closure on Achamian’s storyline. In the end, Achamian’s journey didn’t change what happened at Golgotterath one bit. It was anticlimactic. Perhaps the point, but it seems like a waste of literary potential.

We’ll have to see how the next series handles it.

Achamian is unburdening himself now. He felt guilty for snatching away Mimara’s hope with his accusation. So even though he fears she is exactly what he dreads, a leash from Kellhus, he can’t help but explain himself. To fall into the Dûnyain trap.

People do not like their beliefs challenged. It causes turmoil. Why go through all that mental effort when you can just get on with your life? Like confronting contradictory information to what is in your core identity. Is it any wonder people hate philosophers. No one likes the status quo being challenged when you’re benefiting from it.

Beyond that, our minds take a lot of energy to operate. Humans burn a lot of calories to have our brains process so much, so our minds focus on important things and don’t like us to waste energy on things that cause it to have to burn more resources.

To understand something, you need to know how it came about. Whether it’s an astronomer studying a new cosmic phenomenon or a farmer trying to eradicate a new weed in his crops. The truth of origin can allow you to both understand something better and then categorize it. Handle it.

To war against it.

“There is no knowledge in the shadow of hate.” Mimara doesn’t hate her mother, she loves her. That is why she’s so hurt. Why she wants to punish her back. She doesn’t want to destroy her mother. Doesn’t despise her. She wants to make her mother bleed so she can find closure on the pain she received from Esmenet. You hate what you don’t know. One of the most successful men in defusing racial hatred is a black man named Daryl Davis. He sat down with members of the KKK, became their friends, and more than two hundred of them gave up their robes. He let them get to know what they hated and find understanding.

Achamian hates Kellhus. Mimara resents her mother.

One of those secrets of Seswatha, like how he’d cuckolded the king and is probably the father of Nau-Cayûti.

“Grub through dirt long enough and you will prize stone.” Value is subjective, after all. What looks like something as common as stone to one person is the material to build something great and vast to another.

Despite her upbringing, Mimara is having trouble hiding her pity for Achamian let alone feeling it. He’s touched her. Reached through her hard, bitter, cynical exterior that she drew around herself to protect her heart from the suffering she received as a child-slave in a brothel.

Interesting that the Judging Eye triggered as she’s judging him for being weak. I’m going to pay attention to its other appearance and see if there’s anything that triggers it, or if it happens at “random.” I put that in quotes because no book has random things in it. An intelligent mind creates a book and while their reasoning may not make sense, an author chooses when to put information in and for a reason.

Mimara has really only learned one way to deal with men. She hates it, but she doesn’t know other ways to get them to give her things. So she once again goes down that path, sensing Achamian’s vulnerability. This is her moment. She could have continued doing this with him, but he does the one thing she can’t take.

He’s kind to her.

Sex is a punishment for her. To willingly do what she’d been forced to do. What she hates. To be the thing she can never escape. He shouldn’t be kind to her, and yet he is.

She feels lonely beside him because she didn’t have sex out of love, out of a desire to truly be with him. She just wanted to get something from him. They had the veneer of intimacy but in fact, it’s not there. So she can’t take any satisfaction from his presence.

Ultimately, Mimara’s problem is that she hates herself. For how she has grown to become exactly what the brothel masters intended: a woman who uses sex to get things from men. And because of that, she wants the world to hate her, too. Her mother. Achamian. She lashes out at them even as she wants to stop. Even as she wants to receive their love. Until she can stop hating herself, she’ll never be able to accept the love of others.

And what Achamian offers her as he holds her face is love. Not sexual love, but that paternal love she came here seeking. He will become her father in truth over their journey, and since we’re in the world of grimdark fantasy, it comes after they had sex and she becomes pregnant with his child.

And with her pronouncement on the Holy War’s march, Achamian is launched into action. He has his quest. His chance to make it to his goal and find the truth. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. They arrive at the Great Ordeal not caring about the results. They don’t confront Kellhus. He’s never even seen with the Judging Eye. Because we, the readers, don’t need to see Kellhus in that eye. In those final moments, we see what Kellhus’s goals are. Whether or not he’s damned, he’s trying to change things his way. A way that doesn’t see humans suffer more than necessary.

Because, ultimately, he fell in love in his stunted way. He forged an emotional bond to Serwë and Esmenet. He let one of them die for his mission. He couldn’t let the other one. The irony is that this led to his fall. If he never went back to save Esmenet, if he hadn’t spared Kelmomas for her sake, what happened at Golgotterath would have played out very differently.

So what is the point of Achamian and Mimara’s journey? I haven’t read this series since the Unholy Consult came out and know how it ends. It sees these two broken figures reunited with Esmenet both transformed by their journey.

Let’s figure this out together and see if we can piece together what Bakker was intending. Is this another fantasy storyline that ends in failure like all the rest? Probably.

Ultimately, all are protagonists fail. Achamian and Mimara never reveal the truth of Kellhus.

Kellhus never defeats the Consult.

Sorweel never stops the evil emperor and live happily ever after with his princess.

Esmenet fails to protect her children.

But scattered through it is lives and passions, events that have meaning. That resonates. Let’s explore those as we march forward through The Aspect-Emperor.

If you enjoyed this, click here for Chapter Five!

And if you want to help support this blurb, check out my fantasy books on Amazon!

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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 Warrior Prophet: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 15
Shigek

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

Where the holy take men for fools, the mad take the world.

PROTATHIS, THE GOAT’S HEART

My Thoughts

What an interesting quote. Holy probably refers to organized religion. Protathis is saying they view men as fools to be taken advantage of. Which is definitely what Kellhus is doing. See the Synthese quote about the Holy War making their own leather. But the mad see the world differently. They see it as a surrogate for their madness, lashing out in different ways. As we see with Cnaiür when we delve into his characters psyche.

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

Cnaiür reaches the Ainoni, seeing the infantry retreating, shattered, some stripping off their armor to run faster, others just sitting in shock. But he doesn’t know where the knights are. He sees the Kianene riding uncontested without the reserves challenging them.

Cnaiür felt a sharp pang in his throat. He clenched his teeth.

It’s happening again…

Kiyuth.

Only this time he was Xunnurit. He was the arrogant mule!

And then Cnaiür realizes the encampment is vulnerable. That Serwë is vulnerable. He rides to the east.

Martemus watches the Prophet (Kellhus) fight Conphas’s assassins. In a heartbeat, the first Nansur is dead. In the second, the other. Only the Zeumi sword-dancer, wielding a massive tulwar, faces him and laughs, calling Kellhus a “civilized man.”

Without warning, he sent the tulwar whooshing through the air around him. Sunlight flashed as though from the silvered spokes of a chariot wheel.

Now standing, the Prophet drew his strange, long-pommeled sword from his shoulder sheath. Holding it in his right hand, he lowered its tip to the ground before his booted feet. He flicked a clot of dirt into the sword-dancer’s eyes. The sword-dancer stumbled back, cursing. The Prophet lunged, buried his sword point deep into the assassin’s palate. He guided the towering corpse to the earth.

He stood alone against a vista of strive and woe, his beard and hair boiling in the wind. He turned to Martemus, stepping over the sword-dancer’s body…

Illuminated by the morning sun. A striding vision. A walking aspect…

Something too terrible. Too bright.

Martemus stumbles back in fear, going for his sword. But Kellhus reaches out and grabs the man’s sword arm, calming him. Kellhus explains that Skauras has sent units to attack the Swazond Standard. Martemus looks out at the battle, seeing no battle lines and only chaos. The Conriyans, led by Proyas, look doomed. Then he notices the camel-mounted Khirgwi charging towards them, ululating war cries.

We must flee!” he [Martemus] cried.

No,” the Warrior-Prophet said. “The Swazond Standard cannot fall.”

But it will!” Martemus exclaimed. “It already has!”

The Warrior-Prophet smiled, and his eyes glittered with something fierce and unconquerable. “Conviction, General Martemus…” He gripped his shoulder with a haloed hand.

War is conviction.”

The Ainoni knights are panicked and confused. They are surrounded by horse archers, being hit from every side. Some charged through the enemy and broke free. Others get lost and are picked off. “Death came swirling down.” Other Fanim, led by the Tiger, charge through the broken infantry to hit the Ainoni command. General Setpanares is killed, but King Regent Chepheramunni made a miraculous escape.

The Inrithi who are fighting in the center have broken through the lines as they routed the Shigeki conscripts, many thinking they’ve won the day, don’t hear the horns signaling retreat. “Not once did the thundering drums of the heathen falter.” The Grandees of Khemema and tens of thousands Khirgwi attack them. Proyas is cut off from his infantry, retreating his knights to a mud-brick village. The Thunyeri fight in shield-wall circles, surprising the Fanim with their stubbornness. The battle has dissolved into dozens of smaller fights as the Holy War is cut off from each other.

Overcome by dismay, many knights charged alone, only to be unhorsed by arrows and trampled into dust.

Cnaiür rides through the camp looking for Serwë. People are screaming, thousands of them, as he searches. The Fanim are burning parts of the camp to disheartened the army while they capture the rest for plunder “especially the kind that wriggled and screamed.” He is desperate to find Serwë.

He kills two Fanim in the camp, charging through them with ease. He runs into a horde of camp-followers—a mix of wives, children, whores, slaves, scribes, and priests. They panic at the sight of him. Then Cnaiür spots the Kianene moving through the camp, searching and looting.

Cnaiür looked down, startled. A young woman, her leg slicked in blood, an infant strapped to her back, clutched his knee, beseeching him in some unknown tongue. He raised his boot to kick her, then unaccountably lowered it. He leaned forward and hoisted her before him onto his saddle. She fairly shrieked tears. He wheeled his black around and spurred after the fleeing camp-followers.

He heard an arrow buzz by his ear.

Kellhus stands before the charging Khirgwi, his hair and robe billowing in the wind. He tells Martemus to say down, and he can only watch stunned. Kellhus dodges their arrows “curious dance, at once random and premeditated, leisurely and breathtakingly quick.” Martemus is hit in the leg and collapses. He believes himself about to die and shouts for Kellhus to run.

Cnaiür’s horse flags as it gallops through the camp, fleeing the Kianene shouting after. Arrows his by and he holds the woman and her child to his chest. He overtakes the other fleeing camp-followers then rides away, knowing they chase him. All the Kianene have hard of the Skafadi with the heathens. He screams Zirkirta as a battle cry, firing his own bow back at them.

Kianene cut him off, forcing him to turn his ailing horse. He’s in the Nansur part of camp, and glad that they pitch tents in orderly fashion. In the chase, Cnaiür is struck by the fact the woman’s baby isn’t crying, marveling that even “infants knew when to be calm.”

More and more Kianene race after him. They corral him towards a large tent. He throws the woman from his horse and tosses her knife to cut through the tent and yells at her to run.

Veils of dust swept over him.

He turned, laughing.

He draws his weapon and fights the men. He kills them while demanding which of them will murder Cnaiür urs Skiötha, most violent of all men. He is wild, fearless as he kills, mocking them, boasting about killing their fathers and brothers at Zirkirta.

A piercing, feminine cry. Cnaiür glanced back, saw the nameless woman swaying at the entrance of the nearest tent. She gripped the knife he’d thrown her, gestured with it for him to follow. For an instant, it seemed he’d always known her, that they’d been lovers for long years. He saw sunlight flash through the far side of the tent where she’d cut open the canvas. Then he glimpsed a shadow from above, heard something not quite…

Several Kianene cried out—a different terror.

Cnaiür thrust his left hand beneath his girdle, clutched tight his father’s Trinket.

For an instant he me the woman’s wide uncomprehending eyes, and over her shoulder, those of her baby boy as well… Somehow he knew that now—that he was a son.

He tried to cry out.

They became shadows in a cataract of shimmering flame.

Kellhus flashes back to when he was five and first stepped outside of Ishuäl, led by Pragma Uän. He, with the others his age, are led out holding onto a rope and into the forest. The boys wander to grow accustomed to the chaos of the outside, the sounds, the smells, the shapes, and colors. But despite how new it was, Kellhus is more eager for why there here, knowing Pragma Uän teaches the ways of limb. Battle.

What do you see?” the old man finally asked, looking to the canopy above them.

There were many eager answers. Leaves. Branches. Sun.

But Kellhus saw more. He noticed the dead limbs, the scrum of competing branch and twig. He saw slender trees, mere striplings, ailing in the shadow of giants.

Conflict,” he said.

Uän asks for an explanation, and Kellhus says the trees war for space. That is what Una is here to teach them. To be like trees, branching out in every direction until they cover the sky. They attack at all directions and not just one. Then Uän shows it, using a quarterstaff and ordering the five-year-olds to attack him. Kellhus is having fun, finding delight in getting knocked back, and wonder in watching the old man dance. “Not one touched his legs. Not one so much as stepped into the circle described by his stick.” He had owned his space.

In the present, Kellhus faces the Khirgwi charge. He raises his sword, ready to defend his circle with Dûnyain steel.

Cnaiür breaks away from his charred horse. He’s surrounded by ash and smoke and scorched meet. He retrieves his hot dagger from the nameless woman’s burned corpse and begins walking. The Scarlet Schoolmen walk the skies, killing the Fanim with fire and lighting.

And he thought, Serwë…

Cnaiür moves through the confusion of the camp on foot, grateful to his father’s Chorae for saving his life a second time. Soon he finds Proyas’s pavilion and then the one he shared with Kellhus. He grows fearful, wondering if Serwë had fled of if she was taken. And then he hears her shriek followed by the sound of Kellhus’s voice. That shocks him so much, he almost collapses. He is confused as he creeps forward, drawing a knife in shaking hand. He enters to see her badly beaten, “Kellhus” naked and standing over her.

Without thinking, Cnaiür slipped into the gloom of the pavilion. The air reeked of foul rutting. The Dûnyain whirled, as naked as Serwë, a bloody hand clamped about his engorged member.

The Scylvendi,” Kellhus drawled, his eyes blazing with lurid rapture.

I didn’t smell you.”

Cnaiür struck at his heart. Somehow the bloody hand flickered up,g razed his wrist. The knife dug deep just below the Dûnyain’s collar bone.

Kellhus staggered back, raised his face to the bellied canvas, and screamed what seemed a hundred screams, a hundred voices bound to one inhuman throat. And Cnaiür saw his face open, as though the joints of his mouth were legion and ran from his scalp to his neck. Through steepled features, he saw lidless eyes, gums without lips…

The thing struck him, and he fell to one knee. He yanked his broadsword clear.

But it had vanished though the flap, leaping like some kind of beast.

The Ainoni knights are forced to stand and fight on foot as their mounts are killed, Kianene racing around them. They force the Kianene to pay for every inch of ground gained, throwing back charge after charge to the Fanim’s shock who are “astounded by these defeated men who refused to be defeated.”

The Khirgwi fight with wild abandon. Proyas is encircled. The Thunyeri make a fortress of their shield-wall. At the sight of the smoke burning the Inrithi camp, many of Skauras’s staff think they have victory. Until the Scarlet Spire arrive. The Fanim survivors of the sorcery enfilade flee into the Inrithi reserves, led by Gotian, and are massacred.

The Imperial Kidruhil come to the Ainoni rescue, driving back the attackers. With the Kidruhil, the Ainoni charge up the slope. Kellhus stand holds off the Khirgwi long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The drums of the Fanim fall silent, overrun by Inrithi knights as Saubon and Gothyelk’s men break through enemy lines and reach the Kianene camp.

The Fanim host falls apart. Crown Prince Fanayal and the Coyauri are chased south by the Kidruhil. The Ainoni finally take the slopes height, forcing more Kianene to flee. The Khirgwi flee southwest pursed by the iron men into the desert.

Hundreds of Inrithi would be lost for following the tribesmen too far.

Serwë tries to go after the wounded “Kellhus,” screaming that he’s hurt and needs her. Cnaiür stops her, saying it wasn’t him. She calls him mad. Cnaiür says he’s taking her away, she’s his prize. She calls him mad again, saying Kellhus told her everything. He hits her and she collapses, demanding to know what Kellhus has said.

She wiped blood from her lip, and for the first time didn’t seem afraid. “You you beat me. You your thoughts never stray far from me, but return, always return to me in fury. He’s told me everything!”

Something trembled through him. He raised his fist but his fingers would not clench.

What has he said?”

That I’m nothing but a sign, a token. That you strike not me, but yourself!”

I will strangle you! I will snap your neck like a cat’s! I will beat blood from your womb!”

Then do it!” she shrieked. “Do it, and be done with it!

He calls her his prize, that he owns her. But she says she’s his shame. He demands answers, and she tells him that he beats her for submitting, the same way he submitted. “For fucking him [Kellhus] the way you fucked his father!”

She collapses, and he finds her so beautiful even beaten. Numb, he asks her what else. But she’s sobbing. She grabs a knife, putting it to her throat. He sees the swazond on her forearm, and knows she has killed.

You’re mad!” she wept. “I’ll kill myself! I’ll kill myself! I’m not your prize! I’m his! HIS!”

Serwë…

Her fist hooked inward. The blade parted flesh.

But somehow he’d captured her wrist. He wrenched the knife from her hand.

He left her weeping outside the Dûnyain’s pavilion. He stared out over the trackless Meneanor as he wandered between the tents, through the growing crowds of jubilant Inrithi.

So unnatural, he thought, the sea…

Conphas finds Martemus sitting cross-legged beneath Cnaiür’s standard and surrounded by “ever widening circles of Khirgwi dead,” staring at the sunset. Conphas cuts down the standard with his sword. Martemus says Kellhus isn’t dead. Conphas finds that a pity, then asks if Martemus remembers their conversation after Kiyuth. He does and remembers that Conphas said war is intellect.

Are you a casualty of that war, Martemus?”

The sturdy General frowned, pursed his lips. He shook his head. “No.”

I worry that you are, Martemus.”

Martemus turned away from the sun and studied him with pinched eyes. “I worried too… But no longer.”

Conphas questions why. Martemus says he watched Kellhus kill all these heathens until they fled in terror. “He’s not human.” Conphas points out neither was Skeaös. Martemus just says he’s a practical man. Conphas studied the corpses around them, Anwurat burning in the distance.

He [Conphas] gazed back into Martemus’s sun. There was such a difference, he thought, between the beauty that illuminated, and the beauty that was illuminated.

You are at that, Martemus. You are at that.”

Skauras ab Nalajan has dismissed all his servants and followers, sitting alone at a table drinking wine. He is reflective as he awaits the Inrithi in a room atop one of Anwurat’s turrets. He hears the battle below.

Though he was a pious man, Skauras had committed many wicked acts in his life—wicked acts were ever the inescapable accessories of power. He contemplated them with regret and pined for a simpler life, one with fewer pleasures, surely, but with fewer burdens. Certainly nothing so crushing as this.

I have doomed my people… my faith.

He reflects on how good his plan was, faking a break in the center so he could attack their left flank. He thinks Conphas must have figured it out. “Old enemy. Old friend—if such a man could be anyone’s friend.”

He produces his agreement with the Nansur Emperor. The word of Ikurei Xerius is the only hope for his people, another old foe and old friend. He burns it to keep the rest of the Inrithi from finding the evidence. He watches it burn while a verse of scripture flashes through his mind. He drinks his wine as the Inrithi batter down his door. He wonders if his people are all dead. Only him.

In the depths of his final, most pious prayer to the Solitary God, he didn’t hear the fibrous snapping of wood. Only the final crash and the sound of kindling skating across tiled floor told him that the time had come to draw his sword.

He turned to face the rush of strapping, battle-crazed infidels.

It would be a short battle.

Serwë awakens cradled by Kellhus. Her first words are for her child, who is fine. Then she asks how she angered him. He explains it was a demon with a counterfeit face. And it clicks in her head, all the little things that were off. She feels such shame, realizing she had sex with it, cheating on Kellhus. She communicates without words to Kellhus as she falls apart.

You were faithful.”

She turned to him, her face crumpling.

But it wasn’t you!

You were deceived. You were faithful.”

He wipes her tears and her blood. She stares into his eyes for awhile, wondering how long she could stare. Forever? He answers her yes. Then she tells him that Cnaiür came to take her. Kellhus says he told Cnaiür he could.

And somehow she knew this too.

But why?

He smiled glory.

Because I knew you wouldn’t let him.”

Kellhus wonders how much the Consult has no learned. He uses hypnotizes Serwë with “patience no world-born man could fathom” into a trance called the Whelming. He interrogates her for everything that happened, then he wipes her memory of the incident.

He leaves her asleep and heads into the celebrating camp and towards the sea and Cnaiür’s camp pitched on its shores. He ignores those who call after him. He has one tasks to complete. He reflects on his study of Cnaiür, the deepest he’s ever made, how his pride and intelligence made him difficult to manipulate, which when combined with his knowledge of the Dûnyain, makes it worse. Moënghus surrendered too much to Cnaiür. “Of all world-born men, Cnaiür urs Skiötha was awake…”

Which was why he had to die.

Kellhus has found that the majority of world-born men adhere to custom without “thought or knowledge.” They never asked why. But Cnaiür is different, choosing to adhere to custom, to prove that he chose this set of beliefs out of others. He has spent thirty years beating himself into the mold of a Scylvendi. And his people could always tell, smelling the wrongness about him.

Thirty years of shame and denial. Thirty years of torment and terror. A lifetime of cannibal hatred… In the end, Cnaiür had cut a trail of his own making, a solitary track of madness and murder.

It is why he is such a ferocious warrior, since Scylvendi see war as worship. He had to be the greatest, most pious of them. Every man he kills is a surrogate for Moënghus. If he can’t kill the right man, then the man in front of him will do.

But despite his understanding of Cnaiür, Kellhus couldn’t control him because of his knowledge. Kellhus once thought Cnaiür would never surrender. And then they found Serwë. He used her as his proof he followed his people. “Cnaiür fell in love, not with her, but the idea of loving her.” Because it meant he couldn’t love Moënghus or his son. Then it was easy for Kellhus to dominate Cnaiür. He seduced her, forcing Cnaiür to relieve his own seduction. Kellhus used contradicting passions, which he had learned world-born men were vulnerable to, to make him obsessed. Then Kellhus took away his obsession and now he would do anything to get it.

And now the usefulness of Cnaiür urs Skiötha was at an end.

Kellhus climbs a dune and sees Cnaiür camp trampled. Kellhus fears he’s too late, that Cnaiür has fled. But then he hears “raw shouts.” He follows the noise and finds Scylvendi standing naked in the waves washing to shore.

There are no tracks!” the man screamed, beating the surf with his fists. “Where are the—”

Without warning, he went rigid. Dark water swelled about him, engulfed him almost to his shoulders, then tumbled forward in clouds of crystalline foam. He turned his head, and Kellhus saw his weathered face, framed by long tails of sodden black hair. There was no expression.

Absolutely no expression.

Cnaiür wades to shore, shouting about how he betrayed his race and father for Moënghus, talking to Kellhus like he’s the father. Kellhus realizes he can’t read Cnaiür. The Scylvendi keeps talking about how he followed you, how he loved you. Kellhus draws his sword and tells Cnaiür to kneel.

The Scylvendi fell to his knees. He held out his arms, trailing fingers through the sand. He bent his back to the stars, exposing his throat. The Meneanor surged and seethed behind him.

Kellhus stood motionless above him.

What is this, Father? Pity?

He gazed at the abject Scylvendi warrior. From what darkness had this passion come?

Strike!” the man cried. The great scarred body trembled in terror and exultation.

But still, Kellhus couldn’t move.

Cnaiür shouts over and over for Kellhus to kill him, grabbing the blade and pulling it to his throat. But Kellhus says no and gently pries Cnaiür’s grip form the sword. Cnaiür grips Kellhus head, almost breaking his neck. Kellhus isn’t sure if it was luck or Cnaiür’s instinct that stopped it. But just a little more, and he will die.

Cnaiür drew him close enough for him to feel his humid body heat.

I loved you!” he both whispered and screamed. Then he thrust Kellhus backward, nearly tossing him back to his feet. Wary now, Kellhus rolled his chin to straighten a kink from his neck. Cnaiür stared at him in hope and horror…

Kellhus sheathed his sword.

Cnaiür rips hair from his head as he raves about Kellhus’s promise. But Kellhus watches, unmoved. “There were always other uses.”

The Sarcellus skin-spy leaves the camp and enters an old ruin, not caring about what it might be. The Synthese arrives and notes he is wounded. The skin-spy explains about Cnaiür and that the wound doesn’t impair him. The Synthese asks for a report, and the skin-spy says he’s not Cishaurim but Dûnyain.

Tiny grimace. Small, glistening teeth, like grains of rice, flashed between its lips. “All games end with me, Gaörtha. All Games.”

Sarcellus became very still. “I play no game. This man is Dûnyain. That’s what the Scylvendi calls him. She said there’s no doubt.”

But there is no order called ‘Dûnyain’ in Atrithau.”

No. But then we know he’s not a Prince of Atrithau.”

The Synthese begins to think Kellhus is a real Anasûrimbor, but a remnant of the Old Seed that survived. The skin-spy wonders if the Nonmen could have trained him, but the syntheses is dismissive. They have spies in Ishterebinth and know what Nin-Cilijiras is up to. The syntheses suspects that the Dûnyain is a “stubborn ember” of Kûniüri that survived, like the Mandate. But this ember survived in the shadow of Golgotterath, which is worrying. The skin-spy further adds that Kellhus means to claim the Holy War. The Synthese wants to know who the Dûnyain are, what their plans, and how he can see skin-spies.

He orders the skin-spy to indulge Kellhus, though he doesn’t see him as that much of a threat now that Achamian has been “removed from the game.” But the skin-spy is worried. Kellhus’s power grows. He is called the Warrior Prophet. The Synthese is amused how Kellhus “leashes these fanatics with leather of their own making.” Then he asks if Kellhus preaches a threat to the Holy War’s goal. He hasn’t, yet. The skin-spy is ordered to watch, but if Kellhus seeks to stop the Holy War, he has to be killed. He is only something curious. The Cishaurim are their foe.

Yes, Old Father.”

Gleaming like wet marble, the white headed bobbed twice, as though in some overriding instinct. A wing dropped to Sarcellus’s knee, dipped between his shadowy thighs… Gaörtha went rigid.

Are you badly hurt, my sweet child?”

Yessss,” the thing called Sarcellus gasped.

The small headed tilted backward. Heavy-lidded eyes watched the wingtip circle and stroke, stroke and circle. “Ah, but imagine… Imagine a world where no womb quickens, where no soul hopes.”

Sarcellus sucked drool in delight.

My Thoughts

We have spent the last book and a half with Cnaiür. He was the only one that saw the mistake of following Xunnurit’s plan. Bakker has built him up to be this amazing general that will lead the Holy War. And his first time out, he is outsmarted. He has made a serious blunder in underestimating his enemies tactics. And this time, it is Kellhus that saw it. Kellhus the novice at war.

And now Cnaiür chooses a woman over his duty. A very human thing to do, and something that the Scylvendi would look down on him for. And the Inrithi. He’s in command and he’s fleeing.

Now we see Kellhus in action. The sword-dancer was built up to be a credible threat, a skilled man with that massive blade. He’s big and graceful. And Kellhus defeats him with a flick of the sword. It reminds me a lot of Berserk when Guts fights Griffith the first time.

As the Khirgwi charge, Kellhus has taken Cnaiür’s lessons to heart. He understands that once again he has to take a risk to achieve his plans, like with telling Saubon to punish the Shrial Knights. We know there is a limit to how many men he can fight with. We learned this during book 1 while the Nansur cavalry chased him and Cnaiür. And now he faces a charge of thousands of soldiers.

And then Martemus sees him as the Warrior-Prophet and the halos appear. I can find no instance in the book where people talk about him having haloed hands before this. Martemus hasn’t heard about it, and now he sees it. It’s hard to say mass illusion is causing this. Something from the Outside is definitely affecting Kellhus. He’s had one vision showing him the future. People are seeing halos about his hands. Looking forward to the Unholy Consult and finding out more about the metaphysics going on here. (Hopefully, it’s elucidated in there.)

Also note, Kellhus wears his sword on his back like it were a Chinese blade. I haven’t noticed any one in the Three Seas described wearing swords that way. It’s a nod to the fact that Kellhus is a D&D monk at his most basic. From catching arrows, to being good at hand-to-hand fighting, to wearing his sword in such a far east fashion amid the more Mediterranean cultures of the Three Seas.

Poor Ainoni. They take it hard in the chapter. They are presented as very effete civilization, but their soldiers are actually written as very good and skilled. They were just the nation that was in the wrong position. But good thing Chepheramunni made his escape. It’s so surprising. And such a great, subtle clue from Bakker, something readers will overlook until the reveal that Chepheramunni is a skin-spy. Probably that body the Ainoni found years ago without a face mentioned in book 1.

Quite the reversal has happened in the battle now. The Holy War is losing badly. With this type of story, with Bakker already undermining many tropes of Fantasy fiction, it’s easy to imagine them losing, that the story could have a great reversal in the fortunes, making Kellhus’s mission even harder.

Cnaiür has a moment of pity, something he doesn’t usually feel. But he’s consumed with panic for Serwë. He has to find her and can’t. And now there is this other woman that needs help. He can save her. So he does. This being Grimdark Fantasy, it doesn’t have a happy ending. No tearful reunion with the wife and her husband. They don’t even live.

Just more victims of the brutal reality of war.

Martemus should have stayed down as the Khirgwi attacked.

Cnaiür rides away from the camp-followers to lure the Kianene away from them. They say you only can truly know a man when he’s under pressure, how he reacts when things are bad, and Cnaiür… Cnaiür our violent barbarian makes a number of compassionate decisions in this frantic section. He could have charged through the camp-followers, using their presence to slow down the Kianene even for a few seconds.

We see Cnaiür’s death wish appear as he demands which one will murder him.

And then the woman repays his compassion with her own. She could have fled, but she calls for him to join her. It might not have made a difference. The Scarlet Spire might still have killed her. Bakker draws it out as Cnaiür sees her death. He feels such compassion for the woman, such love. He even sees the child as his own. He wants to save them.

Can’t.

Another failure for Cnaiür.

So we can see just how different Dûnyain children are. They are not allowed outside until they’re five. And when they do, they have to acclimatized to all the sensations their superior intellects are drinking in, giving them time to adjust. Kellhus had this same reaction when he left as an adult, bemused by nature for weeks. But, still, even a young Dûnyain boy is eager to learn fighting, just like any other group of boys who find sticks will start playing battle.

So we see even as a child, Kellhus had a keener intellect than others. He is at the pinnacle of the Dûnyain breeding program. Not surprising considering he has the Anasûrimbor bloodline. And there is good evidence that Nonman blood is found in their veins. That the only successful known mating between human and Nonman may have occurred in the family’s history.

Love the fact that the Dûnyain children are still children. They are having fun trying to get to Uän. They haven’t had all their emotions destroyed and beaten down, yet. Though the Dûnyain are working on it. No mention of girls, though. Whale Mothers…

We see a taste of Cnaiür’s skill when he encounters fake Kellhus. Skin spies are inhumanly fast, but he managed to stab this one. It tried to deflect, but not fully, knocking the knife up only a few inches but it might have saved the skin spy’s life (do they have hearts?).

In the Ainoni stand, we see the Fanim surprised that these men refuse to be defeated. They have conviction, holding them strong even as they are surrounded and on the verge of being overwhelmed. Bakker had Cnaiür talk about this last chapter, but now he is once again showing us about conviction and its power. This will be important for the end of the novel.

Conviction has changed the tide of battle. Kellhus held the standard, keeping up hope in the Inrithi. The Ainoni held out long enough for Conphas to come to their aid and that turned the tide of battle. He heard the horns sounding retreat and acted. We also have the Scarlet Schoolmen were deployed for the first time, foiling the Fanim plan to demoralize the Inrithi.

Such a powerful scene between Serwë and Cnaiür. We have Cnaiür’s character laid open, all the times he thought as he beat her that he was trying to save her from Kellhus, and the realization here that he failed. That she would rather die than be apart from Kellhus. That she would let him beat her and still love him. All he can do is save her life.

He goes to the sea. The trackless sea. It’s an unnatural steppe to him. But it’s the closest thing he has to home. It’s like his perception of himself. Something broken, something wrong, something that wants to be of the People, but isn’t. He often goes to the sea when in turmoil. He has good memories with his own father at the shore of an inland sea, too.

Conphas and Martemus’s scene is so subdued. Conphas is clearly drained by the battle, without much of his usual self-delusional thoughts and actions. It’s perfunctory the way he cuts down the banner. And then his chat with Martemus, so flat. He understands that Martemus is blinded by Kellhus’s “illumination.”

And then Bakker switches gears to Skauras, the crushing despair on him as he realizes his people are doomed unless the word of the Nansur Emperor can be trusted. It is their only hope now for the Nansur to betray the holy war and stop it short of Shimeh. You feel a great deal of pity for the man. He’s been this wily enemy, this cagey general for so long, the great obstacle in the path of the holy war. Then seeing him drinking his last cup of wine as he awaits his death is so humanizing.

And his reflection on how evil acts are the hallmark of power… So true. Keep that in mind, for those who want to change the world. “Power comes from the end of the gun,” said Lenin.

Whelming. A trance where voice can overwrite voice. Or a place where one soul can overwhelm another.

We get more reflection into Kellhus and his view on men, and Cnaiür. Plus how Moënghus messed up with Cnaiür. But, then, Moënghus hadn’t come upon his grand plan. He was just trying to survive. I doubt Moënghus even thought Kellhus would encounter Cnaiür or that Cnaiür would prove as troublesome when he summoned Kellhus.

Most people never ask why things are the way they are around them, just taking for granted. Most people in Bakker’s world are not philosophers. Bakker, a philosopher, clearly holds that the only way to be truly free is to be a philosopher, to question the why of things.

I still don’t know why picks is a racial slur for Ketyai by Norsirai. They think them unclean, but I am still missing the connection.

We saw Cnaiür’s need for surrogates a few chapters back when it talks about him raiding Fanim villages, killing and pillaging to satiate his true desire.

We see the power of obsession. The way it can drive humans to acts they wouldn’t think themselves capable of. Even knowing the outcome, it can be hard to fight an obsession.

So we get this scene, Cnaiür utterly mad, knowing his death has come, and ready for it. He wants it to be over. His prize is lost. She’s utterly Kellhus’s. He can’t keep pretending any longer that he doesn’t love Moënghus. He can’t find the tracks. He’s hopelessly lost. He’s broken, defeated.

And Kellhus feels pity. The second time he’s felt an emotion. Once for Serwë, now for Cnaiür. And that pity works on him. As we have seen in previous quotes, the intellect is always slave to our passion. We will always find reasons to justify our actions for our desires. Kellhus found his. “There were always other uses.” His passions are shriveled, barely there, but they do exist. There is a glimmer of humanity.

Which might be the only thing that stops Kellhus from siding with the Consult. But, he might still side with them. Oh, the Unholy Consult… Can’t wait for July!

We get a little more insight into skin-spies and how they function. They are creatures of the moment. They don’t care about the past. Its’ all about who they are pretending to be right now. A thing without a past is a thing without identity.

Gaörtha is the skin-spy who in book 1 is following Achamian around, the one he spotted trailing him in the marketplace in Momemn.

And then we see the worry in the Synthese that his spy might not be reliable. Kellhus had planted those seeds that the first Sarcellus had been close to betraying the Consult. Looks like they have found fertile ground.

More interesting, the Synthese recognizes the name Dûnyain. We don’t know much about them before they became modern Dûnyain. They were ascetics and looking to escape the world after it ended.

And now we get confirmation that the Consult wants the Cishaurim, in particular, destroyed. That this is why they support the Holy War and why their skin-spies in the imperial palace (Skeaös and Empresses Dowager) are against Xerius’s plans to betray the Holy War.

And then we end with the Consult’s true goal.

Damn, this was a long chapter. And so much happened at it. We learn so much about the Consult, we see Serwë finally standing up to Cnaiür after being conditioned by Kellhus, we see the turn of battle and the death of the Fanim who was the symbol of their enemy, Skauras. The Holy War stands triumphant while Kellhus has another emotion. This is one of the best chapters in the series. He weaves through so many different scenes, propels so many different plots forward, has so many character moments.

Great writing.

Click here for chapter sixteen!

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