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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 2
The Second March
Chapter 17
Shigek

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

In terror, all men throw up their hands and turn aside their faces. Remember, Tratta, always preserve the face! For that is where you are.

THROSEANIS, TRIAMIS IMPERATOR

The Poet will yield up his stylus only when the Geometer can explain how Life can at once be a point and a line. How can all time, all creation, come to the now? Make no mistake: this moment, the instant of this very breath, is a frail thread from which all creation hangs. That men dare to be thoughtless…

TERES ANSANSIUS, THE CITY OF MEN

My Thoughts

Both these quotes are on the importance of the mind, on thinking, one written by the conquering emperor Triamis who puts it in a very physical and literal way by saying how it is our very instinct to protect our brains and that is important. Because our brains, our thoughts, are who we are.

The second is lamenting on how men squander the potential of their mind. And while poets are trying to describe this seeming contradictory that our lives follow a line and yet at the very moment you read this sentence you have the illusion that it is a point. That the present is all that matters. But the future is what comes next, and what you think, what you do, determines what happens. And if you’re not thinking about it, well, it is a thin thread, so easy to snap.

Proyas didn’t think when he sacrificed Achamian. He traded his present view of himself, as righteous, and allowed him to die. And now he learns that Achamian is important to the head of his faith. That if he had truly been a good person, helping his friend even if he were a blasphemer, the man wouldn’t be dead.

Ultimately, this chapter is about having brains and using them to think. Not to just live, not to just have faith in something else and accept what it tells you, but to use the mind that god or evolution or space aliens or whatever you believe in gave you.

Early Autumn 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, Iothiah

As Esmenet walks back from laundering clothes, she reflects on the next phase of the Holy War. She knows that the Kianene have killed all the camels before retreating and so far scouts have only found poisoned wells in the desert, hoping to make a barrier out of the desert. But the Great Names plan to march along the coast, using the Imperial Fleet would carry their water, keeping them alive to Enathpaneah. She reflects on Kellhus making a joke about Serwë carrying everything, including his child. His manner is warm, teasing and one “Esmenet had learned to love long ago.”

Esmenet had laughed, at the same time realizing she’d be traveling even farther from Achamian…

She wants to ask Kellhus if there was any news from Xinemus even while fearing what it would be. She doesn’t, knowing Kellhus would have told her. That night, they cook dinner, Kellhus sitting between the two women while he continues teasing Serwë about the upcoming march through the desert. As he does, Kellhus accidentally brushes Esmenet’s breast.

The tingle of inadvertent intimacy. The flush of a body suddenly thick with a wisdom that transcended intellect.

For the remainder of the afternoon, Esmenet found her eyes plagued by a nagging waywardness. Where before her look had confined itself to Kellhus’s face, it now roamed over his entire form. It was as though her eyes had become brokers, intermediaries between his body and her own. When she saw his chest, her breasts tingled with the prospect of being crushed. When she glimpsed his narrow hips and deep buttocks, her inner thighs hummed with expectant warmth. Sometimes her palms literally itched!

Of course, this was madness. Esmenet needed only to catch Serwë’s watchful eyes to recall herself.

That night, while Kellhus is gone and she’s lying down beside Serwë, the pregnant girl says she would share Kellhus. Esmenet becomes nervous while protesting the girl has nothing to fear. No Serwë says she’s not afraid of losing him. “All I want is what he wants.” Esmenet asks if Kellhus wants her, but Serwë laughs that off. She suddenly feels guilty, thinking of Achamian, and says it will never happen.

Kellhus is gone until the next night when he returns with Proyas. Esmenet hates him, and tries to avoid him, knowing he refused to help Achamian and stripped Xinemus of his rank for wanting to. But then she hears him speak and realizes he, too, suffers in grief for Achamian and she feels a kinship with him. “That, she knew, was what Kellhus would say.”

As they eat, Esmenet studies Proyas and Kellhus as they talk, noticing how Proyas acted, the way he deferred and yet remained aloof. She understands why Kellhus doesn’t allow his followers around, knowing Great Names like Proyas would be disturbed. “Those at the centre of the things were always more inflexible, always more invested, than those at the edges.” Kellhus was starting a new center.

During a silence, Esmenet asks after Cnaiür. Proyas says he doesn’t see him much. The barbarian was no longer giving counsel. He even rejected being declared Battle-Celebrant after the victory, Kellhus having given him all the credit of saving the day. Proyas thinks Cnaiür finds it unbearable liking Inrithi. He then leaves. Esmenet feels ashamed for driving off Proyas. She finds shame to be “her characteristic stink.” She apologizes to Kellhus and questions why she is even here. She is polluted and yet is staying with Kellhus. Her whore tattoo permanently marks her. It will never go away. “The seed she could rinse away, but not the sin!” She flees to Achamian’s tent.

Kellhus comes to her tent, and she hates that she hoped he would. She tells him she wished she were dead. “So do many.” Kellhus was always honest and she wishes she could follow. She goes on to say she’s only loved two people, both dead.

“You don’t know my sins, Kellhus. You don’t know the darkness I harbour in my heart.

“Then tell me.”

They talk for hours and she grows calm, emotionless as she tells him about the many men she’s been with. “All of them punishing her for their need.” How it was so monotonous. One man after another. She was first whored out by her father at eleven or twelve, the start of her punishment. And then she turns to her daughter.

And her daughter… How old had she been?

She had thought her father’s thoughts, she explained. Another mouth. Let it feed itself. The monotony had numbed her to the horror, had made degradation a laughable thing. To trade flashing silver for milky seed—the fools. Let Mimara be schooled in the foolishness of men. Clumsy, rutting animals. One need only pay with little patience, mimic their passion, wait, and soon it would be over. In the morning, one could buy food… Food from fools, Mimara. Can’t you see child? Shush. Stop weeping. Look! Food from fools!

Kellhus asks if that was her name, Mimara. And she realizes she could say it to him, but never to Achamian. Then she begins crying. She is hugged to Kellhus’s chest. “They were dead. The only ones she’d ever loved.” When her crying subsides, she realizes her hands on her on his lap and feels him harden. For a moment, everything is silent. Then she jerks her hand away.

Why would she poison a night such as this?

Kellhus shook his head, softly laughed. “Intimacy begets intimacy, Esmi. So long as we remember ourselves, there’s no reason for shame. All of us are frail.”

She looked down to her palms, her wrists. Smiled.”

She thanks him and he leaves. She masturbates afterward, cursing the entire time, until she falls to sleep.

Proyas receives a message from the Shriah. Proyas is truck by how even the scroll-case, covered in tiny Tusks, is a message that this is sermon. He ponders what Maithanet wants before he breaks the seal and reads it. When he sees it’s about his last letter, guilt strikes him. Achamian had begged him to write Maithanet to inquire about Inrau’s “suicide.” It shocked Proyas he had even did it, but he felt kinship with Inrau. “How could he not pity him, a good man, a kind man, hunting fables and wives’ tales to his everlasting damnation.” Proyas never expected a reply, but he was the heir to Conryia.

Shame feels him as he reads for sending such a “trivial” matter to the Shriah. And shame for feeling ashamed of doing Achamian a favor. Maithanet’s letter says that Inrau was a suicide and they believe because of his association with Achamian. Maithanet quotes scripture to reinforce his position that Achamian is to blame. He was still perplexed, and says his response will also baffle Proyas. He explains that since the Holy War has allied with the Scarlet Spire to defeat the Cishaurim, it is important that Proyas assists Achamian, compromising his piety for the greater good like Maithanet did when striking his deal with the Scarlet Spire.

Proyas is stunned, wondering what was so important about Achamian. And then that it was too late to do anything now that Achamian is gone.

I killed him…

And Proyas suddenly realized that he’d used his old teacher as a marker, as a measure of his own piety. What greater evidence could there be of righteousness than the willingness to sacrifice a loved one? Wasn’t this the lesson of Angeshraël on Mount Kinsureah? And what better way to sacrifice a loved one than by hating?

Or delivering him to his enemies…

He thinks of Esmenet’s grief, feeling guilty, and uses anger to deflect. This leads him to pondering sin and how a man’s actions either elevate or condemn him. And Achamian had been a sorcerer. He damned himself, just like Esmenet had by being a whore. He tries to rationalize it’s not his judgment but the Tusk. But the shame doesn’t go away. Doubt creeps in. Doubt had been Achamian’s main lesson.

Doubt, he would say, set men free… Doubt, not truth.

Beliefs were the foundation of actions. Those who believed without doubting, he would say, acted without thinking. And those who acted without thinking were enslaved.

That was what Achamian would say.

Proyas recalls a time when he told Achamian he wanted to be a Shrial knight. Why asked Achamian. Proyas wants to kill heathens. Achamian calls him foolish, asking him how many faiths are there are and condemning him for murdering someone on “the slender hope that yours is somehow the only one?” Proyas is certain his is. Achamian challenges Proyas that it’s not a choice between two faiths but between faith and doubt.

“But doubt is weakness!” Proyas cried. “Faith is strength! Strength!” Never, he was convinced, had he felt so holy as that moment. The sunlight seemed to shine straight through him, to bathe his heart.

“Is it? Have you looked around you, Prosha? Pay attention, boy. Watch and tell me how many men, out of weakness, lapse into the practice of doubt. Listen to those around you, and tell me what you see…”

Proyas did as Achamian asked, watching men from soldiers to priests to ambassadors. And while he saw them hesitate, he never heard them say those three difficult words: I don’t know. Proyas had asked Achamian why they are so hard to say.

“Because men want to murder,” Achamian explained afterward. “Because men want their gold and their glory. Because they want beliefs to answer to their fears, their hatreds, and their hungers.”

Proyas could remember the heart-pounding wonder, the exhilaration of straying…

“Akka?” He took a deep, daring breath. “Are you saying the Tusk lies?”

A look of dread. “I don’t know…”

Those words got Achamian banished from teaching Proyas. Achamian knew it would happen, but did it anyways. Proyas is confused about that, why he would “sacrifice so much for so few words.” And then he realizes why. Achamian thought it worth the cost to teach Proyas this lesson because he loved Proyas. He loved Proyas enough to lose his position and reputation. “Achamian had given without hope of reward.” To make Proyas free.

And Proyas had given him away, thinking only of rewards.

The thought was too much to bear.

He tries to rationalize it, saying he did it for Shimeh and the Holy War. But the letter from Maithanet makes that much harder. The Shriah wants him supported. And then he remembers Achamian arguing that the Holy War wasn’t what it seemed. Something that now concerned the shriah. Proyas wonders if it has to do with Kellhus. He had meant to write the Shriah about him, but couldn’t He wasn’t sure if fear or hope caused him to wait. But Proyas finds it ridiculous that the Holy War for the Latter Prophet would birth the “Latter Latter Prophet.” So Proyas thinks it must be something else. “Something the Shriah thought beyond his [Proyas] tolerance of his ken.”

Could it be the Consult?

Proyas remembers a conversation with Achamian at Momemn where he talked about the intensity of his dreams, that something was happening. Proyas finds it absurd, reasoning that if the Mandate couldn’t find the Consult, how could the Shriah. He turns his thoughts to the Scarlet Spire, knowing Achamian was watching them. He grows frantic, pulling at his hair, demanding to know why.

Why couldn’t this one thing be pure? Why must everything holy—everything!—be riddled by tawdry and despicable intent.

He sat very still, drawing breath after shuddering breath. He imagined drawing his sword, slashing and hacking wildly through his chambers, howling and shrieking… Then he collected himself to the beat of his own pulse.

Nothing pure… Love transformed into betrayal. Prayers bent into accusations.

This was Maithanet’s point, wasn’t it? The holy followed upon the wicked.

Proyas realizes he isn’t the moral leader of the Holy War. He’s just another piece on the benjuka plate and he doesn’t know the rules. He doesn’t know anything. Despite the recent victory, he feels so weak.

Tired, wanting to rest, he instead composes a reply to the Shriah. Tomorrow, the Holy War marched into the desert. He feels like a boy as rights, remembering good times as Achamian’s student. He cries as he completes the first sentence of his “baffled reply”

…but it would seem, Your Eminence, that Drusas Achamian is dead.

Kellhus watches Esmenet as the camp prepares to arch into the Khemema Desert. With Kellhus are his fourteen senior Zaudunyani (the Tribe of Truth, his followers) to remind them of their purpose as they set out on their mission. “Beliefs alone didn’t control the actions of men. There were also desire, and these men, his apostles, must shine with that desire.” Esmenet knows he watches, laughing with two of the Zaudunyani.

He watches everyone, each “a riotous font of significance.” He sees Ottma fumbling before Serwë’s beauty, Ulnarta’s faint racism to black-skinned Tshuma, the way three others defer to Werjau. He notes how Werjau asserts his dominance over the others.

Kellhus calls out Werjau, asking to what he sees in his heart. Werjau answers joy while Kellhus knows he “sees, and he doesn’t see.” Then Kellhus asks what them what he sees. Werjau looks down. A Galeoth answered with Pride. Kellhus then makes a joke to cut through the anxiety and relax them with laughter. Kellhus would not let Werjau, or others, posture in the group. Kellhus knows they enjoy his presence because “the weight of sin was found in secrecy and condemnation.” By stripping that away, taking away their self-deception and shame, they “felt greater in his presence, both pure and chose.”

Kellhus flashes back to his training in Ishuäl with Pragma Meigon. They are deep beneath Ishuäl within the Thousand Thousand Halls. The room is exceedingly well lit, the only place in the labyrinth that is, and it is full of shackled men, each naked and bound to boards in a circle, the skin flayed from their faces to reveal their muscle structure. This is the Unmasking Room.

Kellhus is feeling fear despite Meigon reassuring him they’re harmless. He asks what they are. Exemplary defectives retained for the “purpose of education” for young Dûnyain. He leads Kellhus to one, telling him to study and memorize their faces, then draw them. He explains how the face has forty-four muscles that work together to produce every “permutation of passion.” Each figure shows different emotions, using neuropuncture to keep them locked in their expressions. Something the Dûnyain learned centuries ago.

“Neuropuncture,” the Pragma continued, “made possible the rehabilitation of defectives for instructional purpose. The specimen before you, for instance, always displays fear at a base-remove of two.”

“Horror?” Kellhus asked.

“Precisely.”

Kellhus felt the childishness of his own horror fade in understanding. He looked to either side, saw the specimens curving out of sight, rows of white eyes set in shining red musculatures. They were only defectives—nothing more. He returned his gaze to the man before him, to fear base-removed two, and committed what he saw to memory. Then he moved on to the next gasping skein of muscles.

“Good,” Pragma Meigon had said from his periphery. “Very good.”

Back in the present, Kellhus studies Esmenet and “peeled away her face with the hooks of his gaze.” He notes how she has twice found excuses to walk to her tent and draw his attention. She keeps glancing at him, making sure he’s watching her. Though they hadn’t had sex yet, Kellhus knows she wanted him and wooed him. “And she knew it not.”

For all her native gifts, Esmenet remained a world-born woman. And for all world-born men and women, two souls shared the same body, face, and eyes. The animal and the intellect. Everyone was two.

Defective.

One Esmenet had already renounced Drusas Achamian. The other would soon follow.

The next morning, Esmenet watches the Holy War march into the desert on a rise. She stands beside Serwë. The host of soldiers and camp followers stretches out of her sight. She looks to Shigek and says goodbye to Achamian in her thoughts. Then she strikes out, walking among the strangers, ignoring Kellhus calling after. She ignores the looks and muttered words, the men who see her as a whore. “She sweat and suffered and somehow knew it was only the beginning.”

She rejoins Kellhus and Serwë that evening around a meager fire. Kellhus asks about her walk, and she immediately feels shame and apologizes. But he says she doesn’t have to, she’s free to walk where she wants. Then asks again.

“Men,” she said leadenly. “Too many men.”

“And you call yourself a harlot,” Kellhus said, grinning.

Esmenet continued staring at her dusty feet. A shy smile stole across her face.

“Things change…”

Kellhus then asks her why “God holds men higher than women?” She shrugs, women are in men’s shadows who are in Gods’ shadows. He asks her if she thinks that. She replies, Some men, indicating Kellhus. She then realizes only Kellhus. She never stood in anyone else’s, not even Achamian. So Kellhus asks her if all men are overshadowed, why is she less than a man? She laughs, certain he plays a game and says that’s just how it is everywhere. “Women serve men.” She then says most women are simple, like Serwë while more men are educated. Wise.

“And is this because men are more than women?”

Esmenet stared at him, dumbfounded.

“Or is it,” he continued, “because men are granted more than women in this world?”

She stared, her thoughts spinning. She breathed deeply, set her palms carefully upon her knees. “You’re saying women are…are actually equal?”

Kellhus asks why men pay gold to have sex with women. She answers out of lust. Kellhus then says is it legal. She says no, but they can’t help themselves. Kellhus responds that they have no control over their desires and she makes a joke about being a “well-fed harlot” to prove him right. He then asks why men herd cattle. She’s confused and begins answering so they can slaughter them and then she realizes what he is saying.

“Men,” Kellhus said, “cannot dominate their hungers, so they dominate, domesticate, the objects of their hunger. Be it cattle…”

“Or women,” she said breathlessly.

The air prickled with understanding.

He then sites the example of a tributary race, like Serwë’s, speaking the language of their conquers just like women speak the language of men. This is why Esmenet fears growing old, because she sees herself as men see her. It’s why she preens and postures, molds herself to please men. She becomes so motionless as she listens to him talk about how she has degraded herself to please men, how she does things for coins. How the fact she knows she’s damned, that she has no dignity, lets her keep doing these acts. He asks, “What love lies beyond sacrifice?” She’s crying now.

“You speak the tongue of your conquerors…” Kellhus whispered. “You say, Mimara, come with me child.”

A shiver passed through her, as though she were a drumskin…

“And you take her…”

“She’s dead!” some woman cried. “She’s dead!”

“To the slavers in the harbour…”

Stop!” the woman hissed. “I say no!”

Gasping, like knives.

“And you sell her.”

Esmenet tells Kellhus everything as he holds her, how a famine had swept through Sumna, how she was so hungry that she was giving men blowjobs just to eat their seed. How she came to hate her daughter, “the filthy little bitch,” who cried and begged for food, sending Esmenet out into the street “all because of love.” And how the slavers were growing fat and the coins she received. Coins that lasted less than a week. She weeps in his arms, in his absolution.

“You are forgiven, Esmenet.”

Who are you to forgive?

“Mimara.”

She wakes up confused, lying beside Kellhus. She’s conflicted about that, part of her guilty part of her excited though she reminds herself they didn’t have sex. She only cried. For a while, she lies beside him, feeling his heartbeat. He wakes up and they feel the intimacy growing. Serwë sleeps beside them, and Kellhus tells Esmenet to be quiet so not to wake her. Then he’s on her, his hand sliding up her thighs, and she exults that finally he was taking her.

No one would call her harlot any more.

My Thoughts

What does Esmenet fear learning from Xinemus now? That Achamian is dead, or that he is alive and she’s been moving on, abandoning him? That she’s beginning to love again.

Notice the power of a simple “accidental” touch on behalf of Kellhus, bringing Esmenet one step closer to her seduction. First he was a prophet, then he was her friend, and now he’s a prospective lover. All done by his friendly banter, his comforting presence, and his constant presence around her.

We see more of Esmenet’s intelligence as she dissects the interaction between Kellhus and Proyas. She has picked up on a lot of Kellhus’s teachings about human behavior and is using them, understanding the political dynamics that what Kellhus has begun, being a prophet, will eventually lead to a problems with those at the current “center” of everything.

Kellhus gives Cnaiür credit for figuring out the trap. He can’t let Cnaiür’s skill as a tactician get undermined. He needs to keep him propped up for now. Kellhus has risen along with Cnaiür, and Proyas, Kellhus’s best ally, has sponsored them both, become their patrons. If Cnaiür is embarrassed or shown to have failed, it would look poorly on Proyas and thus Kellhus.

Poor Esmenet. While shame can be a good motivator when there’s cause, when you’ve done something wrong, she hasn’t. She’s just been told that what she’s done to survive is wrong while the men who pay her are absolved. They’re not condemned, just her. And it is to Achamian’s tent she flees. Someone else who is a sinner that cannot be absolved.

It’s sad she finds Kellhus always honest.

When Esmenet talks about how she whored her own daughter out, the way her father had done to her, is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world. How she had rationalized it. How years of being a whore had so degraded her that she no longer felt the horror her daughter did. How she’s so pragmatic about it. “Food from fools.” And now the guilt, combined with the other thing she did with her daughter. She knows it was wrong in the wake of her daughter’s “death.” How it eats at her.

The irony of Esmenet saying all those she loved are dead is that neither Achamian or Mimara are dead.

And notice how Kellhus uses this moment of comfort to add another bit to his seduction, creating that deep intimacy between them then taking advantage of her absent movement to bring the physical, the sexual, to the front.

Maithanet is good at manipulating with a scroll-case.

Proyas is such an interesting character. His faith has warped him, forcing him to destroy his relationship with Achamian even as he doesn’t want to. He loves Achamian, truly, but he also fears for his own soul. Too much virtue is itself a vice. (I’m paraphrasing a quote from someone here, can’t remember who.) And Proyas displays that with his piety causing destructive problems.

Notice how Proyas feels guilty for causing Esmenet grief then immediately rationalizes it away with that emphatic “She’s just a whore!” Using his piety to shift his guilt away, to alleviate his own pain. Very common thing for humans to do. But then he runs smack into Achamian being a sorcerer and uses that same reason justify sacrificing him, which he is now learning was a bad call.

Doubt, skepticism, is very important. This is why science uses the peer-review process to evaluate discovery. Any properly motivated researcher can find the facts to support his goal. You need someone who is properly motivated in disproving (doubting) the result to discover whether or not real truth was uncovered or just results that flattered the researcher’s own bias. Truth without doubt leads to orthodoxy. It leads to religion, even if it’s not called that.

Wonder what happened to Proyas’s older brother? He must have died to make Proyas the heir.

Faith untempered by doubt is a very dangerous thing. And it doesn’t have to be faith in a religion, but faith in a political belief, in a scientific truth, faith in a perspective on power dynamics in society. Any of those are dangerous and destructive. We have brains. Use them.

The recollection Proyas has with Achamian talking about doubt is amazing. Such truth found in there. Confirmation bias is ingrained in all of us. We cherry-pick everything in our lives to conform with our own beliefs. And thanks to social media, it’s getting worse. When you can block people whom you disagree with, when you can only visit blogs or follow people on twitter that believe what you do, then you don’t even hear those contradictory statements. You can curate the information you receive to prop up your beliefs, to receive the answers you want instead of the truth.

Proyas has got some nice line of reasoning on Maithanet’s support for Achamian. What else could it be but the Consult? But why would the Shriah believe in the Consult. Everyone in the Three Seas are sure they are gone. How could he know?

How did Maithanet know about the Scarlet Spires secret war with the Cishaurim? Maithanet lurks in the background for so much of the books, with little hints and clues sprinkled here and there, a great mystery that quickly is forgotten because more immediate things are happening in the book. It’s well done. It all makes sense when you learn the truth, and that’s important with mysteries. They have to hold up to scrutiny or they’re a cheat.

Why can’t anything be pure, Proyas? Because the actions of humans are involved.

Proyas was so close to the truth, and then he just couldn’t believe it. He had to go with something familiar, something that confirmed to his own beliefs on how the world worked, and rejects the Consult idea.

It’s sad watching Proyas grapple with the grief and guilt of his part in Achamian’s death. His illusions are shattered. He knows he’s not a moral person like he always believed. Achamian had given without hope of reward, Proyas had done the opposite. He took to get his reward.

So we see the Zaudunyani know. They have a name. A shared purpose. The start of Kellhus’s cult and his temporal power.

Werjau… His first mention. Remember this asshole for later. Not how he’s the one that some of the others are already deferring to. Bakker is setting him up to be a leader in the Zaudunyani right from the beginning. Note how Kellhus doesn’t want Werjau posturing, but we’ll see he never quite learns that lesson. Something Kellhus will lament. If he’s not on top of people, they backslide.

It is, perhaps, Kellhus greatest weakness. He doesn’t have the time to micromanage everyone.

We get our first taste of the true horror of the Dûnyain next in the Unmasking Room. Such a mundane place for such a horrific spot. Here we see those Dûnyain who didn’t succeed, lobotomized and kept alive to let students study facial expressions. We’ll learn more Dûnyain horrors (whale mothers) in later books. This is a brutal illustration that the Dûnyain purpose is dehumanization, to strip out emotions, to make “men” devoid of passions.

And then how Kellhus puts aside his own “childish” horror (because feeling emotions is childish for the Dûnyain) and understands. This is his fate if he can’t learn to control his passions. So he does. He rationalizes that the man is defective, therefore worthless, and his emotions fade. He’s turned a human being into an object.

And then he peels back Esmenet’s face, seeing her as nothing more than those tortured men he studied as a child. Defective. But a defective he needs. One he needs to seduce. One he can “rehabilitate” to a new purpose. And already the “animal” part of her is eager for the seduction. Now her intellect just had to abandon her love for Achamian and surrender to Kellhus.

Last time Esmenet stared at the Holy War, Achamian was with her. And now she admits it. He’s gone. She has to move on, literally and figuratively. She’s hit acceptance in the grieving process.

For anyone who thinks Bakker is not a feminist or is a misogynist should read Kellhus comments about men domesticating women like they have cattle. Kellhus often speaks Bakker’s own beliefs. Bakker, frankly, is more of a misandrist than he is a misogynist. He has a low opinion of men. We all mold ourselves to please those around us. Women make themselves look beautiful to attract a mate while men work for status and power for the same reason—women are valued for the beauty, men for their wealth. Kellhus is leaving that part out either on purpose, to aid in his molding of Esmenet, or because Bakker is espousing his own beliefs here.

That revelation that Mimara didn’t die of a disease, but that Esmenet sold her to the slaves while they were both starving is heartbreaking. Starving people start to lose compassion. They become driven to do things they would never do while fed. They abandon people. Their survival instincts kick in, driving them to do what it takes to live. And it gets harder and harder to fight that selfishness. And then you’ll do something you can never forgive yourself for.

If you’ve ever hard of Grave of the Fireflies, original a novel and then made into a movie by Studio Ghibli, it’s a true story about a brother and sister, just children, orphaned in Japan by World War II. At the end of the war, they are living with an abusive aunt. They runaway and live in the woods. At first, they’re happy. But soon the starvation sets in. The older brother, who is maybe 10, tries hard to keep them alive. But, first the sister dies and then he dies. Or that’s how the novel goes. In the real story, the brother lived. And the guilt he felt for getting them in this mess, for not saving his sister when they were starving and for living when she died, compelled him to write their story and symbolically kill himself by having his own character die.

Esmenet wakes up feeling guilty and excited for lying next to Kellhus, the last vestige of her relationship with Achamian and her excitement to start a new one. If Achamian were truly dead, this would be healthy. But he’s not, and it’s only been a few weeks. On top of that, she’s being manipulated. So it’s really the opposite.

Then it happens. Kellhus makes his move. He has welded an intimacy between them, he has guided her through the process of grieving for Achamian, making room for her to love another, and then he takes advantage of her. And as she has sex with him, she think she won’t be a harlot ever again. That he sees her as an equal. That she doesn’t have to be his whore.

Instead, she’s his broodmare. As we see in his POV, she is defective. But good thing you can find a use for defectives. He’s rehabilitating her.

This is a powerful chapter, from seeing Esmenet’s true guilt, the thing that has haunted her all this time, revealed. How her guilt for Mimara has made her feel motherly towards Serwë even as she fought her own jealousy towards the girl’s beauty. And even though Esmenet did this monstrous thing, you understand why. That desperation. That horrible circumstances. “Let her feed herself.” How many parents have thought similar thoughts, when angry, when tired, when weary but still having to attend to their children. Those small, dark flashes that pop up in all of us. None of us, I’d dare say, have been as starving as Esmenet.

And the sad part, Kellhus using it to seduce her. Even forgiving her in Mimara’s name. And, for those who’ve read the next series, you know Mimara has not forgiven.

And with that, we’re done with the Holy War’s second march. The third, and hardest, march is before it. The desert awaits. That’s a very symbolic place, the desert. A place where men are transformed into prophets in our own mythologies.

Click here for Chapter Eighteen!

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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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