Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy
Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought
by R. Scott Bakker
The Final March
Welcome to Chapter Fifteen of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Fourteen!
If war does not kill the woman in us, it kills the man.
—TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES
Like so many who undertake arduous journeys, I left a country of wise men and came back to a nation of fools. Ignorance, like time, brooks no return.
—SOKWË, TEN SEASONS IN ZEMÜ
Wow, there are two quotes that don’t on the surface seem to have anything to do with each other. So let’s figure it out. The first one, I think, refers to fear. War doesn’t kill the fear in you. That sense of being weak and frail and helpless against a world where everything is out to get you. The masculine part, the strength, the nobility, the belief in your superiority can easily be destroyed by what happens in war. It’s a pretty sexist statement, but fitting with the sort of ancient setting of the books.
So it brings us to this other quote. The Holy War, like going to any war, is an arduous journey. You’re going to come back changed. You’re going to see the behavior that used to think of as manly, all the false boasting, the bravado, all the things you thought you were before war killed them and think those who still possess them are foolish.
This chapter is all about how war and the journey have changed the characters. Esmenet is no longer the whore. Achamian no longer believes in the Mandate’s mission. Eleäzaras is bent only on revenge and doesn’t care about anything else. Proyas finds himself disappointed and doubting his faith in ways he never had.
Kellhus is no longer wholly Dûnyain.
Another way to look at the man and woman quote is to look at the Dûnyain versus Inchoroi. Intellect versus Emotion. If man represents raw intellect and woman raw emotion, then war kills rationality. It kills logic. It leaves only wounded hearts. As we see in Kellhus, his monolithic logic has been nudged ever so slightly by emotion. He has had the man in him not killed, but wounded. Bleeding. Pain and loss and love have seeped in to feel the void, shifting his actions ever so slightly.
Enough that he rejects his father.
Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh
Morning. The beginning of the world’s slow bow before the sun.
It is time for the Holy War to attack Shimeh. The city awaits them as the sun rises behind it. Preparations are made for the final assault of the Holy War.
Kellhus wanders through Kyudea searching for the one tree in it. He passes ruins swallowed by the grass. Here a “wrecked city had been swamped by the swells of an earthen sea.” Kellhus realizes this city once had been as great as Shimeh. Now shepherds brought sheep to shelter here in storms.
Glories had dwelt here once. Now there was nothing. Only overturned stone, the whisk of grasses beneath the wind…
“‘There is but one tree,’” the old man had said, his voice not his own, “‘and I dwell beneath it…’”
And Kellhus had struck, cleaving him to the heart.
Achamian feels utterly betrayed by Cnaiür’s revelation. Achamian had tried to protest to Cnaiür that he wasn’t like the others. “I don’t believe for my heart’s sake!” Cnaiür only shrugged and told Achamian that Kellhus would “concede you your concerns” and foster trust with Achamian. “Truth is his [Kellhus’s] knives, and we are all of us cut!” Achamian wanders dazed through the camp, clutching his “ink-blooded parchment.” He doesn’t see or hear the people bowing and calling him “Holy Tutor.” A knight singing a hymn of Kellhus, Take My Hand, catches Achamian’s attention. The knight falters off, growing angry with embarrassment for Achamian witnessing his raw emotion.
Achamian passes others kneeling and praying before Judges while the Circumflex is painted across shields, worn around necks, and embroidered on banners. “The entire world seemed to rumble with devotion.”
How had this happened?
Achamian reflects on what Kellhus had said about how kneeling to the God “was to stand high among the fallen.” After all, servants of kings often act in their stead, so a pious man can think the same of his own actions. He realizes serving is just another way to glut. To be self-centered by glutting on even the world while claiming to serve a higher power. Achamian still objects that he is Kellhus’s slave.
“But my soul is my own!”
Laughter, dark and guttural and vicious, as though all sufferers, in the end, were no more than fools.
“He prizes no thought higher.”
Achamian had found certainty in Kellhus, despite losing Esmenet to him. He’d even made his torment a kind of proof. So long as his charge pained him, he told himself, it must be real. He did not, as so many did, belief for flattery’s sake. Seswatha Dreams assured him his importance would be more a thing of terror than pride. And his redemption had been a thing too… abstract.
To love one who had wronged him—that was his test! And he had been rooted—so rooted…
The world spins around Achamian. He feels everything rushing towards Shimeh. Cnaiür’s words pummel him, assaulting him as he struggles to understand. “Ask yourself, sorcerer… What do you have that he hasn’t taken?”
He [Achamian] much preferred his damnation.
The Fanim on Shimeh’s walls watch four massive siege-towers waiting to assault their city. Unlike the Fanim thought, the Holy War didn’t need weeks to ready for an assault. They were forming up right now to do it. The Fanim drums sound from the heights of the Juterum and the Holy War blares trumpets in answer.
Small knots of Inrithi approach. At first, the defenders think it is a parley, but their nobles disagree. Archers are ready the forty or so formations of six men. The Fanim realize they are sorcerers, each protected by three heavy crossbowmen and two armored men with large basketwork shields. Alarm rings through the Fanim.
As though answering a pause in conversation, an otherworldly chorus droned out from the approaching formations, not so much through the air as under the scorched crops and razed structures, and up through the bones of Shimeh’s mighty curtain wall. The engines cast the first of the firepots. Eruptions of liquid flame revealed the Wards curving about each cadre. A cloud swallowed the sunlight, and as one the defenders saw the foundation of spectral towers.
True horror struck then. Where were Indara’s Water-bearers?
Officers cut down their men trying to flee as the sorcerers stop fifty lengths out. A few arrows burst into smoke on against their wards. Then the sorcerers step into the air.
There was a collective intake of breath along the battlements…
Then glittering light.
Proyas watches as his men haul the siege-tower they named Tippytoes across the field from a joke Gaidekki had made. Proyas shudders as his siege-tower almost tips over but is righted. He’s nervous. Ahead, sappers had made a path, filling in irrigation ditches and other barriers. It leads right to Shimeh’s “white-and-ocher walls.”
Sister, another siege-tower, trundles to the left, matching Proyas’s progress. Inside both, ballistae await to assault the walls as the towers close the distance. They were both “miracles of engineering” designed by Kellhus. The city’s trebuchet’s answer, hurtling massive boulders that fall short of the siege-towers. Sister pulls ahead and Gaidekki boasts he’ll “wash up the blood” so Proyas doesn’t slip.
The Scarlet Spire begins their assault. Proyas washes it, feeling “numb as great gouts of flame washed across the barbicans.” Next, the siege-towers began firing their ballistae at the defenders as Proyas orders shields. They are within range of enemy archers. They begin taking fire, the world dimming from the number of arrows arching down at them.
Proyas is now huddling behind his shield, unable to focus on anything as the arrows rain around him. Flaming pots began striking his tower. Sister catches fire while Tippytoes takes a hit from the trebuchet. The tower shakes but doesn’t fall over or collapse. The sister takes a firepot at the upper deck, setting knights on fire. Proyas thinks Gaidekki is dead only to hear the man calling for him. The man appears out a small window smiling. Then he’s killed by a trebuchet stone.
Proyas is stunned at how fast death happened. Tippytoes lumbers on, the sky growing black with smoke. The Sister burns while his siege-tower comes closer and closer to the wall. He can see the First Temple on the sacred heights.
Shimeh! He thought. Shimeh!
Proyas lowered his silver war-mask, glimpsed his stooped kinsmen doing the same. The flying bridge dropped, its iron hooks biting the battlements. Tippytoes was tall enough to kiss after all.
Crying out to the Prophet and God, the Crown Prince leapt into the swords of his enemy…
Kellhus finds the tree. It couldn’t be missed at the edge of a hill, a twin to the tree Kellhus hung from during the Circumfix. He exams the old tree, the bark eaten by worms. He can hear distant thunder from Shimeh. There is an opening hacked into the roots of the tree, revealing faint staircases descending into the dark.
He [Kellhus] pressed his way forward, descended into the belly of the hillside.
Cnaiür reins his horse to a stop, spotting carrion birds and horseless riders. Cnaiür and the skin-spies examine the carnage they find. Though they haven’t reach Kyudea, where “the fat fool” said Kellhus traveled, Serwë insists they are on the Dûnyain’s trial. “She could smell him.”
After speaking with Achamian, Cnaiür feels a strange intensity to his actions. “A vigor he could only identify with hate.” He knows Kellhus travels to see Moënghus. He feels that impulse as he examines the dead Kidruhil, likely men hunting for Cnaiür, that Kellhus had caught by surprise and slaughtered. One of the skin-spies says they smell Fanim and aren’t sure this is Kellhus’s work, but Cnaiür is certain because “only one had time to draw his weapon.”
War, she [Esmenet] realized—war had given the world to men.
They had fallen to their knees before her, the Men of the Tusk. They had beseeched her for her blessing. “Shimeh,” one man had cried. “I go to die for Shimeh!” And Esmenet did, though she felt foolish and so very far from the idol they seemed to make of her; she blessed them, saying words that would give them the certainty they so desperately needed—to die or to kill. In a voice she knew so well—at once soothing and provoking—she repeated something she had heard Kellhus say: “Those who do not fear death live forever.” She held their cheeks and smiled, though her heart was filled with rot.
How they had thronged about her! Their arms and armour clattering. All of them reaching, aching for her touch, much as they had in her previous life.
And then they left her with the slaves and the ill.
Some called her the Whore of Sumna, but in reverent tones like they thought of her namesake from The Chronicles of the Tusk. She wonders if she’ll be only a reference “buried among holy articles.” Would she be Esmenet-the-other, the Prophet-Consort, or the Whore of Sumna?
She hears the battle begin. She can’t stand the sound and retreats into the Umbilica which his empty save for a few slaves and a single guard of the Hundred Pillars. It’s quiet in here, the Holy War seems “impossibly distant, as though she listened to another world through the joints of this one.” She finds herself in her chambers staring at the bed where she sleeps with Kellhus. She lays down on it surrounded by her books and scrolls, not reading, but just touching them, treating them like “a child jealous of her toys.” She counts them.
“Twenty-seven,” she said to no one. Distant sorceries cracked faraway air, made the gold and glass settings hum with their rumble.
Twenty-seven doors opened and not one way out.
“Esmi,” a hoarse voice said.
For a moment she refused to look up. She knew who it was. Even more, she knew what he looked like: the desolate eyes, the haggard posture, even the way his thumb combed the hair across his knuckles… It seemed a wonder that so much could be hidden in a voice, and even greater wonder that she alone could see.
Her husband. Drusas Achamian.
Achamian asks her to come with him. She agrees, ignoring Moënghus crying. She’s forever following.
The battle progresses. The Scarlet Spire unleashes their sorcerery on the battlements. They breathe dragon fire over the Fanim, roasting them. Stones fracture. The gate’s foundations buckle. Smoke and dust billows.
At long last, the Scarlet Spires marched.
Kellhus descends deeper, using a lantern, whose origins he doesn’t recognize, that waited for him. He realizes these ruins are not human. The way the drafts move through it causes his soul to calculate possibilities “transforming inferences into space.” It reminds him of the Thousand Thousand Halls of Ishuäl. He keeps going, seeing statuary’s carved into the walls. They are everywhere, stacked on each other, and he realizes this is the work of Nonmen.
He notices a trail “scuffed across the hide of ancient dust.” The person who left this trail has a stride identical to Kellhus’s his. He follows his father’s footsteps. He gains insight into the difference of Nonmen culture from Men. He ignores branching paths, following the track. He passes through a library, storerooms, bedrooms, more. He studied everything he passed and knows he “understood nothing of the souls for whom these things were natural and immediate.
He pondered four thousand years of absolute dark.
As the trail passes, by necessity, friezes and sculptures, Kellhus finds himself moving around them to study them, “heeding some voice from nowhere.” He realizes the Nonmen were obsessed with cutting their living forms into dead stone. They had turned the mansion into their Temple. “Unlike men, These Nonmen had not rationed their worship.” He thinks it speaks to their terror.
Collapsing possibilities with every step, Anasûrimbor Kellhus followed his father’s trail into the blackness, his lantern raised to the issue of artisans, ancient and inhuman.
Esmenet wonders where Achamian is taking her. He doesn’t speak as he leads her from the encampment and Shimeh. She finds herself feeling like they were their odd selves: “the sorcerer and his melancholy whore.” She even held his hand.
What harm could come of it?
Please… keep walking. Let us flee this place!
Only once they were outside the camp does she truly pay attention to Achamian and his appearance. She realizes he’s leading her to the very place where Kellhus waited last night. He breaks the silence, saying she didn’t come to Xinemus’s funeral. She says she couldn’t bear it. She feels guilty for missing out on the funeral for Achamian’s only friend even with what happened to her that night. She asks the customary platitude. He leads her farther in silence before making the customary response.
The sound of the battle is distant. She finds herself studying this place in the light of day, drinking in the details she missed last night. She wonders again what she’s doing. A flash of fear shots through her, and she wonders if Achamian seeks revenge for what she did to him. She finds herself angry that he hadn’t fought for her. She demands to know why they are here.
Achamian is oblivious to her anger and says she wanted her to see the camp of the holy war from a height. She stares out across the empty camp to the walls of Shimeh where the battle rages. Metal flashes on the rampart. Proyas’s siege-towers had arrived. Smoke rises from the Massus Gate. Above it all looms the First Temple.
She raised a balled fist to her brow. Perhaps it was some trick of scale or perspective, but it all seemed so slow, as though it happened through water—or something more viscous than human understanding.
Nevertheless, it happened…
She cries out that they have taken the city and are winning. She feels horror and awe. She reflects on everything she had endured to reach here. The battles. The pain. The atrocities committed. She feels it all as she stares at Achamian.
But he shook his head, his eyes still fixed on the vista before them. “It’s all a lie.”
Confused, she asks what he means. She sees the same blank numbness in his face she saw when he returned from death. He tells her “The Scylvendi came to me last night.”
The Fanim drums beat as the Javreh slave-soldiers charged the ruins of Massus Gate. The Scarlet Spire has entered Shimeh. Their soldiers fan out through the narrow streets, cutting down civilians in their way.
Ptarramas the Older was the first to die, struck in the shoulder by a Chorae as he pressed his cadre forward. He fell to the street, cracked like statuary. Bellowing arcana, Ti sent flocks of burning sparrows into the black windows of the adjacent tenement. Explosions spit blood and debris across the street. Then, from the ruins of the outer wall, Inrûmmi struck the building’s westward face with brilliant lightning. The air cracked. Burnt brick walls sloughed to the ground. In an exposed room, a burning figure stumbled over the lip of the floor and plummeted to the ruin below.
Eleäzaras enters the city, inspecting his school. He wanted to fight the Cishaurim in a head-on fight, but they Seökti, their High Heresiarch, is denying them. He sees the warren of the city stretching to the Juterum and feels Chorae around them, waiting to strike.
Everywhere. Hidden enemies.
Too many… too many.
“Fire cleanses!” he cried. “Raze it! Burn it all to ash!”
Yalgrota Sranchammer leads the Thunyeri though the Massus Gate after the Scarlet Schoolmen. His men race through the devastation of sorcery. On the wall, Proyas and his men are fighting on the ramparts. To the south, the Ainoni led by Chinjosa sees the Fanim flee before their siege-towers get in place. The Thunyeri spill through the city, not finding any defenders.
Soon the Kianene and Amoti were dissolving in panic. Everywhere they looked, they saw chain-armored myriads, loosed like blond wolves into the streets.
As Kellhus moves through the Nonmen mansion, his lantern runs out of fuel. Instead of finding darkness, a faint light comes from the sound of falling water. He presses on, not using sorcery to announce his presence. The sound of water grows louder while mist coats his skin. The light grows brighter. He uses touch to feel the floor to make sure he still followed his father’s path.
He finds a balcony overlooking a large cavern, a mighty waterfall plummeting below. Near where it lands, braziers burn beside an oily pool. He descends stairs, passing more “pornographic reliefs.” The stair spirals around the falls, passing “horns” that thrust into the waterfall to collect the water and transport it elsewhere. He passes signs of an ancient battle fought near the bottom.
“They gathered here in the hundreds,” a voice called across the gloom, clear despite the ambient rumble. “Even thousands, in the days before the Womb-Plague…”
A Kûniüric voice.
Kellhus paused on the steps, searched the gloom.
From the darkness, as Kellhus reaches a pool surrounded by squatting statues, the voice continues, saying, “Bathing was holy for them.” Kellhus examines the voice and finds it “seamless and inscrutable.” It sounds just like his own. He circles the pool and finds Moënghus sitting behind one of the sheets of water pouring from the statues. Moënghus says the fires are for Kellhus. Moënghus doesn’t need them. He’s lived in the darkness for a long time.
Achamian is scared by how calm Esmenet is as she repeats that Kellhus uses everyone. “Don’t you mean he uses me?” Achamian admits he’s still struggling to understand it, but he thinks Kellhus wants intelligent children.
“So he breeds. Is that it? I’m his prized mare?”
“I know how hateful these words must—”
“Why would you think that? I’ve been used my whole life.” She paused, glared at him with as much remorse as outrage. “My whole life, Akka. And now that I’ve become the instrument of something higher, higher than men and their rutting hunger—”
“But why? Why be an instrument at all?”
“You speak as if we had a choice—you, a Mandate Schoolman! There’s no escape. You know that. With every breath, we are used!”
He asks why she sounds so bitter at being used as a “prophet’s vessel.” She cuts him off, because of you. She says that he’s clinging to the fact she loved him, and it’s hurting her because he refuses to let go. He points out he asked, she came. That makes her silent for a while. She then pretends that she already knew this information, but Achamian, ignoring the Holy War, knows it’s a lie. She asks how he knows.
“Because you say you love him.”
The Scarlet Spire “laid waste to all before them.” They incinerate everything. A few “adept Watchers” move across the sky, the rest of the seventy-four move on the ground, sheltered by the Javreh. They step over the dead. “The whole world seemed rendered in luminous bloods and abyssal blacks.” The First Temple and the Ctesarat loom over them.
The Fanim ran before them, like flame-maddened beasts.
The Ciphrang are flying above Shimeh, the one place that gives them “reprieve from spikes of terrestrial congestion.” Zioz, Setmahaga, and Sohorat are flying as high as possible. The Voice calls them back. They plummet towards the war-torn city of Shimeh. The envy all the mortal “raping, murdering, warring.” They want to devour all of that, but the Voice controls them, hurting them until they obey and land on the First Temple.
Inside, they sensed the Cishaurim. They are ordered to attack, the Voice telling them they’ll be safe from Chorae only amid the Cishaurim. They rip through the roof and descended on a dozen Cishaurim. Psûkhe assaults them. They kill, ripping away heads. Then a loud voice yells, “Demon!” The newcomer is old but appears powerful. The Voice tells them to flee.
Setmahaga fell first, struck in the eye by an absence affixed to the end of a stick. An explosion of burning salt…
Then Sohorat, his slavering form caught in torrents of light, screamed.
Zioz leapt into the clouds.
Return me, manling! Throw off these chains!
But the Scarlet Schoolman was obstinate.
One last task… One more offending eye…
Water falls around Kellhus. Moënghus begins talking about how Kellhus found that humans were like children and thus believe the same as their fathers. “Men are like wax poured into moulds: their souls are cast by their circumstances.” It’s why Fanim are not born to Inrithi and vice versa. If you raised an infant with Fanim, you get Fanim. The same infant given to Inrithi parents, you get Inrithi.
“Split him in two, and he would murder himself.”
Moënghus’s face thrust through the waterfall at seemingly random, like he was just readjusting his posture. Kellhus knows it’s all premeditated. “For all the changes wrought by thirty years in the Wilderness, his father remained Dûnyain…” Kellhus stands on “conditioned ground.” Moënghus continues that even though this is obvious, men don’t realize that anything comes before them. “They are numb to the hammers of circumstance.” They think they have free will. This leads them to rely on their intuition and get mad at people who disagree with them because they think they know “absolute truth.”
“And yet part of them fears. For even unbelievers share the depths of their conviction. Everywhere, all about them, they see examples of their own self-deception… ‘Me!’ everyone cries. ‘I am chosen!’ How could they not fear when they so resemble children stamping their feet in the dust? So they encircle themselves with yea-sayers, and look to the horizon for confirmation, for some higher sign that they are as central to the world as they are to themselves.”
He waved his hand out, brought his palm to his bare breast. “And they pay with the coin of their devotion.”
Esmenet throws back Achamian words in his face, pointing out he surrendered his “precious Gnosis” as easily as she surrendered her body. She wants to hate him as she says this. He agrees and she presses him, asking why would a Mandate Schoolman go against his school. He begins by saying because of the Second Apocalypse and she jumps at that.
“The very world is at stake and you complain that he makes weapons of all things? Akka, you should rejoi—”
“I’m not saying he’s not the Harbinger! He may even be a prophet for all I know…”
“Then what are you saying, Akka? Do you even know?”
Two tears threaded his cheeks.
“That he stole you from me! Stole!”
She is disdainful, claiming she feels worthless. Saying that Achamian says he loves her, but always treated her like she was a whore. Before she can say that word, he cuts her off by saying she’s only seeing her love for Kellhus. “You’re not thinking of what he sees when he gazes upon you.”
A moment of silent horror.
Esmenet then protests that you can’t trust a Scylvendi and Achamian demands to know what Kellhus sees in her. She finds her self shaking as she says, “He sees the truth!” She finds him hugging her.
He whispered into her ear. “He doesn’t see, Esmi… He watches.”
And the words were there, at once deafening and unspoken.
She looked up to him, and he stared at her with an intensity, a desperation, she knew she would never find in Kellhus’s endless blue eyes. He smelled warm… bitter.
His lips were wet.
Eleäzaras lets out a mad cackle as he stares out at the ruins of Shimeh. He feels this strange, dark enjoyment “like watching a hated sibling struck at last.” He feels drunk now. High. Sorcerous battle rages around him. Buildings are destroyed. Lightning and fire unleashed.
The Grandmaster cackled as the wave of dust rolled over him. Shimeh burned! Shimeh burned!
A sorcerer, Sarothenese, reaches Eleäzaras and says he is pressing them too hard, wasting their energy on mindless destruction. Eleäzaras just wants them to kill, not caring about anything else. His subordinate pleads with him to conserve their strength for the Cishaurim.
For some reason, he [Eleäzaras] thought of all the slaves who had swallowed his member, of clutching tight silken sheets, of the luxurious agony of release. This was what it was like, he realized. He had seen them, the Men of the Tusk, filing back from battle, matted in blood, smiling with those terrifying eyes…
As though to show those eyes to Sarothenese, he turned to the man, held out a hand to the sulfurous calamity before them.
“Behold!” he spat contemptuously. “Behold what we—we!—have wrought.”
The soot-stained sorcerer stared at him in horror. Lights flashed across his sweaty cheek. Eleäzaras turned back to the exult in the wages of his impossible labour. Shimeh burned… Shimeh.
“Our power,” he grated. “Our glory!”
Proyas stares in shock from the top of Shimeh’s walls as the dark clouds rising up from the ruins. The First Temple feels so close to him even with though Fanim soldiers are between him and the Sacred Heights. Despite his awe for the Holy Sight, he is stunned by the destruction the Scarlet Schoolman are wreaking upon the city. Proyas shouts at a Schoolman, demanding to know what they are doing. They’re destroying Shimeh.
That gets the Schoolman’s attention and he is mad, saying they are fighting the Cishaurim and have to be so indiscriminate because of the Chorae lurking out there. He doesn’t give a shit about Holy Shimeh. The man’s vehemence shocks Proyas.
The sorcerer before Proyas began singing as well. A sudden wind bellied his gaping sleeves.
And a voice whispered, No… not like this.
Moënghus continues his lecture on how circumstance mold men, and that is what power is. He then asks what is about men that makes them this malleable. He answers it for Kellhus, saying he learned this lesson fast when he saw them all in a “circle of repeating actions, each one a wheel in the great machine of nations.” If men stop obeying, then leaders stop leading. To be a king, a man “must act accordingly.” If a man thinks he is a slave, he acts like one. Like Moënghus already had, Kellhus had learned that men have hierarchies and expect people to act in whatever role circumstance has handed them. “This is what makes them emperors or slaves.”
“Nations live as Men act,’ Moënghus said, his voice refracted through the ambient rush of waters. “Men act as they believe. And Men believe as they are conditioned. Since they are blind to their conditioning, they do not doubt their intuitions…”
Kellhus nodded in wary assent. “They believe absolutely,” he said.
Achamian leads Esmenet by the hand towards the ruined mausoleum. She’s smiling and crying. He finds her beautiful before the smoke rising from Shimeh. He leads her inside and they kiss with passion. They are on the ground. He realizes this is wrong.
And he knew—they both knew!—what it was they were doing: blotting one crime with another… But he couldn’t stop. Even though he knew she would hate him afterward. Even though he knew that was what she wanted…
She’s crying, moaning something he can’t hear. He feels this terror beating through him even as he hikes up her dress. She’s squirming on the ground then she gasped that Kellhus has to love her and will kill them. Then he plunges into her.
The defenders of Shimeh flee the sorcerous fire, cursing the Holy War and wondering where their Padirajah and the Cishaurim are. Smoke fills the city. The Conryians hunt down routed shoulders, putting them to death. In a square, they defenders regroup and reform to face the Conriyans. They threw up barriers. However, after a few assaults, they are broken again and flee farther into the city. “Death came Swirling down.”
But the Prince pulled Ingiaban aside.
“What is it?” the burly Palatine said, his voice ringing through his war-mask.
“Where are they?” Proyas asked. “The Fanim.”
“What do you mean?”
“They only pretend to defend their city.”
Kellhus studies what little he can see of his father as Moënghus continues talking about how Kellhus acted, saying as a Dûnyain, he had no choice but to “master circumstance.” So he set about taking control of the Holy War by making their beliefs the focus of his study. “It was axiomatic.”
“You realized those truths that cut against the interests of the powerful were called lies, and that those lies that served those interests were called truths. And you understood that it had to be this way, since it is the function of belief, not the veracity, that preserved nations. Why call an emperor’s blood divine? Why tell slaves that suffering is grace? It is what beliefs do, the actions they license and prohibit, that is important. If men believed all blood was equal, the caste-nobles would be overthrown. If men believed all coin was oppression, the caste-merchants would be turned out.
“Nations tolerate only those believes that conserve the great system of interlocking actions that make them possible. For the worldborn, you realized, truth is largely irrelevant. Why else would they all dwell in delusion?”
Thus, Kellhus claimed to be a noble to receive the benefits of the position. This way he could command instead of being commanded. Now Kellhus had to figure out the next lie to take him from equal to their master.
Achamian and Esmenet writhe in passion, their bodies remembering how to please each other. It’s wild. Unbridled. She cries as she kisses him.
“You were dead!”
“I cam back for you…”
Anything. Even the world.
Esmi. Esmenet. Gasping and crying out…
Such a strange name for a harlot.
The mist creates false tears flowing down Moënghus’s cheeks as he continues his explanation of Kellhus’s actions. Kellhus saw that belief was just another hierarchy for humans with their own levels. Religious ones are at the top, proven by the Holy War’s existence. “The actions of so many could be pitched with single purpose against so many native weaknesses: fear, sloth, compassion…” Kellhus thus studied their scriptures and understood how Inrithism worked. Since it was pinned to the unseen, to the God, doubting the faith meant doubting their creator. It acts as the base for all other relations of power. The arbiter of all mankind. “The servant shakes his fist at the heavens, not his master.”
His father’s voice—so much like his own—swelled to seize all the dead Nonmen spaces.
“And here you saw the Shortest Path… For you understood that this trick, which turns the eyes of the oppressed skyward and away from the hand that held the whip, could be usurped to your ends. To command circumstance, you must command action. To command action, you must command belief. To command belief, you need only speak with the voice of heaven.
“You were Dûnyain, one of the Conditioned, and they, with their stunted intellects, were no more than children.”
Scouts watching Shairizor Plains were the first to see movement. The Lords of the Holy War had searched for Fanayal and his army but hadn’t found it. They realize he must be in the city and will attack their flank out of Shimeh’s eastern gate. They are ready for this with defenses deployed along the River Jeshimal.
The Fanim had, instead, undermined the walls of Shimeh. “Walls meant nothing, their bright-eyed Padirajah assured them, when Schools went to war.” With Psûkhe sorcery, a section of the walls is destroyed and out charges Fanayal and his horseman, racing across Shairizor Plains.
The sound of heathen drums suddenly redoubled.
Moënghus continues explaining how Kellhus became the Warrior-Prophet by convincing “them [the Holy War] that the distance between their intellect and yours was the distance between the World and the Outside.” If he succeeded, they would give him complete control and their devotion. It wouldn’t be easy to execute but was clearly the only way. So Kellhus “cultivated their awe” by telling them things he shouldn’t know by reading their hearts. He “showed them who they were” while simultaneously exploiting their weaknesses.
“You gave them certainty, though all the world is mystery. You gave them flattery, though all the world is indifference. You gave them purpose, though all the world is anarchy.
“You taught them ignorance.
At the same time he did this, Kellhus feigned to be humble. He didn’t claim to be special or different. He sprinkled out his revelations to many, giving them pieces of his machine, then let the masses assemble it. That way, they figured out revelation on their own and came to the conclusion that he was their Prophet.
However, Moënghus continues that this wouldn’t be enough. Though the powerless don’t care who stands between them and “the God,” those with power did. “To rule in the name of an absent king is to rule outright.” The nobles would resist. A crisis would happen. Moënghus stands and steps through the water. His empty eye sockets stare into Kellhus’s eyes.
“This,” the eyeless face said, “was where the Probability Trance failed me…”
“So you did not anticipate the visions?” Kellhus asked.
His father’s face remained absolute and impassive.
Eleäzaras stands in the midst of the inferno he and his mage cadres had crated of Shimeh. He stares at the Juterum, eager to find the assassins. They are so close to it. He’s eager for it.
The Cishaurim had sent their invitation, and they had come. After innumerable miles and deprivations—after all the humiliation!—they had come. They had kept their end of the bargain. Now it was time to balance the ledgers. Now! Now!
What kind of game do they play?
No matter. No matter. He would raze all Shimeh if he had to. Upend the very earth!
He orders his school to fight even as he’s warned that there are lots of Chorae nearby. He dismisses them, claiming they are held by the dead buried by the rubble of the buildings they destroyed.
The world about him seemed black and hollow and glittering white. Kellhus raised his palm. “My hands… when I look upon them, I see haloes of gold.”
“I have not my eyes with me,” Moënghus said, and Kellhus understood instantly that he referred to the asps used by his Cishaurim brethren. “I walk these halls by memory.”
For all the signs he betrayed, this man who was his father could be a statue of stone. He seemed a face without a soul.
Kellhus continues, asking if the God speaks to Moënghus. He doesn’t, which Kellhus finds curious. Moënghus asks where the voice comes from. Kellhus doesn’t know. He only knows the thoughts aren’t his. Moënghus dips into the probability trance and concludes that Kellhus has become deranged by what he suffered. Kellhus concedes it’s a possibility. Moënghus continues that it wouldn’t benefit Kellhus to deceive him unless Kellhus has come to actually assassinate him. Kellhus asks if his father apprehends that.
“You do not have the power to overcome me.”
“But I do, Father.”
Another pause, imperceptibly longer.
“How,” his father finally said, “could you know this?”
“Because I know why you were compelled to summon me.”
“So you have grasped it.”
“Yes… the Thousandfold Thought.”
This was one hard chapter to summarize. I just wanted to copy and paste everything Moënghus says. It’s Bakker writing out the philosophy of the Dûnyain in one place. How they think. How they go through problems. How they see the world. How Bakker does, too.
The end is about to begin. The final battle dawns. You can feel this chapter building towards those climaxes. The Holy War assembling, Kellhus searching for that tree where his father awaits, and Achamian grappling with the revelation that he is Kellhus slave.
By thinking himself free, he doesn’t question the chains wrapped about his soul. Kellhus wants everyone blind to that truth. Cnaiür thought he could be chaotic and not be controlled. He was wrong. Achamian thought he served the Mandate and the world by helping Kellhus. He, too, is wrong. And now he has to come to terms with it.
By serving Kellhus, Achamian had taken a perverse pride in his sacrifice of Esmenet. He was showing how virtuous he was. That he was putting the world ahead of his own pain. That he was serving something that mattered. He glutted on it and now he realizes how false it was. How manufactured. That it was all lies. He prefers damnation because he’s now in a living hell.
Can’t blame those Fanim for running. We’ve seen how destructive sorcery is in this series. The demon attack has caused havoc among the Cishaurim, giving the Scarlet Spire the freedom to assault the walls without fear of them or the Chorae bowmen.
A tense section with Proyas on the siege-tower and the slow lumber towards the enemy wall with everyone in the city wanting to take you out. Then just like that, Gaidekki is killed. Smiling. A cold, impersonal death. The type of war is filled with.
The only tree in Kyudea is a twin to Umiaki back in Caraskand. Kellhus is facing another test, one just as dire and important as that. Trees are symbolically linked with Dûnyain from the very beginning of the story. Kellhus was bemused by trees branching in all their directions when he first left Ishuäl. When he learns to fight, he was trained to be a tree warring in every direction at once. Trees represent different paths. That one can travel to reach the sky. Every choice leading to more and more decisions, each more fragile, thinner, more ephemeral the way the probability trance must become when Kellhus plots out how events might happen and what he can do to influence them.
The dead Kidruhil makes me think back to Kellhus racing as a jackal on the plain. This might have been when he killed these men. Or maybe it was such an insignificant moment to Kellhus, Bakker doesn’t even bother giving us a hint of it in his POV.
War is the territorial fighting of animals taken to the most extreme. Not one pack or herd fighting another, but tribes and nations with a level of regimentation and ferocity not found with our animal cousins. We took it to the extremes and seized our planet. We exerted our will upon it and shaped it. To do so, you have to overcome your survival instinct and all manner of innate programming that keeps you from wanting to actually kill another. You have to believe there’s a reward, that you have nothing to fear, that you’re doing the right thing, that you’re fighting monsters.
War is belief. And that feverish belief gave humans the world.
Esmenet is lost. We see this focused in her surrounding herself by what she gained as Kellhus wife: books. They are the thing she most values. Learning to read allowed her to continue that passion her character has always had to hear stories. Look back to book one where she talks about her preferred clients as a whore: travelers. Men who had gone places, seen things beyond her little section of Sumna. Now that she’s traveled, she’s learned that books can take her into the past, into new ideas, into far-flung lands.
But right now it won’t change her inner turmoil that she doesn’t love Kellhus like she thought. She’s floundering. And then Achamian walks in and she thinks of him as first her husband. When he invites her to go with him, she doesn’t hesitate. She ignores crying Moënghus to go to him.
Kellhus trip through the mansion is, literally, on conditioned ground. He’s following the path his father left for him. These are Kellhus’s last steps as a Dûnyain. After this, he will have utterly diverted, forming his own path from his father and the rest of his people. As he follows these steps, he makes minor deviations to admire the Nonmen sculptures. He responds to “some voice from nowhere.” A Dûnyain shouldn’t be listening to a voice “from nowhere.”
Esmenet finds herself angry he hadn’t fought for her. She wants to be valued by Achamian, especially now that she’s realized she never really loved Kellhus. That she still loves Achamian, and now she realizing that what they had she can’t get back, even though she wants it so badly now. She wants them to leave the Holy War.
But she’s pregnant.
It’s a powerful moment as she stares at Shimeh. This is what they all suffered for. Will it be worth it in the end? Can it be once she learns the truth that has broken Achamian?
Eleäzaras’s fear that has been building over the course of the last two books is now unleashed in all its paranoia. He’s out of control. He just ordered his men to attack indiscriminately because they are surrounded by “hidden enemies.” This is more than he can handle.
Kellhus’s touch can detect disturbed dust. Dûnyain…
The battle is no doubts from when men wiped out the Nonmen from this mansion. There were many such pogroms run against them.
Now we come to it. Moënghus at last. Even now, reading this for the dozenth time, that tingle of excitement races through me. Bakker has built us up to this moment for the last three books. The goal of the series.
We have three different battles underway in this part. Kellhus versus Moënghus. The Holy War versus the Fanim. Achamian versus Kellhus’s manipulation. The Thousandfold Thought, Shimeh, and Esmenet are the stakes. Bakker cuts between them, moving from the opening salvos to the clashes as we cut from Achamian’s first attack, “Because you say you love him.”
So we learn that demons turn to salt when killed in their attack and that there is an old Cishaurim you do not want to mess with. Then Bakker is setting up the foreshadowing for what happens to Achamian and Iyokus’s revenge. A nice little scene that gives us some insight into the Daimos and how it works.
Moënghus remains Dûnyain, but not Kellhus.
We are getting into how Dûnyain sees the world. Moënghus’s first wards part is reiterating what we’ve read this entire time, the cliff-notes of the series. It’s about humans, especially how self-centered we are. I’m a writer, and taking criticism is hard. There’s a part of me that instantly reacts with the nasty impulse that they are wrong, mistaken. I have to batter it down and try not to fall into the trap of confusing my “narrow conditioning for absolute truth.”
Achamian’s doubt in this conversation, on just what Kellhus is, is what compels him to embark on his long journey in the next series as much as his desire for Esmenet. He needs to prove that losing Esmenet was truly worth it, I think. He has to know if Kellhus really is a prophet and the savior of the world.
“He stared at her with an intensity, a desperation, she knew she would never find in Kellhus’s endless blue eyes.” A powerful line. Esmenet realizes right here Kellhus can never love her. There’s that quote earlier in this novel about how a man without passion is safe, but he also can never love. Achamian might hurt her, but he can also love her. Kellhus can just watch her.
And if she wasn’t pregnant…
So Eleäzaras has completely snapped. He’s gone battle mad, knows it, and doesn’t care. He is beyond responsibility. It’s easier now just burning and destroying. It takes no effort to destroy. To tear down. To ruin. You can do it in moments, breaking something that could have taken days, weeks, months, or years to build.
Proyas is having more and more of his illusions shattered. He saw the Holy War as saving Shimeh, but they have to destroy it to take it. This crisis will send Proyas to his darkest moment until, well, we get to the end of The Unholy Consult.
There is a great deal of truth in what Moënghus is talking about to Kellhus about how the world works. It’s the social contract. In a functional, liberal society like ours, there’s a great deal more flexibility in roles and moving, but we still expect people to do certain things, to have certain responsibilities, in their roles. Society, companies, families, organizations, and more can punish and coerce those who buck it. It can be used to enslave or to empower. The Dûnyain have their own belief on how it should be used.
Esmenet is still clinging to the belief that she loves Kellhus and he loves her. She has to do something to prove it. She has to do something to prove it by making him react emotionally. If Kellhus loved her, he will be hurt by her adultery. At the same time, she will now feel guilty for hurting Kellhus instead of Achamian. She hopes to be free of Achamian. Will she? Does she know what she truly wants? Even knowing this, Achamian wants her too much. He can’t help himself.
A slave to the Darkness that comes before.
I have no idea what a Wellkeeper is. I thought it was a reference to the Cishaurim, but then Bakker names them as Water-bearers. Maybe it’s a reference to Chorae archers. The Amoti are burning in sorcerers fires and dying. They need relief. This word is only referenced in this one spot in this novel.
The way Moënghus talks about Kellhus makes it sound like the more you follow logic, the less free will you have. His father talks about how Kellhus “had to master circumstance.” He had to take control of the world. “It was axiomatic.” For all that the Dûnyain attempt to become self-moving souls, they have merely replaced one set of custom that guides them for another: the Logos.
Then Kellhus makes a choice. He goes against his conditioning. He is influenced by something beyond this world and acts on it.
We get more biting insight into human behavior. We all let our biases cherry pick the information we take in. What we agree with, we embrace. What we disagree with, we throw away. It’s hard to break this habit. To be truly open. This delusion is how we can all work together. It’s what allows our society to function. Humans are innately creatures of hierarchy. We always arrange ourselves into them, and the behaviors that lead to the greatest stability in that arrangement are the ones to be prized.
Back to Achamian and Esmenet. All Achamian wants is her. He doesn’t care about the world. It’s his motivation. I think exposing Kellhus in the second series is all about proving that he was right to put Esmenet before the world. Ahhamina wrote his History of the Holy War and went on that vast journey to prove he was correct.
That he was the center of the world like all us humans think.
Moënghus lists compassion as a weakness with fear and sloth. Insight into Dûnyain’s thoughts. They have divorced themselves from emotions. It is compassion, though, that has broken Kellhus from the mold. That first outrage he felt at Serwë being raped by Cnaiür way back in book one. The horror he felt at being chained to her dead body, the guilt as he wanted to take back his actions that lead to her death. Compassion is the root of love, not lust, but that desire to help those you care for. To act in selfless ways. But to a Dûnyain, it is the Will to Power that matters. They are the “übermench” of Nietzsche. The super-men.
Let’s not forget, this entire series started out with Nietzsche being quoted.
Faith without doubt is a big problem. When you’re told not to question, but obey, you’re being controlled. You should absolutely question things. You shouldn’t just blindly followed what you’re trained. One thing I’ve never seen the Dûnyain do in their training is the question what they’re told. The flashbacks we get of Kellhus is of him answering questions, but not challenging his teacher’s principals. He accepts that they know what is correct and acts on them. It leads to a predictable life. After all, Moënghus has figured out everything Kellhus would do before he ever summoned him. He created the circumstances that would force Kellhus to become the Warrior-Prophet and lead the Holy War to Shimeh.
A smart plan from Fanayal. Kellhus didn’t see it coming. He had his men ready to defend a sally from the Eastern Gate, not an attack onto the Ainoni Plain. Kellhus can be fought by being erratic and doing out of the box thinking because Kellhus in very much in the box. Tactics that are less than advantageous, ones that pose greater risks, can be useful at first. Of course, Kellhus will adjust with his new data, but it shows the Dûnyain aren’t omniscience.
Ignorance is the most powerful tool of the Dûnyain. Once you know what they are capable of, it becomes vastly more difficult for them to manipulate you. They have to use proxies, trade for things you value, make you dependent in other ways. This we saw with Cnaiür. If everyone knows these things, it’ll become vastly more difficult. Of course, I imagine if everyone mistrust a Dûnyain, they could work that mistrust to their advantage, but… it would be harder.
Ignorance is the same tool the Consult is using.
It’s true. When you’re powerless, isn’t it better to choose your master than have one chosen for you? It doesn’t bother you if Kellhus is in charge versus Proyas or Conphas. It’s even better because you believe in him. You gladly serve him. But when you have power, well, that’s different. Who wants to give that up?
We’ve come to know the Dûnyain so well through Kellhus that even though Moënghus gives no reaction to and asks a simple question, you can feel his shock at Kellhus revelation. He did not anticipate Kellhus hearing a voice. This wasn’t part of the plan. This was something not part of the Dûnyain philosophy.
Kellhus has strayed from the Conditioned Grounds.
Eleäzaras comes off as a spoiled child. He wants his vengeance so bad. He’s swept up in it, crushed by the stresses and now just wants his release. He’s denied it. So he’s being petulant. He doesn’t care about the cost. Nothing matters to him, not even his school.
A face without a soul… Dûnyain. That is a powerful statement of what they are. They have cut out what it means to be human. But Kellhus, he’s seeing the halos. Those who believe in him as the Warrior-Prophet see it. When they doubt, like Achamian, it goes away. Kellhus is seeing them. He’s believing that he can change things. He’s affected by the outside because of Serwë and Esmenet. Both these women touched his soul. It’s barely there, an atrophied thing, but as we see in the next series, he does care in his own, fumbling, impotent, ineffective way.
If you think Kellhus is lying about the halos, notice the opening of his passage: “The world about him seemed black and hollow and glittering white. Kellhus raised his palm.” Glittering white. Where is that coming from? The weak torch barely illuminating anything? Or the halo around his hand that he now talks about.
What a way to end the chapter. The Thousandfold Thought. What the Dûnyain have been trying to achieve forever. Moënghus couldn’t get it, so he manufactured a way for his son to get it but giving him this mighty task, forcing him to use his Probability Trance to its fullest with real stakes. No theory now. Real-world application.
Only Moënghus didn’t count on interference coming from outside of cause and effect.
Want to keep reading, click here for Chapter 16!
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To save the world, Ary must die!
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Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.
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