Tag Archives: The Warrior Prophet

Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Three

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 3
Caraskand

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

I tell you, guilt dwells nowhere but in the eyes of the accuser. This men know even as they deny it, which is why they so often make murder their absolution. The truth of crimes lies not with the victim but with the witness.

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

An interesting statement. Guilt is a major theme in the novels, from Cnaiür’s guilt he feels seeing the accusation in his kinsmen’s eyes, a constant reminder to his crime, to what Esmenet will start to feel through this novel starting in this chapter. It’s easy for you to pretend you haven’t done something wrong when the proof isn’t being paraded before you. And if you can’t handle that, murder is the final step you can take to undo it.

Unless you want to suck it up and make it right. But taking responsibility is hard for humans. We prefer to blame others and become the victim. But that is a self-destructive act. It warps you, twists you, and eventually leads you to lash out against the world to keep perpetuating your lie.

Late Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Enathpaneah

Cnaiür barrels through Kellhus’s palace, servants fleeing before him as alarms are raised. This angers Cnaiür because he’d saved their prophet. “Didn’t that make him divine as well?” He’s searching for something, asking for directions from a slave woman. Scared, she points at a door.

Her neck felt good in his hand, like that of a cat or a feeble dog. It reminded him of the days of pilgrimage in his other life, when he had strangled those he raped. Even still, he hand no need of her, so he released his grip, watched her stumble backward then topple, skirts askew, across the black floor.

Shouts rang out from the galleries behind them.

He sprinted to the door she’d indicated, kicked it open.

He finds a nursery with a cradle in the center. Everything grows quiet as he approaches with care, parting the hanging gauze to peer down at Moënghus, his son with Serwë. He sees the “penetrating white-blue of the Steppe” in the boy’s eyes and knows it is his son.

Cnaiür reached out two fingers, saw the scars banding the length of his forearm. The babe waved his hand, and as though by accident caught Cnaiür’s fingertip, his grip firm like that of a father or a friend in miniature. Without warning, his face flushed, became wizened with anguished wrinkles. He sputtered, began wailing.

Why, Cnaiür wondered, would the Dûnyain keep this child? What did he see when he looked upon it? What use was there in a child.

There was no interval between the world and an infant soul. NO deception. No Language. An infant’s wail simply was its hunger. And it occurred to Cnaiür that if he abandoned this child, it would become an Inrithi, but if he took it, stole away, and rode hard for the Steppe, it would become a Scylvendi. And his hair prickled across his scalp, for there was magic in that—even doom.

Cnaiür reflects that as the child ages, it’s hungers would grow, branch, in unfathomable ways. “It would become what circumstances demanded.” Cnaiür realizes this is how the Dûnyain see men. As infants that Kellhus understood and could track all the way their hungers would grow. This is what the elder Moënghus did to Cnaiür. He realizes that he was one of the possibilities his son could be molded into it. A memory of intrudes of him burning a Nansur village on a raid and catching a thrown babe on his sword. He jerks back his finger and says the child is not of the land.

Esmenet, “the sorcerer’s whore,” burst into the room. With shrill fury, she advances on him, saying he can’t have the baby. It’s all that’s left of Serwë. She becomes more conciliatory as she explains its the only proof of her life and asks if he would take that away from her.

Her proof.

Cnaiür stared at Esmenet in horror, then glanced at the child, pink and writhing in blue silk sheets.

“But its name!” he heard someone cry. Surly that voice was too womanish, too weak, to be his.

Something’s wrong with me… Something’s wrong…

Guards burst in and she orders them to sheathe their weapons, claiming Cnaiür only came to pay homage to Kellhus’s son. Cnaiür is shocked to find himself kneeling before the crib. “It seemed he had never stood.”

Xinemus asks Achamian what he’s doing as Achamian is packing up his room. Achamian ignores the warning tone in Xinemus’s voice and reminds the blind man he’s moving into the Fama Palace. While doing that, he remembers how Esmenet always teased him when he packed his things. He then thinks she’s a whore and that explains why she’s with Kellhus.

Xinemus presses on why Achamian’s leaving, reminding Achamian that Proyas forgave him. Achamian hasn’t forgiven Proyas. Xinemus asks what of himself. Achamian regards the drunk man, trying to remind himself Xinemus was his only friend. Achamian realizes that Xinemus is accusing Achamian of abandoning him, which angers Achamian. But he finds himself asking Xinemus to come with him and talk to Kellhus. Xinemus doesn’t think Kellhus needs him, but Achamian insists he needs to talk to Kellhus. He turns and finds Xinemus looming over him to his shock.

You talk to him!” the Marshal roared, seizing and shaking him [Achamian]. Achamian clawed at his arms, but they were as wood. “I begged you! Remember? I begged, and you watched while they gouged out my fucking eyes! My fucking eyes, Akka! My fucking eyes are gone!”

Achamian found himself on the hard floor, scrambling backward, his face covered in warm spittle.

The great-limbed man sagged to his knees. “I can’t seeee!” he at once whispered and wailed. “I-haven’t-the courage-I-haven’t-the-courage…” He shook silently for several more moments, then became very still. When he next spoke, his voice was thick, but eerily disconnected from what had racked him only moments before. It was the old Xinemus, and it terrified Achamian.

Xinemus asks Achamian to speak to Kellhus on his behalf. Achamian feels he has no choice and asks what is Xinemus’s question.

Esmenet wakes up to the dawn light. This moment is the only thing similar to her previous life as a whore: waking up into a new day. Only when her mind fully came awake does she remember she’s not a whore, but a queen, with her own slaves, sleeping on muslin, surrounded by luxuries. Today, like every day, she’s pampered by her slaves. They chat in Kianene while combing her hair, massaging her limbs, bathing her body. Esmenet endures it with wonder and always gives them praise. Like her, they have risen high in the hierarchy of their own world as slaves, and she thinks they are as astonished by it as she is.

When they were finished, Fanashila left for the nursery, while Yel and Burulan, still tittering, ushered Esmenet to her night table, and to an array of cosmetics that, she realized with some dismay, would have made her weep back in Sumna. Even as she marveled at the brushes, paints, and powders, she worried over this new-found jealousy for things. I deserve this, she thought, only to curse herself for blinking tears.

Yel and Burulan fell silent.

It’s just more… more that will be taken away.

When she looks in a mirror, she sees herself as beautiful as Serwë now, appearing as an “exotic stranger” to her own eyes. She almost believed she was wroth what people thought of her. She clutches at her love while Yel says she’s beautiful. And then she thinks this is real.

Fanashila returns with Moënghus and his wet nurse Opsara. She talks to Opsara, a slave that Esmenet finds to toe the line of insubordination but who also clearly loves Moënghus, about the baby. After he nurses, she holds him and loves him like her own child, talking about the brother or sister he’ll soon have. She promises to name her daughter Serwë. After a while, she hands over Moënghus to Opsara.

As Esmenet watched them, her thoughts turned to Achamian for the first time since the garden.

Later, she runs into Werjau “by coincidence” carrying a collection of scrolls and tablets towards her official chambers. Her secretaries are at work as Werjau delivers his reports starting with two Tydonni inscribing Orthodox slogans on the wall, men who couldn’t read so were put u to it (Esmenet suspects the Nansur) and orders them flayed.

The ease with which those words fell form her lips was nothing short of nightmarish. One breath and these men, these piteous fools, would die in torment. A breath that could have been used for anything: a moan of pleasure, a gasp of surprise, a word of mercy…

This, she understood, was power: the translation of word into fact. She need only speak and the world would be rewritten. Before, her voice could only conjure custom, ragged breaths, and quickened seed. Before, her cries could only forestall affliction and wheedle what small mercies might come. But now her voice had become that mercy, that affliction.

Such thoughts made her head swim.

She clutches her tattooed hand to her belly, hiding her astonishment, and thinking that only the child in side of her was truth. “A woman knew no greater certainty, even as she feared.” As she holds her belly, she’s convinced she feels divinity in her. That her womb made the trappings of power insignificant. “Her womb, which had been a hospice to innumerable men, was now a temple.” She is holy because of Kellhus.

Werjau then reports that Gothyelk cursed Kellhus three times. She dismisses that, but Werjau objects. But Esmenet points out that Gothyelk curses everyone. If he stops, then it’s something to worry about. She knows, thanks to Kellhus, that Werjau resents her because she’s a woman. Since they both know this, because there are no secrets around Kellhus, it makes their relationship like quarreling siblings instead of enemies. Because Kellhus exposes all their secrets, his inner circle doesn’t fear what others might think about their actions since Kellhus will reveal their motivations. She tells him to continue.

Another Ainoni, Aspa Memkumri, has been murdered. Esmenet asks if the Scarlet Spire is responsible and Werjau says yes. Esmenet wants to meet with the source to find out just what the Scarlet Spire are up to. Then Werjau brings up Earl Hulwarga performing a banned rite, but Esmenet says it’s irrelevant. “A strong faith does not fear for its principles, Werjau.”

The man moved to the next item, this time without looking up. “The Warrior-Prophet’s new Vizier,” he said tonelessly, “was heard screaming in his chambers.”

Esmenet’s breath caught. “What,” she asked carefully, “was he screaming?”

“No one knows.”

Thoughts of Achamian always came as small calamities.

She says she’ll deal with it personally and asks if there is anything else. He answers, only the Lists. The Lists are reports Men of the Tusk give on their associates of any who are acting strange. Those reported are marched, in the hundreds, before Kellhus every day. So far out of thousands one had killed the men sent to arrest him, two had fled, one had been captured, and another was being watched hoping to find more. Esmenet finds it to be a poor solution, but they’d have to risk Kellhus to do better. Over twenty skin-spies Kellhus had identified vanished before they could be taken.

The most they could do, it seemed, was to wait for them to surface behind other faces.

“Have the Shrial Knights gather them as always.”

Afterward, she walks the western terrace while dozens of worshipers watch her. She both enjoys and is made uncomfortable by their adoration. She cast out two crimson veils and laughs as they scramble to grab it. Then she overseas the afternoon Penance. This evolved out of shriving the Orthodox who plotted against Kellhus, but many began returning desiring to be punished for their sins. Now even Zaudunyani attend. She watches the Judges administer the punishment, flogging backs with branches from Umiaki, the eucalyptus tree Kellhus hung from, chanting:

For wounding that which heals!”

For seizing what would be given!”

For condemning that which saves!”

Esmenet finds it unnerving as the punished men watch, seeing sexual ecstasy on many of their faces, expressions she saw many times working as a whore. She spots Proyas in the back. Old anger fills her and she glares at him. He cries after his flogging, and she wonders if he’s sorry for hurting Kellhus or Achamian.

She skips the evening Whelming in favor of a private dinner since Kellhus is busy with preparations for the Holy War’s march on Xerash. She enjoy the company of her body-slaves then checks on Moënghus. Finally, she retires to her private library.

Where Achamian had been recently installed.

Because her and Kellhus’s apartments are at the pinnacle of the Fama Palace, the highest point in Caraskand, they are vulnerable to sorcerous attack because the Art pays “no heed to walls or elevation.” This means Achamian has to reside close to them for protection.

Close enough, she realized, to hear her cries on the wind.

Akka…

She freezes at the door. She finds his presence perilous, threatening to “strip away all that had happened since the Holy War’s march from Shigek.” She questions her actions then, fearing to lose her nerve, raps on the door. She notices her whore tattoo in the process. She fears she’ll find not Achamian but Sumna on the other side, her old apartment, sitting at the window exposing herself to attract customers.

Then she sees Achamian’s face, grizzled and aged, but so real. They stand in silent awkwardness as she realizes he’s alive. She wants to touch him and feel the truth, but stops herself. She remembers watching him depart for the library and wonders what brought him back to her. Then she feels his eyes on her pregnant stomach and she says she’s come to take The Third Analytic of Men. Achamian finds the tome and tries to smile. Then invites her in.

She took four tentative steps past the threshold. The room smelled of him, a faint musk she always associated with sorcery. A ed had been erected where her favorite settee had been—where she had first read The Tractate.

“Translated into Sheyic, even,” he said, pursing his bottom lip in appreciation. “For Kellhus?”

“No… for me.”

She had meant to say this with pride, but it had sounded spiteful instead. “He taught me how to read,” she explained, more carefully. “Through the misery of the desert, no less.”

Achamian had blanched. “Read”

“Yes… Imagine, a woman.”

He scowled in what could only be confusion.

“The old world is dead, Akka. The old rules are dead… Surely you know this.”

He recoils and she realizes it was her tone, not the fact that she’s a woman (something he’s never held against her) that made him scowl. He then touches the book with reverence and asks her to be careful with it. “Ajencis is an old friend of mine,” he says. She takes care not to touch him as she takes it. They lock eyes and she almost murmurs something, a joke or a thanks, like they used to. Instead, she walks away, hugging the book to her breast. She realizes if she’s not careful, their old habits will see them in bed again.

And he knew this, damn him. He used them.

He called out her name, and she paused at the threshold. When she turned, her eyes were forced down by the stricken expression on his face. “I…” he began. “I was your life… I know I was, Esmi.”

She bit her lip, resisted the instinct to deceive.

“Yes,” she said, staring at her blue-painted toes. For some perverse reason she decided she would have Yel change their colour tomorrow.

What does he matter? His heart was broken long before—

“Yes,” she repeated, “you were my life.” When she raised her face, it was with weariness, not the ferocity she had expected. “And he is my world.”

Later, Esmenet rests her head on Kellhus’s chest and says she saw Achamian. Kellhus say it angered her. She protests it wasn’t Achamian who angered her, but Kellhus says it was. She asks why. All he’s done is love her.

“We betrayed him, Esmi. You betrayed him.”

“But you said—”

“There are sins, Esmi, that not even the God can absolve. Only the injured.”

Kellhus tells her this is why she’s angered. She thinks about his words, feeling awakened, as she always does, by his words. She realizes why and says Achamian will not forgive. A frightening indecision feels Kellhus’s look and he agrees with her.

Eleäzaras, Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spire, is surprised to see Iyokus lives. Iyokus looks stunned that Eleäzaras is drunk, his tent full of smashed pottery. Eleäzaras continues that he thought Iyokus dead when Achamian returned. He hoped Iyokus was dead. Eleäzaras then gazes at the Fama Palace.

Iyokus asks what happened. Eleäzaras, in disdain, says the Padirajah is dead and the Holy War prepares to march. They’re almost to Shimeh. But that wasn’t what Iyokus meant. He asks if Eleäzaras believes in the Consult. And he does. “All this time, laughing at the Mandati, and it was we who were the mumming fools,” he answers.

Silence hangs between them like an accusation. Iyokus is stunned, especially in retrospect as he realizes the Psûkhe is too blunt to make skin-spies. Eleäzaras then confirms his belief that Kellhus is a prophet. Eleäzaras had witnessed Kellhus pull out his own heart while begging for it to be a trick. Iyokus objects, but Eli interrupts him and says he’s convinced after speaking to the man himself. He then adds they are damned and finds that another little joke.

“Please,” the man [Iyokus] exclaimed. “How Could you—”

“Oh, I know. He sees things… things only the God could see.” He swung at one of the earthenware decanters, caught it, shook it to the air to listen to the telltale slosh of wine. Empty. “He showed me,” he said, casting it against the wall, where it shattered. He smiled at Iyokus, letting the weight of his bottom lip draw his mouth open. “He showed me who I am. You know all those little thoughts, all those half-glimpsed things that scurry like vermin through your soul? He catches them and holds them squealing in the air. Then he names them, and tells you what they mean.” He turned away once more. “He sees the secrets.”

Iyokus asks what secrets. Eleäzaras tells Iyokus not to worry about him revealing Iyokus’s sexual predilections (boys and broomsticks) but the secrets people keep from themselves. “He sees what breaks your heart.” Iyokus accuses Eleäzaras of being drunk. He tells Iyokus to see for himself. Iyokus snorts and starts to stomp out in an anger. Eleäzaras just goes back to staring at the Fama Palace. He knows Kellhus is in there somewhere.

“Oh, yes, and Iyokus,” he abruptly called.

“What?”

“I would beware the Mandate Schoolman if I were you.” He absently pawed the table beside him, looking for more wine—or something. “I think he plans to kill you.”

My Thoughts

So in the last chapter we had Achamian’s reintroduction to the story. It shows him as someone that spends a great deal of time thinking and pondering, how he’s wracked with anger and grief for Esmenet, how he’s intellect is struggling against his passions. Bakker now shifts to Cnaiür, reminding us that he is a violent man. A rapist. A barbarian. A man who scares the piss out of people. A man who acts like he doesn’t care what people think about him as he does whatever his passions want even as he prickles about how they cower. “Didn’t that make him divine as well?” He’s offended that they don’t show him reverence as he marches through the palace looking for his son.

Cnaiür debate on the fate of his son is the Tabula Rasa argument, that human beings are blank slates that can be molded in any direction. And this is partly true. We’re both products of our nurture, but we’re also products of our nature. We have instincts coded in our DNA, behaviors that we find replicated across the world in a myriad of societies. We have hormones that influence how we act. But we also have brains smart enough to overcome many of these deficiencies. We can condition ourselves to knew behaviors that can be in conflict with our nature. It’s still hotly debated science to this day.

And then we get into the real heart of the series: free will versus determinism. An infant has no free will. They don’t even have conscious thought. That doesn’t start to develop until between two and four along with the child’s social identity. Right now, an infant is merely its hungers, open and honest about them in the only way it can, but crying out for help. Something most humans, regardless of gender, react to, one of those instinctual things like our fear of snakes that lurks in all of us. (Yes, there is a reason snakes and snake-like beings are found in mythologies as agents of chaos and destruction).

So we had our quote about guilt. Cnaiür finds witness in the eyes of the baby before him for the one he so callously murdered years ago. It jerks him out of his thoughts, has him retreat, declare the child isn’t Scylvendi, washing his hands of the babe.

Bakker describes the baby as pink then contrasting it with the blue sheets. Serwë finally had a pink baby, not a blue one. Esmenet surely is remembering that joy in her dead friend’s eyes.

Esmenet has balls. She cows Cnaiür. Of course, he’s off-balanced by guilt and hatred, by this reminder of not only his crime of killing that baby but how he let the original Moënghus use him.

And now we have more guilt from Achamian as he packs. He is fleeing Xinemus. He can’t make amends to his friend for allowing his eyes to be gouged out and Xinemus can’t give him the absolution because of the guilt he feels. They can only hurt each other now.

Poor Xinemus. Utterly destroyed by the cants of compulsion. Not losing his eyes, those are really just the physical proof of his torture, but what the Scarlet Spires forced him to say, moving his soul. To Xinemus, he said things to Achamian he never meant, never would have said, and he can’t get past them. And there’s nothing anyone can do for him except for Kellhus. The Dûnyain could find the words to save him.

But what use is a blind, broken man?

Esmenet quietly endures being pampered. It’s clear she’s not used to it. Not like the Esmenet we see in the next series, far older, who has utterly become the empress. But now, she’s still bemused by it all. Like with other character introductions, Bakker delves into the heart of the character. For Esmenet it is what life has forced her to be. First a whore and now an empress. She’s thrust into events. Other than setting out to find Achamian in book one, she’s never been more than a passive character, letting others drag her along in their wake, even if they’re her slaves.

We also see that she’s afraid she’ll lose it all. That she doesn’t deserve this because deep down she’s still that whore. Despite what Kellhus did to convince her in the last book, her own doubts are bubbling through, probably because of Achamian reentry into her life. He’s a reminder of what she used to be, the witness to her crimes of being a whore and then being his adulterous wife.

Esmenet holds up to the promises of naming her first daughter after Serwë. But Serwa is the opposite of her namesake in every way imaginable except in her love life. But that’s a discussion for The Great Ordeal. (I hope I’ll remember the idea for my comparison between her and her namesake).

Is it coincidence that she ran into Werjau? As we later see, he doesn’t like Esmenet and is plotting against her.

So Kellhus has created a secret police, encouraging his followers to report on each other to the Zaudunyani, and then put Esmenet in charge of it. He is molding her to be a ruler in his absence, knowing she has the intelligence for it, and must see this as something of trivial importance at the same time.

Now Bakker shows us another way she’s grown, how power has given her the agency she’s lacked all throughout her life. And yet despite being mistreated and harmed, she still finds herself doling it out. That to maintain her power, she has to order the suffering of others. Bakker also shows us that her power is a lie. It comes from Kellhus, not herself.

Oh, Esmenet, you are so wrong. Werjau is totally plotting to destroy you. I mean, that plotting goes nowhere. It’s a plot thread that, as I recall, just sort of left dangling and isn’t even addressed in the next series.

This scene with Esmenet giving judgments shows how far she’s come. She’s standing up to her opinions without flinching. She’s handing out pronouncements without flinching even when she knows that she’s condemning some men to death. She’s also guided by Kellhus, so she’s not insecure like other new rulers would be. Werjau is, wanting to punish people for little things that Esmenet knows are inconsequential.

So Kellhus’s new government is already getting its people to report on each other. Dictatorships love this. It makes trusting your neighbors, even your own family members, more difficult. What if they’ll report you? Now Kellhus has a legitimate threat to be reported on, but the system is in place to exploited to give him greater control over the population.

Now we see Kellhus’s religion has evolved into flagellation with sinners coming to be punished for their inequities. Being punished is a way of making penance for sins, for relieving the burden that guilt and stress can cause on us by believing another, more moral force, has removed them from us.

We see the first hint of Esmenet’s guilt when she realizes Achamian can hear her moaning during sex with Kellhus. Her happiness with Kellhus is slowly chipped away by this guilt. Achamian is the witness to her sin.

They’re first exchange is prickly. She’s feeling defensive about what she’s done, and reading is merely what they’re using as a proxy. Achamian doesn’t want to accept it, is confused by it, that she could betray him. And she needs him to understand and forgive her because of her guilt for the betrayal. Hence her: “The old world is dead. The old rules are dead.”

Poor Achamian. He tried, but she realized it. She still cares for him, still can easily fall into that role as his wife despite everything. You can see how she musters derision and scorn for him, trying to rip her heart away from caring for him because of the guilt and the longing she’s feeling. But she can’t do that. He meant to much for her. So she’s truthful about her feelings for him as she rationalizes why she’s with Kellhus now.

So long as Achamian won’t forgive her, she’ll feel guilty. Even though Kellhus forgave her acting as the God, it’s not enough for her. Kellhus is having to do some course correcting here. Achamian’s return is a surprise to him, I think. Not something he planned on. So he moved up his seduction of Esmenet thinking he could use her grief at Achamian’s death. But now it’s proving the wrong method. I firmly believe that Kellhus would have worked on Achamian and Esmenet over time to lead the pair to believe Esmenet needed to be his wife and bear his children. Guilt and anger have complicated his task now and with so many demands on his time, he’s not quite able to do it. Especially not once Cnaiür poisons Achamian against him.

It looks like Eleäzaras is in the bargaining stage of grief. He doesn’t want Kellhus to be a prophet, so he’s begging for what he witnessed with his own eyes to be false. But he saw Kellhus pull out a heart from his chest. All the stress that’s been building in Eleäzaras is breaking him now. He’s drinking. He’s despondent. He’s cracking. And we’ll see just how bad it gets by the end of the novel.

Bakker has shown us how the proud and noble warrior can be destroyed by the world, next he’s showing us the cunning and ambitious sorcerer falling to a similar fate. Eleäzaras could be a villain in another fantasy work, and here he is a broken man, driven to drink because the weight of his ambition is slowly crushing him. He feels guilt for what he’s done to his school.

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Seven

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 7
Mengedda

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

Sleep, when deep enough, is indistinguishable from vigilance.

SORAINAS, THE BOOK OF CIRCLES AND SPIRALS

My Thoughts

Reading Bakker makes me think more than any other books I’ve read in years. And doing this reread only makes me work harder. Why did Bakker include this quote at the start of this chapter? We see the title is all about curving thoughts. Nothing straightforward, nothing linear. Sleep and vigilance would be two opposite ends of a line, but if everything moved in circles, eventually you would slip from one side to the other. We have Kellhus pondering if cause and effect works like this. That the future could bend and branch and spiral back to the beginning. That though cause and effect should also be on opposite sides of a line, they can instead circle each other if someone bends the line.

Early Summer 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, near the Plains of Mengedda

The Synthese flew over the Battleplain in the wake of the Holy War’s victory over the Fanim. Dawn approaches as it flies across corpse-strewn fields. As the sun rises, it feels a nostalgic pull towards home out across the “black void.” It was hard not feeling nostalgic after being back in “the place where it had almost happened, where Men and Nonmen had almost flickered out forever.” It feels that it will happen soon.

It searches the dead of the battlefield, studying the patterns their corpses left, and sees symbols prized by his species “back when they could actually be called such.” The vermin called them Inchoroi. Finally, it finds the scent it was searching for an “otherworldly fetor” encoded in the skin-spies in case they died.

So Sarcellus was dead. Unfortunate.

At least the Holy War had prevailed—over the Cishaurim, no less!

Golgotterath would approve.

Smiling, or perhaps scowling, with tiny human lips, the Old Name swooped down to join the vultures in their ancient celebration.

Achamian dreams of the No-God’s defeat. He, as Seswatha, stares at the horizon boiling with Sranc. They gouge themselves blind as the whirlwind of the No-God roars through them. Like a tornado, it picks them up as debris. The Great King of Kyraneas clutches Seswatha, but his words are lost as a hundred thousand Sranc all speak, their throats “flaring like bright-burning coals packed into his skull.”

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

See? What could he…

I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE

The great King turned from him [Seswatha], reached for the Heron Spear.

TELL ME

Secrets… Secrets! Not even the No-God could build walls against what was forgotten! Seswatha glimpsed the unholy Carapace shining in the whirlwind’s heart, a nimil sarcophagus sheathed in choric script, hanging…

WHAT AM—

Achamian woke with a howl, his hands cramped into claws before him, shaking.

Esmenet is beside him, trying to sooth him. She holds him as he shakes, telling him that she’s been thinking of Kellhus. He asks if she dreamed him, trying to tease her. But as he tries, the No-God’s words intrude on his thoughts like “a shrieking chorus, sharp and brief.” He apologizes, asks what she said. She tries to talk about how Kellhus speaks, but the memory of the No-God’s voice intrudes again. He’s distracted as she talks about Kellhus and his words to Saubon and realizes that Kellhus words are either “near or far.” He asks what she meant, his bladder full.

Esmenet laughed. “I’m not sure… Remember how I told you how he asked me what it was like to be a harlot—you know, to lie with strange men? When he talks that way, he seems near, uncomfortably near, until you realize how utterly honest and unassuming he is… At the time, I thought he was just another rutting dog—”

WHAT AM I?

The point, Esmi…”

There was an annoyed pause. “Other times, he seems breathtakingly far when he talks, like he stands on some remote mountain and can see everything, or almost everything…” She paused again, and from the length of it, Achamian knew he had bruised her feelings. He could feel her shrug. “The rest of us just talk in the middle somewhere, while he… And now this, seeing what happened yesterday before it happened. With each day—”

I CANNOT SEE

“—he seems to talk a little nearer and a little farther. It makes me—Akka? You’re trembling! Shaking!”

Achamian says he can’t stay here in this place. She hugs and tells him that the army will move away from the dead and the “chance of vapours.” Achamian struggles to hold onto his wits and asks where the army will move. She says something about ruins. He says that’s worse. He has to leave. He’s feeling echoes of the No-God’s death here. The ruins would be the city of Mengedda, where it actually happened. He thinks this place recognizes himself or Seswatha in him. He says they need to leave and wait in the hills for the others.

Five days after the battle, Kellhus muses on a Nilnameshi saying Achamian had told him: “With the accumulation of power comes mystery.” Achamian explained it meant the paradox of power. “The more security one exacted from the world, the more insecure it became.” Kellhus had dismissed it as a “vacant generalization.” Now he was having second thoughts.

The Holy War is whole again. This afternoon, the Nansur and Ainoni host had filed across the plains to join the others camped at the ruins of Mengedda. The first Council of the Great and Lesser Names since Momemn has been called and Kellhus chose to sit with the soldiers watching instead of with the Names.

He studies the soldiers, noticing the startling contrast between their faces. Some are wounded. Others had no injuries. Some are celebratory, and some are suffering from PTSD. “Victory on the Battleplain, it seemed, had carried its own uncanny toll.” People have been having terrible nightmares while camping here, claiming they were fighting in ancient wars and even fighting Sranc and dragons. At the ruins, the nightmares intensified. “It was as though the ground had hoarded the final moments of the doomed, and counted and recounted them each night on the ledger of the living.” Some, like Achamian, fled, others tried to stop sleeping, and one man was found dead. Then relics of past battles appeared “as though slowly vomited from the earth.” People insisted they were fresh, found in spots they had trod over and were no signs of before.

Kellhus had dreamed nothing. But he had seen the relics. Gotian explained to him about how the Battleplain was cursed after imbibing so much death over the millennia. But Gotian believes faith will protect them. Proyas and Gothyelk also suffer no dreams and wanted to stay. Saubon, despite having the nightmares, also wanted to stay for his own motivations.

Somehow, the very ground of battle had become their foe. Such contests, Xinemus had remarked one night about their fire, belonged to philosophers and priests, not warriors and harlots.

Such contest, Kellhus had thought, simply should not be…

Kellhus is beset with “questions, quandaries, and enigmas” once he learned how desperate the battle was and how kind fate had been to Saubon because he had punished the Shrial Knights. That charge saved the Norsirai host from destruction. And it had happened just as Kellhus had predicted. But he hadn’t made a prediction. He had said what was need to “maximize the probability” of Sarcellus dying.

It simply had to be coincidence. At least this was what he’d told himself—at first. Fate was but one more world-born subterfuge, another lie men used to give meaning to their abject helplessness. That was why they thought the future a Whore, something who favored no man over another. Something heartbreakingly indifferent.

What came before determined what came after… This was the basis of the Probability Trance. This was the principle that made mastering circumstance, be it with word or sword, possible. This was what made him Dûnyain.

One of the Conditioned.

But the fact the earth spat out bones makes Kellhus question cause and effect. The ground appeared to answer the “tribulation of men.” And if the earth wasn’t indifferent, what about the future? Kellhus questions if an effect could determine the cause. Could the future violate cause and effect? Could he be the harbinger?

Is this why you’ve summoned me, Father? To save these children?

Kellhus pushes his thoughts on “primary questions” aside. He had more immediate problems to deal with. Such questions will have to wait until he sees his father. He wonders why Moënghus hasn’t contacted him. He concentrates on the council and though he doesn’t sit with them, he knows he has a position among them by the fact they all keep glancing at him. He could read all their faces, giving brief insight into various persons sitting at the council. Of note is General Martemus, Conphas’s confidant and second-in-command, whom has heard of Kellhus but has too many pressing concerns to care about a prophet.

A steady fixed look from among Gotian’s diminished retinue…

Sarcellus.

One of what seemed a growing number of inscrutable faces. Skin-spies, Achamian had called them.

Why did he stare? Because of the rumors, like the others? Because of the horrific toll his words had exacted on the Shrial Knights? Gotian, Kellhus knew, struggled not to hate him…

Or did he know that Kellhus could see him and tried to kill him?

Kellhus matches Sarcellus’s gaze. Kellhus has grown better at understanding their physiognomy, seeing their faces made of fingers. He had found eleven so far, and expected there to be more. He nods to Sarcellus who keeps watching. Kellhus is certain the Consult suspects him.

Then Earl Athjeari arrives, summoning Kellhus to see Prince Saubon after the meeting. Kellhus knows that Saubon’s growing more anguished and fearful. He had avoided Kellhus for six nights. Something had happened during the fight that disturbed him. Kellhus sees an opportunity.

The council opens with a religious ritual and sermon from Gotian, preaching on the Inrithi’s duty to follow Inri Sejenus to Shimeh. His sermon brings triumphant cheers from the Men of the Tusk. Kellhus is silent, studying Sarcellus, noticing small discrepancies in his features. The Men of the Tusk begin singing a hymn.

Words uttered through a thousand human throats. The air thrummed with an impossible resonance. The ground itself spoke, or so it seemed… But Kellhus saw only Sarcellus—saw only differences. His stance, his height and build, even the lustre of his black hair. All imperceptibly different.

A replacement.

The original copy had been killed, Kellhus realized, just as he’d hoped. The position of Sarcellus, however, had not. His death had gone unwitnessed, and they’d simply replaced him.

Strange that a man could be a position.

After the rite, the Gilgallic Priests appear to declare the Battle-Celebrant, “the man whom dread War had chosen as his vessel.” It is a matter of a great deal of betting to predict who would get it as though “it were a lottery rather than a divine determination.” But before Cumar, High Cultist Priest of Gilgaöl, Prince Skaiyelt demands they must discuss leaving. To flee. An outrage burst out but is quieted with Skaiyelt uncovers an ancient skull. Kellhus wonders how this could be possible. He pushes that aside, he has to stay focused on “practical mysteries.” A debate is held, some look to Kellhus, then Proyas announce the Holy War would leave Mengedda tomorrow morning. The soldiers are relieved.

Then Saubon is declared the Battle-Celebrant, though he protests saying it should go to Gotian for leading the charge. Silence falls as Saubon is crowned with a circlet of thorns and olive sprigs. People cheer and Saubon is stunned, then looks at Kellhus while crying.

Why? his anguished look said. I don’t deserve this…

Kellhus smiled sadly, and bowed to the precise degree jnan demanded from all men in the presence of a Battle-Celebrant. He’d more than mastered their brute customs by now; he’d learned the subtle flourishes that transformed the seemly into the august. He knew their every cue.

The roaring redoubled. They’d all witnessed their exchanged look; they’d all heard the story of Saubon’s pilgrimage to Kellhus at the ruined shrine.

It happens, Father. It happens.

Conphas calls everyone a fool for praising Saubon since his decision to march almost doomed the Holy War. He reminds everyone that those who die here never leave. Saubon is dumbstruck. And then Cnaiür walks out calling Conphas craven for seeing folly everywhere, equating prudence with cowardice. Kellhus is surprised that Cnaiür had seen the danger of Conphas’s words. A discredited Saubon would be useless. Conphas’s laugh~s at being called a coward.

Since defeating the People,” the Scylvendi continued, “much glory has been heaped upon your name. Because of this, you begrudge others that same glory. The valour and wisdom of Coithus Saubon have defeated Skauras—no mean thing, if what you said at your Emperor’s knee was to be believed. But since this glory is not yours, you think it false. You call it foolishness, blind lu—”

It was blind luck!” Conphas cried. “The Gods favour the drunk and the soft-of-head… That’s the only lesson we’ve learned.”

Cnaiür uses his answer to praise the Holy War for learning how to fight the Fanim and the tactics that work well against them, like charges by Inrithi knights, or that their footman can withstand Fanim charges. This brings cheers from the crowds. Conphas stands stunned, realizing he was so easily defeated by the barbarian. Kellhus recounts the problems with dominating Conphas—the man’s pride, his “pathological” disregard of other peoples opinions, and he believed Kellhus connected to the Cishaurim. Kellhus is aware that Conphas plans disaster for the Holy War.

Proyas wants the Holy War to send riders to seize the fields around the city of Hinnereth to keep the Fanim could harvest them and bring them into the field. Conphas argues that the Imperial Fleet can keep the Holy War provisioned. The other Great names decide not to rely on the Empire and agree to seize the grains. Then it turns to the Ainoni and their slow marches. But Proyas supports the Ainoni and says the Holy War needs to travel as separate contingents. But not even Cnaiür’s support stopped the fighting. The arguments go on while the soldiers get more and more drunk on looted wines. Kellhus continues his study of Sarcellus. And Kellhus realizes the Consult know he can see their skin-spies.

I must move more quickly, Father.

The Nilnameshi had it wrong. Mysteries could be killed, if one possessed the power.

Conphas lounges in his pavilion plotting ways to kill Cnaiür with Martemus, how said little. Conphas knows his general secretly admires Cnaiür, but it doesn’t bother Conphas. He knows he has Martemus’s loyalty.

And so, feeling magnanimous, he decided to open a little door and allow Martemus—easily the most competent and trustworthy of his generals—into some rather large halls. In the coming months, he would need confidants. All Emperors needed confidants.

But of course, prudence demanded certain assurances. Though Martemus was loyal by nature, loyalties were, as the Ainoni were fond of saying, like wives. One must always know where they lie—and without absolute certainty.

Conphas asks Martemus if he ever stared at “the Concubine,” the nickname for the Over-Standard. so named because it has to say in the Exalt-General’s quarters. Conphas liked that, and had even ejaculated on it, which he found to be delicious defiling the sacred. Martemus answers yes, he stares at it often. Then Conphas asks if he’s seen the tusk. Another yes, which surprise Conphas. It was back when Martemus was a boy. Conphas asks what he thought. Martemus thinks awe. It was a long time ago. Conphas asks Martemus if had to choose between dying for the Concubine or the Tusk, which would he pick? He doesn’t hesitate: the concubine.

And why’s that?”

Again the General shrugged. “Habit.”

Conphas fairly howled. Now that was funny. Habit. What more assurance could a man desire?

Dear man! Precious man!

Conphas asks Martemus’s opinion of Kellhus. “Intelligent, well spoken, and utterly impoverished.” Conphas hesitates in telling his plans, but remembers that Martemus cares about impressing him. Which made his opinion priceless. He confides that Skeaös was a Cishaurim spy and that he is connected to Kellhus. Martemus is shocked and Conphas further explains about his skin-spy nature, believing it is caused by Cishaurim sorcery. Martemus wants to know what Conphas has learned of Kellhus’s movements, associations, etc. Conphas tells what he knows, which isn’t much, though finds it disturbing that he’s with Achamian, who was also present at Skeaös’s unveiling.

Martemus doesn’t like a man of such growing power with a connection to the Cishaurim in the Holy War. Conphas thinks his purpose is to destroy the Holy War and that Saubon’s march was an attempt that failed. He plays the prophet to lead the holy war to its doom. But Martemus has heard Kellhus denies being a prophet.

Conphas laughed. “Is there any better way to posture as a prophet? People don’t like the smell of presumption, Martemus. Even the pig castes have noses as keen as wolves when it comes to those who claim to be more. Me,on the other hand, I quite like the savoury stink of gall. I find it honest.”

Martemus asks why Conphas is telling him all this. Conphas believes that Prince Kellhus collects followers, like Saubon, and expects Martemus to be a juicy plum. Martemus is to play disciple. The general asks why not just kill him. Conphas is disappointed in Martemus, who while intelligent isn’t cunning. He is reminded of his time as a hostage in Skauras’s court and remarks that he feels so young.

My Thoughts

The Synthese feels nostalgic for its home planet, out there in the void. Achamian talked to Esmenet about this a few chapters ago, explaining space and stars to her, and how the Inchoroi came from space and crashed here. Now the Synthese, one of the last surviving Inchoroi, wishes to go home.

Soon enough.” Here is confirmation that the no-god’s birth must be approaching. That the Synthese believes the Second apocalypse is coming soon (in the scale of a being millennia old, it’s not happening next week). It’s not a coincidence that an Anasûrimbor has returned.

Inchoroi minds also have pareidolia, the phenomenon that allow us humans to see patterns in chaos, like shapes in clouds. This is something the Nonmen appear to lack. They have difficulty with abstract images as we learn in the sequel series when we delve into Nonmen a lot more.

We also get our first confirmation that the Consult wants the Holy War to defeat the Fanim. And not just the Fanim, but the Cishaurim. We had inferred this from the behavior of the skin-spy posing as Skeaös, Emperor Xerius’s court. Now we have confirmation. The Consult wants the Cishaurim destroyed for a very important reason.

The image of the Sranc clawing out their eyes as the No-God asks what they see. This question “What do you see?” is at the heart of the No-God’s purpose. I believe the No-God is asking a woman with the Judging Eye what she sees. He can’t see what she can. We won’t learn anything about the Judging Eye in this series, but it allows certain people to see if a person is damned. I think that’s what is going on. The No-God’s purpose is to end the cycle of souls and shut out the Outside and the Cycle of Damnation. So it has to know what the woman with the Judging Eye sees. Bakker has this series plotted out well. The Unholy Consult cannot come out fast enough.

WHAT AM I? Am I damned?

And this is what the Consult seeks to do. Why the Inchoroi came to his world. To escape damnation. If you knew you were doomed to suffer an eternity of torment and there was nothing you could do to change it save committing genocide, would you have the courage to face that fate instead of making the choice the Consult has?

Achamian wakes up, hands twisted into claws. What was he about to do? Claw out his own eyes?

Esmenet’s insight is on display here as she talks about Kellhus. She recognizes how he use language, though she doesn’t realize how manipulative it is switching from the remote to the intimate.

We see in Achamian how time echoes in the topoi of the Battleplain. It’s like a singularity, warping reality around it, pulling things towards the center. Souls who die here are said not to escape. And even those who leave might never truly get away (anyone who’s read The Great Ordeal will know what I speak of). Past and present are bleeding together for Achamian. Poor guy.

The nightmares are an interesting way for Bakker to both show you the effect of time warping the topoi has on reality here but also to showcase the history of the place. We get a glimpse of the various struggles here. Note the stirrup-less Scylvendi from the past. The stirrup revolutionized cavalry warfare. It allowed for heavy lance charges and better horse archery. Stirrups give you a platform to stand on, allowing you to use your body’s weight better in conjunction with the horse.

Kellhus is once again confronted by violations of causality and other strange phenomenon at the Battleplain. His Dûnyain training has not prepared him for a reality where a place could be a topoi or the chain of cause and effect could be twisted. Now he has to deal with this new reality, understand it, and adapt the Logos to it. If he can.

I believe when Kellhus begins wondering if his father summoned him to save these people is the start of his mental break. He doesn’t seem broken to us, but this is the start of the madness that severs him from being a true Dûnyain as we learn in climax of the third book. It starts this early, before even the Circumfix because he is questioning cause and effect, the very foundation of the Logos and Dûnyain philosophy.

Interesting how Kellhus sees tackling a mystery as interrogating it. Interrogation is the most forceful form of questioning. It implies an antagonistic stance, that the subject is resisting giving answers.

I winced at the slaves burning scrolls to feed the bonfire for the Council of Great and Lesser Names. They were pulled from the ruins, so I wonder what knowledge was just lost?

So a new skin-spy has replaced Sarcellus and Kellhus. The Synthese scoured the Battleplain not only to locate Sarcellus’s corpse and ensure it wasn’t discovered, but this also allowed the position of Sarcellus to remain alive so they could simply replace him with another of their creations. (Also, it is implied the Synthese ate Sarcellus.)

Kellhus sees an opportunity in Saubon’s pain. I love Kellhus’s POV’s. I would be interested in having someone read this series without ever once getting one of Kellhus’s POV’s (or Cnaiür). Just to see how they would react to Khellus. He’s so charismatic and warm from others perspectives. And then you get his and its all cold calculation.

Kellhus is one step closer to his plan to fake being a prophet. His gamble has paid off even better than he expected. So much so it is shaken him, as much as a Dûnyain can be shaken. We see thoughts of the supernatural keep intruding on him when he should be focused on more “practical mysteries.”

Love the play between Cnaiür and Conphas. Even Kellhus can underestimate people. An important thing to remember. Conphas makes a great foil to Kellhus. A man so narcissistic that he is immune to Kellhus’s greatest weapon to chain people—shame, guilt, inadequacies. If Kellhus had only Conphas to deal with, he could find the shortest path, but with all the others, Conphas will remain out of reach. Even mocked by all the Holy War, Conphas felt no shame or embarrassment.

Martemus… Got to like a guy who says he would die for his country over his faith because it would be out of habit. Conphas really likes the guy. He’s as close to a friend as Conphas can have.

Martemus’s first questions to Conphas upon learning of Kellhus supposed connection to the Cishaurim is for more information. Intelligence. Who are his allies? Where can he be found? Etc. Great character writing from Bakker. Martemus doesn’t question the justifications behind the war against Kellhus, he just wants the information he would need to fight it, trusting Conphas to have answered those questions already.

Conphas guesses the heart of Kellhus’s plan, if not the motivations behind it. He’s smart enough to recognize that Kellhus is posing as a prophet for gain, but his ego keeps him from examining his own assumptions—that Skeaös was a Cishaurim spy. After all, Skeaös argued against sabotaging the Holy War and allowing the Fanim to survive. If he truly were a Cishaurim spy, wouldn’t he support the Emperor’s plan to sabotage the Holy War? But Conphas has made his decision, and he won’t even consider if he’s wrong. Arrogance and intelligence are dangerous combinations. They often think they are wise, but mistake certainty for truth.

I had to ponder that last line of this chapter. Why would Conphas, a man who is quite young, say he feels young. Because his plotting against Kellhus, this dangerous life-or-death struggle of politics for the control of the Holy War, reminds him of being in Skauras’s court as a hostage. Hence why he felt so young. He’s excited. He has an opponent that will be a challenge to defeat and a victory that will be so sweet.

Conphas plots and schemes. The Consult plots and schemes. Kellhus’s plots and schemes. All three of these storylines, happening in the background for the other characters, will drive The Warrior Prophet to its climax at the Circumfix.

Click here to continue onto Chapter 8!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter Two

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 2
Anserca

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

Duty measures the distance between the animal and the divine.

EKYANNUS 1, 44 EPISTLES

The days and weeks before battle are a strange thing. All the contingents, the Conriyans, the Galeoth, the Nansur, the Thunyeri, the Tydonni, the Ainoni, and the Scarlet Spires, marched to the fortress of Asgilioch, to the Southron Gates and the heathen frontier. And though many bent their thoughts to Skauras, the heathen Sapatishah who would contest us, he was still woven of the same cloth as a thousand other abstract concerns. One could still confuse war with everyday living…

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

Duty is putting something ahead of you own desires. Whether it is the duty to go to your job, the duty to stay faithful to a spouse, the duty to die for your country, you are putting something ahead of yourself. Animals don’t do this. But the divine does. And then in this chapter we have Kellhus equating the Holy War to an animal offering, a sacrifice to the divine to see if their duty is righteous or not, if they are saved or damned.

Again, we have Achamian writing about these events after the fact. They serve the purpose of foreshadowing future events as well as providing historical background for events. This one is a comment on humans adaptability to make a life in all most any circumstance, no matter how extreme or out of the ordinary. We will find ways to have routine, to make it familiar, to trick ourselves into some amount of safety. Even in prison, you see this. At the same time, Bakker’s reminding of us of the players of the war, the nations on the Inrithi side and the general who will be contesting them at the end of the first march.

Late Spring 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the province of Anserca

The Conriyan host marches south and after a few days, Achamian realizes the host had settled into a pattern, people camping with the same people. Achamian makes camp with Xinemus, his lieutenants—Iryssas, Dinchases, and Zenkappa—Kellhus, Serwë, and Cnaiür Proyas makes the occasional visit, but he usually summons Xinemus, Kellhus, and Cnaiür to for council. One night, during a holy day, Achamian finds himself alone in the camp with Cnaiür. Achamian has many questions for Cnaiür about Kellhus, about his relationship with Serwë (people have noticed how she dotes on Kellhus but goes to bed with Cnaiür), and on the disposition of the Sranc clans who border the Utemot territory, but he’s unnerved by the barbarian and they just ignore each other until Achamian tries to broach the silence with a “I guess we’re the heathens, eh, Scylvendi?”

An uncomfortable silence followed while Cnaiür continued gnawing at the bone he held. Achamian sipped his wine, thought of excuses he might use to withdraw to his tent. What did one say to a Sclyvendi?

“So you teach him,” Cnaiür suddenly said, spitting gristle into the fire. His eyes glittered from the shadow of his heavy brow, studying the flame.

“Yes,” Achamian replied.

“Has he told you why?”

Achamian shrugged. “He seeks knowledge of the Three Seas… Why do you ask?”

Instead of answering, the Sclyvendi marches off into the darkness, leaving Achamian baffled Achamian means to ask Kellhus, but forgets by the time the man returns. Achamian seeks his bed. Like most nights, he is plagued by doubts and recrimination because of Kellhus. He worries about Esmenet and what will happen to the Holy War when it faces Fanim. The nightmares grow worse and he grows unable to sleep. He would pray to the gods who damned them both to keep Esmenet safe and his thoughts turn to Kellhus.

Achamian realizes he can talk to Xinemus about his problem, seek his friend’s advice. But he is scared. He had lied to Xinemus about what had happened in the Emperor’s dungeon, unable to tell the truth in the stunned aftermath.

At the time, the lies simply… happened. The events of that night and the revelation that had followed had been too immediate and far too catastrophic in their implication. Even now, two weeks later, Achamian felt overmatched by their dread significance. Back then, he could only flounder. Stories, on the other hand, were something he could make sense of, something he could speak.

How can Achamian explain to his friend that he lied, that he betrayed his trust. As he thinks, he gazes at his companions and wonders if they realize the end is coming. He has to share his burden, and if can’t to the Mandate, then he had to someone else. “If only Esmi had come with… No. that way lay more pain.” So Achamian goes to Xinemus, telling his friend they need to talk. And though Kellhus is distracted, Achamian has the impression the man is watching. He brings up the night of the palace, struggling to speak. But just as Achamian starts to speak, Iryssas interrupts, wanting Xinemus to hear Kellhus’s words.

“It’s just a parable,” the Prince of Atrithau said. “Something I learned while among the Scylvendi… It goes like this: A slender young bull and his harem of cows are shocked to discover that their owner has purchased another bull, far deeper of chest, far thicker of horn, and far more violent of temper. Even still, when the owner’s sons drive the mighty newcomer to pasture, the young bull lowers his horns, begins snorting and stamping. ‘No!’ his cows cry. ‘Please, don’t risk your life for us!’ ‘Risk my life?’ the young bull exclaims. ‘I’m just making sure he knows I’m a bull!’”

Everyone laughs after a moment, then Iryssas gives his interpretation that a man’s dignity and honor are worth more than anything “even our wives!” Xinemus dismisses it as a joke, but Cnaiür interrupts, saying, “It is a parable of courage.” Everyone is silent as he explains it is a way to tell youths that “gestures are meaningless, that only death is real.” Achamian asks Kellhus’s interpretation Kellhus speak, his voice hushing those around him as he says that courage, honor, love are “problems, not absolutes. Questions.” Iryssas disagrees, demanding to know what the solutions are. “Cowardice and depravity?”

“No,” Kellhus replied. “Cowardice and depravity are problems as well. As for solutions? You, Iryssas—you’re a solution. In fact, we’re all solutions. Every life lived sketches a different answer, a different way…”

“So are all solutions equal?” Achamian blurted. The bitterness of his tone startled him.

“A philosopher’s question,” Kellhus replied, and his smile swept away all awkwardness “No. Of course not. Some lives are better lived than others—there can be no doubt. Why do you think we sing the lays we do? Why do you think we revere our scripture? Or ponder the life of the Latter Prophet?”

Examples, Achamian realized Examples of lives that enlightened, that solved… He knew this but couldn’t bring himself to say it. He was, after all, a sorcerer, an example of a life that solved nothing. Without a word, he rolled to his feet and strode into the darkness, not caring what the others thoughts. Suddenly, he needed darkness, solitude…

Shelter from Kellhus.

As Achamian leaves, he realizes he didn’t speak to Xinemus. He decides that’s for the best with all that’s going on. “Xinemus would just think him mad.” An angry Serwë confronts Achamian. He wonders if she’s jealous of the time Kellhus spends with Achamian.

“You needn’t fear,” she said.

Achamian swallowed at the sour taste in his mouth. Earlier, Xinemus had passed perrapta around instead of wine—wretched drink.

“Fear what?”

“Loving him.”

Achamian’s heart beats faster. He asks if Serwë dislikes him. As he waits for her answer, he longs for her, desires her beauty. “Only because you refuse to see,” is her answer. Then she flees, leaving Achamian wondering what he doesn’t see as he cries.

Later, Achamian is alone at the fire weeping when Kellhus approaches. He asks what’s wrong. “Is it the Dreams.” Achamian agrees but Kellhus sees it is something more, pressing Achamian on his sleepless nights. Achamian answers “I see his blood in your face, and it fills me with both hope and horror.” Kellhus appears disturbed that Achamian is troubled about him. Achamian explains about the dream of the Celmomas Prophecy and its importance to the Mandate. Achamian grows emotional, speaking in the first person, momentarily forgetting that he isn’t Seswatha.

“You don’t understand! J-just listen… He, Celmomas, spoke to me—to Seswatha—before he died. He spoke to all of us—” Achamian shook his head, cackled, pulled fingers through his beard. “In fact he keeps speaking, night after fucking night, dying time and again—and always for the first time! And-and he says…”

Achamian looked up, suddenly so unashamed of his tears. If he couldn’t bare his soul before this man—so like Ajencis, so like Inrau!—then who?

“He says that an Anasûrimbor—an Anasûrimbor, Kellhus!—will return at the end of the world.”

Kellhus’s expression, normally so blessedly devoid of conflict, darkened. “What are you saying, Akka?”

Achamian says he is the harbinger. That he means the world will end. The Second Apocalypse Kellhus points out the absurdity of it. Kellhus has existed since he was born, that “an Anasûrimbor has always been ‘here.’” Achamian realizes it is just a coincidence. Achamian yearns to hug Kellhus as he grapples with this idea. But then he talks about discovering the Consult and what happened, about how Skeaös was the skin spy.

“But how does that make me the Harbinger?”

Because it means the Consult has mastered the Old Science, Bashrags, Dragons, all the abominations of the Inchoroi, are artifacts of the Tekne, the Old Science, created long, long ago, when the Nonmen still ruled Eärwa It was thought destroyed when the Inchoroi were annihilated by Cû‘jara-Cinmoi—before the Tusk was even written, Kellhus! But these, these skin-spies are new. New artifacts of the Old Science. And if the Consult has rediscovered the Old Science, there’s a chance they know how to resurrect Mog-Pharau…”

And that name stole his breath, winded him like a blow to the chest.

“The No-God,” Kellhus said.

Achamian nodded, swallowing as though his throat were sore. “Yes, the No-God…”

“And now that an Anasûrimbor has returned…”

“That chance has become a near certainty.”

After a studious pause, Kellhus asks what Achamian will do. Achamian says his mission, which is to spy on the Holy War. But he has to decide whether or not to tell the Mandate about Achamian, revealing that he betrays not only them but the world for doing so. Kellhus asks why he hasn’t told them.

Achamian took a deep breath. “Because when I do, they’ll come for you, Kellhus.”

“Perhaps they should.”

“You don’t know my brothers.”

Cnaiür crouches over a sleeping Serwë, studying her as he ponders the events that led him here to advising the Holy War as it marched on Shimeh, home of the Cishaurim. “Anasûrimbor Moënghus was Cishaurim.” Cnaiür is amazed that the “deranged scale of its ambition” Kellhus’s plan is working. Cnaiür understands that this is the only way to get his revenge. He ponders the extant of Moënghus’s power, fearing it includes the Holy War and Kellhus.

Send them a son. What better way could a Dûnyain overthrow his enemies.

Already, the nobles fall silent out of respect to Kellhus, deferring to him, “not the way men acceded rank or station, but the way men yield to those who possess something they need.” Kellhus had convinced them he wasn’t ordinary, but special, using their beliefs and preying upon them. Cnaiür reflects on Kellhus using those beliefs to make himself appear special. When Ingiaban, Palatine of Kethantei, claims that “God favors the righteous” as proof they’ll win. Kellhus interrupts, asking if Ingiaban is righteous Ingiaban says they are because they raise arms against the heathens.

[Kellhus]: “So we raise arms against the heathen because we’re righteous?”

“And because they’re wicked.”

Kellhus smiled with stern compassion. “’He who’s righteous is he who’s found wanting in the ways of God…’ Isn’t this what Sejenus himself writes?”

“Yes. Of course.”

“And who finds men wanting in the ways of the God? Other men?”

The Palatine of Kethantei paled. “No,” he said. “Only the God and his Prophets.”

“So we’re not righteous, then?”

“Yes… I mean, no…” Baffled, Ingiaban looked to Kellhus, a horrible frankness revealed in his face. “I mean… I know longer know what I mean!”

Concessions. Always exacting concessions. Accumulating them.

Kellhus explains that man can only hope he is righteous and can never judge himself to be it. He explains that they are the sacrifice on the altar not the priest making it. “We’re the victim.” They won’t know if they’re righteousness until the end. Proyas finds great merit in it.

Cnaiür feels his own shame while watching Kellhus manipulate others, remembering how Moënghus manipulated Cnaiür as a child. Sometimes he wants to give them warning. But he fears having anything in common with these men.

Sometimes crimes seemed crimes, no matter how ludicrous the victim.

But only sometimes. For the most part Cnaiür merely watched with a numb kind of incredulity. He no longer heard Kellhus speak so much as observed him cut and carve, whittle and hew, as though the man had somehow shattered the glass of language and fashioned knives from the pieces. This word to anger to that word might open. This look to embarrass so that smile might reassure. This insight to remind so that truth might injure, heal, or astonish.

How easy it must have been for Moënghus One stripling lad. One chieftain’s wife.

Cnaiür remembers his mother’s execution for giving birth to Moënghus’s son and Cnaiür wonders why he let it happen. He comes to himself, still kneeling over Serwë, and finds him stabbing his knife into the dirt. He realizes he is feeling remorse for Proyas and the others. Which shocks him.

“So long as what comes before remains shrouded,” Kellhus had said on their trek across the Jiünati Steppe, “so long as men are already deceived, what does it matter?” And what did it matter, making fools of fools? What mattered was whether the man made a fool of him [Cnaiür]; this—this!—was the sharp edge upon which his every thought should bleed Did the Dûnyain speak true? Was he truly his father’s assassin?

I walk with the whirlwind.

He could never forget. He had only his hatred to preserve him.

And Serwë?

Kellhus enters and realizes Cnaiür overheard the conversation with Achamian. Cnaiür avoids a debate, getting dressed while Serwë comes awake. Kellhus brings up Cnaiür’s Chorae, asking if he still has it. Cnaiür says of course you know I have it. Kellhus asks how he would. “You know.” Cnaiür calls killing sorcerer’s “treacherous work.” And then horns sound outside.

Late Spring 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, the province of Anserca

As Emperor Xerius steps from the bath, feeling like a god no, he is surprise to find his mother watching. He implies she’s there to stare at his penis. She, however, is there because she has a gift, a young, virgin slave girl, a Galeoth.

Gifts from Mother—they underscored the treachery of gifts from those who were not ones tributaries. Such gifts weren’t gifts at all, in fact. Such gifts always demanded exchange.

His Mother always knew which men or women would please him, and he can’t deny his joy at her gift. She asks about Skeaös, offended she wasn’t told about what happened. Xerius’s attention is split as he confirms it was the Cishaurim who made Skeaös. She is afraid they know of his plans, but he points out they already know of his plans to betray the Holy War, since he made them with the Fanim. She wants him to reconsider his pact with the Heathens. She points out that he’s been a snake in his bosom, hearing all his plans, which reminds Xerius that there could be others. He isn’t convinced, using what she taught him against her. She only grow angry, throwing out a tirade about using the Holy War to destroy the Cishaurim instead of sparing them.

“This isn’t like you, Mother. You were never one to cower before damnation. Is it because you grow old, hmm? Tell me, what’s it like to stand upon the precipice? To feel your womb wither, to watch the eyes of your lovers grow shy with hidden disgust…”

He’d struck from impulse and found vanity—the only way he knew to injure his mother.

But there was no bruise in her reply. “There comes a time, Xerius, when you care nothing for your spectators. The spectacles of beauty are like baubles of ceremony—for the young, the stupid. The act, Xerius. The act makes mere ornaments of all things. You’ll see.”

He tries to wounder her again, but she doesn’t get hurt, instead whispers that he’s a “monstrous son.” He asks what she regrets, and she responds that regret is inevitable. Xerius doesn’t like that. He suddenly feels pity for his mother, remembering when they had been close, intimate. But those times were gone. He comes close to apology but warns her to drop the subject or she will regret it.

Then he turns his attention to the young slave girl. He pulls her to him and she trembles, crying, as she lowers herself on him and loses her virginity. As he enjoys her, he sees his mother about to leave, and asks her to stay and watch. She says no.

“But you will, Mother. The Emperor is difficult to please. You must instruct her.”

There was a pause, filled only by the girl’s whimper.

“But certainly, my son,” Istiya said at length, and walked grandly over to the couch. The rigid girl flinched when she grasped her hand and drew it down to Xerius’s scrotum. “Gently, child,” she cooed. “Shussh. No weeping.”

Xerius groaned and arched into her, laughed when she chirped in pain. He gazed into his mother’s painted face suspended over the girl’s shoulder, whiter even than the porcelain, Galeoth skin, and he burned with that old, illicit thrill. He felt a child again, careless. All was as it should be. The Gods were auspicious indeed.

“Tell me, Xerius,” his mother said huskily, “how was it that you discovered Skeaös?”

My Thoughts

I like how Bakker describes Achamian interacting with Iryssas, Dinchases, and Zenkappa without Xinemus around. Always weird when you’re hanging out with the friends of your friends, that strange awkward stage. It’s also good to remind us about them and their personalities.

Cnaiür is being Cnaiür, trying to puzzle out Kellhus motions, probably debating whether or not to warn Achamian while debating how that might effect his goal of killing Moënghus Cnaiür knows he’s playing a deadly game with Kellhus, but he has no choice but to play it.

The subtle plants of Kellhus plan to be seen as a prophet are already bearing fruit in Achamian’s mind as he thinks about praying to the gods and his thoughts turn to Kellhus.

Achamian finds comfort in stories over lies. Stories can be so much simpler than real life. It is probably why humans are so fascinated with them. They are ways to make sense of the world, to put the chaos into order and tame them. From the earliest mythological tales are ancestors created to explain the world around them to parables of today trying to explain the events of our world by proxy.

Cnaiür’s version of the parable, that only gestures are real, is shown by the young bull. He has to prove he is a bull by not just saying it, but by fighting the stronger one where he’ll probably die. But he does it anyways.

Iryssas is painted as a person who think their feelings trump logic and grow angry when those feelings are called into question, making him “dull-witted.”

We see some of Kellhus’s Dûnyain philosophy in his talk of solutions. That courage, honor, love and other emotions are not absolutes but questions that have to be solved. The Dûnyain believes they have to be removed from the equation to solve it, to distill everything down to the Absolute, the self-moving soul not bound to the examples of the past, like the Latter Prophet, revered for their solutions. They stop people from finding their own.

Achamian’s bitterness during the exchange with Kellhus probably stems from being interrupted right when he had worked up the nerve to talk to Xinemus. Isn’t that so annoying when you try to talk to someone, and someone else butts in and messes it all up. Then we get into Achamian’s depression, focusing on being damned and sees his life as wasted because Kellhus brought of Inri Sejunes. Now, Kellhus is a smart guy. He had to know his words would sting Achamian, to make him face damnation again. The time will come when Kellhus promises salvation for sorcerers.

And avoiding Damnation, as we know from the Consult, is a powerful motivation.

Serwë believes Kellhus is the God. And like all believers, they want others to believe the same, to reinforce that they have chosen the right belief. We all do this. We all cherry pick the data that confirms and reinforces our biases. It is very hard to recognize in yourself and make different choices.

What must it be like to dream another man’s life every night. No wonder Achamian confuses himself for Seswatha when he grows emotional, when logic is at its weakest as emotion overwhelms thought.

And we see once again how Kellhus manipulates, feigning being troubled over Achamian’s revelation of the prophecy than instantly cutting through the problem of it, casting doubt. It’s enough to snap out Achamian from it until he goes on to talk about the skin spy and the its implication. Despite Kellhus’s attempts, Achamian remains fixated on the harbinger. Kellhus had a good plan, but Achamian is too dedicated to it. But he’s also conflicted because he loves Kellhus. Which is the Dûnyain’s most potent weapon. It’s also good to see that Kellhus doesn’t always succeed even on people who aren’t Cnaiür. But now he has more data, understands more of Achamian’s problem. And emotions, after all, are solutions looking to be solved.

Learn a bit more about the Inchoroi here. Ancient race of sci-fi aliens crash-landed on a fantasy world. But they came for a reason. And though the bulk of the race is dead, two survive and the Consult is helping further their goals of escaping Damnation. No wonder a group of human sorcerers went over to the Inchoroi.

As always, Cnaiür’s drive, revenge on Moënghus, is present in his thoughts. This scene reinforces that while simultaneously reintroducing the character, his motivations, and background to re-familiarize readers with what has happened before.

Cnaiür’s understanding of Kellhus is a great insight for us as readers as he is constantly questioning everything, wondering at Kellhus’s motives, what his true aims are. That is what we need to do. We can’t be lulled into liking or trusting this character. Otherwise we are deceived just like Achamian, Serwë, Proyas, Xinemus, and others are.

Kellhus’s exchange with Ingiaban is a great strategy when dealing with someone who believes in something, whether it’s religion or philosophy or another belief structure. If you argue outside of their frame of belief, coming at it from the outside, you will have a hard time convincing them. It is better to use their own beliefs to educate them, to show them how they are wrong, to expose any hypocrisy or mistake in it. Kellhus uses this, adopting their beliefs, to appear greater than he is. Notice how Proyas finds merit it in.

Cnaiür thinks himself better than Proyas and the others, his own vanity keeps him from warning them. He doesn’t want to admit he is them.

Bakker, with Cnaiür’s reflection on how Kellhus manipulates, is reintroducing us to him. But first, Bakker showed us Kellhus doing this to Achamian early in the chapter, first driving him away in anger, then later coming and getting the truth from him. And now we see that it wasn’t accidental, but purposeful.

Nothing Kellhus does is accidental.

Cnaiür struggles to focus on the true question—can he trust Kellhus. Nothing else can matter except that. He had to get his revenge, and he needs to keep his hatred to preserve him. But he wonders if Serwë also is enough. He questions it. She is his proof that he is still Scylvendi, his captive bride. But she is Kellhus’s tool.

Cnaiür’s “You know” about the Chorae is an indication he’s made the connection that if Moënghus is a sorcerer, than Kellhus is probably one too.

Serwë’s comments about the horns not having sounded yet has caused some people theorize that she had a premonition about the horns that then sound just a few lines later. Of course, she could just be complaining about being woke up before the Holy War’s equivalent of an alarm clock. And who wants that?

Cnaiür thinks Kellhus wants the Chorae to kill Achamian, but Kellhus, I think, is looking for a way to protect himself against the other Mandate. If he fails to convince Achamian not to tell his colleagues, everything could fail. He knows he can’t stand against sorcerery. Kellhus learned that in the prologue of book 1 against the Nonman.

And now back to the the Emperor and his dysfunctional relationship with his mother. She likes to bring him men and women to please him to get concessions out of him.

So, this is a bit spoilery for book 3, but it’s hard to talk about Xerius’s mother here without touching on this. She is interrogating him about what happened with Skeaös, what he believes he was, and what he plans on doing about it. She tries to manipulate him into seeing this deal with the Fanim to betray the Holy War is a bad idea, trying to frighten him. Why? Because as Xerius fears, there are other skin spies, and the Empress is one of them. His mother was replaced before even the last book started. We see her in The Darkness that Comes Before working with Skeaös to preserve the Holy War and arguing against betraying it. The Consult wants the Holy War to succeed and Xerius’s betrayal could jeopardize all. She’s focused on sparing not the Fanim but the Cishaurim. Our first clue as to why the Consult wants the Holy War to succeed. I think the Empress was replaced when Skeaös failed to be convincing enough. The Consult realized they needed a second person manipulating him, one that he couldn’t ignore like a counselor.

So why didn’t the Consult replace Xerius directly? He is key to their plans. He can make or break the Holy War. Simple. When is he ever alone? He is surrounded by slaves and servants and officials. Even in the bath, he is attended to. Easier to replace his more vulnerable confidants and use them. Of course, they are up against a paranoid, glory-hungry man with delusions of godhood, so it doesn’t go perfectly.

And we end with Xerius finding his happy place, having sex while his mother watches, remembering when they were lovers when he was a child before he became a man (emperor) and could not allow himself to be controlled by his mother. He yearns for those simpler times. She did a really good job fucking him up.

And then she presses again to learn about Skeaös. How in particular Xerius discovered who he was. To the Consult, having a skin spy unveiled is devastating. They are counting on their agents to manipulate events and pass unseen So on the surface, this scene comes off as perverse, Xerius enjoying a young girl, a gift form his mother, but beneath Bakker is advancing the story of the Consult, showing how they manipulate and operate. It’s not much different than Kellhus. Only he’s so much better at it because even us readers can be seduced by him and think he’s a good guy.

Click here to continue onto Chapter Three!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Chapter One

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Part 1
The First March
Chapter 1
Anserca

Welcome to Chapter One of my reread. Click here if you missed the Intro!

Ignorance is trust

—Ancient Kûniüric Proverb

Thoughts

What a true statement. When you don’t know the real things a person is saying, doing, or thinking, it is easy to trust them. If you don’t know they’re talking behind your back and undermining your chance at, say, a promotion, then you have no reason not to trust them when they say they’re helping you.

Now how does this apply to our current chapter? Who is ignorant? Well, all men are ignorant of the darkness that comes before, something that Kellhus is constantly exploiting. We have Achamian in this chapter warring with himself whether or not to turn over Kellhus to the Mandate. H doesn’t want to hand him over. Ignorant of the truth of Kellhus, Achamian finds him trusting the Dûnyain

Late Spring 4111 Year-of-the-Tusk, south of Momemn

Drusas Achamian, our sorcerer and spymaster protagonist, sits in his tent muttering an incantation. “Though the moon-shining length of the Meneanor Sea lay between him and Atyersus, he walked the ancient halls of his School—walked among sleepers.” Achamian moves from dream to dream, nightmare to nightmare, until he finds Nautzera, dreaming as Seswatha and cradling the dead king Anasûrimbor Celmomas. A dragon lands and breathes fire, killing the soldiers around Nautzera, but he is protected by sorcerous wards. Achamian knows what will happen in the dream, he’s experienced it many times.

Our Lord,” the dragon grated, “hath tasted thy King’s passing, and he saith, ‘It is done.’”

Nautzera stood before the golden-horned abomination. “Not while I draw breath, Skafra!” he cried. “Never!”

Laughter, like the wheezing of a thousand consumptive men. The Great Dragon reared his bull-chest above the sorcerer, revealing a necklace of steaming human heads.

Thou art overthrown, sorcerer. They tribe hath perished, dashed like a potter’s vessel by our fury. The earth is sown with they nation’s blood, and soon thine enemies will compass thee with bent bow and whetted bronze. Wilt thou repent thy folly? Wilt though not abase thyself before our Lord?”

“As do you, mighty Skafra? As the exalted Tyrant of Cloud and Mountain abases himself?”

Membranes flickered across the dragon’s quicksilver eyes. A blink. “I am not a God.”

Nautzera smiled grimly. Seswatha said, “Neither is your lord.”

Skafra is not pleased by the answer. As the dragon attacks, Nautzera notices Achamian and is confused. Their souls touch and they speak through thoughts. Nautzera is shocked Achamian is alive. The concern shocks Achamian, Nautzera has never liked him. “But then Seswatha’s Dreams had a way of sweeping aside petty enmities.” Achamian reports he is with the Holy War and that it marches on Kian, the debate over the Emperor’s indenture resolved. He shows images of the mighty host marching.

Nautzera asks if Achamian learned anything about Maithanet and his reasons for calling the Holy War. Achamian has not, saying his former Student Proyas, a great prince and one of the leaders of the Holy War, belongs to Maithanet.

What is it with your students, Achamian? Why do they all turn to our rivals, hmm? The ease with which Nautzera had recovered his sarcasm both stung and curiously relieved Achamian. The grand old sorcerer would need his wits for what followed.

Achamian relates what happened in the Emperor’s dungeon at the end of the last book, the unveiling of the skin spy. Achamian has found the Consult, the ancient enemy of the Mandate and the world. He shows the imagery, proving that the skin spy are not marked by sorcerery. Despite Achamian hating Nautzera, he went to him first because he is a fanatic, a Mandate Schoolman who still believes in the Consult after centuries of their absence. He is shocked by what Achamian has seen, realizing the Consult has mastered new arts of the Tekne, the Old Science. He tells Achamian to share the dream with others.

But…

But what? There’s more?

Far more. An Anasûrimbor had returned, a living descendant of the dead king Nautzera had just dreamed.

Nothing of significance, Achamian replied. Why had he said this? Why conceal Anasûrimbor Kellhus from the Mandate? Why protect—

Nautzera interrupts Achamian’s thoughts, urging him to tell all the Quorum this dream. Nautzera realizes what it means if the Consult can put their spies in even the Imperial Court, they could infiltrate anyone. “Send this dream to the entire Quorum! All Atyersus trembles this night.

The next morning, Achamian is walking with his mule Daybreak down the Sogian Way as the sun rises, reflecting on the beauty of the morning. He is reeling. He was used to the waking world not possessing the horrors of his dreams. Bad things happened, but not like the atrocities of two thousand years ago. That had changed he realizes, staring at the Men of the Tusk, the vast army crossing the country side.

The vast host had broken up as they marched through the Empire partly out of prudence for foraging in case the Emperor failed to provision him, but also because the Great Names couldn’t decide on the route south. Achamian finds that a bad start, but his friend Xinemus thinks it is a good thing because Proyas, Xinemus’s lord, chose the road. On a map, it looked longer, but the other hosts cutting across the countryside will learn that roads allow for faster travel. “Even the Scylvendi know roads are fucking better!”

Achamian skulls in the baggage train with his mule during the march. Achamian wonders why he is in the baggage train instead of riding with the Great Names like Seswatha would have. He could. Proyas would, grudgingly, allow Achamian to ride with his party. At first he wonders if it is nostalgia or habit when he realized what it was—aversion. He realizes he is hiding from Kellhus, avoiding him, going out of his way because he feared scrutiny of others, including Kellhus, and because he kept staring at the beautiful Serwë and not like the worshipful way she stares at Kellhus.

Am I going mad?

Several times now, he’d found himself cackling aloud for no apparent reason. Once or twice he’d raised a hand to his cheek to discover he’d been weeping Each time he’d simply mumbled away his shock: few things are more familiar, he supposed, than finding oneself a stranger. Besides, what else could he do? Rediscovering the Consult was cause enough to go mad about the edges, certainly. But to suspect—no, to know—that the Second Apocalypse was beginning… And to be alone with such knowledge!

How could someone like him bear such weight?

Achamian grapples with telling the Mandate about finding Kellhus, but he knows Nautzera would have Kellhus seized and interrogated. Everything had changed in the Andiamine Heights. No longer was the Consult an abstract thing to Achamian, it was far too real. Achamian finds knowing worse than speculating.

But he can’t understand why he conceals Kellhus. “Within the space of days, the Three Seas had assumed the same bloated dimensions as the world he suffered night after night.” It frustrates Achamian that he says nothing. He vows that he will tell them tonight.

Kellhus appears, acting jovial, and Achamian finds himself reacting with equal levity, trying to banish dark thoughts. They joke. Achamian is surprised to find Kellhus walking. Caste Nobles never walked when they could ride.

Kellhus winked. “I thought I’d let my ass ride me for a change.”

Achamian laughed, feeling as though he’d been holding his breath and could only now exhale. Since that first evening outside Momemn, Kellhus had made him feel this way—as though he could breathe easy. When he’d mentioned this to Xinemus, the Marshal had shrugged and said “Everyone farts, sooner or later.”

Kellhus points out that Achamian promised to tutor him and begins leading Achamian’s mule. Kellhus asks the name of the mule, which shocks Achamian with the banality of the question. Not even Xinemus ever asked it, not caring. Kellhus sees Achamian’s turmoil and Achamian realizes “He reads me like any scroll.”

“Is it so easy?” Achamian asked. “So easy to see?”

“What does it matter?”

“It matters,” he said, blinking tears and turning to face Kellhus once again. So I weep! something desolate within him cried. So I weep!

“Ajencis,” he continued, “once wrote that all men are frauds. Some, the wise, fool only others. Others, the foolish, fool only themselves. And a rare few fool both others and themselves—they are the rulers of Men… But what about men like me, Kellhus? What about men who fool no one?”

And I call myself a spy!

Kellhus shrugged. “Perhaps they are less than fools and more than wise.”

Kellhus again asks what troubles Achamian. He deflects, instead answering the question about his mule’s name. Daybreak. “For a Mandate Schoolman, no name was more lucky.”

Achamian reflects on teaching Kellhus over the next few days, in awe of the man’s intellect. They discuss every topic, plants, animals, philosophy, and history. There is no curriculum. Achamian answers Kellhus’s curiosity, letting the student guide the discussion. Achamian is soon in awe of Kellhus’s intellect. No matter the topic “the Prince unerringly struck upon the matter’s heart.” Achamian finds Kellhus offering “explanations and interpretations as fine as any Achamian had read.”

“How?” Achamian blurted on one occasion.

“How what?” Kellhus replied.

“How is it that…that you see these things? No matter how deep I peer…”

Kellhus laughs it off and simply calls it a gift. Achamian is stunned by it. He was more than a genius. Achamian is shocked by how the man thinks. It is like Kellhus Is from a different age entirely.

Most, by and large, were born narrow, and cared to see only that which flattered them. Almost without exception, they assumed their hatreds and yearnings to be correct, no matter what the contradictions, simply because they felt correct. Almost all men prized the familiar path over the true. That was the glory of the students, to step from well-worn path and risk knowledge that oppressed, that horrified. Even still, Achamian, like all teachers, spent as much time uprooting prejudices as implanting truths. All souls were stubborn in the end.

Not so with Kellhus. Nothing was dismissed outright. Any possibility could be considered. It was as though his soul moved over something trackless. Only truth led him to conclusions.

Kellhus asks questions after questions, challenging Achamian’s own interpretations of events. It makes Achamian reflect on his youth when he argued with his teacher Simas, wondering why the older man couldn’t see what, to Achamian, was so clear. Never once do they ever cover the same topic again. Achamian realizes that even as he teaches Kellhus, Kellhus teaches him.

Who am I? he would often think, listening to Kellhus’s melodious voice. What do you see?

They move on to talk about the First Apocalypse, which Achamian finds easy to bring up but hard to discuss. He had lived it, so talking about it in detail is like taking about any other traumatic experience, welling up all the emotions. And Kellhus only makes it worse, reminding Achamian that he betrays his school by not telling them about Kellhus. One day, Kellhus asks about the No-God. Achamian is shocked that someone from Atrithau wouldn’t already know about the No-God. Kellhus says he’s read the Sagas, but wants first-hand accounting. Achamian has seen them.

No, Achamian wanted to say, Seswatha has seen these things. Seswatha.

Instead he studied the distance, gathering his thoughts. He clutched his hands, which felt as light as balsa.

You’ve seen these things. You…

“He has, as you likely know, many names. Men of ancient Kûniüri called him Mog-Pharau, from which we derived ‘No-God.’ In ancient Kyraneas, he was simply called Tsurumah, the ‘Hated One.’ The Nonmen of Ishoriol called him—with the peculiar poetry that belongs to all their names—Cara-Sincurimoi, the ‘Angel of Endless Hunger’… He is well named. Never has the world known a greater evil… A greater peril.”

Kellhus asks if he is an unclean spirit. Achamian answers he is not a demon. “He is more and his less…” Kellhus tries to change the subject and Achamian goes on about how he saw the No-God fight the Kyraneas at the Plains of Mengedda. Achamian realizes he has forgotten something. Kellhus asks what.

“That the Holy War would be crossing the Plains of Mengedda. That I would soon trod earth that had witnessed the No-God’s death…” He looked to the southern hills. Soon the Unaras Spur, which marked the ends of the Inrithi world, would resolve from the horizon. And on the far side…

“How could I have forgotten?”

“There’s so much to remember,’ Kellhus said. “Too much.”

“Which means too much has been forgotten,” Achamian snapped, unwilling to absolve himself of this oversight. I need my wits! The very world…

Kellhus thinks Achamian is being too harsh on himself, but Achamian reminds him what the No-God was like “Every infant stillborn for eleven years—for eleven years, Kellhus!” He relates how “every womb a grave.” Everyone could feel the No-God in their heart, now which direction it lay. He talks about the High North destroyed, Kyraneas on the verge of defeat, their capital sacked. On the Plains of Mengedda, the Kyranease awaited the foe, Seswatha at the side of Anaxophus V, the High King and an old friend to Seswatha.

Achamian abruptly stopped, turning to the north. “Imagine,” he said, opening his arms to the sky. “The day wasn’t unlike this, though the air smelled of wild blossoms… Imagine! A great shroud of thunderheads, as broad as the horizon and as black as crow, boiling across this sky, spilling towards us like hot blood over glass. I remember threads of lightning flashing among the hills. And beneath the eaves of the storm, great cohorts of Scylvendi galloping to the east and west, intent on enveloping our flanks. And behind them, loping as fast as dogs, legions upon legions of Sranc, howling… howling…

Kellhus says Achamian doesn’t have to tell this. But Achamian has to. He needs Kellhus to know this, to understand who Achamian is. Achamian continues, describing the Scylvendi attach, the horde of Srancs, how they fought with reckless abandoned, singing laments for their faces, knowing this was the end of mankind. Dragons attacked, including Skafra.

“Just south of here,” he [Achamian] said, shaking his head. “Two thousand years ago.”

“What happened next?”

Achamian continues, saying the impossible happened. Seswatha killed Skafra, drew back another dragon called Skuthul the Black. The Kyranease stood against the tide. It looked like they might have one. And then the No-God came. The sranc shrieked, scratching at their eyes. Seswatha struggled to breath. Horses reared. Men clutched their ears. Bashrag pounded the ground as “a great whirlwind, like a black umbilicus joining earth and cloud.”

And then the voice, spoken through the throats of a hundred thousand Sranc.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

I don’t understand…

I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE

Death. Wretched death!

TELL ME

Even you cannot hide from what you don’t know! Even you!

WHAT AM I?

“Doomed,” Seswatha whispered to the thunder. He clutched the Kyranean Great King by the shoulder. “Now, Anaxophus! Strike now!”

I CANNOT S—

Anaxophus fires the Heron Spear and a “thread of silver light” strikes the No God’s Carapace. It explodes, destroying the whirlwind. Achamian is dazed by telling the story, caught up in his memories, thinking he is Seswatha with Anaxophus again. Kellhus pulls him out of it, asking about the Heron Spear. But Achamian can’t answer. He’s drained by telling the story. Achamian can not remember ever telling this tale, one the Mandate are all loath to speak about. But he told Kellhus.

He’s doing something to me.

Stupefied, Achamian found himself staring at the man with the candor of a sleepy child.

Who are you?

Kellhus responded without embarrassment—such a thing seemed too small for him. He smiled as though Achamian were in face a child, an innocent incapable of wishing him ill. The look reminded Achamian of Inrau, who’d so often seen him for what he wasn’t: a good man.

Achamian looked away, his throat aching. Must I give you up, too?

A student like no other.

A group of soldiers start singing a hymn and Kellhus takes off his sandals, asking Achamian to do the same and “bare feet with the others.” Achamian realizes that Kellhus is always giving lessons. “While Achamian taught, Kellhus continually gave lessons.” Achamian didn’t know what the lessons were about, but he knew he was a student to Kellhus and his education was incomplete.

Again, Achamian comes close to using the Cants of Calling at night to tell his brethren about the fulfillment of the Celmomian Prophecy, which most saw as the very reason they exist. He can’t believe he waged world “on a man he’d known no more than a fortnight.” He finds it madness and keeps telling himself “One more day.”

Kellhus believes (or pretends to) that Achamian is worried about the Holy War’s success. Achamian is because he’s seen so many defeats in his dream. But despite being in the war, surrounded by soldiers, it’s not his concern. Achamian starts talking about how Seswatha was a youth when the wars with Golgotterath began. Even then, the wise didn’t understand the stakes. The Norsirai just wanted to subdue. They ruled the north, driven back the Sranc, defeated the Scylvendi They were the power, better than everything. Not even in the beginning, when Shauriatas, Grandmaster of the Mangaecca (the Consult) awakened the No-God did the Norsirai believe they would loose. That in eleven years, only ruins would remain.

Shielding his eyes he looked into the Prince’s face. “Glory doesn’t vouchsafe glory. The unthinkable can always come to pass.”

The end is coming… I must decide.

Kellhus nodded, squinting against the sun. “Everything has its measure,” he said. “Every man…” He looked directly at Achamian. “Every decision.”

For an instant Achamian feared his heart might stop. A coincidence… It has to be!

Suddenly, Kellhus picks up a small stone and throws it at a stone shelf, knocking it over. Achamian asks if he meant to do that. Kellhus says no. “But then that was your point, wasn’t it? The unforeseen, the catastrophic, follows hard upon all our actions.” Achamian didn’t think he had a point.

That night, Achamian can’t even begin the Cants of Calling. Achamian knows Kellhus is the Harbinger and soon the “horrors of his nights” would afflict the world. All the great cities would die like all the past ones did. What right did Achamian have to risk the future.

Because there was something… something about him. Something that bid Achamian to wait. A sense of impossible becoming… But what? What was he becoming? And was it enough? Enough to warrant betraying his School? Enough to throw the number-sticks of Apocalypse? Could anything be enough?

Other than the truth. The truth was always enough, wasn’t it.

He looked at me and he knew. Throwing the stone, Achamian realized, had been another lesson. Another clue. But for what? That disaster would follow if he made the wrong decision? That disaster would follow no matter what his decision?

There was no end, it seemed, to his torment.

My Thoughts

I love this description “dimensionless geometry of dreams” as Achamian reflects on how dreams can transport us across great distances, and how things sort of blend and merge together, bleeding from one thing to another.

It is telling that Achamian as he walks from dream to dream of his fellow Mandate Schoolman, instead only sees nightmares. They all are relieving Seswatha’s life, the harrowing moments as he witnessed the First Apocalypse.

I love the exchange between Nautzera and Skafra. Thought it is really Seswatha, the founder of Mandate School, who speaks these words, as Bakker shows in the the final line of the exchange.

Bakker has mention dragon, Wracu, but here is first good look at one. Huge beasts, servants of the No-God and the Consult. They are engineered beings like the sranc, bashrag, and the skin spies, made from the Tekne. But they possess far more free will than any other creations of the Inchoroi and their successor the Consult as we’ll see in later books.

It is also nice to see what happens after the Celmomian Prophecy, which we saw a number of times in the last book. And Nautzera is completely embroiled in the dream. He doesn’t know he’s not reliving the past until Achamian shakes him out of it.

Nautzera, for such a minor character making his first appearance in the story since Chapter Two of the first book, is a well-drawn out character. He has his reasons for disliking Achamian.

Poor Achamian. Discovering that the horrors of the past would be unsettling. For someone that his always self-reflecting like Achamian is, probing his motivations, it would be familiar to think of yourself as a stranger, to wonder why you do the things you do. Especially how you would change after what Achamian’s been through.

Achamian vow to tell them tonight is so familiar. We all tell ourselves that, wondering if we truly have the strength to do it or are we just lying to ourselves, placating the turmoil inside of us, saying we will do something but knowing we can’t or won’t.

“Everyone farts, sooner or later.” What a profound yet vulgar sentiment. We are all human, all afflicted with the same bodily functions no matter how lofty or pretentious we might feign. And it also shows just how much of a chameleon Kellhus is. He will be whatever he needs to be to master circumstances and the hearts of men. And when you’re ignorant of who Kellhus truly is, like Achamian, it is so easy to trust him.

Ajencis quote about fools is a great one. How often do we lesson to people for truth, whether theologians or scientist or talk show hosts. We imagine they know all these things with certainty while forgetting that they are humans, that they have our same self-doubt and, worse, can be wrong. Will be wrong. And then fools, of course, deluding themselves which leads us to rulers, politicians. Who both believe what they say to get you to support them.

Bakker, through Achamian, equates teaching with fatherhood. The point of a teacher is to shape, just like a father, or any parent, wishes to shape their children into a proper adult. Well, the good parents. The joy of a teacher for a student is akin to the joy of a parent.

“There was something about the way Kellhus thought, an elusive mobility Achamian had never encountered. Something that made him seem, at times, a man from a different age.” Achamian is touching on just how vast the intellect the Dûnyain have bred and trained for the last two thousand years. The ease with which Kellhus interrupts and exceeds the great minds of bygone eras is going to overawe an intellectual man like Achamian. All part of the seduction.

Narrow thoughts definitely characterizes humans. We all cherry-pick things that flatter are own believes. Even intelligent people can fall into this trap. Most like to lock themselves in an echo chamber and ignore those ideas that cause them to question their own world-view. Achamian’s insight in Kellhus thoughts as “trackless” is exactly how Kellhus is. Achamian is learning what a Dûnyain is, but he is still ignorant.

What do you see? Achamian asks that question in his mind to Kellhus. It is the same question the no-god asks. The no-god is one thing I am greatly looking forward to getting answers on. In this very chapter, we discuss the no-god after Achamian asks the question. Is Bakker trying to subtly hint that the no-god is seeking understanding of his own purpose, his own role even as he destroys the world? A blind entity flailing about, unable to control the damage he inflicts? Maybe.

Atrithau is one of the two cities remaining in the dead north, built on anarcane ground, a place where sorcery doesn’t exist. Achamian is right to be shocked by the holes in Kellhus’s knowledge about the No-God. OF course, Kellhus is good enough to cover up those holes. It is interesting that Atrithau and Sakarpus are the two cities that survived. Sakarpus has the Chorae Horde (small, iron balls that make a person immune to sorcerery) the largest collection of trinkets in the world, and Atrithau is built on a place were sorcery cannot exist.

We get reference to the Scarlet Spires consulting with demons, a branch of magic called the Daimos.

Mengedda sounds like a wonderful place. Only witnessed the death of the No-God. It is also the place where the Vulgar Holy War was defeated in the last novel. Mengedda of course, brings up the Valley of Meggido from the bible, a real place where armies throughout history have fought. A place soaked in blood. The word Armageddon derives from the Hebrew word Valley of Meggido. A fitting place for the No-God to die and the Holy War to cross.

Remembering the past is so very important. And the world has forgotten the Consult, the No-God, and the First Apocalypse. It is the Mandate’s job to keep it alive, and they failed. So it is no wonder that now, with the Consult back and the Harbinger appearance, that Achamian has to inform Kellhus, to make him understand.

Bakker’s description of the Battle of Mengedda is chilling, haunting. Just the idea that for 11 years no humans were born is terrifying. An entire generation that never even lived. Knowledge that there would be no youths growing up to join the fight. That they had to win or it was over. A true Apocalypse.

What do you see? What am I? These are the questions the No-God needs answering. This may be related to damnation. The No-God may be asking someone with the judging eye to see if he is still damned. It is one explanation of this. The whole motivation of the Consult is to avoid the very real damnation of Bakker’s universe. I CANNOT S— The No-God’s final words. What couldn’t he see? I am eager for The Unholy Consults release, hopefully next year since the manuscript is complete.

The Heron Spear is a laser. It’s Inchoroi technology. What happened to it after the No-God’s death is a question everyone asks. It has been lost. It is the only thing that can kill the No-God. Sorcery is out since the No-God’s carapace, a golden sarcophagus, is studded with magic-nullifying Chorae

Achamian has lost his two favorite students, one to actual death and the other to fanaticism. And now he has a new student to love, a student who he should turn over to the Mandate. Again, he will betray his school for the love of his pupil.

The lesson, Achamian, that Kellhus is teaching you is to trust him, to believe in him, to be in awe with him, so you’ll do what he wants.

Shauriatas and his school the Mangaecca were a Gnostic school, like Seswatha’s Sohonc. They broke through the Nonmen’s protective magics over Golgotterath, the crashed spaceship of the Inchoroi, and awakened the last two Inchoroi (one of whom is the Synthese directing the skin spies from the last novel). The No-God is a weapon they “awoke.” Something the Inchoroi had bet never used even as they lost their wars with the Nonmen The consult is born from the union of the Mangaecca with the last two Inchoroi

It wasn’t a coincidence that Kellhus mentions decisions just when Achamian is grappling with a big one. Though we aren’t getting Kellhus’s POV, we are reminded of just how skillful he is at reading people.

Kellhus has done a great job of keeping Achamian from telling the Mandate. We’ll learn later on that Kellhus knows to be wary of the Mandate. He is deliberately manipulating Achamian. He has figured out Achamian love of teaching and affection for his students. He has made Achamian love him. That’s what the Dûnyain do.

All in all, this is a great chapter. Bakker gets us all caught up on both the immediate story of the Holy War and the more vague threat of the Consult and the Second Apocalypse No other character than Achamian could have served to do that, mixing dreams, his mission, and his interactions with Kellhus allow Bakker to pen a masterful recap chapter.

Bakker has set the stage for Achamian’s moral dilemma and sets the stage for what the Holy War can expect.

Click her to continue on to Chapter Two!

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Reread of The Warrior Prophet: Intro

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 2: The Warrior Prophet

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

latestAfter I finished The Darkness that Comes Before, there was no way I could stop there. I had to find out where this story was going. I had to know more about the Consult, what happened into the past, how the characters would handle the Holy War, who truly was behind the events shaping the world, and, lastly, I had to read more about one of the most intriguing characters I have ever read—Anasûrimbor Kehllus.

I was glad that the Prince of Nothing Trilogy was all published (only to learn later it was just the first of three series of the greater Second Apocalypse Metaseries). The Warrior Prophet did not disappoint me, leading us from the politicking of the first book into the harsh reality of ancient and medieval warfare.

Bakker never once flinches from the depths of human depravity. It lurks in all of us, this capacity to do great harm. The Warrior Prophet is brutal at times. Bakker has been accused of misogyny for how women are treated in his series, but he is illuminating a fundamental part of humans—we forever divide ourselves into nations, tribes, races, and other divisions. And once we have, we are capable of great cruelty on others. A man who would die to protect his wife will have no compulsion murdering the wife of his enemy.

SPOILOR WARNING: Please read the book before any of these posts. This is intended for those who have read the books. I will discuss both the events of the chapter and even their ramification for future events.

Like with the first book, Bakker opens the Warrior Prophet with a quote. Not a fictitious quote from his own setting, but a quote from Immanuel Kant.

“Here we see philosophy brought to what is, in fact, a precarious position, which should be made fast even though it is supported by nothing in either heaven or earth. Here philosophy must show its purity as the absolute sustainer of its laws, and not as a herald of laws which implanted senses or who knows what tutelary nature whispers to it.”

—Immanuel Kant, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals

My Thoughts

Bakker is a philosopher of human consciousness. So it should not be surprising that philosophy plays a huge role in his stories. We have several philosophies introduced in the first book, especially the Dûnyain and their pursuit of the Logos—the Absolute. They have stripped everything from the world in the application of their philosophy. They have trained out as much passion and emotion from their students, breeding them for intelligence. They have tried to make its purity sustain itself, as Kant describes above.

But Kant is talking about morality, something wholly alien to the Dûnyain Morality has to be its own law, something pure, something remote, something not apart from religious dictations (heaven) or the whims of capricious man (earth). It is something which must be pure. If it doesn’t sustain itself by its own power, then it is suspect because something whispers to it, something unseen, unknown.

Something whispering out of the darkness that comes before it.

This is a great quote for the book we’re about to read. Morality clashes against morality as religion battles religion. Whose right is moral? Who are the just ones? The Fanim defending their lands, or the Inrithi reclaiming what has been stolen?

Maybe neither of them are, and we are about to watch unfold a great tragedy of death and suffering while something whispers from the shadows. Something manipulating, something corrupting. I hope you are excited for The Warrior Prophet!

If you haven’t gotten bored yet, click her for Chapter One.

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