The first battle against the heathen has been won, but while the Great Names plot and squabble over the spoils, Kellhus patiently extends his influence, drawing more followers to his banner.
The sorcerer Achamian and his lover, Esmenet, submit entirely, only to have their faith tested in unimaginable ways. The warrior Cnaiür falls ever deeper into madness. The skin-spies of the Consult watch with growing trepidation. And as the vast host of the Holy War endures its sternest test in the searing wastes of the desert, a name—a title—begins to be whispered amongst the faithful.
But who is the Warrior-Prophet: a dangerous heretic, who turns brother against brother? Or the only man who can avert the Second Apocalypse? The Holy War stands on a knife edge. If all is not to be lost the great powers will have to choose between their most desperate desires and their most ingrained prejudice. Between hatred and hope. Between the Warrior-Prophet and the end of the world …
The Holy War
Free of the Emperor’s machinations, the Lords of the Holy War fall to squabbling among each other, and the Holy War fractures into its various nationalities as it marches toward the heathen frontier. Contingent by contingent, it gathers beneath Asgilioch on the heathen frontier.
But Prince Coithus Saubon, the leader of the Galeoth contingent, is too impatient, and on the prophetic advice of Prince Anasûrimbor Kellhus, he marches with the Tydonni, the Thunyeri, and the Shrial Knights. The Imperial Army under Ikurei Conphas and the Conriyans under Prince Nersei Proyas remain at Asgilioch, awaiting the Ainoni and the all-important Scarlet Spires.
Skauras ab Nalajan, the leader of the Kianene host, surprises Saubon and his impetuous peers on the Plains of Mengedda. A desperate battle follows, where, just as Prince Kellhus predicted, the Shrial Knights suffer grievously saving the Holy War from a cadre of Cishaurim. As the day wanes, the rest of the Holy War appears in the hills, and the Fanim host is completely routed.
The Governorate of Gedea falls, though the Emperor manages to take her capital, Hinnereth, through trickery. The Men of the Tusk continue south. Broken by their defeat on the Plains of Mengedda, the Kianene fall back to the south bank of the River Sempis, yielding northern Shigek to the Inrithi invaders. Prince Kellhus begins giving regular sermons beneath the famed Ziggurats of Shigek. Many in the Holy War begin referring to him as the “Warrior-Prophet.”
With Cnaiür urs Skiötha as their general, the Men of the Tusk cross the Sempis Delta, and a second great battle is fought beneath the Kianene fortress of Anwurat. Despite the dissolution of Cnaiür’s command and the martial cunning of Skauras, the Men of the Tusk prevail once again. The sons of Kian are hacked to ruin.
Anxious to press the advantage, the Great Names then lead the Holy War south across the coastal deserts of Khemema, depending on the Imperial Fleet to keep them supplied with fresh water. The Padirajah, however, surprises the fleet at the Bay of Trantis, and the Men of the Tusk find themselves stranded in the burning wastes without water. Thousands upon thousands die. Only Prince Kellhus’s discovery of water beneath the dunes saves the Inrithi from total annihilation.
The remnants of the Holy War drift from the desert and descend upon the great mercantile city of Caraskand. After a number of abortive assaults, the Men of the Tusk prepare for a long siege. The winter rains come, and with them, disease. At the height of the plague, hundreds of Inrithi perish every night. Only a Fanim traitor allows the Holy War to breach Caraskand’s mighty fortifications. The Men of the Tusk show no quarter.
But even as the city falls, Kascamandri ab Tepherokar, the Padirajah himself, approaches with another great host. Suddenly the besiegers find themselves besieged in a sacked city. Diseases of malnutrition, then outright starvation soon begin afflicting them. Meanwhile, the tensions between traditional Inrithi and those acclaiming Prince Kellhus as a prophet—the Orthodox and the Zaudunyani—grow to the point of riot and violence.
Incited by the accusations of Cutias Sarcellus and Ikurei Conphas, the Lords of the Holy War turn against Prince Kellhus. He is denounced, declared a False Prophet, and, in accordance with The Chronicle of the Tusk, seized and bound to the corpse of his wife, Serwë, who is executed by Sarcellus. He is then lashed to an iron ring—a circumfix—and hung from a tree. Thousands gather in solemn vigil.
After Cnaiür reveals Sarcellus as a skin-spy, the Men of the Tusk repent, and the Warrior-Prophet is cut down from the Circumfix. Moved by a profound fervour, they assemble outside the gates of Caraskand. The Grandees of Kian charge their grim ranks and are utterly undone. The Padirajah himself falls before the Warrior-Prophet, though his son, Fanayal ab Kascamandri, survives to flee east with the remnants of the heathen army.
The road to Holy Shimeh is now open.
Drusas Achamian faces a dilemma, the greatest he’s ever encountered. Using the Cants of Calling, he contacts the Mandate and informs them of his dread discovery beneath the Andiamine Heights, but he says nothing of Anasûrimbor Kellhus, even though the man’s name could very well mean the Celmomian Prophecy—that an Anasûrimbor would return at the end of the world—has been fulfilled.
The omission torments him, but the more time he spends teaching Kellhus on the march, the more he finds himself in awe of the man. With strokes of a stick across the ground, Kellhus rewrites classical logic, devises new and more subtle geometries. He regularly anticipates the insights of Eärwa’s greatest thinkers, even extends them in astonishing ways. And he never forgets anything.
Achamian, especially after the debacle with Paro Inrau in Sumna, is under no illusions regarding his School. He knows what they would do with Prince Anasûrimbor Kellhus. So he convinces himself that he needs time to determine whether Kellhus is in fact the Harbinger of the Apocalypse. He decides to betray the Mandate, to risk the very future of humanity, for the sake of a single, remarkable man.
While the Holy War awaits the arrival of the last stragglers about Asgilioch, he turns to drink and whores to silence his misgivings, only to find Esmenet among the camp-followers. Their reunion is both ardent and awkward. Afterward, Achamian takes her to his tent as his wife. After a lifetime of fruitless wandering, he finds himself terrified by the prospect of happiness. How can anyone be happy in the shadow of the Apocalypse?
As the Holy War marches ever deeper into Fanim territory, he continues teaching Kellhus. During this time, Achamian and Esmenet make a game of interpreting Kellhus, becoming more and more convinced of his divinity. In the course of these ruminations, Achamian confesses his fear that Kellhus may be one of the Few—those who can work sorcery. When Kellhus claims as much shortly after, Achamian insists on proof, using a small, demon-haunted Wathi Doll he obtained in High Ainon. Krijates Xinemus is outraged by the blasphemous demonstration, and Achamian finds himself estranged from his old friend.
When the Holy War reaches Shigek, Kellhus finally asks Achamian to teach him the Gnosis—something that would complete his betrayal of the Mandate. Needing solitude, Achamian travels alone to the Sareötic Library, where the sorcerers of the Scarlet Spires ambush and abduct him.
The torment drags on for weeks. Heramari Iyokus, the lead interrogator, even captures and blinds Xinemus in an attempt to wring more information from Achamian. The Scarlet Spires, it seems, have learned of the events beneath the Andiamine Heights. They know about Skeaös and the skin-spies, and with the very future of his School at stake, Hanamanu Eleäzaras is desperate to extract as much intelligence as possible.
Despite his sorcerous constraints, Achamian is able to call out to his Wathi Doll, which has been buried in the ruins of the Sareötic Library. After a long wait the Doll arrives and breaks the Uroborian Circle that imprisons him. Achamian at last shows the Gnosis to the Scarlet Spires. Though Iyokus escapes his vengeance, he and Xinemus are at last free.
After recuperating, the two friends set out to rejoin the Holy War, their relationship now marred by the resentment Xinemus bears for losing his eyes. They find the Men of the Tusk trapped and starving in Caraskand and learn of the Circumfixion of Kellhus and Serwë. Achamian immediately sets out to find Esmenet, relieved beyond words to discover that she survived the desert.
He finds her with the Zaudunyani. She tells him that she is pregnant with Kellhus’s child.
Achamian goes to the ring-bound Kellhus thinking only of murder. Instead he learns that Consult skin-spies riddle the Holy War. Kellhus, it seems, can see them. He tells Achamian that the Second Apocalypse has in fact begun.
Despite his sorrow and hatred, Achamian goes to Proyas arguing that Kellhus must be saved. Proyas agrees to summon the other Great Names, and Achamian presents his case, arguing that the world is doomed without Anasûrimbor Kellhus, only to be made a laughingstock by Ikurei Conphas.
He fails to convince the Lords of the Holy War.
Thinking Achamian has repudiated her, Esmenet loses herself in the Holy War and eventually joins a troop of camp prostitutes. But at Asgilioch, she finds Achamian kneeling in the crowds, drunk and beaten. Never has she seen him so desperate. They reconcile, even though she cannot confess the truth of her affair with Sarcellus.
He tells her about Skeaös and the events beneath the Andiamine Heights, about his failure to tell the Mandate about Kellhus. She consoles him even as she struggles to grasp the dread import of his words. He insists the Second Apocalypse is coming, and though it seems something too horrific, too abstract, to be real, she finds herself believing him. She joins him in his humble tent, and becomes his wife in spirit if not in ritual.
Achamian introduces her to Kellhus, Serwë, Xinemus, and everyone else about their motley yet extraordinary camp fire. At first she regards Kellhus with suspicion, but she soon finds the wonder of the man as irresistible as everyone else.
As the Holy War marches across Gedea, she watches as Kellhus grows in prestige and reputation, becoming more and more convinced that he must be the prophet he claims not to be. During the same time her love of Achamian deepens, though she has difficulty trusting it.
Then, in Shigek, Kellhus asks Achamian to teach him the Gnosis. Since this would represent a final, ultimate betrayal of the Mandate, Achamian leaves for the Sareötic Library to meditate alone. He and Esmenet exchange hard words. The following night Kellhus awakens her with grim tidings: the Sareötic Library burns, and Achamian is missing.
She mourns him the way she once mourned her dead daughter. While the Men of the Tusk assail the South Bank, she remains alone in Achamian’s tent, refusing, despite Xinemus’s entreaties, to rejoin the Holy War. How would Achamian find her if she moved? After the Battle of Anwurat, Kellhus comes to her with Serwë, and with reason and compassion convinces her to join them on the continued march.
She finds their company awkward at first, but Kellhus is able to make sense of her melancholy, to give shape to the morass of accumulated sorrow that burdens her heart. He begins teaching her how to read—as a way to distract her, she suspects. As the weeks pass and the Holy War begins its disastrous march across the desert, she starts to resign herself to the fact that Achamian is dead.
She also finds herself more and more attracted to Kellhus.
Despite her shame, despite her resolutions, the chance intimacies accumulate. His words seem to carve her at the joints, cutting ever closer to truths she cannot bear. She admits her affair with Sarcellus, all her small betrayals of Achamian. Then, at last, overcome by shame and grief, she confesses the truth about her daughter: Mimara didn’t die all those years ago. Esmenet sold the girl to slavers to forestall starvation.
She and Kellhus make love the following morning.
The long suffering in the desert seems to sanctify their relationship. Everything appears transformed. She even casts away her Whore’s Shell, the contraceptive charm used by most prostitutes, something she never even considered with Achamian. Esmenet becomes the Warrior-Prophet’s second wife. For the first time in her life she feels shriven—pure.
Caraskand is besieged and overcome. Serwë gives birth to the infant Anasûrimbor Moënghus II. And Kellhus yields Esmenet more and more power within the growing ranks of Zaudunyani, raising her above even his closest disciples, the Nascenti. She becomes pregnant.
Then suddenly everything seems to collapse. The Padirajah traps the Holy War in Caraskand. Misery and riot own the streets. The Great Names execute Serwë and condemn Kellhus to the Circumfix. All seems lost …
Until Achamian returns.
Cnaiür urs Skiötha
Cnaiür urs Skiötha’s torment deepens. Though the Men of the Tusk mean nothing to him, he sees his own undoing in their slow capitulation to Kellhus. He alone knows the truth of the Dûnyain, which means he knows that Kellhus will eventually betray him in the prosecution of his obscure ends. Just as he knows the man will betray the Holy War.
As the Holy War marches deeper into Fanim territory, he tries to teach Prince Proyas the rudiments of war as practised by the Kianene. Assigned by Proyas to command a cohort of Conriyan outriders, he returns to the camp he shares with Kellhus, Achamian, and the others of the less and less. He knows that Kellhus now possesses Serwë body and soul, and when he returns, he finds himself punishing her for Kellhus’s outrage. Secretly he loves her, or so he tells himself.
In the arid highlands of Gedea, he decides he can tolerate no more. He refuses to share Kellhus’s fire, and demands that Serwë, whom he claims as his prize, come with him. Kellhus denies him. Since concern for women is unmanly, Cnaiür relinquishes her, though she continues to tyrannize his thoughts. His madness burns brighter. Some nights he roams the countryside, raping and murdering indiscriminately.
After the Holy War seizes the north bank of the River Sempis, the Lords of the Holy War assign Cnaiür the task of planning the assault on southern Shigek. Impressed by his insight and cunning, they acclaim him their general for the impending battle. Kellhus comes to him, offering Serwë in exchange for the secrets of battle. Cnaiür knows that his knowledge of war is the last advantage he possesses over the Dûnyain, the only thing Kellhus still needs from him, but Serwë has somehow become more important than anything. She is his prize, his proof …
Cnaiür agrees. Riven by recriminations, he teaches Kellhus the principles of war.
Despite all his efforts, Skauras outwits him on the battlefield; only determination and good fortune save the Holy War from defeat. Something breaks within Cnaiür. At the height of the crisis he leaves Kellhus and the others, abandons his command to collect his prize. But when he finds Serwë, another Kellhus is beating her, demanding information. He surprises the second Kellhus, stabbing him in the shoulder. The man flees, but not before Cnaiür glimpses his face crack open …
Cnaiür seizes Serwë, begins dragging her to his camp. She rages at him, tells him that he beats her because she lies with Kellhus the way he had lain with Kellhus’s father. She tries to cut her own throat.
Bewildered and undone, Cnaiür wanders aimlessly through the camp. Later that night, as the Men of the Tusk celebrate their victory, Kellhus finds him at the edge of the Meneanor, howling at the breakers. Thinking he is Anasûrimbor Moënghus, Cnaiür begs him to end his misery. The Dûnyain refuses.
Throughout the disastrous desert march and the siege of Caraskand, madness rules Cnaiür’s heart. Not until the city falls does he recover some semblance of his former self. Fomenting against Kellhus, the Great Names come to him, hoping to confirm rumours that Kellhus is not a true prince of Atrithau. The estrangement between Cnaiür and Kellhus is no secret. Thinking the Holy War doomed, Cnaiür decides to take what compensation he can. He names Kellhus a “prince of nothing.”
Only when Serwë is murdered by Sarcellus does he realize the consequences of his betrayal. “Lie made flesh,” Kellhus calls out to him before he is seized. “The hunt need not end.” Cnaiür flees, and in a moment of resurgent madness cuts a swazond across his own throat.
He obsesses over the Dûnyain’s final words. When the Mandate Schoolman confronts the Lords of the Holy War with the severed head of a Consult skin-spy, he finally grasps their meaning. He follows Sarcellus, who hastens from the assembly to the temple-complex where his brother Shrial Knights guard Kellhus upon the Circumfix. Knowing he intends to kill the Dûnyain, Cnaiür intercepts him, and they duel before the starving masses gathered about the dying Warrior-Prophet. But the skin-spy is too fast, too skilled. Cnaiür is saved only when Incheiri Gotian, the Grandmaster of the Shrial Knights, distracts Sarcellus by demanding to know how he learned to fight so. Exhausted, bloodied, Cnaiür beheads the counterfeit Shrial Knight.
Raising its severed head to the sky, he shows the Holy War the true face of the Warrior-Prophet’s adversary. The hunt for Moënghus need not end.
Anasûrimbor Kellhus requires three things to prepare for his father in Shimeh: knowledge of battle and of sorcery, and possession of the Holy War.
From the outset, he uses his claim to caste-nobility to insinuate himself into the councils of Proyas and the other Great Names. He proceeds cautiously, patiently laying the groundwork of his domination. From his readings of Inrithi scripture, he learns what the Men of the Tusk expect from a prophetic figure, so he sets out to emulate—as far as he can—all of those characteristics. He becomes a pilot of souls, crafting others’ impressions of him with subtle inflections of word, tone, and expression. Soon, almost all those who know him find themselves in awe. Throughout the Holy War men whisper that a prophet walks among them.
At the same time, he plies Achamian with particular care. While mining him for his knowledge of the Three Seas, Kellhus subtly conditions him, instilling the passions and beliefs that will eventually force him to do the impossible: teach Kellhus the Gnosis, the deadly sorcery of the Ancient North.
In the course of his study, however, he discovers dozens of skin-spies mimicking men in various positions of power. He realizes, moreover, that they now know he can see them. One of them, a high-ranking Shrial Knight called Sarcellus, approaches him, probing for details. Kellhus uses the opportunity to make himself even more enigmatic, into a puzzle the Consult will be loath to destroy before solving. As long as he remains a benign mystery to the Consult, Kellhus realizes, they will not move against him.
He needs time to consolidate his position. Until the Holy War is his, he cannot risk an open confrontation.
He says nothing to Achamian for much the same reason. He knows the Mandate Schoolman believes him to be the Harbinger of the Second Apocalypse, and that the only thing preventing Achamian from telling this to his Mandate handlers is the recent death of his former student, Inrau, as a result of their machinations. Knowing that Kellhus could actually see Consult agents in their midst would prove too much. And as Achamian himself admits, the Mandate would likely seize Kellhus rather than treat with him as an equal.
Once the Holy War secures Shigek, Kellhus begins asserting himself more and more, giving what are called the Sermons of the Ziggurat. Though many now refer to him openly as the Warrior-Prophet, he continues to insist he is simply a man like any other. Knowing that Achamian has succumbed—that he believes him to be the world’s only hope—Kellhus finally asks the Schoolman to teach him the Gnosis. But when Achamian leaves for the Sareötic Library to meditate on this request, he is abducted by the Scarlet Spires.
Assuming Achamian lost, Kellhus turns to Esmenet, not out of any errant sense of lust, but because her extraordinary native intelligence makes her useful both as a subordinate and as a potential mate. The differences between the Dûnyain and the worldborn makes his bloodline invaluable. He knows that whatever sons he produces, especially by a woman of Esmenet’s intellect, will prove powerful tools.
So he begins seducing her by teaching her to read, by showing the hidden truths of her own heart, and by drawing her ever deeper into his circle of power and influence. Far from proving an obstacle, her bereavement actually facilitates his plan by rendering her more emotionally vulnerable and prone to suggestion. By the time the Holy War enters the desert, she has willingly joined him and Serwë in their bed.
Despite its calamities, the journey across the desert provides ample opportunity for him to exercise his otherworldly abilities. He rallies the Men of the Tusk with demonstrations of indomitable will and courage. He even saves them, using his preternatural senses to find well-springs beneath the sand. By the time the remnants of the Holy War fall upon Caraskand, thousands upon thousands openly hail him as the Warrior-Prophet. At long last he yields to the title.
He names his followers the Zaudunyani, the “Tribe of Truth.”
But now he faces an added danger. As the numbers of Zaudunyani swell, so too do the misapprehensions of the Great Names. For many, following the dictates of a living—as opposed to a long-dead—prophet proves too much. Ikurei Conphas becomes the de facto leader of the Orthodox, those Men of the Tusk who repudiate Kellhus and his revisionary Inrithism. Even Proyas finds himself increasingly troubled.
The Consult, as well, have been watching Kellhus with growing trepidation. In the confusion of Caraskand’s fall, Sarcellus leads several of his brother skin-spies in an assassination attempt that very nearly costs Kellhus his life. Knowing that it might prove useful, Kellhus saves one of their severed heads.
Shortly after this attempt, Kellhus is finally contacted by one of his father’s agents: a Cishaurim fleeing the Scarlet Spires. He tells Kellhus that he follows the Shortest Path, and that soon he will comprehend something called the Thousandfold Thought. Kellhus has innumerable questions, but it is too late: the Scarlet Spires approach. To avoid compromising his position, Kellhus beheads the man.
When the Padirajah arrives and seals the Holy War up within Caraskand, the situation becomes even more dire. According to Conphas and the Orthodox, the God punishes the Men of the Tusk for following a False Prophet. To defuse their threat, Kellhus plots the assassination of both Conphas and Sarcellus. Neither attempt succeeds, and General Martemus, Conphas’s closest adviser, is killed.
The dilemma now facing Kellhus is almost insuperable. The Holy War starves. The Zaudunyani and the Orthodox stand upon the brink of open war. And the Padirajah continues to assail Caraskand’s walls. For the first time, Kellhus is confronted by circumstances he cannot master.
He sees only one possible way to unify the Holy War under his leadership: he must let the Men of the Tusk condemn him and Serwë, and trust that Cnaiür, driven to avenge Serwë, will save him. Only a dramatic reversal and vindication can possibly win over the Orthodox in time.
He must make a leap of faith.
Serwë is executed, and Kellhus is bound to her naked corpse. Then he is lashed to a circumfix and hung from a great tree to die of exposure. Visions of the No-God plague him, as does Serwë pressed dead against him. Never has he suffered so …
For the first time, Anasûrimbor Kellhus weeps.
Achamian comes to him wild with rage because of Esmenet. Kellhus tells him about the skin-spies, about his visions of the impending Apocalypse.
Then, miraculously, he is cut down, and he knows that at last the Holy War is his, and that they will have the ardour and conviction they need to overcome the Padirajah.
Standing before the exultant masses, he grasps the Thousandfold Thought.
Point of View Characters
Each chapter in the book is divided into sections of limited third person point of views of alternating characters. Some chapters include an omniscient third person point of view. The numbers in brackets indicate how many sections the character has in the novel.
- Aëngelas (1)
- Anasûrimbor Kellhus (19)
- Aurang (2)
- Cnaiür urs Skiötha (22)
- Coithus Saubon (7)
- Drusas Achamian (36)
- Esmenet (20)
- Fustaras (1)
- Hanamanu Eleäzaras (6)
- Heramari Iyokus (1)
- Houlta (1)
- Ikurei Conphas (8)
- Ikurei Xerius III (2)
- Kascamandri ab Tepherokar (1)
- Krijates Xinemus (2)
- Mamaradda (1)
- Martemus (6)
- Nersei Proyas (6)
- Omniscient (24)
- Orange Tabby Cat (1)
- Serwë (8)
- Skauras ab Nalajan (1)
- Skin-spy (1)
- The-Thing-Called-Sarcellus (Gaörta) (4)
- Wathi Doll (1)