The War to End All Wars
By Cheryl Morgan
The Holy War has triumphed over the armies of the Fanim. The holy city of Shimeh lies almost helpless before them, defended only by the rag-tag remnants of the new Padirajah’s army and the Cishaurim, the Fanim’s school of sorcerers. Anasûrimbor Kellhus has been revealed as the Warrior Prophet, the chosen of God. With him at their head, nothing can stop the armies of the Inrithi.
Well, nothing except possibly their own sinfulness and self-doubt. They did, after all, try to murder their own Prophet before he was revealed to them. When the Holy War left Momemn it was a proud, arrogant and greedy collection of adventurers, keen to use the excuse of religion to indulge in a little slaughter and pillage. Now it is a much smaller, but much more focused band of battle-hardened veterans who, through adversity, have come to have Faith. If doubts exist, they must be scourged away.
Esmenet still wrung her hands as she watched the dark branches rise and fall. The bleeding unnerved her, though most received no more than welts. Their backs, with protruding spine and ribs, seemed so frail. But it was the way they watched her, as thought she were a milestone that marked some otherwise immeasurable distance, that troubled her the most. When the Judges struck, some even arched back, their faces riven with expressions whores knew well but no woman truly understood.
Of course to Kellhus this army of fanatics is nothing more than a tool, a weapon he has forged for his own use, his own purposes. He knows that Shimeh is defended by something much more powerful than the Padirajah or the Cishaurim. In Shimeh he will at last come to face his father, perhaps the only man in the world who can match him for skill and cunning, the man he has been sent to kill.
Luckily for the Inrithi, they know nothing of these plans within plans. Many of them even know little about the skin spies, about the Consult, about the terrible prospect of a new Apocalypse, about the imminent return of the No-God. What they do know, however, is that their own God, or at least his avatar, walks amongst them. And it troubles them.
In the safety of unanswered prayers, they had thought themselves pious. Now they were like boasting gossips, astounded to find they story’s principal in their midst. And he might say anything, throw their most cherished conceits upon the pyre of his condemnation. What would they do, the devout and self-righteous alike? What would they do now that their hallowed scripture could talk back?
Anyone who was expecting The Thousandfold Thought to present some sort of titanic battle between Kellhus and the No-God will be seriously disappointed. There are no great clashes between human sorcerers and the terrible technologies of the Consult. Not even a ring tossed into a volcano. But then, if you have been following the Prince of Nothing series from the beginning, or even if you have just read R. Scott Bakker’s essay in Emerald City #127, you will not be expecting such trivia. Instead you will be looking forward to a complex and intriguing tale that explores the philosophical issues around which the series is based, and you will not be disappointed.
Bakker is a cynic after my own heart. The only difference between his ideas and reality is the efficacy of the Dûnyain powers. In our world the psychological sciences — propaganda, advertising, spin — are in their infancy. In Bakker’s world the Dûnyain have perfected them, and it is this that leaves the rest of mankind like putty in their hands, that allows them to manipulate the memes on which human society is based and turn them to their own advantage.
"You realized those truths that cut against the interests of the powerful were called lies, and that those lies that served those interests were called truths. And you understood that it had to be this way, since it is the function of belief, not the veracity, that preserved nations. Why call an emperor’s blood divine? Why tell slaves that suffering is grace? It is what beliefs do, the actions they license and prohibit, that is important. If men believed all blood was equal, the caste-nobility would be overthrown. If men believed all coin was oppression, the caste-merchants would be turned out."
Only a few of Bakker’s characters are in a position to realize what is being done to them. Drusas Achamian could perhaps guess, but he is too far under Kellhus’s influence, too worried about the impending Apocalypse, to notice. Cnaiür urs Skiötha knows only too well what the Dûnyain are capable of, having been manipulated ruthlessly by both Kellhus and his father. But he has been driven mad by the experience. Even if he could express his fears rationally, no one would believe him. Perhaps the only character immune to Kellhus’s charms is the only man who is equally cynical, Ikurei Conphas, the Nansur general and heir to the Imperial throne.
Ikurei Conphas was in an uncommonly jubilant mood.
"A holy city afire," he said to the grave faces either side of him. "Masses locked in battle." He turned to the old Grandmaster, who seemed to slump in his saddle. "Tell me, Cememketri — you Schoolmen pretend to be wise — what does it say of men that we find such things beautiful?"
The black-robed sorcerer blinked as though trying to clear the rheum from his eyes. "That we are bred to war, God-of-Men."
"No," Conphas replied, his tone at once playful and cross. "War is intellect, and men are stupid. It’s violence we’re bred to, not war."
The problem for Conphas is that, in the face of an impending Apocalypse, cynicism cannot afford to be used for personal advantage. Yes, there are fortunes to be looted, cities to be burned, crowns to be won. But if Achamian is right, if the No-God is about to menace the world once more, then there may be a purpose to what Kellhus is doing. He may be necessary.
"Beliefs beget action, Kellhus. If men are to survive the dark years to come, they must all act of one accord. So long as there are Inrithi and Fanim, this will not be possible. They must yield before a new delusion, a new Breath-that-is-Ground. All souls must be rewritten… There is no other way."
And yet, Mog-Pharau is not stupid. He has been defeated once. He knows of the whiles of the Dûnyain. Perhaps in two thousand years of wound-licking he has learned something. What if he too has become a master manipulator? What if Anasûrimbor Kellhus, all unbeknown, is just a tool of the No-God. Not just a harbinger of the Apocalypse, but its instigator; not the savior, but the antichrist?
What do you believe?