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The Lie That Broke the World

by Lawrence, Mark

  • ISBN: 9780593437940
  • ISBN10: 0593437942

The Lie That Broke the World

by Lawrence, Mark

  • List Price: $29.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publish date: 04/09/2024
  • ISBN: 9780593437940
  • ISBN10: 0593437942
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Description: The greater tragedy of our world is not the victims of cruelty, but that so many of those victims would, given the opportunity, stand in the shoes of their oppressors and wield the same whip with equal enthusiasm. Excavating Crath, by Anthony Robinson Chapter 1 Celcha Being able to see the walls of your prison is a luxury that few are afforded. Make no mistake though: every one of us is trapped. This was the slaver''s wisdom, and he was given to sharing it. The palisade around the Arthran dig site had seen better days and had probably been unimpressive on the day it was finished, but its presence, Myles Carstar maintained, allowed a concrete focus for the restless dissatisfaction that would otherwise turn inwards and chew away at a person, or even an animal, from the inside. Celcha wondered whether the slaver should in fact be called a slaver since it was other sabbers who went about the world hunting people down and bringing them from the wilds in chains. Whereas Myles Carstar simply set them to their tasks and enforced the law. Celcha''s brother, who had an unhealthy interest in words, claimed that you could be a slaver simply by owning slaves-the business of riding them down and beating the fight out of them with iron-rod staves was not a necessary qualification. And in any case, Myles Carstar did more than handing out duties and assigning the official cruelties-he also made slaves of those new arrivals who rather than entering the dig site by the gates, wailing behind the trackers'' horses, came the second way, also wailing. The second route onto Arthran Plateau, the one Celcha and her brother had taken, was by far the shorter journey. It still took the best part of a year, though, before the newest slave was dragged out from between their mother''s thighs to join the workforce. Celcha''s brother felt that the babies were born free and deprived of their liberty only when Myles Carstar set the first manacle around their bloody little wrist. Celcha thought that they were slaves from the moment they emerged, and perhaps before, but that it really didn''t matter either way-they were as screwed as the rest of them. The first official cruelty involved a flexible steel cane with which between five and fifty lashes were delivered. The scale of horror inflicted escalated rapidly through the second to sixth cruelty, moving through peelings, amputations, and the removal of an eye. By the time she was ten Celcha had seen all but the seventh-death by slow fire-enacted in the main yard, and had endured the first herself, bearing five long scars wrapped around her shoulders, side, and hip. Celcha had been the youngest in memory to bear the steel lash. Casual beatings were common at any age, but until Myles Carstar assigned ten lashes to her brother, Hellet, she had been the youngest to receive an official cruelty. By the time of her brother''s crime Celcha had worn her scars for five years and the sting of them as she moved still echoed with the vastly greater pain of their delivery. How Hellet, a little younger and far frailer than she had been, would withstand twice as many blows she''d had no idea. The truth turned out to be that he didn''t withstand them. The agony broke him. The agony or perhaps the humiliation, for he''d always had that small pride to him. The sort that comes to those who aren''t just a little cleverer than their brethren but stand head and shoulders above them, so much so that simply hiding it can become a full-time occupation. Hellet''s crime, the one that earned him the official cruelty, had been curiosity. He had looked inside a book. What had truly broken him, however, was pride. Not the bold, swaggering pride of the slavers but that quiet, confident sense of self-worth which no slave can afford to keep. The cane had divided his flesh, but it was his own pride that provided the anvil over which his spirit and mind were broken. Pride can endure pain, but it can''t survive the body''s inevitable reaction to pain: the screams, the soiled legs, the begging, and the crying, all of it before an audience. The worst part of it was that it had all been Celcha''s fault. She had been the one to haul the filthy object from the layer of dried mud, having first torn into it with her pick. She hadn''t known what it was, but the curiosity in her fingers made her prise the stiff pages apart and hold the book up to the lamp flame. The overseers seldom came to the dig face, not wishing to suffer the dust and the stench of bodies, but one came that day, that moment, his footsteps unheard beneath the rise and fall of nearby hammers. An instant before the overseer had rounded the corner Hellet had snatched the book from Celcha''s hands. He said later that he didn''t know the slaver was coming. He said it was bad luck. Bad timing. Celcha didn''t believe him. She''d seen the fear on his face. And she couldn''t save him. To admit her guilt wouldn''t erase his. It would merely have earned them two cruelties rather than one. Myles Carstar maintained a fiction that the slaves were not only a different species but were morally, functionally, and spiritually no different to any other animal in service to the sabbers. No different to the sheep whose wool might clothe the sabbers and whose meat might feed them. To their slavemaster, the sabber who had first set the manacle on Celcha''s wrist, the greatest sin was to deny this fiction in any manner, be it in deed, or merely by attitude. A slave who wanted to live had to pretend to be part of the herd, exhibiting only the minimum intelligence required to execute their tasks. And Myles Carstar, seeing before him year after year exactly what he wanted to, perhaps even believed that lie he had cut into their flesh. It was during the allowed week of recovery that Celcha came to understand that they''d broken Hellet. Their father had stitched the boy''s flesh back together, in much the same way that he stitched his jacket with each new tear. But the steel lash had fractured Hellet in ways beyond the skill of any seamstress to repair. She had watched Hellet lying on the blood-stained pallet in the airless barracks where the slaves slept. During the long nights he would lie without turning, locked in place by his torn flesh, only his jaw moving as he chewed his pain and muttered, talking the whole night through, his voice just above the threshold of hearing but below that of comprehension. It wasn''t until the week had run its course, and Hellet stood like the oldest of men to join the long line of unwashed bodies that led to the pits, that Celcha realised that her brother wasn''t talking to himself. She stood behind him in the queue, watching, ready to catch him should he accept the fall on whose edge he seemed to be teetering. She stood close enough to see that the twitch in his eyes wasn''t a twitch. He was watching something that she couldn''t see. And listening. Always listening. "Another day, another dollar." Celcha rolled from her pallet as the clanging of the morning bell faded. They called it a bell, though Hellet said that bells were hollow and typically not just a twisted bar of metal to rattle a stick in. Celcha didn''t much care about bells or dollars, neither of which she''d ever seen, but her father had always woken with the phrase on his tongue, and repeating it felt as if she was keeping him among them in some small way. She didn''t think he''d ever seen a dollar either, though he had been sold for seven of them so perhaps he saw them change hands on that day, years back, before he''d been brought to Arthran to dig and die. Hellet lined up behind Celcha. Both of them had grown into their scars. Ten more years had seen Hellet grow taller than her. Taller and wider than everyone in the long shack where nearly two hundred slaves slept elbow to elbow, breathing in each other''s stink. Myles Carstar was still a head taller than Hellet, however, and he was the shortest of the sabbers, dwarfed by the guards, though the guards looked up to him in every way that counted. Celcha liked to think that Hellet could set Myles Carstar on his backside despite his height, knock him down then lift him up with arms strengthened by a lifetime of digging, and break his spine across his knee. Not that violence was the answer to the slavers. Experience had shown that the sabbers would meet any resistance with greater aggression, and that they were far better qualified in the arts of war even if they hadn''t had weaponry at their disposal that made a mockery of what either the slaves or the free people still out in the wilds could bring to bear. Violence certainly wasn''t Hellet''s answer. Curiosity had earned him his lashes just as curiosity had earned Celcha hers. Hellet might be notable among the labour force for his size, but his intelligence was what really marked him out. Celcha had a quick mind, but Hellet''s was lightning. Even though he''d been exposed to an official cruelty for seeming to have looked inside one of the dusty books they''d excavated, he''d taught himself to read, not from books but by tracing the lines carved into the oldest markers out by the palisade where shallow graves were scraped into the dried mud. These days the dead got nothing to indicate where they lay. Celcha found their father''s spot by memory and sometimes dreamed that she''d forgotten the place and had for months been speaking her words to the wrong patch of barren ground. In the old days though it seemed as if reading hadn''t been considered such a sin among slaves, and the people brought in off the plains had often set the names of the dead above their graves, alo
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