Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 31
“The report is exaggerated.”
“I do not speak about the Akershan report. This unrest is spreading. I’ve seen it in my house’s lands with my own eyes.”
There was an uncomfortable rumble throughout the entire room. Everyone had occasional problems with their non-people, but it was uncouth to admit it in a public forum. The Akershan delegation had several villages sacked and officials murdered by Fortress magic before they’d swallowed their pride enough to request witch hunters from the Inquisition. It had taken a false prophet stirring up a full-on rebellion for them to accept the shame of needing the Capitol’s help to control their non-people. Freely admitting to unrest in Zarger was a curious development. Everyone was paying attention now.
“The non-people are increasing in boldness and depravity. Their degenerate nature is idle, but quick to riot, and now all of them are whispering about the Lawbreaker in Vadal. Your inability to detect this fraud has endangered us all.”
Harta was in a difficult position. He could attack Atrya as a liar, but he needed Zarger’s votes and couldn’t risk giving offense. Omand enjoyed watching him squirm. He suspected that Harta had known about Bidaya’s plot to conceal the blade’s choosing a casteless boy all along, and given an excuse he’d love to torture a confession out of the pretentious little fop, but even Omand had to tread carefully about charging Chief Judges with crimes. He noticed that Lord Protector Devedas was also studying the Chief Judge with barely concealed disgust. Interesting…Before Harta could formulate a response the murmuring had died down and Atrya resumed speaking.
“Our houses suffer because of the sickness in Vadal, but we are all infected. Do not blame Great House Vadal or their honorable leadership for being victimized by this casteless scheme. No one doubts Ashok must be dealt with. When a cancerous rot is found a surgeon doesn’t leave it alone and allow it to spread, but rather the disease is excised immediately for the good of the entire body. No one doubts Ashok must pay, and for now he is quarantined, but this underlying sickness must be destroyed. Let us allow the surgeon to do it in the manner that is least likely to kill the patient. Ashok is a symptom. He is not the disease. We would treat this symptom, but the body remains sick…The real disease is the casteless.”
She’s good. And the Grand Inquisitor wasn’t easily impressed. His allies had chosen wisely.
“That is not the current topic,” the presiding judge warned.
“On the contrary, it was a casteless who stole an honor he did not deserve and brought shame to one of the Capitol’s oldest and most prestigious orders. If the Protectors of our Law can be so easily deceived, are we not all vulnerable?”
Omand glanced over at Devedas to see his reaction to the slander of his order. The Protector was leaning forward on his seat, knuckles pressed to his mouth, bitter, angry, yet apprehensive at the same time. The Protectors were politically vulnerable right now, and Devedas knew it.
And that is why the Inquisition wears masks.
“Let us be honest with ourselves. Black Hearted Ashok, no matter how deadly the magic he bears, is but one man, and he has already turned himself in to the authorities. The real danger are the non-people he has inspired. If there were no non-people to riot and disturb the peace, then he would be nothing more than another common criminal, and none of us would care what Vadal decided to do with him. The casteless are an infestation, a plague. They consume our resources and give nothing in return. They’re barely more than wild animals, savage and uncontrollable. I say we have tolerated them long enough.”
Harta seemed glad for this diversion. “Indeed, they’re foul creatures, but the Law determines the castes. There have always been untouchables, and we’re required to allow them to live.”
“That was before one of them stole a sacred ancestor blade!” exclaimed a regulator from Harban. Omand smiled behind his mask. That man might have been high status, but he’d been bought and paid for as surely as any slave. Omand had commanded him to agitate on this topic and his timing was impeccable. “Artya speaks with wisdom.”
“What would you have us do?” shouted another judge from the opposite end of the gallery. “There are millions of them!”
“Millions of mouths to feed!” responded Omand’s plant. “Kill the locusts and be done with it.”
“Drive them all into the sea like we did with the demons,” said a woman sitting off to Omand’s side. “Let’s see if they float.”
“Why not?” Artya asked. “No good comes from the casteless. We’re already allowed some measure of population control and Thakoors can execute them as necessary to maintain order, but why not dispose of them once and for all?”
Omand carefully studied the council. No one was fool enough to speak up for the lives of the untouchables, but they were still valuable assets, especially in the houses that required vast amounts of manual labor. The Vokkan and Sarnobat delegations seemed angry that the subject had been changed away from harming their powerful neighbor. The rest knew this would go nowhere. The topic of exterminating the untouchables came up every so often, but that was a lot of work.
“The casteless are property, are they not? If they are property, then why are we not allowed to do with them as we please? The Law wouldn’t require us to keep a pet dog that had turned rabid. Another false prophet has arisen in the south, and his meddling has disrupted the flow of trade. We are all aware of the Law as it stands, but times have changed. We are a nation of industry now, and the casteless are no longer necessary. The lowest of the workers can take on their vital duties.”
There were a few token representatives of the second and third castes seated in the very back of the Chamber of Argument. Omand carefully studied the workers’ faces. These were wealthy among their kind, but they were ants here. They didn’t look happy at the idea of their people handling sewage, carcasses, and other unpleasant things, but it wasn’t like these particular quality individuals were in any danger of getting their own hands dirty. They’d simply create a new division for their undesirables and obligate them to the work.
Of far more interest to Omand however, were the faces of the warrior caste’s representatives, and they had sent no fools. Those assigned to observe the Chamber of Argument were usually experienced commanders, crippled in battle and no longer able to fight, but still sharp and not easily riled. They hadn’t grown up playing the game, but they were good at thinking fast and keeping their emotions in check. Exterminating the casteless would be their caste’s responsibility, and it would be a huge undertaking. Omand needed their support, but the warriors just sat there, straight backed, focused and stern. Hard to tell…
“I officially propose destroying all of the untouchables,” Artya said, advocating the death of millions about as dispassionately as discussing the weather. Several others shouted their agreement, making the proposal official
“A proposal has been put forward.” The presiding judge hit his staff on the floor. “You raise interesting questions, Arbiter Artya, but there are thousands of pages of regulations pertaining to the mandatory continuation of the casteless bloodlines and the dispensation of property. The committee has not done sufficient research on this point of law to discuss it at this time. We must understand why these regulations exist and if it is open to interpretation or amendment.” The scribes and legal experts sitting in the rows behind the presiding judge began to whisper among themselves. Oh, how they do love a good legal question. “I hereby obligate the Order of Archivists to research this topic and prepare a report.”
Omand found it satisfying that the judge picked the Archivists and not the Historian Order, but he had made preparations either way. That report would say exactly what he wanted it to say.
“If it is acceptable to both the offender and the offended, the committee will reconvene on this topic in sixty days.”
Considering the bloated, ponderous nature of the bureaucracy, Omand would be surprised if they finished their report by then, but Harta and the representative from Akershan were both eager to agree. It bought Vadal more time to figure out how to deal with their shameful prisoner, and Akershan would be delighted to have their rebellion put down once and for all. Once word trickled down through the castes that the Capitol was thinking about cracking down on all the untouchables because of the actions of their violent few, the non-people would silence their own troublemakers as they always did.
“Idiots,” Devedas muttered to himself.
“What’s that, Lord Protector?”
Omand smiled beneath his mask. Surely Devedas was marveling about how soft-palmed bureaucrats could so flippantly discuss slaughter on this scale, when most of them had never even killed their own dinner. Welcome to the Capitol, Lord Protector.
The meeting was adjourned so all the important people could return to swindling, bribing, coercing, seducing, and blackmailing each other. The Capitol rarely changed. There were minor shifts in the balance of power, and houses came and went, but for hundreds of years things had stayed basically the same. They all knew Artya’s proposal would go nowhere, because extreme changes to the Law damaged their comfortable entropy, and annihilating millions, even if they were wretched non-people, was rather extreme. The wind and sand would erode the city walls away before this august body committed to anything so drastic.
Unless of course, they had no choice.
Omand was extremely pleased. The game had gone well for him today.