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June 17, 2024

The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides

By Sand Pilarski

People who benefit from natural disasters are should be turned into toads and fed to snakes.

I had some errands to run out on the eastern road, and I wanted to conclude them as quickly as I could. Alternating an easy run with a brisk walk, I knew I would make good time and get back to my house by noon. With no distractions, and the birds calling from the forest verges, I felt in fine form.

Until this burgher-type I was about to pass hailed me during one of my walking stints. "Hey, Shaman, what do you think about the war?"

I slowed my walk and the burgher joined me. "What war?" I asked him.

"Lord Ramhammer and Lord Stonewall are ready to fight for the boundaries of their lands. After the floods we had, the creek that divides their desmesnes changed course, and now some of the villages that were on Ramhammer's side are now on Stonewall's lands, if you go by the creek."

"I'm on the side that says there must be a way to solve this without a war," I told him.

"They do say that it will come to swords," said the burgher, rubbing his hands together to warm them, and eagerly anticipating the rise in prices that comes with wartimes.

"Then why don't you go to the creek and see that it doesn't," I rumbled at him, pointing my staff towards his face. "Organize the people of the villages and send the creek back to its original bed. It'd be hard work, but better than killing people over the direction of a water course."

"Some say that the villagers don't want to go back to owing fealty to Ramhammer because he takes more than his fair share of their goods. They'd likely stop anybody from turning the creek back," he pouted.

I stopped and looked at him. "Your words are telling me something," I said. "Words like 'they say' and 'they'd likely' and 'some say' -- sounds to me like you're stirring things up before anything hostile has happened."

The burgher puffed up like a poked toad. "Are you calling me a liar?"

"No, you toad, I'm calling you a troublemaker and a bloodsucker. Now leave me alone before I crack you on the head to bring you wisdom."

"You'd better choose sides, Shaman, or sides will be chosen for you!" shouted the burgher as I trotted on.

A war, over a couple paltry villages whose yearly industry might produce 20 sheepskins and a couple dozen bushels of corn? Stonewall didn't need any more income than he had, and Ramhammer could have listed his crofters by name instead of by creekside. How stupid a war like that would be. And sadly, just stupid enough to come about.

Profiteers are glad to incite people to choose conflict rather than compromise. They'll pick a point of disagreement and blow it all out of proportion, like this creek thing. They'll tell Ramhammer's people how much they'll save for themselves if they don't have to pay Ramhammer's higher taxes (and they aren't that much higher), but fail to mention what it's going to cost them if Stonewall's army need provisions -- the villages would be lucky to get paid for their stores at all. And if the dispute becomes a battle, where do they think it's going to occur? At the soccer field outside the castle wall? Didn't anyone mention to them that the rumble will be right through their gardens and roofs?

And stupider still to encourage the populace to choose up sides. They ought to be allowed to be neighbors first and subjects later. Why should people separated by something as witless as a streambed of rocks be encouraged to call each other "enemy"?

Besides all that, how senselessly stupid do you have to be to squabble over flooded land, whose inhabitants have probably not yet begun to replace their seed corn and losses in stock animals? If they can't accept the prior affiliation of the croftholders after the floodwaters receded, then maybe Stonewall and Ramhammer need to get their high-and-mighty asses together at a table in the middle of a neutral field and talk it out.

What if they were tied together by ropes on wrists and were not to be let loose until they figured out a solution that required no bloodshed? After three days, after ten, after sixty, after dining together, and sleeping together, and bathing together, and peeing together -- don't you think they'd get a clue that people are people, and mostly what people want to do is have a good meal in the afternoon and be able to sit out on their porches and bullshit in the waning light of day? While we're at it, let's try to ensure that they understand how life really is, and give them no more in sustenance and amenities than the least of their respective subjects. They could use a refresher course in perspective anyway.

I'm not taking sides. That's not my job. I'm a shaman, and my job, if either Stonewall or Ramhammer were to ask me, would be to tell how things are with the invisible world. And how is that, you may ask? Why, just this: if either of them, whatever their excuse, takes away human life just because a rain-swollen creek changed its course... those invisibles will certainly take it out of their hides, sooner or later.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-12-03
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