Al Hayyam sat on his bedroll in his tent and idly swirled his sweetwater drink. He watched the deep pink liquid swirl smoothly around the edges of his drinking bowl, now faster, now slower, as he gently gave it motion. Such a simple drink, yet so nice to the palate. Wild cherries taken from the tree during the fall were dried all winter. Then they were put in water and let sit. After a day or two the water had taken the flavor from the cherries and the soaked fruit was discarded, leaving the sweet cherry flavored water behind. He sipped and closed his eyes. It made the water sparkle in his mouth and refreshed him. But it did not make his heart sparkle. His prayers had helped, but still … He sipped again.
Slavery did not bother him. The Haddramuts had used slaves since time immemorial, and would use them long after his bones had turned to dust. Slavery was not a desired state, to be sure, and it could be rough, but childhood could be rough too, and often it was rougher than slavery. That was the way of things. But the word for slave in the Haddramut tongue and the word for servant were little different from each other. It was the difference between a red melon and an orange melon. Both were, at their core, still melons. Was he not the slave of his master the Caliph? Did not the Great Kahn merely need to clap his hands and the life of Al Hayyam would change or end as he saw fit? It was the way of the world, and neither better nor worse than anything else. This is what he knew in his heart.
But what he was seeing around him dismayed him in a way that he was loath to face. The Bushido people around him were former followers of Ushko, as were their victims. And they had in their roots a hatred of slavery that Al Hayyam felt should have gone quite deep, but their new religion taught them different, and they followed. Maybe with that came the guilty excess of being able to do something that was previously forbidden. Did not the people who had fallen from the ways of the Prophet and turned their backs on Merciful Ashla often descend into drunken debauchery for those same reasons?
Al Hayyam swirled the cherry drink in its bowl and watched the pink liquid raise waves so much like those in a wind-ruffled lake.
The Prophet also taught that the strong must be merciful to the weak. And the victor must show mercy to the vanquished. He knew the Host believed this too, and had heard that the prisoners taken by these very tribes were treated with mercy. But what had happened? This new religion taught contempt for the defeated. He felt that the defeated SPUDS had honored themselves in their fight and had fought to the bitter end. Honor had been gained on the battlefield, much honor. He had heard that before his arrival the outnumbered SPUDS had actually marched into the field, and though outnumbered two to one had fought the Yongoe tribe to a standstill. The Haddramut, in his heart, felt great respect for those people, and should they be slaves of his people they would indeed know mercy. But now?
He watched the brutality with growing horror. Men, women, children, proud warriors and helpless babes, all humiliated and abused by the laughing Yongoe warriors. Even the Staffords, whom he thought more civilized, were cruel and cold to their captives. But the Yongoes were savage. They beat and raped because they could. The helpless survivors of the war were given the bitterest of gall to pour over their lives. Whips cracked freely over naked backs for no better reason than to increase their despair. Badly fed, he watched women forced to grovel just to get a small sip of water to their cracked lips. Fathers beaten unconscious before their children. Daughters raped before the horrified eyes of their mothers. Al Hayyam was aghast, then appalled, and, finally, infuriated. He then did an irrational thing. He got an audience with Yongoe I and tried to stop it.
He shook his head. Foolish, foolish.
“They have fought well and have earned honor!” he cried. “Let them be your slaves and servants, not your torture victims. That serves no purpose!”
Yongoe looked at him with an expression that could kill trees. “And who are YOU to tell ME what we should and should not do? Did Timour Kahn send me a mentor? Did he send an advisor? He sent an observer! You are insolent!”
Al Hayyam took another sip. An old saying came to him. A fool digs his grave with his mouth. And this is what he did.
“But they have fought with honor!” he pleaded.
“The ones with honor died!” Yongoe shot back. “The ones who lived are cowards!”
“But the Prophet says …”
“The Prophet does not live in Brittany!” Yongoe roared. “You have said enough! I have work to do. You have observed, now get out and leave me to my business!” and Yongoe turned his back on him.
His Caliph will be very displeased with him. Al Hayyam sighed. He could hear him now. “You overstepped yourself. This was not the mandate that I gave you. This displeases me.” The words would be so mild but the rebuke would cut like a scimitar. Foolish, foolish.
A gentle tap on the facing of his tent.
“Enter,” he said, not looking up.
His servant poked his head into the tent. “All is in readiness, my Lord. If you wish we may leave in the morning.”
“Thank you, Habib.”
The head disappeared. He did not want to step outside his tent to inspect the work; he might see another SPUD debased and that would make his heart too heavy. He finished the liquid in the bowl, the sweetness swirling over his tongue and running laughing down his throat. It would be a long trip back.