348: A Prehistory Of Violence

on February 4, 2009 in Book 12

In Which Mackenzie’s Attention Is Drawn Southward During Class

There was a resource annex attached near the entrance of the building, so I decided to gaze and see if there was anything like a lesson plan available on the ethernet. I didn’t see an autoscribe… just three old, small, and not particularly clear-looking crystal balls… but I figured that if I knew I could get the assignment details off the ethernet then I wouldn’t have to go around begging Sooni for them.

The good news was that it didn’t take me long to explore the entire weave presence of the logic program. The bad news was that was because there wasn’t much of one. The only thing for my class was a copy of the syllabus that had been dropped into the ether. To my immense irritation, it didn’t say one word about this giant project the professor had just dumped on us. That seemed really, really irresponsible of him…

But of course, I was being hypocritical. I was the irresponsible one… or at least, if I’d been paying attention, it wouldn’t matter how irresponsible he was.

Well, there was nothing to do but suck it up and ask Sooni. We were still friends, as much as we ever had been. She probably wouldn’t make it difficult on purpose.

Of course, when you were as good at something as Sooni was at being difficult, you could do it pretty effortlessly, even without trying.

It was either go to Sooni or admit to the teacher that I’d spaced off his entire class, though… and I had enough enemies among the faculty. Even Professor Hart, who didn’t appear to have anything against my heritage, had treated me like some kind of troublemaker in our last class.

Luckily, paying attention to him was no chore… he didn’t exactly command attention so much as demand it, but it got the job done, and the subject matter was engrossing. Steff’s absence was a little distracting because it was a reminder of her condition, but it wasn’t a surprise and so I wasn’t too worried.

“So far, we’ve been confining our attention to the upper half of the eastern seaboard,” the professor said to kick things off. “That is where the Imperial Republic was born. To get the full scope of the political landscape, we need to have an understanding of what was going on in the rest of the provinces. If Magisterion was the father of our Imperium, Rufus Vale, governor of Ravenport, was the alcoholic uncle. Ravenport, unlike Phalen, was a penal colony…”

He stopped and looked at La Belle, who just stared back at him for several seconds before saying, “I know what it means.”

“Okay,” he said. “It was a penal colony…”

“But it’s funny because it sounds like penis, right?” she added.

“Yes. Thank you, Ms. La Belle,” he said. “Ravenport was a penal colony. We sometimes call this a prison colony, but back in those days, ‘prison’ was just where they kept you until they figured out what to do with you. You either paid for what you’d done, you were executed, or you were transported… exiled for life to do a term of hard labor in a foreign province and then live out the rest of your life in obscurity, far from the illumination cast by the Mother City. Penal transportation…”

La Belle snerked. Hart glared.

“It gets funnier the more you say it,” she said.

“Transportation was used to a limited degree in Phalen and the other provinces, with persons convicted of minor offenses sent to work as domestic servants in the houses of the good and the great. Hardened criminals and political radicals were sent to harsher locales, where they could do such dangerous and/or back-breaking labor as mining, draining swamps, and working plantation-style farms. Ravenport was one such place. Swampy, sub-tropical, infested with giant lizards and mosquitoes and stirges, surrounded by goblins… yes, Ms. La Belle?”

“Are we going to learn about the goblins?” she asked.

“I’m going to teach about goblins,” Hart said. “Whether or not you learn about them is your own prerogative.”

“Okay, but if I do learn about them, can I use them for my stupid paper thing?”

“Your ‘stupid paper thing’ is about goblins of the plains,” Hart said. “Ravenport is, as I described, a swampy, low-lying region on the eastern seaboard.”

“But the goblins are going to basically be the same,” La Belle said. “I mean, I can just say ‘the goblins around Prax’ instead of ‘the goblins around Ravenport’ and it would be basically right, right?”

“I’ll make you a deal,” the professor said. “You go explain to the dean how Ravenport is basically the same thing as Prax and so I’ve already basically done my unit on local history, basically, and you can write your paper about anything you want.”

“So… that’s a no?” she asked.

“That is a no.”

“Then I don’t think I’m going to learn that much,” she said.

“In my idle moments, Ms. La Belle, I calculate how much of my monthly salary comes from your tuition,” he said. “Invariably, I conclude that both of us are being ripped off.”

“Not me, I have a scholarship,” she said.

“Archons and aspects of fate defend us,” he said. “Now, Rufus Vale was the governor of Ravenport and that meant he was the first, last, and only authority over the province. Unlike the situation in Phalen and the other northern territories that were settled by willing immigrants, including some educated and important people, the residents of Ravenport could not take an appeal to the Unnameable Emperor on their own. They had to go through Rufus. If it seems like the provincials’ complaints often fell on deaf ears, try to imagine how often the transportees’ petitions even made it to those ears.

“In theory, every man sent to Ravenport owed the crown a certain number of years of work, after which they were granted some limited freedoms and allowed to make a life for themselves. In practice, only the governor himself could sign the certificate of permission required for a release from the work camps. With no court of appeals to turn to, the colonists were effectively slaves, and he squeezed as much work out of each of them as he could before he cut them loose. Those who were released had to agree to pay special ‘taxes’ directly to him.

“Rufus also pinched every penny that came into the colony, enriching himself by shorting the convicts on their rations of such things as imported grain, potions, blankets, and other ‘luxuries’. This sort of thing was quietly tolerated… expected even… though few men did it with such aplomb as Governor Rufus Vale did. Where he really went above and beyond, though, was in skimming off the top of the income the colony generated. At about the same time the Unnameable Emperor was trying to siphon every last bit of gold and silver from the economies of the northern colonies with the Coin Act, Rufus was overseeing three enormously profitable diamond mines and pocketing most of the profits.

“The Unnameable One would have got around to dealing with him eventually, but he regarded the situation in the north as far graver. One noble vassal stealing millions wasn’t as dangerous as a bunch of riffraff who asserted their rights as individuals. The former was simply someone who had overreached himself… the latter were something new and dangerous. The empire could withstand many crimes, but not open defiance. Rufus was canny enough to know that when the northern provinces had been thoroughly re-subjugated, he’d be next. His crimes were far past the point where he could have offered any sort of penance, so he did the next most logical thing: he became a patriot.”

This was mostly new material to me. Prior to high school, all talk of Magisterion’s War and of the Westering Colonies before the new Imperium had been confined to the northeast. In high school, there’d been maybe a paragraph or two on each of the provinces and a mention that funding for the war effort and material support had come from Ravenport. The textbook had called it a “prison colony” and left it at that.

Professor Hart went into a lot more detail about what that aid had entailed… from quiet, deniable words of encouragement to keep the revolutionary spirit alive to eventual shipments of money, and then arms the governor confiscated from the legion garrison when it became impossible to hide his complicity in the growing uprising.

He eventually came to a messy ending, Hart told us, when he tried to get the colony’s inmates to fight in his defense as Imperial troops landed on the shores.

“He told them to remember how terribly they’d suffered under the Unnameable One’s yoke,” he said. “And some of them listened, but enough of them remembered the Emperor’s men promising them a fair deal in the new lands and then suffering under his yoke. He was executed on the scaffold where he himself had overseen many executions, and the province was presented to the Imperial Legion as a gift by transportees eager to affirm their loyalty to the Mother Isles.

“Here’s where the Imperial Command proved itself to be as stupid as Rufus. Rather than accepting and rewarding this show of loyalty by granting the bondsmen their freedom, or even just re-establishing the garrison and letting them return to their state of toil under a new Governor who could hardly have failed to be accepted as an improvement, they subjected the ‘rebels’ to decimation and then put them to work fortifying the province and building roads north. Ravenport was over a thousand miles away from the hotbed of revolutionary activity around Phalen… a thousand miles of swamp and forest and mountain… but they treated it as though it was a foothold from which they could launch campaigns.

“This was what you did with a rebellious population, in the old empire: you executed a bunch of them and then you worked them so hard that they didn’t have the energy to rebel any more. It didn’t hurt that the commanders were able to send word home that they’d scored a decisive victory and subjugated a rebel colony instead of one saying that the problem was resolved before their feet were even on the ground. The problem was that however hard they were working the enslaved colonists, Rufus had worked them harder. Where before they’d held out hope that somebody in the Empire would hear of his abuses somehow and grant them relief, now they had no hope. As a result, the 8th, the 11th, and the 27th Legions all ended up permanently stationed in Ravenport, to help maintain order, and played no further part in the struggles to the north.”

Here was where he got back to the goblins that La Belle had been so very briefly interested in. They had clashed with the garrison, and there had been raids back and forth, but no lasting conflict until three legions were settled there with no mission but to maintain control.

“A bunch of strange little creatures lurking in the woods, all sharp-toothed and green-skinned, was judged to be an obstacle to control,” Hart said. “The goblins were judged to be intelligent, and fortunately for them, the policy of the empire was to annex rather than exterminate. The legionnaires began a campaign of pacifying and civilizing the goblins. This, I remind you, while a thousand miles up the coast, their empire was at war.

“There were some missteps in this campaign. The range of races we call ‘goblinoids’ were unknown in the old lands. Imperial Command based its policy on dealing with the goblins on its experience with orcs, assuming the newly discovered creatures to simply be a new variety of orc. The orcs were known to have a sharply defined division of labor among the sexes. The men are warriors and hunters, but the women are in charge of domestic affairs. That’s not just an atrocious pun… women make all the important decisions at the family level since they remained with the camp while the men are away, and political power for each village is vested in its oldest citizens, most of whom are female.

“The goblins kept their women at home while the men fought, but that’s where the similarities to orcs ends. They were territorial and entrenched, rather than nomadic. Goblin women held little power. They certainly didn’t live to be respected elders very often. Before modern healing magic became commonly available to them, carrying a litter of little goblins to term carried a fifty percent mortality rate. The rate for the infants’ first year of life was close to eighty or ninety. The only old goblin women were old maids.”

“Why did so many of them die?” La Belle asked.

“That’s beyond the scope of our discussion,” Hart said. “But I look forward to hearing about it when you give your presentation. The point is that when the legions tried diplomacy, they went about it all wrong… they gave tribute and sought audience with the goblin women, thinking that they would then counsel their husbands towards peace. If hobgoblins were present, the envoys deferred to them as they would have to an unusually big and strong orc warrior, not realizing the low position hobgoblins occupied in goblin society.

“They assumed bonds of tribal loyalty existed that went beyond the immediate family groups. If they saw similar markings outside two villages, they thought that meant that they were affiliated… never dreaming that the goblins had a written script, and that seeing one identical squiggle in the midst of other squiggles signified no more of a relationship than I have to Ms. Carter since we both have an ‘a’ in our last names.”

“I have an ‘a’ in my last name, too,” La Belle pointed out.

“Cherish it,” Hart said. “It may be the only one you ever get.”

“Professor,” Ms. Carter said, raising her hand slightly. “I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“Didn’t they notice that the female goblins were slaves?” she asked.

I wondered where she was getting that from… Hart hadn’t mentioned it, and while Shiel had made it clear that women were an underclass in kobold society at least, the sad truth was that most races had a history of giving women the short end of the stick.

“Well, that’s a bit of a controversial point,” he said, sounding like he knew exactly what she was talking about. “It’s true that goblin women… married goblin women, and sometimes unmarried ones depending on whether their parents considered them ‘on the market’… wore chains, but this is arguably a symbolic submission. It’s been said to symbolize a connection rather than bondage.”

I remembered Oru’s weird necklace that she had worn to the dance, a heavy chain with a fake lock on it. Was that what they were talking about? If so, it seemed like I’d misjudged her… if she had that kind of a pre-existing commitment with Moeli, than he was kind of a jerk for blowing her off and it was really no wonder she was so angry with me. Not that it was my fault, exactly, but I could see how…

“Ms. Mackenzie,” Hart said.

“What?”

“Your insights are sometimes interesting,” he said. “Would you like to share whatever’s so engrossing with the rest of the class?”

“Um… it’s not really an insight,” I said. “But… so,” I stumbled on, acutely aware of how air-headed and La Belle-like I must have sounded, “if a goblin is wearing a chain around her neck, that’s a symbol of commitment?”

I might as well get confirmation before taking this particular sin of the world upon my shoulders, I figured.

“I’m not a professor of goblinoid studies,” Hart said. “But I believe in modern goblin life, that would be analogous to a promise ring or an engagement ring. However, I’ll stress that again: modern goblin life. Not Early Republican Historical goblin life. At that time, goblin women were chained by their husbands in a variety of different fashions, some of them quite elaborate. This is completely outside the scope of our material, but if you’re really interested, I’m sure you can find pictures of the various configurations online. Some of them won’t even ask you for a charged card to view them.”

“But I can’t imagine the legion’s envoys stopped to ask about the symbolism,” Ms. Carter said.

“Here we see the awful power of a preconceived notion. Having identified the goblins as being ’small orcs’, I wouldn’t imagine they stopped to inquire about much,” Hart said. “Otherwise they wouldn’t have made so many mistakes.”

“Didn‘t they find it odd that the domestic decision-makers were chained up?” Carter asked.

“According to a contemporary account, at the first meeting between a presumed goblin dignitary and a legion envoy, the envoy asked the goblin what the chains around the torso of the goblin serving them meant,” Hart explained. “When he was informed that it meant she was the goblin’s wife, he immediately started paying attention to her. His side misunderstood the mirth this produced in the assembled goblins, and thought they’d simply made a smashing diplomatic success.

“It didn’t take long for word to spread that the way to get neat presents and a funny show out of the tall pink things was to trot out your wife or your burliest houseboy, and the Imperial Legions gained a reputation as being soft-headed, harmless buffoons… it was a comedy of errors that would end very tragically for the goblins of Ravenport Province. Yes, Ms. Carter?”

“Didn’t you say that the goblins had been sparring with the imperial garrison for years?” she asked.

“I did,” he said, nodding. “They had. But the garrison soldiers were considered untrustworthy and had all been sent to less sensitive postings or discharged and returned home, taking their valuable experience in dealing with the natives with them. The goblins had never seen anything like the regalia of the Legion before, and if the humans made the mistake of thinking they were dealing with a familiar kind of creature, the goblins assumed this was some new sort of being that had come on their domain, trounced their former enemies, and then proceeded to give them gifts of clothing and herbs and alcohol while putting on hilarious entertainments. The goblins had no fear of the Legion.

And that’s where we’re going to leave off for next time.”


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5 Responses to “348: A Prehistory Of Violence”

  1. pedestrian says:

    “Cherish that a…it’s likely that it will be the only one you will ever get.”

    AE, once more you have caused me to spit coffee all over myself! The feminist argument that female mammal estrus and nursing babies are in the nature of being female. A male impregnating a female

    An interesting idea to ponder; that a chain has two ends. The slaveowner could be as bound by these chains as is their slave?

    The question that leads up to; is the slave coerced or a volunteer? Feminist have argued that female mammal’s estrus, birthing and nursing babies is in the nature of being female.

    While male coitus, whether or not a female is impregnated, is often a coercive act.

    Current score: 1
  2. capybroa says:

    The Hart – Labelle interactions in this class are a source of much joy for me. I hope that some bureaucratic twist requires them to take another class together after this one.

    Current score: 5
    • Mike says:

      Yeah, I really miss this class, from the current story perspective. Professor Bohd, too. She’s a good influence for Mackenzie, in a few ways.

      Current score: 0
  3. Jechtael says:

    I like that the academic setting of this story allows for vast tracts of exposition without breaking the feeling of it.

    Capybroa: I was thinking early on that LaBelle might turn out to be a TA, pretending to be the dunce of the class, but now that we know her outside of class (and that she is apparently at most a second-year student), that’s seeming less and less likely. It’s still quite amusing, though! ^_^

    Current score: 4
  4. Lara says:

    That whole conversation between Professor Hart and Ms La Belle was very very amusing.

    Current score: 0