Friday 22 August 2014
Wednesday 20 August 2014
“Haven’t you managed anything yet?” the cockatrice squawked, flapping up to the ceiling and down again. “He’ll be here any moment!”
I cast a harried look at her. “I’m trying my best, but it’s not easy.”
“Nothing’s ever easy for you,” she snorted, her tail swishing dangerously. “Call yourself a magician and you can’t even fight a simple knight. What you’ll do if you’re ever faced with a demon or a warlock boggles the imagination.”
“He’s not just a simple knight,” I snapped, pouring some powdered wyvern scale into my cauldron and stirring vigorously. “He has fought dragons.”
“And the dragons won, going by the scorch marks on his armour. Yet he’ll be here any moment, and you still won’t know what to do about him.”
I added a pinch of musk of Behemoth to the cauldron, and waited to see what would happen. Nothing happened. “How far is he anyway?”
The cockatrice flapped up to the ceiling and the high window there. “I can just see him on the other side of the moat. He’s about to cross.”
“Do you think I should raise the drawbridge, assuming I could get the mechanism to work?”
“What good would that do? The moat’s dry and mostly filled in anyway.”
This was, regrettably, true. I had neglected the castle’s defences. But how could I have known?
I must have uttered this last bit aloud, or else the cockatrice was becoming dangerously adept at reading minds. “You’re supposed to be a magician, right?” she snapped her beak. “Magicians are supposed to be able to tell the future!”
“Just you try and become a magician for a day and see,” I said, desperately snatching a bottle at random from my shelf and emptying it into the cauldron. The acrid smell of molten hippogriff hoof canker filled the cellar and set both the cockatrice and me to coughing. When we’d done coughing I saw the mixture in the cauldron had turned a deep violet colour.
“What do you suppose this is?” I asked, swirling it around with my mixing rod. The mixing rod promptly began to transform into a bunch of flowers.
“Roses,” the cockatrice said, poking her head over my shoulder, a habit I particularly detest. “I hate roses. Especially roses that particular lurid shade of violet.”
“Maybe he’s just coming here for a love charm,” I suggested. “Or maybe he’s ill and wants a cure...”
“Come off it. Last night he was at the inn, boasting that he would come over today and destroy you. You know that as well as I do.”
“He might have been lying,” I said feebly, adding a couple of pinches of dried blood of phoenix to the violet liquid. It went a dark maroon and began to bubble. “He might have merely been boasting to the people.”
“He’s got his sword out,” the cockatrice observed. “Ruddy great sword it is, too,” she added helpfully, after another trip to the window. “Looks like it could cut off a man’s head, easy.”
That settled it. “Why me?” I wailed.
“Why not you? You’re a magician, and a knight can’t be a real knight unless he’s either gone on a crusade, killed a dragon, or beaten a magician. You know what happened to the crusades, the dragons beat him, and as for the magicians, you’re obviously the only one he knows he can beat.” She clacked her beak again. “He knows, I said.”
“I know what you said.” The maroon liquid was still bubbling, but doing precious little else. A distant hammering started, on the castle’s main door. “Is that him now?”
“Of course. He’ll break down the door in a moment. Do you think you could do a vanishing spell so he can’t find the way down to this cellar?”
“I would,” I said, throwing things at random from bottles and phials into the cauldron. “I’d do it with pleasure...if I could remember how to prepare a vanishing spell.”
“I should have known.” The cockatrice sighed loudly as the door overhead gave way with a splintering crash. We both heard the knight’s armoured feet tread heavily on the castle’s stone floor. “So what, exactly, are you going to do?”
“Can’t you do anything?” I asked, emptying a whole packet of a yellow powder I hadn’t used for so long that I’d forgotten its name into the cauldron. “You’re a cockatrice, damn it. You’re supposed to be able to turn him into stone.”
“They all have anti-cockatrice glasses these days,” she said. “They just order them online. Everyone knows that.”
There was a pause as we listened to the sound of the knight’s footsteps on the stone floor. The door at the top of the stairs began to shiver from blows from an armoured fist.
“So, what now?” the cockatrice asked casually.
“I’ll think of something,” I said. The shelf of ingredients was bare, and the cauldron filled with a thick gluey substance that oozed like jelly. I began hunting through my pockets on the off chance that there might be something more to add to the pot. “How’s that door holding up?”
“It isn’t,” she replied, just as the thing gave way with a crash. We heard the knight’s boots on the stairs, coming down. Scrabbling in my pocket, I found a tiny bottle of something or other. Without even looking, I threw it into the cauldron. The room filled with a terrible stench.
“What’s that smell?” the knight boomed, his voice echoing. “Did you go and die on me, magician?”
I held my tongue. If he was stupid enough to keep talking then there was perhaps a chance that he would say something that would give me a handle. I just prudently moved to the other side of the cauldron.
“I hope you haven’t gone and died on me,” the knight roared, stomping heavily on the stairs. “I’ve sworn to kill you, so you’d better be there for me to kill you.” He appeared round the last bend of the stairs, a hulking figure so wrapped in armour plates he could hardly move. “Where are you, damn it?” he inquired.
“Here,” I said.
He peered at me over the cauldron. “Oh, there you are...” he said uncertainly. He raised the huge sword and swiped it erratically through the air. It didn’t even come close. “Come out and fight, damn you!”
I stayed where I was. He stumbled a couple of steps across the cellar floor, waving the sword around. It really began to get a little threatening.
“Stop brandishing that,” I told him. “You might do someone an injury.”
He turned towards the sound of my voice, and began making his way around the cauldron. I quickly skipped round it, keeping it between us. “Put that down, I said!”
“Where the hell are you?” he complained. “Stop hiding, you coward.”
“Right here,” I said, skipping further around the pot. “Here, Sir Knight. Don’t you want to kill me or something?”
“I’m...” he slurred. “I’ll...” With a terrific clang, he fell face down – right into the cauldron.
Fortunately it was a big cauldron.
The sword fell, too, but outside the pot, and it didn’t cut anyone. Not even a nick.
“I’ll use it as a doorstop, I think,” I said.
“You realise,” the cockatrice said, “that you didn’t beat him at all.”
“Yes,” I admitted ruefully. “He was dead drunk.”
“That, and the stink. Besides, he wasn’t expecting a magician who was a...” The cockatrice peered into the cauldron. “How’s the soup coming along?”
“I’ll know when you taste it,” I told her. “I’m not having any of it.”
“Probably not a good idea, at your age,” the cockatrice agreed. “With all that alcohol sloshing around inside him, and you not yet of drinking age.”
I giggled. “I think he was expecting someone old and ugly.”
“Oh, you’ll be old and ugly someday.” The cockatrice dipped her beak in the cauldron. “Hmmm...”
“How is it?” I asked anxiously.
“Not bad,” she said judiciously. “You might make a cook someday, my girl.”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2014
Warning: I repeat, this is not going to be a popular post.
In fact, if you’re American, you probably shouldn’t even read it.
If you still insist on reading it, and you end up feeling hurt or distressed, I repeat for the third time: you have been warned.
I am aware that there are some disturbances going on in a place called Ferguson, which is apparently a town somewhere in the United States. I have tried my best not to become aware of the details of what’s going on there, but from the saturation coverage it’s become mostly impossible to maintain ignorance.
Anyway, and don’t bother to correct me if I have got some facts wrong, this is what happened there: as far as I can tell, an unarmed black man was shot by a policeman. Subsequent protests by people were – and are – being suppressed by highly militarised police forces, which have used gas, rubber and real bullets, armoured vehicles, and imposed a no fly zone over the city.
Can anyone tell me just how this is different from what American-supported and trained vassal regimes have been doing for decades elsewhere? How is this different from the way American occupation forces treated unarmed Iraqi crowds after the invasion of 2003, except it’s a mite less violent? How is this different from the treatment Palestinians face in the West Bank every single day at the hands of the racist apartheid Zionist entity?
Where was the American mass outrage then?
I have noticed something about the great mass of people in the United States; with a few, and very honourable, exceptions, they have a quite remarkable capacity to ignore or support all that their government is doing elsewhere, as long as it doesn’t impact them. This would not matter if their country hadn’t been an expansionist imperialist enterprise which calls itself the Exceptional Nation and arrogates to itself the right to interpret international laws as it sees fit. If it had been merely another country, what its people think and what its government’s policies are would be as interesting as the policies and beliefs of the government and people of, say, Tonga or Kyrgyzstan, Costa Rica or Burkina Faso.
But it is not, and that’s why their attitudes matter.
Think of the 11/9 attacks. Till that occasion, how many Americans had even spent a moment thinking about the phenomenon of jihad terrorism, though their own nation had been directly sponsoring and promoting this since at least 1979, and continues to do so to this day? If they chose to be wilfully ignorant, that was – and is – their prerogative; but when the effects of the things of which they prefer ignorance rebound on them, they can’t hide behind that ignorance.
Just rewind back to the Iraq invasion of 2003, when the vast majority of Americans were not only not against the (obviously unjustifiable) attack; they openly supported it. Only a few had the courage to oppose it, and a lot of them paid for that courage with their careers and reputation. Only when the coffins began coming back, only when the limbless, crippled soldiers began filtering back from Afghanistan and Iraq, did the mass of the American people finally turn against those two wars.
If the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions had gone according to the fantasies of the Bush cabal, if the resistance hadn’t ambushed and destroyed the occupation in the alleys of Fallujah and the souks of Baghdad, if the Afghans hadn’t fought and beaten back the Marines and US Army from Kandahar and Helmand, do you think the American people would have had a bad word to say about those wars now? Even though the invasions would have been still exactly as immoral, as illegal, as morally repugnant as they are now, they’d have cheered them on as a shining example of American exceptionalism and a triumph.
This isn’t even a hypothesis. We have the example of Kosovo in 1999 – an illegal invasion, cooked up on pretences as false as the Iraq "WMDs", which put in power a narco-bandit regime which trades organs for profit. And yet how many Americans are willing to admit that it was an illegal and unjustified aggression? For that matter, how many Americans are willing to admit that the destruction of Libya in 2011 was a crime?
Since no Americans were killed in the first instance, the answer is, officially, none. And since the only Americans killed in the second instance were four “diplomats” involved in channelling weapons to jihadi terrorists, the outrage is limited to political sectarianism, and not to the fact of what they were doing there, and why.
Last year, when there was widespread – albeit muted – opposition to Obama’s plan to bomb Syria, the net had many “informed commentators” claiming that the people of the United States had “had enough of war”. If, however, the Iraq war hadn’t ended in what was so clearly a defeat that not even the US’ media machine managed to spin it to a victory, and Afghanistan obviously headed the same way, would there have been a reaction at all? In any case, it was not this reaction that made Obama back down; it was because he knew it would prove impossible to hide the fact that the terrorists were behind the chemical weapon attack that he changed his mind.
All the time that the CIA and FBI, and the other alphabet-soup organisations, were manipulating foreign governments, regime-changing them by “colour revolutions” or military coups, when they were eavesdropping on people’s conversations half a world away, the people of the US chose to remain blissfully apathetic. They only awoke to the evils of their own government when they, themselves, found that they were being eavesdropped on at every turn, when they had to queue up at the airport for intrusive security checks, when racial profiling went mainstream.
There is only one conclusion to be drawn from all of this: Americans, as a people, only give a damn when they, themselves, feel the pain. Only when the evils of the American Empire recoil on the people at home will they finally even deign to admit said Empire exists, and only then might they actually do something to bring it down.
This is why I have – and I’m quite willing to admit to it – no great sympathy for the protestors in Ferguson, and why I have deliberately decided not to learn more about what’s going on there. All the time when the Zionists were committing armed aggression against Palestinian protestors in the West Bank, and the US sent its police forces to be trained by those same Zionists, they remained passive. When these police forces were armed to military standards, they still remained passive. Only when the police were unleashed on the people themselves are they reacting.
Really, what did they expect?
To this day the net is filled with Americans debating whether the Republicans or Democrats would have handled any particular situation better or worse; whether Iraq is Bush’s fault or Obama’s; whether Killary Klingon will be a good president when she’s put in power in 2016. Remember the “Ready for Hillary in 2016” posters? What they don’t ever talk about is how it’s the Empire that’s at fault, not the two faces of the One Party.
Let me make a prediction: the (quite inevitable) day on which the first drone strike on US soil blows away a family, there will be another surge of discussion and outrage. If that family happens to be white, Christian and at least moderately affluent, the discussion will focus on the need for “oversight” and “checks and balances”. If it’s a black family, there will be a ruckus over whether this constitutes racism. And if it is a Muslim family, why then, the presumption will be that they had terrorist links, and the onus of proof will be on them.
In none of these three cases will the main discussion focus on the “elephant in the room” – that is, whether the drone campaign itself is moral, legitimate, and effective, or it should be dispensed with. That will only happen if, and when, drone attacks happen across the US with sufficient frequency that everyone will be affected, one way or another. Like for instance the Yemenis are affected, or the people of Waziristan.
Perhaps that day the people of the United States will look at each other and ask themselves, “What have we become?” And then they might do something about it.
Postscript: If you’ve read till here and were hurt/angered/disturbed – I warned you, at the start of this article. I warned you thrice.
You have only yourself to blame.