Master and Slave
0 / 0 / 3600 Celes Era

              Jeremiah held the pitchfork to his master’s throat.  There was no blood on those metal spikes, not yet.  Jeremiah was deciding whether or not there would be.

              The man who owned him, the man who had ruined his life, was reduced to a cowering child at the threat of death.  He looked up at Jeremiah, over the rusted blades of the pitchfork, eyes watering as his shoulders shook. He lay on the floor in his light blue pajamas, back pressed against the side of his immense, canopied bed, his arms falling threatlessly to his side.

              Jeremiah held the pitchfork steady.  It was difficult because extending his arms exposed the cuts in his back from where this man had whipped him this morning.  Why had he done it?  Jeremiah didn’t know.  He had gotten so used to being whipped that he had stopped asking why he deserved it. 

              “Please,” said his master, speaking for the first time.  It did not have his usual booming dominant tones but the light scratch of a weak man begging for alms.  “Please.”  Jeremiah had never heard him speak without pride before.  It was sickening.  Though Jeremiah had lost all of his pride, he had never given it to anyone.  He had never displayed it looking for pity.

              “Don’t you speak,” Jeremiah growled.  Hearing the man’s voice did not engender his sympathy.  It made him want to kill him more.  This man had raped his wife and sold her baby.  He laughed at her tears and sent her back to the fields, saying “Your wailing doesn’t make me any money.”  Jeremiah would not spare him out of mercy, because he deserved none.

              He clenched the wooden handle of his weapon, feeling the grain dig into his calloused hands.  Why was he hesitating, then?  Why not kill him here and now?  The rest of the slaves were storming through the manor, and gods knew what they were doing.  If Jeremiah had some reason to stop them from a mass bloodletting, he needed to decide now.  His son was coming back any minute—he had broken his axe breaking through the front door and was looking for something else to defend himself with.

              Jeremiah remembered the names the master had called his boy.  His precious, precious boy.  His biceps shook, aching for action.  Why did he not strike?  Why?

              Because killing this man would not change anything.  Killing him would not end slavery nor free Jeremiah’s family from the men that would soon pursue them.  Killing him would not get his pride back or heal his wife’s memory.  Killing him would not straighten his son’s back.  No, if Jeremiah killed him, all he would get is blood on his hands.  He would get a broken, tardy justice.  He would get a dumb satisfaction, the same dumb satisfaction that his master got from doing all the things he did.  If he killed his master, he would become his master.

              Jeremiah lowered his pitchfork.

              “I’m not going to kill you,” Jeremiah said, looking into his eyes.  “Because if I do, this will never end.  Somebody has to be the better man.” 

              There was a look of relief in his master’s face.  His cheeks quivered uncontrollably.  “Oh, thank you, thank you—“

              “Shut up,” Jeremiah said.  “I don’t want to—“

              Steps behind him.  Jeremiah whirled towards the door, his back burning from the motion.

              “Look what I found, papa.”  Jeremiah’s son stood in the door frame, brandishing the long steel line of a shotgun.  He raised it; looked at the master, then looked back at Jeremiah, smiling.  “Is this man bothering you?” he said.

              He pulled his arm back and a giant crack burst from the gun.  The master’s head exploded in a spray of red mist.  The nearby arm of the bed canopy split in two, causing the canopy to fall over the headless body like a funeral shroud.  Jeremiah stepped back, his head ringing from the loud sound.

              Jeremiah’s son laughed as the smoke from the barrel rose into the room.  “Did you see that, pa?  Did you see that?”  He had a devil’s gleam in his eyes—the same gleam that Jeremiah had seen so many times.  After the master had beat him with a hammer for looking at his daughter.  After the master had tied him to a horse and dragged him around the field to “teach him how to move faster.”  After the master had forced him to bed with him.  It was a look of evil, it was a look of pleasure in another’s suffering.  And it meant that the master and the slave were not that different, after all. 

              But he couldn’t deny that the sight had been beautiful.  Vengeance had finally been visited, and Jeremiah felt closure.  Maybe now the nightmares would stop.  Maybe now his wife would smile again.  Maybe now his son could be free.  If Jeremiah had to kill to make that happen, well, that was alright.

              “Good job, son,” he said.  “Let’s find his daughter.”              




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