The Torcher’s Tale
By Leonard C Suskin
Into the great sand pit the prisoner was dragged, into the open embrace of sand that has known no moisture. His hair had been shaved, his clothing stripped save a rough-spun robe of undied cloth. The only sounds were the prisoner’s breathing and the whistle of sand in the wind; the only smells the clean desert sand and a hint of char in the flame-dried ropes binding his hands and mouth. As my palms caressed the smooth-worn handle of the sacred shovel, I looked into his wide, tearless eyes and spoke the first word I remember him speaking to me. “Torcher”.
We were children at that time, and our cruelties were childlike. Old enough to dress ourselves, old enough to gather only the ripest dates, even old enough to ride a tame camel with only the offer of guidance from an uncle or older brother. Just barely old enough to know that there was something different when we arrived in the city of Efaaplis with our camels laden with spices from our last stop on the great wheel through the desert. The city had the saltwater and lemon scent I would someday learn to recognize as the sign of an Aleph-ya port city. Smooth worn, unyielding paving stones lay beneath my feet, and the tower structures in which the Aleph-ya dwelt loomed above me. Some of these building were than taller than two grown men standing foot-on-shoulder.
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