Stephen Erikson’s Reaper’s Gale contains the following exchange between a prisoner and her captor:
“ ‘I was almost seduced. The lure of hope. If you were supposed to free me, you would never have brought me down here. No, I’m to be your private victim, and you my private nightmare. In the end, the chains upon you will be a match to mine.’
‘The psychology of the human mind,’ Tanal said, pushing some fat-soaked bread into her mouth. ‘Your speciality. So, you can read my life as easily as you read a scroll. Is that supposed to frighten me?’
She chewed, then, with a struggle, swallowed. ‘I wield a far deadlier weapon, little man.’
‘And that would be?’
‘I slip into your head. I see through your eyes. Swim the streams of your thought. I stand there, looking at the soiled creature chained to this rape-bed. And eventually, I begin to understand you. It’s more intimate than making love, little man, because all your secrets vanish. And, in case you were wondering, yes, I am doing it even now. Listening to my own words as you listen, feeling the tightness gripping your chest, the odd chill beneath your skin despite the fresh sweat. The sudden fear, as you realise the extent of your vulnerability—’
He struck her. Hard enough to snap her head to one side. Blood gushed from her mouth. She coughed, spat, then spat again, her breath coming in ragged, liquid gasps. ‘We can resume this meal later,’ he said, struggling to keep his words toneless. ‘I expect you’ll do your share of screaming in the days and weeks to come, Janath, but I assure you, your cries will reach no-one.’
A peculiar hacking sound came from her.
After a moment, Tanal realised she was laughing.
‘Impressive bravado,’ he said with sincerity. ‘Eventually, I may in truth free you. For now, I remain undecided. I’m sure you understand.’
‘You arrogant bitch,’ he said.
She laughed again.
He backed away. ‘Do not think I will leave the lantern,’ he snarled.
Her laughter followed him out, cutting like broken glass.”
For some reason, as I re-read the above passage, I cast Janath, the prisoner, as “Strong” and Tanal, her captor, as “Weak”. I then preceded to record the following notion in my commons:
The weak seek to imprison the strong, whilst the strong strive to empower the weak.
As I wrote those words, I recalled everything I’d read about the societies of antiquity detailed by Herodotus, Thucydides and others, I remembered what I’ve learnt about the state of the world before, during and after the Second World War, and I thought of the state of the world now—its conflicting trends of development and descent. I thought of those things and smelt the stink of truth in the above sentiment. And further, I realised that the line dividing the weak and the strong is less a chasm than an line of infinitesimal width in the sand, easily crossed in both directions.