The Thousand and Second Night:
The Price of Truth

by Aleksandra Priestfield

October 9, 2000



       Know, O my master, that your faithful servant was in the bazaars today, and has brought back a wondrous strange tale to tell. On the slave block was a man with a cartload of slaves to sell. There were strong men there, to build cities with; children from babes to long-legged youths, fair Circassians for the harems of the viziers, dark peasant women from the south for the laundries and the kitchens. He had many slaves, O my master. Some struggled against their chains, and were beaten by men with whips until the blood came, O my master, and indeed they deserved their punishment for they rose up against the chains that Fate had put upon them. Others were thin and starving, O my master, and they followed willingly whoever offered them a bare handful of grain; and their eyes were huge and dark and hungry as they followed. They will not get more, not until they do what their new masters wish, but they were bought for a promise of food and sustenance. Sometimes men can be bought so cheaply, O my master...

       There were many slaves, O my master, many indeed. They were bought for food, they were bought for money. They were bought, some of them, for promises that can never be kept. And the slave seller jiggled the gold in the pouch that he wore at his waist and he was smiling happily.

       At last, he had one slave left on the block, and she was a beauty, O my master. She was tall and dark and lovely. Silver chains were on her arms, and silver chains were on her legs above slender ankles and her feet were brown and slim and bare. She kept her eyes on the stone plinth on which she stood, her head bowed. All the other slaves were sold but this one - and men kept on coming up and smiling lasciviously and running their fingers down her thigh and then they would tip up her chin and look into her face… and they would all mutter something, and walk away. She was beautiful, O my master, and yet she could not be sold. Nobody wanted her.

       Your servant, O my master, drifted closer to see this mystery. The slave's owner finally lost his temper and lashed her across her back, crying out, "What are you? Who are you? What sort of evil do you do that nobody can stand to look you in the face?"

       And she looked up at him, and I saw him blanch, and she looked down again at her chains, and said very quietly, "And can you look Truth in the eye...?"

       And I saw him despair, and I went to him, O my master, and I said, "I will buy the woman from you."

       And he said, "Take her. What will you give me...?"

       And I said, "Take these thirty pieces of silver, my friend."

       And she looked at me then, but I would not meet her eyes because of all that I had seen her do to other men; and I cast a veil over her head and hid her from sight and led her to your cellar, my Lord and my Master, for if you have Truth in your dungeon how then shall other men learn what she knows and thus be made free by it?

       So long as you keep Truth in her chains and locked away out of sight, I have given you dominion over men, O my master...


       Swans' columnist Aleksandra Priestfield can be reached at Swans


Related links

Peddling Pseudohistory: The Media and Literature by Aleksandra Priestfield

Rewriting History by Aleksandra Priestfield

Animals at War by Aleksandra Priestfield



Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath


Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath

Published October 9, 2000
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