He could feel the eyes of the children fixed on him as he spoke; bright, young things, hanging on his every word. He could almost see them absorb the information like sponges, so rapt they were while he put words together into sentences, and chained sentences into ideas.
“So you see, children, it is us, the Dots, who endured the hardship of the plains, who escaped slavery and oppression at the hands of the Stripes, who made a new life for ourselves here, beyond the river. We were victorious because we were virtuous, and we prevailed because it was our destiny!”
The children nodded and smiled, some swelling with pride. A couple of them looked skeptical, but he wasn’t particularly worried. They would come around; their kind always did. Or they would simply be ostracised, scoffed at for their lack of faith and spirit. These things tended to take care of themselves, he had learned.
“So, who can tell me why the Stripes hate us?” A few eager hands shot up; he picked a child, a little brown-eyed girl, who promptly stood up, clasped her hands together in her best formal fashion, and spoke.
“Because we are happy here, without them, and because we showed them we don’t need them, and they’re jealous of us!” she declared.
“Very well!” he exclaimed. “That is precisely why.” The girl smiled, satisfied with herself as she sat back down.
“And this concludes today’s lesson,” he said, standing up. “Now, for next time, I want you all to be familiar with the most important discoveries the Stripes stole from us, to use for their own gain. Have a good day, children!”
The little ones scattered in a blur of colours, laughter and dots. He tried not to look at them as he gathered his robes and started walking towards his tent. He was stopped before he had walked five paces, by a large man with flowing robes like his.
“Meister,” the man said. “Will you follow me, please?”
Recognising the emissary, the meister nodded. “Of course. Please, lead on.”
They walked through the village, passing through the market, where people were gathering the last of the produce and wares from the stalls, as the sun turned towards the west. The dots on their clothes were almost hypnotic as they moved, seemingly, as one. He studied their faces; tired, with lines around their eyes and pursed lips, a far cry from the children’s bright eyes and wide smiles.
Soon, they reached a large tent and the emissary held the flap open for him to step inside. The interior was dark, lit only by two metal braziers. In the dim light, he could see five men gathered around a table; he knew them as the village elders. Their robes were dusty and the dots on them almost washed out, but there was no mistaking them. After all, he had reported to them for half his life.
“Welcome, meister,” the man in the centre said. “We trust the lessons are going well with this class, as with all the previous ones?”
“They are, elder,” he replied. “In fact, this class is much more receptive than the past three or four. Only a couple of children seem to question what they hear, and they are usually silenced by the rest. Things are progressing really well.”
“Excellent,” the elder said. “These are even better results than we could have hoped. And their parents? Do they doubt your teachings?”
“If they do, they are not doing a very good job of convincing their offspring,” the meister replied. “But I believe the teachings have worked on them as well; they fail to put their current fate in the correct context, and they blame the Stripes for all their troubles.”
“That is very good,” said the elder on the far left. “We are almost out of time, and we will soon be at the mercy of the Stripes. We were simply not ready to go our own way, and now we will have to submit to them once again. But we – and that includes you too, meister, of course – we will at least not go to them empty-handed.”
The meister nodded. It was true; for all their efforts, the Dots were starving, their lives had become unbearable. None of them would last long here. “No, elder,” he said. “The Dots will make fine workers, if a little… insubordinate ones. We’ve been teaching them to hate the Stripes all this time, after all.”
“Of course,” said the first elder. “But the Dots are also desperate, and hungry. They expect the Stripes to be merciless and cruel, and that is what the Stripes will have to be if they want to make good use of the Dots. And we can help things along; I’m sure the Stripes will appreciate our… cooperation.”
“I’m sure they will, elder,” the meister said, and bowed, dismissed, before stepping back outside.
He took a long look at the people around him. Torches were being lit for the evening, and soon, another hard day for the Dots would come to an end. He thought of the bright-eyed young girl, going to sleep with glorious dreams in her little head. He hung his head low, and started towards his tent, trying not to look at anyone.