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On Slavery in Belad: A Rebuttal

by Baronne Clevãs lu Mõchalã

Editor’s note: This is a transcription of a speech given at the Spring Forum on 32 Spring 690M. It succeeds their Honor’s previous speech at the 689M Spring Forum, which condemned her Grace the Countess Limrẽ lu Rajir and her speech in defense of Beladan slavery, which may be found in the Spring Forum archives of that year. It is of historical note as a veiled call to war that touched off simmering anti-Shan sentiment in the capital, which would spread widely over the following decade.

No doubt many of you here today remember my spur-of-the-moment speech at the forum last year, my... intemperate rebuttal to a speech that inflamed many of our passions at the time. It is a speech I regret, and in retrospect wish I had kept my patriotic urges from overwhelming my better senses in the heat of that moment. Over the past year, I have investigated in better faith the claims made by her Grace - who has generously forgiven me for my intemperance - about the systemic slavery of the Beladan underclasses and constructed a much more level-headed response than the one to which I was driven last year - or at the very least one less profane.

First and foremost, I wish to publicly apologize for accusing her Grace of lying or misrepresenting the truth. I am convinced that the account she presented was truthful to her own experiences, and that she could not reasonably have known otherwise. We would do well to remember our beloved Prophet’s words: that truth is ever elusive, and cunningly defies mortal efforts to tease it from its hiding place.

That said, the account presented by her Grace was far from complete, and marked indelibly by sins of omission. Her Grace’s business took her only to the homes of the well-to-do, to the wealthy merchant clans and the bustling Jade Districts, where the crimes of the Riven Plains are masked behind a festive façade. She dallied little at the docks, nor took to the farms and industrial centers that feed the rapacious appetite of Rosamár, nor the Eastern cities to see their illiberal and deeply troubling treatment of the sylvan folk, our longtime sisters in oppression.

Here, then, is a more complete account. It is true that slaves benefit from the arrangements and contracts of their owners - but only the wealthy see fit to maintain many such contracts, and slaves are not entitled to incur debt on their owners’ behalf. In this we find a stratification amongst slaves, where those of the wealthy live in luxury, and those of the poor live in squalor.

Nor do all wear the silver necklaces of the house slaves, by all accounts a privileged few. Black iron denotes a menial laborer, and is a far more common color. They share few of the privileges of the free and their favored possessions, being restricted to the industrial quarters during working hours - which for them can be as much as ten hours, much longer than the six her Grace presented as a maximum. “Why is there so much work to be done in Tãlaco?” a slave asked her Grace, who should have answered: “Because we divide our labor more fairly.” These slaves of industry live not in the lushly-appointed townhouses of Belad’s gentry, but in barracks that range from the spartan to the squalid, oft sharing space with their fellow unfortunates. True, it is as forbidden to abuse them as it is a domestic slave - but in practice, such abuse more readily escapes notice.

And what of the elves? In Western Belad, their culture is vibrant, celebrated even. There is Elvish-language literature and the slave quarters are often strewn with the blessing vines so typical of their ancestral homes. The Church even deigns to permit them their own faith - even as across the seas in fair Cuedre she seeks to twist the words of our Prophet and deny the truth known to the Tãli people. Commendable, one might think, ’til one sees the horror that is East Belad.

In the East, there is little love for the elves. Their language is condemned and their culture is jeered. An elf who dares say karricha instead of inochandi curenca on the streets might well face a beating. Few of the human slaves feel solidarity for their leaf-eared sisters, choosing instead to relish their own status above them. And woe indeed unto any elf who dares worship at the altar of their own spirits and gods, for the Inquisition there is relentless in its pursuit of what it names heresy.

In her famous speech, her Grace closed with a call to action, and it is one I will repeat today. Our freedom sets the Tãli as a people fortunate above all others, but freedom is only the beginning. We alone are blessed with this gift, and the strength and the will to communicate it. We must not rest easy until all Anve knows this blessing as well as we children of the West. May Meraya guide our hand, Anur steel our hearts, and Kepet march beside us in what the Prophet has shown us must soon come.