“A Man of No Consequence”
Ram is a slave at the great temple of Erf on the banks of the River Erf-Ra-Tu. The city of Erf is just over 6000 people, which makes it the largest city on Earth.
While the other slaves make bricks, plow fields and harvest oranges, Ram sits under the canopy with the priests making their word-pictures in the clay tablets for the temple. There in the shade, the priests carefully sing each of the word-pictures exactly as it is to be written, but it is Ram who must actually make the lines in the clay so that the priest’s hands remain unpolluted.
Ram can do this work because he is one of the People of No Consequence, a people who can touch impure things like dung and hair and clay. Unlike the ancestors of the priests, Ram’s ancestors had eaten the forbidden fruit at the start of the world and became impure. The other slaves at the temple are also descended from people who had eaten this fruit, but unlike Ram, they are men who must work with their backs.
Jealous of anyone who does not work, the other slaves regard Ram with the same contempt they hold for the priests. They do not hear the endless ridicule Ram endures from the priests as he makes thousands after thousands of their word-pictures in the clay. A true member of neither group, Ram is the target of abuse from all sides for most of his waking hours.
At night, Ram dreams.
Ram has many dreams, but there is one dream in particular that Ram has had ever since he and the other slaves were first brought to the temple as boys. It is a terrible dream, and it is always the same.
In the dream, Ram sees an egret the size of a man come out of the reeds along the river. The egret is more of a monster than a bird, and it chases Ram out into the desert where he is killed by a lion.
One night Ram’s screams wake up the other slaves. As revenge, they steal an old priest’s frock and smear it with human feces. In the morning, the priests are furious. They have no doubt that it was done by the slaves in the brick crew until one of them explains that it could only have been Ram. Ironically, the accuser is Dan, who had been Ram’s own cousin in the days when they were boys in the village.
The punishment is death. At the next new moon, Ram’s name will be blotted out of the Book of Life and his body torn to pieces and thrown in the river. Ram is cursed by the priests, then he is beaten and kicked over the side of a dry well. The well is shallow, only twice as deep as a man is tall, but Ram cannot reach the top, and he is trapped.
Waiting to die, Ram squats in the muck with the frogs and tries to sleep. At first the frogs are singing too loudly, but when Ram finally dozes off, he has the nightmare yet again.
This time it is different.
In the dream, an egret appears to Ram and talks to him like a man. The egret tells Ram to steal a bundle of expensive white linen from the priests and run with it out into the desert. On this fabric, Ram is to make a book and paint word-pictures like the priests had taught him. The egret tells Ram that the book is to be The Book of Life, just like the priests’ Book of Life in the temple, and from it Ram’s name would never be erased.
Thus begins the story of a nomadic people who stole writing at the dawn of civilization and used this new technology to record their desert wanderings for millennia. For most of their story, these nomads lived as herdsmen at the fringes of neighboring empires. Repeatedly defeated in open battle but never truly conquered, these people would invent the myth of the rebel and stamp it on the vary civilization they rebelled against. Their diary would record the birth and death of prophets, kings, cities, empires and possibly even civilization itself.