Most of the cost had been passed on to others. A few shekels here, a few there. No one had argued otherwise—that it was an atrocity. All the villages and all the people in the villages had been wiped out completely. No one could even buy bread, let alone any grain to make a loaf themselves of it with. The Superpowers at hand had continued their embargoes to no avail anyway as usual but not to any extent that was newsworthy. What becomes that is always what crashes on the tarmac at international airports, not the day-in and day-out of people going about living their lives, as is the general wont of most of the planet’s 10 billion. The unimportant folk who, generally speaking live side by side each other, regardless of religion or race or their weird personal habits, had continued not to matter. Only when these had amounted to groupings that were populations of over 10,000 persons attacked by warplanes at the foothills, like massive bacteria cultures growing in agar in some backroom Petri plate, was there the chance of any possible notice. Neither the local news nor the big thumb of the Internet could until then have taken notice. It couldn’t and didn’t have to. That I had traveled onwards with my shaggy goats was just as well. Mine were as unimportant as any other goatherd’s flock. By the grace of Allah, I had had enough meat and cheese with me in my sack to last me a while.
The man I knew was the man who tied himself to a tree. The other man I knew was the man who tied himself against a post. The first man had cried to all the heavens for his many crimes. They were crimes against the State, crimes against the people of the State, and crimes against the gods of the State. For these he put himself to death. As for the other man, he cried a cry against concupiscence, beauty, and the love of women alike. He wailed night and day; so bad was this, he had plugged up his own ears with wax lest he go entirely mad with his painful ecstasy. Later still, the very people the first man was claimed to have committed his crimes against, they had raised a statue of him lasting close to three thousand years, during which time they themselves committed all the same crimes for which he had punished himself, for no apparent reason among them all for having committed them. Why they committed them, no one could easily say. Some said it was for greed. Some said it was for pleasure. Some said it was for bodily desires. The second man became a legend of fortitude, cunning, perseverance, and strength. Indeed, when he returned to his tiny home near the shore, he was spat upon by his own true wife due to his dog-faced disguise. As for the first, his merciless end seems only to have obviated everlasting punishment, an infliction upon the venal soul of Mankind, so much of whose strange solace seems to be casting all hope into a steaming bucket of tar.