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Fulcrums by Mark Grealish
SUMMARY: A guru expound upon the uses of power in a market on distant Iapetus.
''To be powerful,'' husks the old fakir, ''is to do little more than be eternally innocent. When you are blank inside, understanding of others will fill you and at that understand what will move them. But understanding will only come to you...'' He pokes me painfully in the chest with his thrice-dammed stick as my attention is waning. How could it not in such a place as this?! Nearby shoppers turn their heads in our direction at my yelp and the washer maids who I've been staring hungrily at walk away giggling. '' ...concentration!''
''Concentration, Unmada.'' Unmada. Lunatic. I say as I take my eyes away from the retreating maids and glare instead at the fakir. ''Concentration.''
The crazy fakir ignores the sarcastic title I gave him and beams beatifically at me upon hearing this. ''Excellent! Yet again you display dedication as a student and a memory unbound and flawless! But innocence, as you no doubt grasp, is only part of being powerful. What is knowledge of a person without the skill to act on it? To do that you must be a fulcrum! Empathy, cruelty, assertion, dedication and sacrifice. 'The virtues of leadership,' as lesser minds will call them. How do you know when you show empathy? When to be cruel? Hmm?''
''Through... innocent understanding?'' I hazard.
''Understanding, yes! Understand what will move a person. Then when you act upon it, you become their fulcrum. The move around you and you gain power over them. But! You must be eternally vigilant of your innocence!''
I'm seconds from throttling him. Always, always! does he babble like this. Power is innocence is movement is fulcrums is innocence on and on in more circles than the orbits of the pantheon around Surya. Bat shit to it all! My Lord wants me to learn at this fakir's feet, yes? Fine. Great. He's my Lord for a reason, but if this old fool isn't teaching me... My hands are starting to twitch when the fakir leans over and beckons me closer. He glances about us theatrically to see if anyone is listening, but why would they? All they will see is a crazy old fakir babbling about the 'secrets to the universe' to his bored apprentice. But still I lean close to him, mindful of my Lord's orders. ''And you must always understand when you should be subtle,'' the fakir whispers in my ear.
He's going to die tonight. Khamel piss in his gruel, maybe. ''I understand, Unmada.''
''More excellence from you, boy! Come now, attend to me!''
And with that the fakir snatches up his pack and strides off deeper into the bazaar at a speed that belies both his limp and his dependence upon his stick. I have to shove my way through the cavern and elbow people aside with no thought of their caste just so I can catch up with the old bastard. I'm cuffed, kicked, spat at by commoners and merchants whose heads I could have on a plate were it known who I was. Instead I'm forced to brush by a family sore-covered family of chandalas, Shuka protect me. Just by touching me are they condemned to death. But no sooner do I reach the fakir where he stops in the shadow of a stall, with such a hideous retort on my lips that it would make the seediest scribe of distant Prithivi proud, than he grabs me and turns me around to face me toward a pilgrim group's slow procession toward where we stood.