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Nuari Dialogue

by James Ruhland

Shortly following the fall of Nithia the Alphatians discovered the islands south of the Island of Dawn, including some rich in pearls, which they christened the Pearl Islands and decided to add to their Empire along with the others. Most of the small communities on the Alatian islands submitted or fled without much fuss. The Nuari on the Pearl islands proved to be another matter, and they would not submit to the Alphatians like the other islanders, and at first remained neutral. But when the Alphatians attacked and plundered their territory, the Nuaris prepared to defend themselves from the Alphatians.

When the Alphatian forces gathered to conquer the Pearl Islands, sending an army into the largest of them, the Nuari sent a couple of envoys to negotiate with the Alphatian generals, to try to reason with them. The Alphatian representatives greeted them as follows:

Alphatians: "Since these negotiations will not take place in front of your entire people, so that we may not be able to speak without interruption, and beguile everyone by selective arguments which would not be responded to (for we know that this is why you are meeting with us alone)! Do not make a speech yourselves, but listen to what we say and question any part you do not like, and we will settle that before going any farther. But first tell us if this is acceptable."

The Nuari delegation answered:

Nuari: "We don't object to such a dialogue. It sounds fair to us. But your fleet and war engines show you have not come here to talk. We see you have already decided what you are going to do, and that all we can reasonably expect from this negotiation is war, if we prove to have right on our side and refuse to submit, or if we surrender, then enslavement by you."

Alphatians: "If you have met to talk about alternatives, or for anything else other than to discuss the survival of your nation confronted by the army that you see before you, there is nothing to discuss; otherwise, we will continue."

Nuari: "It is natural and excusable for men in our position to try and persuade you of alternatives to war. However, the question in this conference is, as you say, the safety of our country, and the discussion, if you please, can proceed in the way which you propose."

Alphatians: "We shall not trouble you with specious pretences -- either of how we have a right to our empire because we superseded the Thothians, or that we are attacking you because of wrong that you have done us. We will not make a long speech which would not be believed; and in return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you did us no wrong, will aim at what is practical, arguing the real interests of us both; since you know as well as we do that morality, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must."

Nuari: "We think it is expedient -- speaking as you ask, since you don't want us to discuss moral right alone and want us to talk only of practical interest -- that you should not eliminate what is our common protection, namely the privilege of being allowed when in danger to invoke the cosmic order and justice, and even to profit by arguments that are not based on self interest if they can be persuasive. You are as dependent on morality in this as any, because otherwise your Empire's fall would be a cause for the heaviest vengeance and an example for the world to meditate upon."

Alphatians: "The end of our empire, if it should end, does not frighten us. The possibility of a rival empire is not worse than the likelihood that our vanquished subjects would try to revolt and overpower us, their rulers, if we showed weakness. This is a risk that we will not take in the name of abstract virtues. We will now prove to you that we have come here in the interest of our empire, and for the preservation of your country you will listen; as we desire to exercise our authority over you without trouble, and see you are preserved for the good of us both."

Nuari: "And how, pray, could it turn out as good for us to serve you as for you to rule us?"

Alphatians: "Because you would have the advantage of submitting before suffering destruction, and we should gain slaves by not destroying you."

Nuari: "What if we offered to be neutral, or your friends instead of enemies, even your allies?"

Alphatians: "No; for your hostility cannot hurt us much while your friendship in a state of independence will be an argument to our subjects of the possibility of resisting us, and your enmity of our power will inspire them to revolt."

Nuari: "Is that your subjects' idea of fairness, to put those who have nothing to do with you in the same category with people that are mostly your own colonists and conquered slaves?"

Alphatians: "As far as fairness and justice go they think everyone has as much right to it as anyone else, and that if any stay independent from us it can only be because they are strong enough to do so. So if we do not molest someone it must be because we are afraid; so that besides extending our empire we should gain in security by your subjugation. The fact that you are Mystarans and weaker than Alphatians renders it all the more important that you should not succeed in thwarting wishes of the masters of Air magic in gaining anything we desire."

Nuari: "But don't you see that there is no lasting security in the policy which you describe? For here again if you don't want us to talk about justice and invite us to obey your interest, we must try to show that our interest and yours are the same. How can you avoid making everyone your enemy, encouraging all existing neutral peoples who shall look at how you treated us and conclude that one day or another you will attack them as well? Your policy will only make your current enemies hate you more, and force others to fight you when otherwise they never have opposed you?"

Alphatians: "Why, the fact is that the distant Mystarans generally give us little to fear; they go about their affairs with little awareness of what we do. This will prevent them from taking precautions against us. It is only nearby islanders such as yourselves, outside our empire, and the subjects smarting under our lash, who would be the most likely to take a rash step and lead themselves and us into obvious danger by opposing us if we allowed you to be an example to them of the possibility of resisting our will."

Nuari: "Well then, if you forswear justice to retain your empire, and your subjects would prefer to be free of it, it would surely be greatly ignoble and cowardly for us who are still free not to try everything that we can before submitting to your yoke."

Alphatians: "Not if you are smart and realise that the contest is not equal. It is not honour which is at stake here, it is your self-preservation. It would be foolish to resist those who are far stronger than you are."

Nuari: "But we know that the fortune of war is sometimes more impartial mere disproportion of power might make you think; to submit is to give up all hope, while resistance still preserves for us a hope that we may live free on our feet rather than serve on our knees."

Alphatians: "Hope comforts the brave, and it may be indulged in by those who are rich and powerful, if not without loss then at least without being ruined. But hope is available to anyone, and those who go so far as to stake their very lives upon hope see its worthlessness only when it is to late and they face ruin. Hope will be of little comfort when it is put to the test. Do not let yourself be deluded by hope, because you are weak and your survival hangs by a thread. Do not be like the vulgar, who abandon reality when practical resources are lacking they turn to the invisible, to prophets and clerics, and other such inventions that delude men as they march to their own destruction."

Nuari: "You may be sure that we are as well aware as you of the difficulty of fighting against your power and magic. We know the odds are not equal. But we trust that the Immortals may favour us, since we are the just fighting against the unjust. What we lack in power will be made up by the alliance of the Mystaran nations, who are bound, if only for fear of what will happen when you reach them, to come to the aid of their kindred. Our confidence, therefore, after all is not so utterly irrational."

Alphatians: "When you speak of the favour of your Immortals, we may as fairly hope for that as you. Our pretensions and our conduct are what men believe of the Immortals, or practice among themselves. Of the Immortals we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can. We did not make this law, and we are not the first to act upon it. This law existed before us, and shall exist forever. We only make use of it, knowing that you and everybody else, if they had the same power as we have, would do the same as we do. Thus, as far as the Immortals are concerned, we have no reason to fear that we shall be at a disadvantage. But then we come to your notion that the Mystaran nations will come to your aid. Here we bless your simplicity but we do not envy your folly. The Mystarans only act when their own interests or their nation's survival are in question. They are barbarians who only face a threat when it is clearly at their own doorstep. They rationalise their behaviour and consider what is agreeable to them honourable and what is expedient just. This a way of thinking will cause them to come up with excuses not to help you. Expecting their help does not promise the safety which you now unreasonably count upon."

Nuari: "But it is for this very reason that we now trust to their respect for expediency to prevent them from forsaking us, their compatriots, and thus through inaction helping you, their enemies, in conquering Mystara."

Alphatians: "Then you do not adopt the view that expediency goes with security, while justice and honour cannot be followed without danger; and danger is something the Mystaran nations generally avoid as much as possible."

Nuari: "But we believe that they are likely to face even danger in our lands now, with more confidence than if they wait to face your armies in their own lands later. Our common Mystaran heritage insures our mutual faithfulness."

Alphatians: "Yes, but what an intending ally trusts to is not the goodwill of those who ask for his aid, but some benefit for their efforts, like a new school of magecraft, and the possibility of success. The Mystarans look upon us and see that we are stronger. Now, is it likely that while we are masters of magic they will cross over the sea to help you fight us?"

Nuari: "But they would have numbers to send, and would overwhelm you."

Alphatians: "Something like what you suggest you may one day experience, only to learn, as others have, that the Alphatians never once yet were defeated by any Mystaran barbarians. But we are struck by the fact, that after saying you would negotiate for the safety of your country, in all this discussion you have mentioned nothing which might persuade us. Your strongest arguments depend upon hope of outside aid, moral justice, and possible future danger to us, and your own resources are too scanty when compared to ours for you to resist us. You will therefore show great blindness of judgement, unless, after this meeting ends, you can find some argument more practical than this. If you are wise, you will not think it disgraceful to submit to the greatest Empire, when it makes you the moderate offer of becoming its slaves, still living in the islands you love. Nor, when you have the choice given you between death and slavery, will you be so blind as to choose the worst. Think about what we have said after our discussion, and reflect once again that it is for your people that you are negotiating, and that you have only one nation, and that upon this one deliberation depends its survival or ruin."

(Adapted from "The Landmark Thucydides," pp.351-356 edited by Robert B. Strassler.)