But one day all these change. A colonel from the empire (name is not specified in the book. It could be any empire) comes with the news that barbarians are planning a revolt. And the colonel has come to arrest these barbarians and find out more about this revolt. Magistrate tries to convince him, that barbarians do not trouble them at all. And going in search of them in deep forests is very very difficult because nobody has the correct maps. Colonel does not listen and goes in search of barbarians.
Thus starts the saga of cruelty, torture of barbarians and even fishermen by the soldiers of the empire. Magistrate is responsible for feeding and watching over the prisoners. He sees one barbarian woman who has lost her eye sight, whose foot has been beaten so badly, she can not walk. He brings her as a kitchen staff and also as his concubine.
And at a later stage when the colonel is still away with soldiers, magistrate goes in search of barbarians himself and returns this girl and comes back. That makes him a traitor in the eyes of the empire and he himself is kept locked in a room.
The book by Coetzee "Waiting for barbarians" makes us wonder who are the actual barbarians here. Why are the indigenous and tribal people so cruelly treated? And how a fear of attack by "other" people will turn a town, state or a even country into ruins.