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         “So, do you know what a thief is?” Chess asked, looking around at the children.  Again, he was answered with a chorus of “yes” and “no” and he grinned.  “Okay, a thief is someone who steals stuff -- who takes things that belong to someone else.”
         “Oh, like when we take food from the garbage dump,” a little girl offered brightly.  “We do it at night, ‘cause we’re not supposed to,” she added in a whisper.
         “Uh…”  Chess blinked at her, trying to stop his eyes from widening.  “Uh, yeah,” he answered, the smile frozen now.  “Except that Chess, the master thief, went around stealing things that were very valuable --”  He blinked again and shook his head.  “Actually, yeah: you’re exactly right.  Except that Chess tended to steal things and give them to other people…”  Without meaning to, he glanced briefly in Sariel’s direction.  “And they would, uh, pay him,” he added quietly.  “So, Chess was a master thief, which means that he was very good at stealing things.  And, so, naturally, he thought that he would have no problem doing something as easy as stealing a princess.  So, do you know what he did?”
         Chess surveyed his audience.  Amazingly, he still seemed to have their attention.  Encouraged, he charged on.  “He waited until nightfall and, very quietly, he climbed up the side of the mountain where the dragon’s cave was.  He was so quiet that the dragon did not notice him.  The dragon was actually talking to the princess all night, but Chess did not know that.”  He paused and swallowed, wishing he had some water, but he did not want to stop.
         “Then, once Chess got to the top of the mountain, he planned to distract the dragon.  He had brought a few firecrackers with him and he was going to set them on fire -- firecrackers make lots of noise and bright light -- and throw them into the woods.  He figured the dragon would chase after the firecrackers and then he would be free to run in and rescue the princess.  But…”  He paused.  “But, when Chess got to the edge of the clearing where the cave was, he suddenly heard a voice -- the dragon’s voice -- inside his mind.  And yeah,” he laughed, “it was scary.
         “The dragon had a big deep voice, and he said, ‘What is this, another army?  I’ll laugh you all down off my mountain.  But wait a minute…’  The dragon was silent for a moment, and then he said, ‘But there’s only one of you.  Only one?’  The dragon’s voice got louder inside Chess’s head.  ‘I defeated a whole army, and now they are sending just one puny little man against me?  They sent you?’ the dragon finished with a roar.
         “Well, Chess the thief was so terrified, having that monstrous voice inside his head --”  Chess put both hands up to his head and accidentally brushed the injured area, sending flashes of pain across his cheek.  “Uh… that he turned and ran into the woods.  The dragon was so angry now, that he ran off after Chess and chased him through the woods, breathing fire as he went.
         “It seemed like the chase went on forever: Chess was running and always having to duck and hide from the fire that the dragon was shooting at him… and running and hiding some more.  And the dragon kept shooting fire.  But, you know what?  Running and hiding was something that Chess was really good at and, after a while, he doubled back toward the cave and ducked inside.  The dragon did not know where he had gone and, anyway, the dragon was exhausted from chasing Chess around the mountain… and he was all out of fire for the moment.  The dragon would have to rest and recharge.
         “So Chess ran into the cave, found the princess, and shouted, ‘I am here to rescue you!’”
         Some of the children gasped.  Chess, too, drew in his breath as, unexpectedly, Sariel dropped down next to him.  “But the princess did not wish to leave with the thief,” Sariel said dryly.
         “Why not?”  Chess gaped at her as he heard his question echoed in children’s voices.
         “Because, even though the great dragon was very big and bad and very evil,” Sariel chuckled, “he was so much more intriguing than that old, dusty castle where the princess had grown up.  The castle,” Sariel explained, “had walls and rules.  And the princess --”  Her eyes flickered to meet Chess’s gaze.  “The princess wanted something more exciting, even if it was dangerous.”  She turned her attention to the boy with the snakebite.  “How are you doing?  Ah, much better, I see.”

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Virtuous Reality

Aeryn (as a blonde lisping southern belle princess inside a virtual reality game): Why do you have to be such a monster?
Crais (as the Ogre): At least I don’t spend my days redecorating.  What is it with women and change?  Nothing is ever good enough!  …
(John and Chiana run out of the room)
Aeryn: Every time we meet someone nice, you scare them away!
-John Quixote, Farscape Season 4 Episode 7

         As I mentioned before, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from doing any kind of research, it’s that nothing fits into a neat definition: not an ancient mythology or the events of history or the progression of a society or the development of a nation-state.  If one person proposes a theory of how something happened, at least three other people will have evidence of how it could not have happened in exactly that way.  This is especially true when the thing I’m looking to define happened over many years and involved the interactions of many people -- and even more so when the subject is emotionally-charged.
         Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God is a good example of this.  The author draws on history, anthropology, psychology, sociology -- and probably other -ologies that I don’t even recognize -- in his attempt to flesh out a timeline of how the concept of a supreme being evolved in the Abrahamic religions.  One of my favorite lines from his book is something that he quoted:
About a century ago, the psychologist William James wrote in The Varieties of Religious Experience that religion “consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”
         That quote seems to encapsulate the basic reasons underlying everything that has ever come about in mythologies and religions.  For me, it explains why the ancient myth-makers began their stories in the first place.
         From that beginning, the author journeys through the history and politics of the various times, and explores the changing and often contradictory nature what people believed through the centuries.  One of the most interesting parts is the discussion of the belief in only one god, which is shown in opposition to many ancient cultural and political environments of tolerance of different mythologies and many gods.  And I think fans of the ancient pantheons (or maybe even fans of Neil Gaiman) might enjoy the mentions of old friends like Enlil and Inanna.

Aeryn: So, can I help you find someplace to sheathe that sword?



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