Sariel looked flushed and breathless. “I have looked for you,” she said accusingly. “In a few minutes, I have to go.”
“Go where?” Chess squeaked. “Look, I need to tell you about --”
She shook her head, interrupting him. “We are usually gone for about a week.” She spoke quickly. “I need you to care for the people. They will need food, yes…” She looked thoughtful. “Some medicines, most likely. You should ask what they need. They can manage their own water.”
“What?” Chess gasped, bewildered. “But where are you going?”
“Work!” she shouted, raising her arms in exasperation. “We travel to just before the walled cities. They have parties and such things.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me?” Chess demanded, aghast. “Why didn’t you warn me?”
She looked surprised at his question. “We are not told when we will go. It happens constantly. True, it has been a few weeks since the last time.” She shrugged and then smiled warmly at him. “Whenever I must go, I worry about the people because, while I am gone they must fend for themselves. But now, you are here, so I will go without a heavy heart. I greatly enjoy the dancing.” Her eyes seemed to light up at that admission, and, for a moment, she looked very young.
Chess’s mind was all confusion. He stammered, “But I have to tell you about --”
Sariel glanced around, seeming nervous. “I really must go or they will look for me. That would not be good.” Without warning, she reached for him, pulling him close, and kissed him for a long, slow minute that left him breathing hard and grasping for her as she pulled away.
“Take care of them,” she called back, hurrying off down the hallway.
Chess, trying to catch his breath, gazed after her longingly. He breathed in her scent, which lingered on his shirt. And then he blinked. “Wait… what?”
He spent the remainder of the day in a state of panic. How was he supposed to take care of all those people? He cringed inwardly at the enormity of the task. And yet, he realized, Sariel had been doing it successfully for an unknown length of time.
Finally, long after the cafeteria hours were over, and after the kitchen workers had taken the leftover cooked food as their pay and gone back to their own families, Chess ventured cautiously into the back kitchen area. He took a long time quietly gathering cans and bags of food in dim lighting. There was not much excess back there, so he could pilfer only a small amount to remain undetected.
He stuffed as much as he dared into his backpack -- which he carried everywhere he went, anyway, even though it normally only held a change of clothes and the few personal items that he now possessed -- and slipped out and on his way.
The next days fell into a strange routine. He spent the afternoons, of course, engaged in working with the computers. Apart from tasks that Razor had given him, he was now deep into his research on samizdat transmission, and he had even tried electronically locating Lodestar, but without success. Feeling bolder for some reason, he had also tried, once, during those days, to convince Razor that he should purchase just one up-to-date computer, which would easily be more powerful than the best effort that he could get all of the ancient computers, together, to make.
“But look what you’ve done, here, Goldfish! You don’t need all those foolish gizmos!” Razor had scoffed, and Chess, terrified of pushing his luck, had let the matter drop.
And then, in the evenings, he brought food to what he now referred to, in his own mind, as Shelter, cringing every time the people thanked him with their hollow-cheeked smiles.
And at night, there was Sariel. She was away somewhere in the world, but in his dreams she was everywhere: she was there with him, and he breathed in her scent and reached for her, groaning in pleasure. And she was with other men, and he recoiled from the visions and burned.
Continued next page...
Shamhat is one of the most fascinating characters in Gilgamesh. … Actually, we have no word in English for what Shamhat is. … She is a priestess of Ishtar… has dedicated her life to what the Babylonians considered the sacred mysteries of sexual union. … She has become an incarnation of the goddess, and with her own body reenacts the cosmic marriage.
-Gilgamesh, A New English Version, translated and adapted by Stephen Mitchell
Gilgamesh is most likely the earliest written story. It is recorded on a set of tablets which are broken, with some pieces completely lost or damaged beyond recovery. But there are parts of the surviving story that just amaze me. I definitely want to get into that subject in later blogs.
For now, I want to continue exploring the ways that mythologies appear to have been modified, whether purposely or not, to suit the purposes of the population or culture that happens to be in power. At many times throughout history, the “invaders” have not been a purposeful army, but merely a roaming tribe of hunter-gatherers who encroach on a stationary culture of farmers. This is possibly the most classic of opposing mythologies/ideologies, and I will present some examples later when they are relevant to my story. For now, just a couple examples of one population seeking to dominate the other by way of ideologies couched in symbolic tales.
The first one is pretty well-known: the story of Cain and Able. Although this is most always presented as the story of the first murder (yet another classic type of mythic story that is found throughout the world!) the fact that God favors the offering of a dead animal over the offering of garden produce seems kind of an odd moral to modern-day readers who are concerned about the plight of animals and the environment, when a number of studies have found that a meat-based food system requires more energy, land, and water resources than a vegetarian diet. But remember that the people of the early Abrahamic tradition were nomadic herders, not settled farmers.
Alternatively, consider the ancient Sumerian poem where the goddess Inanna, presented with the dueling attentions of a farmer and a shepherd, decides to marry the farmer. “The much-possessing shepherd I shall not marry… the farmer I shall marry… who makes plants grow abundantly…” Apparently, the ancient Sumerian culture developed upon a massive system of privately-owned farms that used sophisticated cultivation and irrigation techniques. Naturally, they would value growing plants over herding animals!
(Note: I could not easily find a reference to this Sumerian poem anywhere besides The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology. Usually, I like to verify that a few different sources agree that something means what I think it means. In this case, though, I like the quote enough that I’m willing to leave it here for others to make their own judgments.)
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