That night, they supplemented the nutrition bars with roasted rabbit. In the yard behind their chosen night’s shelter, Sariel used her throwing stick to clear an area down to the dirt. “This should be done, even if there is no risk of forest fires,” she explained, giving Chess a half-smile as she straightened.
Her look made Chess’s heart jump. Of course, he was exhausted, and the last couple of days had seemed unreal, but Sariel and Ileana were there with him. And Sariel, with her hair tied up, and looking desirable -- and strange, with jeans hugging her thighs -- seemed rather happy to be out here.
“Get an armload of those branches for the fire,” Sariel ordered, indicating some dead twigs that were jutting out low on the trunk of a nearby pine tree. She brushed his hand with her fingers, and then glanced toward Ileana, who was staring at the rabbit carcass. “Take her with you,” she added quietly.
Ileana refused to share in the meal, though. She sat staring off into the growing darkness and slowly working her way through a nutrition bar as the light flickered over her face.
Chess, on the other hand, could barely stand to wait until the rabbit was fully cooked, even though the smoky odor caused his eyes to water as much as his mouth. He shifted impatiently, watching the meal, as the juices dripped and sizzled in the fire. And then, unexpectedly, Sariel began to sing.
Her tune was soft at first, and wavering, as she gazed steadily at the fire. But, gradually, her voice grew stronger, more confident, and she raised her eyes up the column of smoke to the cloud-mottled sky as she sang words that Chess could not decipher. And then, as abruptly as she had begun, she let the song end. Chess looked hopefully at the rabbit.
But Ileana broke the silence that followed. “What does the song mean?” she asked softly.
Sariel shrugged. “This is all a game, played between hunter and prey,” she explained solemnly. “The old song gives thanks to the rabbit for having been a willing sacrifice. I thank him,” she said, nodding toward the rabbit, “and I ask him to come back and play again sometime.”
“Great,” Chess groaned. “So, life and death, over and over. Until when?”
Sariel turned to him with an abrupt movement. “Until we understand,” she answered sharply.
Hours later, the air pressure that had been weighing on them all afternoon broke to a violent overnight storm. Chess woke to find Sariel bending over him, her loose hair raising shivers on his neck.
“Enthirath rages,” she whispered, staring at him intently.
Disoriented, Chess blinked at her, watching her eyes reflect the flash of lightning outside. He searched his memory for a reference to her words. “Enthirath, the god of water?” Thunder crashed, seeming to rock the house where they were sheltering, and Chess lifted his head to look at her. “Why?”
Sariel shrugged, a smile on her lips. “Who knows what angers a god?”
“Huh,” Chess sighed, putting his head down and immediately beginning to dream: a vision of an entire pantheon of gods who were terribly angry about something that he could not quite understand.
Sariel shook him back to wakefulness. “Come,” she insisted, and, grabbing a large cooking pot that had lately become part of their gear, she walked to the door. Stopping there, she waited for him.
“You want to go outside in this?” Chess asked in disbelief. Every time the lightning flashed, he could see sheets of water beyond the damaged window. “Our clothes will never dry,” he protested.
Sariel glanced furtively toward Ileana’s sleeping form, and said, “Leave them here, if you wish.”
Just outside the door, she set the pot down to collect rainwater. And then, she took his hand.
The storm rampaged like a dragon, emitting streaks of flame and thrashing the air. Sariel laughed wildly, pulling Chess down, and his view of her sparkling eyes strobed with the lightning.
“Are you sent from the goddess?” Chess asked in wonder, gazing up at her as she arched back to catch rain in her open mouth. Rivers of water streamed down her hair and cascaded over her shoulders, flowing through his fingers where he touched her skin. “Sent here to make me want to stay alive?”
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It has been truly said, that desire for enjoyment creates bodies for the soul. When this desire vanishes, there remains no further need for the body, and man is free from the vicious cycle of births and deaths.
- From Yeravda Mandir (Ashram Observances) by M. K. Gandhi
In Watership Down, one of the warrens visited by the rabbits has a tradition of sacrificing a small percentage of its population in order that the rest may live in comfort under the protection of a benevolent farmer. Although the author seems to twist this in support of a theme, the idea of sacrificing some for the greater good of all has been around perhaps since the beginning of human history. Sometimes, the sacrifice is for those like the Greek gods, so that they will be pleased and bestow good things on the populace -- or to an evil god/monster (like Vermithrax?) in order to avoid destruction. But in other mythologies, the idea of sacrifice is less of an outright bribe of an entity and more a way of helping people toward an acceptance of life and the human condition.
In Buddhist tradition, the repeating cycles of life and death -- whether interpreted as reincarnation or simply the endless line of successive generations -- are generally regarded as something the soul wishes to escape from. This escape can be accomplished by letting go of all desire for this life. Many primitive mythologies also contain an idea of continuous death and rebirth, but they tend to regard this as a more positive idea. In some ancient hunter mythologies, for example, because the hunted animals are the vital sustenance of life, it is not surprising that the hunter might feel a special connection with the prey. And how can one in good conscience kill something with which one feels a shared understanding? Because, really, it is all a game, played between hunter and prey. If all agree that death is a necessity and a transitory state, then it is much easier to accept the death of a companion, be it animal or human.
The buffalo are amazed. And they say, “Well, why don’t you do this for us? We’ll teach you the buffalo dance, and when you will have killed our families, you do this dance and sing this song, and we will all come back to live again.”
- The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
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