The next few days were sunny and not as stiflingly hot as it had been. As they made their way onward, Chess found a story to keep himself going: they were a group of adventurers, he imagined, ranging through the primeval forest. And, in his story, at least, they had a goal: they were fleeing the destruction of the temple where the indigo priestess had served, and seeking the shelter of the nearest sister temple of the goddess. In real life, however, things were not that clear.
At least he was no longer terrified that they were going to die immediately. Actually, he felt somewhat calm. He was getting used to the routine of the days; he was learning from Sariel how to survive in the wilderness. And maybe it was Sariel’s self-assured presence and her attention to him -- or maybe he was just too tired to worry very much -- but all the old stress and the white noise of panic seemed to have faded. Even the constant voice of failure in his head was much quieter now.
If only he wasn’t so concerned about one thing: Ileana would not eat.
“I am so hungry for some news out here,” Ileana commented wistfully a few nights later, as she brushed strands of hair off her forehead. “I wish we had a way to power up one of our link-phones.”
Chess looked up from their sparse meal and gazed at her across the crackling fire.
“At least, I wish we could tune into Isaac Dale,” Ileana explained. “You know, I have never missed civ since I left. But I miss listening to him. It just helped me feel connected to something.”
She appeared to look upward at the starry night sky. And then, hearing only silence in response, she ventured, “There must be groups of dissidents somewhere around here. Maybe…” she added hesitantly, shifting on the hard ground, “maybe we should try to join with some.”
Next to Chess, Sariel sighed. “Some people out here are good. Many are not,” she answered darkly. “And the government is not the only thing to fear. No, we should keep to ourselves.”
“Just stay out here on our own?” Ileana protested with a frown.
Sariel shrugged, rising to her knees. “Why do you think others would help us?” she retorted scornfully. “Take care, Princess. You wander far outside of Razor’s kingdom now.”
In the dim firelight, Chess saw Ileana raise her chin and narrow her eyes at Sariel, and his heart began to pound. With a feeling of dread he realized that the only hope of survival that the little group had was if they worked together. If they began to fight among themselves, he thought, they were doomed. He held his breath and waited for the inevitable outburst.
But then, in a moment, Ileana’s attitude changed. She inclined her head toward Sariel and said, in a clear voice, “You’re right… and I trust your judgment.”
Beside Chess, Sariel gave a loud snort of disbelief and rose to her feet.
But Ileana continued, “You were the one who really opened my eyes. I am grateful for that.”
Sariel stood for a moment, still and silent. And then she turned and strode off into the darkness.
Chess tried to hide his surprise at Ileana’s measured response to Sariel. “I have to agree with Sar,” he told her. “I mean, even if the people themselves are not dangerous, well… you said yourself: Razor and his men communicate with all the villages around here. Someone, eventually, will turn us in.”
He watched Ileana nod, the firelight outlining her profile, and then neither said anything for a while. They just gazed into the heart of the fire. There was no sign of Sariel returning.
Finally, Chess asked, “What do you think happened after we left? Do you think there was an all-out war between Razor’s men and Woolf’s?” And what had happened to Tez? Chess wondered, his thoughts racing onward. After all, the guy had betrayed Razor by allowing the three of them to escape.
And what about those kids, left behind in shelter with their families? Were they surviving, the same as they had been, he wondered, or had the world of the compound now been destabilized? His brain filled with questions, but Ileana did not respond. He assumed that she was thinking about Razor.
Ileana remained silent, and Chess, staring intently at the sparking flames, asked himself what kind of mess they had left behind them.
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“What would you like?” he says, still with that lightness, as if it’s a money transaction merely, and a minor one at that: candy, cigarettes...
“I would like…” I say. “I would like to know.” It sounds indecisive, stupid even, I say it without thinking.
“Know what?” he says.
“Whatever there is to know,” I say; but that’s too flippant. “What’s going on.”
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Back in Part 3, I noted an apparent conflict between two styles of living in the ancient world: the clash between stationary farming cultures and the more mobile cultures of hunter/gatherers. Often, mythic stories which seem similar across the cultures tend to have the ruling deity favor whichever culture the storyteller is from, at the expense of the other. Yet, significantly, both types of cultures have similar stories of seeking favor from the gods - whether the stories developed in isolation, or morphed as they were told by travelers. Also, both culture types appear to have two other major ideas in common, both involving sacrifice. One is the idea of sacrificing (a hunted animal or a tribe member or even oneself) in order to gain something better for life. Another shared concept seems to be the hope of rebirth after the sacrificial death.
In the farming culture, it is even easier to imagine how this idea of rebirth might have come about. A seed falls to the ground, “dies” and is buried, and from it, new life grows - life that benefits the tribe in the form of edible plants. In Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, the author Joseph Campbell mentions archaeological sites where people were killed and “planted.” One can only imagine that this was the culture’s idea of ensuring life for the rest of the tribe, either by asking the gods for a good harvest or perhaps just by infusing the life-giving soil with the additional life forces of these unfortunate or honored souls.
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