Sunday, March 1, 2009


The sun rises over the horizon of the Wildlands, a brilliant and delightful red, the color of births and beginnings.

So much lighter, more auspicious, more hopeful, than the dark entrails that steam up from the baboon’s gnarled hand.

He is the Shaman, perhaps the wisest and most ancient creature in this world, and he is troubled.

The blood of the sacrifice should be, has always been, red and pure, giving glory to the rising sun. But this day, this bird, this blood, it is black and foul. A thundercloud, a shadow of prophecy.

The Shaman surveys the empty plains with a hooded, sun-wrinkled gaze. The land is still quiet at the day’s dawn. The Wildlands are at peace, at least to the eyes, ears, and nose.

But something is not right.

He sees with a different sense, a gift not given to most. And his morning sacrifice promises that Death is approaching.

It would be one thing if the divination foretold of marauding predators or the uncaring force of Nature, which can kill with too much water or with none at all. It would be a small matter if the entrails warned about the spread of red fire, that which preys on friend and foe alike, or even if Man, the most murderous creature of all, was making a rare visit to this world.

No. This is different. He hears it whispered by the spirits who sing in the East-born wind. He sees it in the mournful twinkle of the evaporating stars. He smells it in the dark blood of this lost and once-noble bird. Every sign repeats: Death is coming to the Wildlands.

And had it been one of the natural pitfalls that occur again and again on the Circle of Life, weather or fire or disease or Man, he would have done nothing. Perhaps, if it seemed reasonable, the Shaman might warn the young king to hoard food or to scout out new lands, to prepare.

But the signs paint a picture far too different, things he had never witnessed nor even heard of in tales long told, and alerting the king will not be enough.

There are others. Some, like the Tiger, will most certainly not listen, will merely scoff at his senile, superstitious nonsense. And some, like the Elephant, will take it very seriously indeed and insist upon a great plan to stave off the coming enemy.

The Shaman looks down at the jumble of bones and feathers he has scattered to the earth. They fall and bounce and lay in patterns that only he can read.

They take the image of both predator and pestilence, a beast that will consume the young and old alike, those of claw and fang and those of foot and wing. None shall be spared.

And it will not follow a course like the stars or the river. It will spread like red fire, like ants escaping from an anthill, until it covers the Wildlands as fully as the light of the sun.

The Shaman trembles. He knows in his heart of hearts that death cannot be fought, cannot be avoided. For all his long life, this has never bothered him. Its presence is as natural as birth. It is part of the circle, after all.

All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. And that is what troubles the Shaman, for this smell, this Death, it has not happened before.

And what does it mean when the circle is broken?