Devadatta and Various Killers (III/?)

“Why, Devadatta,” Siddhartha says. “You have shot down a dove.”

It is the day of the hunt, and two royal cousins hunt together. Their names are Siddhartha and Devadatta.

It is 561 years before the common era, and the sun burns white.

Prince Siddhartha hurries to the dove’s side. “It is still alive.”

“I will kill it,” Devadatta says. “And ease its suffering.”

Devadatta squats down beside the bird. He takes out his knife. But Siddhartha raises a hand to stop him.

Siddhartha says:

Have I not, Devadatta, lived a thousand lives?
Ten thousand?
No, one hundred thousand, yet?

So the Brahmins say, Devadatta answers.

And have you not, Devadatta, lived a thousand lives?
Ten thousand?
No, one hundred thousand, yet?

So the Brahmins say, Devadatta answers.

And never once, Devadatta, in that time,
Have you been a dove?
Small, fearful, tremulous
Awed by the powers of the world?

I am Devadatta, Devadatta denies.

And never once, Devadatta, in that time,
Have I been a dove?
Prey, wounded, but beautiful?
Struck down by things beyond my power to command?

Devadatta laughs sharply. He answers:

You are the King of the World, Siddhartha.
You shall rule everything.
You transcend such powers.
So the Brahmins say.

Siddhartha frowns. “Perhaps,” he says.

“Perhaps,” Devadatta agrees.

Siddhartha brushes the dove’s feathers, lightly. He breaks medicinal bark from the surface of a nearby tree. He squeezes it between his hands, and an elixir rains gently on the creature’s wound. Murmuring prayers, Siddhartha grasps the arrow and pulls it out. There is blood and the bird thrashes, but it soon subsides.

“It is recovering,” says Siddhartha.

Devadatta rises to his feet.

It is a dove, Siddhartha.
We are as gods to it.

“Oh?” answers Siddhartha.

Devadatta says:

I am the destroyer [to it],
A swift and tearing pain
That strikes from nowhere
And leads to nothingness.

You are the savior,
A swift and dizzying surcease
That strikes from nowhere
And leads to nothingness.

What is the point of your actions, Siddhartha?
It remains a dove.

Siddhartha shrugs, answering, “It is not for you or I to say.”

Devadatta says:

Let me take it aside.
It will step off the stage of your life.
You will not see it again.

“Ah, Devadatta,” Siddhartha says. He picks up the dove. He cradles it against his breast. He begins to walk through the forest.

Devadatta follows, saying:

It is only fair, Siddhartha.
I have shot it down.
I should be the bursar of its fate.

“Ah, Devadatta,” Siddhartha says again. He smiles.

Siddhartha is distracted by tending the dove. Devadatta, by frustration and outrage. Their path leads into forbidden woods, and they will soon be lost.

Devadatta argues:

It is its nature, Siddhartha.
Doves are not for saving.
They are for killing.
They are small, fearful, tremulous.
Awed by the powers of the world.

Siddhartha shakes his head.

Devadatta protests, stridently:

They are prey, and as prey,
Beautiful, and made for striking down,
That is the world, Siddhartha.
That is the tapestry of blood.

“I have healed it,” says Siddhartha, “so is it not mine?”

The woods are strange and distant now. There is a movement in them. A man named Cancala skulks forward.

“I am inclined,” Cancala says, “to side with your more ruthless peer.”

Siddhartha looks at him in puzzlement. “And who are you?” he says.

Cancala answers:

I am a traveler,
Making my way through these woods,
Fearing for my life
Lest some great destroyer strike me down.

I am a thief,
Making my way through these woods,
Taking what I wish
Lest hunger be the end of me.

I am a murderer,
Making my way through these woods,
Taking others’ lives,
As a small destroyer ought.

I am Cancala the killer,
Stronger than ten normal men!

“I greet this news with some small consternation,” Siddhartha says.

The thief answers:

Best to be resigned to it.
The world is harsh
And full of suffering.

Devadatta reaches for his knife, but Siddhartha lays a hand on Devadatta’s arm.

“I know you wish to deal with him, cousin,” Siddhartha says. “But he too is wounded.”

Devadatta pleads:

Let me take him aside.
He will step off the stage of your life.
You will not see him again.

Siddhartha laughs. “Ah, Devadatta,” he says.

“This interaction puzzles me,” the thief admits.

Devadatta sighs, then shrugs, resigned. He says:

Who does not know the shadow of fear?
Who is there who does not hunger?
We are alike, you and I.
Traveling in a perilous woods.

Let us make alliance, thief.
Walk with us to these woods’ edge.
If we should meet a greater killer,
We will fight him at your side.
If we do not, then kill us at the forest’s edge;
You shall be much the safer.

Cancala hesitates. Then he nods, curtly. They travel on.

Siddhartha says:

It is my thought
That even in this dove
Is an infinite spirit
Capable of unlimited accomplishments.

That is why, Devadatta,
I have claimed it as my own.

Devadatta says:

I will test this theory, cousin,
In mortal combat.
Man and dove with knife and beak.
The power of its spirit shall burst forth
Like the clap of thunder
And its battle aura ascend to Heaven
And one shall live
And one shall be the others’ trophy.
And which is which I cannot say.

“I should hate to lose my cousin Devadatta,” says Siddhartha.

There is a rustling, and a woman emerges from the forest depths. Her teeth are as long and sharp as swords. Her hair is tangled. Her name is Dusana.

“How cruel is fate!” she cries. “To save your cousin from death at the hands of a dove, only to lose him to Dusana!”

“You are another killer, then?” Siddhartha asks.

Dusana answers:

I am a traveler,
Making my way through these woods,
Fearing for my life
Lest some great destroyer strike me down.

I am a thief,
Making my way through these woods,
Taking what I wish
Lest hunger be the end of me.

I am a horror,
Making my way through these woods,
Taking others’ lives,
As a medium destroyer ought.

I am Dusana the ogre,
Strong as twenty-two normal men!

Devadatta says, to Siddhartha:

Swiftly, cousin, swiftly.
Let me take her aside.
She will step off the stage of your life.
You will not see her again.

Siddhartha shakes his head.

Devadatta sighs. He turns to look at Cancala. “Perhaps you should engage her in a duel, leaving the two of us to continue unmolested.”

“I am worth fourteen at best,” Cancala says. “This ogress outnumbers me.”

Dusana smirks.

Cancala sulks.

Devadatta sighs. He looks down. He looks up. He says:

Who does not know the shadow of fear?
Who is there who does not hunger?
We are alike, you and I.
Traveling in a perilous woods.

Let us make alliance, ogre.
Walk with us to these woods’ edge.
If we should meet a greater killer,
We will fight him at your side.
If we do not, then kill us at the forest’s edge;
You shall be much the safer.

Dusana hesitates. Then she nods. “There are people who do not like ogres,” she admits. “I would not want to come upon them unaware.”

They travel on.

Siddhartha says:

It is better to heal
Than to destroy;
To carve from the soul
The perfect potential
That lives within.
That is why I claim this dove.
You would destroy her.
I would save her.
Surely mine is the greater claim.

Devadatta says:

Perfection is not safety.

Even good things may be hurt.
Even good things may be weak.
Even good things may be killed.

This is not wrong.
This is not right.
It is simply a consequence.

It is because ‘good’ does not mean ‘victor’
And ‘good’ does not mean ‘unbreakable’.

The greatest king is not the greatest servant
The greatest bird is not the greatest fish
The greatest jewel is not the greatest meal
The greatest woman is not the greatest man

The greatest dove is not a wall of adamant
Nor would she fly the better if she were.

Siddhartha says:

Surely, Cancala,
You would side with me.

Cancala answers:

The dove’s a dove,
And prey is prey,
And better it were born that way.
If not shot down,
You’ve cost it, sweet,
Its full potential to be meat.

Siddhartha says:

Dusana, then,
Would you not side with me?

Dusana answers:

We’re born from muck
And die in grime
And beauty does depend on time.

I don’t judge sculptors by the stone
They work with
But by work alone.

What does it matter
What lay within the dove
Before you and your cousin set to work?

Siddhartha frowns softly.

They are nearing the edge of the woods when the trees around them rustle, and Ciravasus steps forth. He is clad all in blood and skulls and bones. His eyes burn with terrible fire.

“This is a sour turn of events,” Dusana declares.

Roars Ciravasus:

I am a great destroyer,
Unrivaled in these woods,
Ciravasus!
Stronger than fifty normal men!

“Ah, good,” says Siddhartha. “Perhaps you can resolve a dispute.”

Ciravasus hesitates. Then he tilts his head to one side. “Perhaps.”

“It is this dove,” says Siddhartha. “My cousin says that he should have it, for he shot it down. I, that it is mine, because I wish to heal it.”

Ciravasus says:

You are fools alike.
To claim the thing you hurt
Is not honest destruction.
Destruction is a wind
Destruction is a flame
It sweeps through,
Claiming nothing,
Leaving only silence.
To claim ownership
Defiles this sacred act.
It proves
A perfidy of intent.

“Ah,” says Siddhartha.

Devadatta mutters:

Is he smug
Because a fifty-man killer agrees with him
While my killers number thirty-six at best?

Let me take him aside, cousin.
He will step off the stage of your life
And I shall adjust these numbers!

“Stay your hand, Devadatta,” says Siddhartha.

Ciravasus hesitates. Carefully, he says,

Would that be Devadatta, the Prince,
Stronger than eighty-seven normal men?

Eighty-nine, corrects Devadatta.

Ciravasus hesitates. Carefully, he says,

Would that be Devadatta, the Prince,
Stronger than eighty-nine normal men?
Perhaps recently improved, with practice, from eighty-seven?

Yes, Siddhartha says.

Ciravasus says:

Curses.

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