The Hunter and His Son
from The Water of Life
by Michael Meade
© 1992 HarperSanFrancisco
and used with the author's permission
Pay heed to this tale of a father and son!
A hunter and his son went to the bush one day to pursue their occupation. They hunted all morning and found nothing to sustain them but one small rat. The father gave the rat [found in the bush] to the son to carry. It seemed of no consequence to the son, so he threw the rat into the bush. The rest of the day they saw no other game.
At dusk the father built a fire and said, "Bring the rat to roast, son; at least we will have something to eat." When he learned that the son had thrown the rat away, he became very angry. In an outburst of rage, he struck the son with his ax and turned away. He returned home, leaving his son lying still on the ground.
Late in the evening, the son rose up and returned to his father's village. He stood at the edge of the village until everyone was asleep. Then he went quietly to his parents' hut, gathered up his few belongings, and left. He walked into the night, following a long path that led to another village.
The son arrived at this large village in the dark of the night. Everyone was asleep. He went to the center of the place and came to the chief's hut. The chief was awake.
The son of the hunter entered the hut of the chief naked, without trousers.
The chief said, "From where do you come?"
"From that other village," the son told him.
The chief asked, "How goes it with you?"
The son spoke, "My father and I went to the bush to hunt. We found only one small rat. He gave it to me to carry and I threw it into the bush. In the evening, we built a fire. He told me to roast the rat. I said I had thrown it away. He became angry and struck me with his ax. I fell down. In the night, I rose up, left that village and came here. That's how it is with me."
The chief said, "Will you keep a secret with me?"
The son said, "What secret?"
The chief explained that there had been a war in which his only son had been killed. He said, "Now I have no son. How can that be, a king with no son? I wish to say that you are my son who was captured in the war, that you have escaped, and that you returned home. Will you keep that secret?" The son said, "This will not be difficult."
Then the chief began to play his drum boom, boom, in the middle of the night. The mother of the house was awakened; she came out and said, "Oh King Lion, he who causes fear, what is the drum you are playing in the middle of the night?"
The king announced, "My son has returned."
Then the mother raised the sound of joy, the whole village was awakened. Everyone was saying, "What has happened at the king's hut that they are playing drums and singing in the middle of the night?" A messenger was sent around, telling everyone that the king's son had come, he who had been captured in the war had returned. Some of the people were joyful; others doubted it, saying, "Indeed, indeed."
At dawn, the son was bathed, anointed with oil, and dressed in fine new clothes. The chief gave him gifts and brought him before the whole village to be welcomed. Some of the chief's counselors said, "It is not his son." Others said surely it was. The doubts of some grew; they said, "Indeed, indeed."
Soon the counselors summoned the sons of the village, dressed them in fine garments, and called for their great war-horses. The counselors said, "Go to the house of the chief. Call the chief's son. Tell him to bring his horse and a sword. Say you are taking the horses for exercise. Ride out to the great clearing. Dismount there, take your swords and slay your horses. Observe what the son of the chief does, and report to us here." Each counselor gave a sword to his son, and the young men set off for the chief's hut.
Now, there was a talebearer present who heard the counselors' plan and quickly informed the king. The king made preparations, saying, "If the naked man can dance, how much better can the man with a cloak?" He called the son to him and said, "Take this horse and sword. When the sons of the village call for you, go with them. Whatever they do, you do it as well." The sons of the counselors came and called for the king's son. They all set off. They rode to the clearing and dismounted. When the son of the king saw the other sons slay their horses-well, he did it, too.
The sons of the counselors returned to their fathers and reported that the king's son had slain a valuable mount, saying, "Only the son of a king would display such magnificent disregard for property and wealth."
The counselors still had doubts and said, "Indeed, indeed."They decided on further tests. The next day they gave each of their sons a slave girl. They instructed them to invite the son of the chief to bring a slave girl and go with them to the clearing. Once there, they should slay the slave girls and observe what the son of the chief did. Once again, the talebearer was present. He informed the king, who told the son to take his slave girl when they called for him, and "Whatever you see they have done, you do it as well." In the clearing, the sons of the counselors took their swords, and each slew a slave girl. The son of the king? Well, he did it, too. And the sons returned to the counselors and reported what had happened, saying, "Only the son of a king would act as he has done." This time the counselors were satisfied. They offered no more tests.
Time went on. The son lived with the king. Then one day the hunter came looking for his son. He questioned people, saying, "Have you seen one who looks like this, who acts like such and such?" The people said, "No, we don't know him, we haven't seen your son. But there is a son in the king's hut who looks like that.' He was sent to the hut of the king. He entered and greeted the king, who was seated with the son at his side.
The hunter said to his son, "Will you get up and return with me and live as before?" The son remained silent. The king said, "Hunter, if you will keep the secret with me, I will give you whatever gold you wish. "The hunter refused. The king offered one hundred times whatever gold the hunter would request. The hunter refused despite all the entreaties of the king. The son? Well, he remained silent.
Then the king called for three horses to be saddled and one sword to be brought. The three of them-the hunter, the king, and the son-then rode off to the clearing.
When they reached that place, the king gave the sword to the son. He said, "We are here unarmed, but you hold a sword. There is nothing else left to do. Either you must slay me and take my goods and return with your father to his village and his world, or you must slay your father and return with me and live as we have been in my village."
The son did not know what to do. If it were you, what would you do?
Kill the father, or kill the king? What would you do?
Off with the rat's head!!
Learn more about Michael Meade
at the MOSAIC Foundation website
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