…And we win free of illusion – at a barren sea, with no hope of water, food, or rescue, Hanuman thought, exhausted, as the rest of his patrol collapsed to burning sands. Even if Sita were able to drop seeds here, the waves would have washed them away; the salt killed any hopeful sprout. We have no trace of him.
A month. They’d been caught in the enchanted cave a month, with all their people’s worries riding on their shoulders. It would have been infuriating, if he weren’t so horribly tired.
Devas and kindly spirits protect Sugriva, Hanuman prayed. Rama’s a forgiving soul, but my king can wear on a person who has more goals than the next tasty fruit drink.
Enough gloom. Either she’d hung Sugriva upside-down by his tail from the nearest palm, or she hadn’t. Either way, he had a prince to find, so he’d better get moving.
Water first, Hanuman decided, lifting his head with an effort. People will think better if we’re not so thirsty… eh?
Something dark hissed, as it waddled over the sands. Dunes crunched under thick claws, as scorched feathers beat the air, vulture eyes keen and staring.
“Gods be thanked!” the vulture hissed, low and menacing; and well it might be, Hanuman thought, that vulture was the size of any three vanaras put together. “Today, I will feast! Aruna, my father, you are gracious to your wingless child. Such a delicious meal, walking to my very doorstep all by itself, heh heh heh….”
Oh no you don’t. Hanuman gathered himself as much as he could, while seeming as weak and helpless as the frailest monkey. I’m not interested in being vulture meat!
“Ah, life is full of irony,” Jambavan declared; hiding his own war club out of easy view, Hanuman realized. “Here is a vulture, ready to eat us where we lie, too exhausted from seeking Prince Sita to defend ourselves; when it was another vulture, brave Jatayu, who gave his life to try to save the prince from demon king Ravana, and set Rama on the path to find him.”
Hissing, the gaping beak paused. “Jatayu….?”
Jatayu, also a son of Aruna, Hanuman realized. Oh Jambavan, you are wise in far more than war!
“Long years has it been, since I heard news of my brother,” the wingless vulture hissed. “And now you say he is no more? Tell me, tell me what has passed!”
“Indeed we shall.” Hanuman drew his shattered strength together, and rose. “But poor guests would we be, to bring such news without even a feast to properly mourn the lost! Come, come; tell us where to find fresh water upon this barren shore, and we shall tell the brave tale as it should be told!”
And if everything else goes wrong, at least we won’t be dying of thirst, Hanuman reflected.