After the funeral Nin was approached by a large hawk. “You may not remember me, but I remember you,” said the hawk. “It was long ago, on a distant tundra.”
Nin bowed low. “Yes, I remember you, you saved my life. You gave me water when I was thirsty, you gave me food when I was hungry. With your black wings you sheltered me from the sun.”
“Yes…” replied the great hawk. “I am glad you remember me. I am glad to speak with you again. As you can see I have left the tundra, and for that I must thank you.”
The pair moved off from the rest of the mourners. They found a quiet quarter where only a few swallows were darting about, up and down the branches of a Himalayan pine.
“I was in a bad place. The tundra was my self-imposed exile. Thank you for being there. It was good to care again.”
The hawk took a long, hard look out at the horizon. “No, that’s not quite right—it felt good—that some creature needed me, that without my presence and my care, you would die. Don’t take this as me desiring power over lesser creatures. No, nothing of the sort. I was happy, astonishingly so, to know that I had an impact, that if I was dead or gone or vanished, things would have turned out all the worse.”
The hawk turned back to Nin. “That I mattered.”
Nin wasn’t sure how to respond to this, so he merely nodded, and let the calm of the evening fill the space between them.
“You have done well to make it here,” said the hawk after a time. “This is not a place for rabbits. We are high and far and away from the pleasant meadows where your kind roam. I can tell from the scars on your body and the look in your eyes, you have seen and experienced much.”
Nin replied that he had. They talked throughout the night. Nin recounted his adventures, and the hawk recounted theirs.
Just as the first light of morning was streaking across the slopes, the hawk turned to Nin and said, “I wonder if you are worthy.”
“Yes—” The hawk appeared to be in deep thought. “There is a tradition among the great predator birds. When a prey fights back, when the hunt is a struggle, a true challenge, when the prey has demonstrated their strength and their worth—sometimes we let them go, with a mark.”
Nin was intrigued.
“It is ritual scarification,” the hawk continued. “I must warn you, it will leave a deep cut, almost to the bone. It is painful, not all survive. But if you live it will prove you are a survivor, one who has known the touch of the predators and lived. No more will they bother you, they will see you as an equal.”
And that is how Nin acquired the mark of the hawk, and how he gained the strength to hop without fear through even the darkest places of the earth.
And as his confidence grew, so did his pride.