Myths of the Veritas: The Battle of the Middle Path

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The Battle of the Middle Path. 

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As afternoon reached its warmest, the large main force of the Cupiditas reached the margin of the lands frequented by the Veritas. NUT-PI spied a knoll somewhat higher than the rest. He climbed atop this knoll and called his warriors to stand below and listen carefully as he spoke. 

“Behold, all Cupiditas, for you stand on the edge of victory! Soon, you will have a chance to fight bravely for all your people! Many of you will come home, not only as heroes, but as rich heroes, for you will have your share of the women and grain and gold of the Veritas! You will be glorified among our people. We have marked the path to take you into the very heart of the Veritas. ALT-R will lead you to the Center Place of the Veritas where you will meet up with more of our people as well as the Fierce and Formidable Warriors of the North and the Nomads of the Southern Dry Lands. I will stand atop this hill where I may better direct your efforts. Although this position is quite exposed and therefore more dangerous than being on the front lines, I do not care for I will be here and lead us to victory! Tonight we rest, but before dawn tomorrow, we attack!” 

ALT-R thought it strange that NUT-PI would not lead his warriors from the front of the pack but rather stay back on this large hill. He would not be in any danger at all. There were no Veritas around. And even so, an arrow shot up so far would be rather easy to dodge. And, although it was true that the knoll offered an excellent view in three directions, the battle itself would take place on the other side a rather large forest. NUT-PI would not be able to see any such battle. He could only hear reports from messengers. ALT-R would not question NUT-PI about any of this, he decided, because he knew NUT-PI to be a vain man who cared nothing for the truth and would literally kill one of his own who questioned him. Besides, ALT-R thought he might be able to turn NUT-PI’s style of leading at a distance to his own advantage. Though ALT-R was not a commander among the Cupiditas, they would be following his instructions on where to go and having gotten in the habit, once they reached the Center Place of the Veritas, the whole tribe might listen to his instructions on where to find treasure and how to divvy things up. 

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ALT-R was about to rest among a nice soft bed of moss that he knew grew in a small copse of trees nearby when one of the messengers of NUT-PI said that his presence was required by NUT-PI atop the hill. ALT-R knew he had no choice in the matter, but in case he did have any doubts, he was accompanied by four of NUT-PI’s guards. They ascended the hill and came to a small tent which had been pitched atop the knoll. In front, NUT-PI perched upon a small rock. He looked straight at ALT-R who had kowtowed as he had learned appropriate. “So, ALT-R, what do you think of my strategy to lead my force from this vantage point?” 

At this point, the guards drew back a distance they deemed respectful to NUT-PI but close enough to function as guards with the spears at the ready to be thrown at — and through — ALT-R.

ALT-R bit his lip, unsure how to answer. “Sire, it is not for me to judge your decisions. My job is to show your warriors the ways through the guards of the Veritas, their traps, and the natural barriers so they may arrive near the Center Place unharmed, or at least, as little harmed as possible.” 

NUT-PI laughed. “So, you think my question a stupid one?”

ALT-R said, “Of course not! It’s a good question.”

NUT-PI’s voice changed to one of cold and steel, “Then answer it! I command you!” 

ALT-R began, “Well, the idea of being able to see the whole battle field before you is a good one. However, I am afraid that, if the battle goes as I imagine it will, you will not actually have a very good view from here. The Veritas are likely to engage us on the other side of that woods where there is a steep hill and then a large flat plain. Beyond that is a shallow river and beyond that is the Center Place of the Veritas, none of which can be seen from here.” Now ALT-R began to sweat even more. In his desire to show off his knowledge, he had perhaps said too much. 

NUT-PI laughed again, without any real mirth or warmth. “It’s more symbolic that anything else. Another reason I decided to stay back, between you and me, is that I want the men to gather glory for themselves, not me.”

ALT-R thought this very likely another bogus reason but aloud all he said was, “Indeed, Sire.”

NUT-PI winked at ALT-R. “Plus I have a bad blister on my heel. I don’t want to slow down the troops.” 

ALT-R suspected this might be part of the real reason, but he suspected that NUT-PI was a coward, pure and simple. Of course, to even hint at such would be to court, nay, guarantee, his own death so he tried to push these judgements out of his mind. 

NUT-PI’s voice now took on a happier tone. “I didn’t call you up here to get your opinion on my military strategy. I really want to tell you three things. First, do not fail in showing my people the way through to the Center Place. Second, do not imagine that you will become the leader of my people. I know you are the ambitious sort and it’s fine that you can be the slave-driver of the Veritas but if you try to vanquish me, you will die a horrible death. Third, when you come to the Center Place and capture the slaves, I want you to bring me the three most spirited of the Veritas women for my private amusement. I will personally torture them into submission. If you succeed in these three things, your life will prove most excellent. If you fail in any of these things, your life will be short. But if you betray me in any way, your life will be much much longer than you will wish it to be. Now go and do as you are commanded.”

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The Veritas meanwhile discussed their own strategy. Their mood was euphoric for they now were buoyed by the thought that they had driven off both the Fierce and Formidable Fighters of the North and the Southern Nomads without really doing much battle at all! 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives frowned. “It is good, my people, that we have made peace where it was possible, but it is too soon to celebrate. We still have battle ahead. Do not underestimate the Cupiditas. Though we outnumber them, they are still many and well-trained. And, they have ALT-R’s help.” 

She-of-Many-Paths brought out some Ishago bones and waved them in the air. “I am not so sure that we outnumber them. We have all been saying that we outnumber the Cupiditas, and that may be so. But I am seeing another possibility. You see how it is among us. We are all equal. We all live, at least partly, in the Center Place together. But now think of the Cupiditas. They are all about power, not truth. They do not think of each other as equals. They have a society that has few at the top and many below. On those few occasions when any of the Veritas have visited, they have gone to their Central Place — or rather what such visitors assumed was their Central Place — and not seen so many as we ourselves are.” Here she again waved the bones in her hand upon which were inscribed marks for the Cupiditas who had been seen. 

“But I am thinking that those among us and our ancestors who made these counting marks may not have counted accurately. There may be a less desirable place than we ever visited with many more Cupiditas than we have ever seen. We may only have seen some of the Cupiditas. Perhaps many more live in less desirable circumstances. For it seems the nature of people who live as the Cupiditas that they don’t want everyone to live in similar circumstances. Rather, the happiness of the few is contingent on having a much larger number of people with little. This was the nature of the Orange Man that we revile in myth but whom the Cupiditas celebrate in song. Even the war garb of the Cupiditas, besides the blood red, is orange to honor the Orange Man. So, it strikes me as entirely possible that we will face a much larger force of Cupiditas. I could be wrong. But I might not be. Such persons as have nothing might be whipped into a killing frenzy by someone such as NUT-PI who will blame all the troubles of the Cupiditas on us.

Eagle Eyes spoke next, “I see us as a circle or better as a web within a circle. But when I try to imagine the Cupiditas, this is the shape I see.” Using the back of her spear, she drew a triangle in the dirt. “Here is NUT-PI and here are his captains.” Here she pointed at the apex of the triangle. “And the top part of this — this is what our people have seen of the Cupiditas. But down here — this large area may be all the Cupiditas whom no-one has seen.” 

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She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives nodded her agreement. “This may be so. Or not. But we must be prepared for a hard battle. We cannot assume that we will greatly outnumber them when it could be that they greatly outnumber us.” 

Trunk of Tree added, “Though we have heard nothing like that from KAVA-NUT or POND MUD.”

Shadow Walker said, “True, though they might not even themselves know of such. These traitors are meant to teach the Cupiditas about us, but I do not think they are experts in the Cupiditas ways.” 

She-of-Many-Paths spoke again, “You see how it is with many of our distant cousins in the forests. They grow and prosper by roots but also by fruits and seeds. So too must it be with us. We need numerous plans for numerous possibilities. Perhaps we will be lucky a third time and this battle will also prove easy, but it may also prove hard and for that we must be prepared. We should even have a way to warn the whole of us if the fierce and formidable of the north or the Sabra as they call themselves were to rejoin the battle.”  

And so it was that many possible contingency plans were outlined and such were communicated throughout the Veritas. Guards were rotated throughout the night. Each warrior, man or woman, attempted to get what rest they could and dreamed whatever dreams they might. Each warrior, man or woman, knew that they would be fighting on the morrow and that such a day as that could be their last on this green earth, the last on which to feel a loving touch or laugh at the antics of a child. They knew they would be fighting for their life but also for the life of the tribe, the Veritas, the way of the truth, and what happened would not only echo through their own life but also the lives of people yet unborn. Moreover, since greedy people care not for anything but themselves, the skill and intelligence of the Veritas on the morrow would also impact the tree of life itself, at least in this part of the world that they knew and loved. 

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As the still-sunken sun began to paint the palest pink strokes upon the clouds, the Cupiditas awoke and began their relentless march, following ALT-R and the trees marked with the rat-god AGAM upon their trunks. The Cupiditas were numerous indeed. As had been foreseen by She-of-Many-Paths, the Veritas had only ever visited the relatively rich main camp of the Cupiditas. In many scattered camps on the border of the northern wastes, a much greater number of Cupiditas eked out a living as best they could. All the males beyond the age of 10 winters had been conscripted to join the throng. They had not been made false promises of riches as had the warrior class. NUT-PI had told the lesser minions that they had no choice if they wished to see their loved ones alive. He had also been careful to paint a picture of the Veritas as monster criminals who, if left unchecked, would come and destroy all the camps of the Cupiditas just as they “always did.” NUT-PI concocted quite a gruesome tale about how the Veritas were a bloodthirsty lot and especially like to cut the arms and necks of Cupiditas women and children and suck out their blood until they died. 

Though numerous, these second-class Cupiditas were not nearly so well-trained as the warriors in the central camp. They were eager to get to kill a Veritas or two and return to their own villages. They began advancing in a broad line without regard to the path ALT-R was taking. Many followed the markings on the true path to the Center Camp of the Veritas, but many others followed false trails into brambles or box canyons. ALT-R began seeing Cupiditas beside him both north and south and some even were ahead of him. He spoke loudly. 

“Listen! Follow me! There are also false trails. Keep in narrow file through the woods! On the other side we may gather atop a hill for a mighty charge down the hill onto the plain!” At these words, two or three of the Cupiditas drew near him to follow in his footsteps. The vast majority looked over at ALT-R, stopped for a few moments with a puzzled look, and then resumed fanning out into the forest. ALT-R was supposed to lead the Cupiditas but had no real title among them. More importantly, he was far from facile with their language. ALT-R grew exasperated and began shouting his instructions. To the Cupiditas, this made his speech all the more unintelligible and most ignored him. He shouted more loudly, “FOLLOW the true path, not the false ones, you …” But here ALT-R broke off from shouting. He didn’t know the Cupiditas word for “stupid” and, he realized his words were having no effect. He retraced his steps till he came upon a Cupiditas dressed and face-painted as one of the captains in authority. Slowly, he used gestures and made the man, named OR-man-AA realize that everyone was supposed to be following his lead. He saw that the lower class Cupiditas were getting too far ahead. OR-man-AA didn’t really see this as a problem. On the other hand, he did know that NUT-PI had ordered everyone to follow ALT-R through the woods so he shouted this to his nearby lieutenants who in turn made cursory efforts to organize the troops. Had NUT-PI been close by, their efforts would have been more diligent, but as it was, they saw little point. 

Indeed, the false paths led only a few of the scattered throng of Cupiditas to their death and a few more to injury. By dawn, a huge number of Cupiditas milled about the far edge of the forest in the deep shade waiting for the order to attack. About fifty yards before them, a long steep hill led down to a large flat plain where they could see a small force of Veritas soldiers raising their spears and shouting at them. Beyond, they could see the stream that the three traitors had foretold, and just beyond that the smoke of the morning fires of the Veritas Central Place. Seeing that they vastly outnumbered the small band of Veritas visible on the plain below, OR-man-AA shouted at them to ready their weapons and charge. They sprinted the fifty yards to the edge of the long hill and began sprinting down it. 

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ALT-R had hoped to lead this charge but instead, being only of average speed, he found himself in the middle of it. There were so many Cupiditas all about him that he found it difficult to see much more than Cupiditas running beside him, behind him and in front of him. As he came to the edge of the hill, his view of the downslope and the plain below opened up suddenly. The Cupiditas warriors were slipping and sliding and falling all around him. He found it incredibly difficult to keep his footing as he ran. He usually walked carefully down this slope but had never slipped or fallen. The slope seemed littered with round rocks everywhere. Cupiditas warriors were tripping and falling everywhere. A few were nicked by the poison tipped weapons of the captains and a few were trampled. A few suffered broken ankles. Most simply fell a few times, got back up and continued their headlong descent. Before them, ALT-R could see that the Veritas were in full retreat rushing back to their Center Place. About halfway down the hill, ALT-R noticed that the bottom of the hill looked somehow different than he remembered it. “TRAPS!” he shouted in his native Veritas tongue. Already, the fastest among the Cupiditas were falling through the carefully camouflaged coverings. “TRAPS!” he shouted again and began trying to angle off to the left so as to avoid the traps. None among the Cupiditas heeded his words, which had been uttered in Veritas, but some began to see that the bottom of the hill was indeed a trap. Just as ALT-R had tried to do, many began to try to veer away from the traps but some veered left and some veered right so that many simply impeded each other. ALT-R managed to barely avoid falling into one of these pits himself and as he glanced over his right shoulder he could see that the bottom of the traps had upward pointing sharpened bamboo poles which had impaled many of the Cupiditas. He ran still farther left into a thick copse of birch trees. He had to get out of this battle and take a moment to think. Think, he commanded himself. 

The first thought that occurred to him was that victory was now far from certain. His second thought was that NUT-PI would likely discover that ALT-R had failed at his main job of leading the Cupiditas troops safely into the Center Place of the Veritas. If NUT-PI thought this was incompetence, he would die quickly. If NUT-PI thought it treachery, a more likely outcome, he had promised ALT-R a long, slow torturous death. ALT-R snuck carefully to the edge of the copse. He could see the small band of Veritas warriors had retreated to the Center Place. There was no sign of the other two forces that were supposed to converge on the battlefield. Meanwhile, the Cupiditas continued to pour down the hill. They seemed to be more able to avoid falling and tripping now and many were veering to left or right rather than straight ahead. The number falling into the pit seemed far fewer and some of those who did were running atop the piled bodies of their countrymen. 

Once the nomads from the south and the fierce and formidable warriors of the north showed up, the Veritas would be overwhelmed. If ALT-R were able to accomplish his mission of capturing some spirited women for NUT-PI, he might still escape with his life. He wondered whether perhaps he should try to sneak into the Center Place before the main force but dismissed the idea as too dangerous. He concluded that he would observe from this location and wait for all three armies to converge. Then, there would be general chaos and he would have his best chance for capturing three women. Of course, there would also be more competition. ALT-R had been so preoccupied with trying to ensure that he successfully led the Cupiditas to the Center Place that he had only felt vaguely uncomfortable about fetching three Veritas women for NUT-PI. But now that he did have time, he realized that the third condition would be extremely difficult to achieve. ALT-R knew that he was not held in high esteem by the Cupiditas. One Arrow. He had no official position with the Cupiditas. Two Arrows. Any of the Veritas who might meet him would try to kill him on sight. Three Arrows. In fact, how could he capture three spirited women with no help from anyone? NUT-PI had intentionally given him a task that he would fail at! But why would he do that? ALT-R’s mind was racing ahead and he began to concentrate so hard that the chaos of the battle in front of him seemed no more consequential than clouds passing in the sky. He realized that NUT-PI not only didn’t trust him; he shouldn’t trust him because, after all, he was a traitor! No-one trusts me, he realized, perhaps for the first time, nor should they!

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“THWANGGGGG!” ALT-R’s attention snapped back to current circumstances in a flash thanks to an arrow that embedded itself in the white-barked birch trunk only a few inches from his head. He peered out into the field and saw Cupiditas running in many directions but mainly toward the shallow creek while the Veritas warriors had seemed to retreat. But there were no fortifications. ALT-R couldn’t imagine why the Veritas warriors chose that unfortified position. But just then another arrow whacked into the tree near ALT-R’s kneecap. Where the hell were these arrows coming from? Not from the Veritas who had gone to guard the Center Place. ALT-R knew that he would have to join the fray to have any chance of gaining personally from this war. But then again, it would be risky to join in the fray when the outcome was still uncertain. And, what the hell is delaying the nomads of the south? Did POND MUD screw them up somehow? And, for that matter, why do I only see the blue & green of Veritas and the orange & red of the Cupiditas? Where is KAVA-NUT? And where the hell are the arrows coming from? 

As ALT-R looked out, he realized finally that there must have been many more Veritas in these woods on both sides of the plain. They were targeting the brightly colored clothes of the Cupiditas. The Cupiditas preferred clubs, knives, and spears. However, the fraction who survived the downhill and traps had been focused on trying to attack the Center Place and it seemed to take a long time for them to realize that they were being attacked on both sides. Eventually, the still considerable throng somehow came to the mob realization that moving back and forth between the two rows and trees trying to flush the Veritas out was a losing proposition. Maybe this was the time to rejoin the fray. As the Cupiditas began to listen to their remaining captains, they began regrouping in a throng next to the near side of the river. The warriors on the outside deployed their shields. The hail of arrows had stopped, at least temporarily. ALT-R ran to the front of the group gesturing and shouting,  “FOLLOW ME! 

Compared with the warriors of the Cupiditas, ALT-R’s body was much more rested and he was more lightly armed and armored. He was the first to reach the stream. ALT-R thought this dramatic move might just earn him enough respect to at least share in the bounty. His plan was to stop on the other side until a large contingent of Cupiditas could be there. He planned to pretend to lead the charge and direct people while slowly working has way back toward and then back across the river. An odd sense of deja vu overcame ALT-R as he splashed through the river toward the Center Place. Yet, he also had a sense of foreboding. Something was not right. Why was the river so narrow and shallow? Why were the Veritas being so stupid? They could easily be overwhelmed here. Just as he reached the far side, a loud rumbling, crashing noise like bubbling thunder began. He turned to see the throng of Cupiditas warriors wading across the river. They sprinted as best they could when they suddenly stopped as though suddenly stupefied. They turned as one upstream to see a wall of water heading their way. Suddenly, they were gone. ALT-R found himself alone with the Veritas warriors who were advancing on him with spears pointed toward him. 

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On the other side of the river, which had magically grown to a torrent, a few scattered Cupiditas warriors were running back toward the steep hill. They now avoided the traps, but climbing back up the hill proved difficult. Veritas archers deployed from the woods on both sides and began shooting arrows toward the fleeing warriors. In their desperate attempts to clamber back up the steep slope, many pushed or pulled on their compatriots. This ploy tended to make both soldiers slide farther back down the slope, only to become easier targets for the Veritas archers. Some few managed to escape to the relative safety of the hilltop and slid into the shadows of the forest. ALT-R saw howling wolves pursue them. 

Among these Cupiditas survivors, only one remained faithful enough to NUT-PI to wend his way through the forests and find his way back to the hilltop where NUT-PI waited with a dozen heavily armed guards. The man’s name was UR-yapl-NA who had suffered a severely sprained ankle but was otherwise unharmed. NUT-PI hailed him and demanded that he ascend the knoll and report on progress. After struggling up the knoll, he knelt before NUT-PI and recounted as best he could the slippery hill, the archers, and the broad shallow stream that magically became a raging torrent that had swept away most of his remaining soldiers. Only ALT-R had arrived safely on the other side. When NUT-PI questioned him about the fierce and formidable warriors of the North and the nomads of the South, UR-yapl-NA answered that he had seen no such people on the battlefield. 

NUT-PI sat silently for a long while and then gestured for his guards to behead the hapless messenger. NUT-PI then ordered his guards to gather up their supplies and they headed back to their own village. His sore heel no longer bothered him. He told the guards that it was their duty to now head back and protect their village. He walked in silence, bent on constructing a story filled with Cupiditas strength and courage and cunning that was unfortunately overcome through Veritas treachery and magic. In this narrative, he himself would be the main hero and all that stood between safety and an all-out decimation by marauding Veritas who would wipe out or enslave every last man, woman, and child among the Cupiditas. He became so obsessed with perfecting his story and mentally rehearsing it, that the failed to notice that his guards fell back ten then twenty paces and began whispering amongst themselves. 

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Meanwhile, back at the Center Place, ALT-R had surrendered himself to the Veritas warriors who had surrounded him in the Center Place. He had been stripped to search for hidden weapons and then thrown into a small cell in a heavily guarded stockade, not far from KAVA-NUT and POND MUD though ALT-R did not yet know this. When ALT-R had convinced himself that there was no possible escape from his prison cell, he sat on the hard earthen floor with his back against the log wall upon which sunlight provided some slight warmth. Over the next few hours, by overhearing shreds of random conversations of Veritas folk, he learned that the Cupiditas had been completely defeated; that POND MUD and KAVA-NUT had both been captured; that the promised help from the fierce and formidable foes of the North had never come. Nor had the nomads of the South joined in the fray. He wondered how he could get a message to KAVA-NUT and POND MUD and how they might escape. Would POND MUD and KAVA-NUT trust him? He thought not. In fact, he realized, no-one on this earth trusted him. No-one. He knew that he was no longer a welcome part of the great and varied people of the Veritas. He strongly suspected that he would not be welcome among the Cupiditas either, should any yet survive. They would blame him for leading them to their death and probably imagine he had done so on purpose. That was almost certainly what NUT-PI would think.

“No-one trusts a traitor.” He spoke these words aloud though he had not meant to. ALT-R cursed himself and beat the hard dirt with his fists. He had lived and schemed among the Cupiditas for only a short time but he realized that he hated being in league with them. Their way of putting greed and power over truth and cooperation was stupid. He realized that if everyone lied and manipulated the way he himself had done, the results were always doomed in the long run. If everyone were like ALT-R, there would be no camps. There would be no baskets, no learning, no hunting parties. We would all be beasts. We will be wolves without a pack, horses without a herd, bees without a hive. Truth builds us up together and lies tear us apart. How had he failed to see this, he wondered. 

He lay exhausted on the hard dirt floor at last and began to drift off to sleep. In the distance, he heard the happy chanting, singing, and dancing feet of the Veritas. He could not make out the words but he nonetheless felt a strange comfort in the sound of his own language being sung so tunefully. And though the warmth of the flames of the central fire flicked far from his cell, he imagined the flames and thought of their warmth. He remembered staring into those flames as a youngster as he found some temporary peace in this, the Center Place of his dreams. 

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Magic Portal to Other Worlds 

Myths of the Veritas: The Battle of the Southern Path

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The Battle of the Southern Path

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POND MUD awoke with a start. He had heard something that didn’t sound right. Something was out of place. His cabin walls had disappeared! He sat up and saw campfires arranged in a strange pattern. He shook the sleep from his head and remembered that he was not in the Center Place of the Veritas. He was out on a raiding party with the Cupiditas; that he had joined up with them. They were about to have a battle, he reminded himself. It was time to keep his wits about him. He took out a small leather pouch from beneath his tunic and felt for his rings of empathy. Oh, right, he thought. He grimaced ruefully as he remembered those are gone as well. He was with the Cupiditas now. About to have a battle. Which they would win. And, then, he could be king with ALT-R and have She-of-Many-Paths as his slave. 

He went to relieve himself and returned to the campfire, still in a bad mood. Every day, he had to remind himself that he had chosen his path and now he was committed to it. These Cupiditas, a strong lot, on the whole, constituted his new tribe. Their food might be primitive, but it filled his belly. Though not generally interested in small talk, he ventured to ask the four Cupiditas who shared his small fire and breakfast, whether they had ideas about why fish did not drown in the water and whether it had anything to do with their blowing bubbles. None of them had ever noticed fish blowing bubbles and none of them found it to be a question that held the least interest. But it was NUT-PI’s captain, HANK man-GER, who took it upon himself to poke fun of POND MUD. 

“So, POND MUD, do all the people of the Veritas speculate on such meaningless and stupid questions or is it only you?” 

POND MUD was not even so skilled as ALT-R in speaking and listening to the strange and toneless language of the Cupiditas, but he knew he was being insulted. He was not in the mood for it. 

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“I’ll show you what we do,” roared POND MUD. He leapt across the small space between them and used a hip throw to toss the Cupiditas captain on the ground. All he had meant to do was blow off some steam and hopefully garner some respect from the Cupiditas. POND MUD had no thought to follow up and hit a man while down. But HANK man-GER now felt his pride had been wounded. From the suddenness and force of the throw, he knew he could not overpower POND MUD, but he did have a trick or two. He lay on his back moaning, rolling slightly from side to side. 

At first, POND MUD felt good to have thrown him down but now he began to worry that he had actually injured his captain. He walked over and knelt beside him asking, “Are you okay?” 

HANK man-GER shook his head piteously, “No, it’s my ankle. I think you broke it!” 

POND MUD felt the ankle with both of his yet skillful hands, looking away from HANK toward his feet and feeling carefully. “No, I don’t feel any….” 

“ARGH!” POND MUD screamed and whirled to see HANK man-GER leaping at him, dagger point first. POND MUD knocked his hand aside but he was a fraction late. HANK had cut him in the side, though not deeply. With a yell, POND MUD, grabbed the hapless fellow around the head and snapped his neck. “Oh, hell! It was self-defense! You all saw it!” POND MUD expected the men to rush at him and kill him or at least imprison him for slaying their captain. But this was not the way of the Cupiditas. POND MUD had ousted HANK in a fair fight — or at least in a fight as fair as they ever were among the Cupiditas. For this reason, despite their underlying contempt for POND MUD, they immediately bowed their heads toward POND MUD and chanted something that could only mean he was their new leader. POND MUD found this extremely odd. Though he had turned traitor to the Veritas, he had grown up among them and he found this custom of replacing a leader by killing odd, exciting, disgusting, and yet it had all worked out. Good, he thought, now I can be their leader. Through gestures and grunts as well as the few words he had picked up, he explained that he was going to show them some of the typical moves of Veritas warriors. Every so often, he glanced at the lifeless crumpled body of HANK man-GER and wondered that no-one seemed concerned with burying the body. With a flush, POND MUD realized that they were waiting for his order. Fine, he thought. “You two! Take this body and bury it so neither bear, nor wolf, nor Veritas may defile it.” So it was done. With some sweat, they dug a fairly shallow grave in the rocky soil and piled many more rocks atop. While they were engaged in this task, POND MUD searched for some medicinal herbs and boiled up a poultice for his wound which was fairly minor. He strapped it tightly to promote healing and prevent infection. 

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POND MUD continued training his new charges in the fighting ways of the Veritas through the afternoon. Concentrating thus, he suddenly realized that the nomads of the south were everywhere! They had come into camp noiselessly, invisibly. Each man wore a long, hooded robe whose shape was difficult to discern because of the camouflage pattern on their robes. 

“Who among you is the leader, for I am now the leader of this band of Cupiditas and will be leading our joint foray. For I know the Veritas and all the paths and byways and will lead us to victory!” He said this in both the tongues of the Veritas and in his broken, nearly unintelligible Cupiditas. He supplemented both of his speeches with sign language. Eventually, he made himself clear whereupon the entire contingent of nomads began laughing. One stepped forward toward POND MUD. 

“I am DAN-ergo CREEP, leader of the southern nomads.” He spoke Veritas! He spoke it well. POND MUD found himself wondering at this, but now at least he could speak more easily. Yet, no matter how he argued or presented his case, the DAN-ergo CREEP kept coming back to a very simple point. The southern nomads greatly outnumbered the small band of Cupiditas and he would therefore be the leader of the army, not POND MUD, the chieftain carefully explained. If he wanted to relay orders to the Cupiditas, fine, but the battle plan would come from DAN-ergo CREEP. On the other hand, the chieftain was glad to have POND MUD’s input on the lay of the land and where the weak points of the Veritas were. POND MUD had enjoyed his brief reign as leader. But he saw that he would have to subordinate himself to this stranger for now or risk losing the help of all the nomads of the south. That would not be something he wanted to explain to NUT-PI or to ALT-R. They would need all their combined strength to enslave the Veritas once and for all. He assented to being under the command of the southern nomad leader and found himself wondering how the advances under KAVA-NUT and NUT-PI were coming. The attack was scheduled for pre-dawn the following morning. Once more, POND MUD found himself relishing the form of She-of-Many-Paths and reminded himself that he would soon own her. Each time he thought of her, he recalled how awkward and stupid she had made him feel. This made him feel angry toward her. And, he also felt guilty about not telling the truth to ALT-R about their accidental encounter. But what would have been the point? ALT-R & NUT-PI would simply have berated him and made him feel stupid. His rage toward She-of-Many-Paths redoubled and he gritted his teeth and clenched and unclenched his fist. He fantasized about all the things he would make her do. 

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Meanwhile, the Veritas were making their plans in light of new information received from KAVA-NUT. In Dialog, they examined the question as to whether they might not find a peaceful way with regard to the nomads of the south, with whom they had generally had good relations. Someone mentioned that “unfortunate incident with Dares-and-Cares.” 

“Unfortunate.” began She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives,  “My that is an interesting word. Anyway, that murderer was a murderer and he happened to be from the tribe of the nomads. I think it would be worth a try to cleave them off from the Cupiditas. But consider, none of us speaks their language with subtlety. If we approach them in numbers, we may very well instigate the very war we seek to avoid. And if we approach with one or a few, we invite capture and torture for information.”

She-of-Many-Paths sensed that She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives had more in her heart than what she said. But the shaman always showed wisdom in what she said and what she did not say. She-of-Many-Paths made a mental note to ask her further in private. However, and much to her surprise, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives rose and continued speaking while pacing back and forth. “I see that She-of-Many-Paths knows there is more in my heart than what I have said. That is true. Before most of you were born, I loved a man whom the tribe called Dares-and-Cares for he was both extremely brave and extremely caring. Before we could become one, he agreed to a dangerous errand for the tribe, traveling alone to the land where dwell the nomads of the south in order to advance the idea of further trade. Before he reached their center space, however, he was attacked and murdered by a band of such nomads. They stole his possessions and stole the heart of my heart as well.”   

After a respectful silence, Shadow Walker asked, “Then, why did you not tell us so that we may be forewarned of the Nomads of the South?” 

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“Exactly for that reason. There are important lessons to be learned from such events, but under such circumstances of sorrow and deep hurt, it is easy to draw the wrong lesson. It is easy to conclude, though logic would not support it, that all the Nomads of the South are bad just based on this one incident. That is precisely how wars start. One stupid over-generalization leads to another. Such a path of reasoning was even more likely because, you see, I partly blamed myself. I had seen such possible danger, but could not convince him to go with many guards. He was concerned that such a show of force might encourage attack. I saw the wisdom in this. After all, he was called Dares-and-Cares. This was his nature. And though I am called “She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives”, you see, I was unable to save the one life I cared most about. It would be very easy under such a circumstance to fear and therefore hate all the Nomads of the South. Yet, this would be an error. Such is not the way of the Veritas.

“Nor is such the way of the Nomads either, for they considered the attack a crime and the responsible thieves were killed and both the body and possessions were returned to us. The truth is almost never so simple as we might like it to be. Some among the Veritas were then roused to anger for Dares-and-Cares was well beloved by the tribe and not only by me.”

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She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives now turned to speak directly to She-of-Many-Paths. “Luckily, cooler heads prevailed. I tell you this now because I know that your mind and your heart, are prepared to accept truth in its complexity and not in some over simple version. You see how it is. It’s important to know that water flows downhill. Yet, it is also the nature of water to bend and turn this way and that, thus avoiding obstacles. Trees grow up toward the sun. Yet, as we proved with the experiment in hiding the cave, trees may be bent away from their natural predisposition. We cannot tell about a whole people from a few examples. Imagine that other tribes thought that KAVA-NUT, ALT-R and POND MUD proved the nature of the Veritas. Three blackberries rotten with mold do not mean one must never eat of such. Though it is important to remove the moldy ones quickly or they may indeed rot the whole.” 

She-of-Many-Paths offered to go and parley with POND MUD and the nomads of the south. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives looked long and hard into the heart of She-of-Many-Paths. “You have already shown yourself to be fine thinker and a fine leader. The people need you as a leader even more than they need your bravery.”

“I do see the wisdom of your words, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. Yet, how could I lead my people in possibly fatal battle if I am unwilling to risk my own life. I will not be a leader who puts others at risk but never puts myself at risk. Such a person is not a leader. Not really. And, if I ever need to ask the people on a difficult path, they must believe I am willing myself to walk any such difficult path.” 

Shadow Walker spoke next, “Let us go together then, She-of-Many-Paths. If there is trouble, I can hold them off perhaps until you can retreat to safety.” 

“I will fight beside you if necessary, Shadow Walker. I have no desire to… I would be greatly troubled if you died in battle and particularly so if I used that opportunity to escape. I wish we could call POND MUD as easily as the wolves can call each other. I feel his heart is troubled. But approaching him is indeed dangerous in this current circumstance.” 

Eagle Eyes added, “I wish I could call to him, as easily as I do the eagles.” All in earshot thought on this image in silence. 

Trunk-of-Tree then stood up suddenly and spoke, “But we can!” 

She-of-Many-Paths said, “What do you mean, Trunk-of-Tree? Scream like an eagle? Howl like a wolf?” 

“No,” said Trunk-of-Tree, “but we all learn to speak with drums!”   

“This is true!” said She-of-Many-Paths. “We can encourage POND MUD to come parley with us and hopefully to bring the head of the nomads of the south. If the two of them come alone, we will parley. If they do not come, we wait for their advance or wait them out and attack them first. But in neither case, must one or two go alone and put themselves in grave danger.” 

Fleet-of-Foot spoke thus, “You are brilliant, She-of-Many-Paths!” 

“Thanks you for saying so, Fleet-of-Foot, but this idea came from Trunk-of-Tree, not me. Where shall we set up our signal drum?” 

Eagle Eyes chimed in eagerly, “I know just the spot! Up on that cliff is the perfect place. Too far from the enemy to be shot by an arrow. It’s above the tree line so the sound will carry across that plain below. Also, behind where I point, the rock is curved and this somehow makes the sound stronger and travel farther. If one plays loudly and slowly, POND MUD cannot fail to hear it, though what he might or might not do is anyone’s guess.”  

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“So,” asked She-of-Many-Paths, “What, exactly, do we tell POND MUD? He is the only one who will know what the drums mean. At least, I am fairly sure of that. Do we offer him a chance to rejoin the tribe?” 

Shadow-Walker snorted, “None have been banished and then rejoined the tribe. None banished have ever been heard from again. They all should have died. We cannot offer him a place back in the tribe. This has never been done in memory. Has it?” Here he looked at She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. 

“I have not heard of such,” said the Shaman. “That does not mean it is not here the correct path. Would it encourage others to bear false witness as POND MUD and ALT-R have done? I do not judge it so. But I question whether we could ever actually trust any of them again. It is good to try to trust, but that trio has broken our trust many times now.” 

“Indeed,” said Eagle Eyes. “It seems to me that the shape of their soul is too defined now for change. And, worse, as you pointed out, one moldy blackberry can spoil everything. For everyone.”

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“I think it would have been more merciful to have killed all three of them outright,” said Fleet-of-Foot. “Had we done that, we wouldn’t be on this precipice of disaster. And they deserved to die. That’s surely what happens to most who are banished anyway.” 

Eagle Eyes spoke softly. “I cannot say that I have no desire to see them dead — all three of them — and not only for what they tried to do to me, but also — and more so — for betraying our people. On the other hand, we have learned much important intelligence from POND MUD’s conversation with She-of-Many-Paths and from the angry ravings of KAVA NUT. I find that it pleases me greatly to see him hanging there eyeless. But I do not like being pleased by his suffering, however much he deserves it. I do not want to become the kind of monster that they are.”

She-of-Many-Paths spoke next, “Time is not our friend. We do not know when the Cupiditas will attack on the Middle Path. We must act quickly. Since we do not know our own mind, why not simply avoid making any specific promises? We tell POND MUD the truth — that we do not yet know whether he can ever be a member of our tribe again; that some speak for it and some speak against it. It will depend on what transpires, what he tells us, and upon what the nomads of the south do, and upon what all of the people of the Veritas decide. We can only promise that if he comes to parley, we will not ambush and kill him. I think he will know from his long years of experience with us that we will be true to our words, for that is the very essence of the Veritas. He will be free to rejoin his new tribe and fight with them; to fight with us, under supervision, or indeed, to walk his own way. We should begin by reminding POND MUD that he is one of us, and therefore once beloved among the Veritas.” 

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So, it came to pass that the drumming began and was easily heard in the camp where the nomads of the south worked with POND MUD and a handful of warriors of the Cupiditas on their plans for conquest. 

DAN-ergo CREEP was the first to comment. “What is this noise? Where is that drumming coming from?” He stared directly and POND MUD as he said this. 

POND MUD answered, “Probably just trying to annoy us and keep us up all night to weaken us for battle, but that’s a stupid plan because it will keep them up as well.”

DAN-ergo CREEP thought perhaps there was more to it than annoyance. “If it’s just to annoy, why is it so regular? Not quite a dance, but … does it mean anything?”

POND MUD again felt obliged to answer, “No, it’s just stupid. They are drumming about our nice warm cabins and about the quest for the rings of empathy and how … “ And, here he broke off from embarrassment. For the drums were now calling to him specifically and reminding him of how much fun he had had with his friends when they were learning to stalk, and learn the ways of plants and how they healed. And POND MUD realized that She-of-Many-Paths had been the one to show him the plantain and witch hazel leaves that he had used a few hours ago to help prevent infection. The drums now spoke of how POND MUD had won many contests of strength and how all his friends had cheered for him. 

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“WELL?!” DAN-ergo CREEP asked loudly. “What are they drumming on about? If they are telling their battle plans to their scouts, say so! Or, are they signaling only you?” 

“I have no idea what their purpose is, Sire. Partly they are just drumming on about my childhood. Nothing has been mentioned about strategy yet.” 

On and on, the drumming continued. All practice had stopped among the Cupiditas and the Nomads. Everyone became fascinated by the on-again, off-again rhythm and patterns that folded into other patterns. And just when the brain began to predict what might come next, the melody and rhythm would drift off into yet another unexpected dimension. 

POND MUD gave a fairly accurate rendition about the drums but didn’t go into the details about his childhood that he was reminded of. Nor, did he transmit the idea that some, though not all, of the Veritas would consider reinstating him in the tribe. Were they trying to trick him? Could it be true? Maybe they just want to use me to find out about their enemies and then they’ll toss me out again. POND MUD suddenly became aware that he hadn’t said anything out loud for awhile. All the men were staring at him, waiting for him to continue his explanation of the drumming. So, he resumed his real-time and uncommented translation into the Veritas that DAN-ergo CREEP well understood. He in turn, translated into their own tongue. So far as POND MUD could tell, the few Cupiditas among them had no idea what was being transmitted by the drumming. 

“They want me to ask you, that is, the Southern Nomads, what your quarrel is with the Veritas and why you go to war and what you hope to gain from such a war even if successful. They say that they are a peaceful people who have never attacked you and have no desire to do so. The Veritas are a peaceful people. You know this from your own experience. We have never attacked you. And, until now, you have never attacked us. So, why now? What could you possibly gain that you could not gain in trade? Also, consider this; you have also not been attacked by the fierce warriors of the north nor by the Cupiditas. Why? A large part of that reason is that they would have to go through us to get to you, at least by any whatsoever direct route. Though we have no formal agreement, we actually make things more peaceable. Also please consider this. Whatever you have been told as to what you might or might not gain, you have no guarantee that you will gain any of that. The leader of the Cupiditas, NUT-PI cannot be trusted. Nor can the…the…the … don’t know that drumming. Whereas if we promised you something, we would keep that promise. This you know in your heart to be true. All we ask is that POND MUD and the leader of the nomads come parley with two of us alone and let us speak as true siblings about what each other might gain or lose from fighting or not fighting. We drummed to POND MUD because we were afraid to send just a few people into your camp. You might capture such and torture them for information. And, we didn’t want to send a large force into your camp because that might spark the very war we hope to avoid. If you come into the large clearing beneath the flat-topped hill, and stand near the sharp blue rock, you will be able to see that just two of us will approach you for parley. Come now. Come before dark. If you come, we may be able to avoid a war where many will die on both sides. We may fail. But what is the harm in trying? If there is no war, POND MUD can plead his case to rejoin the Veritas though we cannot guarantee that he will be successful. If he prefers, he may live with the Southern Nomads. Or, he may go live with the Cupiditas though it seems the Cupiditas have set their hearts on war. This is a war of their making. Not ours. What they can possibly gain will be little. What they can possibly lose is everything. But of the little they may gain, they will only give any such who help them a small fraction of that tiny gain, regardless of what they may have told you.” The drumming paused for a time and then began the entire message again.

“WELL!?” demanded DAN-ergo CREEP. 

“Well, what?” countered POND MUD. “What is your question?” 

DAN-ergo CREEP gritted his teeth and shook his head, but then he spoke quietly to POND MUD. “Do you think they are telling the truth? And do you think we should go to this parley or is it just a trap? What do you think about what they said? You are from there?”

POND MUD spoke quickly. “Oh, they are telling the truth. Or, at least a part of it. They would consider it a huge dishonor to invite you to a parley and then ambush you. So, it’s not a trick in that way. Though I don’t know why they want to avoid war. But I am pretty sure they do want to avoid it.” 

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DAN-ergo CREEP stared at POND MUD, “Well, maybe they just want to avoid it because they don’t like killing people and being killed. But I am concerned about one thing. They seem to know about us and about the fierce warriors of the north. Yet, NUT-PI’s envoy told us that the Veritas would know nothing about our involvement. And, how did they know you were here, POND MUD? Answer me that?”

“The Veritas are clever. They have good scouts. And some have good eyes. Very good eyes. I’m … well, I’m easy to spot … and everyone from the Veritas would recognize me. As for the rest, I have no idea. My best guess would be the same: the foreword scouts recognized you by your garb and the same for the Northern Warriors.”

DAN-ergo CREEP stared hard at POND MUD. “You sure you are not sending some kind of signal back to them?” 

“No! Of course not! I have had no contact since I was exiled. I saw one of the Veritas, but she didn’t see me. And, I didn’t say anything to her. I don’t like them. They exiled me!

DAN-ergo considered, “So you say. But I don’t have any independent evidence of that. Do I?” 

POND MUD thought about it. “Well, why would we go to the Cupiditas in the first place if we hadn’t been exiled? It’s much nicer … I mean … we just wouldn’t have any reason to leave the Veritas. She-of-Many…I mean, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives is a good leader and…I think we should go and hear what they have to say. I myself could take any two of the other Veritas in a fight and you’ll be there as well. They won’t ambush us. This I know.” 

After another half hour’s discussion, it was agreed that POND MUD and DAN-ergo CREEP would go to parley. There was some considerable objection raised by the Cupiditas among them but it was short-lived. POND MUD reminded them that he was their leader now. Having a parley would almost certainly not mean no war. But it might give them an opportunity to judge the weaknesses of the Veritas; to plant false information; to intimidate them. 

So it was that POND MUD and DAN-ergo CREEP walked off to the designated place in the clearing. While the chosen spot, it was true, would afford a clear view in all directions, in order to arrive there, they would have to traverse many dangerous places. POND MUD took very little precaution for he was quite sure that the Veritas would not ambush them. He strongly suspected that the entire message of the drums was in earnest, including the part about possibly letting him rejoin the tribe. Did he really want to do that though? Among the Veritas, his strength was just seen as an asset, both to POND MUD himself, and to the tribe as a whole. Among the Cupiditas, however, strength was king. And, he would never be leader of the Veritas. That would be one of the other guys like Fleet-of-Foot or Trunk of Tree or Shadow Walker. Even if they accepted him back, he would never be Ruler of the Veritas. But with ALT-R’s plan, he could be a pretty near thing to a King. And, everyone would have to respect him. Even She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. Although She-of-Many-Paths says she was just trying to teach me, not humiliate me. She drives me crazy! They both do! Anyway, ALT-R made the war seem an important and inevitable path. But then, She-of-Many-Paths said I could never trust ALT-R. That he was always out for himself. She doesn’t know! 

“Are you sure you’re on the right path, POND MUD?”

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“WHAT?” DAN-ergo’s question had broken his reverie.  “Oh. Let’s see. Yes, see the light through that line of trees? Once we pass through there, we will descend into that flat plain that the drums spoke of. We’ll be there momentarily.” 

They walked in silence for a moment, when POND MUD spoke to his companion. “I have a question, Sire. In the lands that we call the Southern Nomads, are there any fish that seem to blow bubbles?” 

“Yes. Strange fish in the ocean that raise their young and feed them milk. Yet, they breathe air as do we. Why do you ask?” 

“Well, if you were stuck in quicksand, what would you do to stay alive?” 

“Quicksand? You know of such places? There are some indeed in the driest part of the desert. You may walk across a dune and suddenly, you find yourself falling and suffocate under the sand. One of our own seems to have vanished this way just the spring before last.” 

POND MUD thought this answer odd. He decided not to pursue it just then because people always thought it strange when he asked about quicksand and blowing bubbles to stay alive. Why would his friend, ALT-R, make him blow bubbles with his face in the mud unless it was necessary? But how had ALT-R learned about it when no-one else seemed to know anything about this method of defeating quicksand? 

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Soon, POND MUD and DAN-ergo CREEP found themselves in an open space which afforded an easy and unobstructed view in each direction. DAN-ergo CREEP did not seriously doubt that he could outrun an approaching ambush unless somehow it came from behind them. They would have a long head start to return to the camp of the Southern Nomads. DAN-ergo had his doubts about POND MUD however. He was stocky and looked as though he could sprint quickly if his life depended on it. Whether he could run for some distance though – that seemed in doubt. And, though his wound was superficial, it would slow him down. DAN-ergo did not much care for this stranger and if it came to it, he supposed he must run back to the camp of his people. It would be stupid and useless to try to defend POND MUD against so many. 

In the distance, DAN-ergo could see two lone forms emerging from the forest and traveling down a grassy knoll toward the open plain. They came alone and seemingly unarmed. 

As they drew nearer, POND MUD recognized the two as She-of-Many-Paths and Shadow Walker. They are no match for the two of us, thought POND MUD. But how are they going to trick us? As they drew nearer, She-of-Many-Paths hailed them. 

“Thank you for agreeing to parley, POND MUD and you sir, whatever your name might be. Rest assured, we mean you no harm and none of our countrymen are even within bowshot.” Again, this was strictly true though another flicker of conscience batted at She-of-Many-Paths for they had arranged for Eagle Eyes and Fleet of Foot, among others, to be watching closely and if it looked as though harm were about to befall the two Veritas, wolves and eagles would be upon the group very quickly, though possibly not so quickly as to prevent the loss of two so beloved as were She-of-Many-Paths and Shadow Walker. “I am known as She-of-Many-Paths.” 

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“And I am known among my people as Shadow Walker.” 

“Well met,” began DAN-ergo CREEP. “I am called DAN-ergo CREEP among my people. I am the leader of those among the Nomads of the South who chose to follow the wishes of NUT-PI of the Cupiditas. We call our people SABRA. And, I believe you already know my companion, so named POND MUD.” 

“Well met, indeed.” She-of-Many-Paths had now approached the two quite closely. She nodded to POND MUD and then to DAN-ergo. “POND MUD. DAN-ergo CREEP. Before our armies launch their bodies at each other, I thought we should take a moment even on this precipice of war to understand whether this is indeed something we really and truly wish to do. For, DAN-ergo CREEP, we have no quarrel with the SABRA. None. And, for our part, we are frankly astounded that you should want to have war with us. As we communicated with our drums…I assume POND MUD told you what they said? Is this correct?” Her penetrating eyes darted between their faces and she could see that it was so though DAN-ergo nodded his assent. 

“Indeed. That is why I am here,” he said. “Why we are here. You say you have no quarrel with us, yet your leader, as I understand it, may well have a grudge against us because some few of us attacked and killed one that she found favor with.” 

“You are correct, DAN-ergo CREEP, that she found favor with the one we called Dares-and-Cares. But her understanding, and therefore the understanding of the Veritas, is that this was not the act of your people but of a few criminals amongst you. Is this so?”

“It is so. And we found and punished the murderers and returned the body and the stolen goods to the Veritas.” 

“Exactly so. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives holds no grudge against a people based upon the acts of a few. She encouraged us to try to find a path to our mutual benefit that does not cross a quicksand of war that will swallow so many of both our countrymen. So, I ask you, please tell me, quite frankly, what you hope to gain.” 

“NUT-PI said — I should say swore — promised — that we would learn the craft of making water skins that will not leak but keep water fresh and cool for long travels.” 

She-of-Many-Paths nodded, and asked, “Is that all?” 

“It may seem a simple thing but you have water in your lands in every season. For us, it is important.” 

“I don’t doubt it. It can be easily arranged without war. Is that all he promised?”

“Well, he said that we could be overlords of the Veritas and have first choice of the spoils of war and the many fine foods that are in your storehouses. And, as well, have first choice of slaves from among the women and children.” 

“I suspected as much,” DAN-ergo CREEP, for he promised the same exact thing to the fierce and formidable warriors of the north. And, I would well imagine, though I know it not for a fact, that he has also promised this to his own warriors as well. Do you not also think this likely?”

POND MUD’s face grew cloudy and he knit his brows together and frowned. He clenched his teeth. DAN-ergo had ordered POND MUD to stay silent in these negotiations, but he could not help himself from breaking in. 

“That’s a lie! You are quite wrong, She-of-Many-Paths! He promised that to ALT-R and me. We will be overlords of the Veritas and take you as my slave! Just as I told you when we met!” 

DAN-ergo regarded POND MUD. “Met? When did you two meet?” 

She-of-Many-Paths answered, “Oh, we chanced to meet some days ago while POND MUD was scouting out our guard positions. I assume he told you about that. I am not lying, POND MUD. I do not think you are lying either in that NUT-PI made such promises to you and ALT-R. But now it appears that he promised this as well to the fierce and formidable warriors of the north and to the nomads of the south, the SABRA. I must add something else here, DAN-ergo CREEP. I do not well know the ways of your people, but among the Veritas, all are prepared to fight to the death and die rather than become slaves. That includes all the women and children as well. If you capture any Veritas and make them slaves, your booty will be small indeed consisting only of a score of infants who would be quite useless to you until you had fed and clothed them for at least five or six years. We have some food in storage. That much is true. But I promise you that we are poised to make such food of much less value than you might think should it appear that you are going to win victory over the Veritas.” 

She-of-Many-Paths then added, “I have presented you with much information, I see. I have a proposal. Shadow Walker and I shall go now and return presently with several such water skins as you seek filled with cool and refreshing water. This will give you time to think upon what I have said. When we return, we may parley further. Meanwhile, you two may hold your own council. Ask POND MUD whether he thinks I speak true. Is this acceptable?”

“It is.” DAN-ergo CREEP admitted to himself that he was impressed with this — woman — of such a young age — yet so filled with clarity and confidence. The two Veritas turned and walked away. DAN-ergo began to think that if they really returned with such water skins, that in itself could be seen as a kind of victory when he returned to his people. He questioned POND MUD and found that nothing he said indicated that the Veritas were a duplicitous people. In fact, the more he spoke with POND MUD, the less it made any sense to him that he voluntarily left his people in order to throw his lot in with the Cupiditas. But why, he wondered, were they banished? 

Presently, as promised, the same two of the Veritas returned with three water-tight containers filled with fresh water and hauled on a travois. While the water skins had been filled and the travois had been loaded, She-of-Many-Paths and Shadow Walker quickly relayed the intelligence they had learned including most importantly that NUT-PI had promised the same “spoils of war” to everyone he could think of and that the SABRA, or at least one such, had a very shifty camouflage outfit. 

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She-of-Many-Paths began, “Here as promised are some water skins filled with cool water. These are a gift, plain and simple. But as you say, we have plenty of fresh water and would be glad to trade you for many more. Refresh yourselves and we may talk further.” 

DAN-ergo CREEP looked at Shadow Walker carefully as he made his next comment. “Among the SABRA, it would be rude for us to drink first. You, fine lady, show us the way. You must drink first. That is polite.” 

She-of-Many-Paths smiled. She was not in the least fooled by this charade, but was prepared. “Of course! Thank you! It was, I must admit, hard work to drag this water out here and I am thirsty.” She deftly began to unseal one of the water skins, but stopped. “Oh, DAN-ergo, which one would you like me to partake of?” 

He silently pointed, still watching carefully the face of Shadow Walker. “That one.” No reaction. “Wait, wait. That one, I should think.” She-of-Many-Paths began to unseal another. “NO! Wait. That one!” Now, She-of-Many-Paths laughed. “You are right to be cautious DAN-ergo CREEP. We need to learn to trust each other. That takes time. But I shall take a small sip from each of the three as will Shadow Walker. You watch us carefully and you will see no sign, however small, of poison. You will simply see us slake our thirst as you might.” The two from the Veritas so drank and then motioned for their counterparts to drink as well. “By the way,” she added. You may keep the travois as well to transport this back to your camp.”  

She-of-Many-Paths continued, saying that after the Cupiditas are vanquished, one or two of the Nomads of the South would be welcome to come and stay with the Veritas to learn the way of making such water skins and other such craft as they might find useful. 

“And in return?” asked DAN-ergo after he took a sip and handed the skin to POND MUD. 

“In return, simply live in peace,” said She-of-Many-Paths. Though I believe that two of our people might choose to come and live with you for a time to learn some of your ways such as those very tricky camouflage robes you have. I have in mind two such that might prove mutually beneficial. Among us is one we call, Eyes of Eagle who has long studied birds of prey and could teach you how to use them for messages and even to fight. She is quite talented in the ways of shapes and there is much to be learned from her if she would so choose to join you for a time. Also, the one we call “Fleet of Foot” might want to visit for a time as well. As you might guess from his name, he is a very fast runner. Aside from that, he has a talent for making things that appeal to popular taste. The two of them are friends, so they might wish to come together. Since you trade with many other tribes, he might prove valuable in these trades and how to make your wares appeal to those who might want them, especially when cleverly arranged.”

“That’s it? We simply exchange and learn from each other? You want nothing more?”

She-of-Many-Paths tilted her head. “You say, ‘nothing more’ but to the Veritas, exchanging knowledge hard won over many generations is no small thing. It is much more precious gift than any possible spoils of war. Even if you were to take every ear of corn and every cassava root in our storehouse, it would last you less than a year. Knowledge though? That can help your people for all time. That is how the Veritas think.”

“She-of-Many-Paths, you are far too wise for one so young. But nothing more?”

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“It is a small thing but our leader, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives gave me once a taste of that spice which I believe you call cinnamon. It is quite delicious! But it need not be a gift. We would be happy to trade with you: such a spice for that which you may find pleasing among our wares, medicines, or foods. Perhaps you also have other interesting and wonderful spices. I think that there is much we could learn from each other. We have no real quarrel with you; nor, so far as I can see, you have no real quarrel with us either. It is only a manufactured quarrel for the good of neither us nor you. It only benefits NUT-PI whose purpose, I ken, is to weaken all other tribes, not just the Veritas, but also the Fierce and Formidable warriors of the north and your own tribe as well. The Cupiditas themselves are a proud strong people, but it seems that they have no love of the truth and therefore they find it very hard to learn from one generation to the next. They forever change their stories to make their leader look much better than he in fact is. POND MUD, you have been living with them and planning with them. Do you agree with my assessment?”

POND MUD turned red. “You’re asking for my advice? You?” 

She-of-Many-Paths chucked. “Does this surprise you so? You know more about the Cupiditas than I do. Or DAN-ergo. I think all of us would like to hear of your observations.” 

POND MUD looked about him as though the correct answer might appear among the scattered rocks. “I don’t know. They have many weapons. Their leader is chosen by feats of strength which suits me just fine. Instead of stupid tests. But their head leader, NUT-PI appears neither strong nor quick though he is plenty cruel. I can vouch for that. They do not really have cabins such as ours. They have little more than lean-tos which are forever falling down. I could push down any one of them with one smash of my arm. Our cabins are stronger. Much stronger. And just because I can’t push one down — it doesn’t mean I am not stronger than an ant!”

She-of-Many-Paths sighed and shook her head slowly from side to side. Is there no end to POND MUD’s obsession with his own power in comparison to others, she thought to herself. Aloud, however, she said this: “I have no doubt you are very strong indeed POND MUD. I have never doubted that. But the question is, what can you tell us of the Cupiditas? And, you must decide who are your real people. If you come back to the Veritas now, you must needs be imprisoned until this battle is won or lost. If the Veritas lose, perhaps your friends will find you and set you free, through I must tell you frankly that I doubt it will come to be the case. If the Veritas win, we will soon hold a council and decide whether to annul your banishment. If you prefer, you may go back the way you came and join up with the Cupiditas for I sense that DAN-ergo and the Nomads of the South have no real purpose in this war. Do you agree, DAN-ergo?”

“I do indeed. I could use your help, POND MUD, in taking these water skins back to my people. After that, you may follow us back to our lands and join us, or walk back here to join with the Veritas or if you so choose, join up with and lead your small band of Cupiditas to attack your former homeland. That choice, I leave to you. But the path of peace is a place of cool, fresh water. The path of war in this strange land is a path of heat and death unneeded. I shall counsel my people to be at peace with your people, She-of-Many-Paths, though they are a free people and I cannot compel them to leave off war-making.”

“I don’t know what to do,” said POND MUD. “I want to rejoin the Veritas, but you have no such guarantee. I am the leader of a band of Cupiditas. They respect me. But…I do not trust their leader. I need to talk with ALT-R. He would advise me well. I will go back with you two. But no, I should go back to the Cupiditas. I am their captain. I don’t know! Why do you always confuse me so, She-of-Many-Paths!?” 

She-of-Many-Paths tried to look into the heart of POND MUD and she could see that his confusion was genuine. He still put his faith in ALT-R though he had tricked POND MUD many times that she knew of and probably many other times she did not know of. For that was the way of ALT-R. “POND MUD, how about this plan. Help DAN-ergo CREEP take this water back to his people. If you return alone here before darkness descends on this day, you may find your way back to the Veritas through the gap in that line of trees. You have that long to make up your mind. If we see you tomorrow or the next day, we will have to assume you are an enemy and that will be unfortunate. I give you no guarantees because, as the drums foretold, there are some among the Veritas who have no desire to see you at all let alone to annul your banishment. Yet, you are not without friends among the Veritas and some will argue for your reintroduction into the tribe. So, take a chance on the verdict or don’t. You are no longer a child, POND MUD. You must make your own decision, just as DAN-ergo CREEP has done.” 

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POND MUD and DAN-ergo began pulling the travois back toward camp. When they reached the camp, DAN-ergo quickly recounted what had transpired with regards to his own people. He said nothing of the words that had to do with POND MUD and his decision. The people of SABRA looked at each other and at their leader as they enjoyed taking turns with the cool water. They left the camp late that very afternoon, to a man. They did not want to be anywhere near the camp of the Cupiditas when fighting began on the morrow. 

POND MUD revealed nothing to the Cupiditas regarding his offer of possible reintegration with the Veritas. Why should he? Of course, it was demoralizing to the Cupiditas for the southern nomads to leave which they did quickly and efficiently, seeming to vanish as quietly and invisibly as they had come. They looked for reassurance to their new leader, POND MUD. POND MUD said that he was going to sneak into the camp of the Veritas which he could easily do because he knew these lands so well. He would overhear their plans and return before dawn and lead his small contingent to where it would do the most good until they met up with the much larger force on the Middle Path. He stole away under a starry sky, still not sure what he would do. 

When first light came, a small band of the Cupiditas found themselves alone in a strange land with no allies and no leader and no plan. A glow in the east grew rosy and then orange and then a bright yellow. They argued amongst themselves as to what to do. Many plans were advanced. But without a leader, they had no way to settle on a plan or to test their ideas. At last, one of their number, a man named NINA-TOP declared himself the leader and said that they would march due North until they met up with the main force of the Cupiditas and there they would no doubt receive further instructions. 

AILS-HER, challenged this plan as being too little too late. He argued that they should charge as planned along the Southern Path. Soon, the two were locked in mortal combat to see who should lead this small band. Whereas the Veritas knew many methods of deciding among alternative paths, the Cupiditas only knew one: Might makes Right. In this case, neither emerged as victor; they murdered each other, as sometimes happened among that tribe. 

None of the few remaining Cupiditas, however, felt like fighting to the death with the most recent such deadly incident fresh in their minds. One suggested a path they all agreed on however. They decided that since their force was too small to make much difference, they would make their way slowly along the Southern Path. If they found strong resistance, they would retreat. But if they found no resistance, they would wander into the Central Place of the Veritas and steal, enslave, or rape as they could. If NUT-PI questioned their late arrival, they would simply say they were overwhelmed by a strong force of the Veritas. It was so agreed, and around mid-day, they began a slow march on the Southern Path. By evening, they had come to the great flat plain of the parley that had taken place earlier in the day. As they marched up the gentle slope toward the line of large white oaks, swords drawn in case of any approaching enemy, they suddenly found themselves assailed by deadly arrows. In an instant, more than half their number began screaming and thrashing on the ground. The few remaining Cupiditas turned and ran back down the slope. Another hail of arrows found their mark. A handful of remaining Cupiditas threw down their weapons and begged that their unseen enemy show them mercy. 

Thus ended the battle of the Southern Path. A great battle was avoided because some few of the Veritas had pursued peace up to the very precipice of war. Yet, a powerful force of Cupiditas still strove forward on the Middle Path toward the Center Place of the Veritas. In this Center Place, were many women and children of the Veritas though if the Cupiditas thought they were helpless, they would be seriously mistaken. And there too was POND MUD in his stockade where he could look out and see a blue sky and the thin, eyeless figure of KAVA-NUT. He awaited the outcome of the coming battle to see who his true people were; that is, the victors. For POND MUD now very much subscribed to the central doctrine of the Cupiditas that might makes right. He liked feeling strong and thinking of pros and cons and consequences of this plan and that plan made him feel weak. He wanted always to know what path to take for certain. He wished ALT-R would get here soon and release him so they could rule Veritas together. The words of She-of-Many-Paths kept returning to his mind and when they did, he shouted, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” His screams were heard by many and they puzzled at them for no-one was speaking to POND MUD and very few would speak for him.  

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Magic Portal to Other Worlds

Myths of the Veritas: The Battle on the Northern Path

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The Battle on the Northern Path. 

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She-of-Many-Paths walked among the Veritas accompanied by She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives and Shadow-Walker. They wanted to ensure that whatever of importance that one Veritas knew, they all knew. Mainly, however, they encouraged each of the Veritas to be ready in mind, body, and spirit. Such preparations included not only guards and warriors but every person except for infants in arms. Mothers taught their toddlers how and where to hide and each such mother was well prepared to defend their own home with weapons and skill and strength of body and strength of resolve. While on one of these walks of encouragement and knowledge sharing, the three came upon a curious sight. Eagle Eyes lay face down upon the ground obviously concentrating on something though what was not obvious. She heard the others coming and motioned for them to approach slowly. “Come,” she whispered. “Watch this.” 

So the trio approached quietly and slowly. At first, they saw nothing unusual. Then, She-of-Many-Paths noticed a slight hole in the ground in the shape of a fairy ring mushroom cap turned upside down. Why this held the attention of Eagle Eyes was not clear, but she did like unusual shapes. At the bottom of this small funnel however, She-of-Many-Paths saw two tiny twigs sticking out. As she drew closer, she saw that these sticks were serrated. She slowly knelt on the ground beside Eagle Eyes and then lay on her belly. With her eyes thus very close indeed, she saw that the “twigs” actually consisted of insect jaws. Before long, an ant came along and began to traverse the hole. Then, a very strange and wondrous thing happened. The ant slipped! It grew agitated and began scrambling to climb right back out of the hole. Yet, as it did so, its feet slipped still more so that soon it found itself falling toward the vortex at the center. For an instant, the tiny creature seemed to catch some purchase and made progress toward the rim. Then, the ant lion began tossing sand above the position of the ant and the sand thus cast fell toward the center and made the ant’s feels slip again. At last, her legs still scrambling, the hapless ant slipped into the center of the hole and thus into the jaws of the waiting ant lion who grabbed the ant and slammed it into the sides of the hole driving the ant lion’s jaws deeper into the struggling body of the ant. In a few seconds, it was devoured.

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She-of-Many-Paths gasped and looked at Eagle Eyes whose large brown eyes locked with her own as she smiled a truer smile than She-of-Many-Paths had seen on the face of Eagle Eyes for quite awhile. 

“That’s amazing, Eagle Eyes, but how can this be? Ants can climb anything. They climb up trees! How can they slip and fail to escape this path that the ant lion desires them to take?” 

“Indeed! That is the question I asked myself! The ant lion is quite precise in the shape, you see. It makes the sides of the hole precisely steep enough. If they were any shallower, the ant could escape. If they were any steeper, the grains of soil would slip of their own accord. As it is, the sides are stable, but only so long as even such a tiny creature as an ant does not tread on it. When that happens, the soil begins to slip and most such creatures fall into the center of such pits though a few do manage to escape.” 

Shadow-Walker had gotten down on the ground to observe as well. “That’s interesting all right. But you do know we have a battle approaching some time soon. We must prepare.”

“Indeed, Shadow-Walker, my thought exactly,” said Eagle Eyes. “You know that steep hill that overlooks the flat green valley by the aspen grove?” 

“Yes, a hill both steep and treacherous because of the small loose stones…oh…are you thinking…?” questioned Shadow-Walker. 

“Yes! We can make it even more treacherous by adding even more such stones. Warriors very much prefer higher ground and very much to run downhill rather than uphill. Is this not true?”

Shadow-Walker could hardly contain his excitement now. “Yes! Yes! I see! We can contrive to have them run at us down this steep hill, thus carefully prepared. At the bottom of such a hill, they will think to see a great victory, but we will prepare our own jaws of death. Clever, Eagle Eyes!” 

“It’s a wonderful idea, Eagle Eyes!” She-of-Many-Paths was also excited. “How long will it take to prepare the hill with more loose stones?” 

“That part is already done. But I wanted to study further to see if I overlooked anything. And, I’ve already posted enough of the four-rock signs of danger so our own people in their travels here and there do not accidentally fall on this hill now so slippery.” Now, a genuine and full smile appeared on the face of Eagle Eyes. She called out, “Fleet-of-Foot! Come hither!” 

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True to his name, Fleet-of-Foot appeared momentarily. He saw the four of them and quickly comprehended the situation. “Ah, I see you’ve shared our plans. Did you tell them of the markings?”

She-of-Many-Paths asked, “Markings? What markings?”

Now Eagle Eyes laughed slightly. “Even though they call me Eagle Eyes, it was really Fleet-of-Foot who first noticed them. There are markings of charcoal on many trees near our guard posts. At first, we only saw one. Then, another. We thought perhaps some child was practicing his or her drawing skills, but they showed no creative variation and there were too many even for the most obsessive among us. We believe they were put there to guide our enemies. So, we added quite a few, many of which lead to the hill of slippery rocks. But we added others leading to the quicksand and that nasty briar patch of old blackberry bushes by the red boulder.” 

Eagle Eyes had a far-away look in her eyes. “I find it very interesting that a shallow slope may be traversed but as it grows steeper and steeper, at some point, it becomes impossible to climb or avoid falling. This gives me an idea about the broad fresh rapid river that grows among the willows and aspens near our center place. We may walk across such a river though many have slipped and none dare try at full flood. But perhaps we could change the shape of such a river so none might walk across. Cousin beaver sometimes builds a dam to change a stream into a lake. Perhaps, he could prove helpful. Can you join me, Fleet-of-Foot? Let us examine our stream.” Off went the two of them. 

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She-of-Many-Paths and She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives continued on their walk to encourage hearts and share knowledge. Shadow Walker said that he would stay behind to try to better understand how slope that is difficult to climb becomes slope that is impossible to climb and seek other new tools of warfare.

As the two women walked between encampments, She-of-Many-Paths grew silent, clearly lost in thought. At last, she sighed and turned to She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives and spoke quietly. “How does it come to pass that one so promising as ALT-R becomes a traitor? And, what of POND MUD? He was never the brightest amongst us, but he seemed to have a good heart. And, what are we to make of the Cupiditas? Is there no path to peace that does not require the destruction of enemies?” 

“I have been searching for just such a path as you speak of all my life. Indeed, many arguments among the Veritas, I have settled, even among the angry, so that no blood was shed and the people became whole again. Trust is much like a bridge. It takes skill and patience to build but only one raging flash flood to break it down and wash away all traces that it ever existed. Beyond the gathering of the corn and the singing of songs, we must continue to search — you may continue to search for such a path, if you so choose. I hope that you find a path without death that can lead from war to peace where I have failed. We may arrange circumstances in many ways to encourage truth and peace. In the end, however, ALT-R chose to feed the evil wolf within himself though I had hoped he would not. KAVA-NUT chose a similar path. POND MUD felt himself inferior in thinking and superior in physical strength so perhaps it is not surprising that he chose power over truth and to follow the devious and self-serving ways of ALT-R. 

“As for the Cupiditas, so far as I can tell, their ways encourage the path of power over truth. There may be a few among them who long for a different and more harmonious path, but it would be difficult for any such person to follow the path of a true heart. I hope at long last that they may find value in emulating at least some of the ways of the Veritas. A people who rule themselves without regard to the truth may grow for a time just as a seedling might in a dark cave. But without sunlight, it will shrivel and die. Without truth, a people will die one way or another. 

“We may encourage our cousins the rattlesnakes and bears not to attack us and mainly they are wise enough not to do so. But if they do, then sometimes we must kill to stay alive. This too is the way of life, after all. If we have erred by showing too much mercy to KAVA-NUT, ALT-R and POND MUD, we will pay a steep price indeed. 

“Listen well, She-of-Many-Paths, for I must ask you now a great favor and extract a great promise. I know that you and Shadow Walker are both wise and brave. You would gladly fight to the death to defend your home and your tribe and your friends. However, if you judge that the Veritas are to be wholly vanquished, promise me that you and Shadow Walker, will not fight to the death but instead leave this place and go elsewhere to find a new home. When you are numerous enough and strong enough, your children’s children’s children must be wise enough to know whether it becomes desirable to reclaim these sacred lands or to simply live where you are and prosper. That I cannot foresee. But you must survive and the stories of the Veritas must as well.”

“NO! I will never abandon you and my friends! You ask too much! How could I…?” protested She-of-Many-Paths. 

“Yet ask I must. You know our ways. You know them well and you are wise beyond your years. And, you must become the seeds of a new tribe of the Veritas. Remember well the teachings. And, if by chance you are enslaved, you must still remember the teachings and pass them on secretly until such time and circumstance permit you to reclaim your freedom and retake these sacred lands. You and Shadow Walker must not die but must instead ensure that our people and our ways survive. Promise me. You will find a path to victory at last, even if that path must of necessity begin in fleeing or enslavement.”  

She-of-Many-Paths shook her head. “It is much that you ask, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives! Yet, I do see the wisdom of your words. Whether I can convince Shadow Walker, however, I do not know. Let us first work toward victory however.” 

“Indeed, I am hopeful. Though the Cupiditas are fierce fighters, I believe them too few to overcome us. Their entire society is based on power and their avoidance of the truth will inevitably be their own downfall. Whether that will happen soon or many seasons hence, we cannot foresee. We must therefore prepare for many contingencies. And, for that, you are indeed, well-suited, She-of-Many-Paths. Very well-suited indeed.”   

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Meanwhile, the Cupiditas made their own final preparations. NUT-PI, after careful consideration, had decided to put poison on the weapons of some of his favorite and most trusted warriors. These were the leaders of the three bands and their captains. Of course, he did not tell them he was putting poison on the weapons for fear that they would realize that this was how he had won his position of power in the first place. Rather the told them that he had imbued their weapons with a magic spell of power that would make their spears and arrows even stronger and more powerful. “Now, listen carefully, warriors! This spell of power will make your weapons more powerful but do not attempt to engage this power yourselves! It is a power that I alone can control. So keep your hands away from the tips of your spears and the tips of your arrows lest you ruin the magic!” He also admonished his special cadre of troops to keep the knowledge of the spell he had cast on their weapons to themselves and not to share what he had done with the other warriors. “Let them believe that it is only because I find favor in you and they will marvel at your strength and effectiveness.” 

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NUT-PI’s servants called the whole of the Cupiditas to come to hear the words of their great leader. 

“Hear me well, oh, people of the Cupiditas, who rightly own all that is in this valley farther than the eye can see. Too long have we shared these lands with the Veritas who prove themselves deceptive and unworthy at every turn. Now, we have contrived to destroy their warriors, steal their possessions, and enslave their women and children! Hurrah!” 

The crowd enthusiastically shouted “HURRAH!  Enslave them! Enslave them! Murder them! Murder them!” 

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NUT-PI smiled with pleasure at how easily led or misled were most of the Cupiditas. ALT-R shouted along with the rest, but secretly felt ashamed that his adopted tribe was so mindless in their obedience to NUT-PI. Then, he realized that he was manipulating POND MUD in much the same way. 

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NUT-PI continued. “We are stronger than the Veritas! And, we know where all their lookouts are. We will sneak in at dusk and kill all their lookouts. Then, right before dawn, we will attack on three fronts to overwhelm them and destroy them. We will have three armies attack on three paths. The first one to overrun their central village will have first pick of the women and children to enslave. But there will plenty of spoils for everyone. The Veritas have no idea we are even going to attack them. They stupidly feel confident that they outnumber us. Here, they are wrong. For I have used my power to summon allies to help us. The fierce warriors of the north will follow us in on the northern path to glory and the nomads to the south will follow us in on the southern path to glory. Why? Because of my brilliant negotiations with them. The fierce warriors of the north will gain by learning the way of the sharp barbed arrowhead from the enslaved Veritas and the nomads of the south will gain by learning the way of unleaking water casks from the enslaved Veritas.” In truth, these promises had been made. However, he had also promised the fierce warriors of the north that they could have most of the spoils of war including first pick of the women and children. He had made that same promise to the nomads of the south; namely, that they could have most of the spoils of war including first pick among the women and children. NUT-PI well knew that he could not keep both promises along with the promises made to his own people. That was a problem for another day, however. Right now, he needed to reassure his people and drive them to a killing frenzy. He led them in more chanting: “KILL THE VERITAS! ENSLAVE THE VERITAS! KILL THEM! ENSLAVE THEM!” 

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Thus, it came to pass that midday of the first empty moon beyond the summer solstice, nearly all of the Cupiditas warriors left their camp on a great march toward the lands of the Veritas, there to meet up with a large band of fierce warriors from the north. Those of the Cupiditas were led by INGO RICHES, though KAVA NUT was their guide. INGO RICHES carried a battle axe and a long spear enchanted by NUT-PI who was himself to lead the middle throng. INGO RICHES cared little for KAVA NUT whom he considered a very low person to so betray his own people. He did not realize that KAVA NUT, along with ALT-R and POND MUD had been banished from the Veritas for attempting to force themselves on Eagle Eyes and then lying about it. Yet he still felt contempt for such a man as would betray his own tribe, regardless of the circumstances. 

Thoughts of betrayal led INGO RICHES to think back once more to the contest he had witnessed between NUT-PI and CHOFM. Something about it bothered him. NUT-PI did not seem strong enough or well-trained enough to vanquish CHOFM though he had seen it with his own eyes. Indeed, there must be magic in NUT-PI. It was a magic that had been partly put into his own spear. NUT-PI had cautioned everyone not to touch the heads of the weapons which he had put under a spell. INGO RICHES felt he was warrior enough to use his spear quite effectively with or without magic. Perhaps, he thought, NUT-PI does not want to share the power of his magic with others. 

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Presently, the troop of warriors stopped to rest where they were to rendezvous with the fierce and formidable warriors of the north. INGO RICHES went off by himself a ways. He sat beside a crannied rock wall and looked carefully at his spear, particularly at the tip which was now supposedly imbued with magic. It occurred to him that he could grasp the tip and gain some of the magic for himself. NUT-PI may have told his leaders not to touch it simply because he didn’t want them to discover the true source of his power. Thus, in private, he lightly touched the tip. He didn’t feel anything unusual. It felt exactly as it always had. He felt nothing magical or powerful about it. He decided to grasp it more tightly. He still felt nothing magical or powerful. Perhaps it was all a lie? Maybe the magic only came out in the piercing. He decided to make the tiniest of pricks in the end of his little finger as an experiment. Perhaps then he would feel the magic. A tiny drop of blood appeared on his little finger. He shook his head. It felt just as he had thought it would, a tiny pain but no magic and no special power. 

Then, he shuddered with sudden excitement! He felt it! There was magic after all! This was the magical power that NUT-PI had not wanted them to discover. INGO RICHES felt more powerful than he had ever felt before. His muscles pulsed with power! No wonder, NUT-PI had won. He had used this power to overcome CHOFM! INGO RICHES couldn’t believe how powerful he now felt. Every muscle in his body seemed to want to contract all on its own. He didn’t even have to will them to move. But it was cramping. It was all cramping. He had cramps in his hands and biceps and calves and his thighs. He began to thrash violently and tried to cry out but couldn’t. He fell to the ground thrashing this way and that. He felt a terrible crushing pain in his chest and realized that NUT-PI’s magic was too powerful for him to contain. Perhaps he really was the chosen one. INGO RICHES tried to scream for help but his jaws, along with the rest of his body, had turned to stone. He thrashed against the crannied wall where his hand chanced upon a small flower. Without willing it so, he grasped the flower tightly pulling it, root and all, to his chest. He stared up into the sky which had become an incredibly bright blue morphing into the pure white of distant stars. He realized he was about to die alone; that he had always been alone; that all of the Cupiditas were alone, each striving for more power than anyone else. He thought to himself, “truth is the real power. We will lose. We will always lose. I should have been born a Veritas.” 

Soon, a large throng of the fierce and formidable warriors of the north arrived at the camp as had been arranged. One among them spoke passably the tongue of the Cupiditas and asked to see the leader among the Cupiditas. “Where is NUT-PI?” 

The lead captain under INGO RICHES, named Troy-Paven, answered, “NUT-PI is leading the middle of our three attacks. Our leader is INGO RICHES who will return momentarily.” 

“Among our tribe, it is considered very rude not to have him here to greet us,” he said solemnly. “Find him. We must parley.” 

Troy-Paven beckoned to one of his underlings. “Go fetch INGO RICHES and ask him if it would please him to join us now as the fierce and formidable warriors of the north have arrived. He walked off over by that wall.” Troy-Paven thought it odd that INGO RICHES had not come when the northern warriors had arrived. They had made no secret of their arrival. INGO RICHES should have both seen and heard them and for that matter, smelled them as well, he thought, with a wrinkle of his nose. 

Momentarily, Troy-Paven’s underling returned, ashen-faced. “Well?! I told you to bring INGO RICHES,” barked Troy-Paven. 

“Most honored Troy-Paven, might I have a moment to talk with you alone?”

“NO! I told you…what is the problem? What did he tell you?” barked Troy-Paven even louder. He wanted to show the fierce and formidable warriors of the north that his men followed his orders completely. It was not going well. 

“Troy-Paven, my captain, INGO RICHES lies yonder by that crannied wall. Alas, he cannot speak or come hither because…because he is dead.”

At this, Troy-Paven leapt at his underling and struck him across the face with the blade of his hand. “Do not bring me such lies! Where is INGO-RICHES?!” 

“Oh, Sir, I speak the truth. He is dead, I know not how.” 

Again, Troy-Paven struck his hapless underling for delivering bad news to a superior, as was the customary way to react to bad news among the Cupiditas. Troy-Paven put extra energy into these blows however because he was being embarrassed in front of the fierce and formidable warriors of the north. 

“I will ask you one more time. This time. The truth. Or, I swear, I will kill you myself!” said Troy-Paven tonelessly. His jaw was clenched and his face was ashen. 

“I will fetch him, most noble one and he will tell you himself.” Off the man scurried. Troy-Paven shook his head and looked at the leader of the northern warriors and tilted his head as though to indicate that this was an unfortunate anomaly among the Cupiditas. Meanwhile, the visage of the northern leader remained stoic and unreadable. Soon, the hapless underling of Troy-Paven appeared dragging the twisted and lifeless body of INGO-RICHES whose claw-gripped hand still grasped the flower, root and all. 

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Troy-Paven stared uncomprehendingly. More of the fierce and formidable warriors from the north were gathering around trying to understand what was happening. Troy-Paven, up to now, had spent most of his career being a lackey for INGO-RICHES. Now, he found himself suddenly in charge of warriors without orders from INGO-RICHES. 

KAVA-NUT watched all this unfold. He thought about what might happen if fighting were to break out between the northern warriors and the Cupiditas. He did not really like fighting all that much in any case. He much preferred to overpower smaller women with the help of a friend or two. He decided this might be the right time to sneak off and meet up with ALT-R and POND MUD. He had, after all, some unfinished business with Eagle Eyes. Just as POND MUD had designs on She-of-Many-Paths and ALT-R…Who did ALT-R fancy? Oddly, he realized that he had never really asked himself that question before. He now realized upon reflection that whenever anyone brought up the topic, ALT-R had been very vague or had changed the subject. Oh, well, what did it matter? He decided to jog for a bit in order to put a longer distance between himself and the force he was supposed to be scouting for. But, he wondered who wants to be a scout? I’d be the first one to be pierced with an arrow or spear. 

As he neared the land where the Veritas became more probable, he stopped jogging and climbed a nearby knoll. From here, he could see in the distance that warriors were again on the path behind him. Apparently, he thought, the tribes had devised a plan of attack and were again working together as planned. He wondered whether he should return in that case and excuse his apparent absence as being simply part of his duty as an advanced scout. On the other hand, he would still be expected to be leading and if he were discovered by the Veritas….after all, he had been banished and could be killed on sight. The warriors coming en masse would be much safer than he would be. 

KAVA-NUT looked back through the teachings he had learned from the Veritas and recalled the words of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives who had been having them observe many different types of animals. She had summed up her message by saying, “There is always another way. Nature is infinitely clever in her variety and diversity. You can do the same with your thinking.” KAVA-NUT then recalled that She-of-Many-Paths had taken this lesson much to heart and began showing off with her answers about just how many other ways she could think of. So, I will be safer, he thought, if I can better camouflage myself and stay away from the paths I marked. Then, I have the best chance of meeting up with ALT-R and POND MUD after they’ve taken the middle and southern paths and most of the fighting is done. After deciding on this new non-path path, he jogged down from the knoll and turned down the path and tore a few leafy branches from seedlings contriving to arrange them to make himself both less visible generally and less recognizable to the Veritas. He hoped that the warriors behind him would assume he had gone down the marked path from the evidence of these recently torn bushes. But KAVA-NUT had other plans and he jogged back the other direction behind a thick copse of birches. He was now angling in toward the middle path. Here at least, the warriors were all to be of the Cupiditas and they would be following orders and there would be no need for coordinating two tribes. 

For a time KAVA-NUT turned due west toward the central place of the Veritas, tracing out a path he reckoned to be well south of the one that the northern force was taking and yet well north of the central path. For this reason, he was quite surprised to find one of the AGAM marks that they had carefully placed to guide the forces to elude the guardians and then come behind them and ambush them. 

This must be the work of ALT-R who had reconnoitered the middle path. KAVA-NUT was quite sure that he himself had not placed it here. In another few hundred yards, he encountered another such mark. KAVA-NUT looked back through the forest trying to get a clear look at not too distant mountains to better orient himself. He found himself filled with uncertainty for he could not tell where he was from his few glimpses of mountain peaks. He could not believe he had strayed this far south to cross ALT-R’s path, yet here he was. It had to be ALT-R’s path, he reasoned. He saw no evidence at all that they had yet come by here. If I simply wait here for them, they will eventually meet up with me. It would soon prove too dark to advance much anyway. KAVA-NUT felt bone tired. He realized that had not felt really good since…since trying to convince Eagle Eyes that she loved him. And, she did. Of that he was sure. She may not know it, but she does. And she will. Because I will make her. And POND MUD will have his way with She-of-Many-Paths. She-of-Many-Paths. 

Hah! If she were here right now, she would rattle on about other paths of thought and how the first few ideas that occur to you are likely wrong. And she would continue and it would be annoying. It’s annoying to think of so many paths. He whispered aloud: “Damn her!” For despite his will, he found himself considering yet another explanation. The Veritas might have discovered these markings and put false markers in various places to confuse the advancing armies. If that were so, he should return and warn the soldiers…but it would only make sense if we were not there to lead the soldiers. It wouldn’t do any good to put false markers because I would lead them to the correct ones which I just placed there. Again, the image of Eagle Eyes came to him. “Damn you! Leave me alone!” He had spoken aloud and spoken loudly. He squatted motionless with his camouflage boughs in place. He heard nothing. In the stillness, it occurred to him that the Veritas would have no way to know that The Three would all serve as scouts. 

He waited patiently all evening and all night, but no-one came. Sure enough, it must be a false trail he was on. He ignored the marks and homed toward the center of the Veritas people. I have a date of destiny with Eagle Eyes, he thought. Then, it suddenly occurred to him that Ealge Eyes might be killed in battle long before he had his chance to subdue her. Walking alone, he made good time and arrived mid-day at the edge of the Veritas central place. Here there was a wide stream of fast-flowing fresh water with large aspens and willows lining both the banks. And, sure enough, at the edge of this was none other than Eagle Eyes! The fool was playing with rocks at the edge of the small river like some child. You’re under attack, he wanted to shout. How can you be so stupid? You need me to control you, and that I will. Amazingly, she was all by herself just like last time. He dropped his boughs and ran at her fill tilt, splashing through the shallow stream. She seemed frozen on the spot and made no attempt to flee. 

“Well, my sweet one. You and I have a date with destiny! We have unfinished business!” He strode toward her confidently for he outweighed her easily by half again. Eagle Eyes stood and faced him. 

“Indeed we do.” Then KAVA-NUT heard her scream. She must be terrified, he thought, joyfully. He came up to her and grabbed her with both of his long arms and wrapped them tightly around her, pinning her arms to her side. “I was banished because of you, Eagle Eyes. And now I will have my justice at last.”

Eagle Eyes continued to scream in a high-pitched thin tone. Then her eyes flicked upward and she looked back down to stare at KAVA-NUT. “Your justice? I don’t think so. Justice should be blind.” 

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“Don’t talk nonsense Eagle Eyes. Now, lie down on your back and learn…WHAT?!” KAVA-NUT let go of Eagle Eyes and fell to his knees screaming in pain as both his hands shot up to his right eye. Then, as quick as the beat of a birds wing he felt another searing hot pain in his left eye. The last thing he saw was the beak of an eagle or hawk slashing toward his eye. He screamed so loudly as to be nearly incoherent though many heard these words. “NO! NO! NO! Oh, I am blind! You did this Eagle Eyes! You did this! I will still have you, you witch! Wait till the other two armies come! We will destroy you! And I will have you yet!” 

Out from behind an ancient willow, Fleet-of-Foot walked slowly toward him, bow drawn. “I don’t think so.” 

“Nor I,” said Eagle Eyes who had now approached KAVA-NUT with her hunting knife drawn. “You are banished and any of the Veritas may kill you. But they have left that chore to me.” 

“You’d better be nice to me! I … how the hell did you tear my eyes out? Did you turn yourself into an Eagle? I will kill you. KILL YOU! My friends will be here soon. Not just ALT-R and POND MUD but nomads from the south and fierce, formidable fighters from the far north. WE WILL OWN YOU! We will OWN you! We will…my eyes. Oh, my eyes. My eyes!” 

Fleet-of-Foot put away his bow and put a hammer lock on KAVA-NUT, nearly dislocating the latter’s shoulder. Working together, Fleet-of-Foot and Eagle Eyes quickly tied KAVA-NUT’s hands behind him. 

Eagle Eyes said, “Come, we do not want you polluting our stream.” Eagle Eyes and Fleet of Foot decided to come put KAVA-NUT on display for all to see. He was set upon a high bar, his hands still tied behind him. The trained hawk of Eagle Eyes had not quite had his fill for he had fledgelings to help feed. Periodically, the hawk returned to feed on the eyes and face of KAVA-NUT. Tearing a piece of meat off with its sharp beak and claws, he would return to the nest where the eager young squawked in delight. Indeed, justice was served. 

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The Veritas, having moved their guard posts and arranged for bird call communication, were aware of the northern army which marched noisily and clumsily toward what they thought were the guard posts of the Veritas. Without any local guide, and with a path to victory marked by many false trails, the northern army, under no clear leadership floundered into the forest and became little more than a meandering mob. Every so often, one of their number would fall into a trap or be shot through with a poison arrow, but no archer was ever seen. 

The leader of the northern warriors and Troy-Paven had discovered that NUT-PI had promised the same spoils and first choice in slaves to both the Cupiditas and the northern warriors. Troy-Paven decided not to argue this point however as his own men were greatly outnumbered by the fierce and formidable warriors of the north. Once they joined up with the middle army which was where the main force of warriors of the Cupiditas were, they would be in the majority and then, they could argue about who got what for their efforts. First, they must work together to enslave the Veritas. As more and more warriors were suddenly assailed by an unseen enemy, the leader of the Northerners became more and more inclined to leave off this war. They had no real quarrel with the Veritas. Often, they had, in fact, made mutually beneficial trades with them. He also found it personally offensive to interact with the Cupiditas who so relied on hierarchy and protocol as to be stupidly inflexible in battle. The fierce and formidable warriors of the north believed in fighting in an individualistic and heroic way. The Cupiditas believed in a strict hierarchy of command and control that was wildly unsuited to the current operation. It soon transpired, that at the insistence of Troy-Paven, the troops had followed the “marked trail” to victory into a briar patch and then into quicksand. The leader of the fierce and formidable soldiers of the north, named URDU-TEA, decided he had had enough and called for his men to follow him back to their own village. 

Troy-Paven knew that if NUT-PI found out he had let their ally slip away, it would be certain death. To face down this general would probably be the same. But what could he offer him to stay? 

“WE GO!” said URDU-TEA and his men began to follow him. 

“Wait! Don’t go! You can’t leave. NUT-PI will destroy you when he is done with the Veritas.”

“Where is this NUT-PI? I have not seen him. And where is this ‘scout’ who was supposed to guide us? What became of him? And, why did your own leader fall dead in your midst? You are not an army. You are a joke. We will let you live. Attack the Veritas. Don’t attack the Veritas. In truth, we don’t really care. But either way, your path and our path are no longer the same. Try to stop us and you will all die. We GO!” 

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Troy-Paven’s jaw dropped but he had nothing to say. What had happened with KAVA-NUT anyway? They had now spent countless hours trying one false path and then another. They had yet to find a single occupied guard post and certainly not surprised anyone. If anything they were the ones being slaughtered by surprise. INGO-RICHES was right when he had echoed the words of NUT-PI: “Who can trust a traitor?” Yet, INGO-RICHES lay dead. KAVA-NUT had disappeared. 

OH! Troy-Paven could not believe he had not seen this earlier. KAVA-NUT was not a traitor! He had killed INGO-RICHES and laid false trails at the behest of the Veritas! Then, he had run off so they wouldn’t discover either of his crimes. He now saw a clear course of action. He must head due south and try to warn the middle wave of warriors which was being led by NUT-PI himself. They were all walking into a carefully set trap laid by the Veritas. He let the fierce and formidable warriors of the north pass without incident. When they were out of earshot, he ordered that they would now be heading due south to meet up with the larger Cupiditas force. He did not share why he thought this was a good idea nor his insight that the trio of traitors must really still be working on behalf of the Veritas. He and he alone wanted to take the credit for bringing this critical intelligence to their glorious leader.    

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The Myths of the Veritas: The Great and Gathering Storm

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POND MUD arrived at last to join KAVA-NUT and ALT-R in a small clearing among a grove of dead crab apple trees near the Raging River. POND MUD’s face was flushed and his pulse raced. ALT-R had heard him coming and could see that he was agitated. 

“Why are you so late and out of breath, POND MUD?” 

“I’m not out of breath! A little. Just running. It’s a long ways.” 

ALT-R pressed, “Well, in any case, come help us map out the guard posts. Did you see any guards? Or their posts?” 

POND MUD grew more flushed as he said, “Of course! I know many of their posts. I didn’t see any – well, I saw She-of-Many-Paths. She might be a guard. I doubt it though. But no matter.” 

ALT-R stared at POND MUD and spoke quietly. “No matter, POND MUD? You were not so stupid as to let her see you, right? Please tell me you didn’t let her see you.”

“Of course not! We all agreed. I saw her, but she didn’t see me. I had nothing to say to her! Nothing. I’ll have my way later.” 

ALT-R bit his lower lip. Something about POND MUD’s demeanor did not seem right. “You are quite sure that she didn’t see you?” 

POND MUD raised his voice slightly, “NO! I told you. I saw her. She did not see me.” 

ALT-R continued, “OK. What did she say to you?” 

POND MUD hesitated. “What? She… she didn’t say anything to me. She didn’t see me. I’m not stupid.” 

KAVA-NUT chimed in, “No-one thinks you’re stupid POND MUD, but we both know you fancy her so it must have been tempting to say something. Or, just rape her on the spot. I know I might have.” 

POND MUD chewed on his cheek. He frowned. He tilted his enormous frame back and forth. Sometimes he felt as though KAVA-NUT and especially ALT-R could tell when he was lying. Maybe he should tell the truth and admit that they had talked but re-assure them that he had said nothing of consequence. But that would lead to more questions. And, to more teasing. And he had already said that they hadn’t spoken. “Can we just get on with the mapping of the guard posts? It’s soon going to be too dark to see our own map. I told you already – she didn’t see me or talk to me. What I did see were signs of guard posts in the customary spots, high in the climbable white oak by the spring that feeds that shady glen where all those mayapples grow and also inside that giant charred tree atop the knoll by the big red rock. What did you find?”

ALT-R stared hard at POND MUD but decided to let it go, at least for now. Once POND MUD’s mind had settled on walking a path, it proved very difficult to get him to pause, go back, or choose a different path. He found it extremely hard to believe that POND MUD had contrived to see She-of-Many-Paths without himself being seen. POND MUD’s size and lack of cunning made it much more likely that POND MUD himself had been noticed first. So, he hunkered down in the dying light with KAVA-NUT and POND MUD to work on the map for the Cupiditas. Alt-R made a mental note to question POND MUD again at some later time. He was more worried, however, that he may have oversold the usefulness of these guard maps to the Cupiditas, and to NUT-PI in particular. 

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{Translator’s Note}: Neither the Veritas nor the Cupiditas in those days had precise maps or ones that referred to a universal grid. 

The spots that POND MUD described were absolutely known to KAVA-NUT and to ALT-R himself, but whether these descriptions would enable the Cupiditas, who were unfamiliar with the locations of these landmarks, to locate the guard posts of the Veritas —? About that, he was beginning to have serious doubts. Then, he had what he considered to be a brilliant idea. They would again look for guard posts tomorrow as planned but then, they would take another day and actually mark the paths that the Cupiditas were to take. Of course, the marks would have to be subtle. ALT-R remembered seeing that the Cupiditas seemed to have a fondness or reverence or some kind of fixation with the large water rat that the Veritas called “AGAM.” The shape of the AGAM was fairly nondescript but that made it all the better. KAVA-NUT had verified four hidden vantage points of the Veritas and ALT-R had found six. He knew of at least 12 others to check out, so they finished their crude map and made plans for places to search. ALT-R did not share his “marking the way” plan just yet. He wanted to have more details worked out first. He didn’t like working together on a plan. It was too confusing. It was so much more comfortable to make the plan himself and then convince or force others to follow it. He drifted off to sleep fantasizing being King of two tribes and getting rid of POND MUD. KAVA-NUT? He’d have to wait and see. Unlike POND MUD, KAVA-NUT had never seemed to want to be the King; he hadn’t even tried in the trials for the Rings of Empathy. 

At dawn’s first light, the trio departed to further reconnoiter the Veritas. ALT-R’s path this day took him off early at a sharp angle to the northern ridge of the valley while KAVA-NUT and POND MUD strode a single path for a time. After a long silence, POND MUD began a line of questioning with KAVA-NUT. 

“Fish blow bubbles in the water, don’t they? Is that what keeps them from drowning?”

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This struck KAVA-NUT as such a strange question, especially from POND MUD whose mind was generally not much suited to such bouts of curiosity, that he stopped, held up his hand, and turned to face POND MUD as he spoke. 

“What are you talking about? Yes, I’ve never seen fish blow bubbles. If they do, so what? I don’t even know what it means for a fish to drown. We drown from too much water around us. Take a fish out of water and it seems to die from having too little water. POND MUD, I think you should concentrate your energy on making sure we are not observed. A few thousand more steps and we will be at the edge of the lands the Veritas frequent.” 

They walked on in silence for another few hundred paces when POND MUD said in a stage whisper, “Did you really like her, KAVA-NUT?” 

KAVA-NUT held up his hand, stopped, turned and faced POND MUD again. “What are you talking about? Like who? We really need to stop talking.” 

POND MUD, continued in his stage whisper, “You know. Eagle Eyes that you tried to rape. Did you like her?” 

KAVA-NUT snorted. “Of course not. She’s just something to toy with for my pleasure. Softer than my own hand. Now, let’s stay silent till we reconvene at dusk.”

Yet, they had only walked another hundred paces, when POND MUD whispered again, “If you were drowning in quick sand, would you blow bubbles to save your life?” 

KAVA-NUT, held up his hand, turned, shook his head and sighed. Rather than talk back, he put his hand over his own mouth hard to show that no talking was allowed. Then, he turned back down the path, glad that they would soon diverge and enter the lands of the Veritas where surely even POND MUD would know enough to be silent. Why on earth though would he ask a question like that, he wondered. 

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Meanwhile, the Cupiditas were training and preparing weapons for their upcoming conquest of the Veritas. During this training, NUT-PI pushed his warriors as hard as he could, thinking that this would toughen them for the upcoming battle. And, so it would have, had that battle been months or even weeks off. As it was, it mainly sapped their strength as well as their spirit. Fully half of the energy the Cupiditas put into “training” was actually put into jockeying for position within the military hierarchy. Back-stabbing, bad-mouthing, damning with faint praise, planting false rumors about rivals – these skills were well learned by the Cupiditas, and as their anxiety grew about the upcoming battle, the internal bickering and back-stabbing grew in both frequency and strength. 

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Meanwhile, the Veritas prepared in a very different set of ways. Thanks to the intelligence gathered by She-of-Many-Paths, they now knew who their enemy was: The Cupiditas. They had some familiarity of the weapons and customs employed by the Cupiditas. They also knew them to be fewer in numbers than the Veritas. Though they were know to be skilled and fierce warriors, at least they were a known attacker. Of course, the Veritas were very familiar with the concept of change! They knew that preparations must prepare the paths of one’s mind but one must also be prepared, as circumstances demanded, to jump off those carefully prepared paths. The Cupiditas were now under the new leadership of NUT-PI who would almost certainly want to change at least one thing about the way the Cupiditas fought so that the upcoming imagined victory would be attributed to him. If nothing else, he would have the advice and counsel of three young men among the Veritas. Those three were known to have special gifts as well. POND MUD was known for his mighty strength; ALT-R for his cleverness; KAVA-NUT for his deceptiveness. They would communicate everything they knew about the fighting ways and weapons of the Veritas as well as those positions most favorable to seeing, hearing, or smelling an approaching enemy. 

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For that reason, the preparations of the Veritas included some new techniques and inventions. For instance, though the Veritas had learned many generations ago of the poisons of certain tree frogs, plants, and snakes, they had never used weapons tainted with such poisons. This time, however, they believed that the would be fighting for their existence as a free people against a foe led by three traitors. In such a circumstance, they no longer felt obliged to avoid poison and adorned spears, arrows, and darts with such, moving carefully and slowly to elude the toxins themselves. 

Some among the Veritas dug holes in the earth and set inside, pointing upwards, sharpened sticks. Then, they covered each such pit-trap with a weave of palm leaves. Atop this they placed a small layer of dirt with weeds and fallen leaves. Fleet-of-Foot and Eagle-Eyes both looked carefully at the traps and made small changes so that they seemed not a weapon but merely one place among many in the forests abutting the Veritas.

The penchant for shape and sight that Fleet-of-Foot and Eagle-Eyes possessed also proved helpful in another endeavor. Beside the raging river, in a not too inconspicuous spot, they contrived to “hide” treasures of the Veritas. They wanted to be sure that at least one among those they planned to lure here would see this cache and explore it. Inside, were many large chunks of iron pyrite and galena. These were large pretty stones, hard to forgo, and valuable in trade among the many tribes but extremely common in the lands of the Veritas. The Veritas also knew these rocks to be especially heavy [dense] as well.

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One of the most unexpected “weapons” of the Veritas were the wolves that She-of-Many-Paths had trained and befriended. It bothered her to send these friends into battle and she strove hard to make them understand that they had a choice. She also felt that they had a strong core instinct for survival and that her training, though successful, only coated that core instinct with the gentle fur of compliance. Further, she was sure that if the Cupiditas were to be successful in their conquest, such wolves as she had come to love would be destroyed in any case. She saw no room in the hearts of POND MUD, ALT-R, or KAVA-NUT for other animals. They would see anything they did not understand as enemies to be killed for joy. In fact, they might even torture them for some perverse pleasure. 

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Eagle-Eyes had been one of the few among the Veritas who had known of the training that She-of-Many-Paths had been doing with the wolves. Eagle-Eyes had found a hawk with a broken wing. She had nursed the hawk back to health and had more than a little success training the hawk as well. She could fly now but seemed quite content to be hand fed by Eagle-Eyes rather than search out her own prey. It might be that Hawk did not feel his wing to be sufficiently strong for long stretches of soaring nor for the headlong dive to the ground that must be stopped inches from death. In any case, Eagle-Eyes had trained the bird to attack and return upon whistled command. 

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After another day’s reconnaissance, ALT-R, KAVA-NUT, & POND MUD spent a third day rubbing the bark of trees with charcoal to make the outline of the AGAM rats that would lead the Cupiditas to way around the guard posts so that they might ambush the guards. ALT-R felt that there might be some risk in these being seen by the Veritas but even if they did see it, they wouldn’t know what it signified. It could just be the markings of a bored child, after all. On the other side, he thought the Cupiditas a fairly dense lot. Unless they were led by the nose, they would not be able to find the guard posts based on the crude map that they had constructed. ALT-R might have given up his physical rings of empathy, but he was still pretty good at reading other people, though not nearly so good as he gave himself credit for. And, if the maps proved unreadable or unworkable or simply of no value, there was nothing to prevent NUT-PI and his henchman from taking out their anger and disappointment on the three of them! He understood NUT-PI as being the sort of person who would never take responsibility for a failure but always blame it on someone else. ALT-R understood this, not because he had great empathy (which is what he believed), but because this rule had become one of his own most fundamental operating principles. 

Upon returning to the camp of the Cupiditas, it was clear that the people there did not hold the renegades from Veritas in high regard; however, on the orders of NUT-PI, they did them no harm. The three were taken once again to NUT-PI’s lair and forced to kneel on gravel for their initial interview. 

“So, my three. Back a day late. Were you conspiring with the Veritas?”

ALT-R spoke for them, as had been agreed, “No, most excellent NUT-PI, your excellency, we bring you great gifts again, for we have verified the positions of all the outpost guards of the Veritas.” 

NUT-PI smiled at them but said nothing for a few moments which seemed like hours to the kneeling three. 

“We shall see, ALT-R, how valuable this information proves. And how accurate. I need not, I hope remind you, how slowly and carefully and cruelly we will destroy you if you have betrayed me. Do I?”

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All three bowed their heads and shook them vigorously back and forth saying, “No, sir.” 

“Ah, a pity. It would have been fun to pick at least one of you apart, but we’ll see. Not today then. But you said, ‘gifts’ did you not, ALT-R? Is there another gift?”

“Indeed there is your highest most majesty! We have put subtle signs on some tree trunks to literally paint a path to follow in the invasion. Or, invasions. We labelled all three of the routes we talked about. We cannot fail now! It will be almost like fighting on your own land!” 

NUT-PI sighed. Then, he indulged himself in another long pause, relishing the pain he imagined was growing now quite painful indeed. 

“So, INGO RICHES, what do you think of ALT-R’s proposal that we choose to throw all our forces in the middle path and perhaps only one or two warriors to make noise on the northern and southern flank?” 

“As I may have mentioned, NUT-PI, I think it puts too much risk on one path. We should put a very small band of 4-5 on he middle path, as you say, oh great one, to make noise but send our actual troops on the northern and southern way. Most likely, both forces will succeed and we will catch the enemy in a pincer move. But should either attack fail due to bad luck, the other will surely reach the center. Once we take the center, we win.” 

“Well, ALT-R there you have it. You are not quite as smart as you thought you were. We will not be following your plan.”

INGO RICHES, who of course had the advantage of not kneeling on gravel, smiled a warm smile and said, “Thank you, most excellent one, for choosing my plan over this…this Veritas.”

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“INGO RICHES, I didn’t say we’d be following your plan, did I? Oh, maybe I did and then I forgot. Let’s see. Hmm. No, no, I didn’t say that. What I did say was that we weren’t following ALT-R’s plan. I’m the one best at making plans here and yours are both flawed. What we will do is to attack in equal numbers along all three paths.” 

INGO RICHES, who had grown up among the Cupiditas all his life, bowed his head, backed away quietly and said, “Yes, your excellency. Thank you for your wise decision. I will make it so.” 

ALT-R, however, had not yet honed his capacity for fawning compliance and for undeserved respect. “But, NUT-PI, that will spread our forces too thin. They already have more people and they will be fighting on their native land….”

Meanwhile, NUT-PI had made a slight head gesture to his guards who had walked up to behind  ALT-R and now began putting all their weight on his shoulders. 

“AAHHHGGH!” ALT-R screamed in pain as the guards wiggled their weight slightly causing the knees of ALT-R to tear against the sharp points of the gravel granules. 

“Thank you so much for your input, ALT-R. Now, as I said, we will be attacking on all three fronts and each of you will be lead scout for that expedition whose territory you scouted. What could be simpler? Now, off you go! Get a good rest. And see to those knees. Looks as though you fell on some rocks. And, please feel free, ALT-R, to bring me your inferior ideas any time. I do so look forward to our conversations.”  

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Myths of the Veritas: Battle Plans

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As POND MUD and ALT-R quickly discovered, hanging upside down soon produces a mind-numbing headache. Even the clever mind of ALT-R found it extremely difficult to concentrate. He needed a plan to convince this new leader of the Cupiditas not to kill him but instead to keep him alive until they conquered the Veritas. Of course, he also wanted to convince NUT-PI that he, being a Veritas native, should be made the under-King, the slave-driver, of the remaining Veritas. Keeping a line of thought from falling apart under the pain proved difficult. The required concentration at least kept him from focusing on the many small and large indignities he was forced to endure at the hands of the Cupiditas. Since their society was coordinated through anger and cruelty and power rather than cooperation and deliberation and common purpose, the chance to wreak indignities on others is something in which most of them found great glee. Luckily for ALT-R, POND MUD soon became their favorite target. Initially, this was mainly because he looked (and was) much better built and stronger than ALT-R. In addition, POND MUD was much more reactive and impulsive than ALT-R. Every time POND MUD strived with all his might to break free of his bonds, it encouraged the Cupiditas to even greater cruelty. 

On the morrow, NUT-PI ordered the two cut down. They were brought, with hands tied behind them, still naked, to his cabin and again forced to kneel on the cruel gravel for their audience. 

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“I have decided not to kill you. At least not yet. Indeed, we will use your knowledge to conquer and enslave the Veritas. If we prove successful and you two prove sufficiently useful in this endeavor, we will indeed set you atop the Veritas to have absolute power to do as you will excepting only that I, naturally, will rule over you two. Which of the two of you is of higher rank I leave for you to sort for yourselves. It seems that for now, we will have to trust each other. Now, go forth and discover these guard locations for yourselves. Come back here as soon as you know so you can guide us in our battle of conquest. Go and clean yourselves and then your clothes will be returned. You may break your fast with us and then make haste with your reconnaissance. I need hardly remind you that if this is a trick of the Veritas and you double cross me, you will killed in ways that are so painful that you will look back fondly on last night.” 

After getting cleaned, dressed, and fed, and listening to NUT-PI’s speech, the pair was sent off. NUT-PI made it clear that they were not to be further mistreated but were going to help the Cupiditas conquer the Veritas once and for all. According to the narrative that NUT-PI spun, he had convinced these two that they had better cooperate in defeating the Veritas or face dire and painful consequences. This irked ALT-R because he was given no credit for volunteering to do this. It was his idea, not NUT-PI’s. But, he reckoned, this was a small price to pay for becoming overlord of the tribe and avenging his banishment. POND MUD, for his part, only cared that he was no longer suffering pain and humiliation. He wanted to leave this place as soon as possible. 

When ALT-R and POND MUD were well out of earshot of the Cupiditas (or so they believed), and well before approaching the lands of the Veritas, POND MUD began complaining to ALT-R about the disastrous and humiliating treatment they had received at the hands of NUT-PI. 

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“You say you’re so smart! You said we’d be welcomed! You didn’t even know anything about NUT-PI! That was horrible! You…”

“Stop, POND MUD. Stop. Yeah, things were a bit different that we expected, but we still got what we came for! You are going to get all the women of the Veritas that you want. Keep that in mind!” 

“Well, okay, but still. I still have a headache! But it’s a good torture to remember. And, I don’t trust NUT-PI. Not at all!” complained POND MUD. 

“Nor I! I don’t trust him either, POND MUD. But think about it. We will be the overlords and slave drivers of the Veritas. Even if half the Veritas are killed in battle, they will still be much more numerous than the Cupiditas. When the time, is right, we will kill NUT-PI and you and I will rule both tribes. The remaining Veritas will be happy to avenge the Cupiditas under our leadership. We’ll just lead a strike force. We’ll pretend we’re bringing some slaves to work for the Cupiditas and they will secretly be there to assassinate NUT-PI.”

“Really?” asked POND MUD. “Oh, that might be better. I don’t like NUT-PI much at all. Not after what he put us through.” 

ALT-R had doubts that the plan he had just invented and outlined would actually work. But he did plan to depose NUT-PI. ALT-R also hated him. He would have plenty of time to work out a foolproof assassination plan later; for now, his goal was simply to keep POND MUD in line. 

They walked on in silence for a time. Then, POND MUD began to complain again. “And, why didn’t KAVA NUT come and get us! He was supposed to be on the lookout!”

ALT-R shook his head. “No doubt, he was POND MUD. He did the right thing. What would you have had him do? Come into their camp with everyone watching and take on the whole of the Cupiditas to free us? That would have ruined the whole deal and all three of us would be dead by now.”

“Well, okay, but he still owes us. We vouched for him. It’s not our fault no-one believed us when he tried to rape Eagle Eyes. I don’t know why…anyway, he still owes us.”

ALT-R again wondered why he had not somehow found a smarter companion. Ideal would be someone he could still outsmart but not quite so dense as POND MUD. Anyway, I am on the path I am on, he thought. 

“Yes, he does,” continued ALT-R. “And, he’ll owe us still more after we take over. Because this time, we will make sure he has Eyes-of-Eagle just as you shall have She-of-Many-Paths and anyone else you desire.” 

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Soon, they met up with KAVA-NUT. “Remember, we need to find out the guard post positions and not be seen ourselves. That is of the highest importance. Stay away from the Veritas. We’ll meet back here in two day’s time. While we wait for dark, KAVA-NUT, let me recount to you what I learned about the Cupiditas. Then, the three of us must pool our knowledge to understand likely paths and positions that will allow us to find the guard positions. We must walk as quietly as a butterfly finds its way among the flowers.”

All afternoon they planned their reconnaissance missions. POND MUD was to discover guard positions deep in the forest itself for here, ALT-R considered POND MUD to have the least chance of being found out. KAVA-NUT was to determine guard positions in the field of broken rocks that abutted the forest to the north. ALT-R would do the same for that part of the forest nearest the Lake of Reeds. 

Just before the sun began to set, they set out in three different directions. They planned to meet again and combine their knowledge at dawn and then plan out another night’s mission before heading back to the Cupiditas with their knowledge. 

During this time, several of the initiates among the Veritas who had begun vying for the Rings of Empathy came to She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives to say that they felt something was wrong, but they could not say exactly what.  After the last such, She Who Saves Many Lives called all of them all together for she too had felt that things were somehow “off” as though a great storm was coming, though the sky was clear, or as though the earth might be about to rearrange itself, though she felt no tremors. 

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Under the gentle leadership of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, they engaged in Dialogue. At one point they began to contemplate the pros and cons of habits and decided to change the way that lookouts are arranged as well as the locations. Instead of getting the very best vantage points, they decided they would suggest posting extra guards at vantage points for seeing those vantage points. They reckoned that POND MUD, ALT-R, and KAVA-NUT might want to wreak revenge. It was well-known among the Veritas, that those falsely accused never exhibit quite so much rage as those rightly accused. Among the Veritas, such false displays of outrageous anger were called something best translated as “emotional diarrhea.” Such had been exhibited in the lengthy council that eventually banished the three of them. Only ALT-R remained calm while both POND MUD and KAVA-NUT screamed and yelled that they were innocent. 

During the dialog, other observations were made about diversity of life, the value of habits, but also as to the vulnerability of habits. People such as POND MUD, KAVA-NUT and ALT-R, it was pointed out, are generally impatient. Also, they tend to look only at the surface of things rather than beyond to the substance. They discussed butterflies that look to have big eyes so that birds fear a poisonous snake. They concluded to invite the counsel of the one who is so good at surface, Fleet-of-Foot, to help them camouflage. At one point, knowing well the hearts of those three who were banished, they concluded that POND MUD and ALT-R and KAVA-NUT may attack soon.

Yet, several spoke that such an attack would be sure to fail since they were three and the Veritas were many. Being so few, they begin to wonder how they could possibly attack. They reckoned that they must have allies of some kind, whether bird, beast, plant, or a natural disaster like a fire or storm. They recalled the myth of the Orange Man who destroyed a whole people, as well as his own life, by making careless use of fire in a windstorm. 

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They considered the nearby tribes. Could the three be in league with the fierce hunters to the north? But, they reminded each other that such hunters as these have always managed their own affairs. The desert travelers could pose another risk. But it was reasoned that they were too nomadic. She-of-Many-Paths suggested the nearby Cupiditas. But it was pointed out that they were too few. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives agreed that they were too few for a pitched battle, but she pointed out that the Banished Three have inside information on how the Veritas operate. Knowing such, The Banished Three could think to prevail. 

“ALT-R,” the shaman continued, “is our deepest enemy for he is very smart yet even he, like all, working alone, has blind spots. He failed to find the acorns so well as the possum,” explained She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, “because unlike his cousin, the possum, ALT-R came looking for rules that would allow him every single acorn and as a result obtained fewer. He promised me that he would learn from this, but I remain skeptical. He might have learned, but he may still assume that everything is far more orderly and predictable than it truly is. This is because underneath it all, he has overwhelming greed which makes him believe utterly that he deserves everything for himself. His bonds of friendship only last so long as he sees it as worthwhile. POND MUD and KAVA-NUT are the same. They could use inside knowledge to find how to attack us, but not if we keep changing our tactics and strategy. This will require the utmost of trust and empathy and good communication. Yet, such communication must remain hidden from The Banished Three.” 

Dialogue continued, “If only we could fly like bird,” said Eyes-of-Eagle. “Or, swing from vines? Though this is too risky and too overt.”

Trunk-of-Tree suggested, “We may scare birds with stones to thus reveal false positions. Would our cousins the birds object to using them thus for such a purpose?”

Shadow-Walker added, “But vines could be wound around the upper branches of many trees looking thus much like ordinary trees. Many such could be tugged this way and that to show the movement and direction of incoming enemies. Enemies may not always be human. As we said, in the Myth of the Orange Man, he started fires so that the people would flee leaving him free to loot all their possessions. Instead, his own greed caused his death and so many innocents as well. Surely, even ALT-R would not set a fire to kill everything. We do not know what kind of enemy we are facing so we must prepare for many such enemies.”

“There may be another way,” said She-Of-Many-Paths. “If any of the three are spotted, let me talk to them and see into their hearts.”

“That is very dangerous,” cautioned Shadow-Walker. 

“Yes it is,” admitted She-of-Many-Paths. “Yet, we may gain much information. Let us decide how to arrange it so that you and Trunk of Tree and Eagle Eyes are nearby.” 

“Why not just capture one of them alone and apply pain until their plans are revealed.” 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives said, “That may work, but such torturing may change us as well and turn us into something we do not wish to become. Often, people with plans that they think clever plans may reveal them if we listen patiently.”

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She-of-Man-Paths added, “But do not try to protect me unless absolutely necessary. It will be greatly preferred if they do not know you are there.” 

At the end of the dialog, She-of-Many-Paths declares that she sees a time when they may dialog with each other even when they are not in each other’s presence. This will enable them  to anticipate each other’s actions and, in this way, coordinate with each other as the birds in a flock anticipate each other’s actions and flow as a whole without collision. 

The initiates prepared over the next several days. They played several games that She-of-Many-Paths devised. In these games, they could only win when they guessed the actions of the others. At first, they guessed badly, but over the course of days, they became very accurate at such things as guessing the symbol or picture that each other wrote on a skin with charcoal and the number of pebbles each other held so that the total was some predetermined number.

Those among the Veritas who were expert at making arrowheads and spearheads made many such in preparation for a possible trouble. Those among the Veritas who were expert at finding vines did so. And, each of the Veritas, in their own way, made reluctant preparations for war.  

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives helped preparations in another way. She sent the initiates off in different directions into nearby woods and fields and had them meet up. Where this meeting would be was to be determined by an internal dialog with the others. They had to meet up at different places each time. At first, everyone met up in a different place. Then, pairs began to show up together. Eventually, they all met up at the same place, though each place was different.

During one such exercise, when they had nearly converged, She-of-Many-Paths heard someone tramping through the bushes in a noisy way that she recognized as the careless tromping of POND MUD. She stood still enough to become nearly invisible to many of the creatures in the forest. She alerted Shadow-Walker, Trunk-of-Tree, and Eagle Eyes through whistles. When She-of-Many-Paths was quite sure that her allies were in place, she moved to a likely spot near a path so that she might confront POND MUD. He walked right by her though his eyes were scanning back and forth in the dimming light for possible places for guard stations.  

She stepped out onto the path behind him and spoke. “POND MUD. You have broken the rules of banishment.” 

He whirled quickly, “Where did you come from? What are you doing here?”

“I am of the Veritas as you well know POND MUD as once were you as well. But no longer. To be found here now could be your death. You must leave.” 

POND MUD folded his arms defiantly and spread his legs. “Then kill me if you must. I have a much right to be here as anyone!”

She-of-Many-Paths slowly walked toward POND MUD looking into his eyes and seeing into his heart. “I know that ALT-R humiliated you. Why do you still work with him?”

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At first, POND MUD denied it and said it was She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives who humiliated him by showing him a cabin that he wasn’t strong enough to destroy but ants were strong enough! “You listen to her tales and try to win her rings if you like. But you will see! You will see soon enough!”

She-of-Many-Paths spoke gently, “That was not done to humiliate you but to teach you the important lesson that though you are very strong for a person, you could accomplish so much more working with others rather than trying to overpower them with your strength. Now, you are alone and all your strength gains you nothing, for you failed to learn the lesson.”

POND MUD snorted. “That shows how much you know! I have plenty of helpers! ALT-R, KAVA-NUT…No, never mind. You will see.” 

She-of-Many-Paths shook her head sadly. “Still working with ALT-R? POND MUD, he will betray you just when you need him the most. He uses the strength of his brain to overpower you.” Here, she paused and looked hard into POND MUD’s eyes and soul.  “And humiliate you.”

POND MUD’s face grew red. “He wasn’t humiliating me! He was saving my life! I could only get out of the quicksand by blowing bubbles. That’s why I had to put my face in the mud. He saved my life!” 

“How does blowing bubbles in the mud save your life?”

“Well, it did, because here I am!” 

She-of-Man-Paths thought of various examples that might show the error of this logic, but realized that POND MUD was not now in a very receptive mood for lessons. She-of-Many-Paths recalled the lesson of training trees which She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives had taught her long before she had begun her quest for the Rings of Empathy.

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives had once led her to a very small cave in a forest not far from the Lake of Reeds. “Now, suppose,” she had said in her ever gentle voice, “that you wished to keep this cave secret only unto the two of us. How might you hide it for a very long time?” 

She-of-Many-Paths had said, “Well, I could fill the entrance with rocks. Though that would be much work now and presage further work whenever I wanted to use it. I could cover the entrance with sticks, or broken trees. That would be too obvious to an eye that looked at it with more than a glance. These nearby saplings would look more natural. She took one such sapling whose slender trunk plunged skyward and tried to push it over the entrance. The sapling, though young, was surprisingly strong so she put her hands around it and began climbing with her body below it thus bending the tiny trunk toward the cave entrance. As she climbed she pulled her whole weight down. Just as she felt she was making good progress, the sapling cracked and spilled her onto the ground. Now the sapling was nearly torn through. Oh, so sorry, tree. Well, that looks pretty obvious and could draw more attention toward the cave than before.” 

“Yes, She-of-Many-Paths. Indeed, you are correct. Your idea of using saplings to hide the entrance is a good one, but suppose you need not be in such a hurry.” 

“I could use vines to loop around it and move it just a little. Then, perhaps, I could come back in a week and bend it a little more. I could come back every week for a long time. Eventually, the tree would grow bent over the entrance but not be broken as my hurry has done. I could do that as well to another tree on the other side. I could, in this way, encourage both trees to bend farther and farther toward covering the entrance. Then, as they grew, in this healthy way, and grew more leaves and branches, the trees would cover the entrance in a natural way. Though this would be a good cover except when the cold of winter encouraged the trees to drop their leaves. Above though, are more vines which I could likewise and somewhat more easily encourage to grow down over the top. This would take some time, but after a few years, the cave would indeed be well-hidden from all but the cleverest of eyes.” 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives had smiled her warm smile at She-of-Many-Paths and had suggested, “Perhaps we can test your idea. You continue with your plan for two dozen moons and then I will return with you and we will see how well-hidden this cave entrance has become.” 

She-of-Many-Paths had continued the slow bending of the trees and the slow encouragement of the vines from above. At first, there seemed little progress, but by the end of the 24 moons, the cave entrance was indeed quite well hidden, even in the dead of winter. 

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She-of-Many-Paths recalled this entire incident in a flash and knew that she had tried to bend the mind of POND MUD far too quickly. He was already convinced that ALT-R was his true friend and had saved his life. Her words had been true of course, but they only firmed the thoughts of POND MUD on his current deadly path. Yet, She-of-Many-Paths did not have 24 moons, and probably not even one to gently incline the perception of POND MUD toward a path of actual truth.    

“Indeed you are here, POND MUD, and I suspect that is more because of your own strength than because of ALT-R, but I have no wish to argue with you. You are indeed here, not far from the very people who have exiled you. Yet, you know the penalty for being here is death. You risk that. For what?”

“Not your business.”

“I don’t see ALT-R risking his life to find out this vital information you seek.” 

“He’s doing the same elsewhere. And if you kill us, you will have to answer to him and to NUT-PI.”

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“I have no desire to kill you POND MUD, and you are far too strong for me to overpower you.” At these words, She-of-Many-Paths felt a slight twinge of conscience. While it was strictly true that she had insufficient strength to overpower POND MUD, she had no doubt whatever that she could have dispatched him with one or both of the sharp daggers she had hidden on her person, even before her waiting and watching friends intervened. It was also true that she had no desire to kill POND MUD though she would have done so gladly if it could have saved the Veritas. And, it appeared from the stumbling words of POND MUD, and more so from those words he did not say but from darkness within him that he was trying to hide, that he and ALT-R  and NUT-PI, whoever that was, were up to no good. She was aware that, although she spoke literal truth, POND MUD might take those words in a way that planted seeds of untruth in his mind. Nonetheless, she persisted, “I certainly have no desire to kill your new friend NUT-PI whom I do not even know of.” This too was strictly true. She-of-Many-Paths ventured a guess, “Is he perhaps a friend of CHOFM?” 

Friend?!” POND MUD snorted. “That shows how much you know! You think you’re so smart with all your rings of empathy! NUT-PI is a far stronger and younger king than CHOFM!” 

“Stronger than CHOFM? That is strong indeed, POND MUD, for CHOFM is known to be quite strong, possibly even stronger than you. What of this NUT-PI? Is he stronger than you?” 

POND MUD frowned, “I’m stronger. But NUT-PI…You’ll see.” 

She-of-Many-Paths, like the rest of the Veritas, felt great anger toward POND MUD for lying about KAVA-NUT. Yet, she could see that beneath his blustery anger and boasts was a boy quit unsure of himself. It reminded her of what She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives called a “Killing Circle.” The more he felt alone and incapable, the more he tried to rely on his strength and the strength of those who played to his ego, the more cut off he had felt — and still felt — from the tribe of the Veritas. And the more he had acted this way, and still acted so, the more the Veritas despised him. And, the more they despised him, the more alone and incapable he felt. 

{Translator’s Note}: We would typically call this a “positive feedback loop” in today’s cybernetic parlance, though a “positive feedback loop” can be a “virtuous cycle” as well as a “vicious cycle.” The Veritas had no special term, at least that I have discovered, for a “virtuous cycle.” I believe this is because they viewed the normal course of life to be a giant web of “virtuous cycles.” 

She-of-Many-Paths, true to her name, considered many ways to try to draw more information from POND MUD. Presently, she said quietly, “Do you think you were wronged by the Veritas when they banished you and KAVA-NUT and ALT-R?” 

“NO! I don’t care!” POND MUD answered loudly and quickly. Too quickly, and too loudly, it seemed to She-of-Many-Paths as though he had prepared himself for such a question; as though he could not acknowledge the hurt behind his anger and treachery. “Just wait! You’ll see what happens to those who defy us! You think you are so smart! All this empathy will do you no good! Rings indeed! They will be no match for spears and arrows!” 

“You may be right, POND MUD, but you had good insights yourself in the first trials. Speaking of which, where are your Rings of Empathy? Surely, you didn’t throw out such well made jewelry.” 

“I – it’s not for you to know. It doesn’t matter! I’ve wasted enough breath on you and the Veritas. The Cupiditas do not gab all day. We train and … you and I have a date. A date of reckoning! Till then, go seek you rings! I do not need mine!” 

In a flash of insight, She-of-Many-Paths said quietly, “Was it your idea to give NUT-PI your rings? Or, was it ALT-R’s?” 

Having She-of-Many-Paths look thus into his heart plucked at small remnants of his longings to return to the Veritas, but precisely because of this, it flared his anger. Fundamentally, he was angry with himself, or, more accurately that part of himself that still felt a connection to truth and love and life. The truth he wanted to avoid above all others and the truth he desperately wished to avoid at all costs was that he longed for the past, his past, a past which would never — and could never — come again. He had chosen a different path and he hated any hint that he had chosen the wrong path, particularly when it stirred such feelings of longing within himself. He felt such rage at himself, displaced onto She-of-Many-Paths that he could barely contain himself from killing or maiming or raping She-of-Many-Paths then and there. Instead, he bellowed like an animal and ran off through the forest. 

She-of-Many-Paths looked at his retreating figured and wondered whether banishment had been the correct punishment. Before following this line of thought very far however, her companions came onto the path where she stood. Shadow Walker was the first to arrive and the first to speak, “I could not hear all that you said. I could hear almost all of what POND MUD said though. Indeed, every beast in the forest could probably hear him. How did you make him so angry?” At these last words, Eyes-of-Eagle and Trunk-of-Tree arrived as well. She-of-Many-Paths spoke again, “I said nothing to make him angry, though at each point, he chose to make himself angry over what I said. I honestly think he feels sorry for his choices and sorry for pitching his tent with KAVA-NUT and possibly with ALT-R though he believes, or at least part of him believes, that ALT-R saved his life. 

Trunk-of-Tree laughed. “I heard that! By making him blow bubbles in the mud?! What a fool!” 

Eyes-of-Eagle shook her head. “I knew that POND MUD was not so bright as some but I never thought he would fall for such a blatant lie as that!” 

“Indeed,” said She-of-Many-Paths, “but don’t forget ALT-R is smart and had plenty of time to bend his mind. Anyway, we should focus on what we learned. Unless, POND MUD is a far better artist of camouflage than even the bullfrog and walking stick, he and ALT-R, and KAVA-NUT are indeed in league with the Cupiditas. They are going to try, not to kill us all, but to enslave us or at least some of us. Apparently, CHOFM has been vanquished by a new king, NUT-PI and POND MUD has given away his Rings of Empathy as a gift to solidify their fealty. Probably, ALT-R gave his up as well.” 

Eyes-of-Eagle shook her head, “I find it hard to believe that ALT-R would honestly pledge his fealty to anyone. It is not the shape of his ambition. That shape always leads to himself at the top of any hill such as the people may occupy.” 

She-of-Many-Paths nodded gravely. “Yes, I also think it so. I believe that each of these are playing a game of make-believe. Each strives to make the others believe that they are faithful to a common cause when in reality, each has a different interest and the only thing they share is that they will use each other only so long as it suits their purpose. After such a time as the Cupiditas were to enslave us, they would betray each other. It may be that there is a way to reveal this. Meanwhile, we must prepare and redouble our efforts for I feel from POND MUD that this attack will come soon. We must redouble our preparations and share all that we have learned.”

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Books on Amazon. Author Page

“The Winning Weekend Warrior” – strategy, tactics & the mental game for all sports

“Turing’s Nightmares” – speculative fiction on “The Singularity”

“Fit in Bits” – describes numerous ways to work exercise into daily activities for more fitness and more fun.

“Tales from an American Childhood” recounts early experiences and relates them to contemporary issues and events.

The Cupiditas

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{Translator’s Note}: As has probably been obvious to the reader, translation into English from the legends of the Veritas is a non-trivial task; not only is the language different; so are the times, technology, and culture. Nonetheless, these difficulties pale compared with the next translation which mainly involves a different tribe, known to the Veritas as “The Cupiditas.” In what follows, I rely on several sources of scholarship as well as what the Veritas had to say about The Cupiditas. Where the difficulties become nearly unsurmountable, however, are those fragments of oral history passed along by The Cupiditas themselves. I won’t bother to recount all the difficulties, because doing so seems too much like whining. After all, I am well fed, living in a house with central air conditioning and heating and able to avail myself of modern technology. I do want to let, you, the reader, know how dubious these translations are however, not to gain your sympathy, but to alert you to numerous possible inaccuracies. 

First, the Veritas valued truth extremely highly and had developed numerous strategies to preserve the accuracy of their oral history. By contrast, the Cupiditas, as you will soon see, valued power, not truth. As a consequence, every time there was a regime change, those in power revised, re-interpreted, and redacted, insofar as possible, the oral history of the Cupiditas to make out “their side” to be the “good guys” and the powers most recently deposed to be the “bad guys.” 

Second, the difficulty in translating the myths of the Veritas often consists of finding expressions subtle enough in English to handle the many shades of gray that the Veritas routinely used in such matters as “causality” and “responsibility.” Native English speakers, for instance, see nothing problematic in statements such as: “Mary was sad and it was John’s fault.” Is this sadness temporary, permanent? Is it constant, cyclical? Is it really plausible that Mary’s sadness has zero to do with anything other than John? And, what does it mean to say it was John’s ‘fault’ exactly and solely? I may write such a sentence so that English speakers understand it given the current level of sophistication of our culture. The actual Veritas descriptions, however, are always much more nuanced. Causality is always characterized among the Veritas as a web of interconnections and never as a linear set of linkages. By contrast, there are very few subtleties in the language of the Cupiditas. They seldom attempt to use what we would call persuasion. People are arranged in a strict power hierarchy and whenever a person higher in this hierarchy states something as fact it is supposed to be obeyed, retold, and believed regardless of how absurd or wantonly cruel it might be. If, a few years later, violence leads to a repositioning of the power hierarchy, what was “true” before is now often “false” and now people were expected to obey, retell, and believe even the precise opposite of what they passionately believed weeks before. Since most adults among the Cupiditas had experienced several such “shifts” of what was “acceptable belief,” it seems as though either they had become incapable of knowing the “truth” or they had become too jaded to care.  

Third, as I mentioned, some of what follows is from what is certainly the much more accurate and less self-serving oral history of the Veritas. They were apparently even more mystified by the cultural choices of the Cupiditas than we are and that cast some doubt on how much the Veritas descriptions can be relied up. That the Cupiditas were less well off on almost every dimension is borne out by the archeological evidence. Yet, I remain suspicious that even the truth-seeking and empathic Veritas could ever be completely accurate in their recounting what happened among the Cupiditas. 

Fourth, Chomsky notwithstanding, in many cases, the Cupiditas did not appear necessarily to speak or even think in complete sentences. Here, I am not referring to the kinds of ellipsis or implicit commands that occur in English. While eating at the table with you, I might lift up my bread, catch your eye and say, “Butter?” meaning, “Would you please pass the butter (so that I can butter my bread).” This is understood by people in our culture. Among the Cupiditas, however, for an underling to use such language with one of a higher status would be considered highly insulting. Instead, the lower status person would be expected to say something along the lines of: “Oh, excellent one! Would it please you to allow me to partake of the butter and thereby increase my great debt to you?” On the other hand, a person of higher rank might well merely speak the word, “Butter.” In this case, it might or might not be an implicit request to pass the butter. It was intentionally vague and ambiguous. Lesser ranked people would silently pass glances trying to guess upon whom the honor of passing the butter had been bestowed. If too long a time passed, the high ranking person might suddenly grab the butter and smash it against the wall or into the face of a nearby lackey. On the other hand, if someone passed the butter, the higher ranking person, might say, “NO! TELL me about butter, idiot!” In other words, the higher ranking person would be intentionally vague so that no matter what was said or done, the other person would be wrong. One of many Cupiditas leaders who reveled in this game was the one called, NUT-PI.  

Legends of the Cupiditas: NUT-PI’s Plan. 

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Although there were many changes and variations in the legends of the Cupiditas, on one thing these legends all seemed to agree. The rather barren and desolate lands that the Cupiditas lived on now were the result of treachery and trickery on the part of the Veritas. Indeed, nearly all of the many problems that beset the Cupiditas were blamed on the Veritas while only a few were blamed on more distant and somewhat less prosperous tribes. For their part, the Veritas were amazed that the Cupiditas survived at all, given their insistence on warping and even denying the truth. The Veritas had learned long before even their most distant legends not to over-fish, over-hunt, or over-harvest in an area and thus destroy the very things that brought sustenance to the tribe. Moreover, when the Veritas built or hunted or gathered, they were always trying to try out new ways and to improve on how they did things. Usually, new ideas did not improve things but occasionally new ideas were an improvement and these were kept. While the Veritas worked and silence was not demanded by the character of the enterprise (e.g., stalking shy creatures), they talked or sang or chanted. By contrast, the Cupiditas tribe did the tasks of their tribe under the constant harassment and belittling of those in charge and new ideas were generally dismissed out of hand even on the rare occasions when they were brought up at all. This is not to say that innovation was absent in the Cupiditas. Apparently, NUT-PI himself rose to power by inventing a new way of killing. Rather than oust his opponents with spear or club, he poisoned them. He often killed them without their even knowing that he was vying for power over them. In this way, he quickly became the most feared among the Cupiditas. According to NUT-PI, those who opposed him angered the gods and those gods therefore destroyed his enemies, invariably striking them with “mysterious illnesses” causing them to go blind while their tongues turned black and their limbs grew ever more weary till at last they fell upon the ground writhing in pain and soon expired.  

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Previous leaders of the Cupiditas had risen to power through a combination of physical strength and guile. As they grew older, their physical strength began to wane slightly and the younger from among the Cupiditas vied among themselves for power and position until one felt strong enough and skilled enough to challenge the current leader.

Sometimes, the challenger would become the new leader and sometimes they would be killed outright or at least maimed to the point of no longer posing a threat. To the Veritas, such a procedure for choosing a new leader seemed preposterous! The chosen leader of the Cupiditas, always a man, could compel any woman among the Cupiditas to mate with him. Initially, this custom seemed to increase the average strength among the Cupiditas. However, the resulting inbreeding inevitably led to numerous health issues among the tribe. NUT-PI did not particularly enjoy physical combat and instead spent many of his days alone capturing small animals and discovering which plant tisanes had the most profound effect. At one point, he challenged the Cupiditas leader to mortal combat with spears. NUT-PI covered the spearhead of his weapons with an extract of hellebore mixed with datura. 

As was customary, in the rough-hewn stone arena before the “contest” began, NUT-PI offered two identical spears to the leader. As the leader reached for the first one, NUT-PI deftly slashed the hand of the old leader, CHOFM. It was not a deep cut, but sufficient poison leached into his bloodstream to cause weakness, confusion, and partial paralysis. A few quick thrusts and NUT-PI fatally wounded CHOFM. Despite his older age, CHOFM was much stronger, quicker, and more skillful than NUT-PI and would have easily won a “fair fight” with any sort of weapon. The tribe of Cupiditas, however, immediately hailed the new leader, as was their custom. 

{Translator’s Note}: The events described above are one of those many places where the worldview of the Veritas differs significantly from that of the Cupiditas. The legends of the Cupiditas do not distinguish between a contest won by treachery and a contest won by skill or good luck or superior strength. The Cupiditas already had a long tradition of pledging instant allegiance to whoever is the leader without any regard to how they got there. 

After many moons, NUT-PI proved himself to be a ruthless leader, even by comparison to other leaders of the Cupiditas. In order to keep the peace among the tribe, since he offered nothing in the way of true leadership, he roused the Cupiditas to a fever pitch of hatred for all that they had {supposedly] lost to the Veritas. 

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The next year, the winter seemed to last into spring and then into early summer. Hunting proved sparse and NUT-PI feared that the anger he had aroused might morph so as to be directed at him. Indeed, he rightly thought that fighting the far-away Veritas might seem to the people of the Cupiditas to be much more difficult than challenging and replacing their own leader. Also, the Veritas were known by all to be both more numerous and more prosperous than the Cupiditas. An all-out war against the Veritas would have been madness and although they spoke of it publicly as though it would be an easy victory, each of the Cupiditas secretly knew such a war would be hopeless. For his part, NUT-PI kept a close watch for any signs of a youth who might grow strong and skillful enough to challenge his power. He planned to poison any such youth before he became strong enough and confident enough to issue the challenge.

Such a challenge as was awaited by NUT-PI did not come. Instead, after the long, cold winter, the mandatory morning adoration songs for the leader of the Cupiditas were interrupted by two such ones as were not expected at all. By their garb, they were known to be of the Veritas. The Cupiditas thought it both stupid and brave for two such ones to walk right into the camp of the Cupiditas. Of course, the Veritas, while knowing that their customs were quite different from those of the Cupiditas, had no inkling of how heavily reviled they had been by NUT-PI. So, those two from the Veritas did not suspect that approaching the Cupiditas would be particularly dangerous. 

As they walked deeper into the Cupiditas camp, POND MUD and ALT-R found themselves surrounded by more and more of the Cupiditas. Though ALT-R had grown ever more clever at reading and manipulating people, he mainly did so through his words. He was not well versed at all in the language of the Cupiditas and his palms grew sweaty and the throng of people swelled in numbers. Even the much stronger POND MUD though slow and brash well understood that he and his friend were no match for the strength of the entire Cupiditas people. While ALT-R understood only a little of the language of the Cupiditas, he and even POND MUD could tell that the people surrounding them were being derisive and threatening. At last, the tension became overwhelming as many of the Cupiditas hunters jabbed their spears threateningly at the two. So, ALT-R forced himself to speak in a loud, confident voice, supplementing his words with gestures that were common to all the tribes. 

“Oh, great and wondrous people of the Cupiditas, we bring great news to you and wish to speak with your great and legendary leader, CHOFM!” Though fearful, ALT-R made his voice ring loud and clear in the crisp morning air. 

His words brought a much more sudden change in mood than ALT-R expected. Several braves ran off from the group to inform their leader who was lounging in his large, private cabin. The crowd as a whole began chattering angrily among themselves and became even more threatening to the pair. 

ALT-R tried to understand what was going on and wished to choose his next words so as not to further darken the mood of the crowd. He gestured expansively to indicate the whole village. “You of the Cupiditas are a marvelous and strong people. I see many strong people among you. I see many cabins. I see many tents. I see that you are a prosperous and strong people.” The Cupiditas were feeling anything but prosperous and many took the words of ALT-R as sarcasm since they “knew” the Veritas were far more prosperous. ALT-R knew his flattery was not working well but had no idea why. He hated his lack of fluency in the tongue of the Cupiditas and struggled for something else to say by way of flattery. As he scanned the village for inspiration, he saw someone emerge from the largest cabin. This someone was dressed in finer garb than the other Cupiditas and was surrounded by several servile sycophants. 

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ALT-R stared at the man and bit his lower lip. He wondered whether this was the leader of the Cupiditas, for he, like the other Veritas, had always heard that CHOFM was a rather large, older, well-muscled man. But this did not well describe the obvious leader who emerged from the cabin. Perhaps he was ill. That would explain his diminished stature as well as the fawning attitude of those around him. Among the Veritas, such fawning behavior never occurred even for She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives but only signaled someone in a temporary state of great need. Still confused, ALT-R cursed himself for not having chosen a smart, knowledgeable friend who could help him rather than one he could easily manipulate. 

NUT-PI spoke. “I am NUT-PI, the King of the Cupiditas. I am not CHOFM. I vanquished that old man before the last fall harvest, oh, ill-informed one of the Veritas. What gifts did you bring me?” 

ALT-R wished that She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives were here to advise him. Immediately, he pushed this thought from his mind. He hated the leader of the Veritas, who had overlooked him as the next leader and furthermore banished him from the tribe – a rare and terrible punishment. But it did remind him of the Rings of Empathy that he possessed. 

“I am he who is called ALT-R and I bring you, oh, great leader of the Cupiditas, these wondrous and magical rings imbued with special powers by the shaman of the Veritas. My companion also brings his rings as gifts. Though these are magical and wondrous, they are but tokens of our esteem. Our real gift is the gift of knowledge. We have come to show you how to conquer the Veritas, not through superior computations [sic] but through knowledge. We are of the Veritas and know the Veritas. We know where their lookouts are; we know their habits; we know their weapons; we know their strengths and weaknesses. We can show you how to defeat the Veritas. All I need is your word to make me small King of the Veritas to your large King of all in these lands. And, my friend POND MUD, of course. Also to rule under you.”

NUT-PI said flatly, “Show me these rings.” 

ALT-R eagerly fished out his rings and nudged POND MUD to do the same, which he did grudgingly. ALT-R knelt before NUT-PI and offered up his rings. He quietly backed away, head still lowered. He whispered for POND MUD to do the same. And so it was done. 

NUT-PI considered the rings, turning them over in his hand and letting the morning sun play upon them. They were indeed beautiful and well-made, but he was quite skeptical of magic. He had his own “magic” after all, consisting of the poisons he used to keep his power. The Cupiditas may think he was magic but he knew what the real secrets of his success were: poison and ruthlessness. We will see whether your knowledge of the Veritas is sufficient to save your lives. Come!” He turned and walked back toward his cabin, gestured for them to follow and snapped his fingers at his body guards. 

Inside the cabin, NUT-PI seated himself upon an ornately carved wooden chair raised several feet off the floor on a dais. POND MUD and ALT-R were forced to kneel on gravel before him while a score of well-muscled guards pointed their spears at the head, throat, and chest of the two from among the Veritas.  

NUT-PI looked at the two disdainfully. “Speak! Be quick! What do you know of how to defeat the Veritas!” 

ALT-R now found himself having to speak plainly in a foreign tongue about complex things. He was ordered to do so quickly and he was already feeling pain in his knees. Yet, if he spoke in too little detail, he would be dismissed as a fraud. On the other hand, if he spoke in too much detail, he knew that he had no guarantee that the Cupiditas would not kill them both and use the knowledge anyway. He stared at the gravel wondering whether it would ease his pain or worsen it if he tried to shift his position just a little.

NUT-PI enjoyed his obvious discomfort and played the rings in his hand while he started at the two. “WELL?! Do not think to waste my time!” he barked. 

ALT-R decided to reveal the scope of his knowledge first and then delve into ever more detail, vowing to ignore the pain until he could read that NUT-PI was sufficiently impressed. He would also make it clear that it would be necessary for him to accompany the Cupiditas in their raid in person. Thus, he began to reveal the general habits of the Veritas such as the fact that guards were not always positioned in the same place. At the full moon and the empty moon, these posts rotated among over a hundred vantage points that were chosen in some unknown way by She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. ALT-R knew where the guards were now so he could sneak back into the lands of the Veritas and discover their new hiding places when the moon showed no light. For the guards took no pains to cover their trails from the campsites to their guard posts. Each guard also had a small drum for raising an alarm. It would be critical to sneak behind the guards from the direction of the Veritas, once the new positions were known. It must be done very quietly and with camouflage under cover of rain if possible. Each such post must be taken quickly, the drums destroyed, and the guards murdered. It would not be necessary to kill all the guards initially. The Cupiditas only needed to murder those on the side of the deep forest that bordered the lands of the Veritas. 

ALT-R had never known such pain and yet, he kept reminding himself that he needed to convince NUT-PI of the depth and importance of his knowledge. He also painted a picture of beautiful women to be raped, full storehouses to be ransacked, and many fine artifacts that could be stolen. While it would be possible to annihilate the Veritas outright, it would be far more profitable to take them as slaves, he explained. He and POND MUD could be excellent at being the slave drivers for they spoke the language of the Veritas and knew their customs. They would be well positioned to foresee any uprising or rebellion and destroy any such tree of rebellion while still a seedling. “But of course, that choice remains with you, oh Great One,” said ALT-R fawningly. ALT-R had told a different story to POND MUD and promised him he could have any woman of the Veritas or the Cupiditas once they had become co-leaders of both lands and villages. Dull as POND MUD sometimes was, ALT-R hoped he would have the sense not to interrupt or reveal this now. He had made it as clear as he could to POND MUD to volunteer nothing. 

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At last, NUT-PI grew weary of listening for it was hard work to understand the twisted tongue of ALT-R and besides that, NUT-PI’s stomach growled for among all the Cupiditas he was the last to have a morning meal. So, he put an end to the interview, at least for now. 

“Enough! I will think on this and announce my decision on the morrow. Guards, take these two, denude them, bind them hand and foot in the center of the village upside down so my people may look upon the Veritas and realize they are nothing special and can indeed by conquered. When you have bound them securely, come back here that we may plan our invasion with or without their help. Perhaps they will be of future use as well. Or perhaps we will feed them to the wolves. Or, perhaps we will learn how they are made inside. Arise now and go! After you have secured them, warn the villagers not to kill them before I give the command, though if they wish to hurt them a little or humiliate them, to enjoy themselves. Stress, however, that they are not to kill these two until I give the word. GO!” 

ALT-R tried to stand and found himself struggling like an oldster. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, he thought, could have come to her feet more gracefully. 

So, it was that ALT-R and POND MUD found themselves in the middle of the camp of the Cupiditas, strapped to large logs, hog-tied and upside down, subject to the taunts and worse of the villagers through the long day and the longer night without benefit of food or drink or privacy. 

Even a dictator needs confidantes and so it was with NUT-PI. Now, these were with NUT-PI to plan. While the Veritas had very detailed maps of the entire area, those of the Cupiditas were far less accurate. Nonetheless, they knew the location of the thick forest that protected one side of the lands of the Veritas. They planned their attack as well as the training and selection of the warriors. One of NUT-PI’s captains obliquely brought up the question of who would be the best slave driver of the remaining Veritas. 

NUT-PI laughed and said earnestly, “Do you think me a fool, INGO RICHES? You can never trust a Veritas. And you can never ever trust a traitor. They are both! Of course, I will choose one of you to be slave-driver of the remnants of the Veritas. These two will both be killed once Victory is assured. Till then, they can serve as useful tools. They will then be killed as slowly and painfully as possible in the middle of the main camp of the Veritas to illustrate to the Veritas what happens to any who defy me. That will be their final gift to me. I will decide later who will have the Veritas to run as they wish, but do not worry, INGO RICHES, you are among the candidates. We must first put all our thought into winning this war for the Veritas are not an easy foe. They are wily and well-trained. We will use these two, but let them grow more humility as they contemplate their possible fates while hungry, thirsty, fearful and humiliated. Besides, I want to know why they came here. So far, this one who calls himself ALT-R had not really answered that question completely. But he will in the morning. Or the next morning. Or the next. Eventually, I will discover the truth. And this I promise you and all the people of the Cupiditas – we will conquer the Veritas and rule the world.”

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Myths of the Veritas: The Sixth Ring of Empathy

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Myths of the Veritas: The Sixth Ring of Empathy. 

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The Four, as they were now called by the tribe, despite being rivals, achieved a high degree of esprit de corps. Partly, as they had discussed among themselves, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives was, from their point of view, completely unpredictable in her tasks. Furthermore, all of them understood that the slightest hint of cheating, bad-mouthing, or even approaching the boundary of good taste might well be precisely that it would likely be the end of their candidacy. While the candidates were being tested primarily on empathy, it was well understood by the entire tribe that it was absolutely critical that the leader of the tribe must adhere to the very highest standards of ethical behavior. Why on earth would a tribe choose a leader of low moral fiber only to set a horrible example for the whole people? For these reasons and because, apart from any thought to consequences, winning at all costs, including dishonor, was simply not a way any of them wanted to live their lives. 

Many moons passed and still She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives had not called them together to explain the trial of the Sixth Ring of Empathy. So far, it was a complete mystery. As could be expected, The Four speculated a great deal among themselves, but they realized they were merely wild guesses. The talked, and debated, and dialogued quite a lot about empathy, but they were in the dark as to the actual tasks they would next be judged on. 

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The Shaman, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, for her part, walked here and there throughout the people; helping with what needed to be done; advising mainly by answering question with question; always generating warmth and wisdom by her example. Her being there, each knew in their hearts, was a great gift for all the people and they esteemed her and loved her greatly. Of course, they accepted that her seeking a successor was just another example of the great wheel of life moving around. Yet, it still saddened them to see her gone so they were in no way discomfited to see that the long time before the sixth trial even began stretched on and on. 

Unbeknownst to either the tribe as a whole or The Four, the “trial” for the Sixth Ring of Empathy had begun the instant that The Four had been chosen and walked silently back to their tents. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives knew quite well that everyone, including The Four, did not realize this. And she also knew that each of The Four was spending at least part of their time wisely, becoming better friends with each other and with the nuances of empathy through their mutual explorations and discussions. The Shaman planned to end the “trial” when she had enough evidence for her to decide on who precisely would continue to the seventh and final trial. 

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The Shaman had been observing many things over the past many moons. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives had been watching how The Four interacted with each other. Who listened well? Who spoke well? Who thought of things no-one else did? Who had a good heart? Who sought the truth and had the good of all at heart? 

She listened to how everyone in the tribe spoke of everyone else, including The Four. She knew how to moderate words heard to the likely underlying truth because she understood the blind spots of everyone in the tribe. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives had watched the reactions of everyone in the tribe as one or the other from among The Four came near. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives sought out many conversations with those of the tribe. She would talk of acorns, for example, and then remark on how Eagle Eyes had studied how acorns fell because she had been interested in shapes. This was not the story that She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives was interested in. The Shaman wanted to see the story written in the face and eyes of the person receiving the story. 

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{Translator’s Note}: At this point in the narrative, there are several more techniques that the Shaman used but those descriptions are filled with “technical terms” of the Veritas and, so far, no-one has much idea at all what, precisely, the Shaman actually did. It seems as though the Shaman is sensing how animals react to the candidates? But that makes no sense. And, it seems as though she is “reading” their faces and body language and, even, tuning into their auras? souls? voices? thoughts? responses? hearts? And, there is a passage that — well — I know it’s crazy, but she watches how music vibrates through these candidates? Or, how they resonate with various vibrations? None of the few remaining on this planet who claim to know anything about Veritas claims to have any knowledge of these arcane and possibly archaic arts. The oddest part is that the whole time I was trying to make sense of it, what came to mind were scenes involving the high-tech scanning from Star Trek! 

Although much of the Shaman’s focus was on the most important task of her life; viz., choosing her successor, she also took note of the Friendship of POND MUD and ALT-R. She had hoped they could learn from each other, but she feared that this friendship had taken a turn toward the way of Not-Life where truth is sacrificed as easily as one pulls off an ant’s leg. There were now simply too many reeds of evidence — more than enough to make a basket — that POND MUD and ALT-R were not going to be re-entered into the seeking of the Rings of Empathy. The Shaman knew that they had agreed to disrupt the trial. Fortunately, their planning was still quite vague because, like the rest of the Village, the two of them had no idea that the trial was underway. ALT-R, however, was discovered to be perpetuating one scheme on his own: to sow the seeds of jealousy among The Four and also between POND MUD and Shade Walker. This could help him “control” POND MUD and could well disrupt the entire trial so that the chances of POND MUD and ALT-R regaining a chance at the Rings of Empathy would be increased.  

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Though very bright, ALT-R was not among those of ever-alert eyes and ears. When he began calculating a plot, he had a tendency to pace while speaking aloud. In such a state, his cleverness peaked. However, in such a state, he could fail to notice such a noiselessly slow-moving person as She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. The Shaman was shocked. There had been hot-tempered people among the Veritas and those who were occasionally less than truthful when describing their romantic involvements to others. But the Shaman was now observing what certainly appeared to be an actually evil person who was going to subvert the process of succession in order to grab power for himself. He did not see or did not care what such a grabbing of power would do to the tribe, to the people, to the earth. 

The Shaman shuffled away as silently as she had come. Perhaps, the time had come for both POND MUD and ALT-R to be banished from the tribe before more evil spread. At this point, She -Who-Saves-Many-Lives happened upon a very perplexed looking young woman: She-of-Many-Paths. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives stood still, held out her arms before her, hands up, smiled at the youth, and said, “Good Day. Or should I say, ‘Good Day?’ What seems to be the trouble?” 

She-of-Many-Paths answered: “It’s nothing. It’s just. Shade Walker and POND MUD seemed to be about to fight over me. And I’m not. I don’t like POND MUD at all. I mean, not that way. But I do like Shade Walker. But Trunk of Tree is beautiful and large too. I just — but they can’t fight for me. I will choose who I want and what did you mean about our children pulling us together? Anyway, it’s really nothing and it’s — you know — just silly stuff among boys and girls, nothing that you’d…I mean that you’d be interested in.”

There was warm humor in the eyes of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives as she answered. “It’s all right, She-of-Many-Paths, I know you were about to say that I wouldn’t know anything about young love because now I’m an old woman, in fact, a very old woman. Of course, you are quite right. I was never myself a baby or a toddler or a young girl or a very confused adolescent. I fell fully hatched out of a very old and very craggy willow. That’s why my skin is so wrinkled. The bark against my skin all those years before I finally fell out full-grown and blotches as you see me now. So, I would no nothing of the catching of the breath and the full-throttled beating of the heart nor the feeling of melting and the burning skin. But if I had been born a baby and lived a full life, I would tell you one thing and that would be that you may live through all that and some day be lucky enough to be an old lady such as I. But meanwhile, come here. Take my hands. Look into my heart and see what you see in my past. 

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She-of-Many-Paths walked slowly forward to take the hands of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. As she stepped forward, her embarrassment subsided. Of course, everyone is part of the wheel of life, she thought. She imagined She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives as a youth. And then — there she was! She could see her plainly with long black hair and strong limbs. She was taller and her skin was smooth. And, she was in love. And again. And love was like the love that is the very foundation of life and love is terrifying and wonderful and much better than okay. It is Life. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives grew out of such a love and her parents as well and her grandparents and She-of-Many-Paths felt now quite well-named and terrified at the same time! For she was traveling out in many paths backwards in time, floating through an endless tunnel so it seemed slowly like a maple seed twirling slowly. She-of-Many-Paths could see/feel/hear backwards in time to the first Veritas and beyond to the first humans and beyond and it became almost unbearable because she was no longer She-of-Many-Paths with human eyes and brain at all. She was something else. Animal. Smell. Fear. Eat. Mate. Mate. Mate. Of course she wanted to mate! Now, She-of-Many-Paths staggered backwards, letting go of the Shaman’s hands. 

The Shaman spoke to reassure, “I see that you found the way to truly touch the tree of life through the heart of another.”

She-of-Many-Paths stammered, “What…what was that?! I could see, feel, what it was like to be you and … and before you… and it all started slow but then got fast and I was not even me.”

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The Shaman spoke again, “You learned to tie your empathy to your imagination in a feedback loop. It feels a bit overwhelming at first, but it is a useful tool.” 

{Translator’s Note}: There is a thicker description in the original and, though I know it sounds crazy, the most accurate translation I could come up with is a Superheterodyne receiver.

“Overwhelming,” exclaimed She-of-Many-Paths, “indeed. But, did you actually look like that? Or, is it just how I pictured it?” 

“Most likely some combination of those and also how I pictured myself.” 

“Do you experience this? Do you … travel, see,” She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. You will get better at it with practice though you may decide not to learn to use it.” 

Shade Walker appeared around a bend and began walking toward them. She-of-Many-Paths looked about as though for an escape route, but it was too late. 

The Shaman was the first to speak. “How does it go with you, Shade Walker? How are you and POND MUD getting on these days?”

“Well, actually…” Shade Walker’s eyes darted to those of She-of-Many-Paths. “He seems to want to fight me. Well, over She-of-Many-Paths. I am not afraid to fight him. But She-of-Many-Paths should choose who she wants. What does it mean to fight over her? Also, there’s something else, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. I don’t sense that he actually wants to. You well know that I have continued to study the way snakes can feel/see the heat of their prey. And, I sense all the heat coming, not from POND MUD himself but from ALT-R. But I don’t really think ALT-R wants…I don’t know what he wants. It just doesn’t feel right somehow.”  

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“No, you’re quite right,” said the Shaman. “It isn’t right. I’m afraid something must be done but I am not quite ready to do it. Meanwhile, I need to find Trunk-of-Tree and Eagle-Eyes. Any idea where they might be, Shadow Walker?”

“She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, I believe Eagle Eyes went to watch Fleet-of-Foot run. She wants to draw the way he runs. She’s talking about his form. It’s a little embarrassing. She’s not interested in his shape, I don’t think. I mean she is, but…let’s see. As for Trunk-of-Tree, he is practicing, as best he can, for the Sixth Ring of Empathy.”

“And, how, Shadow-Walker, does he propose to do that?” queried the Shaman.

“Exactly! We don’t know the next test.” Here, Shadow Walker paused and looked carefully at the Shaman for a hint or a clue. He found none. “Anyway, the way he is preparing is by practicing earlier tests. He doesn’t know what else to do.” 

“I suppose not. And, where might he be practicing?” 

“That is hard to say. I mean, I know where he is generally, but not precisely. He thinks you may re-ask us to do the first task, but this time testing a finer gradation of empathy. So, he is searching for places where the number of mountain peaks seen will depend on the height of the individual. Frankly, Shaman, it seems far-fetched to me. Of course, if that is the next trial, please don’t take offense. It’s just that every trial so far has been quite different so….well, I have no idea. Well, that’s not completely true. I have an idea but I don’t know whether it’s correct.” 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives smiled as she asked, “And, what is this idea, Shadow Walker?”

“Well, I think. She-of-Many-Paths and I both think…” he paused to look at the young woman who nodded almost imperceptibly. “We both think that we are in the trial. All day. Every day. It’s not about what we do when we know we’re being tested. It’s about what we do all through our lives and how we relate to other people. At first, it seemed kind of a crazy idea, no offense, but the more we thought about it and discussed it, the more sense it made.” He glanced again at She-of-Many-Paths, who spoke next. 

“Some people…some are quite good at dissembling empathy when they know they are being watched, but the real question is, what do they do when they don’t know they’re being watched. And, I have – we have – been thinking that you are somehow watching without being seen.” 

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“An interesting, idea,” began She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. “Very interesting. Your curiosity will soon be satisfied. I ask all four of you to come to council fire by my cabin tonight.” 

So it was ordered and so it was done. After dinner, the four came to a small fire that the Shaman had set in a small octagon of logs. After everyone was seated, the Shaman began. 

“I want to thank you all for coming. Tonight I will reveal the names of those who have successfully earned the Sixth Ring of Empathy. I can see that two of you are quite surprised — so much so that you are bursting with questions. What would you like to know?

Trunk-of-Tree was indeed beside himself and needed to talk, spewing his words forth rather quickly for him. “How can you have a result when we haven’t even begun the trial. We don’t even know what the task is. At least I don’t. What are we to do? Have we already done it? What? I don’t understand.” 

Eyes-of-Eagle was equally taken aback but reacted more stoically. “I would also like to understand, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. What do you mean? When did we do a trial?”

The Shaman nodded. “These are good questions. As you know, the Veritas put a high value on truth. I have discovered that some among our tribe are attempting to deceive. And though that does not include anyone here tonight, nonetheless, I wanted to see how you employ your gifts of empathy — or not — on a day to day basis, when you are not being tested, but just going about your business hunting, fishing, gathering, conversing, exploring, arguing, helping others, making baskets and tools and so on. In other words, I wanted to learn not what you could do when tested but what you would do, when you were not being tested.” 

“Well, I, for one,” explained Trunk-of-Tree, “was trying to improve my skills. My empathy skills. I did our tests over and over trying to see through the eyes of others and feel the hunger of others and see through the eyes of animals. I think I have improved all of these skills. And, also, I tried different ways of how-to. That’s what I’ve been doing. Improving my empathy.” 

“Indeed, this is not a bad thing, Trunk-of-Tree. How have you used your skill — your improved skill — to help the Veritas or to help someone among the Veritas?” 

“Well,” stammered Trunk-of-Tree, “would there not be plenty of time for that once, if I became leader of the Veritas? That’s your task now, but our task is to learn empathy, right?” 

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The Shaman looked at the others, “Any other comments?” 

Eyes-of-Eagle spoke next, “Well, we have been talking among us a lot about empathy and about what the trial might be. I thought it would involve shape-shifting. I thought we would actually have to change our shape in some way so we could imagine, what it might be like if we were smaller, or older, or more … but I can see your point. Yes, the best trial is the trial no-one knows is a trial. Shadow-Walker and She-of-Many-Paths thought you might trick us like that but I didn’t really take it seriously.” 

She-of-Many-Paths spoke, “I did not say it was a trick. Nor did Shadow-Walker. That is how you and Trunk-of-Tree characterized it. I just thought it was a slim possibility since it was taking so long. But then, the more we discussed it, the more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed that at least one of the trials wouldn’t be identified as such. In this way, our natures and choices would be revealed more fully.” 

“This is all true,” said the Shaman, “and was indeed my plan. However, I also discovered something I did not know. She-of-Many-Paths has a particular talent that is rare indeed. She can tune into the very Tree of Life through another’s heart. She can connect her empathy with her imagination. And then I discovered that Shadow-Walker can sense the origin passion of a plan. The development of these unusual talents is consistent with my observations that both of them have been thinking about empathy all during their activities. I am therefore giving the Sixth Ring of Empathy to She-of-Many-Paths and Shadow-Walker. 

“I need to share one other thing with all of you. I have reason to believe that sometime soon we may have some treachery in our midst. I just ask all four of you to keep your eyes, ears, and hearts open. You can use a broad-net empathy to sense when bad things are about to happen. Use it wisely.”

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Myths of the Veritas: The Friendship/Not-Friendship of POND MUD & ALT-R

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{Translator’s Note}: What follows is not contained in the “official” version of “The Seven Rings of Empathy.” That does not mean it’s any less true. It was not included in the original version because the majority of those who decided what went into the “official” oral history of the Veritas apparently thought this story too irrelevant to the main points of “The Seven Rings of Empathy.” Beyond that, several thought that the danger of providing a “bad model” for future generations outweighed the potential benefits of being forewarned. But none of the judges thought the story untrue. 

I agree, however, with the “minority report” – the judge who deemed that it should be included. If treachery and selfishness are part of human nature, why should we not know that? It does not mean, of course, that we should simply give in what is worst in our natures and use the excuse that we couldn’t help it. But knowing the sorts of errors we may fall into should both help prevent those who could be tempted and forewarn those who could minimize the damage done by such people. 

I do understand, nonetheless, the other point of view. Some of the work of Dan Ariely, for instance, which empirically studies ethics, suggests that telling people about some evil thing that some people do may actually increase the chances of more doing the same thing. For instance, some years ago, the US Park Service became concerned that too many people were taking little pieces of the Petrified Forest. So they put up signs that said something like: “Every year, 1000 pounds of this national treasure are stolen by people just like you. If this continues, the Petrified Forest will be destroyed.” So, people thought: “Hmmm, I hadn’t really thought of taking a piece for myself.” And, people thought, “Oh, so many people are doing it; I guess it can’t be that bad.” And, people thought, “I’d better get my piece before it’s all gone!.” A better sign might have read, “Every year thousands of visitors come to the Petrified Forest and the vast majority of them leave this majestic and unique beauty unmarred for future generations. We’re sure you’re another such person.” 

Or, to take an even more recent example, I would have thought it a good thing for everyone to know the atrocities that were committed under the direction of egomaniacal dictators so that it would never happen again. In the first place, if someone did have the tendency to lie, cheat, and steal their way to world domination, they would see that it actually never works out that way. Hitler ended up committing suicide and Mussolini was beaten to death by a crowd of his own people. I would hope that someone with tendencies like that, even if they weren’t moved to avoid becoming the sort of person who would commit atrocities would at least see that it was not going to end well for them either. Then, they would be encouraged to feed the “good wolf” and not become that kind of monster. It is, ultimately, the set of choices one makes that decide what kind of person they become. That was true for the Veritas tribe and it’s true for all of humanity.

Secondly, I would have thought everyone else would realize in an eye-blink how horrible it would be for everyone in a country if that country became a dictatorship. It’s pretty obvious from a priori arguments, but there is also empirical evidence. So, I had naively thought, “Well, thank God, we don’t have to go through that again!” 

We’ll see. But so far, I am thinking, if humanity “can’t handle the truth” as Jack Nicholson accused, then, we’re sunk anyway. The truth is the only way we can live and prosper. What does it mean to want the truth? It means you are becoming knowledgeable enough to react in an intelligent way to what happens. Any compromise with the truth means lessening of trust and therefore of cooperation and coordination. That in turn, means less of everything good for everyone. Therefore, I am of the opinion that the minority judge was right that the story of POND MUD and ALT-R is relevant to the teachings of “The Seven Rings of Empathy.” I am also of the opinion that, on balance, the story will prevent more people from being mean and stupid than it will promote. 

One short word though on my use of the word “official.” As I mentioned before, many people in “modern” and “sophisticated” and “techophilic” (or maybe that’s spelled “technophalic”?) civilizations believe that oral histories are completely distorted and wildly unreliable. That may be so in some instances, but the Veritas were quite aware of the possible influences to corrupt stories over time and therefore instituted a whole range of measures to keep the learnings from stories immaculately accurate (and I may delve into that more precisely at some future date). In any case, as I already mentioned, none of the judges doubted the truth of the following story. 

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The Friendship/Not-Friendship of POND MUD & ALT-R

Neither ALT-R nor POND MUD had been given the third, fourth or fifth ring of empathy. Yet, each secretly hoped that She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives might reconsider. Indeed, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives still held out some hope for ALT-R who was, in her estimation, one of the smartest in her lifetime. And, he had promised to feed the “good wolf.” She hoped that ALT-R and POND MUD might learn from one another and become more complete persons even if they never gained further rings. 

For their parts, POND MUD and ALT-R speculated who the eventual successor to the shaman might be. This provided only one of many topics that they talked about. Having been culled from the trials at the same time and for similar reasons encouraged their friendship. Such a pair could potentially help each other considerably. POND MUD had indeed been endowed with unusual strength while ALT-R showed remarkable cleverness in many respects. Their secret hope of somehow still winning the leadership of the tribe was one of the very few things that they failed to share with each other. For each was intelligent enough to see the wisdom of forming a partnership. POND MUD realized, though he hated to admit it, that he would never be so smart as ALT-R. And, ALT-R knew full well that he would never be so strong physically as POND MUD. Each, however, secretly cherished the notion that some how, a day would come that would make each to be the leader of the Veritas. Of course, POND MUD would push to have ALT-R to be his trusted advisor, for it always seemed to POND MUD that whenever their preferred plans differed, it was ALT-R that had the better plan. 

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For his part, ALT-R held just such a similar dream in his own heart. He saw himself as the leader of the Veritas with POND MUD as his personal bodyguard. Neither ALT-R nor POND MUD shared either this central tenet of their dreams or the machinations against the other to ensure their eventual dominance. For dominance over others was what each desired. 

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On one occasion, POND MUD and ALT-R decided to go foraging for blueberries. Each youth journeyed with a basket and a stave. When they came to a narrow path allowing only a leader and a follower, ALT-R led the way. From behind, POND MUD found it quite irresistible to use his stave to trip ALT-R. After the third such time, ALT-R turned and confronted POND MUD with a red face and a racing pulse, his stave held before him, his basket discarded on the ground. POND MUD laughed, “So, you want to challenge me? Have at it!” ALT-R proved skillful but he was still no match for the strength of POND MUD who basically pushed ALT-R down and then sat on his chest pinning his arms until ALT-R admitted that POND MUD was indeed much stronger. POND MUD let him up and led the way. “Good! Now, you know I am the leader. Follow me and we’ll be there quickly.” They walked in silence for a time. 

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POND MUD was so happy to have won the contest and so busy fantasizing about becoming the leader of the Veritas that he failed to take the proper path to the top of the blueberry hill. ALT-R, for his part, fumed still and though he could see that POND MUD had missed the turn, he had no intention of telling him for he knew that the path POND MUD travelled and knew that it led to a quagmire. Gradually, ALT-R let POND MUD get farther and farther ahead. They walked by witch hazel and spicebush and ALT-R gathered some leaves of each for they would be useful in later making a poultice that would help to treat the bruises that POND MUD had inflicted with his stave. POND MUD glanced back over his shoulder to note ALT-R gathering leaves. Again, he felt compelled to force his will on another. “Hey, hurry up! What are you doing? We’re here for blueberries. Not leaves. Follow me! We’re almost there! If you were the leader, it would take us forever to get to blueberry hill!” 

ALT-R’s voice dripped with enough irony to satisfy himself but be undetectable by the less subtle mind of POND MUD. “Yes, very lucky that you’re the one leading us down to blueberry hill.” 

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Though not so subtle as ALT-R, nonetheless, that phrase bothered POND MUD though he couldn’t quite discern what it was about ALT-R’s words that rung strangely. The journey was taking too long, he thought, so he yelled back to ALT-R yet again. “Hurry it up! It never takes this long to get to blueberry hill. You’re so slow! If I were on my own…Yech! What?! This path is flooded! Or mudded. I don’t recall this.” Now POND MUD’s feet were sinking. He tried to lift one and then the other foot out of the thick mud but each time, he only succeeded in sinking more deeply. He saw what appeared to be more solid ground ahead and struggled forward sinking still more deeply. Soon, his yelling and struggling succeeded in putting him in mud up to his chest. “What’s going on! Come here and help me!”

ALT-R responded to POND MUD’s panic with cold calm. That was fairly easy because ALT-R was still on rock solid ground. “No sense in both of us getting stuck. Stop struggling. Put your stave out to the side like this and drape your arms over it.” He demonstrated what was to be done. “Yes, that’s it. Now, I know this seems scary, but lean forward so your chest is on the mud. Go on. Do it if you don’t want to be stuck there forever. Keep the stave under you. Yes. And swim slowly toward me with the breast stroke. Eventually your legs will come up behind you. Let them lay along the mud as well.” 

POND MUD felt only slightly less panicked but ALT-R’s instructions did seem to be working. Very slowly, he swam through the mud toward the edge of the quagmire. 

A sudden inspiration hit ALT-R. “That’s it! You’re doing great. Slow and easy. Put your face down in the mud and blow some bubbles. That will get you here more quickly.” 

POND MUD frowned. “Why? How does that work?” 

ALT-R smiled, “I don’t know; I just know it works. Do it.”

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In another circumstance, POND MUD might not have followed ALT-R’s directions, but in the current situation, he would have grasped at any straw, had there been any. He took a deep breath, lay his face down in the mud and blew bubbles till his lungs were empty. Then, he cautiously lifted up his face, tried to shake some of the mud off by shaking his head back and forth. 

“That’s great. You’re doing well. Better take a breath and then put your face back in the mud and blow some more bubbles. You’ll be here in no time.” The next time, POND MUD came up for air, ALT-R yelled, “Wait! POND MUD, where’s your basket?” 

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“Who cares?” answered POND MUD. “It’s back there. It probably sunk.” 

“No, it didn’t sink. I see it. It’s only a few feet behind you. Isn’t that the basket She-of-Many-Paths made you? She won’t still fancy you if you lose that basket that she worked so hard on.” 

POND MUD tried to keep the panic out of his voice. “NO! You get it. I can’t go back.” 

ALT-R laughed just the slightest possible bit. “Oh, POND MUD, it’s just a little mud. Surely you can go back a few feet and get it. You’re not afraid of a little mud are you? After all, you are POND MUD.” 

POND MUD gritted his teeth, “I’m not going back! It’s too dangerous. You get it if you’re so smart.” 

ALT-R appeared to consider this. “Well, OK. I’ll get it, but then everyone will know you are too afraid of a little mud to get the basket of the young woman who loves you. A basket, I should add, that is only a few feet away.” 

“I don’t care! You get it! But don’t tell anyone! Tell her I got it. In fact, don’t tell her anything. Just get the basket! Please!” POND MUD was still inching his way forward through the mud. 

ALT-R meanwhile, had been inching backwards imperceptibly. “I’ll get it for you, POND MUD, but you definitely owe me one. No more talk from you about my following you. You’re following me from now on. But we have a bigger problem. You’re not making any more progress. You’d better put your face down in the mud and blow some more bubbles.” POND MUD complied.  

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ALT-R knew that if he gave POND MUD too much time to overcome his panic, he’d begin to see that ALT-R was toying with him. So, while POND MUD had his face in the mud, ALT-R came forward to the edge of solid ground and had POND MUD advance his stave to him while ALT-R thrust his stave out toward POND MUD. As soon as POND MUD felt the tug, he begin to try to stand upright. 

“NO!” yelled ALT-R. “Stay level. Don’t try to stand up yet! Stay on your belly till you’re on solid ground!” ALT-R struggled backwards bracing his feet as best he could on protruding rocks and roots. At last, POND MUD lay on solid ground, presently sat up, and began trying to wipe mud off his face.

ALT-R had never before summoned so much self-control but now successfully forced himself not to laugh at POND MUD covered in pond mud. It wasn’t really pond mud, but close enough to be absurdly funny to ALT-R. 

When POND MUD at last recovered his composure, he said, “Don’t forget your promise! Now, it’s your turn to get that basket. Let’s see how you like getting doused in mud!” 

“And what about your end of the bargain, POND MUD? If I retrieve that basket, you promise to follow my leadership?” Or, shall you be the one to tell She-of-Many-Paths that you managed to lose the basket she so lovingly wove for you? Or, shall I tell her?” 

“No. No. Okay. I’ll follow your lead. I swear.” 

“Good decision, POND MUD. Let me get that basket for you.” ALT-R turned and began walking back up the path away from the swamp. 

POND MUD screamed, “Where are you going? You promised to get the basket!” 

ALT-R did not turn back, but stopped a few feet farther up the path to the place he had noticed a ten foot sapling, dead, but not rotted. He broke the small brittle trunk and used his hands to break off a few remnant branches. He ignored the shouts of POND MUD and calmly walked back to the edge of the quagmire. He held the small end of the trunk in his hand and hooked one of the broken branch stems onto the handle of the basket on the very first try. He was able to use two hands to leverage the basket up and then pull it in without getting it any muddier. He handed it to POND MUD. “Here you are. As promised.” 

POND MUD seemed confused. “But…but you didn’t get muddy!”

ALT-R replied cooly, “Why would I do that? Would that make She-of-Many-Paths love you any the more? She would be a strange woman indeed who would love you more because I went needlessly through mud to get the basket she made for you. Wouldn’t you agree?” 

POND MUD shook his head, half in puzzlement, half in further attempts to free his face of mud. “But I could have done that myself! I didn’t need to swim through the mud.” 

ALT-R replied, “Perhaps you are correct, but a promise is a promise and your word is your bond. But if you like, we can relate everything that happened to She-of-Many-Paths and let her decide who she likes more. Of course, I would feel honor bound to tell her the truth. That you were too afraid to go back and get the basket yourself and had me do it. And, in return that you promised to follow me if I got the basket for you. I could be wrong, of course. I think that if we tell her the truth…well, you know women are so unpredictable. She might think you don’t really care for her if you won’t even bear a little mud for the time of a few breaths though it took her at least a day’s work to make this basket.” 

POND MUD grumbled but picked up his stave and his basket and followed ALT-R. They gathered no blueberries that day, however. Instead, they went to a nearby clear stream and washed off. For even ALT-R has a bit splattered with mud. Once again, it took all his self-control not to laugh at POND MUD as he washed off the now-dried mud of the swamp. ALT-R thought, and not for the last time, that he indeed he would one day become the leader of the Veritas, regardless of the trials set by the Shaman. Outsmarting her would be more difficult than outsmarting POND MUD. This he recognized and acknowledged. But he saw no reason why he should fail. 

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Myths of the Veritas: The Fifth Ring of Empathy

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The day after the Prophesy Dream of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives dawned clear and clean. The air smelled as sweet as ever and sweeter still to the shaman who had dreamt of a world of dirty air. The clear morning sun rainbowed on raindrops on every bush. Trees sported their first leaves of spring which are as various in colors as those of autumn but because the leaves are yet babies, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives could see much more deeply into the land about her. It filled her heart with gladness even more deeply on this spring morn. She decided that she would share her dream with all of the Veritas, but only after she took the time to craft the telling so that each would receive the gift as she had — the gift of great gratitude. For she well knew that experiencing that dead white world as she had made her redouble her appreciation for the real world but that simply telling others about her dream would not be enough to gift them the same great gratitude. It would take time to decide how best to share her gift. 

Meanwhile, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives walked to the main village to see who among “The Six Who See Through Animal Eyes” was already at work on their various tasks. The eyes of the shaman, though old, remained clear and her mind remained retentive so that as she passed through the village greeting this person and that person from among the Veritas, she observed many things both small and large. And, among the small things she noticed were a number of crushed ants. She looked around for Pond Mud but he was nowhere near. On a hunch, she decided to visit the place where she had shown Pond Mud the strength of ants. As always among the Veritas, and as she had been trained all her life, her footsteps were as silent as those of bobcat. Before she reached the clearing with the broken cabin, she could hear the angry voice of Pond Mud. And though the eyes of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives were as clear as ever, she well knew that her hearing was not so good as that of a youth such as Pond Mud. As she approached, she could hear the tone of voice of Pond Mud become sweet and she greatly suspected that he had heard her coming despite her silent way of walking. 

He met her at the entrance to the clearing and spoke first, “Ah, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, it is good to see you. I am headed back to the village. I was just trying to learn more about ants though I well understand that I am no longer in contention for another ring of empathy. Such learning is still a good thing. Anyone can see that.” 

“I am glad to hear you say that. The statement is correct. Anyone can see that. Though some choose not to see. I hear that you have become still better friends with Alt-R. Is this so?” 

“Yes, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives, we have been training together to become still better hunters. And, that skill, as you well know, also requires seeing through the eyes of animals. May I accompany you back to the village and I will tell you something of what I have learned?”

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives wished to examine the clearing but decided it could be better done later while Pond Mud busied himself with other tasks. So, she returned to the village still feeling great gratitude for the fullness of the life around her. 

During this day, she observed the Six-Who-See-With-Animal-Eyes at their various tasks as well as much more. When Alt-R and Pond Mud, along with several other hunters, went to practice spear throwing, she returned to the clearing. Alas, her hunch had been correct. Pond Mud had not simply been observing ants; he had been systematically killing them. Even more disturbing, many had been tortured. And, even more disturbing than those actions, had been the dissembling of Pond Mud. He had known what she would like to have heard — that he had taken her lessons to heart. Her mood soured for this was the sort of deception that could destroy a village or indeed an entire tribe. It would have to be curbed very soon and most likely shared with the entire tribe. She held out some hope however, that the heart of Pond Mud could yet be turned to good. For if not, he would certainly be exiled, a rare and severe punishment which invariaby lead a short and lonely life. 

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As the delicate beginnings of spring gave way to the fullness of another summer, the tasks of the Six-Who-See-With-Animal-Eyes gave way from planning to building. Soon, the time came for all to recount their learning. When She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives saw that this was so, she called each of The Six to her as one. She asked each pair in turn to describe their experiences for she wanted to judge not only the maker but also the mentor as well as how they recalled events differently, as people do, and how such differences were resolved. The shaman also knew that each of The Six could learn from all these experiments in trying to use the way of how-to of another.

The first to report on their experience together were the hammock-builder, Fleet-of-Foot and his mentor, Trunk-of-Tree. According to Trunk-of-Tree, he first tried to show Fleet-of-Foot how he would make a hammock with great thought as to its longevity and strength so that it would last against time and some misuse. Fleet-of-Foot had resisted such advice and had immediately begin building the hammock. Six such hammocks had Fleet-of-Foot constructed over three days time and each such hammock had collapsed.

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Fleet-of-Foot admitted that these hammocks had broken but he claimed it was because Trunk-of-Tree had given him faulty materials and bad advice. At long last, in frustration, Fleet-of-Foot had challenged Trunk-of-Tree to show him how he would build a hammock and instead, Trunk-of-Tree had spent an entire morning making tools, and laying things out, and not even starting on the hammock. Fleet-of-Foot grew impatient because obviously, Trunk-of-Tree had had no intention of showing Fleet-of-Foot how to build a hammock. When Fleet-of-Foot came back a few hours later, the hammock was finished. This they agreed upon, and as to its sturdiness, but Fleet-of-Foot was sure that Trunk-of-Tree had cheated by getting others to help him make his hammock. Otherwise, argued Fleet-of-Foot, how could slow Trunk-of-Tree make a hammock in a day when fast Fleet-of-Foot finished no hammocks in three days? 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives had much to say about this experiment, but she held her tongue and first asked the others from among The Six what they thought. After some long silence, Shade Walker said this, “I have known both all my life and have never known Trunk-of-Tree to cheat or lie. Fleet-of-Foot is fast; of this, there is no question. But he also sometimes rushes into things so quickly that he ends up taking more time. I have myself only made three hammocks so I am not so expert as Trunk-of-Tree and perhaps mine are not quite so sturdy but they were all finished in one day.” 

She-of-Many-Paths spoke next. “I have never made a hammock. But I have been listening to many expert craftsman in our village and every such has cautioned me to take the time to plan the work carefully. Whether it is making spears, making spearheads, making pottery, or baking bread, it is critical to ensure that you have a good plan; that you have chosen your materials well; that you have prepared and tested at each step along the way. So, I can well believe that Too-Fleet-of-Foot could charge off along the wrong path six times in three days while Trunk-of-Tree could take a more deliberate path to create a hammock in one day.” 

Easy Tears knew it was his turn to speak but did not wish to offend anyone. “I cannot really tell because I was not a witness to these recounted events. I believe that each told us of their own experiences as they now recall them. And, ultimately, both were successful because now there is a hammock that was not there before and Trunk-of-Tree served as mentor and judge.” 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives nodded to Eyes-of-Eagle who spoke carefully, molding the shape of her argument and the shape of each sentence and each word. “I find that trying to create something in the way of another how-to is a difficult task. So, it was with Trunk-of-Tree and Fleet-of-Foot. Fleet-of-Foot grew too quickly impatient and rather than trying to build in the way of Trunk-of-Tree instead built in his own way of how-to which was not sufficient to the task. Rather than learn another, more careful way from someone who knows and uses the careful way, he insisted on sticking with his own way though that way did not work. However, Trunk-of-Tree, though he took his time with the hammock, was likewise impatient with Fleet-of-Foot and ended up building the hammock himself which was not his assigned task.”   

{Translator’s Note}: In the original, these recountings, have apparently been preserved in great detail. Though scholars differ, I tend to believe the details are correct despite their being passed down orally because the Veritas developed many methods to ensure the accuracy of their traditional learning stories and because the details of their skills were vital to their survival. Since most modern readers have little little experience weaving baskets or making a hide tent, I omit much of those details in my summaries. Instead, I focus on the lessons learned and the decisions of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. 

Now, as was her way, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives asked Fleet-of-Foot and Trunk-of-Tree whether they had found any further learning while listening to the comments of his compatriots. 

Fleet-of-Foot immediately began, “Wonderful comments. I learned much. However, the important thing is that I was asked to produce a hammock in the way of how-to of Trunk-of-Tree and such a hammock was indeed constructed. I caused that to happen by my actions so I believe I completed my task. Fast is good. But sometimes, the fastest way to accomplish something is to have someone else who is even faster do the job. Either way, faster is better.” 

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She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives stared at Fleet-of-Foot and sighed. Still, she did not speak. Instead, she turned to Trunk-of-Tree. The latter’s face flushed as he said, “Fleet-of-Foot is indeed impatient, but so was I. My job was to mentor Fleet-of-Foot in the way of how-to for strength and longevity yet after three days, I gave up and made the hammock myself. I believed that if I demonstrated to him that I could make the hammock more quickly by being careful and planning each step that Fleet-of-Foot would learn the lesson. I made this judgement based on my own way of how-to. I would have learned the lesson this way. But this is not the way of learning of Fleet-of-Foot. He is too impatient to learn in this way. He left even before I finished; in fact, barely after I had made preparations for the work. He believes I encouraged or cajoled others to help me, which I did not do, because I failed to teach him the slow and methodical way of how-to. So, I too failed in my task.” 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives again turned to “Fleet of Foot” and prompted, “And…?” Fleet-of-Foot answered thusly, “Trunk-of-Tree may have failed but I did not. We should see who else besides me deserves the next ring of empathy.” 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives chuckled. “I have dreamed of such a one as you, Fleet-of-Foot, and when the time comes, I will indeed, shrink our group as is befitting, as well as sharing my dream. I would now observe, however, that Trunk-of-Tree has shared a great learning for all of us. What would have sufficed for him to have learned the lesson of patience did not work for you. On the other hand, you have shown no learning whatever. The tree of your learning has not added a single branch or leaf so far as I can see. Fleet-of-Foot, you wished to win a race; lost the race; then showed no interest in discovering how you could have won the race. This is the way of “Fast-at-First-and-Slow-at-Last.” 

So, in turn, did each of the pairs recount their experiences and learnings. 

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Trunk-of-Tree made a basket very slowly and carefully. Yet, no-one wanted to trade very much for such a basket; not nearly enough to satisfy Trunk-of-Tree’s desire for compensation for so much time spent. Easy-Tears had been quite content to watch the strong hands of Trunk-of-Tree working the reeds over and under and through. It had been quite mesmerizing. She had said almost nothing during the making, but when Trunk-of-Tree found no-one willing to trade much for his basket, she showed Trunk-of-Tree how the addition of a some brightly colored dyes in a pleasing pattern changed such luck and how such additions made his sturdy basket much more desirable in the eyes of the clan. Trunk-of-Tree had been quite surprised at this common reaction. He had thought the purpose of a basket was to hold things and this goal he had accomplished quite well. However, Easy-Tears had shown him how just a little extra work, though not making the basket stronger or more functional, could greatly increase how badly others wanted such a useful basket. 

Shade-Walker and Eagle-Eyes recounted their adventures in jug making. At first, Shade Walker had mainly loved the feel of the wet clay spinning through his hands. With the hands of Eagle Eyes guiding his, however, he learned to enjoy the sight of the evolving shape as well. In the end, both had gone on to make a series of beautiful jugs. Eagle Eyes had ended up loving the feel of the wet clay, although what she had loved the most was the feel of Shade Walker’s fingers, she admitted. 

Eyes-of-Eagle explained that she found if very difficult to make a dream catcher under the tutelage of Fleet-of-Foot since she herself had wanted the end result to be beautiful and Fleet-of-Foot kept encouraging her to proceed more and more quickly. However, as Fleet-of-Foot at last perceived that his constant encouragement toward ever more speed made Eyes-of-Eagle both more error prone and more testy with him, he instead encouraged her by telling her that she was amazingly fast. Everyone could see that Fleet-of-Foot was again interested in speed; however, in this case, his interest had been more in speed of becoming more intimate with Eyes-of-Eagle than in the speed of making a dream catcher. 

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She-of-Many-Paths told of how she had wanted to make a tent for Shade Walker. Shade Walker had liked watching her and had asked if she were enjoying the process of making the tent. She had blushed — and had said that she was very much enjoying herself. After they get over their awkwardness, they had talked about the various ways of how-to and had decided together that being grounded and having a satisfying process are very much akin. Though these are different ways of how-to, one helps provide the other, they had surmised. This they shared with The Six and the shaman and all had agreed. 

Upon recounting and subsequent questioning, all learned that Easy-Tears had wanted the travois to be popular and had difficulty even understanding what She-of-Many-Paths meant by constructing a travois so that it encouraged a “grounded” view of life. Easy-Tears had been watching She-of-Many-Paths and Shade-Walker for some time however, and decided that what She-of-Many-Paths really wanted was Shade-Walker. Easy-Tears suggested that if She-of-Many-Paths wanted Shade-Walker, it would be best for everyone to be done quickly with the travois project so that She-of-Many-Paths could spend more time with Shade-Walker who had lately been spending much time with Eagle-Eyes, their long fingers inter-twined with those in the wet clay which they shaped together. In return, Easy-Tears had promised to teach She-of-Many-Paths the path to popularity and thereby to further increase the interest with which Shade-Walker would view She-of-Many-Paths. 

At the end of day, after every such recounting and dialogue, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives quietly took out a small, folded deerskin. This deerskin held a number of rings of hemp woven into a complex, repeating, yet ever-changing pattern. “The time has come,” she began, “to chose which among all the Veritas is ready to take on the next challenge. All of you have done well and should now be more of a contributor than ever to the Veritas. I have challenged you in many ways to see and feel as others do. In this, you have all shown much skill in the ways of empathy.”

“As you know, each of us is a small leaf on the very large Tree of Life, a tree that has been growing and expanding through all of earth. We are all connected: the people who are the Veritas, other people, other animals, every bird, every plant. We are all connected. With empathy, you may be able to tune in to the tree itself. As you have observed, when we sing and play music and dance, the self-same beat is in everyone and every drum vibrates. If two strings are of the same length, and one is plucked the other may also vibrate. The life in all is in all.

“Learning to tune in to the music, to the beat of another person, or to the great Tree of Life is a great gift to be greatly encouraged. However, you must understand that this is the Tree of Life itself that you are tuning into in order to understand others. When you do such tuning in, you must do so for the good of others, for this great Tree of Life. If instead, you tune in only to serve your own ends, you are using the Tree of Life in a way that destroys the tree itself. Empathy is a way to make us whole. It should never be used to divide us. 

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“Fleet-of-Foot, you had some ability to understand the way of Trunk-of-Tree. This knowledge you used to subvert the task at hand. You therefore emerged from the womb of this great opportunity for you to have learned patient working instead unchanged. You also used your understanding of Eyes-of-Eagle, not to help her learn other ways, but to flatter her to try to get her to become closer to you. Ultimately, this way of using empathy always pushes others away. Some may understand quickly and some may take years. But ultimately, tuning in to the Tree of Life in order to bend it to your own purpose will fail for you. It may also, as shown in my dream, cause the Tree of Life itself to fail. 

“Easy-Tears, you were honest and helpful in your work with Trunk-of-Tree. You helped him to understand in a deep way that the surface beauty of something, while it may not be of much value to him, is nonetheless of value to others. In this, you did well. However, you tried to use your knowledge of the affection that She-of-Many-Paths has for Shade-Walker to try to get her to accept your lack of being able to understand the way of how-to of grounding every action. She-of-Many-Paths saw through this ruse and told us honestly of what happened. Yours was also a misuse of empathy. You were not primarily interested in helping She-of-Many-Paths as you claimed, but were more interested in getting your task finished. Moreover, if you really understood deeply Trunk-of-Tree and She-of-Many-Paths, you would see that a surface popularity is not what draws them together. Rather, they are being drawn together by the Tree of Life itself; e.g., their own future children.

“Please understand. Your own ways of how-to are each valuable. And you are all skilled in empathy. For now, I bestow the Fourth and Fifth Rings of Empathy on only those who tune in to the great Tree of Life to help the great Tree of Life. If I become convinced at some future time that others have also learned this great lesson, they too may receive the Fourth and Fifth Rings. For now, please come to me to receive your rings for you have earned them.”

Trunk-of-Tree, Shade-Walker, Eyes-of-Eagles, and She-of-Many-Paths each came in turn, knelt before the shaman and received their double rings. Each such person had much to think about and they walked back to their lodgings in silence.  

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Myths of the Veritas: The Prophesy Dream of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives

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The Prophesy Dream of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives

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She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives wondered how effective the promised dream-catcher of She-of-Many-Paths would prove. Lately, the Shaman’s dreams had been more troubled than usual. In the distance, she could hear the skies rumbling and grumbling in the distance. She could smell the approaching storm; as yet though, no raindrops drummed and not a whisper of wind swayed the nearby oaks. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives drifted into a fitful dream. 

{Translator’s Note}: Needless (?) to say, the Veritas, like many so-called primitive people’s took great store in dreams and dream interpretation. Nonetheless, they also realized that the outside conditions influence dreams and the reader is also no doubt aware from their own experience. Therefore, before recounting the contents of a prophetic dream itself, they recorded the physical circumstances and physiological state of the dreamer. 

She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives began her journey in the spirit world walking along one of the broad paths that the many branches of the Veritas used for commerce among themselves. She walked soundlessly along the path, whose dirt had been pounded into hard-baked clay by the elements and the numerous feet, large and small, who had trod, run, shuffled, and plodded along this path. Presently, the Shaman came across a blueberry bush and snatched off a handful, anticipating the rich, sweet, aromatic taste. But there was no taste. She coughed and noticed that her eyes watered. Breath came with difficulty, and the air itself seemed to filled with dust or ash — the worst tasting ash ever. She looked toward distant peaks but they were dim as though the air was no longer air but a thin gray smoke, tinged with yellow. Smoke seemed to grow from leafless, limbless trees.

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She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives looked down at her feet and was surprised to see that the baked dirt was not yellow-brown dirt. Instead, the path was a dirty silvery gray flecked with tiny pieces of mica. The road was hard under her feet – much harder than usual. She stopped in her tracks. Something was making an odd noise. No, not a noise. It was silence. 

No crow scolded. No robin tweeted and twittered. No unseen tiny feet scurried through the brush. No squirrels chattered in the trees. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives saw the rock-hard road beneath her feet spread out like a cancer growing ever larger. As the strange and ugly whitish rock spread out in all directions, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives could see it destroying all in its path: blueberry bushes, oak trees, deer, squirrels. Everything flying fell from the sky. Everything crawling or running found themselves mired in the ever-expanding death rock. Initial silence was replaced by deafening screeching and rumbling. 

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She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives still found herself wanting to run from this terrible thing that ate her world but found herself instead lashed to the spot, unable to move. She called for her tribe but no-one came. Perhaps they could not even hear her over the din. In the distance, at last, she saw other people coming toward her. Like every other adult in the tribe, she knew everyone and could recognize each such person at a distance. But here she saw none that she recognized. As the throng grew closer, she saw that their faces were also white and flecked like the rock itself and their eyes had no light. Each marched as though to a drumbeat that only they could hear. Their faces showed nothing and their mouths all moved constantly but nothing meaningful issued forth. 

As people in such close proximity inevitably do, some few tripped upon each other. A few such blank people fell. Rather than laughing and spreading out more to avoid further tripping, they began fighting and screaming at each other. Each such person blamed other such people and everyone pointed fingers at someone else and screamed. Some such persons now drew forth magic black rocks and pointed not fingers only but also these magic black rocks at each other. Such pointing came with a loud noise such as a moist shale makes in exploding when placed too close to the fire. Such magic pointing caused blood to appear in the person pointed to. Many such people pointed and many such people of white death in so pointing caused others to fall bleeding and screaming. 

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She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives tried to minister to some who were bleeding and screaming. She began to tear off some of the clothing of these people of white death to make tourniquets. The touch of such clothing repulsed her; nonetheless, she persisted. She saw that no-one else helped her with her ministrations. She began to wonder whether these magic black fire rocks would also cause blood to appear if pointed at her. She stood to look about for anyone from among the Veritas who might help her, but all she saw was an endless sea of the people of the white death coming down the broad white road. Now, each had a magic black rock of fire and all pointed at someone else and made blood appear. They no longer waited for someone to trip. They simply seemed to want to cause harm and kill another living human being. 

The Shaman became concerned for her own people and ran to hide in the Lake of Reeds until such time as she could conceive of appropriate action for no such plan could she yet devise. When, she came to the Lake of Reeds, however, there were no reeds at all. The beautiful blue lake had been replaced with one of brown and it was covered with scum. She walked to the edge and touched some of the scum. It was not a plant however as she had sometimes seen. This scum was not of life but of death. It was mainly white or clear. And, when she touched it, it seemed not of this earth but appeared instead to be of the land of death. When she touched it, she felt no connection whatever to life. 

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She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives decided to head back to her own cabin and call a council meeting. She knew a path over the ridge and hoped that the white road of death had not yet killed such path. Suddenly, she was at her cabin door. Sitting in front of the cabin door, laughing, was Fleet-of-Foot wearing a white death-mask. She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives spoke urgently. “Fleet-of-Foot, be true to your name and run quickly to summon the tribe. There is a great plague upon the land and I fear it will kill all things unless we act quickly.”

Fleet-of-Foot just grinned at her, and replied, “Do your own errands, old lady. I am from the future where I am king.”

“King? What is a ‘king’ and do you not hear me? It is urgent that we summon all the people now. There is a giant white rock of death covering all things. I cannot stop it alone.” 

Fleet-of-Foot shook his head. “No, old woman, that is just a better kind of path. It is faster and allows more people to travel. It kills nothing but useless trees, bushes, and animals.” 

“Useless? How can you say trees, bushes and animals are useless? We depend on them for our survival.” She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives now saw that Fleet-of-Foot seemed enclosed in a giant shiny bubble. His voice seemed to have lost its rhythm and music. Indeed, he spoke quickly but without any connection to his own heart. 

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“Listen, Old One,” continued Fleet-of-Foot, “we have better ways to find food now and everything else. We have no more need for animals, bushes, and trees. Everything is done more quickly and efficiently now. Perhaps you do not yet see the wisdom of this new way, but you will. Everyone does eventually. Well, everyone who survives. You see, One-Too-Old-To-Save-Many-Lives, now everyone has only one way of how-to. My way. The way of As-Fast-As-Possible.”

“Fleet-of-Foot, there is some good to that way of how-to, but it must be balanced with other ways. Where are the other candidates?” 

“Not really, One-Too-Old, speed is really all that counts. I killed all the other candidates. Too much trouble. They didn’t seem to realize that my way is the only way. My way of how to has made many weapons as well for fast killing. Such weapons as these end arguments very quickly indeed. And, I have wasted too much time already talking with you.”

At this, Fleet-of-Foot pulled out a magic black killing rock and pointed it at her. 

Before he could use his weapon, a hundred eagles dove from the sky onto every part of Fleet-of-Foot, and tore him apart with their talons. Fleet-of-Foot screamed. 

At this, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives awoke and realized it was she herself who was screaming. Outside, she could now hear the storm outside bringing life-giving rain and the crack of nearby lighting and the ripping of trees struck by such. The Shaman decided this was a dream that she needed to share. She decided that when the storm had passed, she would call together first the Six-Who-See-With-Animal-Eyes, including Fleet-of-Foot, to see what possible meanings could be gathered and whether such a dark dream should be shared with all of the Veritas. Beyond meanings, however, she wished to amplify her own wisdom about whether such an imbalanced world as the one she had seen could ever come to pass. 

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Further sleep that night proved impossible, even for one so disciplined as She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives. She turned the problem this way and that in her mind, trying to see if such path of inharmonious blindness could ever come to pass. Could the Veritas, or indeed, any people come to view speed as so important that they put no value whatever on any other way of how-to? Being in harmony counted for nothing? Making something that lasted for many winters counted for nothing? The pleasure of the making itself counted for nothing?  It seemed unlikely. It was also unlikely that one tree could grow through another. Yet, she had seen such herself and not far from here. But to see trees, bushes, and animals as being without value? To replace such with a huge block of ugly white flat stone? To make a gray white pond scum to cover lakes? To laugh at and mock other ways of knowing? These seemed impossible, not just unlikely. Still it would be good to see whether fresher eyes on the world could see a path to this not-life way of life. Often, she well knew, a perfectly good fruit with a slight crack may become first a home for a few tiny mold plants and soon the entire plant is encrusted with foul-tasting mold. Some few ants could begin chewing on logs and eventually destroy an entire lodging as she herself had pointed out to Pond Mud. Could something like that happen to an entire world? Wouldn’t the people stop such an infestation long before it was too late?

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“Magic Portal” to Other Worlds!