The Path not Taken

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Many Paths awoke smiling. A soft pink and golden glow suffused her cabin. She relished the warmth beneath her blankets. She lay for a moment enjoying the distant happy sounds of her tribe and the many chirping birds. She thought of the legend that long ago the people had learned to speak by mimicking the sounds of the fields and forests. Each time she listened to the birds, her conviction grew that the various kinds of birds spoke to each other, not only to those of their own kind. Indeed, they did this both at dawn’s first light and in the evening. Of course, they hid and stayed silent during storms, but in fine weather such as this, they also held dialogue just as the Veritas themselves had done the night before. 

Soon, she would check on plans for making major paths to the Center Place of the Veritas less accessible to horses or those upon them. But for a moment, she relished the image of Shadow Walker, tall and handsome. She smiled again as she recalled the many trials that she and Shadow Walker had faced. Her love for him first blossomed as he explained his observations about snakes. She chuckled. Now, that takes some empathy! She wondered whether she could ever love snakes as much as she loved the wolves. She again toyed with the First Ring of Empathy. Every time she did so, she felt an even stronger connection to Shadow Walker. Perhaps these rings held magic as yet undiscovered. 

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A knock interrupted her reverie. “Good morning?” someone queried. 

She recognized the surprisingly soft voice of Trunk of Tree. Many Paths wrapped a blanket about herself and padded to the door. There stood Trunk of Tree, his thick, well-muscled thighs were bare from the edge of his smock to his moccasins. There was a delightful twinkle in his eye. “Trunk of Tree. I hope you are well this day.” 

“I am indeed, Many Paths. I hope you are also well. I am sorry if I awoke you. I wanted to let you know that we have modified the cool path to make it impassible for those who would stand atop horses.”

“What? When? Did you work all night?” 

“No, Many Paths, but we arose at first light. For we do not know when another such attack may come. Or, it might happen that our search party will return with those who stand atop horses in pursuit. In any case….” Trunk of Tree looked at Many Paths and, not for the first time, noticed how deeply and wisely her dark eyes sparkled. 

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After a pause, Many Paths smiled and prompted, “In any case…?” 

“Oh, sorry. In any case.” Trunk of Tree blushed as he realized how much he loved to hear the voice of Many Paths — so much so that it was hard to listen to the words and find their meanings. He found himself wondering whether she and Shadow Walker really had betrothed as everyone supposed. And, what if Shadow Walker did not return? He banished that thought as soon as it arose. Shadow Walker was Trunk of Tree’s best friend and had gladly ventured out to find Tu-Swift despite the danger and now he was lusting after Many Paths. He must not feed the bad wolf. “In any case…” he began again, “as we were making the cool path between the cliffs impassible, Stone Chipper suggested another adjustment that would be hospitable to those on foot but make travel difficult for those who sit atop horses.” 

“Yes? Go on.” She looked kindly at Trunk of Tree, but, she hoped, not too kindly. 

“We wish to modify the path along the far side of the North River so that it would encourage any on horses to ford at the lower path rather than the upper path. This should look as though it’s a better road, but then, it will end at the bog near the field of flowers. The Veritas know how to leap from one grassy mound to the next, but we imagine such will prove impossible for anyone who stands atop a horse. None of us has seen a horse run there. Nor deer, nor elk. They only go very slowly in such a circumstance. We would love you. I mean, we would love you to think upon whether this is a good idea.” Trunk of Tree stared at Many Paths as the rising sun now strayed a golden ray upon the dark hair of Many Paths lighting it up like a special kind of sparkling rainbow. 

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Many Paths smiled at Trunk of Tree. “It sounds good. We must think about this together. How will it affect others of the Veritas and how will it affect other creatures, large and small? In any case, I need to attend now to my own needs for a short time. Then, I will ask She Who Saves Many Lives about your plan.”

Trunk of Tree softened his deep voice and said, “You are the Leader now, Many Paths.” 

“I am indeed, Trunk of Tree. But She Who Saves Many Lives has seen far more summers, and far more winters than I. What kind of a foolish leader would not to seek the counsel of those whose experience is greater? Such a person as that would not be a leader at all. The wise leader would seek wisdom from the great tree of life, our ancestors, our legends, our leaders, and even the children, but in this matter, I will definitely seek the wisdom of She Who Saves Many Lives.” She smiled that smile that Trunk of Tree considered as great a miracle as a rainbow. 

“You are wise, as always, Many Paths.” 

Many Paths answered, “I will always strive to be wise, but I know I cannot foresee all consequences.” She paused, then added, “I will travel presently to this place and meet you there so we may consider your plan. And, I would also like to see your work on the cool path between the cliffs as well if you would be so kind as to accompany me. Shall we meet at the North River pass about when Sun is here?” 

Many Paths raised her arm and pointed up at a slight angle. 

In a short time, after consulting with She Who Saves Many Lives, Many Paths began walking to the North River. As she walked, she begin thinking about Trunk of Tree. His strength and beautiful physique, it seemed to Many Paths, somehow encouraged people to overlook his intelligence and creativity. As she neared the bog, she recalled how Trunk of Tree had once told her of being attacked near here by a red-winged blackbird! He had been wearing a red mask which apparently fooled the red-winged male into thinking that Trunk of Tree was a rival! Many Paths had heard stories of humans as well who had fought each other over mates. Would Shadow Walker show such a jealous rage? 

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Many Paths noticed a nice and thriving crop of yellow dock along the path so she harvested some leaving enough to reseed itself. It would require a first boiling to remove something not good from the good and then add a bit to her stew for tonight but save most of it for drying. It formed part of the wound poultice that She Who Saves Many Lives had shown her many moons ago. 

As she had thought back to her childhood conversations with the elder shaman, Many Paths had come to realize that what had seemed friendly chit-chat at the time was already the beginning of an assessment that led She Who Saves Many Lives to choose her original twelve acolytes from among the youngsters of the tribe. And that meant, she supposed, when the current crisis was over, she too should begin the long process of choosing her successor. Or, perhaps a crisis was just such a time as to observe how various young ones of the tribe reacted. She thought of Horse Viewer, as he was now known, and, then, all at once, the image of Tu-Swift came to her and pulled at her heart, causing a single tear to creep down her cheek. 

“Thanks for coming, Many Paths” the gentle voice of Trunk of Tree began.

“Greetings, Trunk of Tree. Show me first about the path you plan to make into the bog.” 

“Certainly, Many Paths. Are you all right? Are you crying?” asked Trunk of Tree with genuine concern. 

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“I am all right. I am worried about Tu-Swift. But worrying is a waste of time. Let us make arrangements to make sure no more children are stolen. Hopefully, Tu-Swift will some day return to tell us of his adventures. I wish Eagle Eyes or even Easy Tears were here to help you make such alterations look natural.” 

“I am sorry about Tu-Swift, Many Paths. I am sure he will be … I hope he will return shortly and unharmed. Take my hand, and I will remind you of the path through the bog.” 

“Thank you, Trunk of Tree, but I think I can see such paths and trying to hold hands…holding hands will only complicate my path. You understand?”

Trunk of Tree swallowed. Now was as good a time as any. He tried to sound casual. “Many Paths, I need to ask you frankly. Are you and Shadow Walker betrothed?” 

“Ah, that is an interesting question. We love each other. Of that we have no doubt. But with all that is going on… you see, we had decided to have a long and difficult conversation after the Feast of Bell-Tane. And, then…after the attack… We have not had a chance.”

“If you really love each other, then what is there to discuss?” asked Trunk of Tree. 

“Having Tu-Swift stolen from me makes being leader much more difficult for me. Imagine if I had a child. Or two. Or three. That is serious business. I would really need the whole tribe to help. And, now is not the time to ask that. Anyway, let us discuss all that later. Show me about the path to the bog,” Trunk of Tree.

“Indeed, I shall.” Trunk of Tree bit his lip. “I only ask because. Because I too fancy you.” 

“Ah. Well, yes, I realize that. I find you attractive as well, but we must put all that aside until after these strange people who steal other people’s children have been dealt with. Otherwise, how could I be happy to have your baby? Or anyone’s?” 

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“Many Paths, as usual, you are wise, but I must tell you. I wish… We could pleasure each other without having babies.” 

“Trunk of Tree, you are pleasing to my sight, but don’t you see how the eagles mate for life? I am thinking first of Shadow Walker.”

“True, but many animals do not mate for life as you well know. They seem to mate at every opportunity! And, after all your name is ‘Many Paths’ not ‘One Path.” 

Many Paths laughed. “Nice try, Trunk of Tree, but I seek to think about many paths in order to choose one to walk. I do not seek to walk many paths all at once without thinking about any of them!”

“So, Trunk of Tree, let us please get to our task at hand which is for the future of the tribe, not just for our personal and momentary pleasure. If we avoid, destroy, or make peace with those who steal children, everyone will have more pleasure for many years, not just this day and not just us. I ask you again to show me your plan.” 

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The Creation Myth of the Veritas

The Myth of the Orange Man (whose Lying and Greed destroyed a people)

The First Ring of Empathy (which begins the current tale)

Feast and Fire (which begins Book Two of the Myths of the Veritas)

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The Drums of Hooves, Humans, & Hearts

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The search party followed the obvious signs of the horses. Eagle Eyes and Fleet of Foot took the lead. Just as they approached a considerable foothill covered mainly in weeds and scrub oak, Fleet of Foot noticed that Eagle Eyes glanced ahead and shook her head. Fleet of Foot queried her. “What does your head shaking signify, Eagle Eyes?” 

Eagle Eyes laughed slightly. “I cannot fathom how they can be so bad at hiding their trail. How can they be smart enough to train horses and yet too stupid to cover their own trail?”

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Fleet of Foot paused in his long, loping strides. “Indeed. Unless it is a trap. It is very much as though they actually want us to be able to follow their trail.” He held up his hand and they all stopped before ascending the hill in order to parley briefly. 

Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah came up to the scouts and Lion Slayer asked quietly, “What’s up? Did you lose the trail? No, I can see you didn’t.” 

Eagle Eyes spoke next. “That’s just it. This trail is so easy to follow, we again worry that we may be following the trail into a trap of some kind. I know we all hurry to save Tu-Swift, but it won’t help him much if we are all captured!”

Shadow Walker sensed the group worry of facing an uncertain enemy. Each of them, even their banquet guests, felt urgency to find Tu-Swift as quickly as possible, even knowing that he might have been killed days ago. He scanned the land ahead. 

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“You are right to be cautious. A people who stand on horses and steal children are difficult to understand. Now, we also learn from our friends from the South that such people lie as a way of life, pretending to something they do not really believe to gain material benefit. Also, we see from our own eyes and fingertips and ears that they have some kind of hard, dead rock that they have fashioned to their own purposes. Who knows what other tricks they may have. Still, the trail is clear for now. Let us ascend this hill at least and before we attain the summit, before we may be clearly seen to stick out among the brush, we will stop again and plan our next steps. There is insufficient cover for a large party to ambush us. The pups seem to sense no danger either but are eager to continue. I still suspect, but do not know, that these people rely on speed more than stealth. Perhaps they judge that it takes too long to cover their trail. Covering the trail of trained warriors is one thing. Covering the trail of our huge four legged cousins might be too difficult and time-consuming. It would diminish their advantage of speed.” 

After a silence, they all nodded their agreement and the group again spread out and ascended to just below the hill crest without further discussion. They reached a pleasant spot near a bent oak. Eagle Eyes crept alone to the brim of the hill, being careful to move only when the wind moved the grasses and weeds. She crawled back after a time to report on what she had seen. 

“I think we are close! The trail continues just as obvious as ever. The other side of this hill is much like the side we already know. At the end of the downslope there is another stream to ford. It appears that there is a broad road down there. On the far side of the stream, I see the smoke of several fires rising among the fir trees. Of course, I do not know what lies further beyond, but it appears we are close to at least one of their villages. Yet, I see no sign of lookouts.” 

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Shadow Walker considered this as everyone seemed to look at him for a plan. “You do have amazing sight, Eagle Eyes. Though the child stealers do not care about their trail, we now much proceed with some caution. Rather than come up over the crest of the hill, where we could easily be seen, I think we should descend on this side and wait until cover of dark and very carefully ford the stream to scout out their camp without being seen or heard. We should go in our three pairs, see what we see, and return to this place to further plan with our new knowledge. Does that seem a good plan?” 

The group looked at each other, but no-one had a better plan and they all nodded. When the moon rose, they began to pick their way down the leeward side of the hill. Privately, Shadow Walker had been a bit concerned as to whether the Nomads of the South could tread silently but he quickly realized that they were every bit as stealthy as the Veritas themselves. 

Soon, they were all at the edge of the icy river. Each braced themselves for the cold shock so as not to gasp aloud. The river proved easy to ford and on the far side they split up into pairs, cautiously and slowly approaching the camp though none could see a sign of any guards. 

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Shadow Walker and Easy Tears crept around the eastern side of the encampment, giving a wide berth. The ROI, if that’s what they were, seemed singularly inactive at night. They heard no dancing, drumming, or singing. At they worked their way further north, Shadow Walker heard the noise of horses. He made a gesture to signify the animals with his fingers and Easy Tears nodded. Shadow Walker recalled that once, long ago, he had played with a very young Tu-Swift making the shapes of all manner of creatures with their hands while mimicking their sounds as well. He felt his love for Tu-Swift and, for a moment, wanted to scream his name out in the night. But such foolishness, he knew, could mean death for them all, including Tu-Swift. At last, they came quite close to a large fenced in space where many horses milled about and nickered nervously. The human duo hid behind a large, nearby stack of split wooden logs. 

Shadow Walker peered again at the horses and frowned. Something was not right about these horses. Although their main task was to free Tu-Swift, he also wished to know more about these horses. Putting his head close to the ground, he spied around the wood pile at the horses. He frowned. He could see that they were tethered leg to leg and foot to foot so that they could not really run free but only walk slowly from place to place. Shadow Walker grimaced. It felt unnatural and anti-life to him to tether a creature with such an obvious love of speed and freedom. Apparently, the horses did not much care for such tethering either for several of them were attempting to chew through these ropes or vines that ligated their legs. He watched the horses but learned little more. 

He looked over at Easy Tears and noticed how beautiful her skin looked in the glow of the moon. He thought then of Many Paths and wished once again that they had had time to talk of whether they should marry. He smiled as he recalled the first time he had felt true love for her beyond his strong desire. It had happened when she was describing what she had learned about the wolves. He had listened to her words and felt beyond her words to her imagination, her cunning, her careful observation, her empathy and even love for the wolves. 

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He wished that he could have her advice right now along with the gentle touch of her hand. He looked at his own rings of empathy and remembered their trials. He took off the First Ring of Empathy, with its odd double-vision crystal and took it between forefinger and thumb and turned it in the moonlight. Easy Tears noticed and smiled at him. 

He looked at the face of Easy Tears. She said nothing, but he distinctly heard the voice of Many Paths say, “Drums” as clearly as though she had been right beside him. He looked again at Easy Tears but she had not spoken. He was sure of it. And, the clear and gentle voice he had heard was definitely that of Many Paths, not Easy Tears. 

Shadow Walker shook his head. He was probably tired from the long journey and the lack of sleep. Perhaps they should be turning back to rejoin the others. Who knew how late these people awoke, these stealers of children. Again, he heard Many Paths speak the word “Drums” quite clearly and distinctly. He shook his head at his own foolishness and recalled the time that they had used drums to communicate with Pond Mud among the … 

Shadow Walker returned the ring to the ring finger of his left hand. 

“Drums!” he whispered aloud. Easy Tears turned to him and frowned, thinking it odd he had broken protocol to speak, even in a whisper, so deep inside an enemy camp. 

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Trees Die at the Edges

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When Tu-Swift had awakened after his first day of stable duty, he initially thought that these people who stand atop horses must have beaten him. When he considered the matter, he realized it was simply that his body was not used to the particular work. That did not lessen the pain. 

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When he awoke after the second day of duty with the horses, however, he was even sorer and his hands were blistered. As he awoke, and the dim light shattered his night dreams, the physical pain stabbed most when he first began moving. He had long ago learned, as had all the Veritas, to put physical pain out of mind. He chose not to do this. Focusing on his physical pain helped fuel his resolve to escape this place and to take his small companion with him. The aches and burns also kept a deeper, darker pain at bay — the doubt that he would ever be rescued. 

He imagined the voice of his sister, Many Paths, encouraging him not to fill his belly with the first plausible hypothesis that came to mind. Yes, it was possible that the Veritas had been utterly destroyed in the surprise attack, but was it likely? He reminded himself that the Veritas had not only defeated the surprisingly numerous Cupiditas, but also withstood two potential enemies — the Nomads of the South and the Fierce and Formidable Warriors of the North without even fighting them. 

The Veritas might still be engaged in battle with the horse people. Or, they may be on their way to rescue him but it would take longer on foot. They might have already been here with a small party and seen that this compound is too heavily guarded for a small force. That seemed somewhat unlikely, but still possible. Surely, if they had gotten close, they would have signaled or queried him with the modified calls of birds. And, he would have responded to let them know he was here. The modified bird call language was not sufficiently nuanced for him to know how to warn them that there was another child here in need of rescue. 

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He silently thanked his tribe for all that they had taught him about survival. But Day-Nah was a problem. It wasn’t his “fault” that he was so young and small, nor that he knew so little Veritas. While even Fleet of Foot could surely not outrun a horse on open ground, Tu-Swift felt he stood a good chance to outrun his pursuers if he could find the right kind of terrain. But Day-Nah? A better option for him would probably be to hide high in a tree or in a small hole until they gave up looking for him. Tu-Swift realized he knew little about these people who stand on horses and steal children. Day-Nah was not much use as a slave so perhaps they would give up on the search without much persistence. 

Three large, well-muscled men came to awaken the children and left them each a bowl of food. Soon, they were pushed and pulled out into the large open place with horses and foals again. The men gestured and made it clear that Tu-Swift should separate and catch more foals and tie them up. As they entered the clearing, Tu-Swift noticed that poison ivy vines hung heavy on the trees surrounding the paddock. 

He recalled the words of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives when he had remarked to her a few summers ago about the poison ivy in his own village. The elder shaman had explained how trees needed each other to survive high winds and to kill off parasitic intruders such as poison ivy and boring insects. In the manner of such a teacher, she had gone on to say that it was the same with the Veritas. Each member of the tribe helped nurture and protect all the others.

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“Tress die at the edges. That is the way of it. And, so it is with us. A person alone in the vast world is much more at risk than the tribe,” she had pointed out.

At the time, he had take much comfort in her words. 

Today, however, a great sadness and despair threatened to overwhelm him because now he himself was a “tree at the edge.” 

A memory now flashed into his mind — a huge spider web that he and Shadow Walker had happened upon. Shadow Walker had invited him to observe with him for a time. The spider hung out at the very center of his web. Whenever a flying insect strayed into its web, it would rush to the bug, bite it, and wrap it with webbing. Once, however, it happened that two bugs hit the trapping web at the same instant. The spider rushed off to wrap up the larger one for later consumption. Spider then returned to the center. Spider seemed unable to remember where the second insect had landed. One by one, he carefully and methodically thrummed the strings, one by one, at last, one of the strings caused a renewed struggling by the insect. Instantly, the spider travelled up that spine of his string to the hapless bug, bit it, and prepared it for later consumption. Shadow Walker had questioned Tu-Swift who at last saw that the bug’s fear had caused it to give away its position and hastened its own death. 

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Shadow Walker waited until Tu-Swift had seen this before putting it into words. “Fear is natural when one is trapped. But we are humans. We can wrap our fear in our own thoughts for a time and hide it – and ourselves – until we find a way to escape. To further cement the point, Shadow Walker grabbed Tu-Swift by the wrist and held him tight. “Get loose!” 

Tu-Swift had tried to jerk his hand away. He pulled and tugged, but Shadow Walker was much stronger. It seemed hopeless. Then, he realized that Shadow Walker was encouraging him to think — not simply to react. He looked at his wrist and noticed that it was more of an oblong than a circle across. And Shadow Walker’s hand was not a completed circle but a circle with a gap. Rather than struggle, Tu-Swift had relaxed. He imagined sliding the edge of his wrist out through the slight opening where Shadow Walker’s thumb and fingertips came together. Tu-Swift imagined a swift jerk of his wrist through that opening. He forced himself to relax still further. Then…zip! He slipped his wrist out through the gap before Shadow Walker could react.  

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Fear could kill you. And calm thought could save you. Tu-Swift had learned his lessons well. 

Tu-Swift took deep breaths of the cool clean air. Even the horses smelled good to him as he breathed in their sweet odor. He looked around at all the life that thrived around him. None of it survived and thrived through sadness. Feeling sorry for oneself might be “justified” but it was not the path to survival. The path offering promise, the path of resolve spoke to his inner heart of courage. He would wrap his fear and sadness up for now so that these captors of kids could not see it. He would think instead.

He gestured to one of the three burly ones who accompanied Dah-Nah and Tu-Swift to give him a switch such as they all carried to whip the horses with. The man complied assuming that Tu-Swift wished to use the whip to help separate mare and foal. Instead, Tu-Swift used the handle of the switch to draw his plan quickly in the sandy soil outside the paddock. When he began, one of the men reached to take the switch away, mumbling some words in anger. Then, the men began talking to each other in their odd and unfathomable language. At last, they allowed him to continue his drawing.

He first made a drawing in the shape of the current paddock. Then, he showed an addition with many narrow quick turns. Now, he used his hand as a horse to show that his hand was too big to fit through these narrow passages. He reinforced this analogy by making sounds mimicking the horses and whinnying when his hand was “stuck.” He gently took one of Day-Nah’s hands in his and showed how the small boy’s hand would fit through these narrow passages. Then, he gestured out to the horses. He pointed to one of the nearby mares, a beautiful palomino. Again, he showed how his hand unable to get through the passage. Next, he pointed to her foal and used Dah-Nah’s hand to go through the narrow passage. Dah-Nah’s face lit up. He understood. Surely, the men would as well, he hoped. 

Original Masks by Sarah Morgan

Original Masks by Sarah Morgan

And, slowly, one by one, the men’s faces revealed that they all “got” Tu-Swift’s idea. They felt a little chagrin that they had not thought of such an obvious ploy themselves, but the ROI were a practical lot. If they found an idea that they could use, they used it. They did not reject it out of hand as the Z-Lotz might have done simply because they had not thought of it themselves. 

The men made it clear that the boys themselves were to construct this addition. The largest of the burly men pointed to a large set of cut planks that had already been cut to use for fence repairs.

Tu-Swift nodded enthusiastically. He returned to his drawing. He showed how he would keep the existing fence in place while they constructed the maze addition and a smaller place for the foals to gather. When all that was finished, they could remove the piece of fence that would prevent the foals from entering. 

Tu-Swift had transformed his fear and despair into a plan. He thought to himself, “Not all trees die at the edges. Not these two.” 

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Author Page on Amazon. 

The Winning Weekend Warrior focuses on strategy, tactics, and the ‘mental game’ for all sports including golf, tennis, baseball, and others. 

Turing’s Nightmares illustrates possible ethical issues around AI and robotics with 23 scenarios of the future. 

Fit in Bits suggests numerous ways for the ultra-busy to work more fun and exercise into daily activities such as sitting in meetings, walking to your car, shopping, traveling, playing with kids, etc. 

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

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The Alliance of the ROI & the Z-Lotz

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Eagle Eyes chatted quietly with Easy Tears, and their conversation drifted easily among many topics. Suddenly Eagle Eyes stopped in her tracks. Her eyes spun to something sparkling among the rocks. She thought that perhaps it was merely a piece of shiny rock but as she drew nearer, she realized it was not a rock, or at least nothing like any rock she had seen before. Soon, the others drew near and stared down with her. Even the pups busied themselves sniffing its edges.

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A hand-sized ornament had drawn the attention of Eagle Eyes. It consisted of a perfect full-moon shape within which were inscribed three smaller circles. Every member of the search party found the ornamented piece intriguing. Apart from the pups, Shadow Walker touched it first. “It is of the same — or at least very much like — the circles of cold rock at the bottom of the wall door we moved.”

In turn, the others touched the cool circle of rock. 

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Easy Tears said, “Whatever this is, it gives me chills. It feels like touching…death, actually.” Lion Slayer picked up and turned it in his hands. “I see one. Long ago. My father’s father called it, ‘Tree Quarto’ or something like that.”

Hudah Salah whispered something into the ear of Lion Slayer. He nodded and said to the group, “Yes, Hudah remind me that this is a symbol used by the Z-Lotz. Grandfather showed us one when he tell us the Legend of the Unholy Alliance. I dream about it night before dawn, but then forgot when I … when I awoke.” He glanced at Shadow Walker. 

Shadow Walker smiled, “When I woke you up. Sorry. What can you tell us of that legend?” 

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Lion Slayer frowned as he began. “The Legend of the Unholy Alliance” has been told in our tribes for at least six generations. I am not storyteller, but this symbol is supposed to represent the world – the larger full moon shape; and the three smaller full moon shapes represent body, mind, and spirit.” 

Shadow Walker waited while Lion Slayer gathered his thoughts. Easy Tears broke in. “So, this is a symbol that the ROI like?” 

“No, Easy Tears. It is a symbol of the Z-Lotz. That is where the unholy alliance comes. Far beyond our lands, the Z-Lotz ruled but they often fought with the ROI. At last, so the legend goes, the greatest leader of the Z-Lotz and the leader of the ROI had a parley. They agreed to stop fighting. The ROI care nothing for the spirit world, nor really for much of anything except to get more and more as fast as possible. They make deal. Z-Lotz agree to leave the ROI alone and not try to make them believe all the impossible things that the Z-Lotz believed. 

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“But in return, the ROI, promise to pretend to believe and wear the symbols of the Z-Lotz. In return, the Z-Lotz would not only leave the ROI alone; they would pretend that anything that the ROI did was commanded by Giant Sky Bear himself, which the Z-Lotz pretended to be able to talk to. In this way, the ROI were able to conquer many people’s by force and then teach these conquered people that it was their lot in life to be slaves because it was commanded by Giant Sky Bear. The ROI never believed it, of course, for they cared nothing for such things, but these lies proved helpful in convincing the slaves that there was no point in resisting because they would be struck down by the powerful claws of the Giant Sky Bear. The ROI gave the Z-Lotz many material gifts as well. Though the Z-Lotz pretended not to care about material gifts, they never refused any such gifts.”

Fleet of Foot thought perhaps Lion Slayer was finished so asked a question. “And, did the Z-Lotz actually believe this Great Bear in the Sky would really do that? Or, did the ROI? I am confused.” 

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“Fleet of Foot, you ask good question, but we do not know. We do not know what they truly believe. I have never even met ROI or Z-Lotz. But when our legends are tested, they are generally accurate. I suppose that beliefs actually vary quite a bit among the ROI and among the Z-Lotz, but they all steadfastly pretend to believe such things and this allows them to manipulate people. At least that is what legend says. So, if our supposition is correct that ROI were stealers of children, and they are wearing this symbol of Z-Lotz, that would tend to be in alignment with legend. It does not prove it, of course. But it seems consistent.” 

Eagle Eyes asked, “But do your legends say that the ROI make or use these cold, smooth, hard rocks?” 

Lion Slayer glanced at his wife, and she shook her head. “Not that we recall. No. I am sure I would have remembered such a tale. Such a soul-sucking object, I would have recalled. Neither of us has heard of such before.” 

Shadow Walker put the ornament into his knapsack and the six continued swiftly on their journey. 

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The Myths of the Z-Lotz

The Myths the ROI

The Creation Myth of the Veritas

The No-Rock Rock & the No-Door Door.

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Shadow Walker took the first watch along with Easy Tears. After their long day’s march, it would be too easy for someone to fall asleep. Shadow Walker felt as though, for him, it was an unnecessary precaution but he realized that could be a delusion. He might be more prone to sleep than he realized. Easy Tears and Shadow Walker had known each other since childhood and they were comfortable with each other. The wolf pups lay beside them and helped stave off the chill of the night air. Though the pups appeared to be in a deep sleep, he suspected they would be awake in a flash if more ambushers tried to sneak up on their search party. 

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Quietly, Shadow Walker began to chat with Easy Tears, the better to keep them both awake. “We should watch out for snakes as well. They are drawn to body heat as well as the fire. I suspect this is the sort of place that many rattlesnakes may make their home.” 

Easy Tears responded, “I am not so much a friend to the snakes as you are. They aren’t always so easy to see either. I recall once almost stepping on a large snake who had a rattle-tail of ten rattles.” 

Shadow Walker considered this, allowing the silence to flow between them. “Those snakes can fool the eyes. That is true. A walking stick, a butterfly with the eyes of an owl. Many animals make themselves look or sound like something else…or just fade into the background.” 

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A shooting star streaked across the sky. Shadow Walker had jerked his finger to share with Easy Tears and though she turned quickly, she only caught a brief glance. “Like those whom we pursue. They don’t hide their trail well at all. But then they simply disappear!” 

Shadow Walker considered this. “You’re right. I suspect that once we search in daylight we will find some sign of continuing trail. I’m impatient to continue but we need the rest and … the sunlight will show us the way.” Shadow Walker noticed that the soft glow of the firelight flickered on the eyes and hair of Easy Tears in a most pleasing way. Shadow Walker thought of Many Paths and the serious conversation that they had postponed. 

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Easy Tears shivered slightly. Shadow Walker considered sidling up to her and putting his arm around her so that they would both enjoy the warmth of the other. It would be all right. Pleasurable even. But sometimes, it is difficult to know what is around the next bend and the one after that. Instead, he stood and got another blanket and draped it around her shoulders, then added another log onto the fire. He sat back down and reflected on his discovery that snakes could sense the heat of their prey. If only they could train a snake to be a helper. That could prove useful. He wondered aloud, “Easy Tears, if people can train horses and wolves and eagles, do you think it is possible to train snakes?” 

Easy Tears chuckled slightly. “I wouldn’t think so, but you are the expert. I don’t really care for them, thought I do appreciate their eating the rats and mice that try to steal our grain.” She considered for a time. “I suppose you could train them. Yes. I suspect you could train anything with enough love and patience. But you see how it is. Despite your love and patience, there is always a chance they would bite you or misunderstand your intention. I suppose it might be something that would take a long time. What would you train a snake to do?”

“I wish we could have their sense of heat. Perhaps we could use them to follow trails or find hidden enemies. Maybe we could even train them as guards. Ours did not work so well for some reason. That bothers me. How could such as these who do not cover their tracks elude our guards?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps they did not try to elude our guards at all, but simply overpowered them too quickly for them to sound the alarm. Or perhaps, they feigned being peaceful? Trunk of Tree will figure it out. I like him.” She smiled and glanced at Shadow Walker. “Do you think he likes me?” 

Shadow Walker considered this. Trunk of Tree had never said anything, but judging from the actions and looks of Trunk of Tree, probably so. “Yes, I think so. He looks at you…with longing. You are a beautiful woman, after all.” 

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Easy Tears smiled and Shadow Walker realized that he really found her attractive, but not in the deep way that he loved Many Paths. The half moon set and it grew darker. “It’s time to wake the next guards. He calmed his mind and thought of their serious quest in order to cool his blood. Then, he stood and walked over to Lion Slayer. He stood almost on top of Lion Slayer but Lion Slayer appeared to be a sound sleeper. He snored loudly and Shadow Walker joked, “I wonder whether he actually slew the lion with a spear…or with that snore.” 

Easy Tears laughed aloud but all the others remained asleep. Shadow Walker squatted down on his haunches and shook Lion Slayer. The snoring continued. For a moment, he considered shaking Hudah Salah but decided against it. He shook  Lion Slayer again and whispered his name. Hudah Salah suddenly sprang to his feet and pressed his thumbs against Shadow Walker’s windpipe. Shadow Walker smacked the hands away and jumped back, “Lion Slayer! It’s all right. It’s me. Time for your watch, as agreed.” 

Lion Slayer shook his head. He looked hard at Shadow Walker and mumbled something unintelligible. At last, he seemed to come to his senses. “Yes,” he said and awakened his wife. 

Easy Tears lay down and smiled at Shadow Walker. She moved her body so that sufficient space appeared next to her for the body of Shadow Walker to fit snugly. Shadow Walker sighed and lay down instead by himself and dreamt of Many Paths. 

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The next thing Shadow Walker sensed was light. It was not yet dawn. The troop all awoke and had a small breakfast and then began exploring the cliffs for a sign or a path. As they explored, they continued to chew pemmican and some dried fruit. Shadow Walker had asked Fleet of Foot to explore with Easy Tears, who took the wolf pups with her. Shadow Walker walked with Eagle Eyes. It was understood now by the group that Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah were fairly inseparable. 

Although Eagle Eyes had the best vision, Shadow Walker’s eyes were also sharp but he found nothing but sheer cliffs. Eagle Eyes said, “Wait.” 

“What do you see?” asked Shadow Walker. 

“Nothing really. But something’s not right. It does not look right here. I’m not sure why.” Eagle Eyes stood with her hands on her hips staring at the sheer cliff face. She looked up the cliff face and noted various hand holds. “This wall might be scalable to a good climber.” 

“Yes, I can see that as well though it would be dangerous. But horses? They are horses, not mountain goats” Shadow Walker said without blame or sarcasm. 

“I know, but still, something is not right.” Eyes of Eagle shook her head and asked herself what she was missing.

Because the pair had stopped their systematic exploring, the rest of the search party converged on them. Fleet of Foot was the first to arrive. “Did you find something?” 

Eagle Eyes smiled at him. “Not really. But his does not look right.” 

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Easy Tears arrived next with the wolf pups who immediately began jumping and whining. They sniffed around the base of the rocks and ran back and forth between the rocks and Easy Tears. They had clearly caught a scent of something.  “Perhaps Tu-Swift?” suggested Shadow Walker.

The pups took turns trying to stick their nose into a small cleft in the rock. On impulse, Shadow Walker, put his fingers in the cleft and tried pulling. He could not budge the rock, which did not surprise him. But the feel of the rock did surprise him. It was much like flint but harder and colder. Beyond that, there was no texture to the rock. It felt, somehow, dead, even more dead than the bleached bones of a long dead buffalo. Shadow Walker lay on his back and tried to push on the cleft with his feet. Soon, all six of them pushed and pulled on the rock face though they had no hope of moving it. 

And then, it did move, though very slightly. The group positioned themselves and pushed even harder. The rock slid more easily now like stick along the winter lake ice. Instead of the grinding sound of rock on rock, however, they heard an unearthly screeching sound like a very large eagle. 

At last, a huge slab of the cold rock had been moved aside and behind it, all could see a large, short passageway into a sunlit path beyond. The wolf pups bounded through and out into the sunlight. The people followed. Eagle Eyes looked back at the strange rock and noticed something stranger yet. The back of the rock had many handles. She supposed they were to replace the rock. But at the bottom of the rock, she saw something that made her gasp aloud. 

“What is this?” she asked. All of them turned and looked at the base of the weird rock. There were circles of rock on the bottom! What strange magic was this? Despite their hurry to find Tu-Swift and their excitement at finding the way out of the box canyon, each knelt down to marvel at the smooth circles of rock. 

After some time, Shadow Walker said. “We cannot solve the mystery of this rock. We must follow the trail. Should we close this … door? If we do not, it may be apparent to any of the Stands on Horses people that we are coming for Tu-Swift. But when we return, we may be in a hurry to go through this way.” 

Eagle Eyes spoke next. “We could leave it just slightly open so that we could squeeze through but no horses could. I think we could make this door, as you call it, harder yet to open or close.” 

Fleet of Foot spoke. “We should hurry up and get to Tu-Swift as quickly as possible. We have no idea how badly hurt he may be.” 

Shadow Walker: “We cannot know for certain the best course of action. I think it best to put it back the way it was. We are not going to be able to overwhelm our enemy with force. We must rely on secrecy. We may or may not be able to save Tu-Swift. But others of those who stand on horses find out we are on the way to their camp, they may go more swiftly and warn their people. That will make rescue impossible and even reconnaissance riskier. Let us move this back and follow the trail. We may also find another way back that is less familiar to those who ride on horses.” 

I proved difficult to move the rock back, but they succeeded and they resumed their tracking, which was again an easy task. Perhaps, thought Shadow Walker, those who stood on horses felt they were so fast they would not be pursued. Or, perhaps, they had not learned to hide their trail. Or, perhaps they thought that odd rock door would cut short any pursuit. Eagle Eyes with Easy Tears led the team with the pups trotting along side them. Next came the pair from the Nomads of the South. Shadow Walker and Fleet of Foot carried the heaviest loads and kept looking for and erasing signs of their trail. They stayed within the confines of the large swaths of changed lands that the galloping horses provided. This made “covering” their trail fairly easy. Trackers of the Veritas might wonder at the paw prints of two wolf cubs traveling without a pack, but Shadow Walker felt it likely that these would not raise suspicions among those he was tracking since they seemed so unconcerned about their own trail. 

Shadow Walker was happy to concentrate on the trail ahead and to check to make sure there were no more of those who stand on horses behind them. In this way, he could avoid wondering about things that he could neither control nor prepare for. Many Paths was or was not okay with the rest of the Veritas. Tu-Swift was or was not okay. The only distraction that he really couldn’t block out was the smooth cold feel of the rock that was not rock and the circles of rock. There was also a very odd smell about that rock – something he had never smelled before, but it reminded him of death. 

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Books by the Author: 

The Winning Weekend Warrior focuses on strategy, tactics, & the mental game for all sports including golf, tennis, softball, basketball, etc., as well as business. 

Turing’s Nightmares consists of 23 fictional scenarios of humans interacting with technology for good or evil. 

Fit in Bits suggests numerous ways to work more fun and exercise into daily activities such as watching TV, sitting in meetings, shopping, playing with kids, traveling, etc. 

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

 

   

The Bonds of Horses and Humans

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The Bonds of Horses and Humans

Tu-Swift awoke in pain. He began to panic. At first he wondered and quickly then became sure that they must have beaten him again. Inventory. “Don’t jump to conclusions.” That’s what Many Paths would have said. Inventory. He quickly realized nothing was broken. No, it was just that his muscles were sore. Although he spent a lot of time running, playing, and working among the Veritas, his ride on the back of a horse and then spending a day shoveling manure used his muscles in new ways. His body was okay. As he thought of the Veritas, however, his heart sank. Up to now, he had secretly thought that he would soon be rescued. Now a new and uglier thought crept into his soul. He took deep slow breaths and tried to calm himself. Day-Nah was beginning to stir and Tu-Swift didn’t want to alarm him by appearing scared. But the truth was, all the Veritas may be killed or enslaved. He might even be the only one to transmit their long collective years of wisdom accumulated. 

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That was the cold, bitter spider of doubt that clutched his heart. Though he had no idea whether or not the Veritas had survived the attack, he had been assuming that they had been alive. But there were many other possibilities. Tu-Swift set his jaw. He had always been one to leap before looking while Many Paths kept reminding him to consider other alternatives. But now — Many Paths was not here. He would have to rely on the Many Paths in his head. And, others. There were other voices Among the Veritas who he could use to help him find a means for escape. Meanwhile, he must keep his spirits up by reminding himself of what he liked; what he was grateful for. Tu-Swift realized that, among other things, he was actually grateful to have this small boy as a companion. Worrying about his small jail mate distracted Tu-Swift from his own predicament and uncertainty. 

Just then, Day-Nah stirred and whimpered. He suddenly sat up and yelled. Day-Nah’s eyes returned to that wild-eyed stare that Tu-Swift had first observed. Tu-Swift patted his own chest forcefully and said, “Tu-Swift! Tu-Swift!” Then, he gestured toward Day-Nah by opening his arms and hands outward toward the youngster and said, “Day-Nah. Day-Nah!” The young boy blinked several times and seemed to recall his present circumstances. His breathing slowed, but he pulled his legs up, wrapped his arms around his knees and began rocking and silently crying. 

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Like most of the youth of the Veritas, Tu-Swift knew how to comfort the young of his own tribe, but he felt uncertain about approaching the boy in this state. Though tempted to hug him, he decided distraction might be a wiser course and he reviewed the language lessons they had already gone through, being a little more particular about pronunciation, both in his attempts to mimic the sounds of Day-Nah and in Day-Nah’s repetition of of Veritas. This seemed to calm the boy and his silent tears abated. Once more Tu-Swift grew both angry and troubled that anyone would steal such a young boy from his family. 

The horses were stirring as well, though it was early morning, judging from the gray light that crept into the horse enclosure. In the distance, Tu-Swift could hear many people stirring and getting ready for the day. Again, he had the distinct feeling that it was like and yet very unlike mornings among the Veritas. There were footsteps, and there were voices. The accent and cadence of the voices was different, but something more profound was different. He heard birds chirping, squawking, crowing, cooing and so on, but some note was missing. Tu-Swift thought of a rainbow and imagined what it would be like to see a rainbow that was missing the blue or the red. But no! This rainbow was missing all color. Why did it sound like a colorless rainbow? That made no sense. Tu-Swift shook his head. He wished he could have a real conversation with Day-Nah, but he knew of no way to try to communicate such subtlety. 

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Three large, burly men came into the large horse room. One of them put down two dishes of food and a flask of water. He grumbled something at them. Tu-Swift noted that none of these people seemed very interested in trying to teach them their language. The other two stood nearby and all three watched as the boys ate whereupon they were led out to an open pit toilet and from there to a large field fenced in with logs. There were a large number of free running horses in this particular field and among them, Tu-Swift could see five foals. Working together, the three large men managed to separate one of the foals from its mother. Tu-Swift could see that the mare stomped around dangerously, whinnied, and that the whole herd seemed agitated. Every horse in the herd, however, shrunk back, terrified of the men and eventually one man managed to tie a rope around the foal’s two back legs and another around the forelegs. Tu-Swift looked to his own legs and those of Day-Nah and saw that they were in much the same predicament. They, like the foal, could walk, but not run or jump. 

Tu-Swift realized how much he loved to run free. He reveled in the feeling and he felt both sadness and anger at being prevented from running. He wondered whether he would ever be able to run free again. He begin to wonder whether he — or the foal — could ever be truly happy if they could not run free. Then, Tu-Swift thought of the snails that he had so often collected from the Veritas gardens. He had looked fairly closely at the creatures. They were fairly cute actually. Of course, as Many Paths would point out, he had no way to tell how a snail felt. But there was no reason to think they wouldn’t be happy. Finding something nice to chew on would probably make the snail happy just as it made him happy. But it was not in the nature of a snail to run. At imagining this, Tu-Swift laughed. 

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Day-Nah tilted his head and looked at the older boy with his brows pinched together. Tu-Swift smiled at the boy and at his situation. How could he explain that he had been imagining a snail trying to run? Then, it suddenly hit Tu-Swift that the “color” that was missing from all the morning sound of these captor-people was laughter — not just laughter itself, but any kind of fun, or enjoyment. So far as he could tell, they did the same things that the Veritas did (except for tying up other creatures), but they didn’t seem to enjoy any of it! What a strange, gray life that must be, thought Tu-Swift. And he suddenly realized that he actually felt sorry for his captors! He imagined telling Many Paths. 

Just then, all three men came over to them and shouted at the same time. Neither of the boys had even the slightest idea what they said and this must have been obvious to the three because they all switched to miming what the boys were to do. They were to do what the three grown men had just done! Somehow, they were to cull four more foals and tie their legs with rope! The Veritas had ropes, but Tu-Swift decided that it was a fair bet that Capture-People didn’t know that. The Veritas were all taught at an early age that those with more power seldom bother to learn even what would be of immense value to them if that knowledge lies with those out of power. The Capture-People had horses — and they had captured one, at least, of the Veritas. So, they would think themselves superior and be willing to believe any lack of intelligence or knowledge on the part of Tu-Swift. 

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He acted quite incapable with the ropes at first, only slowly catching on. Tu-Swift had no idea how the two of them were supposed to accomplish what looked very difficult even for three large men, three who did not have their legs tethered. Cautiously, they sidled into the pen staying near the exit that only they could squeeze through. Oh, thought Tu-Swift, Eagle Eyes will love to hear about that! Although tinged with sadness, he realized that he wasn’t really away from his own village at all! They all lived in his own head! As long as he lived, the Veritas lived! 

Most of the herd headed to the far end as the boys entered, but one mare and her foal chanced nearing. The mare seemed to like their company! Perhaps she could see that they were tethered as they were. Tu-Swift gently tugged at Day-Nah by the arm and positioned him so that the men could not get a clear view of the mare. The mare smelled something nice on the rope between Tu-Swift’s legs. It began chewing on the rope. Tu-Swift admired the teeth and jaws of the horse before him. He spoke to the horse in Veritas though he was under no illusion that the horse would understand him, at least in any detail or words. “I am Tu-Swift. You are?” 

At this point, the horse made a sound like “Kneeeeee -Kwah” 

Tu-Swift continued, “‘eee-qua’ it is then.”  

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“Tu-Swift likes to run. Ee-qua like to run. We don’t like ropes. (Here he made a show of waving the ropes in the air so the three men would think they were making progress.) “We want to run free. Tu-Swift and Ee-qua run free one day. Yes, we will.” 

Tu-Swift hobbled over to the foal and sat on the ground. “Hello little one. We have a predicament. I have these ropes on my legs. I don’t like them, but if we don’t wear them, they will beat us until we do. Your mother, Ee-qua chewed my ropes nearly through. So, I am going to put these ropes on you. But you will be able to run free in a few hours. I know you don’t understand a word I’m saying but maybe the sound of my voice will help you know that I am your friend regardless of how it seems.” Tu-Swift meanwhile, had succeeded in tying a rope around one of the young colt’s legs and “secured” it with a granny knot rather than the square not that the men had shown him. It was chancy to make life difficult for those that seemed to have power over him, but it had to be done; carefully, and never in the same way twice, but each day, Tu-Swift knew that he could find some way to make the lives of the Capture-People less pleasant, just as they were making his less pleasant. 

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Hiding tools, wrecking tools, backing up sewage, polluting water, passing on disease, poisoning — these were just a few of the ways he might or might not be able to fight back. Meanwhile though, he also had to be careful not to be caught and to have a well-worked out and plausible excuse. As Tu-Swift tied more legs with granny knots, he planned that he would feign astonishment and excitedly show his captors how he had tied the knots. He would tie granny knots. They would smack him about a bit of course. But then they would show him the correct way. He would again copy but make a granny knot. The Capture-People would smack him around a bit, so he imagined, and then show him again. He would feign insight and make a true square knot the next time. This would serve two purposes. It would cause them grief, but it would also, he hoped, endear him to them in some perverse way. It would be as though he could learn their tricks — eventually — but being more stupid than they are — it would take him longer naturally to learn to do things correctly. And, then again, he thought, fastening the fourth leg with a granny know, I may never even be accused. 

Just then it occurred to Tu-Swift that the horses could chew threw their own tethers! Why hadn’t they thought of that. Maybe that’s not the sort of thing horses “think of.” Maybe they need to be shown. If they will eat through my ropes — and she could have easily gone all the way through — they could eat through their own, but how can I get food to put on those ropes? 


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Start of the Myths of the Veritas

Dialogue and Discovery

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Many Paths had let the word spread that she wanted to dialog after supper. {Translator’s Note}: In good weather, the people often dialogued around the campfire. In this way, each told of their experiences and listened to the experiences of others during the day and what they had learned. They asked questions, shared insights, and allowed many moments of careful reflection. On this day, however, it appeared that by “calling for” a Dialogue, she was encouraging all to come and to be especially thoughtful. Apparently, though the word was the same (so far as we can tell) there was some linguistic or behavioral marking that emphasized the importance of this particular Dialogue.  

Though the day had been warm, the sun left the sky early at this time of year, and the people wrapped themselves in blankets and gathered around the fire. Only Trunk of Tree and a dozen other braves were absent, serving as guards. Trunk of Tree was still talking with them and trying to understand how this surprise attack had come. As expected, Many Paths spoke first. 

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“So far as we can tell, no-one was seriously hurt and nothing was stolen of value excepting only my brother, Tu-Swift. A search party has been sent but we have not heard from them.”

A woman of the muskrat clan spoke, “Can people stand atop horses?” 

A woman of the deer clan said, “Apparently so. Perhaps this is not so surprising. We have learned to work with wolves and eagles. Why not horses?” 

Many Paths spoke up. “Our guests from the Nomads of the South confirm that at least one tribe to their knowledge does use horses. They call themselves the ROI.” 

A child of the bobcat clan said, “I saw a man on a horse once.” 

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Many Paths could see that the child had struggled to say this out loud in this big meeting and she did not want to scare him off. “Interesting. Please. Say more.” 

“We were camping near the North River and looking for stones four days ago. Stones to make sharp. And it grew dark. So we slept. And I had a dream and awoke. And I looked across the river and I thought there was a buffalo with a tree and I saw it was really a man. A man on a horse. And I was scared I might be crazy. My parents and brother slept. And I didn’t want to wake them.” 

“Do you think this man saw you?”  asked Many Paths.

“Oh, yes. I think so. He and his horse looked right at me. Then, the horse took him away. I’m sorry.” The child looked bewildered. 

“You did nothing wrong. There’s no need to be sorry.” 

“I should have told someone. But I was afraid it would sound odd.” 

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Many Paths spoke gently. “Can you recall anything else about this horse and man as one?” 

The child thought for a moment and added, “They ran fast. Not so fast as eagle falls, but much faster than anyone of our tribe runs.” 

“And…? Anything else?”

“Well,” the child said, “when the horse ran away, it sounded like a drum. The-duh-RUM, the-duh-RUM.”

“Thank you, Horse Viewer.” Many Paths looked upon the people encouraging others to speak with her eyes and her smile and her voice. 

“Oh, Many Paths, there is one more thing,” said Horse Viewer. “Right before they ran as one, the man made a noise like the running horse.” The boy closed his eyes in concentration. ‘Giddy-UP, Giddy-UP!’ he had shouted and off they ran.”

“Thank you, Horse Viewer,” Many Paths said warmly. 

Next, She Who Saves Many Lives spoke, “Many years ago, I heard stories of people on horses, but I had never seen it first hand. Thank you.” 

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Many Paths spoke again, “The Nomads of the South said that these horses were tamed with cruelty, whips, and tethering. That seems a strange way to me, but perhaps it works. I had to use love to train the wolves. At least, I should say, I thought to train them that way. I began by studying them and as I learned more about them, I loved them more and as I loved them and they became used to me, I could arrange things so that they understood me and I understood them. They could see that I was the tallest of the wolves though not the one with the sharpest teeth. This they did not test though.” 

The father of Horse Viewer, Stone Chipper spoke next. “I travel quite often as far as the North River. Only recently did I begin taking the children in order for them to help me find the sharpening rocks and learn to set free the weapon inside the rock. On my many long walks through the forest, I saw many creatures such as deer, squirrels, song birds, and I always speak to them kindly for they were my only friends on such journeys. Over the years, they became quite friendly. I never really tried to “train” them for battle, but gradually, their curiosity overcame their fear. Though not for the bobcats. They stayed wary. I cannot imagine beating an animal to train it though.”

Upon this, they contemplated for a silent, unhurried time. 

“Sometimes, a little one can be annoying. It is easy to swat a fly away and sometimes… as well ,a child. This is always wrong though.” A large, aging man, thick muscled and large boned, like POND MUD spoke. “Eventually, you drive them away so they actually want to annoy you and then you punish them more and they become more distant and you hit them harder….it seems as though it works, because you can get your way at that moment. But the moment your back is turned…you are creating war in your own house.” 

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A tall young woman with dark, penetrating eyes and long luxurious silken hair said, “We must all treat each other with respect.” Here she looked deliberately into the eyes of everyone there. “Especially the weakest amongst ourselves. Cruelty is against the grain of the tree of life. It will cause great damage, in the end. Great damage, indeed.”

Many Paths waited, not wanting to rush the people. After a long silence she spoke again. “It is clear that there is much that we do not know about these people. We do not know why they stole Tu-Swift. We do not know how many of these people there are and we do not know how many horses they have. We do not know how long it takes to train a horse, or exactly how they do it. They seem very confident indeed. But cruel. After all, they stole Tu-Swift. They attacked us at feast. And, it sounds as though they may use cruelty to train these horses. Though we have never trained horses. So, perhaps this is necessary for horses though not for wolves, nor eagles, nor children.”

A-OC of the Deer Clan spoke. “We know that they are capable of speed. And we know they did at least one thing bad by stealing a child. And, they must have some stealth as well because our guards did not warn us.”

Now, her sister, P-OC spoke along similar lines, “Perhaps we can arrange to make our paths more hospitable to those on foot and less so to those astride a horse.”

“Indeed,” said a man from the Muskrat Clan, “though some day we ourselves may learn to stand atop horses.” 

P-OC nodded. “Yes, we should make any such alteration a temporary thing in case we might someday use these horses in such a way as to run so fast.”  

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The people began to imagine various possible ways to do this. AO-C mentioned one idea. “For all but the eldest among us, it is easy to stand but also to crawl and get back to standing. If a tree were bent across a path at about this height” she said, as she drew her hand from left to right across her belly, our runners could easily duck under such a barrier. But I don’t think a horse would have such an easy time.” 

Stone Chipper spoke, “Yes, and a person may turn sideways, and sidle through a slim opening. Horses though are big. There is the cool-place path, near the entrance to the great forest. It narrows between the two cliffs, beneath the raspberry bushes. If we made other paths encouraging others to take that entrance, we could narrow it still more and it would be impossible for horses to get through. Then, our would-be invaders and child-stealers would find this out and have to retrace their steps to approach us in a different way.” 

All the people knew the place he meant. Even now, people would struggle to walk two abreast. Many Path sensed a commotion near the riverbank. Someone approached the edge of the circle. It was Trunk of Tree and he was helping another man. Friend of Squirrel! He appeared hurt. Many Paths said to Trunk of Tree, “What news? What happened to Friend of Squirrel? He seems off, somehow.”

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Trunk of Tree nodded, and said, “Yes. Indeed.” Then he asked him companion more quietly, “Are you okay to tell your story now?” 

Friend of Squirrel nodded. The crowd quieted even more so that he could be heard. They could tell he was not able to shout. “There were three guards and we were posted together at the north entrance to the great forest. We were imagining the feast and tempting the squirrels to approach us for small treats. Suddenly we heard a great commotion. A host of men standing on horses appeared. The first opened his hands to show he had no weapons. He spoke gently though we did not understand his words. He gestures made it clear that they came in peace, and to trade, or so we thought. Several of the men – and I believe they were all men – opened some clothing on the side of the horse and brought out some fine looking skins. We gathered round and that is the last thing I remember. When I awoke, I tried to stagger to my feet but fell back to the earth. I slept until Trunk of Tree came upon me.”

Trunk of Tree nodded, “I am sorry to say that the companions of Friend of Squirrel are both dead, their heads smashed in with a club of some kind.Two other braves are retrieving their bodies now as well, but Friend of Squirrel should rest. I believe all of our attackers came through that path.”  

Friend of Squirrel spoke again, “I am sorry. We were foolish to have been so incautious. They seemed so friendly. And we were taken aback to see such men atop horses. One of us should have stayed hidden with bow drawn. And now, calamity has struck.” 

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“Trunk of Tree, thank you. Friend of Squirrel, go now and rest. What is done cannot be undone, but can be learned from. We are going to make our paths less friendly to horses for now. And, we must learn much more of these people. And, then, we must see what do do about such people that kill without battle and steal children from a feast.” 

The Dialogue continued till the great fire became embers. Many ideas were shared. At last, a great weariness came upon Many Paths. She had only been leader a short time and now, not only was Tu-Swift stolen, but two fine braves had been killed and another injured. Her people needed reassurance and they needed sleep, but they also needed to be better prepared for another attack. This time, the ROI, if that’s what they were, would not have the element of surprise. Or, at least not those surprises. Many Paths supposed if they could run with horses, there may be other surprising kinds of danger they could wreak upon us. She wished she could speak with Shadow Walker now, but of course she couldn’t. She rose and ended the Dialogue though several stayed and continued to discuss how to make it harder for horses to penetrate to their center place. On the one hand, she wanted to encourage such ideas, but she was tired to the bone. She found herself listening but not contributing and even drumming her ring on the side of a log. She wondered how the search party was doing and how far away they were. She worried about all of her tribe and especially about Tu-Swift. But dwelling on that would just make her less effective as a leader. So, instead, she fantasized that she could talk with Shadow Walker. She drifted off to sleep imagining she could. She toyed with the First Ring of Empathy and reminded herself that Shadow Walker had one as well.


 

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Search Party

Shadow Walker quickly organized the search party. In addition to Shadow Walker, Eagle Eyes, Fleet of Foot, Easy Tears, Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah gathered their private traveling provisions. Easy Tears was put in charge of the two wolf pups while Eagle Eyes led the party due to her superior vision while Shadow Walker, the “leader” was the last of the group. 

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Eagle Eyes hardly needed great vision to follow the trail. (The raiders had obviously counted on speed rather than stealth to outdistance any possible pursuers.) However, Eagle Eyes quickly determined that there were only a dozen raiders. “It seems,” she said as they took a quick break to share a meal, “that they were only a small force who relied on surprise and speed to wreak havoc on the feast and then retreat quickly before we could counter-attack.” 

Shadow Walker nodded. “We could have easily defeated such a small force! We should have attacked immediately!” 

Lion Slayer spoke. “I am not so sure. I have never tried to fight a man who rides astride a horse! The horse is a strong creature and very fast. The man on horseback would be hard to hit while atop a horse, but it would be easy for the one on a horse to strike downward.” 

Easy Tears looked skeptical. “You killed a lion, so they say, which is much more dangerous than a horse! How can you be afraid of a horse?” 

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Lion Slayer laughed. “I was very lucky to have two spears nearby to save Hudah from that lion! And, there were others nearby to help so that lion did not know which way to turn. It is likely that lion could have killed me easily despite my spears had I been alone. But do not underestimate the strength of horse. They can kill with a kick according to legend. And twelve of them together could trample a war party quickly.” 

Eagle Eyes nodded slowly. “Yes, horses are built for speed, but they also look to have sensitive ears and their feet are weapons. A warrior on a horse’s back. That could be formidable. At least they are easy to track!” 

Shadow Walker nodded. He looked over at Hudah Salah whose large, dark eyes were hard to read. “How about you, Hudah? Do you know anything about horses?” 

She frowned slightly and silence grew. At last, she said, “Only as husband Lion Slayer has said.” 

“Let us continue then. We have no idea how far they have taken Tu-Swift. He need to make haste or we will be known as Tu-Late.” No-one laughed at his grim humor. 

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Soon the sextet continued alternating a jogging pace with a fast walk through the forest with Eagle Eyes in the lead. 

Fleet of Foot hung back for a time to be with Shadow Walker and whispered out of earshot of the others. “Shadow Walker, there is something you need to understand about the ways of the Nomads of the South. Hudah Salah will always defer to her husband, Lion Slayer. At least in public.” 

Shadow Walker frowned and jerked his head. “Why? What do you mean? Is there something wrong with her?”

“No,” Shadow Walker, “that is just their way. All the women defer to their husbands.” 

As the forest grew less dense, Shadow Walker lowered his voice still further. 

“Really? Does she have a different opinion when you talk with her privately?” 

Fleet of Foot snorted a laugh. “Oh, I have never spoken with her privately, nor do I intend to. And, I advise you not to try! That would be quite dangerous. The men are all quite jealous. I get the sense from Eagle Eyes that the women sometimes disagree with their husbands, but this is all just her surmise from a hesitation or fleeting look. Even to Eagle Eyes, she’s never said anything to overtly disagree.”

“That is truly odd. Can you imagine Many Paths never disagreeing? Or Eagle Eyes?” Shadow Walker chuckled. 

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They walked on awhile in silence. As the forest thinned to scrubby trees and tall grass, they began to ascend a gentle slope. They were out of sight of their compatriots in front, but the trail, to their trained eyes, shouted its direction. 

“I can tell you that the Nomads of the South thought it remarkable that our leader is a woman.” 

Shadow Walker frowned slightly. “Really? What did they say?” 

Instead of answering, Fleet of Foot, asked, “Speaking of Many Paths, will you two become officially paired?” 

“I don’t know. It’s complicated. She is new to her role as leader and…”

Just then, they heard excited howling up ahead and jogged carefully forward scanning for trouble and recalling how they had been ambushed at their own feast. Ambush here seemed unlikely as the cover was slim. Soon, they heard the voices of the others. They sounded excited, but not in danger. They ascended to the peak of the small hill and looked down below. The scrub land sloped downward to a wide river. Beyond it, there lay a much rockier land littered with gravel. The rest of their crew were examining a recent campsite. Once again, the invaders had made no attempt to cover their tracks. The wolf pups seemed excited as though they had caught the scent of Tu-Swift. 

The six descended the plain, walking quickly but carefully, as much of the ground was littered with small stones that could easily turn the ankle of the unwary. At last they came to the bank of the river. Eagle Eyes began to wade in. To her, the water appeared moving, but not dangerous. The Veritas followed suit, but the Nomads from the South hung back on the shore. Fleet of Foot went back to them. 

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“Come on. The water’s cold, but I don’t think it will sweep you off your feet. But if it does, just keep swimming till you get across.” 

Lion Slayer frowned, “You say simbling? Where is simbling?” 

“Swimming! Swimming!” Fleet of Foot made motions with his hands. 

Hudah Salah and her husband frowned and looked at each other. Eagle Eyes sighed. There had been no rivers at the central place of the Nomads of the South. They had drawn their water from wells. “So, do you know how to … how to crawl on the water?” 

Lion Slayer looked more bewildered than ever. “Crawl? On water?” 

Fleet of Foot cupped his hands and called out to Eagle Eyes who was emerging on the other side. “Come back! I think we will need to use rope to help them across. They don’t know anything about swimming.” 

Eagle Eyes looked back at the three still on the shore. She searched her memory and realized they had not seen any swimming at the camps of the Nomads. She turned and strode back into the river. Swimming would not be needed. The water had barely reached above her waist. But the current was plenty strong, she reckoned and might indeed be frightening to those unaccustomed to so much water all at once. 

She encouraged Shadow Walker and Easy Tears to turn back with her. When all six reconvened, she quickly tied a rope around the waist of each. “This will be safer for all of us. In case, the foot of anyone slips on a mossy rock, you will not fall. The others will hold you in place. Come. Now, we will be safe.” As she said this, she felt a sting of guilt. It’s true enough that it would be safer for the Nomads who apparently had no idea how to swim. But for the Veritas, the tethering ropes would make swimming more difficult, not easier. Still, there was no time for other solutions. 

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Off they went, and only Lion Slayer seemed to have difficulty keeping his footing. Three times he slipped, and three times, Shadow Walker and Fleet of Foot pulled on the rope and took his arms to keep him from falling. They reached the other side, shivering in the late afternoon sun. Shadow Walker glanced at Hudah and could not help noticing that she looked much more fetching with her garments wetly clinging to her body. He pulled his eyes away, not wanting to offend the Nomads. Instead, he offered, “When we have found and returned Tu-Swift, we much teach you two to swim.” 

Lion Slayer shivered violently. “Thanks you, but not. Too big water.” Shadow Walker considered waiting for a few hours while all their clothes dried in the sun. It might be interesting to see Hudah without clothes. However, it would take time. Furthermore, based on what Fleet of Foot had said, he strongly suspected that Lion Slayer would not take kindly to such a suggestion. “No need. Let’s jog as best we can, being careful of the rocks. We will warm up quickly.” 

Fleet of Foot noticed that Eagle Eyes had gone on ahead and seemed to be examining a thick-leafed plant of some kind. She jogged back over to the group and spoke while she held out a small leaf. “This is aloe. This leaf has been broken. It’s used to treat burns. One of them was apparently burned…or perhaps it was for Tu-Swift. I do not know. But we should go. Follow me. I will take a path least likely to turn ankles.” Without another word, she jogged off. They all followed single file. Fleet of Foot jogged off next, followed by Hudah, Lion Slayer, Easy Tears and Shadow Walker. 

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Shadow Walker kept scanning in all directions for signs of danger, but also made sure he attended to where he placed his feet. He allowed himself a ray of hope. The most likely person to be burned was Tu-Swift. If they bothered to treat him with aloe, then it would mean he was still alive but also that they probably wanted him for some purpose other than simply killing him. But even if that were true, it can’t be a very good purpose. And, what did it mean that they made no attempt so far to cover their trail? Perhaps their camp was simply so large and well-guarded that they had no fear of reprisals. 

As the sun began to set, the six found themselves jogging into a box canyon. There seemed to be no exit. Sheer rocks rose on every side. Yet, the horse tracks into the canyon remained unmistakable in the fading light, not just to Eagle Eyes but to everyone. The exhausted group made a cheering fire between one of the cliff walls and a large nearby rock. 

Shadow Walker shared his musings with the group. They nodded but could offer nothing additional. Eyes of Eagle spoke next, “I have reviewed in my mind all the signs I saw and followed. I see nothing and feel nothing of a false trail. I see no way that they could have backtracked without it’s being noticed. A single person, with careful steps, may walk backwards in their own tracks. But a horse? A dozen horses? I see no way that they did not come here. But then what?”

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Silence. 

At last, Lion Slayer spoke. “Near our lands, but much farther south, there be places of pure sand. Some people venturing into those lands have disappeared. Such sand can swallow a person. Those lands are not like this land. Even in the land of all sand, a dozen horses and a dozen people? Surely, when first such disappeared, others would turn back, would they not?”  

Shadow Walker asked them to consider and dream of other times when things appeared impossible. “It is dark. In the light of morning, we will search more carefully. We will solve this puzzle. We will find Tu-Swift. Now, let our bodies rest and recover.” 


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Beginning of the Myths of the Veritas

Beginning of Book II of The Myths of the Veritas

 

The Horse Whisperer

Tu-Swift regarded his new companion with a mixture of curiosity, pity, and wariness. The boy couldn’t have been more than five summers. Huddled in a corner, the boy shook with fear as he regarded Tu-Swift with a wild-eyed stare. Tu-Swift wished he had some food to offer the boy, but he had none. His own stomach growled. He had hardly noticed the hunger because he was so thirsty. Inventory, he thought. Inventory will calm me. I must have something to comfort this terrified being. 

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Tu-Swift calmed his breathing and relaxed his body. If he acted calm, that could help the little one calm down too. Animals of all kinds, including humans, reflected the emotional ambiance around them. He forced himself to stop staring at the other boy and instead focused on assessing his situation calmly. Surely, he though, if I can make friends with wolf cubs, I can do it with this boy. I am hungry, tired, thirsty, and scared. But I am alive and not badly hurt. My head still hurts and my forearm burns. Burns? I was shot! Tu-Swift slowly slid over to a spot where he could hold his arm up in the sunlight. His arm was burned but not badly. Suddenly, his memory returned, but it was a broken jar. He slowly and deliberately reconstructed that jar. 

He had gone to the feast. He had met with his friends. Many Paths was just joining them. There was an attack. Everyone ran for cover. Tu-Swift had thought he was shot with a flaming arrow. Actually the arrow had not pierced his skin but had pinned his sleeve to the wooden table. But it burned him. He tore his tunic to get free. He succeeded but the feast was being overrun with warriors. He dove under the table. Many strong hands pulled him out. He fought. But someone clubbed him on the back of the head. He lost consciousness. Now, here he was. But he still did not know for certain where “here” was nor why they had stolen him. Recovering his memory allowed him to calm himself further. 

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Tu-Swift chanced glancing at the boy. Smiling, Tu-Swift put the flat of his hand on his own chest, he tapped himself and said in a dry whisper, “Tu-Swift.” He repeated the gesture. He tried to lick his lips but his tongue remained dry, his lips chapped. He tried again and said it hoarsely and softly. He hoped those outside would not hear and he did not want to frighten the little on. He repeated his name again. The boy looked a bit less terrified and pointed to his own chest and said, “Day-Nah.” 

To the ears of Tu-Swift, this name reminded him of the speech of the fierce and formidable warriors of the north. He lifted his hand and waved it then pointed with his other hand. “Hand” he said. He repeated it. The little one said “Hand” and then waved his own hand and said, “Ma-Nu.” They continued in this manner, each learning snippets of the other’s language. These “lessons”, Tu-Swift knew, would also remind Day-Nah that the two of them were not so different. After naming body parts, Tu-Swift pointed out through the slats and said, “Horses.” Day-Nah, nodded and repeated something close to that and then said, “EE-qah.” Tu-Swift became ever more convinced that this boy had been stolen from the fierce and formidable warriors of the north, but he couldn’t be sure. He wished he had paid more attention to the elders who had tried to teach him what they knew of other languages. Tu-Swift now knew that he had been a bit too impatient with himself and with his teachers, yearning to run in the fields rather than learning nonsense words of people he would likely never meet. 

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Tu-Swift made his hand into a kind of horse and had it “run” along the packed dirt floor. He said, “Horse (pause) Run!”  Then, he changed the position of his hand only letting his index and middle fingers run as though on two legs, “Tu-Swift Run. Tu-Swift Run.” He pointed at Day-Nah. “Day-Nah Run. Day-Nah Run.” The little boy nodded. Just then, they both fled back into the far corners of their prison as they heard shouting outside. A heavy bar scraped across something and several guards appeared at the door wielding clubs. Tu-Swift felt sure they were both going to be beaten to death, but a guard simply put a jug and a platter inside. Then, the door shut again and they could hear the bar scrape back into place. Tu-Swift approached cautiously, but Day-Nah stayed huddled in the corner.

 Tu-Swift steadied himself, carefully smelling the water and then tasting a tiny drop before deciding it was unlikely to be poisoned. There were so many warriors, they could easily kill the two of them with clubs. Why bother with poison? He knew not to drink too much or too quickly when consumed with thirst, so with great force of will, forced himself to sip slowly. He looked at the little one. He put his two fingers on the ground, and made them go fast like a runner. “Tu-Swift Run Swift!” Then, he made his fingers go slowly, “Tu-Swift Run Slow.” He pointed to the jug and said, “Water. Water – Slow.” Day-Nah Water Slow.” 

The boy nodded. Tu-Swift handed the jug to Day-Nah” and thought, this little one is pretty smart. Day-Nah began slowly and then tilted the jug up but Tu-Swift grabbed it away. “Slow! Dah-Nah Water…slow.” He took a very slow, deliberate sip, and handed the jug back. This time the small boy showed a little more self-control. They both succeeded in keeping the water down and then shared the pasty sour-sweet acorn mash. Again, Tu-Swift cautioned the boy (and himself at the same time) to eat slowly. 

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Two days passed somewhat uneventfully in this fashion, each boy learning a bit of the language of the other and becoming more trusting of one another. The guards left them alone for the most part. On the third day, however, several large guards entered and took away the small boy. Tu-Swift tried to stop them, but one of them struck Tu-Swift across the face sending him senseless onto the floor. Soon after Tu-Swift awoke, they threw the small boy back into the cell. Tu-Swift noticed that the boy was now wearing strange cuffs around his ankles and that these cuffs were connected by a short length of heavy hemp rope. Before he could communicate with Day-Nah, the guards overpowered Tu-Swift and despite his struggles, yanked him out into a nearby courtyard, held him down and put similar cuffs on his own ankles. Now, Tu-Swift could walk, but only in a slow shuffle. The guards unceremoniously threw him back into the dark cell. 

Tu-Swift tried chewing on the ropes but made little progress. His jaw ached with the effort. Day-Nah imitated him but made no progress at all. These ropes were thick and strong. At last, the two of them slept. In the morning, they were led by six guards to the place where the horses were kept. As they approached, the horses whinnied and jockeyed around in their pen. They were fettered even worse than were Tu-Swift and Day-Nah. The guards made it clear that the boys were to clean up all the horse manure. It was exhausting work, mostly accomplished by the older, stronger Tu-Swift, but both boys enjoyed the company of the other and were thankful to be outside in the open air. The horses, though fettered and cowed from beatings, were still dangerous and the boys had to be careful to avoid bites and hooves. As the boys continued to discover each other’s languages, Tu-Swift also spoke re-assuringly to the horses and Day-Nah followed suit. 

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Tu-Swift looked up at the sun and could tell it was mid-day. A half moon also adorned the sky. From this Tu-Swift at last could confirm the directions that he had deduced from the sun’s movement during the day. He remained uncertain of the direction of home. One distant mountain peak appeared to be familiar. If that were indeed “The Old Man’s Nose” they would need to travel almost due south to get home, or at least the home of Tu-Swift. Tu-Swift discovered a sharp piece of stone which he picked up and hid for later use. 

That evening, as the sun sank beneath the distant mountains, the boys were led to stables where some of the more “broken” horses slept each in a small pen. Here, the boys were tied up in their own pen, in the vicinity of the horses but safe from trampling. They were given double rations at night and Tu-Swift continued to speak reassuringly to the horses. This seemed to calm the horses as well as Day-Nah, but mainly he did it to comfort himself. 

In the morning, the guards gave them a bit of water and double rations. Tu-Swift put a small portion of his own rations on the thick rope that tied his anklets together. He hoped horses liked sweet acorn mash as much as he did. If his luck held, they might just find out.  

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The first of five essays on SHRUGS (Super Hyper Really Ultra-Greedy Swindlers). 

The Creation Myth of the Veritas

The First Ring of Empathy 

Book Two of the Myths of the Veritas 

Winning by Cheating is Losing. It is not Winning.

[This is a temporary departure from The Myths of the Veritas which will continue soon].

Newsflash: Winning by Cheating is Losing; it is not Winning.

I would have hoped that this blog entry would be completely unnecessary to write in 2019, but apparently that is not the case. 

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In 2015, I published The Winning Weekend Warrior. This book focuses on strategy, tactics, and the ‘mental game’ for all sports. It says nothing about technique or form. But for many people, continued focus on technique will not help nearly so much as it will for them to rethink strategy and tactics and to improve their self-control. The Winning Weekend Warrior says to never give in and never give up. I like to see a fighting spirit in an athlete and so do most people. But the book also discusses sportsmanship. Winning by cheating is not winning. Most sports have very clear and distinct rules about what is cheating and what is not. 

If you win by cheating, it disrespects the sport. It disrespects the audience. It disrespects your opponent. Most of all, if you win by cheating, you disrespect yourself. 

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America, I am sure you are not surprised to hear, is a very competitive nation. We are competitive in every conceivable place where it makes sense to compete. In fact, we’re so competitive that we even compete in things that are historically and quintessentially cooperative rather than competitive. We have contests about singing, dancing, cooking and dating! We even compete on social media on sociality! 

It is natural for folks to root for their favorite athlete or favorite team. It is not particularly “natural” for people to riot after their team wins! It is not particularly “natural” for people to rejoice when their team “wins” even when they do so through cheating. (See paragraph three above). 

There is no doubt that political “contests” bear some resemblance to athletic contests. They both involve strategy, tactics, performance, metrics, etc. There is one huge difference though. The outcomes of political contests have real consequences in people’s lives. The politicians sometimes try to make you believe that there are consequences that will not actually come to pass. For example, they may tell you that they will greatly lower your tax bill and then actually increase it. Or, they may tell you that they will make your world safer and actually make it more dangerous. Or, they may tell you that they will lower your healthcare costs or “stand up to” giant pharma companies and then do just the opposite. Teams may also make promises to their fans — and then sometimes they break these promises. But the primary purpose of a team is to play the sport, not arrange things for the benefit of various constituents. 

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By contrast, the primary purpose of politicians is to weigh the needs and wants of various constituents and then work to balance various interests, work compromises, help constituents find common ground and so on. The main point of a politician is not to campaign. Yet, today, we find ourselves in the odd position that a politician has “won” and rather than then do any of their duties and exercise their skill for finding common ground, weighing competing interests and proposing compromises, instead, they continue to campaign full time. 

Ordinarily, one might expect that citizens would be up in arms about a politician who fails to do their actual job and instead continues to campaign (and protect their personal interests). Astoundingly, however, the “fans” of the “winning team” continue to root for “their team” even though “their team” continues to campaign on the basis of the same lies that produced the initial “win.” 

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In this case, the framing of politics as a sports contest is really counterproductive. The supporters of the winning “team” continue to support that “team” even though the winning “team” has zero loyalty to its supporters. (It also has zero loyalty to the citizenry in general, by the way. After an election, the “winning party” is supposed to govern the country in the interests of all its citizens, not only the ones who voted them in). 

So, here we have a seeming paradox. The “team” in power is using all its resources for their own benefit. They seem unconcerned with the nation as a whole. They seem unconcerned with continuing to lie and make false promises to their “base” because the “base” is loyal and supports their “team” no matter what. This loyalty has consequences. It means, essentially, that the party in power is not constrained in their exercise of power. They can do things that are against the interests of their “sports fans” precisely because their “sports fans” are not demanding anything in return. It only matters to the “sports fans” that they are on the “winning side” regardless of how horrible the consequences may be for the nation as a whole, for the vast majority of people on that “winning team” and even for their kids and grandkids. 

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In some cases, it seems that those who view themselves as being on the “winning team” are even aware that they are behaving against their own interests but are willing to do so simply because those on the “losing team” will feel even worse! This is a perversion of winning. 

Suppose you can have one of two outcomes: A or B. In A, you get $5000 free and clear but I get $10,000. In choice B, you lose get $5000, but I will lose $10,000. Which one would you pick? A or B?  Astoundingly, some people are filled with so much fear and loathing that they will pick B! It’s $10,000 worse for them, but that’s okay because it’s $20,000 worse for me! You don’t know me. I’ve never hurt you. Yet, you choose to hurt me anyway even if it means hurting yourself too. This is not winning!

In the case of contemporary American politics, it appears that so-called “identity” politics may interact with this tendency to think of yourself as a winner even if you’re actually a loser. If the “me” you are trying to hurt with your self-defeating choices supports gays, or women, or people of color, then you may feel that losing $5,000 dollars will be worth it because gays or women or people of color make you feel “uncomfortable.” Naturally, the “discomfort” is within. What you really object to is something within yourself that you don’t want to acknowledge. 

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To be fair, this is not an issue that applies only those on the political “right” or the political “left.”  When a foreign adversary is out to gain hegemony over other nations, the very best way is to sow political discord in the nation that they want to weaken. Putin, for instance, has certainly succeeded in doing that in the UK as well as the USA. People in America who are socially conservative may hate the left, but Putin is also doing whatever he can to make the left hate the right as well. Unfortunately, since the society itself is so hyper-competitive, both sides tend to focus on “winning.” 

Contests to the death make much more interesting stories than ones where the parties come to a compromise or find a solution that makes more sense than the solution that either the left or the right began with. So, since media are largely incentivized to provide more “engaging” stories, in a hyper-competitive society, this means they prefer a story of winning and losing more than a story of compromise. 

In the realm of sports, no-one I know, myself included, would enjoy a contest where those racing a mile would get together before the opening gun and “agree” to walk the mile together at a leisurely pace! That’s boring! And it doesn’t show us the “edges” of human capability either. I certainly recommend nothing of the kind in The Winning Weekend Warrior. 

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But politics is not sports. 

In politics, the best outcome is precisely that various parties agree. The best process is one that follows the rules; one where people put their actual interests out there on the table and then people work together to find an emergent solution using the best ideas on both sides. Such a process, however, is in the best interests of the politicians only if the “fans” on both sides demand it. If either side, or both sides, instead insist it’s just fine to break the rules provided their side “wins” then only the politicians benefit — not the people. The media also benefits, at least in the short term. When carried to its logical conclusion, “winning at all costs” is a loss. 

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Winning by cheating is a loss for the country. It’s a loss for the world. It’s a loss for future generations. We seem to have forgotten this.

Hopefully, next time, we will at last — at long last — remember.   


 

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