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Myths of the Veritas: The Sixth Ring of Empathy. 

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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