, , , , , , ,


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

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

close up dry gravel grey

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

night fire flame fire pit

Photo by Bob Clark on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, it did, because here I am!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Not your business.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Books on Amazon. Author Page

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

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

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

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