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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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