The Battle on the Northern Path.
She-of-Many-Paths walked among the Veritas accompanied by She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives and Shadow-Walker. They wanted to ensure that whatever of importance that one Veritas knew, they all knew. Mainly, however, they encouraged each of the Veritas to be ready in mind, body, and spirit. Such preparations included not only guards and warriors but every person except for infants in arms. Mothers taught their toddlers how and where to hide and each such mother was well prepared to defend their own home with weapons and skill and strength of body and strength of resolve. While on one of these walks of encouragement and knowledge sharing, the three came upon a curious sight. Eagle Eyes lay face down upon the ground obviously concentrating on something though what was not obvious. She heard the others coming and motioned for them to approach slowly. “Come,” she whispered. “Watch this.”
So the trio approached quietly and slowly. At first, they saw nothing unusual. Then, She-of-Many-Paths noticed a slight hole in the ground in the shape of a fairy ring mushroom cap turned upside down. Why this held the attention of Eagle Eyes was not clear, but she did like unusual shapes. At the bottom of this small funnel however, She-of-Many-Paths saw two tiny twigs sticking out. As she drew closer, she saw that these sticks were serrated. She slowly knelt on the ground beside Eagle Eyes and then lay on her belly. With her eyes thus very close indeed, she saw that the “twigs” actually consisted of insect jaws. Before long, an ant came along and began to traverse the hole. Then, a very strange and wondrous thing happened. The ant slipped! It grew agitated and began scrambling to climb right back out of the hole. Yet, as it did so, its feet slipped still more so that soon it found itself falling toward the vortex at the center. For an instant, the tiny creature seemed to catch some purchase and made progress toward the rim. Then, the ant lion began tossing sand above the position of the ant and the sand thus cast fell toward the center and made the ant’s feels slip again. At last, her legs still scrambling, the hapless ant slipped into the center of the hole and thus into the jaws of the waiting ant lion who grabbed the ant and slammed it into the sides of the hole driving the ant lion’s jaws deeper into the struggling body of the ant. In a few seconds, it was devoured.
She-of-Many-Paths gasped and looked at Eagle Eyes whose large brown eyes locked with her own as she smiled a truer smile than She-of-Many-Paths had seen on the face of Eagle Eyes for quite awhile.
“That’s amazing, Eagle Eyes, but how can this be? Ants can climb anything. They climb up trees! How can they slip and fail to escape this path that the ant lion desires them to take?”
“Indeed! That is the question I asked myself! The ant lion is quite precise in the shape, you see. It makes the sides of the hole precisely steep enough. If they were any shallower, the ant could escape. If they were any steeper, the grains of soil would slip of their own accord. As it is, the sides are stable, but only so long as even such a tiny creature as an ant does not tread on it. When that happens, the soil begins to slip and most such creatures fall into the center of such pits though a few do manage to escape.”
Shadow-Walker had gotten down on the ground to observe as well. “That’s interesting all right. But you do know we have a battle approaching some time soon. We must prepare.”
“Indeed, Shadow-Walker, my thought exactly,” said Eagle Eyes. “You know that steep hill that overlooks the flat green valley by the aspen grove?”
“Yes, a hill both steep and treacherous because of the small loose stones…oh…are you thinking…?” questioned Shadow-Walker.
“Yes! We can make it even more treacherous by adding even more such stones. Warriors very much prefer higher ground and very much to run downhill rather than uphill. Is this not true?”
Shadow-Walker could hardly contain his excitement now. “Yes! Yes! I see! We can contrive to have them run at us down this steep hill, thus carefully prepared. At the bottom of such a hill, they will think to see a great victory, but we will prepare our own jaws of death. Clever, Eagle Eyes!”
“It’s a wonderful idea, Eagle Eyes!” She-of-Many-Paths was also excited. “How long will it take to prepare the hill with more loose stones?”
“That part is already done. But I wanted to study further to see if I overlooked anything. And, I’ve already posted enough of the four-rock signs of danger so our own people in their travels here and there do not accidentally fall on this hill now so slippery.” Now, a genuine and full smile appeared on the face of Eagle Eyes. She called out, “Fleet-of-Foot! Come hither!”
True to his name, Fleet-of-Foot appeared momentarily. He saw the four of them and quickly comprehended the situation. “Ah, I see you’ve shared our plans. Did you tell them of the markings?”
She-of-Many-Paths asked, “Markings? What markings?”
Now Eagle Eyes laughed slightly. “Even though they call me Eagle Eyes, it was really Fleet-of-Foot who first noticed them. There are markings of charcoal on many trees near our guard posts. At first, we only saw one. Then, another. We thought perhaps some child was practicing his or her drawing skills, but they showed no creative variation and there were too many even for the most obsessive among us. We believe they were put there to guide our enemies. So, we added quite a few, many of which lead to the hill of slippery rocks. But we added others leading to the quicksand and that nasty briar patch of old blackberry bushes by the red boulder.”
Eagle Eyes had a far-away look in her eyes. “I find it very interesting that a shallow slope may be traversed but as it grows steeper and steeper, at some point, it becomes impossible to climb or avoid falling. This gives me an idea about the broad fresh rapid river that grows among the willows and aspens near our center place. We may walk across such a river though many have slipped and none dare try at full flood. But perhaps we could change the shape of such a river so none might walk across. Cousin beaver sometimes builds a dam to change a stream into a lake. Perhaps, he could prove helpful. Can you join me, Fleet-of-Foot? Let us examine our stream.” Off went the two of them.
She-of-Many-Paths and She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives continued on their walk to encourage hearts and share knowledge. Shadow Walker said that he would stay behind to try to better understand how slope that is difficult to climb becomes slope that is impossible to climb and seek other new tools of warfare.
As the two women walked between encampments, She-of-Many-Paths grew silent, clearly lost in thought. At last, she sighed and turned to She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives and spoke quietly. “How does it come to pass that one so promising as ALT-R becomes a traitor? And, what of POND MUD? He was never the brightest amongst us, but he seemed to have a good heart. And, what are we to make of the Cupiditas? Is there no path to peace that does not require the destruction of enemies?”
“I have been searching for just such a path as you speak of all my life. Indeed, many arguments among the Veritas, I have settled, even among the angry, so that no blood was shed and the people became whole again. Trust is much like a bridge. It takes skill and patience to build but only one raging flash flood to break it down and wash away all traces that it ever existed. Beyond the gathering of the corn and the singing of songs, we must continue to search — you may continue to search for such a path, if you so choose. I hope that you find a path without death that can lead from war to peace where I have failed. We may arrange circumstances in many ways to encourage truth and peace. In the end, however, ALT-R chose to feed the evil wolf within himself though I had hoped he would not. KAVA-NUT chose a similar path. POND MUD felt himself inferior in thinking and superior in physical strength so perhaps it is not surprising that he chose power over truth and to follow the devious and self-serving ways of ALT-R.
“As for the Cupiditas, so far as I can tell, their ways encourage the path of power over truth. There may be a few among them who long for a different and more harmonious path, but it would be difficult for any such person to follow the path of a true heart. I hope at long last that they may find value in emulating at least some of the ways of the Veritas. A people who rule themselves without regard to the truth may grow for a time just as a seedling might in a dark cave. But without sunlight, it will shrivel and die. Without truth, a people will die one way or another.
“We may encourage our cousins the rattlesnakes and bears not to attack us and mainly they are wise enough not to do so. But if they do, then sometimes we must kill to stay alive. This too is the way of life, after all. If we have erred by showing too much mercy to KAVA-NUT, ALT-R and POND MUD, we will pay a steep price indeed.
“Listen well, She-of-Many-Paths, for I must ask you now a great favor and extract a great promise. I know that you and Shadow Walker are both wise and brave. You would gladly fight to the death to defend your home and your tribe and your friends. However, if you judge that the Veritas are to be wholly vanquished, promise me that you and Shadow Walker, will not fight to the death but instead leave this place and go elsewhere to find a new home. When you are numerous enough and strong enough, your children’s children’s children must be wise enough to know whether it becomes desirable to reclaim these sacred lands or to simply live where you are and prosper. That I cannot foresee. But you must survive and the stories of the Veritas must as well.”
“NO! I will never abandon you and my friends! You ask too much! How could I…?” protested She-of-Many-Paths.
“Yet ask I must. You know our ways. You know them well and you are wise beyond your years. And, you must become the seeds of a new tribe of the Veritas. Remember well the teachings. And, if by chance you are enslaved, you must still remember the teachings and pass them on secretly until such time and circumstance permit you to reclaim your freedom and retake these sacred lands. You and Shadow Walker must not die but must instead ensure that our people and our ways survive. Promise me. You will find a path to victory at last, even if that path must of necessity begin in fleeing or enslavement.”
She-of-Many-Paths shook her head. “It is much that you ask, She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives! Yet, I do see the wisdom of your words. Whether I can convince Shadow Walker, however, I do not know. Let us first work toward victory however.”
“Indeed, I am hopeful. Though the Cupiditas are fierce fighters, I believe them too few to overcome us. Their entire society is based on power and their avoidance of the truth will inevitably be their own downfall. Whether that will happen soon or many seasons hence, we cannot foresee. We must therefore prepare for many contingencies. And, for that, you are indeed, well-suited, She-of-Many-Paths. Very well-suited indeed.”
Meanwhile, the Cupiditas made their own final preparations. NUT-PI, after careful consideration, had decided to put poison on the weapons of some of his favorite and most trusted warriors. These were the leaders of the three bands and their captains. Of course, he did not tell them he was putting poison on the weapons for fear that they would realize that this was how he had won his position of power in the first place. Rather the told them that he had imbued their weapons with a magic spell of power that would make their spears and arrows even stronger and more powerful. “Now, listen carefully, warriors! This spell of power will make your weapons more powerful but do not attempt to engage this power yourselves! It is a power that I alone can control. So keep your hands away from the tips of your spears and the tips of your arrows lest you ruin the magic!” He also admonished his special cadre of troops to keep the knowledge of the spell he had cast on their weapons to themselves and not to share what he had done with the other warriors. “Let them believe that it is only because I find favor in you and they will marvel at your strength and effectiveness.”
NUT-PI’s servants called the whole of the Cupiditas to come to hear the words of their great leader.
“Hear me well, oh, people of the Cupiditas, who rightly own all that is in this valley farther than the eye can see. Too long have we shared these lands with the Veritas who prove themselves deceptive and unworthy at every turn. Now, we have contrived to destroy their warriors, steal their possessions, and enslave their women and children! Hurrah!”
The crowd enthusiastically shouted “HURRAH! Enslave them! Enslave them! Murder them! Murder them!”
NUT-PI smiled with pleasure at how easily led or misled were most of the Cupiditas. ALT-R shouted along with the rest, but secretly felt ashamed that his adopted tribe was so mindless in their obedience to NUT-PI. Then, he realized that he was manipulating POND MUD in much the same way.
NUT-PI continued. “We are stronger than the Veritas! And, we know where all their lookouts are. We will sneak in at dusk and kill all their lookouts. Then, right before dawn, we will attack on three fronts to overwhelm them and destroy them. We will have three armies attack on three paths. The first one to overrun their central village will have first pick of the women and children to enslave. But there will plenty of spoils for everyone. The Veritas have no idea we are even going to attack them. They stupidly feel confident that they outnumber us. Here, they are wrong. For I have used my power to summon allies to help us. The fierce warriors of the north will follow us in on the northern path to glory and the nomads to the south will follow us in on the southern path to glory. Why? Because of my brilliant negotiations with them. The fierce warriors of the north will gain by learning the way of the sharp barbed arrowhead from the enslaved Veritas and the nomads of the south will gain by learning the way of unleaking water casks from the enslaved Veritas.” In truth, these promises had been made. However, he had also promised the fierce warriors of the north that they could have most of the spoils of war including first pick of the women and children. He had made that same promise to the nomads of the south; namely, that they could have most of the spoils of war including first pick among the women and children. NUT-PI well knew that he could not keep both promises along with the promises made to his own people. That was a problem for another day, however. Right now, he needed to reassure his people and drive them to a killing frenzy. He led them in more chanting: “KILL THE VERITAS! ENSLAVE THE VERITAS! KILL THEM! ENSLAVE THEM!”
Thus, it came to pass that midday of the first empty moon beyond the summer solstice, nearly all of the Cupiditas warriors left their camp on a great march toward the lands of the Veritas, there to meet up with a large band of fierce warriors from the north. Those of the Cupiditas were led by INGO RICHES, though KAVA NUT was their guide. INGO RICHES carried a battle axe and a long spear enchanted by NUT-PI who was himself to lead the middle throng. INGO RICHES cared little for KAVA NUT whom he considered a very low person to so betray his own people. He did not realize that KAVA NUT, along with ALT-R and POND MUD had been banished from the Veritas for attempting to force themselves on Eagle Eyes and then lying about it. Yet he still felt contempt for such a man as would betray his own tribe, regardless of the circumstances.
Thoughts of betrayal led INGO RICHES to think back once more to the contest he had witnessed between NUT-PI and CHOFM. Something about it bothered him. NUT-PI did not seem strong enough or well-trained enough to vanquish CHOFM though he had seen it with his own eyes. Indeed, there must be magic in NUT-PI. It was a magic that had been partly put into his own spear. NUT-PI had cautioned everyone not to touch the heads of the weapons which he had put under a spell. INGO RICHES felt he was warrior enough to use his spear quite effectively with or without magic. Perhaps, he thought, NUT-PI does not want to share the power of his magic with others.
Presently, the troop of warriors stopped to rest where they were to rendezvous with the fierce and formidable warriors of the north. INGO RICHES went off by himself a ways. He sat beside a crannied rock wall and looked carefully at his spear, particularly at the tip which was now supposedly imbued with magic. It occurred to him that he could grasp the tip and gain some of the magic for himself. NUT-PI may have told his leaders not to touch it simply because he didn’t want them to discover the true source of his power. Thus, in private, he lightly touched the tip. He didn’t feel anything unusual. It felt exactly as it always had. He felt nothing magical or powerful about it. He decided to grasp it more tightly. He still felt nothing magical or powerful. Perhaps it was all a lie? Maybe the magic only came out in the piercing. He decided to make the tiniest of pricks in the end of his little finger as an experiment. Perhaps then he would feel the magic. A tiny drop of blood appeared on his little finger. He shook his head. It felt just as he had thought it would, a tiny pain but no magic and no special power.
Then, he shuddered with sudden excitement! He felt it! There was magic after all! This was the magical power that NUT-PI had not wanted them to discover. INGO RICHES felt more powerful than he had ever felt before. His muscles pulsed with power! No wonder, NUT-PI had won. He had used this power to overcome CHOFM! INGO RICHES couldn’t believe how powerful he now felt. Every muscle in his body seemed to want to contract all on its own. He didn’t even have to will them to move. But it was cramping. It was all cramping. He had cramps in his hands and biceps and calves and his thighs. He began to thrash violently and tried to cry out but couldn’t. He fell to the ground thrashing this way and that. He felt a terrible crushing pain in his chest and realized that NUT-PI’s magic was too powerful for him to contain. Perhaps he really was the chosen one. INGO RICHES tried to scream for help but his jaws, along with the rest of his body, had turned to stone. He thrashed against the crannied wall where his hand chanced upon a small flower. Without willing it so, he grasped the flower tightly pulling it, root and all, to his chest. He stared up into the sky which had become an incredibly bright blue morphing into the pure white of distant stars. He realized he was about to die alone; that he had always been alone; that all of the Cupiditas were alone, each striving for more power than anyone else. He thought to himself, “truth is the real power. We will lose. We will always lose. I should have been born a Veritas.”
Soon, a large throng of the fierce and formidable warriors of the north arrived at the camp as had been arranged. One among them spoke passably the tongue of the Cupiditas and asked to see the leader among the Cupiditas. “Where is NUT-PI?”
The lead captain under INGO RICHES, named Troy-Paven, answered, “NUT-PI is leading the middle of our three attacks. Our leader is INGO RICHES who will return momentarily.”
“Among our tribe, it is considered very rude not to have him here to greet us,” he said solemnly. “Find him. We must parley.”
Troy-Paven beckoned to one of his underlings. “Go fetch INGO RICHES and ask him if it would please him to join us now as the fierce and formidable warriors of the north have arrived. He walked off over by that wall.” Troy-Paven thought it odd that INGO RICHES had not come when the northern warriors had arrived. They had made no secret of their arrival. INGO RICHES should have both seen and heard them and for that matter, smelled them as well, he thought, with a wrinkle of his nose.
Momentarily, Troy-Paven’s underling returned, ashen-faced. “Well?! I told you to bring INGO RICHES,” barked Troy-Paven.
“Most honored Troy-Paven, might I have a moment to talk with you alone?”
“NO! I told you…what is the problem? What did he tell you?” barked Troy-Paven even louder. He wanted to show the fierce and formidable warriors of the north that his men followed his orders completely. It was not going well.
“Troy-Paven, my captain, INGO RICHES lies yonder by that crannied wall. Alas, he cannot speak or come hither because…because he is dead.”
At this, Troy-Paven leapt at his underling and struck him across the face with the blade of his hand. “Do not bring me such lies! Where is INGO-RICHES?!”
“Oh, Sir, I speak the truth. He is dead, I know not how.”
Again, Troy-Paven struck his hapless underling for delivering bad news to a superior, as was the customary way to react to bad news among the Cupiditas. Troy-Paven put extra energy into these blows however because he was being embarrassed in front of the fierce and formidable warriors of the north.
“I will ask you one more time. This time. The truth. Or, I swear, I will kill you myself!” said Troy-Paven tonelessly. His jaw was clenched and his face was ashen.
“I will fetch him, most noble one and he will tell you himself.” Off the man scurried. Troy-Paven shook his head and looked at the leader of the northern warriors and tilted his head as though to indicate that this was an unfortunate anomaly among the Cupiditas. Meanwhile, the visage of the northern leader remained stoic and unreadable. Soon, the hapless underling of Troy-Paven appeared dragging the twisted and lifeless body of INGO-RICHES whose claw-gripped hand still grasped the flower, root and all.
Troy-Paven stared uncomprehendingly. More of the fierce and formidable warriors from the north were gathering around trying to understand what was happening. Troy-Paven, up to now, had spent most of his career being a lackey for INGO-RICHES. Now, he found himself suddenly in charge of warriors without orders from INGO-RICHES.
KAVA-NUT watched all this unfold. He thought about what might happen if fighting were to break out between the northern warriors and the Cupiditas. He did not really like fighting all that much in any case. He much preferred to overpower smaller women with the help of a friend or two. He decided this might be the right time to sneak off and meet up with ALT-R and POND MUD. He had, after all, some unfinished business with Eagle Eyes. Just as POND MUD had designs on She-of-Many-Paths and ALT-R…Who did ALT-R fancy? Oddly, he realized that he had never really asked himself that question before. He now realized upon reflection that whenever anyone brought up the topic, ALT-R had been very vague or had changed the subject. Oh, well, what did it matter? He decided to jog for a bit in order to put a longer distance between himself and the force he was supposed to be scouting for. But, he wondered who wants to be a scout? I’d be the first one to be pierced with an arrow or spear.
As he neared the land where the Veritas became more probable, he stopped jogging and climbed a nearby knoll. From here, he could see in the distance that warriors were again on the path behind him. Apparently, he thought, the tribes had devised a plan of attack and were again working together as planned. He wondered whether he should return in that case and excuse his apparent absence as being simply part of his duty as an advanced scout. On the other hand, he would still be expected to be leading and if he were discovered by the Veritas….after all, he had been banished and could be killed on sight. The warriors coming en masse would be much safer than he would be.
KAVA-NUT looked back through the teachings he had learned from the Veritas and recalled the words of She-Who-Saves-Many-Lives who had been having them observe many different types of animals. She had summed up her message by saying, “There is always another way. Nature is infinitely clever in her variety and diversity. You can do the same with your thinking.” KAVA-NUT then recalled that She-of-Many-Paths had taken this lesson much to heart and began showing off with her answers about just how many other ways she could think of. So, I will be safer, he thought, if I can better camouflage myself and stay away from the paths I marked. Then, I have the best chance of meeting up with ALT-R and POND MUD after they’ve taken the middle and southern paths and most of the fighting is done. After deciding on this new non-path path, he jogged down from the knoll and turned down the path and tore a few leafy branches from seedlings contriving to arrange them to make himself both less visible generally and less recognizable to the Veritas. He hoped that the warriors behind him would assume he had gone down the marked path from the evidence of these recently torn bushes. But KAVA-NUT had other plans and he jogged back the other direction behind a thick copse of birches. He was now angling in toward the middle path. Here at least, the warriors were all to be of the Cupiditas and they would be following orders and there would be no need for coordinating two tribes.
For a time KAVA-NUT turned due west toward the central place of the Veritas, tracing out a path he reckoned to be well south of the one that the northern force was taking and yet well north of the central path. For this reason, he was quite surprised to find one of the AGAM marks that they had carefully placed to guide the forces to elude the guardians and then come behind them and ambush them.
This must be the work of ALT-R who had reconnoitered the middle path. KAVA-NUT was quite sure that he himself had not placed it here. In another few hundred yards, he encountered another such mark. KAVA-NUT looked back through the forest trying to get a clear look at not too distant mountains to better orient himself. He found himself filled with uncertainty for he could not tell where he was from his few glimpses of mountain peaks. He could not believe he had strayed this far south to cross ALT-R’s path, yet here he was. It had to be ALT-R’s path, he reasoned. He saw no evidence at all that they had yet come by here. If I simply wait here for them, they will eventually meet up with me. It would soon prove too dark to advance much anyway. KAVA-NUT felt bone tired. He realized that had not felt really good since…since trying to convince Eagle Eyes that she loved him. And, she did. Of that he was sure. She may not know it, but she does. And she will. Because I will make her. And POND MUD will have his way with She-of-Many-Paths. She-of-Many-Paths.
Hah! If she were here right now, she would rattle on about other paths of thought and how the first few ideas that occur to you are likely wrong. And she would continue and it would be annoying. It’s annoying to think of so many paths. He whispered aloud: “Damn her!” For despite his will, he found himself considering yet another explanation. The Veritas might have discovered these markings and put false markers in various places to confuse the advancing armies. If that were so, he should return and warn the soldiers…but it would only make sense if we were not there to lead the soldiers. It wouldn’t do any good to put false markers because I would lead them to the correct ones which I just placed there. Again, the image of Eagle Eyes came to him. “Damn you! Leave me alone!” He had spoken aloud and spoken loudly. He squatted motionless with his camouflage boughs in place. He heard nothing. In the stillness, it occurred to him that the Veritas would have no way to know that The Three would all serve as scouts.
He waited patiently all evening and all night, but no-one came. Sure enough, it must be a false trail he was on. He ignored the marks and homed toward the center of the Veritas people. I have a date of destiny with Eagle Eyes, he thought. Then, it suddenly occurred to him that Ealge Eyes might be killed in battle long before he had his chance to subdue her. Walking alone, he made good time and arrived mid-day at the edge of the Veritas central place. Here there was a wide stream of fast-flowing fresh water with large aspens and willows lining both the banks. And, sure enough, at the edge of this was none other than Eagle Eyes! The fool was playing with rocks at the edge of the small river like some child. You’re under attack, he wanted to shout. How can you be so stupid? You need me to control you, and that I will. Amazingly, she was all by herself just like last time. He dropped his boughs and ran at her fill tilt, splashing through the shallow stream. She seemed frozen on the spot and made no attempt to flee.
“Well, my sweet one. You and I have a date with destiny! We have unfinished business!” He strode toward her confidently for he outweighed her easily by half again. Eagle Eyes stood and faced him.
“Indeed we do.” Then KAVA-NUT heard her scream. She must be terrified, he thought, joyfully. He came up to her and grabbed her with both of his long arms and wrapped them tightly around her, pinning her arms to her side. “I was banished because of you, Eagle Eyes. And now I will have my justice at last.”
Eagle Eyes continued to scream in a high-pitched thin tone. Then her eyes flicked upward and she looked back down to stare at KAVA-NUT. “Your justice? I don’t think so. Justice should be blind.”
“Don’t talk nonsense Eagle Eyes. Now, lie down on your back and learn…WHAT?!” KAVA-NUT let go of Eagle Eyes and fell to his knees screaming in pain as both his hands shot up to his right eye. Then, as quick as the beat of a birds wing he felt another searing hot pain in his left eye. The last thing he saw was the beak of an eagle or hawk slashing toward his eye. He screamed so loudly as to be nearly incoherent though many heard these words. “NO! NO! NO! Oh, I am blind! You did this Eagle Eyes! You did this! I will still have you, you witch! Wait till the other two armies come! We will destroy you! And I will have you yet!”
Out from behind an ancient willow, Fleet-of-Foot walked slowly toward him, bow drawn. “I don’t think so.”
“Nor I,” said Eagle Eyes who had now approached KAVA-NUT with her hunting knife drawn. “You are banished and any of the Veritas may kill you. But they have left that chore to me.”
“You’d better be nice to me! I … how the hell did you tear my eyes out? Did you turn yourself into an Eagle? I will kill you. KILL YOU! My friends will be here soon. Not just ALT-R and POND MUD but nomads from the south and fierce, formidable fighters from the far north. WE WILL OWN YOU! We will OWN you! We will…my eyes. Oh, my eyes. My eyes!”
Fleet-of-Foot put away his bow and put a hammer lock on KAVA-NUT, nearly dislocating the latter’s shoulder. Working together, Fleet-of-Foot and Eagle Eyes quickly tied KAVA-NUT’s hands behind him.
Eagle Eyes said, “Come, we do not want you polluting our stream.” Eagle Eyes and Fleet of Foot decided to come put KAVA-NUT on display for all to see. He was set upon a high bar, his hands still tied behind him. The trained hawk of Eagle Eyes had not quite had his fill for he had fledgelings to help feed. Periodically, the hawk returned to feed on the eyes and face of KAVA-NUT. Tearing a piece of meat off with its sharp beak and claws, he would return to the nest where the eager young squawked in delight. Indeed, justice was served.
The Veritas, having moved their guard posts and arranged for bird call communication, were aware of the northern army which marched noisily and clumsily toward what they thought were the guard posts of the Veritas. Without any local guide, and with a path to victory marked by many false trails, the northern army, under no clear leadership floundered into the forest and became little more than a meandering mob. Every so often, one of their number would fall into a trap or be shot through with a poison arrow, but no archer was ever seen.
The leader of the northern warriors and Troy-Paven had discovered that NUT-PI had promised the same spoils and first choice in slaves to both the Cupiditas and the northern warriors. Troy-Paven decided not to argue this point however as his own men were greatly outnumbered by the fierce and formidable warriors of the north. Once they joined up with the middle army which was where the main force of warriors of the Cupiditas were, they would be in the majority and then, they could argue about who got what for their efforts. First, they must work together to enslave the Veritas. As more and more warriors were suddenly assailed by an unseen enemy, the leader of the Northerners became more and more inclined to leave off this war. They had no real quarrel with the Veritas. Often, they had, in fact, made mutually beneficial trades with them. He also found it personally offensive to interact with the Cupiditas who so relied on hierarchy and protocol as to be stupidly inflexible in battle. The fierce and formidable warriors of the north believed in fighting in an individualistic and heroic way. The Cupiditas believed in a strict hierarchy of command and control that was wildly unsuited to the current operation. It soon transpired, that at the insistence of Troy-Paven, the troops had followed the “marked trail” to victory into a briar patch and then into quicksand. The leader of the fierce and formidable soldiers of the north, named URDU-TEA, decided he had had enough and called for his men to follow him back to their own village.
Troy-Paven knew that if NUT-PI found out he had let their ally slip away, it would be certain death. To face down this general would probably be the same. But what could he offer him to stay?
“WE GO!” said URDU-TEA and his men began to follow him.
“Wait! Don’t go! You can’t leave. NUT-PI will destroy you when he is done with the Veritas.”
“Where is this NUT-PI? I have not seen him. And where is this ‘scout’ who was supposed to guide us? What became of him? And, why did your own leader fall dead in your midst? You are not an army. You are a joke. We will let you live. Attack the Veritas. Don’t attack the Veritas. In truth, we don’t really care. But either way, your path and our path are no longer the same. Try to stop us and you will all die. We GO!”
Troy-Paven’s jaw dropped but he had nothing to say. What had happened with KAVA-NUT anyway? They had now spent countless hours trying one false path and then another. They had yet to find a single occupied guard post and certainly not surprised anyone. If anything they were the ones being slaughtered by surprise. INGO-RICHES was right when he had echoed the words of NUT-PI: “Who can trust a traitor?” Yet, INGO-RICHES lay dead. KAVA-NUT had disappeared.
OH! Troy-Paven could not believe he had not seen this earlier. KAVA-NUT was not a traitor! He had killed INGO-RICHES and laid false trails at the behest of the Veritas! Then, he had run off so they wouldn’t discover either of his crimes. He now saw a clear course of action. He must head due south and try to warn the middle wave of warriors which was being led by NUT-PI himself. They were all walking into a carefully set trap laid by the Veritas. He let the fierce and formidable warriors of the north pass without incident. When they were out of earshot, he ordered that they would now be heading due south to meet up with the larger Cupiditas force. He did not share why he thought this was a good idea nor his insight that the trio of traitors must really still be working on behalf of the Veritas. He and he alone wanted to take the credit for bringing this critical intelligence to their glorious leader.