Tu-Swift awoke from a lovely dream of home so vivid he could smell honey-sweetened ground nuts. He awoke to find himself shivering on a bare pounded earth floor. At least his hood had been removed and he could see that he was in a small wooden room. Gaps in the wooden slats allowed some light in. Tu-Swift again took inventory. Apart from some bruised ribs and a large bump on the back of his head, he seemed unhurt. Physically. Where in the world was he? 

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Normally, he would have been peering out from between the slats, but his confidence had been badly shaken. He replayed that scene again, but he could still make no sense of it. No, that wasn’t true. Many-Paths had given him many thinking tools. True enough, he had no recollection of what happened, beyond running into a sapling. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t outline some reasonable alternatives. At the same time, it would be useful to recon the surroundings. Tu-Swift wanted to begin his reconnaissance in such a way that he would minimize anyone seeing him in turn. 

He looked out from the deepest shadows of his small cell. In the distance, he could see a herd of horses. But something was wrong. They were moving very oddly. They all seem to be tethered in some way. Tu-Swift frowned and was rewarded with a sharp pain at the back of his head. It seemed completely agains the nature of a horse to have it tethered. 

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Tu-Swift suddenly realized that he may have been bouncing on the back of a horse! How could such a thing come to be? Of course, there might be other possibilities. He crept with the silent stalking skills of the Veritas. Even though Tu-Swift was in relative darkness, he only moved when the wind moved. Out these gaps between the slats, however, not much could be seen because of another near building. He could still make out the horses, but now he saw a smaller enclosure with three horses and these did not seem tethered. After peering up and down, he discovered nothing else of use. He crept to the opposite side and looked out. 

He could see a group of women sitting in a circle grinding grain on small stone mills. This was a sight he was well familiar with. He had seem the same in the Veritas central place. A bit farther off, Tu-Swift could see a group of braves working on breaking up large logs into smaller ones. These appeared to be for fire rather than building because they were not taking care as to the size of the pieces. Once again, these sights gladdened him because they reminded him of home. The garb was different, but these activities were the same. Except…the men were chopping through the wood at a terrific pace. Also, the corn grinding was going very fast, as though, they were being chased by a wild animal. Perhaps I’ll like this place, he thought and then immediately felt guilty for thinking it. 

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Then, it hit him. This was not home. Nothing like it. I’m being imprisoned for — having done nothing wrong. I was stolen from my home. And those grinders of the corn and the hewers of the logs are not talking. There are no stories being told. No jokes are being shared. No songs. This is not anything like home. And Tu-Swift felt a panic welling up so he consciously relaxed his muscles. He slowed his breathing. He spoke his mantra mentally and began riffing on it. Once his mind turned to improvisational music, he was in a state far from panic. He returned to the situation at hand, which was, nothing more or less than a problem solving task. True, the stakes were likely his life, but that could be true at any moment, whether you had been stolen from your family or not. 

So, Tu-Swift thought, I need a reconnaissance plan and an escape plan. But I cannot make a reasonable escape plan until I learn more about where I am and who these people are. Tu-Swift, still reluctant to peer out the side where the sunlight entered his cell, lest his apparent captors find out he was awake, crept back to the first side. As he did so, he saw several men walking toward the herd of horses. Each held a club in their hand. It was a strange club with thongs of rawhide attached. As they reached the tethered horses, one of them reared up, pinwheeling his hooves in the air. Two of the men swished their clubs through the air and stung the stallion with the rawhide. The rawhide appeared to be weighted at the end, perhaps with a clamped piece of metal. The horse screamed in pain. But one of the men moved in closer and whipped the horse again. 

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Tu-Swift had learned from Many Paths how the Veritas trained wolves and hawks. Indeed, though his own nature proved too impatient to make him an excellent trainer, he had had some success with two of the wolf cubs. The training was mainly based on mutual respect and love. The training of these people seemed to be based on hatred and fear. He wondered whether they taught their children the same way. 

Children! That was the other realization that suddenly hit him. He cautiously went back to view the pounding corn and cutting wood. There were no children. In fact, he had seen no children in any of his views. How would the children learn to do such tasks if they never observed them being done? There was much still to be learned about these strange people. He made no more mental jokes about wanting to stay here. Homesickness for his people and especially for Many-Paths began once more to overtake him. But in his twelve winters, the tribe had taught him what to do when one’s thinking becomes cloudy with fear or anger. 

Tu-Swift calmed himself and concentrated on trying to identify the plants in the distance as well as nearby weeds. Many of the trees appeared to be cedar or pine. The odor of cedar in particular was strong. He felt the rough planking of his cell. It too was cedar. Weatherproof and easy to work, but not very strong for a cage or prison. 

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Tu-Swift wondered whether he might be able to kick out the planks of his enclosure. His captors had stolen his moccasins. Because he liked to run barefoot for the extra speed, his feet were pretty tough, but he didn’t relish the thought of trying to escape back to his tribe — which so far lay in an unknown direction — in bare feet. He would need to find his moccasins or steal someone else’s. Even if he could kick out some planks, he would make such a commotion that he would be discovered long before he could make a large enough hole for his body to fit through. Yet, he realized that someone would come check on him. If they found him awake, they might kill him, or tie him up, or torture him. 

I need a weapon, he thought. Well, his speed was a weapon of sorts. But he would definitely need a head start. What if they had trained horses to track people down and kill them. Tu-Swift knew he could not outrun a horse. Perhaps they had trained other animals as well. He hadn’t heard any wolves howling. The plants he saw led to a conclusion that he was either at a higher elevation or farther north than the Veritas or possibly both. How far had they travelled? He had been unconscious for some of the journey so it was hard to tell. He was hungry and more thirsty than hungry, but he was not yet delirious. He felt the bruise on his chest where he had smacked into the seedling. It was still sore. He must be only a day’s journey from the Veritas – two at the very most. This meant that if he could escape, he could return in one or two days, but only if he were not caught. Once more his mind began to race from one unknown to the next, from one possibility to the next. 

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“Tu-Swift,” he mouthed to himself, “you need to stay focused. Build and decorate your tree.” {Translator’s note}: I might have used the word ‘plan’ or ‘contingency plan’ but the Veritas enjoyed decorating trees and often referred to building their contingency plans as “decorating the tree” by way of analogy. When time permitted, the plans of the Veritas included many branches and side branches — far more than most modern people have. To “decorate” the tree would mean that Tu-Swift would not only make many contingency plans but also “play them out” in his head so that he could react quickly and without hesitation when the time came for speed. Sometimes the Veritas referred to one of their adages, “Plant the acorns; forage the forests” which meant basically that it was a good idea, not only to think of many possible contingencies but to actually practice them mentally. 

If he did escape this enclosure, his tentative plan was to run both downhill and toward the area of greatest underbrush. Shadow Walker had once told him that the only possible way to outrun a bear was to run down a steep hill. The bear, because of its greater size could not achieve top speed in such conditions. Tu-Swift could not recall anyone telling him how to outrun horses. Somehow the idea that they could send horses out after him seemed against the nature of horses. If they send wolves to track him down, he could more easily believe that wolves could be trained to kill. There was so much more to learn. And yet, the longer he stayed here, the greater danger he put himself in. They whipped their horses. Perhaps they ate their children. That seemed impossible. A tribe that cared nothing for the future would not long survive. Surely, every tribe must see that. But these people seemed to be as cruel as the Cupiditas. 

He occasionally heard snippets of conversation. He knew only that they were not speaking any of the tongues he had studied. If he were here for long, he would have to learn their language. That would be difficult. He would have to listen with “broken dishes.” Eyes-of-Eagle had once explained to Tu-Swift that once you learned your native tongue you put all sounds that you heard into one of a series of “dishes.” Every sound that sounded like the wind in the aspen trees would go into one dish and every sound that reminded you of a cracking branch would have to go into a different dish. In reality, every sound spoken was slightly different. But when you “understood” what was said, you had to ignore all those differences and treat each sound as just another example of a category. To learn to hear and speak a different language, you would need to “break all those dishes” and listen to the pure sounds until you constructed a new set of dishes for the new language. That took a long time. 

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He had been turning things over and over in the hands of his mind but kept pushing one thing away. Now, it came rushing in with full force. Where were the Veritas? Why hadn’t Many-Paths, and Shadow Walker and the rest of the tribe come to find him? Tu-Swift was angry. Why had they not followed the trail and rescued him? One possible reason…one possible reason he did not really want to imagine was that the Veritas had all been killed. It was almost unimaginable. But it was also unimaginable that Many-Paths would simply say, “Oh, well. Too bad. Let’s get back to feasting.” Feasting! That’s why he had run into the sapling. He and Many-Paths were racing to the feast of Bel-Tanay. Excellent! Now, if he could see even a few stars or the face of tonight’s moon, he could tell exactly how many days since his capture. 

The hair stood up on the back of his neck. He heard voices. He tried to mentally crack apart all his mental crockery and listen. They were coming closer. He quietly went back to where he had awakened and arranged his body so that he could peer out from under his arm and he pretended to be asleep. He judged there must be at least four men outside his door. They were talking in sounds that made no sense and also laughing. 

One opened a small opening to look inside. He then unlatched something and slid part of one wall aside. They are coming for me, Tu-Swift thought with a sudden panic. Should I make a run for it now? This might be my best chance. Before he could decide, however, they threw a wild animal in with him and slid the door back in place. He still feigned sleep but regarded the animal. It screamed hideous noises. 

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The voices outside receded and the animal, rather than attacking him, huddled in a corner and screamed. It sounded nearly human. Its forelegs were wrapped around its hind legs much like — it was — it was a child. This was not a wild animal but a human child, of perhaps only three or four winters. What? Why would they possibly capture a small child and throw it in a cage? What kind of a people would do that? 

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Books by the same author: 

The Winning Weekend Warrior: strategy, tactics, & the ‘mental game’ for all sports. Enjoy your sport(s) more and win more often.

Turing’s Nightmares: 23 Sci-Fi stories meant to explore the possible impact of AI on business, society, and humanity. Be ready. It’s coming!

Fit in Bits: Suggestions for many ways to incorporate more fun and exercise into daily activities such as shopping, sitting in meetings, playing with your kids, standing in line, traveling, etc. Meant for the very busy person who nonetheless would like to live a long healthy life. 

Tales from an American Childhood recounts early experiences and then reflects on them in light of current events and issues.

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The creation myth of the Veritas.

The beginning of Book Two of the Myths of the Veritas.