Many-Paths knew that the Veritas needed to respond swiftly to this attack. A people who stood astride horses though! What else did they not know about these people? What purpose did they have in stealing Tu-Swift? Had they known that Tu-Swift was her closest kin? She quickly gathered about her, her closest friends and advisors, among them, Eagle Eyes, Shadow Walker, and She Who Saves Many Lives.
Many-Paths noted that others were listening in from a polite distance including the new friends of Fleet of Foot and Eagle Eyes, Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah, were also close by. She had no reason to distrust these new friends. She looked at their faces and into their hearts and saw only a willingness to help. She spoke quickly and calmly. “I propose Eagle Eyes and Fleet of Foot to choose a number of good trackers to follow the trail of these thieves to their origin. If you see a very safe opportunity to recapture Tu-Swift, make use of it. But your main goal is to bring back information about this enemy and avoid capture yourself. Try to determine, if possible, why they did this and whether they have any allies. Find out what you can about how many horses they have and how they manage to stand astride them.”
Lion Slayer bit his lip and glanced at Fleet of Foot and then back to Many Paths. He tilted his head at Fleet of Foot and looked questioningly at him. Fleet of Foot had learned to understand these gestures and spoke to Many Paths: “Many-Paths, I believe our friend Lion Slayer has something to say.”
Many-Paths could see that this was so. She nodded to him. “Yes, Lion Slayer?”
“I believe, though I cannot be sure, that your attackers are a tribe that call themselves the ROI.”
“Please continue,” said Many-Paths.
“According to legend, ROI were once a tribe we met with. The many tribes in our region got together. Each year for a celebration, trade, and mate-finding. One portion of land, the many tribes fought over. We decided end fighting. Instead we all agreed to a race to determine who would inhabit that highly desirable place. All tribes chose their fastest runner to compete. But when they returned for the contest, ROI did not have human runner. They used man on horseback. Of course, they won the “race” and won the prize though none of the other tribes thought this completely fair. The matter might have ended there, but the ROI did other things to annoy and challenge all the other tribes. At last, we drove them from their lands. Before doing so, we observed how badly they treated their horses. They tethered them and beat them until their spirits were broken. I cannot say for certain that these were ROI, but that is the one tribe that our wisdom said rides on horses. I had not seen this in person, but my grandfather’s grandfather did.”
Many-Paths swallowed hard and bit her lip. “So, if they are indeed ROI, as you call them, we know two things. They are a cruel people and may also try to break the spirit of Tu-Swift. And, we know that they have had at least six generations to learn to control horses. Do you have any idea how numerous they are?”
“No, Many-Paths. I have no idea how they have fared since leaving our region. The only other thing I know about them from our stories is that they particularly held high value on doing things quickly. They cared far less for making things beautiful or taking pleasure in life. But again – that was long ago and I cannot be certain the attack was from them.”
“You have been very helpful. Thank you. I am sorry to cut your feast short and steal away your new friends for this mission.”
“I understand, Many-Paths. I meet only small time Tu-Swift, but I like. We value much our friendship with Veritas. If you permit, we will go to aid. To find Tu-Swift. To understand ROI. This will be valuable to know for our tribe as well.”
Many-Paths appreciated the offer, but she already felt overwhelmed. To trust strangers on such an important mission? This complicated a complicated situation. She glanced at Eagle Eyes who nodded in assent as did Fleet of Foot.
“We have not heard from you, Hudah Salah. Do you wish to accompany as well?”
Silence fell. Glances flitted about like mating butterflies.
At last, Hudah Salah spoke, “My husband knows my heart, Many-Paths. I will go too if it you allow it.”
Many-Paths considered reminding Hudah Salah of the dangers but decided this might be insulting. Danger was obvious and she had already said she wanted to go.
“So be it then; gather provisions as you must and be off. Take two small drums so that you can communicate if need be. This may give away your position but you may also help give away theirs and let us know whether you need more help.”
Eagle Eyes now added, I may also send back hawks with small maps attached. I believe that they will again come back to me after you find these maps and release them. We discovered that the Nomads of the South have already learned much about training birds and we have all improved our skills.
“Make it so.”
As the tracking band quickly prepared, Many-Paths next asked Trunk of Tree to set up double guard posts in case the ROI, if that’s who they indeed were, mounted another attack. She asked Shadow Walker to try to determine how the archers had slipped through their guards and to find the inward path to their center place should that prove different from their exit.
At last all the people were preparing in one way or another. Many-Paths realized she was tired, thirsty, and famished as well as deeply troubled in her heart. Would these ROI also use whips and ropes to try to break her brother’s spirit? But she would push all that aside for she had one more task. She needed to dialog with She Who Saves Many Lives and other tribal elders. Their world had been turned inside out and a joyous feast had been instead a time of great fear and disruption. What did it mean that tribes were using other animals in human wars? The Veritas too had done exactly that with hawks and wolves. It had seemed the right thing to do in defeating the Cupiditas, but now it seemed horses were being used as well. Beaten? Tethered? All to gain control over horses. But what might they do to Tu-Swift? How was the world changing? That is why she wanted the memories of those who had seen many more winters. That is why her own needs for sleep and food and thirst must be postponed.
She turned once again to walk toward the cabin of She Who Saves Many Lives. And there she was! Once again, She Who Saves Many Lives stood only a few feet. Despite everything, or perhaps because of everything, Many-Paths laughed aloud. “How do you do that? Every time I need you, there you are! You are remarkable. I can never be what you are.”
“I should hope not! I am me. You are you, Many-Paths. You are not meant to be, nor can you be me.”
“I just mean…can I be as good a leader as you are? You seem to be able to read minds.”
“No more so than you, daughter of the tribe, mother of the tribe, leader of the tribe. There is no great trick. You did all this and more when you passed the seven trials. It is not so magical to understand that you are worried about Tu-Swift. You are worried about the tribe. You are disappointed that the feast did not go as planned. You are grateful yet worried about sending two of the Nomads on such a critical mission. You are worried whether you will be an adequate leader. You are worried whether the world seems to be a different place than the one you grew up in. Of course, you would be wise to seek my counsel and I will be glad to give it. And you seek the counsel of other elders in the tribe as well. There is no trick to understanding that beyond opening my heart to your heart and putting myself in your place. We will indeed have a dialogue about all that has happened. First, however, you need to eat, drink, and rest. Look upon this wonderful world and see it again with the eyes of youth. Let your heart drink in and fully enjoy some of the pleasures of life before dialogue. A dialogue based only on fear and, perhaps revenge, will not necessarily be one that results in wisdom. Wisdom need acknowledge both the reality of life and of the reality of death. The true path can never be based solely on one or the other.”
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