As Many Paths heard the words of She Who Saves Many Lives and took them into her heart, she felt her shoulders relax. She slowed her breathing and took inventory of what she was grateful for as well as what was missing. But the elder leader was right. She needed to keep a cool head. She put out the word that she wanted to dialogue with the elders at sundown. On impulse, she ran over to Shadow Walker and interrupted for a moment his progress in preparing. She held his hand for a moment, kissed him tenderly on the cheek for a moment. She tasted a salty tear. She sighed and turned once again. She could see that her people busied themselves walking competently from one task to the next. Only the little wolf pups seemed to be at a loss for what to do. They sniffed around the camp as though…
Suddenly, Many Paths turned and called back, “Shadow Walker! Take the pups!”
Shadow Walker’s frowned. “Many Paths…? Why would we…?” Shadow Walker glanced at the pups. “Of course!” he said, understanding and smiling back at Many Paths. They were not fully trained, but they were strong enough to keep up and they could help in the tracking when human eyes failed with the setting sun and human ears heard only silence. They were already searching for Tu-Swift and could catch his scent far better than any one of the Veritas.
Once inside the cabin of She Who Saves Many Lives, Many Paths saw that a small fire had already been set and could smell that a tea had been brewing. She sat cross-legged next to She Who Saves Many Lives and sighed a deeper sigh of relief. Her hand drifted to the necklace of rings and she smiled. “I thought I was done with the seven trials. But perhaps they have just begun. I wish they actually held magic as some of the people whisper.”
“Well, Many Paths, about that…. I told you the truth about the rings, but not the complete truth because I needed you first to focus on the important central truth — that opening your mind and opening your heart is far more important than having the rings. You seem to be doing that quite well now.”
“What are you saying, Shaman? Is there magic in these rings after all?” Many Paths searched the old woman’s face.
“Properly conceived, there is magic in all things. By magic, I do not mean that you can rub one of the rings and summon a flying red dragon.” They both chuckled and then She Who Saves Many Lives looked directly into the eyes of Many Paths. “But each plant; each cousin who moves; each stone — each is slightly different from any of the others. These rings are what they are. They are unique. And therefore they have unique properties. Those properties are no more magical than those of anything else. But nor are they less so. Slide the first ring off your laniard and put it in your palm if you would and tell me what you see and what you feel.”
Many Paths was the leader now, but it would be a foolish leader who did not value the wisdom of those with more experience and among the Veritas, She Who Saves Many Paths was the only one yet living who had once been the leader. Many Paths felt a great responsibility as the leader of her people and therefore had no desire whatsoever to be a willful petulant child. Of course, she took off the First Ring of Empathy and put it in her hands.
“Well, obviously, it is in the shape of a circle. That way, it may slide onto my finger. That reminds me of the circle of Life, I suppose. It’s a circle with me in it. Life encircles me. And the ripples of love or hatred that I send forth will come back round. That is true for everyone, not just me. But I guess … I guess the ring is a reminder of that. A constant reminder. Think what will come back. And that … the moon has phases … but returns always to the same phases. The sun rises and sets. And there is the larger circle of seasons. So… the ring is a reminder? I guess that is magic in a way.”
“Indeed, Many Paths, that is exactly right. What else do you sense? But don’t forget to drink your tea!”
Many Paths lifted the mug and watched the steam cloud upward in a slant of sunlight. She sipped the hot tea carefully. . It tasted of chamomile and linden flower. Her favorite. Of course. She Who Saves Many Lives seemed to know much about every member of the tribe: what they preferred; what they were capable of. She set the mug down carefully and regarded the ring again. This time she picked it up and turned it about. “This stone is pretty. It is clear. It has no color.” Many Paths looked up at She Who Saves Many Lives. “Is that right?”
She Who Saves Many Lives looked back at Many Paths. “You say it has no color. What do you see?”
“I see it has no color. Well, it has no color of its own. It reflects what is around it. Right now, I can see twinkles of red and yellow from the fire.” Many Paths reflected on this. “I suppose that a good leader needs also to be clear, to reflect clearly on what really is so that appropriate action may be taken. There is something else odd about this stone though. I noticed it before. When I look through it at something,” she said as she brought the right to her eye, “there are two when really there are only one. Right now, I see two fires, but there is only really one.” Now, Many Paths paused a long time. “I suppose that is a kind of magic, but … I suppose there could be two fires in the future. The nature of fire is such that if you are not careful, it can spread. If I look at a tree…well, that is the nature of life as well. Where there is one of something that is seen, often there comes to be two or even many in the future. Where I see one, there are often more that remain unseen. If these people stole Tu-Swift, perhaps they stole more children. If they stole more children, it will cause hatred against them. That hatred will come back to them, one way or another. But I cannot know that they did that.”
“That is true. You cannot know that. You are correct Many Paths.”
Many Paths sighed. “But perhaps it is more likely than not. It may be natural for me to focus on my own pain at losing Tu-Swift. I have been wondering whether they even stole him on purpose because they know I am the leader. But I suppose…even though we only know of one child stolen…that a people who steal the children of others…will tend to do it again and again.”
Many Paths took another sip of the calming tea. Once again, she set down the mug carefully and considered the nature of the ring. “The ring is metal. It is hard. Much harder than my body is. Except perhaps for my teeth. No, it is harder than my teeth.”
Another long pause transpired before Many Paths spoke again. “I suppose that though my nature is to be open and loving, sometimes, I must protect myself, ring myself, with harder stuff. Then, there is the coldness or hotness of the ring. Although I shiver if it gets cold enough and sweat in the heat of the summer, I stay the same inside. The ring, however… just as it reflects the color of what is around it, it also reflects the temperature. I think metal always does this. It reflects the temperature of what is around it as well as the color. I do not see … yet … how this might help me.”
Many Paths put the ring on her finger again. As she tried to think of other properties of the ring, she began drumming her fingers on the edge of a nearby log. She noticed that when her ring hit the log, that finger had a quite different feel from the others. Then she picked up a small rock nearby and experimented with drumming her finger on the rock. She not only felt the rock quite differently. It also made a distinctive noise. If she did it quickly, it reminded her of a woodpecker. “So, I see you have given me a very small, very light drum as well! I begin to see your point. This ring is quite magical!”
She Who Saves Many Lives smiled. “Yes, my daughter, but it is not my point. The point is there for everyone to share.”
Many Paths laughed. Then, she shook her head wondering how the Shaman could be such a good teacher. She wondered whether she could ever be such a good teacher. Then her mood darkened again as she thought of Tu-Swift and all the things she had tried to teach him. If he were killed, it would all be for naught.
She Who Saves Many Lives spoke gently. “And, what troubles you now, daughter and fine leader?”
Many Paths stared into the fire, took another sip of tea and said, “Perhaps it’s nearly time to start the dialogue. Thank you for the tea.” Many Paths toyed with the First Ring of Empathy which now adorned her left ring finger. She thought to herself, “I must sometimes ring myself with hardness. I cannot always rely on She Who Saves Many Lives. As surely as the sun sets, she will return to the Great Tree of Life as do we all. A circle. And, although I ache for Tu-Swift to safely return, if he does not, my teachings will not be useless. He has already spread his own love and wisdom to others, for despite his impatient eagerness, his is a heart of love. And that already has made ripples and those ripples will have other ripples. Teaching and showing love are never for naught. Many Paths smiled and looked at She Who Saves Many Lives as she spoke.
“I am ready for dialogue now, great mother. And, yes, these rings are indeed magical for now my heart is clear. We must dialogue together and see what all the reflections together say to us about what is and what may be and how to get there. For no journey ends without starting another.”