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Many Paths had let the word spread that she wanted to dialog after supper. {Translator’s Note}: In good weather, the people often dialogued around the campfire. In this way, each told of their experiences and listened to the experiences of others during the day and what they had learned. They asked questions, shared insights, and allowed many moments of careful reflection. On this day, however, it appeared that by “calling for” a Dialogue, she was encouraging all to come and to be especially thoughtful. Apparently, though the word was the same (so far as we can tell) there was some linguistic or behavioral marking that emphasized the importance of this particular Dialogue.  

Though the day had been warm, the sun left the sky early at this time of year, and the people wrapped themselves in blankets and gathered around the fire. Only Trunk of Tree and a dozen other braves were absent, serving as guards. Trunk of Tree was still talking with them and trying to understand how this surprise attack had come. As expected, Many Paths spoke first. 

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“So far as we can tell, no-one was seriously hurt and nothing was stolen of value excepting only my brother, Tu-Swift. A search party has been sent but we have not heard from them.”

A woman of the muskrat clan spoke, “Can people stand atop horses?” 

A woman of the deer clan said, “Apparently so. Perhaps this is not so surprising. We have learned to work with wolves and eagles. Why not horses?” 

Many Paths spoke up. “Our guests from the Nomads of the South confirm that at least one tribe to their knowledge does use horses. They call themselves the ROI.” 

A child of the bobcat clan said, “I saw a man on a horse once.” 

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Many Paths could see that the child had struggled to say this out loud in this big meeting and she did not want to scare him off. “Interesting. Please. Say more.” 

“We were camping near the North River and looking for stones four days ago. Stones to make sharp. And it grew dark. So we slept. And I had a dream and awoke. And I looked across the river and I thought there was a buffalo with a tree and I saw it was really a man. A man on a horse. And I was scared I might be crazy. My parents and brother slept. And I didn’t want to wake them.” 

“Do you think this man saw you?”  asked Many Paths.

“Oh, yes. I think so. He and his horse looked right at me. Then, the horse took him away. I’m sorry.” The child looked bewildered. 

“You did nothing wrong. There’s no need to be sorry.” 

“I should have told someone. But I was afraid it would sound odd.” 

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Many Paths spoke gently. “Can you recall anything else about this horse and man as one?” 

The child thought for a moment and added, “They ran fast. Not so fast as eagle falls, but much faster than anyone of our tribe runs.” 

“And…? Anything else?”

“Well,” the child said, “when the horse ran away, it sounded like a drum. The-duh-RUM, the-duh-RUM.”

“Thank you, Horse Viewer.” Many Paths looked upon the people encouraging others to speak with her eyes and her smile and her voice. 

“Oh, Many Paths, there is one more thing,” said Horse Viewer. “Right before they ran as one, the man made a noise like the running horse.” The boy closed his eyes in concentration. ‘Giddy-UP, Giddy-UP!’ he had shouted and off they ran.”

“Thank you, Horse Viewer,” Many Paths said warmly. 

Next, She Who Saves Many Lives spoke, “Many years ago, I heard stories of people on horses, but I had never seen it first hand. Thank you.” 

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Many Paths spoke again, “The Nomads of the South said that these horses were tamed with cruelty, whips, and tethering. That seems a strange way to me, but perhaps it works. I had to use love to train the wolves. At least, I should say, I thought to train them that way. I began by studying them and as I learned more about them, I loved them more and as I loved them and they became used to me, I could arrange things so that they understood me and I understood them. They could see that I was the tallest of the wolves though not the one with the sharpest teeth. This they did not test though.” 

The father of Horse Viewer, Stone Chipper spoke next. “I travel quite often as far as the North River. Only recently did I begin taking the children in order for them to help me find the sharpening rocks and learn to set free the weapon inside the rock. On my many long walks through the forest, I saw many creatures such as deer, squirrels, song birds, and I always speak to them kindly for they were my only friends on such journeys. Over the years, they became quite friendly. I never really tried to “train” them for battle, but gradually, their curiosity overcame their fear. Though not for the bobcats. They stayed wary. I cannot imagine beating an animal to train it though.”

Upon this, they contemplated for a silent, unhurried time. 

“Sometimes, a little one can be annoying. It is easy to swat a fly away and sometimes… as well ,a child. This is always wrong though.” A large, aging man, thick muscled and large boned, like POND MUD spoke. “Eventually, you drive them away so they actually want to annoy you and then you punish them more and they become more distant and you hit them harder….it seems as though it works, because you can get your way at that moment. But the moment your back is turned…you are creating war in your own house.” 

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A tall young woman with dark, penetrating eyes and long luxurious silken hair said, “We must all treat each other with respect.” Here she looked deliberately into the eyes of everyone there. “Especially the weakest amongst ourselves. Cruelty is against the grain of the tree of life. It will cause great damage, in the end. Great damage, indeed.”

Many Paths waited, not wanting to rush the people. After a long silence she spoke again. “It is clear that there is much that we do not know about these people. We do not know why they stole Tu-Swift. We do not know how many of these people there are and we do not know how many horses they have. We do not know how long it takes to train a horse, or exactly how they do it. They seem very confident indeed. But cruel. After all, they stole Tu-Swift. They attacked us at feast. And, it sounds as though they may use cruelty to train these horses. Though we have never trained horses. So, perhaps this is necessary for horses though not for wolves, nor eagles, nor children.”

A-OC of the Deer Clan spoke. “We know that they are capable of speed. And we know they did at least one thing bad by stealing a child. And, they must have some stealth as well because our guards did not warn us.”

Now, her sister, P-OC spoke along similar lines, “Perhaps we can arrange to make our paths more hospitable to those on foot and less so to those astride a horse.”

“Indeed,” said a man from the Muskrat Clan, “though some day we ourselves may learn to stand atop horses.” 

P-OC nodded. “Yes, we should make any such alteration a temporary thing in case we might someday use these horses in such a way as to run so fast.”  

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The people began to imagine various possible ways to do this. AO-C mentioned one idea. “For all but the eldest among us, it is easy to stand but also to crawl and get back to standing. If a tree were bent across a path at about this height” she said, as she drew her hand from left to right across her belly, our runners could easily duck under such a barrier. But I don’t think a horse would have such an easy time.” 

Stone Chipper spoke, “Yes, and a person may turn sideways, and sidle through a slim opening. Horses though are big. There is the cool-place path, near the entrance to the great forest. It narrows between the two cliffs, beneath the raspberry bushes. If we made other paths encouraging others to take that entrance, we could narrow it still more and it would be impossible for horses to get through. Then, our would-be invaders and child-stealers would find this out and have to retrace their steps to approach us in a different way.” 

All the people knew the place he meant. Even now, people would struggle to walk two abreast. Many Path sensed a commotion near the riverbank. Someone approached the edge of the circle. It was Trunk of Tree and he was helping another man. Friend of Squirrel! He appeared hurt. Many Paths said to Trunk of Tree, “What news? What happened to Friend of Squirrel? He seems off, somehow.”

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Trunk of Tree nodded, and said, “Yes. Indeed.” Then he asked him companion more quietly, “Are you okay to tell your story now?” 

Friend of Squirrel nodded. The crowd quieted even more so that he could be heard. They could tell he was not able to shout. “There were three guards and we were posted together at the north entrance to the great forest. We were imagining the feast and tempting the squirrels to approach us for small treats. Suddenly we heard a great commotion. A host of men standing on horses appeared. The first opened his hands to show he had no weapons. He spoke gently though we did not understand his words. He gestures made it clear that they came in peace, and to trade, or so we thought. Several of the men – and I believe they were all men – opened some clothing on the side of the horse and brought out some fine looking skins. We gathered round and that is the last thing I remember. When I awoke, I tried to stagger to my feet but fell back to the earth. I slept until Trunk of Tree came upon me.”

Trunk of Tree nodded, “I am sorry to say that the companions of Friend of Squirrel are both dead, their heads smashed in with a club of some kind.Two other braves are retrieving their bodies now as well, but Friend of Squirrel should rest. I believe all of our attackers came through that path.”  

Friend of Squirrel spoke again, “I am sorry. We were foolish to have been so incautious. They seemed so friendly. And we were taken aback to see such men atop horses. One of us should have stayed hidden with bow drawn. And now, calamity has struck.” 

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“Trunk of Tree, thank you. Friend of Squirrel, go now and rest. What is done cannot be undone, but can be learned from. We are going to make our paths less friendly to horses for now. And, we must learn much more of these people. And, then, we must see what do do about such people that kill without battle and steal children from a feast.” 

The Dialogue continued till the great fire became embers. Many ideas were shared. At last, a great weariness came upon Many Paths. She had only been leader a short time and now, not only was Tu-Swift stolen, but two fine braves had been killed and another injured. Her people needed reassurance and they needed sleep, but they also needed to be better prepared for another attack. This time, the ROI, if that’s what they were, would not have the element of surprise. Or, at least not those surprises. Many Paths supposed if they could run with horses, there may be other surprising kinds of danger they could wreak upon us. She wished she could speak with Shadow Walker now, but of course she couldn’t. She rose and ended the Dialogue though several stayed and continued to discuss how to make it harder for horses to penetrate to their center place. On the one hand, she wanted to encourage such ideas, but she was tired to the bone. She found herself listening but not contributing and even drumming her ring on the side of a log. She wondered how the search party was doing and how far away they were. She worried about all of her tribe and especially about Tu-Swift. But dwelling on that would just make her less effective as a leader. So, instead, she fantasized that she could talk with Shadow Walker. She drifted off to sleep imagining she could. She toyed with the First Ring of Empathy and reminded herself that Shadow Walker had one as well.


 

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