Shadow Walker took the first watch along with Easy Tears. After their long day’s march, it would be too easy for a single sentry to fall asleep. Shadow Walker felt as though, for him, it was an unnecessary precaution but he realized that could be a delusion. He might be more prone to sleep than he realized. Easy Tears and Shadow Walker had known each other since childhood and they were comfortable with each other. The wolf pups lay beside them and helped stave off the chill of the night air. Though the pups appeared to be in a deep sleep, he suspected they would be awake in a flash if more ambushers tried to sneak up on their search party.
Quietly, Shadow Walker began to chat with Easy Tears, the better to keep them both awake. “We should watch out for snakes as well. They are drawn to body heat as well as the fire. I suspect this is the sort of place that many rattlesnakes may make their home.”
Easy Tears responded, “I am not so much a friend to the snakes as you are. They aren’t always so easy to see either. I recall once almost stepping on a large snake who had a rattle-tail of ten rattles.”
Shadow Walker considered this, allowing the silence to flow between them. “Those snakes can fool the eyes. That is true. A walking stick, a butterfly with the eyes of an owl. Many animals make themselves look or sound like something else…or just fade into the background.”
A shooting star streaked across the sky. Shadow Walker had jerked his finger to share with Easy Tears and though she turned quickly, she only caught a brief glance. “Like those whom we pursue. They don’t hide their trail well at all. But then they simply disappear!”
Shadow Walker considered this. “You’re right. I suspect that once we search in daylight we will find some sign of continuing trail. I’m impatient to continue but we need the rest and … the sunlight will show us the way.” Shadow Walker noticed that the soft glow of the firelight flickered on the eyes and hair of Easy Tears in a most pleasing way. Shadow Walker thought of Many Paths and the serious conversation that they had postponed.
Easy Tears shivered slightly. Shadow Walker considered sidling up to her and putting his arm around her so that they would both enjoy the warmth of the other. It would be all right. Pleasurable even. But sometimes, it is difficult to know what is around the next bend and the one after that. Instead, he stood and got another blanket and draped it around her shoulders, then added another log onto the fire. He sat back down and reflected on his discovery that snakes could sense the heat of their prey. If only they could train a snake to be a helper. That could prove useful. He wondered aloud, “Easy Tears, if people can train horses and wolves and eagles, do you think it is possible to train snakes?”
Easy Tears chuckled slightly. “I wouldn’t think so, but you are the expert. I don’t really care for them, though I do appreciate their eating the rats and mice that try to steal our grain.” She considered for a time. “I suppose you could train them. Yes. I suspect you could train anything with enough love and patience. But you see how it is. Despite your love and patience, there is always a chance they would bite you or misunderstand your intention. I suppose it might be something that would take a long time. What would you train a snake to do?”
“I wish we could have their sense of heat. Perhaps we could use them to follow trails or find hidden enemies. Maybe we could even train them as guards. Ours did not work so well for some reason. That bothers me. How could such as these who do not cover their tracks elude our guards?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps they did not try to elude our guards at all, but simply overpowered them too quickly for them to sound the alarm. Or perhaps, they feigned being peaceful? Trunk of Tree will figure it out. I like him.” She smiled and glanced at Shadow Walker. “Do you think he likes me?”
Shadow Walker considered this. Trunk of Tree had never said anything, but judging from the actions and looks of Trunk of Tree, probably so. “Yes, I think so. He looks at you…with longing. You are a beautiful woman, after all.”
Easy Tears smiled and Shadow Walker realized that he really found her attractive, but not in the deep way that he loved Many Paths. The half moon set and it grew darker. “It’s time to wake the next guards. He calmed his mind and thought of their serious quest in order to cool his blood. Then, he stood and walked over to Lion Slayer. He stood almost on top of Lion Slayer but Lion Slayer appeared to be a sound sleeper. He snored loudly and Shadow Walker joked, “I wonder whether he actually slew the lion with a spear…or with that snore.”
Easy Tears laughed aloud but all the others remained asleep. Shadow Walker squatted down on his haunches and shook Lion Slayer. The snoring continued. For a moment, he considered shaking Hudah Salah but decided against it. He shook Lion Slayer again and whispered his name. Hudah Salah suddenly sprang to his feet and pressed his thumbs against Shadow Walker’s windpipe. Shadow Walker smacked the hands away and jumped back, “Lion Slayer! It’s all right. It’s me. Time for your watch, as agreed.”
Lion Slayer shook his head. He looked hard at Shadow Walker and mumbled something unintelligible. At last, he seemed to come to his senses. “Yes,” he said and awakened his wife.
Easy Tears lay down and smiled at Shadow Walker. She moved her body so that sufficient space appeared next to her for the body of Shadow Walker to fit snugly. Shadow Walker sighed and lay down instead by himself and dreamt of Many Paths.
The next thing Shadow Walker sensed was light. It was not yet dawn. The troop all awoke and had a small breakfast and then began exploring the cliffs for a sign or a path. As they explored, they continued to chew pemmican and some dried fruit. Shadow Walker had asked Fleet of Foot to explore with Easy Tears, who took the wolf pups with her. Shadow Walker walked with Eagle Eyes. It was understood now by the group that Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah were fairly inseparable.
Although Eagle Eyes had the best vision, Shadow Walker’s eyes were also sharp but he found nothing but sheer cliffs. Eagle Eyes said, “Wait.”
“What do you see?” asked Shadow Walker.
“Nothing really. But something’s not right. It does not look right here. I’m not sure why.” Eagle Eyes stood with her hands on her hips staring at the sheer cliff face. She looked up the cliff face and noted various hand holds. “This wall might be scalable to a good climber.”
“Yes, I can see that as well though it would be dangerous. But horses? They are horses, not mountain goats” Shadow Walker said without blame or sarcasm.
“I know, but still, something is not right.” Eyes of Eagle shook her head and asked herself what she was missing.
Because the pair had stopped their systematic exploring, the rest of the search party converged on them. Fleet of Foot was the first to arrive. “Did you find something?”
Eagle Eyes smiled at him. “Not really. But his does not look right.”
Easy Tears arrived next with the wolf pups who immediately began jumping and whining. They sniffed around the base of the rocks and ran back and forth between the rocks and Easy Tears. They had clearly caught a scent of something. “Perhaps Tu-Swift?” suggested Shadow Walker.
The pups took turns trying to stick their nose into a small cleft in the rock. On impulse, Shadow Walker, put his fingers in the cleft and tried pulling. He could not budge the rock, which did not surprise him. But the feel of the rock did surprise him. It was much like flint but harder and colder. Beyond that, there was no texture to the rock. It felt, somehow, dead, even more dead than the bleached bones of a long dead buffalo. Shadow Walker lay on his back and tried to push on the cleft with his feet. Soon, all six of them pushed and pulled on the rock face though they had no hope of moving it.
And then, it did move, though very slightly. The group positioned themselves and pushed even harder. The rock slid more easily now like a smooth stick along the winter lake ice. Instead of the grinding sound of rock on rock, however, they heard an unearthly screeching sound like a very large eagle.
At last, a huge slab of the cold rock had been moved aside and behind it, all could see a large, short passageway into a sunlit path beyond. The wolf pups bounded through and out into the sunlight. The people followed. Eagle Eyes looked back at the strange rock and noticed something stranger yet. The back of the rock had many handles. She supposed they were to replace the rock. But at the bottom of the rock, she saw something that made her gasp aloud.
“What is this?” she asked. All of them turned and looked at the base of the weird rock. There were circles of rock on the bottom! What strange magic was this? Despite their hurry to find Tu-Swift and their excitement at finding the way out of the box canyon, each knelt down to marvel at the smooth circles of rock.
After some time, Shadow Walker said. “We cannot solve the mystery of this rock. We must follow the trail. Should we close this … door? If we do not, it may be apparent to any of the Stands on Horses people that we are coming for Tu-Swift. But when we return, we may be in a hurry to go through this way.”
Eagle Eyes spoke next. “We could leave it just slightly open so that we could squeeze through but no horses could. I think we could make this door, as you call it, harder yet to open or close.”
Fleet of Foot spoke. “We should hurry up and get to Tu-Swift as quickly as possible. We have no idea how badly hurt he may be.”
Shadow Walker: “We cannot know for certain the best course of action. I think it best to put it back the way it was. We are not going to be able to overwhelm our enemy with force. We must rely on secrecy. We may or may not be able to save Tu-Swift. But others of those who stand on horses find out we are on the way to their camp, they may go more swiftly and warn their people. That will make rescue impossible and even reconnaissance riskier. Let us move this back and follow the trail. We may also find another way back that is less familiar to those who ride on horses.”
I proved difficult to move the rock back, but they succeeded and they then resumed their tracking, which was again an easy task. Perhaps, thought Shadow Walker, those who stood on horses felt they were so fast they would not be pursued. Or, perhaps, they had not learned to hide their trail. Or, perhaps they thought that odd rock door would cut short any pursuit. Eagle Eyes with Easy Tears led the team with the pups trotting along side them. Next came the pair from the Nomads of the South. Shadow Walker and Fleet of Foot carried the heaviest loads and kept looking for and erasing signs of their trail. They stayed within the confines of the large swaths of changed lands that the galloping horses provided. This made “covering” their trail fairly easy. Trackers of the Veritas might wonder at the paw prints of two wolf cubs traveling without a pack, but Shadow Walker felt it likely that these would not raise suspicions among those he was tracking since they seemed so unconcerned about their own trail.
Shadow Walker was happy to concentrate on the trail ahead and to check to make sure there were no more of those who stand on horses behind them. In this way, he could avoid wondering about things that he could neither control nor prepare for. Many Paths was or was not okay with the rest of the Veritas. Tu-Swift was or was not okay. The only distraction that he really couldn’t block out was the smooth cold feel of the rock that was not rock and the circles of rock. There was also a very odd smell about that rock – something he had never smelled before, but it reminded him of death.
Books by the Author:
The Winning Weekend Warrior focuses on strategy, tactics, & the mental game for all sports including golf, tennis, softball, basketball, etc., as well as business.
Turing’s Nightmares consists of 23 fictional scenarios of humans interacting with technology for good or evil.
Fit in Bits suggests numerous ways to work more fun and exercise into daily activities such as watching TV, sitting in meetings, shopping, playing with kids, traveling, etc.
Tales from an American Childhood recounts early experiences and then relates them to contemporary issues and events.