When Tu-Swift awoke, he did so as one unified consciousness. That is not to say that he was fine; in fact, tremendous pain wracked his knee, and confusion reigned supreme. I’m blind, he thought to himself. No, he thought, that’s not right. But where am I? It’s so dark. Pain coursed through his arm and his neck seemed frozen. At last, he wiggled himself into a position from which he could free his pinned arm and look up at a sliver of night sky. He blinked at the starry array and began to recall where he lay and how he had come here.
He sighed deeply and thought of Many Paths. Just when it appeared that Shadow Walker and others had come to return Tu-Swift to Many Paths, they had been attacked and that attack had caused a great fire that almost consumed him. Running blindly, he had badly injured his knee. He had no idea where his tribe mates were. Had they perished in the fire? What about Day-Nah? Apart from feeling sore and burned in several places, Tu-Swift realized he was extremely thirsty. He heard the sound of rushing water nearby and recalled having escaped into the water just yesterday. But was it yesterday, he wondered. He realized he actually had little idea how long he had been scrunched into the rock cleft.
He crawled on hands and knee toward the sound of the water, managing with his strong arms to keep almost all the weight off his badly swollen right knee. Once Tu-Swift had slaked his thirst, he realized that he was also damned hungry! But things must progress in the natural order, he reminded himself. I must try to find the others. He considered yelling out the names of his rescuers but it was also possible that he was surrounded by warriors of the People Who Steal Children. Tu-Swift thought that if the others were near and they were certain it was safe, they would be calling for him. The dawn’s first light chased away the stars and gave a rosy glow all about.
I will go to higher ground, cautiously to see what I see, thought Tu-Swift. But first I need to do something about my knee. Tu-Swift, like all the Veritas, had an extensive knowledge of plants. The knee slowed his gathering considerably but by the time it was fully light, he had gathered the necessary herbs including the leaves of witch hazel, plantain, and blackberry. Gathering sufficient firewood and tinder proved more difficult, but at last Tu-Swift had a warm fire going with the cliff face behind him and a hastily made rock reflector between him and the river. He created a poultice and also drank from the water. He alternately put hot leaves on his knee and then splashed it with the icy cold water. On one of these splashings he noticed aquatic arrowheads growing in a pool of clear by unflowing water. He recalled seeing Many Paths and some of her friends gathering the roots of these aquatic plants with their feet. But he had never actually done it. It would require him to stand, at least if he gathered them as he had seen. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the water could help support his weight. Before long, he had gathered up a nice dinner of arrowhead tubers.
He felt his knee carefully and found that something was not just sore or injured but definitely out of place. Due to the swelling, it was subtle, but he could also see that something stuck out differently. He muttered aloud to his knee, “Come on, knee! I need you! Heal!” Then it seemed the knee spoke back, not in words exactly, but the image of something painted itself vividly in Tu-Swift’s mind and at the same time, he had a powerful desire to perform that same act.
He searched for and found a suitable place among the rocks. He lay on his back with his right ankle wedged into a cleft in the rock. His left leg, half bent, pushed his body powerfully back. This was it. Yes, this is it, he thought. He felt something stretch and snap in his knee, popping as it found its rightful place again. His knee still hurt. In fact, it hurt a bit more. But it felt more as it should; more according to natural order.
Tu-Swift made himself a simple crutch from a large dead but still hard wood sapling. He hobbled back up the hill that he had run down. Everywhere he looked, the ground was black and trackless. But not just the hill lay in a lifeless black ruin. The nearby forest had been destroyed. Where are my friends? What has become of the people who sit astride horses? When he saw no sign of anyone, he hobbled back down the hill. He attempted to communicate to any nearby Veritas that he was here. He used a stick drum and he used bird whistles. But no response. He considered yet again screaming out their names but the thought of being recaptured by the People Who Steal Children sent shivers through his core and made him nauseous.
He had no way of knowing for certain, but from what little had been said during his escape, he guessed that the camp of the Veritas was 3-4 times as far away as the place of his captivity. The urge to head home was overwhelming, but as he thought of all the possible scenarios and the likelihood of each, he decided going into the smoldering forest and from there to the village of the People Who Steal Children would be the best. Naturally, if there were any signs at all that his captors were anywhere about, he would hide as best he could. He hoped to find some yet edible meat, already cooked in the forest.
Even in his gimpiness, he limped his way to the center place of The People Who Steal Children in a single day’s hobble. Of course, Tu-Swift had seen many times what was left of a camp fire. But he could not really scale it in his mind until today. He thought back to the Myth of the Orange Man and felt a deeper sense of what that had really meant — a whole tribe wiped out to assuage the unassuageable greed of the Orange Man. And, of course, the Orange Man himself. But wasn’t this really just the same? Why would a people steal the children of another — except for some sort of greed. Something remained badly out of joint, and it was his curiosity to find out what that was. What clues, he wondered, might lay among the ashes of this strange and greedy people? Did they all perish? Or did they some escape? These are the mysteries Tu-Swift set out to explore; but what he found? Those were mysteries of a quite different sort.
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The Myths of the Veritas: The Orange Man