“I don’t really feel sick. Not exactly,” said the white-haired lady.
Many Paths sat down on the edge of the pine bough bed and looked down warmly into the eyes of She Who Saved Many Lives. She squeezed her mentor’s hand a bit tighter as she asked, “Can you tell me how you feel, Great Leader?”
She Who Saved Many Lives chuckled a bit. “That’s you now, dear.” She squeezed the hands of Many Paths and returned the warm gaze. “You’re the Leader.”
“It is more like everything feels sick,” she continued. “Not a lot, but some. I see, feel, hear, sense — an illness that is slight for now but growing and that it is — everywhere.”
Many Paths now grew worried. Perhaps, as sometimes happened, something bad grew in the brain of She Who Saved Many Lives. Or, maybe she was being metaphorical and vague on purpose. That was one of her many “tricks” to get you to think for yourself. Maybe, she is even now about to teach me a lesson. I would certainly welcome it, thought Many Paths. Her mood had improved. She could at least hope that her mentor was teaching her.
“It’s most like a dizziness. As when you spin around in a circle for a long time. Then you stop and the whole world seems to be spinning. You lose your balance and fall. And that is what this feels like as well. Something in the world is very much out of balance. It is falling. And though the earth still lives, there are those about in the world who would make earth herself fall.”
“And that makes you dizzy?” Many Paths still thought a teaching lesson was not the only hypothesis, but the best.
“It does when I look upon it. I want to understand what it is and how it came about and how to stop it of course. And when I study into it, that’s when I myself start to feel that dizziness. How can anyone want to destroy life itself? They want it to be imbalanced! They want life to stop!” She Who Saved Many Lives sat up and Many Paths could see her mentor’s forehead was wet.
Many Paths thought perhaps rest was the most important thing to prescribe for her patient. But her “patient” was anything but; she seemed obsessed with trying to find out what was imbalanced. Many Paths decided to pursue the conversation.
“How could the world get out of balance? If it were in balance to start with, why wouldn’t it stay in balance?”
She Who Saved Many Lives nodded, “I have asked myself that same question. As you no doubt would appreciate, there are many possible answers. It might be that none of them are correct. It is possible that the imbalance was always there but too slight for us to notice. Over time, the imbalance became so large that it was impossible to return to balance.”
Many Paths remained more concerned with her patient than with such a philosophical discussion. But her curiosity had nonetheless been engaged. She Who Saved Many Lives had a gift for that.
“I can see how a small imbalance could lead to a larger one. But it may also be true that imbalance and balance are themselves in a cycle. When a person is a tiny toddler, they fall a lot! They have very little sense of balance. At last they grow into adulthood and they have good balance. Then…no offense meant…but as you get very old, your sense of balance becomes worse. Then, you fall again.”
“Yes, and of course, each of us individually dies. For us, as a separate being, we grow so far out of balance that we die. And yet normally, the whole of life is not thrown off balance by that. But my sense of things is that people are “falling” at all ages, not just toddlers and old folks. It is something — I don’t think there is a better word than “evil” — some idea or way of thinking that is not only wrong in some circumstanced, but actually aimed at self-destruction. I think of NUT-PI and also from our own tribe, ALT-R and POND MUD. But it is not just them. Somehow, they or people like them are infecting others. It may be that I myself am ill. And because of that, I sense illness elsewhere. But I don’t honestly think it’s like that. The illness is everywhere — and it makes me sick to think of it — that there are life forms out there — as recounted in The Myth of the Orange Man — that want to destroy life itself for some trivial greed.”
For a time, the two women sat in silence, each considering the words of She Who Saves Many Lives. Many Paths at last began, “I have felt something similar. I felt it when POND MUD and ALT-R betrayed us. But after we won the Battle of the Three Paths, it seemed as though the world was well again. Then someone stole Tu-Swift. Stole him. Who would steal the children of others? And then, in trying to find Tu-Swift, others left — and no-one is back. No-one. They may all be dead for all I know. Everything is sick. Yes. Very sick. And I don’t know how to cure it.”
Many Paths looked for a time into the eyes of She Who Saves Many Lives for an answer, for a clue. Any moment now, she hoped, her mentor would ask one key question and this would all fall into place. At last, Many Paths realized that was not going to happen. Saves Many Lives had not been teaching at all. She was as confused as Many Paths. Saves Many Lives had reminded Many Paths that it was now her turn to be Leader. Many Paths took a deep breath and gave the hand of She Who Saves Many Lives one last squeeze and stood up.
“But we will find out how to cure it. We will find out. But for now, let us both get some rest. Tomorrow may bring good news or bad, but it will be another day. Many Paths smiled, turned, and exited the Cabin of her mentor. She looked out onto the Center Place of the Veritas. She smelled the cooking fires, and she heard the happy chatter of her people punctuated now and again with a laugh. It suddenly hit her that she loved this entire tribe and loved it with the same ferocity as a mother grizzly loves her children. She would find out what this illness of the world was and together they would cure it. They would fix it. Surely, life itself would come to her aid.
She walked over to the edge of the broad, swiftly flowing stream. She smiled as she remembered the clever way that Eagle Eyes had turned this stream into a weapon in the Battle of Three Paths. She could see the pink and gold of the sunset clouds reflected yet transformed by the churning water. She knew that somehow and some day, all would be well once again. Life, after all, was robust. It also flashed through her mind the nearby spot where KAVA-NUT had been attacked by a trained eagle! That was something to behold. If we can enlist nature….
Many Paths looked upward imagining the great eagle swooping down. She imagined that she could actually glimpse the eagle in the fading light…careening over the trees. No. It was an eagle, she decided, and headed this way! Could it be…? Many Paths quickly flung several folds of her robe over her forearm so that the Eagle could land there. She put her forearm up parallel to the ground and the Eagle alit.
Many Paths recognized the Eagle as one of the ones that Eagle Eyes had trained. This one appears to have a badly broken leg, she thought. But as she calmed the Eagle, hooding its vision with her hand, she noticed that something was attached to the Eagle’s leg. She had to breathe deeply to calm herself enough to remove the something without spooking the Eagle. It seemed to be some sort of message.