“This Solomon’s Seal is delicious, Cat Eyes.” Tu-Swift had not realized how famished he was till be began eating. His meals at the ROI camp had been barely adequate calorically and lacked vital nutrients. Then, he had spent days mainly running from fire, limping, and riding a hollow log.
Cat Eyes finished a bite and said, “Thanks. Nothing special. It’s Solomon’s Zeal by the way.”
Tu-Swift shoveled in some more of the delicate roots. He closed his eyes, savoring the flavor. After swallowing, Tu-Swift glanced at Cat Eyes. “That’s what I said. Solomon’s Seal.”
Cat Eye’s eyes twinkled. “Yes. But it’s called Solomon’s Zeal.”
Shadow Walker chimed in. “I’m sure it’s called Solomon’s Seal, Cat Eyes.”
Cat Eyes considered. “I learned about it long ago from my mother. In the days before I was stolen. I was young. I could be mistaken. But I really think Ma called it Solomon’s Zeal. In fact, I asked her what ‘Zeal’ was. She explained…”
Cat Eyes paused. She looked down and a far-away look came into her eyes. A teardrop slid down her cheek. Her voice roughened. “She explained what it meant. I suppose…since our branches walked over the mountain many years ago…I suppose we could have gradually changed the name. I don’t know.”
Tu-Swift looked to Shadow Walker. “What or who is Solomon, anyway?”
The group looked at each other blankly. Cat Eyes asked Jaccim and the two women, Rachel and Chrystal in their own language. All three were all familiar with the plant and had similar though different names for it. But all contained something like “Solomon” — though no-one had any idea what that meant.
Tu-Swift finished the last bite and said cheerily, “I don’t know who you are, Solomon, but thanks for the roots! I ate them with zeal.” He smiled broadly at Cat Eyes. Rachel tugged at her shoulder asking her to explain. Explaining wordplay across languages is never an easy task for the translator, but the expressions of amusement spread as she explained in various languages, one by one.
Tu-Swift looked at her with something akin to admiration. This look was not lost on Shadow Walker. He kenned as well that Cat Eyes was special in more ways than her irises. Thinking of special women quickly led Shadow Walker to think of Many Paths. He missed her. He felt it as a hollowness that began in his chest and crept deeply into all his limbs. More than that, even the simple pleasure of eating after going without seemed somewhat flat.
At the same time, he felt responsible, as the oldest and strongest, for the safety of this entire party. He knew that moods could spread from one person to another and while they might be safe now from the ROI and the neighboring Z-lotz, such safety could be wishful thinking. None of them knew whether the Center Place of the Veritas itself had been attacked or whether any of the rest of their expedition had returned. It would be easy for Shadow Walker to walk the shadows and spiral himself into an ever-darker place of negative speculation. But such a mood could be contagious and so he forced himself to turn his mind elsewhere.
As he often did, he took out one of the Rings of Empathy, the one only he and Many Paths shared. He turned it in his hand and felt a certainty grow that Many Paths was alive and well — at least for the near future. It could, of course, simply be a fantasy, but it made him feel better. And he looked over at Tu-Swift who hung on every word and gesture of Cat Eyes. She was beginning to relate one of the few memories she had from the Veritas land in the meadow between two mountains.
“We were out gathering medicinal herbs and came over a rise to see a long and lovely meadow before us, filled with the blazes of a thousand thousand blooms and blossoms of every hue. My Ma had a wondrous voice and she began to sing the story of the forgotten fields.”
Tu-Swift sat mesmerized. Though he had many times heard the legend of the forgotten field of flowers, he had only heard it chanted, never sung tunefully as now. Cat Eyes seemed to sculpt the air itself. At long last, she came to the sad ending, the time when people forgot to enjoy the field of flowers and speak of their common gratitude for life and list the things they agreed on before beginning to speak of that which people disagreed on.
Tu-Swift and Shadow Walker had many times heard the story before, but the companions of Cat Eyes had not. She did not try to reproduce the song but told them the gist of the story quickly. Tu-Swift sat for another moment simply looking in awe at Cat Eyes as she chattered in so many language so quickly. He realized he was tired, bone tired, but as he arose, Cat Eyes surprised him by continuing the singing.
Shadow Walker had already arisen but sat back down in curiosity as well as common courtesy. He had never heard this verse either. The story had always ended with a sad lament, but now Cat Eyes was singing what appeared to be another verse. It made little sense but its mood was darker than the ending lament they were familiar with. She sang of a great death of spirit, and a time of darkness when the people stopped trying to find truth. She sang of a day that rose with a score of suns rather than just one — a day that spewed death far and wide.
Though it was only a story and a song, and surely this last part was completely fanciful, Tu-Swift tasted the salt of his own tear. He stared into the fire, remembering the fire that had almost burned him alive and tried to imagine that of which she sang— a day of fire everywhere. A day of great death when people had grown too greedy and too rushed, when they had replaced woods, and fields, and meant to replace life itself.
Tu-Swift frowned, sure as he readied himself for sleep that his dreams would be unsettling indeed. Someone of the Veritas village where she had grown up had made a horror story to scare children. He shook his head.
Such craziness. People could never be that stupid. They know the story of the Orange Man. He shook his head and drifted off with this phrase reverberating in his head: