Though still somewhat exhausted from her journey, Eagle Eyes felt like pitching in with the preparations for the upcoming feast. Whenever she closed her eyes to rest, visions of flames the size of trees danced behind her eyelids. Even the familiar and normally pleasurable sounds like the beating of drums or the cutting of wood startled her and made her flinch. She could see again in her mind’s eye, the horrible torture and death that she and Lion Slayer had witnessed in the City of the Z-lotz. Though she had very much been looking forward to re-uniting with Trunk of Tree, she felt a strange distance from him upon her actual return.
She spied Many Paths sitting alone and weaving some leaf-plates for the feast. She hunkered down beside her and smiled. “Do you mind if I help?”
Many Paths smiled. “Of course not! I always welcome your company! And I really missed you. Of course, I worried about you as well. Each day, I wondered whether it was even wise to send so many after Tu-Swift….” Here, her voice trailed off and she sighed. “Damn!” She exclaimed as she cut the inside of her index finger on the sharp edge of a reed. “I have to be more careful,” she muttered.
“That happens. It’s understandable that you still have much on your mind. I hate to add to your burdens, but, can you tell me anything about why Trunk of Tree seems so cold to me?”
Many Paths sighed and sucked on her cut. She took out a small leaf of Witch Hazel from her medicine pouch and held it firmly on her small cut. She looked at Eagle Eyes.
“Perhaps. I am not sure. I can tell you my best guess, but it is really only that. You should talk with Trunk of Tree frankly and ask him yourself. But you should know this. When days passed and we saw none of you return, he began to question my judgement as leader. He thought that we should have sent out a massive war party. No, no, don’t frown. I don’t really blame him. I questioned whether I had done the right thing myself. There were so many unknowns. Like so many braves before him, he got it in his head that because he was stronger than I am, he should be the leader. He spoke to others among the Veritas. And, although there were some who were privately questioning my decision, his way of approaching people — he did not gain any real following.”
Many Paths sighed as she finished weaving one plate and began on the next. “I think that in order to make his case more strongly, he assumed or at least argued that all of you were dead — including you. I am quite sure that part of him is quite happy to see you. But at the same time, the return of so many of the search party, notwithstanding that we still have no sign of Tu-Swift or Shadow Walker, has dispelled any slight support he might have had. So, your very presence reminds him that he was wrong — at least about all of you perishing. It still might be that he was correct. Maybe we should have sent out a large war party.”
“No, you were not wrong. A large war party — or what we call a large war party — Many Paths, I have to tell you, the place that we saw was huge. It was filled with uncountably many people. And there were many strange things. Even if all of us had attacked such a place, I fear all of us would have perished. And, I have no idea how these killing sticks worked or how many there might be. But why should he be ashamed of being wrong? Everyone makes mistakes.”
“Indeed, Eagle Eyes. Everyone makes mistakes. It is not worrisome that he was wrong. Obviously, I am happy you and so many others survived. It does bother me that he is so stubborn. But there is more you should know as well.”
“What, Many Paths? Did he find another woman to take pleasure with because he thought I was dead?”
Many Paths stopped weaving. “Not so far as I know. However… he did approach me. No, no, no. Nothing happened! He thought that since you and Shadow Walker were both ‘obviously’ dead, he and I should wed and rule ‘together’ though it was clear from his talk that what he really meant was that he would actually rule and I would support him.”
“So you considered his proposal? You were willing to abandon Shadow Walker — and me?”
Many Paths shook her head violently. “No! No! I listened to what he said. I never thought that — he is not my — I never thought you were dead. I was — I am still sure that Shadow Walker is alive. I can feel his life out there heading our way. When I received your eagle and the bit of cloth you tied to it, I realized that you had probably survived a fire and that such fire, though far away, had colored our sunsets and sunrises for days. Of course, I showed this cloth to Trunk of Tree but he dismissed it. The two of us never had any kind of coming together. I’m sorry. I know he’s your friend but I do not believe he should be leader. You, Eagle Eyes — you I think could be a fine leader. But Trunk of Tree, to tell you true — I think he is too full of himself to be a good leader. Look over by the chestnut tree.”
Eagle Eyes glanced over at Trunk of Tree who leaned back against the trunk of a very large chestnut tree and glowered at the two of them. In his hands, he turned a large rock over and over in his hands. She could see the rippling muscles of his forearms. She wished she were being caressed instead of a rock.
Eagle Eyes looked back at her friend, Many Paths. “Are you sure you did not encourage him to come after you?”
“Of course! I am very much in love with Shadow Walker and very sure he is still alive. I am less clear about Tu-Swift. But in any case, I was also sure that you were alive as well. I wouldn’t betray you. I can’t imagine myself with Trunk of Tree even if you and Shadow Walker were both dead. You have good reason to be exhausted and yet here you are — you’re helping me make plates. Trunk of Tree has mainly been busy stirring up trouble, frankly, and there he sits while nearly everyone else is aiding to make the feast. I admire his strength. I admire his courage. He is good looking. And he is a good leader on the battlefield, but he wants to make everything a battlefield. An idea comes to him and he wants to immediately do it without thinking through the consequences. No. Not for me. I did not lead him on, I assure you. Not even a little.”
Eagle Eyes did not want to believe bad things about Trunk of Tree. But she knew her friend Many Paths to be honest and open-hearted. “I believe you, Many Paths. Of course I do.”
“Thank you, Eagle Eyes. Thank you.”
They wove plates for a time in silence. Many Paths said, “But tell me more about your adventures! What did you see on your journey?”
“Oh, we do have other discoveries to share, though surely none are as important as the killing sticks
“I agree, Eagle Eyes, but what other discoveries?” asked Many Paths.
“Take a look at this!” Eagle Eyes drew from her pack a strange object shaped like a brick. She took two sides of the brick and opened it to reveal a host of white cloths inside. “These very thin hard cloths or skins make excellent tinder for fire starting! It’s a clever arrangement to carry so much tinder in such a small space!”
Many Paths took the strange object from Eagle Eyes. As she examined it, she quickly realized that each of the skins was nearly filled with odd stick figure drawings. “Look here, Eagle Eyes. Each of these skins, if that’s what they are, has many markings. Someone went to a lot of trouble to draw that many little pictures!”
Eagle Eyes took back the weird object and glanced through all the layers. “You’re right, Many Paths. It’s true; there are a sea of them, each one different from any of the others. Yet, these two are the same, and these. Wait. No, they are not all different, but there are many different types of picture.”
“How odd.” Many Paths turned the object over and over in her hand. “It cannot be a story because then the pictures would change from beginning to end. Why would they do this? For decoration I suppose, but you can only see a few hundred at a time and the object itself doesn’t look durable. Maybe it has some religious significance? Is it not true of the Z-lotz that they are very religious?”
Eagle Eyes nodded. “They make a show of religion, from what we understand. But, it may be a ruse. We shall see.”
“Anyway,” said Many Paths, “this also prevents a mystery, but does not have the priority of your disturbing news about killing sticks. What else did you see?”
“We found a door. It was made of something so strong and hard. It was as hard … it was as hard as ice, but unlike ice, you could not break it or chip it. And, it was heavy. It took many strong pushes to open that door. We saw more of this odd material in the large walled camp. But let me ask you another question. Why are you sure Shadow Walker is alive?”
“I cannot really explain it. I feel connected to him. Of course, I feel connected to Tu-Swift as well. But when I take out the Sixth Ring of Empathy…it could just be wishful thinking. I also feel that Shadow Walker will do everything possible to ensure the safety of Tu-Swift. When I touch the Sixth Ring of empathy, I often feel that he is doing the same. It could be wishful thinking, but somehow, I don’t think so.”
After a moment, Many Paths looked about her and saw that the Veritas were beginning to gather for a feast. She could only perceive small snippets of conversation, but there was a general air of excitement. People were glad that so many of the Veritas had returned and it appeared as well that some sort of vengeance had destroyed the village of the People who Steal Children though it was their own fire arrows that destroyed them. Everyone was eager to learn what others had seen most recently.
When it came time for storytelling, though she didn’t know all the details, she strongly suspected that the tale of Eagle Eyes would be the most dramatic. But she was reluctant to end all the tales with the tale of the killing sticks. She judged it better, on balance, to begin with Eagle Eyes and Eagle Eyes agreed.
As she stood to begin her tale, she realized for a moment that she was tired, very tired. But she was home. She glanced around and caught the eye of Trunk of Tree. She smiled at hime and he seemed to give a genuine smile in return. Of this much she was sure. Like everyone else, he very much wanted to hear her tale. She decided that though she would look at everyone, she would return her gaze to Trunk of Tree. She would make him feel as though he had been with her the whole time. In this way, she hoped to bond them once again with her experience which could become their common experience with a decent telling.
She began: “You all remember that at the feast of Beltane, we were attacked by surprise with People who Stand on Horses. And these people had fire arrows to destroy as though they had forgotten the Legend of the Orange Man. We discovered that Tu-Swift, the brother of our leader Many Paths was missing. To our great horror, we discovered that these People who Stand on Horses are also a People who Steal Children.”
The Myths of the Veritas: The First Ring of Empathy (Book 1 starts)
The Myths of the Veritas: Feast and Fire (Book 2 starts)
The Myths of the Veritas: The Orange Man (An older, isolated tale).