In the Center Place of the Veritas, it happened throughout her life that Many Paths daily crossed the path of She Who Saves Many Lives. Lately, however, She Who Saves Many Lives had turned more often to the outskirts of the Center Place, dialoguing with the burbling brook, or watching for wildlife. So, after waiting for an accidental encounter for a few days, Many Paths decided to find the Elder intentionally to get her advice. As Many Paths approached the cabin of the former leader, she could already sense that the cabin was empty. It “sounded” empty and it … seemed … empty. Many Paths looked at the sky, and a path appeared before her mind as to the one most harmonious to all her causes. So she took it.
The day had broken hot and grown hotter. As soon as Many Paths ducked under the overhanging branches and entered the shaded outer woods, she felt the coolness like a drink of clear cold water. The deer flies immediately sensed her presence, but she, like most of the Veritas prepared herself for summer by using leaf tinctures of eucalyptus, thyme, lavender, and pepper.
Many Paths noticed that somehow, the flies sensed she was there and were attracted to her and yet…when they got near, instead of alighting and biting, they hovered and took off. Perhaps, there are ways to induce the Z-Lotz to wear perfumes or clothing that attracts insects such as wasps or ants or deer flies. Maybe we could make something that attracts the Z-Lotz thinking that we are “prey” but then, as they get closer, a different set of circumstances makes them think that we are not “prey” at all, but something quite dangerous, or disgusting, or unworthy of any attention at all.
Many Paths emerged onto the grassy embankment alongside a brook which was bubbling its song to the world. She recognized the back of She Who Saves Many Lives, sitting silently on a fallen cottonwood trunk. Many Paths pondered seeing how close she could come to the older woman. It was a game they had played all their lives, but then, before taking a step, she decided against it. Maybe she would startle the older lady too much.
Without turning around, She Who Saves Many Lives spoke in her loud clear voice, “Well met, Many Paths. Come, come sit beside me.” She Who Saves Many Lives patted the dry, but mossy stump. “And don’t worry. If you sneak up behind me some day and scare me to my death, it was surely my time to become a more disbursed part of the great tree of life. You will have done me a great favor. I will at that last moment know you played a joke, and that you have truly mastered your skills as one who moves with the wind. And I will see the joke and the growth and know that I die with a friend who is a wonderful leader to our people. Is there a better death? I can think of none.” She Who Saves Many Lives smiled warmly and continued, “But that time has not yet come. Now, Many Paths, about what did you wish to speak?”
“As you know, She Who Saves Many Lives, we have various groups working on various problems and I am myself, leading the group to think of new weapons.” Many Paths sighed. “I am seeing weapons everywhere! Even walking here. Anywhere.”
The Elder looked kindly at Many Paths and took hold of her hands. “It sounds to me as though you’re doing a good job. And, I know you have a great imagination. Yet, there is a problem?”
“I’m afraid of what I may become if I see everything in terms of how it can maim, kill, or protect. And even when — yesterday, I looked at the afternoon rainbow and tried to find a way to use it as a weapon. And I could not. Which I found frustrating. And, it made me not even like the rainbow! It’s beautiful! Shouldn’t that be enough? I don’t want to be a person who fails to see beauty. And, neither do I think it’s good for the tribe.”
She Who Saves Many Lives waited, as she knew good friends or good leaders often will have to do.
Many Paths continued. “Yesterday, I took a walk with the Wolf Pubs and Shadow Walker. His ankle is fine now, but the way. Tu-Swift still has difficulties. We saw Stone Chipper with his son, Sees Horses. And the father showed me some very interesting rocks he had happened upon. He called it ‘mica’ and said he had never seen anything like it before. He showed some to us. It was … you could break this rock into very thin slices. They were so thin you could see right through the rock! It reminded me most of fish scales. Everyone was excited — I swear, even the wolf pups, though they were probably sensing our excitement. I immediately asked if it could be used for arrowheads. He said no, the material was very weak and to show me, he crumbled some in his fingers. Quite easily.”
She Who Saves Many Lives waited. At last, as good friends and good leaders often will have to do, she prompted, “So you lost interest in the material?”
“No. That would have been bad enough, but I got more interested in the material. Because making arrowheads is something we’ve been doing for generations and generations. But making a weapon with mica !! Now that would be something. It’s shiny. You can see through it! It’s weak, but light in weight. How do we use all that to make a weapon from it? That’s the question that my mind has been pre-occupied with ever since. But I cannot turn this mind for more than a moment to the question of how we might use mica in decoration or clothing or shelter. Though, by the way, it could keep the wind out yet let much light through. Most of my thoughts have been about how to use it as a weapon. And as I talked aloud, since I’m the leader, everyone else’s excitement … abated. Even the excitement of Shadow Walker. When he first saw this mica he was fascinated by it. Since it breaks easily yet feels hard, I wonder if one might build a bridge that every Veritas knows not to use.” The voice of Many Paths grew louder now with each word. “Because once you step out over the chasm it breaks into crumbs and you plummet to rocky bone-breaking death. Which, by the way, you deserve, because you stole my brother!”
Many Paths had let go of the hands of She Who Saves Many Lives and now she stood, trembling with rage. Her voice became grim. “I will find every kind of weapon for these people. But what will it do to the tribe to make such weapons that … weapons that our enemies do not even see as weapons — poison disguised as food; traps disguised as steps; stones falling off buildings; air that kills; clothing that catches fire; it doesn’t end.” Many Paths took out the string upon which she had strung all seven rings of empathy. She sat now on a sandy patch near an old campfire, not far from She Who Saves Many Lives. “You gave me these rings of empathy and now…if I am to find weapons, will they not just get in the way? I mean won’t empathy get in the way?” She took the rings off her string and laid them out in a semi-circle in front of her. She arranged them distractedly. The sun was high and if she tilted the rings the proper way, each of them reflected light strongly in one direction. She played with tilting them so that the rays flitted across the face of a nearby reflector rock.
She Who Saved Many Lives looked on. “You know in your heart that I did not give you the rings of empathy. You earned them. I didn’t play favorites. I think you are right to be concerned. Thinking about creative ways to harm or kill others is not something good for the soul. But you have such a good mind for thinking of weapons. Sometimes, of course, weapons have other uses, but that seems more like a rationalization, not a rationale. I think you are right though. At least until we find out more about the Killing Sticks, you need to think of all the ways to kill these People Who Steal Other People’s Children must not be allowed to keep stealing and killing or my prophesy dream may indeed come true. The Veritas could be wiped out. We know what happened as a result of the Orange Man, a whole tribe wiped out. We don’t want that, clearly.”
Many Paths listened intently, not only because this was the way of the Veritas, but also because she was genuinely interested in the Elder’s thoughts. Nonetheless, Many Paths kept toying with the rings. She also recalled that she had put several pieces of mica into her tinder pouch, hoping that the cottony milkweed and dandelion seeds and cat-tail pollen would cushion the mica slices sufficiently to keep them whole. She was delighted to find they reflected spots onto the reflector wall as well and she wiggled them into the sand.
“Thank you for listening, Wise One. It feels good to be warming in the sunlight. It also feels good to listen to the light of your wisdom.” Many Paths did feel better, though nothing had really been yet resolved. “I’m warmer in the light of the sun. I’m warmer in the light of the sun.”
“Yes, most of us are, Many Paths.”
Many Paths stood up and grabbed a nearby twig. She set it up in the sand, like a tiny tree. “I’m warmer in the sun. I’m warmer in the sun.” Many Paths muttered this a few more times as she adjusted the rings and the mica slices so that they all beamed the reflected light onto the twig. As more reflections were added, it became more difficult to align them, that is, to tell where each reflection was. She found that if she started with the reflection above the nexus and slowly lowered it, she could put it right atop the others. It was clearly much brighter than a twig simply sitting in the sun. She felt sure that it was also warmer. She began to cautiously stretch her hand forward to see whether it had been warmed so quickly when the twig burst into flames. Many Paths jumped back.
Many Paths looked over at the astonished Elder and winked. “Everything is warmer in the sun. Perhaps I will rename myself ‘Many Weapons.’ Perhaps these Rings of Empathy really are more powerful than I was … led to believe.”
“Many Paths, the power is in your mind. Now, as for the other, I can perform a ritual for you. And this is what I propose. So long as you are in the role of looking for weapons to use against the People Who Steal Children, I will paint your forehead and your cheeks with this blue war paint. You will be called “Many Paths for Many Weapons.”
When we win and the Z-Lotz are no longer a threat, then I will remove your warpaint and we will simply call you “Many Paths” again.
Many Paths looked at the wise smiling eyes of She Who Saves Many Lives. She nodded her head and saw the wisdom of formally recognizing a special role so that Many Paths would not confuse her natural bent with what she could accomplish. But she also vowed to try to think about how to make the Veritas stronger, healthier, and wiser in numerous ways. Among those ways would be using weapons but also learning how to create weapons out of anything. If they were in a battle; if they were — if they were captured. Look what Tu-Swift had done, she thought. “She Who Saves Many Lives, I have one more question to ask you. Do you think it appropriate to have a ceremony of a similar sort for Tu-Swift? He was able to wreak havoc amongst the ROI, even as an unarmed child. But, I have the same worry that I have for me and he is much younger.”
“I don’t think working on how to defend himself would be more traumatic than having been stolen from the feast and thrown into a cage. Just as you feel you want to do something in your defense, and possibly for revenge, so too does he. But yes. He should be anointed anew until you defeat the Z-Lotz. However, you should be the one to anoint him. You are the leader now. I will only anoint you because anointing yourself is … it is not something seemly for any real leader ever to do. Your power, of course, should be … how on earth did you get that twig to burst into flames? That is not something I foresaw in the making of the rings. I did not know that they had that power.”
Many Paths said quietly. “The power of empathy is allowing each to know the heart of each. And, when that is truly done, then, the power of the rings is that all may be focused on defeating one. What is not even a weapon at all — such as a nice warming sun — can become a weapon when there are many working together.”