Tu-Swift watched the small party leave and chewed the inside of his lips. Though he understood the “rationale” that Many Paths had given for the composition of the search party, he suspected that her real reason for leaving him out was more personal. She wanted to keep Tu-Swift close at hand. True enough, his knee still didn’t act quite right. He would walk along just fine for a time and then, he would just slightly misjudge the ground and a rock might slide a little to one side or the other and his knee would suddenly “give out.” Riding wasn’t much better. Although he was now second only to Jaccim in skill, he couldn’t ride for long. Tu-Swift wanted to be among those who first encountered the Veritas beyond the twin peaks. He had dreamed of being there when she was reunited. What, he wondered, if she never returned here? He stared at the long and beautiful ebony hair of Cat Eyes and remembered how it had pleasurably whipped his face on that wild flume ride. She turned back and grinned at him; waved; he could see the sunlight making a kind of dark rainbow in her hair. He waved back. Tu-Swift hadn’t noticed Sooz walk up behind him so that when she spoke it startled him.
“You like her, don’t you?”
“What?! Oh, Sooz, sorry. I … well, yes. I mean, don’t you?”
Sooz smiled with her mouth but her eyes remained tight. “Oh, yes, she’s quite smart. It’s been fun working with her — and you — to better understand that game she brought with her from the ROI. Want to play?”
Indeed, many of the Veritas had made some contribution to understanding the game, but Cat Eyes had been crucial in understanding. True enough, thought Tu-Swift, she was smart, but mainly, she had helped the most because she had seen the game played. Although, as a slave, they had never asked her to participate in the giant settlement of the Z-Lotz, she had in the last few weeks, under the direction of Many Paths, been able to calm her mind, shut her eyes, and systematically “revisit” memories of watching the game played. She had not only seen in her mind’s eye what the throws and moves were; she could also recall what had been said and note the reactions on people’s faces. Playing the game proved to be fun for those Veritas patient enough to learn it including Tu-Swift and Sooz. And playing the game improved the speed with which they could decode the characters written on the many leaves that Eagle Eyes and Lion Tamer had returned with.
“I would like to play with you, Sssooz. How about another game instead?”
Sooz blushed. Tu-Swift and Sooz had been working on a secret code for communicating between the two of them. They said the same word, but in different ways. They would change how long they held on to one of the sounds that nature had long ago given the Veritas and that variation would change the meaning. The also said the words with a slightly different tone structure. They had worked together for several weeks on a kind of magic trick and were about to perform it in front of Many Paths and She Who Saves Many Lives. Tu-Swift and Sooz had made a pact not to let anyone else in on the secret quite yet. If they could pull off the trick in front of those two — and Eagle Eyes — then, they would reveal it to everyone.
Tu-Swift believed this could prove useful as one of the new weapons of the Veritas. Many Paths had asked Tu-Swift to lead an effort to develop weapons that could be used without anyone noticing, including, if it came to that, the Z-Lotz who might try to kill or capture all of the Veritas. Tu-Swift had not wanted to contemplate being captured again, and the idea that all of the Veritas might be enslaved was horrendous. And yet, he could see the wisdom of preparation for such an eventuality. He reckoned that if he and Sooz could fool Eagle Eyes, Many Paths and She Who Saves Many Lives, they would be able to communicate secretly even if the worst came to be.
Tu-Swift pulled a piece of birchbark from inside his tunic, walked over to a nearby charred log and broke off a small piece of charcoal. He carefully wrote a few strokes on the birch bark and handed it to Sooz. She read aloud, “Kiss me.”
Tu-Swift leaned over and whispered, “If you insist.” He kissed her lightly on the lips. It felt good. He wanted to write her some more when a small and very familiar voice called his name.
“Hi Tu-Swift! Are you two playing a game? Can I join?”
It was Day-Nah. Day-Nah was gradually becoming more friendly with all of the Veritas but still felt most comfortable when he was with Tu-Swift. Usually, Tu-Swift enjoyed his company but he scrunched his face up at the current interruption. I will have other opportunities, I suppose, thought Tu-Swift. He glanced at Sooz who noted the chagrin on the visage of Tu-Swift and chuckled. She smiled at Dah-Nah and said aloud, “Ssssure, Day-Nah, we wouldddd love to have you join in our reading game.” She winked at Tu-Swift with an eye that was hidden from Day-Nah.
Despite the momentary disappointment, Tu-Swift had to smile at her hidden message which promised much more later. He looked at Day-Nah and smiled at him as well. “We’re practicing making marks and saying them. Here. You put some marks down. Let’s see whether we can say what you meant.” Tu-Swift gently took the birchbark from Sooz, stroking her hand as he did so and surreptitiously smudging what he had just written. He handed the birchbark and piece of charcoal to Day-Nah. He had expected Day-Nah to put down one word. Instead, Day-Nah was making a whole forest of marks. At last he handed the birch bark back to Tu-Swift.
Tu-Swift shifted position so that he now saw shoulder to shoulder with Sooz. Together they looked and read aloud. “?We go? ?See the whole collection? ?Again?” Tu-Swift sighed and glanced at Sooz. She made the slightest nod. They stood and walked across the cleaning and over to one of the many storerooms of the Veritas. Many Paths had asked for the table acorn-smashing table to be cleared. Several stumps already provide sitting. In the early spring, this table was used for mashing acorns that had been softened and de-bittered over-winter in the swamp. For now, people of the Veritas at various times came in and practiced decoding the marks. Everyone had been instructed to be very careful not to harm the delicate leaves of bark.
It took a moment for the trio to become adjusted to the dim light. Day-Nah, the youngest, had adjusted the most quickly. He took the first leaf and stared at it. It seemed laid out differently from all the others. This first leaf of thin bark had many large spaces in it while all the other leaves were largely filled from top to bottom. Only a few spaces popped up here and there. Day-Nah began to turn his head this way and that.
Tu-Swift’s inner eye suddenly showed him that flash of the long dark rainbow hair of Cat Eyes and he sighed. He said aloud, “I hope our searchers are able to find our cousins — there is no map. Jaccim says he knows the way, but I think his horse may know the way better. You know, horses are pretty amazing Sooz. I hope you someday get to ride one. They are big, but there’s no need to be scared.”
Day-Nah muttered, “Map?”
Tu-Swift shook his head. “What map? They don’t have any map. We’re taking about horses now.”
Day-Nah, who generally seemed quite attuned to Tu-Swift’s every move, ignored Tu-Swift. He furrowed his brow and said again, “Map?”
Sooz said kindly, “What map are you talking about, Day-Nah?”
Day-Nah lifted up the first leaf and said, “This map.”
Tu-Swift’s brows furrowed and he shook his head. “That’s not a map Day-Nah. It’s just the first leaf.”
Day-Nah ignored them and put the first page up against a nearby pot so that it was nearly vertical at one end of the table. Then, he began arranging the leaves on the table. After about half of them were arranged on the table, Tu-Swift said, “Come Day-Nah, what is this nonsense. I thought we were going to practice. What are you doing?”
Day-Nah said again, “It’s a map.” He continued arranging the leaves carefully. “Now, go over to the door and tell me what you see.”
Tu-Swift sighed. “I won’t be able to see the marks from there. I mean, I will be able to see them but I won’t be able to tell which mark is which.”
Day-Nah, said with some insistence in his voice, “Try it.”
Tu-Swift sighed. He tried to be lenient with Day-Nah. As traumatic as it had been for he himself to have been stolen from his tribe, he imagined it had to be even more traumatic for Day-Nah. But now the kid was being annoying. He shook his head and walked over to the door. He stared at the leaves carefully laid out on the table.
“Are you happy now, Day-Nah, just as I suspected, I cannot decode a single one of those marks from here. I almost have them memorized but I cannot actually discern them. They are just … just … Turtle in the sky!!”
Sooz looked at the wide-eyed expression on Tu-Swift’s face. “What are you talking about? Have you both gone crazy?”
Tu-Swift gestured frantically. “Come over here! Come over here, Sooz! Look!”
Sooz dutifully stood though she shook her head and slowly walked over. “My eyesight’s not any better than yours, Tu-Swift. I don’t even think Eagle Eyes could…”
And then Sooz saw it too. The small markings could not be discriminated from each other but when the leaves were arranged thus, larger characters stood out. Those characters could be made out. She said them aloud:
“Life must balance. Freedom and discipline. Work for self and work for tribe. Work for self alone ended the world for Orange Man and then greed ended the world. Now, we rebuild.”
Tu-Swift swallowed hard. That was the essence of the story contained in the pages. The Orange Man had destroyed a tribe — and himself. But — the world? Everyone knew that too much greed was very strong and very bad medicine. How did Day-Nah know this was a map? With a sudden inspiration, Tu-Swift opened the shutters of one of the storehouse windows and walked outside. He peered in at the leaves arranged on the table. Now, he could see yet another pattern of characters that stunned him into a long silence.
“Love/Unity makes Life. Greed/Division makes Death.”