Trunk of Tree awoke just as the morning sun dispersed the fog. He sat up and then regretted it. Dizziness overcame him along with a pounding headache. He lay back down and the pain in his head doubled. His comrades began to notice that he had awakened.
Easy Tears asked, “How is the head of Trunk of Tree this morning?”
Soon the others had gathered around. “I’m fine. It’s late. We should leave soon. Where are we? Where’s the river?”
Glances were exchanged and in a single minute of silence, Fleet of Foot was nominated and unanimously chosen as the one to take charge of telling Trunk of Tree what had happened and when exactly which truths should be told.
“Last sunset, we were camped by the river and ready to settle down for the night when Jaccim noticed the horses were terribly nervous so indicating danger. There was lightening on the mountains and later we could hear water rushing toward us. Things got very confused then. You might have reminded us then about how Eagle Eyes used rushing water to destroy Cupiditas warriors. You might have led us to higher ground. You might have fallen at some point or been kicked by a horse, but you fell to the ground senseless at some point. Jaccim hoisted you onto a horse. He must be very strong, or perhaps you helped him a bit. Anyway, you lay senseless but safe all night. We tried to wake you up, but we couldn’t make anything like the roar of the water when the flood tore through here. Do you recall all the trees that were down there?”
Trunk of Tree squinted his eyes. He took his head in his hands. “I don’t remember anything except we found water. And we need to find the Veritas. But we are Veritas. Aren’t we? But who is he? I don’t know you,” he said, pointing to Jaccim. “Why are there horses here?”
“Trunk of Tree,” said Fleet of Foot, “Listen to me. Look at me. I know for sure that you were bumped on the head hard. Hard enough to knock you out for hours. Your memory is … you need to take it easy for a few days till you remember what’s happening. We are Veritas. Yes. But this woman, Cat Eyes, told us of cousins over the Twin Peaks. And, this man, Jaccim, confirmed it. We are headed there now to learn what we can learn from these people. You are leading us. But for now, you should rest and let your head —- your head is like a bird nest that’s been scattered by the storm. Like the bird, you must now rebuild it from those broken pieces. Do you see?”
Fleet of Foot looked first at Easy Tears and she nodded to him. He had done well, but her eyes shifted back to Trunk of Tree. He was going to go along with it. Easy Tears thought perhaps he had somehow learned a lesson to listen to those who know more. Or, perhaps feeling weakened put him in a more receptive mood. We will see whether this is a cool breeze or winter coming, thought Easy Tears. She looked back to Fleet of Foot and nodded again. Message received.
For the next few days as they took it easy till Trunk of Tree seemed to have recovered his full strength, if not his full memory. After three such days of slow walking to accommodate the recovering Veritas, they reached the foot of the first of Twin Peaks. At first, the path was fairly clear and open. Cat Eyes began to have a tingling on the nape of her neck. I am going home, she thought. I am at last going home. Will I remember anyone though? Or, will I be like Trunk of Tree and only remember my new friends? She shook her head slightly. She didn’t want to go through this whole sequence yet again. There’s no point, she told herself firmly. I will see soon enough, at least I will if this fool Trunk of Tree doesn’t get us killed by his stubbornness. He was still groggy, she thought. Maybe I could just pretend to like him, lie with him, and then in his sleep, while everyone else is asleep, I could… end him.
Cat Eyes was somewhat startled to see Easy Tears and Fleet of Foot standing before her. Easy Tears spoke and the revenge fantasy dissipated like fog. “Does any of this seem familiar to you yet?”
“Oh. Oh, no. But I don’t expect it would. People stayed in our settlement for the most part. Venturing outside was … unnecessary … and also dangerous. We knew there were evil people out there. I mean who else would steal children away from their children?”
They all considered this for a moment.
Easy Tears said, “Suppose you met someone, fell in love and had a baby. And suppose you raised this baby for years. And then, someone stole your baby away. Wouldn’t you steal their baby away and trade it for getting your own back?”
Cat Eyes nodded. “I might indeed. I might get my revenge. But it has to be the right person. I can’t take it out on Trunk of Tree. It’s not his fault.”
Easy Tears and Fleet of Foot looked at each other. Easy Tears said, “Trunk of Tree? What does he have to do with this?”
Cat Eyes stared at the two of them. “Sorry. I was thinking about something else. Back to your story. Why couldn’t I just tell them that I would take their child unless they gave mine back?”
Fleet of Foot nodded. “That might work. But the other person might simply keep your child but be more on guard about their own children. They might take your threat as a warning and they would prevent you from actually doing it.”
“Especially,” added Easy Tears, “if they had Killing Sticks.” She paused for a moment. “So, I might. If that were the only way to get my own child back. Strike without warning.”
After a fair pause, Fleet of Foot said, “What if that’s what the reason the Z-Lotz have the ROI steal children?”
Easy Tears was taken aback. “What? What are you talking about? They stole Tu-Swift. They stole Dah-Nah. They stole Cat Eyes, too. No-one stole their children. At least, not yet.”
Fleet of Foot continued, “But how do we know that? If we had stolen children, or our grandparents’ grandparents had, would we have sung songs about it? Even if it never happened, the Z-Lotz might think it had happened. Most of them may think they are somehow protecting their own children. Or trying to get their own kids back. I don’t know.”
They sat, for a time, in silence. It was time to break camp. As Cat Eyes stood, she looked the two of them intently. “I know. I know how to tell.”
“How is that?” asked Easy Tears.
She answered in a quiet, venomous voice, “If you stole a child in order to get your own back, would you make it perform sexual favors for you in the meantime?”
“No,” answered Easy Tears, “of course not. That’s disgusting.”
“Nor I, of course. Horrible,” said Fleet of Foot and he grimaced.
“I thought not,” said Cat Eyes. “That’s how you know they are evil. There is no excuse for raping a child no matter how many lies they tell about it.”