When at last, the final stone was atop the last of the four funeral cairns for the four Z-Lotz visitors, Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker bathed in the stream and scoured themselves by crushing and using horsetails that grew so handily nearby. The cold water felt good on their hands which were rubbed rather raw by carrying so many rocks.
Shadow Walker took a deep breath and sighed. He glanced over at Eagle Eyes who sunned herself, eyes closed, with her back against a sun-warmed boulder. He realized that he would have to look away while speaking with her. He swallowed hard. Looking away proved more difficult than he had imagined. He wondered again whether they should have taken the clothes of the Z-Lotz and used them as disguise. Once they moved away from the “burials” it would be even more of a pain to return and take the clothing. He glanced at Eagle Eyes again, wishing she would open her eyes. Did she really need to dry her eyelids he wondered. That’s absurd. He was just annoyed at his own reaction. It was only a short time ago that he had been with Many Paths. Eagle Eyes was both a good friend and a valuable resource in this — war — or whatever it was — against the Z-Lotz. Had they intentionally come while they were sick in order to spread this disease to the Veritas? All four of the Z-Lotz had now died so there were none left to question.
Eagle Eyes opened her eyes, glanced at Shadow Walker and chuckled. “Time to get dressed, I see!” She grabbed her tunic and covered herself quickly.
Shadow Walker reddened and did the same. “Yes, I was just thinking that we should get going to continue our journey.”
“I can see that,” said Eagle Eyes whose eyes flashed with humor. “Yes, that’s what you were definitely thinking about.”
“I just…I mean,” he said, dressing as quickly as possible, “yes, there is no more trail back to follow, but they seem to have taken the same path to get to the Veritas. Now, that path is older but they are still not skilled at hiding their trail. Perhaps we can still find and follow the older trail.”
“Four men walking. No sign of recent horses. Yes, four men — that should be an easy trail to follow.” She smiled at Shadow Walker.
“What do you mean about four men? Do you think four women would be harder to track?”
“Just a joke. I don’t really know all that much, but this trail is just as obvious as the first one I tried to follow. That time, we said that perhaps it’s because they’re on horses so they feel protected by their speed. And, it must be more difficult to hide horse hooves. But this time, there were no horses. I just don’t think it’s a skill they care much about. I have a feeling…an inkling…that we are nearby to something I will recognize. As I mentioned, Shadow, the Z-Lotz City is larger than you can imagine. I’m not really sure how many people go in and out of the city, but I think quite a few. If our four — visitors — came on an errand to — to summon — as it seems — Many Paths to their city, it was no secret. They may have come by a very busy path — at least busy once we get much closer.”
The walked along in silence for a time. Eagle Eyes finally continued, “Let’s go over to that knoll. Okay? I think I might recognize things from there.”
“Yes. Okay. By the way, I feel so much better after bathing. I think they had an illness that spreads easily among people — much like the mold that grows on old food. Do you also feel cleaner, Eagle Eyes?”
“Oh, definitely. Apart from the eye-prints of course.” She stared at Shadow Walker.
He stared back at her, frowned, and wondered what on earth she meant about eye-prints. Then, it hit him. “Oh! Sorry. I was busy bathing and looked up. And, there you were. I — “ Both of them looked up at the screeching sound of Eagles soaring in the distance.
Shadow Walker smiled. “They are beautiful. Do you like being named after eagles?”
“Oh, I like eagles! Yes. I may be named after them, but I am convinced their eyes are sharper than mine! I wonder how the training of the Eagles is coming. I cannot tell whether those are the eagles who have become our brothers and sisters. I wonder whether they can tell who we are at this distance. Maybe they can lead the way.” Eagle Eyes chuckled to herself.
Shadow Walker saw them careen away into dots and disappear. He turned back to Eagle Eyes and asked, “What about this knoll?”
Eagle Eyes pursed her lips and looked around in every direction. She looked at the peaks of the distant mountains. She sat in a meditative pose and closed her eyes.
Shadow Walker began, “Do you suppose…?”
Eagle Eyes shook her head and put her finger to her lips. She brought herself back mentally to the time she and Lion Slayer had journeyed home. Shadow Walker had no idea how long she might stay in this state, so he sat upon the ground and began reviewing all the things he had observed about the ROI and what Tu-Swift had said about them.
After a few moments, Eagle Eyes stood and smiled at Shadow Walker. “Found it! I think we just need to go over that ridge and I’ll be able to retrace the way that Lion Slayer & I used to leave the Z-Lotz. We should go that way — many fewer people.”
She sprang to her feet and put both her hands out to Shadow Walker. “Let’s go! You should follow me.”
Unlike Lion Slayer, Shadow Walker immediately realized this was the wise course.
Eagle Eyes turned back, drew close to Shadow Walker and whispered, “We are still a ways away, but I think we should whisper from now on.”
They walked on in silence till they got near the brow of the next hill. Eagle Eyes knelt down and, without looking back, gestured for Shadow Walker to do the same. He listened for and felt the wind caressing the tall grass around him. He only moved when the wind moved. The day still lay hot on the hills but small white clouds zoomed across the sky and each time they went from shadow to light or vice versa, a breeze came with the movement. This would make it harder for them to be seen.
Cat Eyes felt him draw near and when his ear was close she softly whispered into it, “If I’m right, just as soon as I come to the crest of this hill, I should know exactly which way to go. Before when Lion Slayer and I came, they were pre-occupied with the ROI and fresh news and now they may be more careful with their guards. Though it’s hard to predict the Z-Lotz.”
Lying in the grass this close to Cat Eyes with the wind shifting this way and that, Shadow Walker could not help but notice how nice her sweat smelled. That reminded him of Many Paths and he slipped his hand into his pocket and took out one of the Rings of Empathy. He held it in his hand and, as usual, felt somehow more connected to Many Paths. He knew it was just an odd feeling but somehow, he felt Many Paths was not … not right … something was wrong. Maybe, he thought, I’m just feeling a bit guilty about being attracted to Cat Eyes. Or, maybe, I’m just feeling anxious about the proximity to the Z-Lotz and the Killing Sticks. He wasn’t sure whether he should share his odd feelings with Cat Eyes or not. He wasn’t even sure he could put what he was feeling into words.
“Cat Eyes,” he whispered. “Do you see anyone?”
“No, but let’s wait another few minutes before we go to the top. We will see better there but also be seen more easily. I don’t see any cover at the top of the hill.”
“All right. It occurs to me, Cat Eyes, that we may become ill with that strange red sore illness that struck down the emissaries that came to visit us. Or, the people at our Center Place may also get ill. We should take that into account in our planning. We don’t want to fall ill and unable to run or fight inside the walls of the City of the Z-Lotz.”
“Good point. They became very ill indeed. It would be nice to steal a Killing Stick if we possibly can, but if either of us starts to feel ill, maybe we need to leave immediately.”
Shadow Walker chewed on his lip for a moment trying to think. “Yes, perhaps, Cat Eyes. I’d hate to return empty-handed. But the people we saw…they were all fine just a few days earlier. Or, at least, I didn’t notice anything to make me think they were sick.”
“Nor I, Shadow Walker.” Cat Eyes added, “I know where we are now for certain. I was right. I think we are safe to go down this hill and into that grove of trees. We can wait there till after sunset. Then, we can go in by the small door I found, assuming it is still unlocked.”
They took turns keeping watch but neither heard nor saw anyone. After the last threads of sunset had faded and long before the crescent moon rose, Cat Eyes crouched down and carefully walked up to the edge of the tall grass. Closer to the walls, the grass was somewhat trampled down, but far less so that she remembered. She saw no sentries; she heard no sentries. She got down on all fours and waited till the wind stirred. Then, she began crawling toward the postern gate with Shadow Walker close behind.
When she arrived, Cat Eyes stood up slowly and tried the door. It moved a fraction of an inch. She put her ear to the crack and heard no-one near. In the distance, she heard a baby crying; apparently, the parents were unable to console it, for the distant crying continued. She heard nothing else. But the stench of the city was considerable. She hadn’t noticed that the last time. Maybe just the wind direction, she mused. She knew that small doors could make large noises so she patiently applied more and more pressure until the door opened another tiny fraction. If she hurried too much, it could move suddenly and make a loud scraping noise or creak on its hinges. The door seemed much harder to open than she remembered, but all appeared well. The door opened two inches, then three. Soon, a four inch gap opened. But she could move it no farther. Shadow Walker stood beside her and, hearing no-one on the other side, they both pushed. Nothing. She pulled the door back and tried opening it a little faster. The door opened easily but only for a few inches. They tried to crane their neck to see inside but to no avail.
Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker felt the nearby wall but it was far too smooth to climb. Eagle Eyes put her hand behind Shadow Walker’s head and bent his ear down toward her lips. He listened to her suggestion and nodded silently. He got to his hands and knees.
Soon, Eagle Eyes was standing atop his broad shoulders peering over the top of the wall. She neither heard nor saw anyone. From here she could hear the sounds of people snoring. The baby still cried. But she heard no-one walking; she saw no one out and about so she swung her leg up and dropped down noiselessly on the other side. A large pottery urn kept the gate from opening. She pushed, but it did not move. She came to the gap and whispered to Shadow Walker. She lay on the ground bracing her back painfully against the door jamb and pushed with her feet while Shadow Walker put his shoulder to the door. They managed to move the pot a few more inches and then a few more. Finally, the gap was large enough for Shadow Walker to wriggle his flesh through the tight narrow opening.
Eagle Eyes looked back at the gate. It stood ajar. She glanced at Shadow Walker who nodded and closed the gate. For a terrible moment, she was afraid the gate would latch closed and if it locked, they would be trapped inside, or at least one of them would. Then, she saw that they would be able to scale the wall by using the very pot that had proved an impediment to getting in. Would anyone notice that they had moved the urn? She doubted it. They walked into a narrow passage way that went behind the place where she had witnessed the Killing Stick used by NUT-PI. She noticed that one side of that passageway was now filled with books. Perhaps it had been before. She hadn’t known what they were and she likely simply had not noticed them. Shadow Walker picked two of these strange objects and put them into his pack.
At the other end of this passageway was another door. It was locked. Since it seemed that everyone was asleep, as per plan, they quickly began searching quietly for some killing sticks. Shadow Walker saw a low building a short distance away that reminded him of the place the ROI had been keeping weapons. He gestured toward it and they began edging their way around a large courtyard toward it.
At last they arrived at the door. It opened easily. She slowly opened it, being careful not to make any noise. She heard a dull thud behind her. She turned to see Shadow Walker falling sideways among three armed warriors. Then, she felt her own arms being pinned behind her. She struggled mightily but to no avail. The world then went gray for her.
The Forgotten Field– A Myth about the Importance of Finding Common Ground