Tu-Swift busied himself for days walking to the river for water in order to help She Who Saves Many Lives with her ministrations to the many Veritas who had fallen ill. The most recent victim was Sooz. Tu-Swift helped her imbibe some of the special healing tea that the elder Shaman prepared. But no matter what, he couldn’t seem to bring the fever down. At one point, as he sat on the ground beside her, holding her hand, and resting, he noticed that his knee was not bothering him. Tu-Swift found this a little surprising because he had been walking so much to help assuage the sick. He wondered whether the walking could actually somehow help mend his knee. He looked over at Sooz. He thought about the first time he had ever noticed her. One of the things he found attractive about her, aside from her wonderful scent, was her beautiful smooth skin. Now she smelled of stale sweat and her skin had erupted into a mountain range of red dots. He found it odd that her current state did nothing to diminish her love for her. In fact, he felt closer to her than ever.
Tu-Swift paid no conscious attention to anything beyond Sooz. Yet, his experiences kept a part of his mind ever attuned to the outside world. He felt, more than heard, the growing buzz of excitement outside. He pulled open the flap of Sooz’s cabin door and saw many of the Veritas pointing and talking excitedly. His eyes followed he pointing and there seemed to be some commotion on the hillside on the border of the Center Place. It was hard to make out faces, but he immediately recognized the garb of Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah. Tu-Swift swallowed hard and his heart began to beat hard. He loved Suze, but he missed Cat Eyes so much! He hadn’t realized till this moment how much he missed her. He forgot about his hurt knee entirely and loped toward the commotion. He spotted Trunk of Tree next — hard to miss his big frame — and he smiled to recognize Fleet of Foot. And, he nodded as he saw Jaccim. What was going on? Why were they shouting at each other? Where was Cat Eyes?
That must be her, he thought, but even as he thought it, he realized, no, she could have changed that much. Now, he began to fear something horrible had happened. He drew even closer. There were guards shouting at Trunk of Tree and he was shouting back.
Tu-Swift stopped and got no closer. Even at his age, he recognized that when there is a shouting match, adding more people, generally doesn’t improve the situation. At last, he began to “get” what was happening. This was indeed the party returning from the attempt to visit the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks, but the Veritas guards here had been told to keep the party away from the central village. Tu-Swift wondered whether his sister, Many Paths had given that order or if it had been She Who Saves Many Lives. Many Paths was fairly well recovered but not quite. Just then, he notice She Who Saves Many Lives stride past him and walk toward the shouting match.
Tu-Swift wondered how such an ancient lady had caught up with him so quickly. He smiled as he recalled his sister remarking on several occasions that it seemed as though She Who Sees Many Lives had an almost magical intuition to know where she was most needed and appear there. So, thought Tu-Swift, this is what she was talking about. He smiled.
As She Who Saves Many Lives approached she shot her right hand out holding her staff and said, “SILENCE!”
And silence ensued. And then, her voice rang out loud and true.
“Now, listen to me. It is I who ordered the guards to stop you here. We welcome you back and we are all eager to learn of your travels. But you must listen! We have a plague here. Many of us are sick! Some have died. Many Paths herself is just now recovering. This sickness covers you with ugly red dots and gives you a high fever. It is just like mold on fruit or the white powder flies on leaves. It goes from one person to another. We don’t know yet whether all of us will get sick or just some of us. It’s possible — not likely but possible — that everyone here will die. In that case, for the people not to die, you must stay away from us for a time. I know you are all eager to see us and as I said, we are just as eager to see you! But you cannot come any closer right now.”
The returning Veritas murmured but they all nodded their heads to signal their understanding — all save Trunk of Tree who bellowed, “I live here! This is my village. It is not up to you, I say with great respect — it is not up to you.”
The strong voice of She Who Saves Many Lives sung out, “You may well wonder where and how this plague came upon us. I will tell you. We had visitors from the Z-Lotz and we believe we got it from them. In fact, we think they did it on purpose. They also gave us a gift of something they call “glass” which has caused grievous wounds and sickness in Stone Chipper and his son, Sees Horses. Now, for the sake of the Great Bear in the Sky, tell us whether there really are Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks. And, now, I see that you have brought the answer with you, if I am not mistaken.”
She Who Saves Many Lives nodded and put her hand out toward Flowing Waters and said in a softer, but still carrying tone, “Welcome sister. I am called She Who Saves Many Lives though I am afraid it is a bit of a misnomer. It is the people themselves who save lives because they learn much, and they help each other out, and when they disagree they talk things out until they agree or make arrangements not to interfere with each other. I can see by your face that you understand me, so you must be from our cousins over the Twin Peaks. I’m sorry we have to keep you away until we stop getting sick over here. Are you kin to Cat Eyes?”
“I understand, She Who Saves Many Lives. I am called by the name “Flowing Waters” because somehow, what I see flows like water out of my fingers and into paintings. I am indeed from the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks as you say. Though we had a legend that you were the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks.” She smiled and paused.
She Who Saves Many Lives laughed aloud and most of the Veritas joined in. Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah joined in. Jaccim looked from one face to another and clearly could not understand why everyone else was laughing.
She Who Saves Many Lives continued, “Trunk of Tree. You were in charge of this expedition and I see that you were successful! Congratulations! Believe me, we want you to come and celebrate as is our way as soon as we possibly can. It would be a fine way to repay your wisdom and courage to give some dread disease that might kill you, right? What would Eagle Eyes think of us all when she returns here. Can you imagine that conversation? She would say, ‘Look, we brought back a killing stick. What of Trunk of Tree? Was he also successful? I want to see him!’ And, then I would say, ‘Oh, yes he was successful. I can show you where his body is buried.’ And then she would say, ‘How did he die?’ And, then, I would say, ‘Oh, yes, well, everyone in the village was deathly ill so we had him come in and catch the disease and die rather than having him keep a safe distance for a time. I hope we did the right thing. He very much wanted to get in the village.’
“And, though no-one can predict the future with certainty, I imagine that she would say something like, ‘How stupid!’ and I think she would be correct. And she would be very sad to know you were dead and that rather than dying as a hero in battle fighting to protect your village, instead you died of red pimple disease because you couldn’t be bothered camping at a safe distance. I cannot have that on my head. And, by he way, she wouldn’t just blame me; she would blame the whole of the Veritas. How could a village be so stupid as to let one of her mightiest and bravest warriors needlessly die? And she would be right to blame the whole village. Including you.
“Enough of this though, tell us your exciting news. Are all the Veritas on the other side of the Twin Mountains as charming and comely as Flowing Waters and Cat Eyes? And where is Cat Eyes, though I suspect I know. And, how did you get there? We want to hear the whole story, but for now, the essence will do.”
Trunk of Tree tried to organize things in his head. What to say first? Most important, the Veritas. “Yes, there are Veritas — many of them — on the other side of the Twin Peaks. They have no interaction with other tribes except for the predations of the ROI and the Z-Lotz. Cat Eyes — she had hoped to see her parents, but they had left to try to find her and were never heard from again. And… and … oh, yes so she is staying there with her people. I think she really likes the mint tea they serve there. And, we went through a tunnel but not a dirt tunnel. It was more like a … well, I guess what Cat Eyes called a ‘City.’ Smooth. Dark. But lights. Then, we came back.”
She Who Saves Many Lives blinked a few times. “Thank you, Trunk of Tree. This is exciting news you bring, indeed. Again, Congratulations. Anyone else have any observations?”
Fleet of Foot glanced at Trunk of Tree, then added, “The Veritas have a leader named ‘Gentle Talons.’ They had a prophesy for someone such as Cat Eyes to return and bring a great truth. And, as it turns out, she did — exactly that! You see, our cousins over the Mountains had excavated a huge underground pantry. But instead of food for the body in the pantry, this giant pantry — which, it turns out, is called a ‘library’, contains thousands of what they call ‘books.’ They had no idea what those things were! They knew they were filled with marks. But no-one knew what those marks meant. Then, Cat Eyes appeared, and — because of what she and Tu-Swift had discovered, they could begin to decode every one of these books! The books are filled with important knowledge! It was so lucky that Cat Eyes came here — and that she and Tu-Swift were friends! Now, we can all find out so much more about the world. She needs to stay there for now because she is by far the fastest and best decoder they have. And, oh, by the way, Tu-Swift, I have two books for you on training birds. She also wrote a small book just for you personally, but — but — well, I eventually need to see you about it in person.”
Tu-Swift brightened at that. He was glad that Sooz was back in the cabin. Then, he realized he would have turned even brighter still and she would have seen it. I need to see her! he thought. I miss Cat Eyes! I could take Sooz. I have to wait though till no-one is sick. We don’t want to take our disease to the Veritas on the other side of the Twin Peaks. Imagine! I go see Cat Eyes and get her entire tribe of cousins sick. What a great friend I would be!
It proved frustrating, not only for Trunk of Tree, but for everyone not to be able to clasp hands, hug, and have these information exchanges and congratulations be much more intimate and extended. Yet, it is the sweetest nuts that have the hardest shells. All of the Veritas knew that. It there were not a hard shell, that might seem more convenient for the moment you are trying to open it. But, of course, a moment more of thought would reveal that the nuts would likely never survive to reach a human hand or a human mouth. Nuts without any such shell would be eaten by the small beasts that were out all the time looking for food. In fact, all knew that being able to put off pleasure for future gain was what enabled humans to survive as humans. For this reason, Veritas children, including Trunk of Tree had been trained from an early age to wait. For now, they would settle for telling tales at a distanced.
The exchanges lasted until sundown whereupon the returning exploration party made camp on the outskirts. After much dialogue, they decided that the “gift books” would be put some ways from their campsite and left there overnight. Tu-Swift and others would only collect their books tomorrow evening.
Tu-Swift, despite having talked himself hoarse, found his head still swirling with so many additional questions. He went in to check on Sooz. He had already decided that he would wait until she was fully recovered before broaching the subject of visiting the … visiting the library. That was the way to put it so that she would want to go. Sooz was as exciting as anyone about this writing and reading. Although she needed her rest, he could not keep from her the news about the library! “Sooz! Sooz! Wake up! I’ve got something amazing to tell you. Sooz!”
His voice dropped to a plea. “Sooz?”
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