Shadow Walker looked out on the crowd before him. A few moments earlier, he had been facing humiliation and death by torture at the hands of this cruel bully, NUT-PI. Now, the people were looking to Shadow Walker as their new leader. Out of sight, his fingers nervously nervously rolled the sixth ring of empathy — the one that only he shared with Many Paths. Indeed, there were so many paths for what to say. He began by really accepting that, for now at least, he was their leader. And, who were these people, really? He looked out at the faces trying to look straight through the eyes and into the souls of as many as he could. He could see that the eyes of the adults, and even many of the children, were intentionally shrouded from him.
Signals came through, nonetheless. Some of the children were still open hearted. Several of the people were shaking with fever. Many nearby sported the telltale red sores. They were expectant, he could sense, but they were also disappointed. They had come here to see a blood show. Only NUT-PI had been killed, at least so far. But most of the people wanted more. They wanted an enemy to destroy — and who would make a better target than strangers from other tribes?
“Look!” He began in a voice that rang both loud and clear. His ability to speak in ROI was limited and his Z-Lotz was nearly non-existent. He held his empty hands aloft. Using sign language, he asked his audience to look at their hands as well. “Same!” Then, he did the same for his hair, his eyes, his ears, his arms which were quite muscular. “Same!”
“You and I. We fight together! You came here for kill. We will kill! We will kill these horrible red … spiders! They are small! Very small! But there are many of them. They have eaten some of your people. They are many. They are hungry. But you are big. And smart. And together, we will kill this strange enemy. They have killed your friends. They have killed you children, you sister, you brother, you father, you mother. They want to kill you. I say NO! No more will they kill. We will kill them instead.”
Shadow Walker saw Eagle Eyes working through the crowd to stand beside him. As she ascended the small stone dais, she pointed to the sky. He followed her finger and looked up to the sky, hoping for some inspiration. In the distance, he saw eagles soaring on the updrafts. One joined from afar, circled with them for a moment, and then shot down toward him. Despite the gravity and delicacy of his current position, he chuckled silently to himself and said under his breath, “a little late to do much good.” Then, he frowned as the huge bird swooped toward him. “With no NUT-PI to attack…I wonder…” He quickly wrapped his tunic around his forearm and put his strong arm out as a perch for the bird hoping it was trained to alight rather than tear out his eyes. For its size, the eagle was amazingly light. It skillfully stopped its descent and landed on his arm. He could see that it carried a message and, working hard to control his own breathing and heartbeat, he forced calm upon himself. He reminded himself that this eagle was also his brother and wanted a clean clear world of truth and beauty.
He took the small piece of bark and decoded the small marks. He glanced at Eagle Eyes and handed her the note as well. She read and then spoke in a surprisingly loud, clear voice. “This is surely a sign from the Great Bear of the Sky. He sends us a message at our time of need. Shall your leader — Shadow Walker — tell you what it says?”
Shadow Walker stared for a moment at Eagle Eyes and frowned. He trusted her so he softened his brow and reinforced her message. His voice rang out and echoed off the far walls of stone. “My people! Indeed! We have received a message. The Great Bear of the Sky tells us that we will have victory in our war against the dread red plague of many spiders! He tells us — through a very wise shaman — that we must separate most of those who are well from those who are sick. The sick must be given much tea. Those of us who are well will make much tea for the sick. Rose hips. Elderberry. Yarrow. Yellow Dock.” The faces of the crowd were blank. Not knowing the words for these, he had slipped into the Veritas names. His sign language had not helped much.
Tree Vines strode up beside him and translated these instructions into Z-Lotz. Now, Shadow Walker could see nods and eyes that understood. He turned to Tree Vines and silently thanked him.
Shadow Walker spoke again, this time pausing after every sentence so that Tree Vines had time to translate. “I need you now to pledge to me that you will all join me in killing this sneaky unseen enemy of tiny red spiders!” The crowd responded enthusiastically. He continued.
“The people need a Minister to organize the finding of these herbs and the making of the tea. We need a Minister to organize the distribution of this tea to the sick. This will be done by those who have already recovered from the red plague. The people need a Minister to help organize where people will stay so that sick people do not make well people also sick. If you think you could do any of these jobs, come up here and let us speak.”
“Meanwhile, all the rest of you can help kill the red plague spiders by going home and scrubbing your hands and threshing your floors anew.”
A voice rang out from the crowd. “What about killing the prisoners? We want to watch them die!”
Eagle Eyes spoke out, “You have today witnessed a miracle! A message came from the sky! I have read this message to you. It says nothing about killing prisoners. Anyone can be brave enough to kill someone tied up. Anyone. A child can do it. Are you a people brave enough to fight an invisible enemy? Are you a people brave enough to fight against a whole sea of terrible deadly spiders? Are you a people brave enough and wise enough to follow the orders from the Great Bear in the Sky? I believe you are! You are the army! We must fight this invisible army against us. Go and kill these horrible spiders in and around your own tents and cabins. I say these teeny spiders have killed enough ROI; have killed enough Z-Lotz. Now go! Only those who want to be Ministers should remain.”
Most of the crowd dispersed but seven remained: six men and one woman. The first man approached and said in passable Veritas, “I am Dictard Bennoli. I will be your minister to help organize where people will be. I know where all the best people live and, more importantly, I know how to access the gold of NUT-PI. I only require a small portion of that gold for myself. I will help you and you can trust me.”
Shadow Walker frowned. “Your people — our people — our people die. So many are sick. Why are you — you are trying to get gold now? Don’t you understand? Most of you could die. Why would you want gold? It will do you no good if you are dead.”
“We all want gold. It buys what we want. What is the point of being a Minister — or a King for that matter — if there is nothing in it for us? I don’t know what magic allows you to speak to eagles, but I know this “message” — if it even exists — is not from the Great Sky Bear.”
Shadow Walker didn’t like to lie or even stretch the truth. He had followed the lead of Eagle Eyes and now he found himself stuck in a dilemma. He disliked this man before him, but ….
Eagle Eyes stepped forward. “I am glad you speak Veritas so well. But we do not speak Z-Lotz well. Only Tree Vines.” Here she gestured at Tree Vines who was now busy embracing his wife. Eagle Eyes could hardly blame him for that. “He is busy. But he will help translate. It is a message from The Great Bear of the Sky that has been sent from a part of the Great Tree of Life. It comes from one among us known as ‘She Who Saves Many Lives.’ Why is she named that, do you suppose? She is named that because she has saved many lives. And continues to do so. She, like us, is a part of the Great Tree of Life. She sent this message with an eagle, another part of the Great Tree of Life. She sent this message to us, and we are another part of the Great Tree of Life. She sent it to save lives! The Great Bear of the Sky loves the people. All the people. This is a message from The Great Bear of the Sky and comes from the sky in order to save lives.” She paused. “Do you understand?”
“Oh, yes, I understand. You want to be one of the Ministers yourself — you offer sex to this Shadow Walker in order to get the gold that should be mine!”
Shadow Walker scrunched up his face. “Eagle Eyes is my friend. We are both with someone else. This is about saving lives, not divvying up gold. I need Ministers who want to save lives, not Ministers who wish to make their own purse heavy with gold!”
“In that case, the Z-Lotz deserve a better King. As is our way, anyone who kills you deserves to be King. Dictard drew a strange small twisted scrap of metal out of his pocket and pointed the tip toward Shadow Walker. Eagle Eyes saw that this scrap of metal had parts much like the Killing Stick of NUT-PI and instantly grabbed hold of the arm of Dictard Bennoli. She pushed his hand down and bent his wrist painfully. Just before he was forced to drop his tiny Killing Stick, he managed to pull the trigger. A loud bang startled everyone and the crowd turned back. A high pitched scream rent the air. It sounded much like the call of a eagle, but much louder. Dictard lie writhing on the ground holding the remains of his shattered knee with both hands.
Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker exchanged glances. She spoke again in her loud, clear voice. “You heard that! It was the sound of one whose heart is filled with treachery. He pretended to want to help. He came to kill our new King, Shadow Walker. He now lies on the ground with a shattered knee. If anyone else wishes to vanquish our King, I urge you to be brave enough to challenge him openly, not to try to kill with concealed and dishonorable weapons. Are there any? Any challengers? No? Good. Now, let us work together to kill our real enemy! Let us kill these deadly and poisonous spiders.”
Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker spent the rest of the day finding from among the Z-Lotz and ROI, three Ministers who seemed to understand that they were servants of their people. They felt proud to help solve the problem of this red death, not to use the occasion to line their own pockets with gold.
Eagle Eyes could make neater, smaller lines than Shadow Walker. After allowing the well-trained eagle to feast a bit on the flesh of NUT-PI, she made a short note and attached it to the Eagle’s leg and set it free, hoping the eagle would take the note back to the Center Place of the Veritas where it could be seen by Many Paths and Trunk of Tree, among others. She had no assurance that the eagle would do as she had asked, but at least it took off in the right direction. She had written in the note that she and Shadow Walker might be required to stay for a time. She had saved Shadow Walker’s life. Feelings that she thought were reserved for Trunk of Tree somehow arose in her. And, these feelings were aimed at Shadow Walker who was betrothed to her dearest friend, Many Paths. She wondered whether he felt the same. She sighed. First things first. And the first thing was to save lives.
The First Ring of Empathy (The beginning of the Myths of the Veritas, Book One)
Feast and Fire (The beginning of the Myths of the Veritas, Book Two)
The Orange Man (A legend of the Veritas about the effects of greed and lies)