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“Breathe.” Many Paths gave herself this advice today. She had given it to so many others and had heard it all during her childhood from the elder Shaman, She Who Saves Many Lives. She intentionally calmed herself. She looked over to her mentor who seemed to be getting better yet again. Many Paths no longer trusted these improvements. Three times now, the Old Mother had seemed to have finally fought off the Red Death of Tiny Spiders, only to later slip back into a fitful and feverish sleep. Now, once again, She Who Saves Many Lives sat up in bed and beckoned for more of the healing tea. 

Many Paths turned toward the entrance to her cabin and said, “Tu-…” but then, she broke off. She chuckled at herself and shook her head. Just yesterday, she had decided to send her younger brother, Tu-Swift, off to the Veritas on the other side of the mountain. Many Paths thought he was the best person for it and not only because he would find the most pleasure in it, though that weighed heavily in her decision. Tu-Swift — so easy to get along with! Perhaps that was because she was his younger brother. No, she reflected that she got along very well with She Who Saves Many Lives, and with Eagle Eyes and with — well — most of the tribe. But things had gone horribly wrong with POND MUD and ALT-R. And yesterday — she sighed at the memory — things had not gone well with Trunk of Tree either. 

She handed the healing tea to She Who Saves Many Lives whose hands seemed steady; her gaze, quite alert. Many Paths judged it would be quite all right to let the Old Shaman sip the tea herself.  Nonetheless, she was startled when She Who Saves Many Lives spoke up so strongly and clearly.

“Lost in thought, Many Paths?” 

“Oh, well, yes, but I need not burden you with it. Drink your tea and rest. That’s what you need, Old Mother.” 

She Who Saves Many Lives laughed — and laughed without coughing — another good sign, thought Many Paths. 

“I suspect I have a great deal more experience deciding what I need, dear Daughter.” 

Many Paths reddened. “Oh. I didn’t mean … I’m glad you’re feeling better. I just don’t want to see you slip back into illness,” said Many Paths. 

“I know, dear. I appreciate that. Don’t worry. I’m not going to jump out of bed and run down to the river. But I think it would do my mind well to focus on something. If it’s private, of course, you don’t have to tell me. But you do seem troubled.”

Many Paths looked carefully at She Who Saves Many Lives. “I — I cannot seem to get along with Trunk of Tree. I worry. He gets angry so easily. He tells himself a story that makes him angry — and then, he doesn’t bother to find out whether the story is even true! It makes me so — “

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The Old Shaman’s eyes twinkled. “Angry?” 

Many Paths shook her head and laughed. “Yes. You got me. I get angry too. But — I don’t stomp off somewhere. Honestly. He’s strong. We could use him. We’ve lost so many people, and there are so many things to do — all at the same time — and — instead of helping…. I want to see Shadow Walker every bit as much as he wants to see Eagle Eyes. Surely, he must know that!” 

She Who Saves Many Lives tilted her head and as Many Paths looked at her, she realized that the Old Mother had the hint of a smile at the corner of her mouth and more than a hint hiding behind those deep and ancient eyes. Many Paths pursed her lips together and shook her head. Then, she chuckled. “All right. All right. He does not really know. That’s the essence of the problem. He grabs hold of the first picture that comes to mind…and now I am doing the same. Despite my name.” Many Paths shook her head again, and sighed deeply. “All right, Old Mother. But what can I do about it. You are such a good teacher. But how do I teach someone who refuses to even consider another opinion?”

“Ah, the answer to that would be quite useful indeed! If I had the answer to that puzzle, Alt-R and POND MUD would still be with us. My dear, I am sorry, but I had some fever and I’m afraid my memory is not quite…remind me again why Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes are not here yet.”

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“Of course. Sorry. We got a message tied to the leg of one of the eagles that were trained. Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes, as you may recall, went on a reconnaissance trip to the Great Stone Village of the Z-Lotz. There, they were captured. No, no, don’t frown yet! Here’s the amazing part. They are ruling there!”

Many Paths smiled to see that she had quite surprised She Who Saves Many Lives, whose eyes had widened considerably, as she said, “Hah! How? How?” 

“We don’t know. There was only room to write a little. They found the parents of Cat Eyes. They should arrive soon at our village. That’s all I know. I suppose I don’t even know that for sure. I feel it is true, but the message might have been sent by the Z-LOTZ as part of a trick to lure us into a false sense of security. But if that were the case, why would they say that our two scouts had been imprisoned? Anyway, even if they are “rulers”, I do worry. But, unlike Trunk of Tree, I’m not worried about them mating, which seems to be what Trunk of Tree is convinced has happened. I really wanted him to take a small party there to make sure everything is fine. At some point, I expect to see Shadow Walker again, but he — they — cannot just leave right away. At least, I can’t think of how they can. Anyway, Tu-Swift went to see the Veritas on the other side of the mountain. He’s being helpful, at least. But Trunk of Tree stormed off saying he didn’t care what they did with each other. So, now, I have to find a few others to journey there. I want….I want there to be peace, Old Mother, peace among all the tribes and among all the people. But I am having trouble even getting one man I’ve know my whole life to do as I say. How can I bring peace among all the tribes?” 

“Surely you have noticed, My Daughter, that at night, if you want to see a dim star, you cannot stare directly at it. You need to look a bit off to the side. And sometimes, that works with difficult problems. Instead of charging into it, sometimes it helps to put your mind to something seemingly unrelated for a time.”

Many Paths sighed. “All right. I’ll try it. I’m only going in circles now, anyway. What should we discuss?”

She Who Saves Many Lives nodded. “When you told me this little story, an old puzzle came to mind. I don’t think I’ve ever told it to you, but I may have. Anyway, there are two locked boxes. Each contains the other box’s one and only key. The only way to open the boxes is with the keys. You can’t use a knife or termites, for instance. Here’s the thing. I am able to open both boxes. How is that possible, Many Paths? How can I do it?”

{Translator’s Note:} So far as the records show, the Veritas at this time had a unique way of making “keys.” Keys and locks were made at the same time by precisely breaking crystals. Apparently, because of this method, every lock had exactly one and only one key that would open it and every key fit exactly one lock.


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