Trunk of Tree wrapped his wound with boiled yellow dock and plantain leaves and then tied strips of rawhide to hold the poultice in place. He clenched his teeth. Then, he clenched them tighter still. He realized that he was hungry and exhausted. He had hiked aimlessly and alone for three days. Most of that time, he had been angry — so angry that he had stupidly stepped heavily upon the dry branch of a fallen tree. The branch had snapped and as his weight drew his leg downward now that nothing any longer held it; at the same time, the sharp end of the broken branch snapped upward, making a long gash in the side of his lower leg.
He mentally listed his grievances. He was angry at the red death. He was angry at Many Paths for sending her own betrothed, Shadow Walker, with the only woman Trunk of Tree had ever loved, Eagle Eyes, on a mission together and now they were far away, living as king and queen and surely, they were mating now. Trunk of Tree clenched his fists and banged them down hard on the trunk of the fallen tree that he sat on. Even in his nearly blind anger, some small part of his brain knew enough to hit the bark with the side of his hand rather than his knuckles. That survival part of his brain knew that injuring his hands would not help him in his current situation, nor allow him somehow to win back Eagle Eyes, should he so deign.
Trunk of Tree swallowed a wordless growl as he thought about how angry he was with She Who Saves Many Lives. She had chosen Many Paths as her successor and then made up various schemes and tests to make it come true. He was sure of it. Many Paths was a woman and it annoyed Trunk of Tree that he had not been chosen as leader. He was much stronger than Many Paths. And, he knew what to do in any situation immediately while Many Paths apparently, he thought, felt obligated to live up to her name and think of a thousand ways to kill a deer while he just picked up the nearest stone and whacked it on the head. That wouldn’t work of course, but that wasn’t the point.
Trunk of Tree could hear his stomach growl. He hadn’t eaten all day and the scant supplies he had grabbed as he stormed off had run out early yesterday. He looked down and saw deer tracks plain as day run through this small clearing where he had made his fire. Some of these tracks are fresh. Good, he thought. He stood up.
“My leg is okay to walk on,” he mumbled to himself. “It’s not bleeding through my crude bandaging. Good,” he muttered. “I don’t want the scent to scare off the deer. Nor my anger. I must slow my breathing and become one with the track and with the deer and with the traces of the deer and with wants and needs of the deer.”
Trunk of Tree began to imagine once again that Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes were together. “I need to discipline myself. I need to concentrate. I can kill them later if need be. But first, I need to find food. I need to focus on the deer. Find the deer. Find the deer. Kill the deer. Eat the deer.”
He found that his wound did not slow him down much. The deer tracks were becoming fresher. At last he caught a glimpse of the buck he had been tracking. The hunter bent down and tightened the straps holding his bandage in place. When he stood back up, the buck was nowhere to be seen. He was still walking upwind and long training allowed him to stalk stealthily. He began to croon one of the soft hunting chants that he had learned as a boy. Although the slightest snap of a twig or a sudden movement would sent the buck bounding off through the brush, these songs seemed to pique the curiosity of the deer allowing a much closer approach.
“I am the deer.
My mind is clear.
I walk with no sound,
Yet I sing you my song.
We all go to ground.
It cannot be wrong.
Come become a part of me.
Someday I’ll die too.
Perhaps becoming part of you.
This is how it’s meant to be.
I am the deer.
My mind is clear.”
Trunk of Tree halted. The track led into a dense thicket of blackberry bushes. Trunk of Tree smiled at the irony. The only reason he would be able to keep tracking the deer was because of his deer skin clothing. A smile crept onto the corner of his lips. This irony was all the funnier because he himself had killed the deer whose skin he was using. His memory flashed back to that day. Eagle Eyes, naturally, had first spotted the track. Trunk of Tree had begun to run after it since the tracks seemed so fresh. Shadow Walker had grabbed him, faced him and sniffed the air. Shadow Walker had been right. They would have simply spooked the deer.
Anyway, Trunk of Tree, thought to himself, enough reminiscing. “I must return to the moment.” Trunk of Tree slid sideways through the thicket fairly easily. When he came out the other side though, the deer track went right into a cliff. He stared at the track. It made no sense. He began to recite his song again and followed the track right up to … a solid stone wall. He muttered to himself, “This makes no sense. Is this another of those stupid magic doors? I don’t see ….”
Then, Trunk of Tree noticed that what seemed to have been a solid wall really contained a narrow passageway barely wide enough for a deer. The rock walls of the passage tilted outwards slightly. As he walked through, he noticed markings along the moss and rock tripe growing on those wall as though deer antlers had scraped through. When he made it through this passage, he saw the deer tracks veer off to his left down toward a spring. The deer was not in sight. He contemplated tracking the deer across the cold running stream. If he did, his bandage would certainly be washed away along with the medicinal herbs he had so carefully searched out, boiled, and applied.
He wished Eagle Eyes were here. Her eyes were remarkably good. Trunk of Tree tried to push the image away, but it came back. And as he imaged Eagle Eyes beside him, he realized for the first time in his life that Eagle Eyes not only had remarkable vision. She looked at things differently. Trunk of Trees eyes darted always, as did everyone’s. But sometimes, Eagle Eyes looked — for a long time — and she looked methodically. She looked patiently. Trunk of Tree bit his lower lip. It wasn’t just her eyes — it was her patience — and her method that made her so valuable. And, then, Trunk of Tree had another insight. While he may never have such clear vision as Eagle Eyes, he could use her patience and her method.
Trunk of tree looked off to the right. His stomach rumbled again, as though he needed to be reminded of his hunger. He decided to ignore that for a moment and he looked up the slope to his right, trying to imagine the way Eagle Eyes would look. He looked back and forth along a large rock outcropping and realized that something was amiss. At first, he couldn’t tell what. Then, in his mind, he heard the voice of Eagle Eyes say “road” in her wonderful voice. “Road” he muttered to himself. “What road?” He walked up the slope the length of a fallen pine and sure enough, there was a man-made road up there. He looked back toward the cleft in the rock that he had just slid through. There was no sign of the cleft. He walked back down. He couldn’t really see that the cleft was there until he was almost upon it. He walked back up to the road and scanned the far side of the stream, looking for a sign of the deer in the same patient, methodical way that Eagle Eyes would have used. He decided to walk along the road for a time. He now saw that it curved gently around the base of what appeared to be a mountain. As he walked he kept stopping and looking back toward the creek to see whether the deer had reappeared.
Trunk of Tree shook his head muttering to himself yet again. “I’m so damned hungry, I’m imagining the smell of deer meat cooking.” Then, he stopped and sniffed the air. “No,” he thought, “that’s no illusion. That is the smell of venison cooking.”
As he followed the road, the scent strengthened. The road took a sharp turn to the right. Trunk of Tree found himself hungrier than ever now, but he slowed his pace. He may be coming upon enemies. He heard voices! Enemies! Wait, he thought. They are speaking Veritas. He frowned and thought, “That boy’s voice sounds exactly like…like that of Tu-Swift! Have I been going in circles?”
Trunk of Tree stepped off the path and pressed himself against the rock, peering from behind a tree that grew next to the rocks. Coming down the path he saw Tu-Swift…holding hands with Cat Eyes!
Seeing no-one else, Trunk of Tree stepped back to the road and looked again, forcing himself to look carefully, as Eagle Eyes might do.
He swallowed hard and spoke out loud. “Tu-Swift? Is that you? And Cat Eyes? What are you doing here?”
Tu-Swift and Cat Eyes were both startled at the sudden appearance of the large, well-muscled body of Trunk of Tree and both reflexively hit the ground on either side of the path.
Tu-Swift realized a split second later that it really was Trunk of Tree. He climbed back onto the path and yelled happily, “Trunk of Tree! Hey! Well met!” He loped toward him and embraced him. Cat Eyes came up as well and smiled at Trunk of Tree and took one of his hands.
Tu-Swift shook his head. “How on earth did you get here? You’re nowhere near the ancient tunnel!”
Trunk of Tree frowned. “How did I get here? How did … where am I exactly?”
Cat Eyes answered, “You are in the village of the Veritas. The village you call ‘The Veritas on the far side of the mountain. But how did you get here? And, what happened to your leg?”