Shadow Walker sat in silence at the edge of the dimly lit “Royal Chamber.” It was his turn to “stand watch” and though he had trained his mind to concentrate, his mind nonetheless wandered from time to time. He thought of many things, but mainly of Many Paths. Despite the myriad talents of Eagle Eyes, he wished Many Paths were there instead. The mind of Many Paths was well suited to thinking through the current dilemma. Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes had agreed to provisionally treat his three chosen ministers as confidants. He had hated to do it, but he fed each one of them different “confidential” information which he asked that they not share with anyone else. In this way, he could eventually success whom he could really trust.
In the “Royal Bed”, as it was known, they had folded extra blankets to make it appear that two people were sleeping cuddled together. Meanwhile, he and Eagle Eyes had agreed to take turns watching to see whether any assassin would appear. This much, at least, seemed like a good plan for now, but they needed their sleep. It wasn’t sustainable to stay alert on short sleep indefinitely. And besides, it wasn’t only in their sleep they could be assassinated. Even if they managed to avoid death at night, could they be on their guard sufficiently to protect themselves the entire rest of the day? Day after Day?
At least being potentially beset on all sides helped Shadow Walker stay awake for his shift. He could see the form of Eagle Eyes lying asleep on the floor near the opposite wall. He cared for her. She had already saved his life at least twice since arriving at the City of the Z-Lotz. For now at least, the Z-Lotz as well as the remnants of the ROI treated him as king and bowed down deeply to him. This was a move which invariably sickened Shadow Walker inwardly, but he tried to portray the face of someone who would find such actions pleasant. For this image, he chose his memory of Trunk of Tree whom he imagined would like it if people bowed down to him.
Trunk of Tree. There was another dilemma. Trying to convince Many Paths that I was dead? Trying to take her for his own mate though — what about Eagle Eyes? He was good in a battle. That much was so. Perhaps, he … he takes actions that might lead to war because that is what he’s good at? This will not help me here though…although, it does relate to trust. Trust.
Trust is hard! That much seems certain. Trunk of Tree and I have been friends our whole lives and yet…
Suddenly, Shadow Walker stopped breathing to listen better. He had thought he heard a commotion outside. This “City” as the Z-Lotz called it, was always noisy, even at night. But the noise was not a harmonious, peaceful song as given by the birds, bugs and bullfrogs of night. For a moment, it was too quiet and then … a disconcerting noise. So, maybe it was nothing. He heard nothing more and gradually relaxed his muscles. His mind turned back to trust.
He did actually trust Tree Vines, and to some extent, Tree Vine’s wife, Gathers Acorns, as well. And, that degree of trust may have slowed his hand just enough as he leapt to his feet and nearly beheaded her. In an instant, Eagle Eyes was awake and on her feet as well, bow in hand and drawn.
Shadow Walker was so taken aback by his nearly killing one of the few people they could trust, he stood speechless. Eagle Eyes hissed, “What are you doing here? You sneak into someone’s chamber in the middle of the night? You could have been killed! How would that be? How would we explain that to Cat Eyes? How … “
Gathers Acorns held up her hand and shook her head slowly. “Stop! Listen! You must hear my tale and then you can decide whether I acted stupidly.”
Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes looked at each other a moment and sighed. Shadow Walker calmed his breathing but his mind was still not totally convinced she wasn’t there to assassinate him. He tightened his jaw and nodded for her to speak.
“No time for long explanations, but many, many Z-lotz are coming to kill you tonight just before dawn. You must leave now. Immediately. Tree Vines and I will accompany you if we may. We have provisions. Take whatever is close to hand. Your weapons. We must go quickly!”
Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes again looked to each other for guidance. Then, they realized they were both doing it and it struck both of them as funny. In different circumstances, they might have laughed. As it was, however, Eagle Eyes spoke, “We don’t have time to destroy — or take — all the killing sticks! Should we take a few?”
In Shadow Walker’s mind a picture flashed: As a young brave, he had been looking over the edge of a deep well. His dad held him tight across his waist. Far below, he thought he could see a reflection of himself, but it was dim. He wasn’t sure. So, he waved to the reflection to see whether it would wave back. In his excitement, he had forgotten that his waving hand held his favorite rock — a gray crystal of galena — lead ore. The rock slid from his hand. He realized in an instant it was gone forever. Inaccessible.
Shadow Walker looked at Eagle Eyes and said, “We don’t need to destroy them. Let’s make them all inaccessible.”
“How?” Eagle Eyes shook her head and shrugged her shoulders.
For all we know, no-one but us actually knows how to move the partition or even that the weapons are there. It would be just like NUT-PI not to tell anyone about it. He would have that special lever made and then likely killed the carpenter who did it. Or, perhaps, the threat of death would be enough. In any case, we can likely destroy the link between the knob and the partition. We can’t count on no-one knowing. Or, breaking through the wall if necessary.”
Gathers Acorns drew near and put one hand on each of their shoulders. “We can also make them inaccessible another way. It won’t take long. I’ll see to it while you pack up. Don’t make a disturbance and keep whatever you take to a minimum.”
Shadow Walker strode to the knob on the back of the bed. He thought it possible that yanking hard might break the connection. He didn’t feel it had actually broken, but a narrow wooden rod now stuck out a few inches. Shadow Walker drew his sword and hacked straight through the rod. He could hear a clattering down below the floor.
Eagle Eyes looked at Shadow Walker. “You realize, we can’t get them either.”
“I know. I know that I made a decision for the whole tribe.”
Gathers Acorns reappeared with Tree Vines. She said breathlessly, “It is done! Let us go!”
For a brief moment, it occurred to Shadow Walker that it could all be a trap.
“Trust”, he whispered to himself, “a difficult puzzle. For another time and place.”
Out into the night, lit only by a few oil lamps, they sped to the edge of the city, whereupon they vanished into an even darker night lit only by stars. Traveling fast at night held its own dangers, but they wanted to put as much distance as possible between their party and, what they imagined would be, much larger search parties.