, , , ,

Many Paths eagerly took the hand of Shadow Walker. The latter said, “Let’s walk to the top of Wolf’s Back Ridge. We can pick some blackberries on the way. I wanted to tell you about an interesting conversation I had with Horse Whisperer the other day.” Many Paths smiled and nodded in assent. Despite the opening, they walked in silence for a time. This suited Many Paths for her mind was still on the conversation she had just had with She Who Saved Many Lives. At last, they came to the bend in the path where the blackberries grew. They were warm and luscious from the sun. 

As they picked — and ate — Shadow Walker said, “So. Horse Whisperer. Of all the people we know, he surely is the most fluent in ROI.” Shadow Walker could see that a dark cloud passed over the face of his lover. “I know. I’m no fan of the ROI either. Yet, eventually, we need a way to invite them to the Meeting of the Six Tribes. Tu-Swift vouches for him, in a way. Horse Whisperer was okay with being part of the business of stealing children and selling them for slaves to the Z-Lotz. That’s true. But now, I think he is … his mind is more aligned with our ways than theirs. He is happier than he ever was in the ROI. And, he knows that. He mentioned it to me when we were fishing the other day.” Shadow Walker laughed and added, “Well, when I was fishing. He knew nothing about it. Can you imagine? All his life was ordered around taking care of the horses. He knew very little about fishing, or even hunting, or being a warrior. The ROI — they are very — their lives are put into different urns. And, they live most of their lives in those urns. Or, I suppose, I should say ‘lived’ because I’m not even sure there are enough ROI left to have a way of life separate from the Z-Lotz. I told him what I saw and heard when I was a captive of the Z-Lotz; namely, that after the ROI lost their village, the ROI who fled to the Z-Lotz village were little better than servants — almost slaves, really.” 

Shadow Walker paused to create a space for Many Paths to comment. None was forthcoming so he ventured on. “When I told him that, he simply nodded and said that he would suspect as much.” There was no trace of anger or resentment in his voice. It was as though I was describing a tree or a way to climb a bluff. He didn’t seem to blame the Z-Lotz. He was not surprised. Anyway, this led to a deeper conversation about his own beliefs about the world. He has very little to say about how the various tribes have decided to arrange themselves other than to acknowledge that there are vast differences. He enjoys living among us.” 

Many Paths nodded. “Yes. I think so too. Tu-Swift said that he was a kind as he was allowed to be, both with him and with the horses. He doesn’t seem to enjoy cruelty, but he was not averse to being cruel if and when custom required it. But what are you suggesting, exactly?” 

“The Z-Lotz, we now know well, can be quite treacherous. They came to us with supposed gifts and they were poisons that ruined Stone Chipper and requested … well, really, demanded that you go see them. I have no doubt that they would have killed you … or perhaps demanded we surrender to them in order to save your life.”

Many Paths grimaced at this. “I hope you would have sense enough not to ever go along with such a trick! They are not to be trusted!”

Shadow Walker nodded. “I agree. But you are well-loved, and not just by me. It may have been difficult … anyway, the point is, how do we bring the ROI and Z-Lotz to the Meeting of the Six Tribes when we cannot trust them? And, we know very little of their language and customs. We tried having us sneak into the Z-Lotz village to learn more and that certainly did not go as planned. Eagle Eyes & I were very lucky to have escaped. And now we find ourselves in a position of ignorance about their current situation. The parents of Cat Eyes, Tree Vines and Gathers Acorns, were prisoners long enough to have learned something of their ways. Other than that, we have learned the most from Cat Eyes herself.”

“True,” said Many Paths, “But who are we talking about here? Horse Whisperer? Or, Cat Eyes?” 

Shadow Walker sighed. He smiled and realized he wouldn’t mind a few more blackberries. “I am not sure I have the full answer. I just have a feeling that Horse Whisperer can be trusted and he knows much about the ROI. If the ROI were still in their separate village, I would say we should send him to meet with the ROI and convince them to come to the Meeting of the Six Tribes. Unfortunately, we don’t have that option. The ROI are embedded now with the Z-Lotz. And, the person most well-suited to dealing with them is Cat Eyes. Although…”

Many Paths plucked a few more of the delicious blackberries and placed one on the lips of Shadow Walker who closed his eyes with pleasure. He chuckled and said, “That is the most delicious berry yet!”

Many Paths tilted her head and asked, “Although what?”

Shadow Walker sighed. “They might. They might still view me as their leader. I don’t know. It would be risky.” 

“What!?” Many Paths frowned. “You are not going to go there again! As you said, you were lucky to escape with your life! I need you and the Veritas need you. It’s true that I cannot well predict the Z-Lotz, but it seems quite likely that they would simply kill you on sight. Or worse.” 

Shadow Walker spoke quietly. “Yet, just a few minutes ago, you said that if we could save your life by surrendering to the Z-Lotz we should not do it.”

Many Paths scoffed. “Because there wouldn’t have been any point! They cannot be trusted to keep their word!” 

Shadow Walker bit his lip. “I know. That’s why I think we have a dilemma. You don’t trust them. I don’t trust them. The person who knows them the best — Cat Eyes — she certainly doesn’t trust them. I think it may be in their nature. In the same way that Horse Whisperer would help his tribe steal children without seeing anything wrong with it, I don’t think the Z-Lotz think lying and cheating and going back on their word means anything — or at least, it doesn’t mean what it does to us. We need to be careful. But if we really can’t trust them at all, then, what can come of a Meeting of the Six Tribes? Perhaps it should only be a meeting of the Five Tribes. Perhaps, when the Z-Lotz see the advantages to all five tribes, it could get them to change their ways. I don’t know. What do you think?”

Many Paths let out a long sigh. “I think we have eaten enough berries for one day. We’ve tamed eagles. And we’ve trained wolves. And we’re learning to tame horses. From Horse Whisperer. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it’s too large a leap to trust them at a council. That still leaves the problem of how to separate the ROI from the Z-Lotz and even if we succeed, that will certainly do nothing to help the Z-Lotz trust us! The last thing we did was to destroy — or at least temporarily disable — their precious killing sticks.”

Shadow Walker frowned. “We had to do that. If not … “

Many Paths nodded vigorously. “I know! I know! You did the right thing. I agree. But just as it’s hard for us to trust them, it will be hard for them to trust us as well.” Suddenly, Many Paths put up her hand for quiet and made the short but quick gesture to get down. Shadow Walker fell silently to his belly and put his hands behind his ears for better listening. The two of them slowed their breathing and listened. Something — or someone — seemed to be slithering in the blackberry bushes. 


The First Ring of Empathy

Stoned Soup

Three Blind Mice

American Dream

Dance for Billions

The Ailing King of Agitate

The Watershed Virus

The Truth Train

Author Page on Amazon