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With Shadow Walker looking on with his sword at the ready, Many Paths searched the Z-Lotz stranger for concealed weapons. They tied a length of rope around both his ankles so that he could shuffle along, but not run or kick. They also tied OLIE’s hands behind him. While performing these tasks, Shadow Walker & Many Paths carried on a rapid conversation in Veritas and watched for signs of comprehension but saw none. 

Shadow Walker spoke to the fettered man using a combination of signs and the broken Z-Lotz that he knew. “We do not plan to harm you. As we said, some might try. Their anger might burn out of control before they think. We will prepare people first to help ensure your safety. We have bound you, but you would be foolish to try to escape. The last time Z-Lotz came under a flag of truce, they left deadly poisonous “gifts” and many among the Veritas consider this … unworthy … a most unworthy action for a human being.” 

Many Paths led the trio back toward the Center Place of the Veritas, while Shadow Walker walked behind their prisoner. He forced himself to stay ever-alert to the possibility that the man might bolt into the underbrush or use some hidden weapon or signal some nearby warriors to attack. Though he didn’t consider this likely, the consequences of being too complacent could be catastrophic. It occurred to Shadow Path that having a “prisoner” was actually a burden. It slowed down their progress considerably. It made conversation between himself and Many Paths stiffer and more circuitous. Though he was reasonably sure that OLIE really knew very little or no Veritas, he couldn’t be completely sure. Maybe everything was play-acting. Maybe they were walking into — or even already in — a trap of some kind that he could not foresee. How could a people become like the Z-Lotz — full of deception and deceit? Couldn’t they perceive how much more difficult it made life for the Z-Lotz themselves? 

Many Paths engaged in silent reflection of her own. She had been astounded at how little the Z-Lotz seemed to have known about the Veritas. And yet — the thought that haunted her was that the Veritas themselves has known so little about their neighbors. All their neighbors. Knowing more about the other tribes would make war less likely, but if war came, she reasoned, it would also make for a less costly victory. She frowned. She realized that it wasn’t just knowing about the other tribes. It was also understanding them. It wasn’t enough simply to know that the Z-Lotz and the Cupiditas had chosen their leaders by mortal combat. Now she knew that. In fact, bynow, all the Veritas knew that. But none had any idea why they did that. Yet, if OLIE were to be believed, even the priests of the Z-Lotz could see that it was now leading to too much bloodshed. Again, if OLIE could be believed, having Shadow Walker step down as king — or, to put it more accurately — flee the Z-Lotz City — Read-It OLIE had called it — Shadow Walker had fled the Read-It and that caused more chaos. 

Though the mind of Many Paths never strayed far from the puzzle of how to have the various tribes work together to ensure peace, her senses stayed tune to the world around her. The path back to the village was extremely well known to her and she stayed on the lookout for the slightest evidence of the presence of additional Z-Lotz. Her next thought made her suddenly chuckle to herself. She said to Shadow Walker, “Ask OLIE why their custom is to choose their leader as the one most lethal or … perhaps that is not the way they think of … just ask how they pick their leaders and why they do it that way. 

Shadow Walker tried to think how best to phrase the question. “OLIE, you said my leaving suddenly made things worse for you. For that, I am sorry. One thing we Veritas cannot understand is the whole — I don’t really understand exactly how you choose leaders and I have no idea why you choose them that way. If I understand it, someone always dies and … never mind. Please explain it as you do to your own children. We truly wish to understand.”

OLIE continued to shuffle along for a time then said, “How do you choose a new leader?” 

Shadow Walker frowned. He translated the question for his Partner. She chuckled but made no attempt to answer the question. Shadow Walker said, “Our leader stays in power only so long as she — or he — is seen by the people as doing a good job of leading. Initially, the old leader devises a series of trials for those who would be leader. Most recently, our old leader devised a series of seven tests. Many Paths was the only one to succeed at all the trials. So, she became the leader.”

OLIE nodded. “Why do you choose leaders in the way you do?”

Shadow Walker pursed his lips. He translated the question for Many Paths. Then he sighed and answered this way. “It is custom, I suppose. It seems to work. I have heard many reasons and thought of a few myself. First, the current leader knows what it takes to be the leader. She, or more rarely, he, has spent much time trying to honestly understand her mistakes and how she could have avoided them or how her successor might avoid similar mistakes in the future. She learns from everyone in the entire Tribe and from the place we live — the birds, the lizards, the bees, the flowers, the trees, the river, the mountains. They all inform her of what the people need to learn and especially what the leader must be able to do. 

“Second, the tests or trials are themselves a learning experience, especially for those who wish to be the leader, but also for the Tribe as a whole and also for the current leader. 

“Third, the trials are not secret as to outcome, and everyone who wanted to be a leader can see who did the various tasks well and who did not. All of those who tried to be leader could see for themselves how well Many Paths did on these tasks. If they are honest with themselves, they all realize that she performed the best.  

“Fourth, the tribe itself sings of these trials. Not only the recent ones, but all of them. The stories in our songs also speak of how the various leaders actually were — how they behaved — what their successes and failures were. So, we not only learn from the trials and from the past leaders but also look for mistakes in how the leaders were chosen. One of our tales is about a would-be leader we call ‘The Orange Man’ — our tale tells of how his lying and his greed resulted in the death of an entire village as well as his own death. He was never actually a leader but he wanted to be in charge of everything and everyone. Such a one would never be chosen by a real leader, but if he had been chosen, the people would soon have called for a new leader. As it was, he was rightfully just an outcast. But if he had been a leader of the Veritas, and if he had actually passed some tests, we would incorporate the failure of those tests to discover this dishonesty and greed.

“There may be more reasons, but tell me why you choose your leaders the way you do.” 

OLIE began what seemed to be a well-rehearsed recitation. “The Book that tells us All says leaders choose themselves. Only the strongest and the smartest will survive. Only the strongest and the smartest will be leaders. Thus, it has been from the beginning of time. Thus it is now. Thus, it shall always be.” 

OLIE shuffled forward adding nothing to this quotation. 

After a time, Shadow Walker said, “That says nothing about mortal combat determining the outcome. Is there more?” 

OLIE stopped in his tracks. He turned awkwardly to look at Shadow Walker. “What do you mean? It says that only the strongest and smartest will survive. What else could it mean?” 

Many Paths had turned around as well. “Is everything all right?” 

Shadow Walker recapped his little discussion with OLIE.

Many Paths beamed! “Wonderful! Keep going! This is excellent. Fill me in when you can.” The tiniest hint of a smile curled her lip and she looked at Shadow Walker and raised one eyebrow. 

Shadow Walker felt himself blush slightly, but plunged back into his halting conversation in Z-Lotz {Translator’s Note: here reproduced without the haltingness}. “There are many contests of strength! Felling trees, swimming rivers, lifting stones, wrestling. A contest of strength doesn’t have to be a fight to the death.” 

OLIE frowned. “But fight to the death is the natural way. All animals do this.”

Shadow Walker stifled a laugh. “No they don’t! A few fight for top position, but such fights are rarely lethal. I have never witnessed one, but our tales say it is possible. Even in such a position, the top wolf or elk will consider input from all. They are not all-powerful. That makes them blind to what is really happening. It has to. They are under constant fear that someone will kill them at any time, with or without but probably with the help of traitors. But that means, no-one really trusts anyone. If everyone must hide the truth…? Did the Z-Lotz build Read-It?”

OLIE shook his head. “No, they were built by the ancients. Then, they left because god told them to and left the City for the homeless and nomadic Z-Lotz.”

Could you build such a City as Read-It again?”

OLIE shook his head. “You ask strange questions. I have never heard anyone speak of such a thing. But it is obvious the answer is ‘no.’ Much of what the Ancients left us, we do not understand. If we do not understand, it is safest not to touch it. Some died touching things that they did not understand. But we have no knowing of how-to such buildings nor the magic stems that bring us water. Nor the vines that bring us light. What does this have to do with how our leaders are chosen?” 

Shadow Walker nodded gravely. “You came to something you did not understand. When you tried to learn from it, people died. You as a people decided that you didn’t want to challenge knowledge and explore because that would be dangerous. You liked having an absolute King so that all disputes could be settled at once though arbitrarily and almost always in favor of the King’s own interests. Such a King would rarely be motivated to do great good for a great number of people. That would simply enable more challenges to his rule. He would instill fear in the people by brutality. And that brutality would be aimed precisely at the strongest and the smartest! He would want to eliminate this most likely challengers. What he would prefer are the most pliable and, frankly…But let me hear what you think about this. You lived there. I only — let us say — visited.” 



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