The Ashes of ROI


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The make-shift crutch that Tu-Swift fashioned for himself worked pretty well. He made a few adjustments along the way; for example, roughening up the grip so his hand wouldn’t slip and tying some sphagnum moss round the upper cross-piece. Tu-Swift forced himself to use all his skills to remain unseen. It felt to him that this was a complete waste of time, but he did it because tingles of intuition can be accurate…or they can be completely misleading. At least, that’s what She Who Saves Many Lives said and so did Many Paths. 


Suddenly the image of Many Paths playing “Stalked and Stalker” with him last autumn flashed into his mind. It burned so vividly that he could smell the autumn leaves. She had hidden beneath the hanging roots of an over-turned tree. Many Paths had also obliterated any sign of her path. Instead of searching, Tu-Swift had closed his eyes and imagined he was Many Paths. Then, he opened his eyes and scanned them over the landscape, not to find Many Paths but to be Many Paths trying to find herself a good hiding place. The first place he had spotted was the over-turned tree. Indeed, Tu-Swift had found her very quickly. He had explained his intuition; he had been quite proud of it. Many Paths, however, praised him but then also warned him that such intuitions were not always correct. It’s fine to try but don’t assume it will always work or be accurate, she had warned. 


Tu-Swift brought himself back to the present. Hadn’t he been half day-dreaming when the People Who Steal Children kidnapped him? Perhaps if he had been more vigilant…. And yet, he could not shake the eerie feeling that he alone existed in the entire universe. His plan for pre-cooked meat soon revealed itself to be smoke. 

He found many small cooked animal corpses all right and one burned deer, but they were all burned to a crisp. They were nearly indistinguishable from the corpses of fallen trees. I will continue to be wary, he promised himself, but if I were one of The People Who Steal Children and I saw a forest fire coming my way, I would not head back out into the forest and plain! I would try to get away from it. Head for dessert or water. I might grab a few things, but I’d be trying to save my life. I wouldn’t be interested in organizing or joining a search party for some missing kids. Not even ones that are mischievous enough to let out your horses. Well, they would be pretty upset about that one. Yes, they might put a price on my head for that. But they may not even know it was me. Unless they captured Day-Nah. 

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Day-Nah, Shadow Walker, Fleet-of-Foot — who knew whether any of them were okay? I barely outran the fire myself and I’m already one of the fastest in the village. Well, not now, maybe, but I was. And, soon will be again. I hope. What if…what if I can’t run? Bear Bite used to be a fast runner too. But never after that bear chewed the back of his leg. So, some injuries you never get over. All the more reason for continued caution. 

What Tu-Swift now lacked in mobility, he attempted to compensate for with thoughtfulness. Despite having the feeling that the woods were empty, he constantly scanned the surrounding area, not only for signs of approaching enemies but also for possible hiding places for himself and for places that would not be thought of by The People Who Steal Children. 

In this tense manner, Tu-Swift continued to hobble through the margin of the burned forest until he found himself at the edge of the very village he had worked so hard to escape. The entire area looked like the morning after a giant’s campfire. Parts of many building stood, charred and darkened spikes; they were everywhere. He could see one blackened side of the barn still standing. Tu-Swift began to walk toward it when he heard a moan. It could be a trap he thought. 

Tu-Swift turned his head this way and that. He thought that the sound seemed to be coming from the remains of building where I put the broken quills and bows. Speaking of which, what weapon do I have? I can use the sharp rock I brought with me. And, the crutch which I could use as a club or as a thrusting weapon. There were more weapons in that room. At least, I think so. They may have all been taken out. 

As he cautiously hobbled toward the entrance, Tu-Swift heard the moaning growing louder. 

More likely than a trick, he thought, would be a survivor of the fire, badly burned or broken, but still possibly quite dangerous. You can’t really count on anything, Tu-Swift thought to himself. You can be sitting at a feast enjoying yourself and then you wake up in a cell. These people kidnapped me. They stole Day-Nah as well and they are mean to the horses. Why do they steal kids? Whoever it is, they can suffer in pain. In fact, I might be able to add to it. Why don’t they leave other people alone? 

By the time Tu-Swift reached what used to be the doorway of the armory, he had managed to generate a good deal of hate toward the moaner. Tu-Swift had imagined cautiously peering in as he opened the door, sharp rock at the ready. But there was no need. Part of the door and frame remained standing but there was a wide gap on either side. He peered into the charred skeleton of the building. His eyes fastened upon something on the far wall. As he drew nearer, he could see that it was a sword. A far better weapon, he thought, than a sharp rock. Using it and the crutch will be a challenge, he though. He picked it up and felt the blade. 


It was sharp like the Veritas weapons, but it was smooth; it was even. It felt immensely powerful in his hand. Tu-Swift again heard the moan and it seemed to be emanating from the earth below him. After hobbling about in the mostly empty armory, Tu-Swift found a large door ring on the floor. It seemed to be fashioned from the same kind of stuff as his sword. He pulled up the door and he could see a staircase before him. He lay on the floor and peered over the edge. He could see four shadowy figures who seemed to wave about in the dim light. They began talking excitedly or some of them did. The moaning continued. One of them drew near and Tu-Swift clutched his sword more tightly. 

Even in the dim light, Tu-Swift could see that a beautiful young women stood below him talking. But he had no idea what she was saying. It was that same language all these child-stealers spoke. Maybe he should kill her, but he didn’t really feel like it. Two more figures joined the young lady. They were all female. But one figure, the moaning figure, remained rolling and writhing on the floor in the shadows. 


Suddenly, Tu-Swift recognized the voice despite it’s inhuman quality. It was the one that he and Day-Nah had called “The Fat Man.” He had actually been the nicest of the three that made them cull horses and shovel manure, but he was one of them – the People who Steal Children. He had a sudden vision of ending the man’s life by thrusting his sword through his belly button. For a split-second, Tu-Swift recalled that image of himself on the right when his mind had been trifurcated. He pushed that image aside. 

Tu-Swift slowly descended the staircase, awkwardly carrying his crutch and sword with him. When he reached the bottom, he gestured for the three women to move away from him. Cautiously glancing all around, he made his way over to The Fat Man. His young eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light. The Fat Man turned toward him and Tu-Swift nearly vomited at the sight. He had never seen someone with such a disfigured face. Once again, he was tempted, this time out of mercy more than anger, to end this man’s anguish. He looked into his eyes. It was one thing to hate an enemy in one’s mind and even kill them there but it was quite another to look your enemy in the eye and kill him in real life. 

Instead of thrusting a sword through the belly of The Fat Man, he gestured to him that he would go and come back with some plants to help heal his body. All four of the People Who Steal Children were now jabbering at him. It seemed they were asking questions, but he couldn’t even be sure of that. I should really learn more languages, he scolded himself. 

Tu-Swift ascended the staircase, this time sitting on the stairs and going up one at a time. He had a plan of which plants to gather. He had noticed them near the corral. Once he made his way back outside however, he surveyed the camp and realized that these herbs would have been destroyed along with everything else. Trees, buildings, animals, plants, healing herbs, beautiful flowers, food supplies — it had all been destroyed. Tu-Swift promised himself that he would collect a small piece of charred wood to remind himself of the destructive power of fire — and of greed and lying — as personified in the Myth of the Orange Man. If he ever returned to the Veritas Center Place, he swore he would look at it every day and remember the face of The Fat Man. 

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The Myth of the Orange Man

The Start of the Myths of the Veritas

The Beginning of Book Two of the Myths of the Veritas

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Slow Tu-Swift


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Slow Tu-Swift

When Tu-Swift awoke, he did so as one unified consciousness. That is not to say that he was fine; in fact, tremendous pain wracked his knee, and confusion reigned supreme. I’m blind, he thought to himself. No, he thought, that’s not right. But where am I? It’s so dark. Pain coursed through his arm and his neck seemed frozen. At last, he wiggled himself into a position from which he could free his pinned arm and look up at a sliver of night sky. He blinked at the starry array and began to recall where he lay and how he had come here. 

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He sighed deeply and thought of Many Paths. Just when it appeared that Shadow Walker and others had come to return Tu-Swift to Many Paths, they had been attacked and that attack had caused a great fire that almost consumed him. Running blindly, he had badly injured his knee. He had no idea where his tribe mates were. Had they perished in the fire? What about Day-Nah? Apart from feeling sore and burned in several places, Tu-Swift realized he was extremely thirsty. He heard the sound of rushing water nearby and recalled having escaped into the water just yesterday. But was it yesterday, he wondered. He realized he actually had little idea how long he had been scrunched into the rock cleft. 

He crawled on hands and knee toward the sound of the water, managing with his strong arms to keep almost all the weight off his badly swollen right knee. Once Tu-Swift had slaked his thirst, he realized that he was also damned hungry! But things must progress in the natural order, he reminded himself. I must try to find the others. He considered yelling out the names of his rescuers but it was also possible that he was surrounded by warriors of the People Who Steal Children. Tu-Swift thought that if the others were near and they were certain it was safe, they would be calling for him. The dawn’s first light chased away the stars and gave a rosy glow all about. 


I will go to higher ground, cautiously to see what I see, thought Tu-Swift. But first I need to do something about my knee. Tu-Swift, like all the Veritas, had an extensive knowledge of plants. The knee slowed his gathering considerably but by the time it was fully light, he had gathered the necessary herbs including the leaves of witch hazel, plantain, and blackberry. Gathering sufficient firewood and tinder proved more difficult, but at last Tu-Swift had a warm fire going with the cliff face behind him and a hastily made rock reflector between him and the river. He created a poultice and also drank from the water. He alternately put hot leaves on his knee and then splashed it with the icy cold water. On one of these splashings he noticed aquatic arrowheads growing in a pool of clear by unflowing water. He recalled seeing Many Paths and some of her friends gathering the roots of these aquatic plants with their feet. But he had never actually done it. It would require him to stand, at least if he gathered them as he had seen. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the water could help support his weight. Before long, he had gathered up a nice dinner of arrowhead tubers. 

He felt his knee carefully and found that something was not just sore or injured but definitely out of place. Due to the swelling, it was subtle, but he could also see that something stuck out differently. He muttered aloud to his knee, “Come on, knee! I need you! Heal!” Then it seemed the knee spoke back, not in words exactly, but the image of something painted itself vividly in Tu-Swift’s mind and at the same time, he had a powerful desire to perform that same act. 


He searched for and found a suitable place among the rocks. He lay on his back with his right ankle wedged into a cleft in the rock. His left leg, half bent, pushed his body powerfully back. This was it. Yes, this is it, he thought. He felt something stretch and snap in his knee, popping as it found its rightful place again. His knee still hurt. In fact, it hurt a bit more. But it felt more as it should; more according to natural order. 

Tu-Swift made himself a simple crutch from a large dead but still hard wood sapling. He hobbled back up the hill that he had run down. Everywhere he looked, the ground was black and trackless. But not just the hill lay in a lifeless black ruin. The nearby forest had been destroyed. Where are my friends? What has become of the people who sit astride horses? When he saw no sign of anyone, he hobbled back down the hill. He attempted to communicate to any nearby Veritas that he was here. He used a stick drum and he used bird whistles. But no response. He considered yet again screaming out their names but the thought of being recaptured by the People Who Steal Children sent shivers through his core and made him nauseous. 

He had no way of knowing for certain, but from what little had been said during his escape, he guessed that the camp of the Veritas was 3-4 times as far away as the place of his captivity. The urge to head home was overwhelming, but as he thought of all the possible scenarios and the likelihood of each, he decided going into the smoldering forest and from there to the village of the People Who Steal Children would be the best. Naturally, if there were any signs at all that his captors were anywhere about, he would hide as best he could. He hoped to find some yet edible meat, already cooked in the forest. 


Even in his gimpiness, he limped his way to the center place of The People Who Steal Children in a single day’s hobble. Of course, Tu-Swift had seen many times what was left of a camp fire. But he could not really scale it in his mind until today. He thought back to the Myth of the Orange Man and felt a deeper sense of what that had really meant — a whole tribe wiped out to assuage the unassuageable greed of the Orange Man. And, of course, the Orange Man himself. But wasn’t this really just the same? Why would a people steal the children of another — except for some sort of greed. Something remained badly out of joint, and it was his curiosity to find out what that was. What clues, he wondered, might lay among the ashes of this strange and greedy people? Did they all perish? Or did they some escape? These are the mysteries Tu-Swift set out to explore; but what he found? Those were mysteries of a quite different sort. 



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The Myths of the Veritas: The Orange Man

BRA-BRILL’s Audience with NUT-PI


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{Translator’s Note}: Among the ROI, the Z-LOTZ and the Veritas, swear words, as best we can tell, refer to religion, excretion or procreation. At least among the tribes that I’ve studied, no-one swears by referring to ingestion, coagulation, thinking, moving muscles, or other functional aspects of life. However, it appears that the different tribes varied in their preferred choice of swear words; I will not bother to translate these directly into their English counterparts; instead, I’ll use a more “polite” word but you will know doubt be able to tell what was really meant. These tribes all seemed to have shared another odd trait. They actually used both crude and polite forms of cursing. It was considered more powerful and more satisfying to use the “polite” forms. It showed, so the reasoning went, that you were fully aware of the fact that you were cursing; that you were still in charge of your faculties.


One of BRA-BRILL’s lieutenants rushed up to BRA-BRILL. “Sire, we must slow down a bit. The women and children are having trouble keeping up. There may be further Veritas about who would capture our women and children for their own purposes. For that matter, so might the wolves. Might we take a short break so everyone can catch up?” 

BRA-BRILL turned his lifeless eyes to his lieutenant. “Oh, thank you so much my fine lieutenant for bringing this to my attention! I did not realize that there were Veritas about. I did not realize that our entire procreating village has been destroyed! Thank a diety we have brilliant people about such as you to set me straight! You are nearly as valuable as an obstruction to a defecation! Come here. Come closer. Attaboy! Now, hand me your sword, you diety-forsaken ever-procreating excretion. Come on. Do it.”


The soldier realized he should have sent one of his own lackeys to make a suggestion. What the hell had he been thinking, making a suggestion himself? Maybe it was the shock of being awakened to an alarm and soon after being caught in a forest fire. Still…

BRA-BRILL took the sword and smiled, “Thank you. This is indeed a fine blade.” BRA-BRILL turned it in his hand and made a couple of sweeps with the sword through the air. “A fine weapon.” Suddenly, BRA-BRILL twirled the blade and struck the messenger across his thigh causing a substantial gash. The soldier fell heavily to the ground. 

“Oops. My hand slipped. No matter. Now, you can serve some useful purpose. You there! And you! Come take this wounded soldier and tie him fast to yonder tree. Make sure he cannot escape. He will draw any wolves or lions off our trail and perhaps the Veritas may find him and torture him for some truth. Well, come to think of it, best to cut out his tongue as well.”


The soldier lay on the ground with his hand pressed to his thigh, trying to slow the escaping rivulet of blood. “NO, SIRE! No, please!”  

BRA-BRILL loved it when he had a chance to mock others.  In a fair imitation of a small child’s squeaky voice, he repeated, “No, sire. No, please!” 

“You disgust me, bodily function, now go serve some useful purpose. I’m just following your advice, after all.” With this, he curtly motioned to the two guards to take him away and cut out his tongue. As the bleeding soldier was carried off to be set as wolf bait, he turned to see some of his people had stopped and stared. “Get back to marching! ALL of you! Unless you procreating anatomy-parts want to join procreating visage as procreating wolf bait!” 


BRA-BRILL’s mood had improved considerably after this incident, but he knew that tough times lay ahead. NUT-PI was every bit as … focused … as he himself was. The truth was that BRA-BRILL was about to stop anyway, not so others could catch up but because he was exhausted. All the fine food he had had access to as well as the servants that did his bidding meant that he was now considerably overweight and walking any distance tired him quickly. “Procreating horses!” he muttered to no-one in particular. “How the mythical and horrid afterlife did all those procreating horses get away? Procreate!!” 

BRA-BRILL liked swearing. It made him feel powerful. In this case, though, he had another purpose. He wanted to be all “sworn out” by the time they reached the city of the Z-LOTZ. They were all an odd lot and some of them objected to a person simply expressing themselves in the most natural way. He didn’t need that kind of trouble. He strongly suspected that NUT-PI believed none of the malarkey that the Z-LOTZ believed, or at least professed to believe. But that didn’t mean some jealous priest or other wouldn’t call BRA-BRILL out if he used profanity within the walls of their “Sacred City.” 

“Sacred City. Hah!” BRA-BRILL sneered aloud at the idea. Just more horse manure for the weak-minded, he mused. “You there! Yes, YOU! Bring me some meat and bread and wine.” 


The hapless youth who had been pointed at was not sure who, if anyone, had brought such provisions. This was not, after all, a planned and organized march. Usually, the ROI would have spent weeks planning a trip to see the Z-LOTZ. He had just witnessed the wrath of BRA-BRILL when irked. He would try to find something pleasing among the people and if he failed, he would sneak away into the woods and try his luck with the wolves rather than risk displeasing BRA-BRILL. “Yes, sire! I’ll be back soon!” He scampered off and began querying the ROI about provisions, making sure everyone knew that they were not for him but for their leader. 


A few day’s march brought the numerous throng of ROI to the city gates of the Z-LOTZ. They were hungry, thirsty, and exhausted, but all were ordered to remain outside. Word came that NUT-PI would see BRA-BRILL but he was to come unarmed and alone. When BRA-BRILL heard this, he began to sweat. He carefully slowed his breathing, but his bone dry mouth still tasted of metal. He muttered under his breath, “Procreating waste!” There was little for it though. He would have to comply. Though he had taken much more than his “fair share” of the provisions found among the ROI, he also felt hunger and thirst. So, he thrust his new sword into the ground and marched off to see NUT-PI, surrounded by four guards. Each sported a long pike and wore leather armor studded with metal. 


Soon, he stood in a courtyard before NUT-PI who sat upon a high chair. He tried to lick his lips and took a deep breath. “Well met, oh great NUT-PI! I bring you…” 

“Silence,” NUT-PI said in little more than a bored whisper. “Speak to me again before I give you leave to do so and I will cut out your tongue as you did with your lieutenant.” 

BRA-BRILL almost spoke again. Instead, he slammed his mouth shut, wondering how the painful afterlife NUT-PI found out about the lieutenant. 

Again NUT-PI spoke softly. He hissed as he spoke, almost like a snake. “Come forward now and kneel before me.” 

BRA-BRILL shambled forward and knelt in the sharp gravel in front of NUT-PI. NUT-PI regarded him coldly with unlit eyes. “Did you bring the required number of women and children as slaves?” 

BRA-BRILL tried to swallow but couldn’t. “Close but also vital information, Sire.” 

“Close?” NUT-PI snickered. “I asked you a simple question. Surely, even you, have the intelligence to answer my question. I will say it slowly for you. Did. You. Bring. The. Required. Number. Of. Women. And. Children. As. Slaves? Yes or no?” 

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BRA-BRILL tried to think but found it difficult when his knees hurt and his mouth was so dry. He decided that trying to be clever would be too risky. “No, Sire.” 

“So you failed in the only task I asked you to accomplish. Is that right? You failed. Did you fail?” 

“Yes, Sire. I failed.” BRA-BRILL looked down. He began to fantasize about cutting NUT-PI to pieces but shook it out of his mind. 

NUT-PI smiled. “Well, it’s not your fault, after all. You have no real ability, do you?” 

BRA-BRILL gritted his teeth together. “No, Sire. I do not.” 

NUT-PI continued. “No, you do not. And now, not only have you failed to bring me the required number of slaves. You have allowed your village to be burned down. And, now you bring your entire people here…for what purpose? I suspect you wish to beg for food and water for them?” 

BRA-BRILL saw a possible opening and decided to chance taking it. “Oh, Sire, no. It is true that we are hungry and thirsty but we ask for none of that. What we can do is offer up valuable information about a tribe that call themselves The Veritas. They came in great hordes to attack our village and burn it down. They destroyed many of our weapons and stole our horses as well. But we come to offer to help you hunt them down and destroy them. If you will accept our humble gift.” 

NUT-PI sneered at BRA-BRILL with open contempt. NUT-PI began to drum his fingers on the arm of his large chair. He was in no hurry. After all, NUT-PI was not the one kneeling in sharp gravel. He gestured to one of his slaves and she brought over some grapes and bread. NUT-PI began slowly and sensually taking tiny bites of the food. He arranged his face into a large smile as he ate, chewing each bite over and over. 

BRA-BRILL saw the world shrink and grow dark. Just as he was about to pass out, NUT-PI spoke again. “Guards, take this pathetic man back to his people, such as they are. Bring me the inadequate number of slaves here for me to take first picks. I will see whether any are capable of pleasing me. If there are, I will consider his entreaty for food and water. If not, well, if not, just take the slaves and use the rest of the ROI for target practice.” 


BRA-BRILL tried to rise on his own, but he couldn’t make his legs move properly. He put his hands on the ground and pushed off with his hands, staggering to his feet. He was marched out of the presence of NUT-PI. 

BRA-BRILL felt as though he had won a great victory. After all, he had escaped with his life, at least for now. He would find a way to oust NUT-PI and make him pay! He swore to himself that he would do that no matter what it took. For now, he would have to play a waiting game. 

The guards unceremoniously threw BRA-BRILL to the ground and began rounding up the slaves to be taken before NUT-PI. Preparing slaves provided one of the most fun aspects of their jobs. They would oversee the cleaning and dressing of the slaves. Occasionally, they were rewarded with one to share. 


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Too Many Tu-Swifts?


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{Translator’s Note}: Sometimes, when one finds oneself in an emergency room, they ask you to rate your pain on a ten point scale. It seems that the Veritas had quite a rich and varied vocabulary for pain — and for pleasure. Although it is clear that the Veritas could count (at least that; though the academic debates are raging now about how they could have made the astronomical predictions that they apparently made without advanced mathematics), they would have found the concept of “rating” pain or pleasure bizarre. Even in my own childhood, the idea of rating something as complex as a movie (let alone a human being!) on a numerical scale would have seemed preposterous. As for the Veritas, precisely because they have so many dimensions and nuances of pain, there are not very many instances of any particular token. So, what follows is, as always, my best effort attempt to describe the pain of Tu-Swift. 


Tu-Swift literally forgot who he was; or, more precisely, Tu-Swift trifurcated. The Tu-Swift that he considered to be him found himself embedded in stickiness, as though he were a hapless bug caught in the web of an onrushing horror of hairy legs and giant fangs. Yet, the more he struggled, the more entrapped he became. He could sense but not really see the spider. He could not even control his eyes. An invisible force focused them on the scene ahead where two other versions of Tu-Swift struggled with each other. 

Tu-Swift (the observer) felt a surge of pride at the image on the right. He appeared taller, stronger, prouder looking than he had ever remembered feeling. But despite the outward beauty, something was wrong here. Instead of being connected to life in general and the Veritas in particular, he felt himself to be “it” – the only thing that mattered. From this perspective, he didn’t have to “know” how things worked and how to solve problems. He only had to tell a convincing story convincingly — so convincingly that people would mistake it for the truth. He felt strong when he looked at this shadowy reflection of himself; strong, and a little ashamed. He felt ashamed because he recognized that that had been pretty much how he saw the world when he was yet a toddler. Still, it was tempting. In a way, it would be so much simpler never having to know what is actually true; never having to take the needs of others into consideration.

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On the left, the Tu-Swift avatar looked small and somehow — broken. This version of himself made him feel weak and powerless. It (he) sat cross-legged on the grass and petulantly broke blades off. Tu-Swift spoke to the boy. “Get up! Get up!” 

The boy on the left spoke back. “I can’t. It’s too much effort. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Look!”

The boy pointed at something behind Tu-Swift. He struggled mightily to turn to see what it was, but he could not turn his head. But he could feel the searing heat of the spider. He could only stare at the two boys before him and suddenly, he saw the boys disappear into a web of memories. He did not have to be exactly like the boy on the right or exactly like the boy on the left. He could pick and choose the situations when he wanted to be one or the other, but he was in no way limited to those two boys. He could pick and choose from everyone he ever met. Why had he not seen this before? It was like choosing a mask or garb for a ritual dance. Only … it need not be superficial. Thinking like Many Paths — that was more than putting on a mask. I think better with her.


He grabbed what he wanted from each of the two boys and immediately felt the searing heat of the monster that burned and blackened everything before it. Tu-Swift began rolling. His pain changed from an ember of deeply burning ruby red to a thunderstorm of flashing blue light and every bolt struck deep into the knee of Tu-Swift. Each bolt exploded outward in further flashes of blue so that, for a moment, his entire left leg erupted in blue pain. 

After a few such rolls, Tu-Swift felt the freezing cold of rushing water. It stung and made him catch his breath, but it felt wonderful and somehow safe. But cold. What’s wrong with my knee, he asked himself. “Where is everyone?” he said aloud. His thoughts now began to once again unravel as he muttered to himself.  

“Need … to take … inventory. Right knee. What is wrong with you, knee?” Tu-Swift, in his altered state, half expected the knew to answer back. “But something … something is very wrong. I fell. Need shelter.”

Near the river bank, on one side, lay hard rock cliffs. Tu-Swift managed to crawl into a cleft in such a cliff. His self once more disintegrated.  

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This time, instead of seeing two other versions of Tu-Swift, he saw everyone he had ever encountered, or at least, that is how it seemed. Just as he had always been able to hear the voice of Many Paths offering apt advice, he now realized that he could get advice from anyone in the tribe; or those of other tribes; even from the People Who Steal Children.

Tu-Swift imagined the voice of Shadow Walker calling out and showing him how to speak with drums or the sounds of birds. Those turned out to be important skills and he was filled with gratitude for Shadow Walker. And, he imagined he could hear the memory of Hudah Salah also calling out his name with her strange accent. It was exciting to think that people could speak so that only some might understand. Of course, he had been told that there were other tongues besides that spoken by the Veritas people. But it wasn’t until he had really heard such voices that he understood how important it could be to know other languages. Now, it was real and he was filled with gratitude for Hudah Salah for opening his eyes. 

Tu-Swift realized that his own eyes were extremely tired. And he mentally waved farewell to the multitude of people out there ready to lend their knowledge to whatever task was at hand. He closed the eyes of every Tu-Swift he could and fell into a deep, unknowing sleep. 



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The Creation Myth of the Veritas

The Myths of the Veritas: The Orange Man

An Essay on Gratitude

Post Fire Blues


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BRILL-BRA was beside himself with rage. It became clear that his entire village would be destroyed. Damned Veritas, he thought, I will destroy every last one of them if it’s my last act on earth. People were in such a panic to grab their possessions and leave, many of his subjects were ignoring him. Him! A handful of soldiers helped him gather together the few children and quickly the small band headed out for the land of the Z-LOTZ. BRILL-BRA saw little choice but to throw his lot in with the Z-LOTZ. This carried its own risks because, even with the three young daughters of L-SIDNEY, he still fell short by two of the promised number of child slaves he was supposed to deliver before the next full moon. But BRILL-BRA had grown obese and soft. He had no desire to wander aimlessly and try to live off the land. Perhaps he could even find a way to overthrow NUT-PI and lead the numerous and obedient Z-LOTZ. 


BRILL-BRA and his band of warriors and their captive children soon reached the lands they called, “The Dead Zone.” Almost nothing grew here. Ordinarily, the ROI avoided the place (as did all the tribes), but the shortest path to the cities of the Z-LOTZ lay through it. The days when BRILL-BRA enjoyed a long hike for the pleasure of it were long past. In this land of dirt and scattered rocks, falling sparks found nothing to feed on. While the Z-LOTZ believed “The Dead Zone” to be populated with the ghosts of long-dead ancestors, BRILL-BRA considered such superstition pure absurdity. He thought it most likely that such stories were concocted long ago to scare the children of the Z-LOTZ into submission. But, maybe the leaders believed all that bull crap. BRILL-BRA didn’t know and he didn’t care. He trudged on in a foul mood. He never even got a chance to torture L-SIDNEY. He began to curse loudly as he walked. They were barely two miles beyond the outskirts of their burning village when he ordered everyone to stop and rest. 


He ordered one of his lackeys to bring one of the girls over to him. “Keep her hands tied behind her. I don’t trust her.” Soon it was done and the girl stood before him. BRILL-BRA considered that a little pleasuring from her would improve his mood and let him plot out his next moves. But what the hell was this? She was crying! “STOP CRYING!” he screamed, “or I will give you something to cry about! Why the hell are you crying?” 

The girl shivered in fear, and her voice was choked, but she managed a weak, tremulous reply. “I don’t know where Daddy is. Our whole village has been burned up. Why are you not crying, oh great leader?” 

Though these words were spoken in hardly more than a hoarse whisper, others had heard it. BRILL-BRA became flustered and embarrassed. “Because I am a man and men don’t cry. They build things and fix things. But you are beyond fixing!” He planted his foot in her belly and shoved her backwards. She fell back heavily and screamed in pain as she fell spraining her wrist which was trapped under her. Her head grazed a sharp rock and blood began to flow from her ear onto her disheveled ringlets. “Oh, CRAP!” screamed BRA-BRILL. NUT-PI always wanted the children delivered as tribute to be clean and uninjured so that he and he alone would be responsible for their various disfigurations and injuries. 

BRILL-BRA yelled at one of his soldiers to “Stop the bleeding and clean this one up. Bring me another. And make sure she’s got a nice smile on her face and is not blubbering like a child!” 

A thought flashed through the soldier’s mind, “But she is a child.” Naturally, he did not utter this aloud. He dutifully did as ordered. Soon, a still younger child was forced to kneel before BRILL-BRA. 




Tu-Swift raced downhill to escape the attacking flames. The thick smoke choked him and the air itself seemed to lack its very essence. He could not hear his comrades above the crackling of the fire nor see any sign of them. Suddenly, his foot landed wrong and he heard and felt a snapping within himself even above the roar of the raging fire. He heard a scream and landed hard on his stomach. He tried to breathe but couldn’t. Still the flames pursued him and he managed to rise to his hands and knees. He couldn’t stand upright. Something was wrong with his right leg. He scrambled on hands and knees to the edge of a stream and then into it. On the far side, he saw a large cliff coming right down to the water’s edge. He scrambled toward it. The cliff rock had split and he slipped into the large crack. He thought this would be as protected a space as he could find in his current condition. Surrounded by rock, scraped and scratched, he lay sideways in the cleft. Tu-Swift looked up at a sliver of blue sky above him. Tu-Swift wondered idly why the sky was blue now instead of black with smoke. He wondered who had screamed. He lost consciousness and began a tortured dream.  

broken wood on black background

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Thanks to the translations of Salah Hudah, the remaining members of the Veritas rescue party discovered that Day-Nah did indeed belong to the Nomads of the South. A trading caravan had been attacked by those who steal children and many warriors had been killed on both sides. Day-Nah had been banged on the head and when he awoke, he was bouncing around on the back of a horse. He never saw his older sister nor his mother again. Soon after he awoke, he was shoved into a small wooden jail with Tu-Swift. Day-Nah related their days together and that Tu-Swift had sabotaged the bows and arrows of the people who stand atop horses and also contrived to set the horses free. He had no knowledge of what had happened to any of their missing party. 

They spent another day searching for their missing compatriots again signaling by clacking sticks together and through coded bird calls but there were no answering calls and no drumbeats. The fire had destroyed all hope of their normal tracking methods. Even the wolf cubs proved to be unhelpful. The fire had apparently destroyed the scents of the missing, or perhaps simply overlain it with the smell of so much death and destruction that it obscured the odor of mere humans. 

photo of pile of burning wood

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on

Shadow Walker dreaded returning to the Veritas without Tu-Swift and with two more of their number missing. It seemed most likely that their friends had all died in the fire. It was also possible that all three or some of them had been captured by the ROI though they had not seen any of the ROI warriors, if that’s what they were, headed in their direction. Rather, when last seen, they were running back toward the ROI Village. Once there, they might have joined up with a much greater force and would now be marching out to find them and probably to continue on to the center place of the Veritas where they might wreak more death and destruction. 

They had important information about these people who sit astride horses, these stealers of children. This information must be shared with the tribe. They must prepare for another attack. From Day-Nah’s story, it seemed clear that stealing children might be a way of life for these people. Many Paths needed to consult with everyone about choosing what to do about child stealers living so near them. When Shadow Walker thought of Many Paths a great gray sadness weighed upon his heart. Could he tell her that Tu-Swift had disappeared? What might her response be? He wondered whether she would now hate him forever and indeed, whether he could forgive himself. But the area of destruction was so vast that they could search for weeks without finding the remains of Tu-Swift and the others. Meanwhile, the people who steal children might be mounting a giant attack on the Veritas. If that were the case, it would be important that all of the Veritas learn as much as possible about these people who steal children. 

Shadow Walker wished that he could discuss matters with Many Paths, or with She Who Saves Many Lives. He toyed with one of the rings of empathy, turning it this way and that in his hand. Somehow, he found comfort in knowing that Many Paths had such a ring as well. The substance of the ring reminded him of something. That something tickled at the edges of his mind. “The door!” he suddenly spoke aloud. That mysterious substance had been a cousin to this but much colder and much harder. For some reason he could not explain, this insight gave him confidence. He proposed that he would stay here alone and continue to search for their missing companions while the others returned with the news. He proposed to keep the wolf pups with him to aid in his searches. Perhaps once the stench of the burned grasses and trees subsided, the pups would be able to catch a scent. He would only slow them down if pursued on their journey home but hobbling slowly might be an actual advantage in searching for the missing trio.  


And so it was that at the next dawning, Fleet-of-Foot, Hudah Salah, Day-Nah, and Easy Tears ate what would perhaps be their last meal with Shadow Walker and began their trek back to the homeland of the Veritas. Their hearts were filled with important information but also with heavy news about their friends. Shadow Walker watched the ever-diminishing image of his companions disappearing over the blackened hilltop. He would not see them for a time that might grow to forever. 

He once again took out one of the Rings of Empathy and rolled it in his palm. He recalled a talk that he had had with Many Paths. She had jokingly told him how She Who Saves Many Lives, despite her aged body, could sneak up on someone unawares. According to Many Paths, She Who Saves Many Lives had laughed and explained how she managed the trick and Shadow Walker determined that he too could learn such a trick.

praying mantes

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He decided that he would carefully examine the area around the creek for signs of the missing three. He would contrive to become even more skillful at the art of Shadow Walking. He would, as had been suggested by She Who Saves Many Lives, move only when the wind moved. He would make himself smell of the forest or the plains. He would advance from shadow to shadow in the unpredictable and random way of life itself. He would watch the comings and goings of the people in the village so that he would appear to be one among them. In this way, he thought to sneak unseen, unheard, and unknown back into the village of the people who steal children. If found, he would release Tu-Swift again. One way or another, in his next meeting with Many Paths, he would bring her certain, if unpleasant, news. Or, he would never meet her again in this life. He might instead die trying to find the missing brother of Many Paths. 


The Myth of the Orange Man

The First Ring of Empathy (Start of Book 1 of the Myths of the Veritas)

The Start of Book 2 of the Myths of the Veritas

Author Page on Amazon. 

Finger-Pointing among the ROI


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Among the ROI, it was common for each person to become a specialist in one or two of the tasks of the tribe. One such person, named Jaccim Nohan, specialized in capturing children. Indeed, he had been one of those who had attacked the Veritas at high feast and had carried off Tu-Swift on the back of his horse. Between slave-gathering raids, he worked with the horses and when all the horses of the ROI had begun to run off, it fell to him and two others to attempt to recapture them. Most of the horses had run far south, but a few, perhaps attempting to reconnect with their foals, had instead galloped about the village adding to the general confusion. 

Nohan ran after them to little avail. The noise made by the ROI themselves added to the terror of the horses. As one of them ran by, Nohan noticed that a fair length of frayed rope still trailed behind one of the chestnut mares. He thought to grab the rope and quickly wind it around a strong post. In this way he hoped to stop at least one horse from dangerously galloping to and fro among the villagers and soldiers. 


At first, his plan seemed to be working well. He grabbed the rope and the horse turned toward Nohan. The rope slackened and Nohan spotted a sturdy nearby post. He quickly grabbed the rope and began tying it in loops around the post. The horse reared up, spooked, and turned away in a panic. The horse broke the post in two and the loops of rope entangled around Nohan’s forearm. Suddenly, he found himself being dragged through the village. He tried several times to disentangle himself from the rope, all the while cursing himself and the horse. 

Nohan’s clothing and then his skin disintegrated from the friction. The horse dragged him near the paddock and into a large pile of fresh manure that Tu-Swift and Day-Nah had constructed only a few days ago. The horse felt the tug and turned back to regard the situation. Nohan managed to free himself of his bonds before losing consciousness. The last thing he recalled was the chestnut mare pawing the air over him. 


The ROI soldiers imagined that they were under attack from a large army and immediately sped to the place where their bows and arrows were kept. As each arrived, they looked in disbelief to see that all of their bows were gone! A few went inside the armory to retrieve swords and clubs. Inside they found a few bows in working order as well as some arrows. As hastily as a group of disorganized men who are used to being told what to do in a very organized fashion can, they gathered their weapons and headed to the barn to get atop horses to fight the enemy they thought numerous. But there were no horses to be had! 

The head magistrate for the ROI, BRILL-BRA had been sound asleep after a long wine-filled orgy with several young slaves when the chaos began. He shook his head. That, he decided, was a mistake for a massive headache ensued. He threw on a robe and stumbled out into the square and saw the chaos. He wobbled unsteadily over to a large hunk of resonant metal which was suspended near a central dais and struck it hard. A few people nearby heard it and stopped their running uselessly about and came to the circle of benches near the large platform which BRILL-BRA had surmounted. He continued to ring the gong whose sound penetrated about the general din. More and more people began to stop their craziness and remember their discipline. Eventually, almost all the uninjured came to hear their leader’s orders. 

herd of sheep

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BRILL-BRA had no more idea what was happening than anyone else. But he recognized an opportunity to consolidate his power and so he took it. He “called on” various members of the ROI to explain what had happened, shushing anyone who was not “called on.” As the various members of the tribe spoke up, he began to piece together a picture of what had happened. The ROI had made many mistakes. The biggest blunder? Raiding the Veritas in the first place which had yielded only one potential slave. That slave had apparently managed to escape, taking another boy with him. Now, the ROI were short in their agreed upon number of slaves that they owed the Z-Lotz. Well, that was easily solved. He’ll find a scapegoat or two from among the ROI and take their children to make up the shortfall. More of that later, he thought. Apparently, there were no horses available right now, so he realized if they had any hope of recaptured the slave boys, he would have to send out a raiding party soon. 

He asked for volunteers and was heartened to see that all the young men of sound body volunteered. Inwardly, he snickered yet again at how easily manipulated they all were. Outwardly though, he arranged his face as appropriate to moods of fear, and hatred, and occasionally belittling the enemy encouraging his own people to think that the Veritas had used witchcraft and magic to multiply the effectiveness of their vastly superior numbers. It would be in no-one’s interest, he rationalized, to let them know what he suspected — that a mere handful had thrown their village into such disarray. That handful would be tracked down and killed before long. Better yet, perhaps a few could be captured alive and tortured to death for the entertainment of his followers. 


BRILL-BRA chose a party of a dozen men whom he knew to be fast runners and good archers. The rest would be posted as guards around the village. This move solidified the atmosphere of fear and hate that he wished to prolong as long as possible. His people, he knew, proved much easier to manipulate and lie to when he kept them in a near constant state of anxiety and anger. The attack group soon set off toward the Veritas central place. BRILL-BRA thought it likely the Veritas would choose the most direct path back toward their home. For his part, BRILL-BRA spent a few more minutes rousing his audience to fear and righteous indignation about an enemy who would use dark magic to overcome the obviously superior ROI people. He promised revenge and then, told the people to go and repair the village while he, BRILL-BRA would undertake the most difficult task of all — which was to determine who among them had been derelict in duty. Of course, this also had the desired effect of putting everyone on edge. For they knew that anyone could be so accused and the penalty would be severe, if not fatal. 

Except for the dozen in the raiding party, the ROI worked to restore their village and to try to capture the escaped horses. For his part, BRILL-BRA spent a pleasant day interviewing candidates for his wrath. He had learned from NUT-PI, now the leader of the Z-LOTZ, the trick of making the suspects kneel on sharp gravel while he grilled them. Torturing his own people always put a smile on his face. With them kneeling before him, he always felt superior. And after all, he thought, I am superior. After all, they are the ones in pain and I am the one in charge. He smirked as they struggled to try to keep their composure and swear their loyalty to him while he pretended to consider what they said. After a long day of this, he finally feasted heartily and ordered some more slave children to be brought for his pleasure. This too, he enjoyed, not so much for the sex, per se, though that indeed was pleasurable, but more for the joy of knowing he had complete control over someone else’s body.   

He woke in the morning to the glorious glow of sunrise, a sunrise unusually vivid and red. He ordered one of his personal guards to bring him the three daughters of L-SIDNEY. They were a bit on the young side, but he fancied them. He decided to blame L-SIDNEY for the fiasco, mainly because he wanted his three daughters. The choice was also easy to rationalize because L-SIDNEY had been one of the three men who had been responsible for training up the two male captives to help with the horses. Since the horses had escaped along with the two kids, it seemed only fitting to make him pay by giving him his daughters. It wasn’t strictly necessary to come up with an explanation like that, but it helped. It gave the ROI people the semblance of a rationale so that they would be more comfortable with what would otherwise merely seem like random cruelty.  


Guernica by Picasso

BRILL-BRA also planned to take the daughters with him (once he tired of them) to help fill his quota for the Z-LOTZ. L-SIDNEY himself — BRILL-BRA toyed with various torture deaths. Slow burning was nice. Stoning was okay too, provided that people were only allowed small stones. NUT-PI had some wonderful ideas along these lines, many of which BRILL-BRA had never seen in person but was eager to try. As he nibbled on his food and fantasized about torturing L-SIDNEY, he vaguely noticed something odd about this morning’s sunrise. The crimson sky seemed to grow in intensity rather than diminish over time. And, then, there was that odd noise in the distance. It drew nearer. Well, he thought, someone else will take care of that. He laughed as he contemplated trying out the growing through the body bamboo torture.

His pleasant reverie was shattered by a shouting guard outside his cabin. He vowed to torture the guard as well. He stepped outside to find out who his second victim would be and then saw that the entire sky was red. At the southern edge of the village he could see flames devouring the fir trees. “CRAP!” he shouted. The guard screamed “FIRE!” and did not wait to take his leave. BRILL-BRA screamed more profanity and ran back inside to grab his small bag of precious stones and metals. The roar of the fire grew deafening and he could actually feel the heat. The ROI were running everywhere. They were too panicked to stop. BRILL-BRA ran too. 


Meanwhile, Jaccim Nohan awoke in great pain and confusion. He ached everywhere and his ample though shredded flesh ached. He crawled out of the large pile of horse manure and saw that the entire sky glowed red. Though still at some distance, he could feel the heat of the fire. He did not feel strong enough to make his broken body run. Into his mind flashed an image of the fruit cellar that lay beneath one corner of the large lodge used for dining and for storing weapons. It lay only forty yards upwind of the barn. He crawled as fast as he could just as the flames began to emerge from the fir forest. Adrenaline managed to help his broken body traverse the distance and crawl into the landing. From there, he sat on the stairway and used his hands to lower himself, step by step, into the fruit cellar. He did not know whether he could survive but he hoped so. In one corner was a cistern of water used to soften dried fruit and he wet some cloths and pulled them around himself and awaited his fate as the flames roared and cracked outside. Nohan’s pain so overwhelmed him that he felt unsure whether he wished the flames would spare him or consume him. 


Author Page on Amazon. 



Fire Arrows


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Eagle Eyes suddenly put her hand up thus silencing Tu-Swift in his recounting. She pointed to a spot on the horizon. The others stared but saw nothing. She made the sign for “fire” and then pointed to another spot and again made the sign for “fire.” The sun now began to rise behind them but shadows still obscured the valley between their small party and the people who steal children. A cool breeze freshened behind their backs. The wolves would not be able to catch a scent if they were being pursued. All of the party trained their eyes on the places where Eagle Eyes pointed but nothing appeared to them. They stared into the valley below: grassland, scrubby trees, and on one side a forest of conifers. On the other side, another forest bordered with birches and aspens. 

photo of trees and mountain

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The wind, they knew would carry their voices as well as their scent so they deliberated in quiet. If they stood their ground here atop the hill, they would have some advantage in a fight. If their enemy approached on horses, they would not be able to outrun them. They might be better off to stay and fight from the high ground. Tu-Swift shot his hand out and nodded vigorously, making the sign for “fire.” He too saw these flashes of flames. Soon, the others detected these fires that multiplied and flickered in the nearby woods. Shadow Walker, Fleet of Foot, and Lion Slayer each strung one of the bows that Tu-Swift had stolen and lay arrows beside them, ready to shoot when the time came. 

A hail of flaming arrows suddenly streamed toward them. Shadow Walker laughed. What a terrible aim they had, he thought to himself for he could see that the arrows would fall well behind them. Lion Slayer saw this as well, but he yelled at the others to run and follow him. “Fire!” he screamed and began to run down the hill away from the forest of evergreens toward the birches. Shadow Walker frowned for a moment thinking Lion Slayer a coward not to stand and fight. A jumble of thought-images flickered through his mind: Lion Slayer, lion, a lion slain, a fire, The Legend of the Orange Man and then he understood and urged everyone to follow. 

bonfire burning camp campfire

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Shadow Walker understood that their enemy had not aimed at them but at the grassy expanse behind them. Even now, the dry grass was taking hold and burning quickly up the hill behind them. Lion Slayer had realized immediately that running away from the evergreen forest was their only hope. The entire party now ran headlong down the side of the hill away from the forest. Shadow Walker glanced back and could see their pursuers now emerging from the edge of the forest. He saw that they were not atop horses. Perhaps they could out run both them and the fire, but if they loosed another volley of arrows they could start a new fire. He stopped for a moment, turned back and picked up the small friend of Tu-Swift who was falling behind. 

It seemed to Shadow Walker that fire now roared all around them. Thick black smoke hid each from the others and they continued their descent, running blind. Shadow Walker’s foot landed on a loose rock and he fell heavily while Day-Nah flew off his back and tumbled away from him.  The fire seemed to suck life out of the air around them. Shadow Walker crouched on all fours attempting to catch his breath. He stood but saw no sign of the others. Flames surrounded him. He was disoriented and could see nothing and he heard no voices above the roaring flames. Wolves! He heard the wolf pups and, having no other beacon, ran toward the sound of their voices. 

Shadow Walker’s feet suddenly splashed into cold water. He had come to a broad shallow river. Here, smoke hung still heavy in the air, but there were no flames surrounding him. A splash beside him made him spin around ready to kill but it was the small friend of Tu-Swift. Shadow Walker heard coughing and saw Hudah Salah splashing toward him. The air began to clear around them. 

cascade creek environment fern

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Wind is a fickle friend. Those who loose fire — or hatred — upon a land or a people, can never predict with certainly where those flames will lead. Fed by the fuel of fierce desire to destroy and flowing with the ever changing winds, foolish indeed are those who think these movements may be directed and channeled. 

This day, the winds had shifted and the fire now pursued the pursuers and the fire burned toward the people who steal children. Though slower on the downhill side, it chased the ROI into the forest, but did not stop at the edge of the forest. Encouraged by the richer fuel within, the blaze now devoured its way back into the fir and pine. Another small fire had begun when one of the ROI had pulled back his lit arrow, and before he could release it, the weakened nock broke and the flaming arrow had fell at the bowman’s feet instantly igniting the grass around him. The breaking of the bow stung his arms and in his surprise, he ran into the forest rather than attempting to put out the small fire around him. Of course, it quickly grew and like his larger cousin, relished the change in wind that allowed him to charge into the fuel-rich forest. 

orange fire

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As the air cleared around Shadow Walker and Hudah Salah, the rescue party began to see that in the distance, a great fire was destroying the forest — and all the creatures within. Easy Tears soon joined them along with the wolf pups. Fleet-of-Foot and Day-Nah also joined them. The stream water was cold. Shadow Walker looked about. Though there was no immediate threat of fire, he knew that winds were unpredictable. If the wind shifted directly toward them, the fire would find nothing to burn. In front of him, in a direct line to the forest of firs, the entire grass hillside had been burned to ash. On the other side of the burned grassland, the evergreen forest bloomed red and black. Huge flames leapt to the sky. The fire seemed intent on burning back toward the center place of the people who stole children. But fire is unpredictable. It might then turn and come up the other side of the valley after them. But where was Tu-Swift? Where was Eagle Eyes? Where was Lion Slayer? 

Shadow Walker began to realize that his ankle was badly sprained. He gestured the others to come to the edge of the stream to parley. That sat for a few moments in silence. Each of them had just barely escaped death, after all. No-one seemed badly burned or injured. But three of their party remained unaccounted for. Shadow Walker sat on the edge of the stream, shivering with the others, keeping his turned ankle in the icy water. He focused his energy on telling it not to swell. At last, he opened his mouth to speak, but the small thin voice of Day-Nah spoke first. 

“Tu-Swift?” he questioned. “Tu-Swift run? Tu-Swift hide? Tu-Swift?” 

Shadow Walker almost choked up with tears. He cupped his hands around his mouth, gestured for the others to follow his lead and they all turned toward the center place of the ROI and shouted “TU-SWIFT!  TU-SWIFT!” Then, they cupped their hands behind their ears to amplify any returning call. Nothing. “Eagle Eyes! EAGLE EYES!” Nothing. They did the same for Lion Slayer. Nothing. Then, they all turned in a slightly different direction and did the same. They completed this circle twice with no response. The roaring, sparking fire was the only sure sound though on several occasions they all thought they heard screams of agony.

fire warm radio flame

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At last the sun shone over the peak of the hill; the smoke clouds no longer hid its warming rays and they began to parley on whether the people who steal children had survived to chase them further and whether and how and where to search for those missing from their party. Hudah Salah regarded Shadow Walker’s ankle with a grimace. She tore some of her garments and took his ankle gently into her lap where the wrapped cloth tightly about it and tied it. “Too tight – you loose. Too loose – you tight. Understand?” 

Shadow Walker looked into her face. He could see genuine caring and concern and beyond that he saw her fear – that her husband, Lion Slayer might have been lost to the flames. This tore at the heart of Shadow Walker. He had come here to rescue Tu-Swift, who was nowhere to be found and he may have lost two of their party and still not returned Tu-Swift to Many Paths as he had promised. 


He stood at last, and hobbled a few steps. He would be of no use searching. They worked together to devise a search plan. They would communicate by alternating whistling like an eagle and drumming with sticks. If anyone saw a sign of the return of their pursuers, they would warn the others. If they met up with any of their missing party, they would likewise let the others know. They would meet back at the stream at sunset. Shadow Walker and Day-Nah would stay behind to relay messages and Shadow Walker would try to learn more from Day-Nah. Though Day-Nah’s ability to speak Veritas was limited, he hoped he could learn something, and he began to query the little fellow. “Tu-Swift? Where Tu-Swift?” 

The child repeated back. “Tu-Swift! Tu-Swift — good!” This was followed by gibberish more unintelligible to him than the hissing of a snake. But Salah Hadam, who had just gathered up her pack, and headed off to search, snapped around. She spoke to the boy rapidly in some foreign tongue. They spoke excitedly back and forth for several minutes and the others also turned back. Fleet-of-Foot could stand it no longer. 

“What is he saying? Is he of your tribe? Where is Tu-Swift?” 

Salah Hadam, generally quite demure, put up her had as though to push away Fleet-of-Foot and looked him in the eye and said, “You. Stop! He talk!” She turned back to Day-Nah and they continued to converse. Shadow Walker had no idea what she said, but Fleet-of-Foot understood much of what they said. He stooped down beside Shadow Walker and spoke in a stage whisper. 


“This boy does not know what happened to Tu-Swift. They were together running down the hill quickly to escape fire. Black smoke and fire everywhere. Tu-Swift had helped Day-Nah get up after you dropped him and had yelled, “Run, Day-Nah. RUN!” 

“Day-Nah had looked over to see Tu-Swift but he saw nothing. He had vanished into smoke.”

Fleet-of-Foot realized that this conversation would continue for awhile and he set down his pack beside Salah Hadam and began translating as best he could to all the rest. One by one, the rescuers set down their packs and began listening to Day-Nah’s story.


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How do you Re-culture a Culture?


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We now live (at least in the USA) in such a divided and divisive political climate that I hesitate to bring up something that sounds political but really isn’t. I don’t even have a position, at least as of yet. It’s just a thought I had while I was reaching out to people in India and inviting them to my blog. 

ancient architecture asia building

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Here it is. The USA has a very competitive and individualistic culture. It’s been that way my whole life, but now, it’s insanely so. For one thing, people spend proportionally much more time watching TV and playing on the Internet than they do interacting face to face. In effect, everyone is “competing” not just with local talent, but with people from all over the country. In a nation of 330,000,000 people, 329,999,999 of them will not be the best runner in the country. The vast majority of people will never be winners. This may be why lotto and the Reader’s Digest drawing may be so appealing to so many. 


But it isn’t just running, and throwing, and high jump where we see competition. We have contests around human activities that have traditionally been mainly about bonding and cooperating, not about competing and winning. We have contests about cooking, and dancing, and singing. I grant you that in the past, small communities might have a dancing contest, once a year. But most of their activity was cooperative activity face to face, and certainly not cutthroat competition. Now, the contest is not part of the yearly festival. The contest is all there is. And, for the most part, the contest is all that is broadcast. 


It seems that we here in America, with many exceptions and so on, have a culture of individuality and contest is everything there is. Oh, and of course, money. For instance, for far too many Americans the first question they ask about anything is “how much money?” I’ve seen articles that purport to tell retirees what the best place to retire is. Some of those articles focus solely on the financial aspects. Some articles ask which college provides the best education but all they really talk about is ROI. 

We’ve actually accomplished a lot as a nation with this kind of crazy culture. It helped us achieve in terms of invention, discovery, and innovation. But what if the problems of the 21st century are of a fundamentally different nature? What if most of the problems we faced in the 20th century resonated well with a culture that encouraged competition, but that now, as we embark on the 21st century, the nature of problems has shifted. Perhaps now we face problems that require a much more collaborative and cooperative cultural attitude in order to solve? 


Naturally, these are large trends that I’m talking about. Not every single problem we faced changed lock-step overnight. Let’s examine some examples though. A 1930’s problem might be: “How can we clear cut this forest as cheaply as possible?” And the logging company that solved that problem “won” and got rich. A 2030’s problem might be framed this way: “Is it feasible to provide material by using this forest in a sustainable and humane fashion? How?” One lends itself fairly well to top-down direction. One does not. The reader can guess which is which. 

depth of field photography of brown tree logs

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A 1950’s problem might be: “How can we entice consumers into buying one of our new cars when their old car still works?” A 2050’s problem might be: “How do we provide a transportation system that is effective, efficient, and pleasant for everyone involved?” One is about manipulation and disregards collateral damage. The other collaboratively looks to a sustainable solution without side-effects that are so negative they outweigh the good done by the transportation system. 

american car auto automobile automotive

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Can American culture evolve quickly enough to be a partner on the world stage in the 21st century? If not, the absolute best we can hope for is slow decay full of internal bickering and hostility as people point fingers and shout loudly in order to establish blame. 

Do we really need to change our culture and change it quickly to avoid that? Or, is the emphasis on competition and individuality still the right way to go? 


Other countries and cultures are already ahead of us in cooperation. Look at the cost versus benefits of their health care systems for one. 

How can we change and work together as a culture to a develop a more cooperative view when we seem to be so divided and competitive? That is a real puzzle. 

Do you have a piece of that puzzle? I’d love to hear about it. 

Or, do you think we should “double down” on competition and individuality? I’d love to hear about that as well.


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Corn on the Cob


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{This is not part of the “Myths of the Veritas” series. But writing about these ancient, if mythical, people has caused me to reflect on how much we owe today to the millennia of humans who preceded us.}

Corn on the Cob.

boiled corn

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I made corn on the cob tonight for dinner. I cooked it in the micro-wave the perfect amount  of time and put just the right amount of butter and seasoning. I loved it. And, I have loved corn on the cob ever since I can remember. 

Now, I am guessing that most of you saw no problem with my first statement. Indeed, this is how most people speak about “making dinner” and generally the way I think about it as well. 

But think for another moment. Did I really make the dinner? I might have grown the corn in my garden (in this case, I did not), but I certainly didn’t build the microwave from scratch! And, I did not milk the cow nor churn the butter. And similarly, the seasonings were not something I went out and found. 

Corn? Corn was first domesticated in Mexico about 10,000 years ago. It did not look or taste like it does today. Consider: the first corn was not something that these early Mexicans discovered in a seed catalog or happened across on an afternoon stroll through the supermarket. 

agriculture arable barley close up

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There were people among these tribes who learned from people who learned from people who learned…from many generations how to grow food, how to choose the very best from among those foods and then not eat them but instead use them to seed the next generations. 

I am quite sure that most of you have worked hard in your careers. Maybe your career lasted 50 years, like mine. A half century is not an inconsiderable time. But the corn that we eat today is the result of the labor of many people: ancient Mexicans; early settlers to the American continent; scientists from across the globe. The overall effort it took to create the corn that I cooked today is undoubtedly thousands of times greater than the effort I spent preparing it. 

Not to mention the microwave! How did that come about? How many scientists and engineers over how many years? Of course, they could not even have begun to work on such a thing without other scientists and mathematicians from around the world advancing basic physics, equations, zero, numbers, counting — going back again — thousands of years! 


Statue of Archimedes who brought value to many, and who was killed by a Roman soldier.

A similar timeline exists for salt, pepper, and butter. Have you ever actually seen a cow? They’re big! They’re strong! Who knows how many ancient peoples died in the process of trying to domesticate cows. 


And, let us not forget the leisure that comes from living in a house and not fighting off Saber-Tooth tigers while I’m trying to cook. (Although our youngest kitten Luna, did persistently try to lick the butter and nibble the tuna salad. She’s still young and has much to learn.)

Everything in the way of goods and services and security that we enjoy in a so-called “civilized” society is something we might think is something we “deserve” because, after all, we worked hard all our lives. But let’s not forget that if you were born in the stone age, you could work hard all your life and not get anything like the luxuries we have today. Those products and services are the result of countless numbers of other people who tried to leave the earth better for their fellow humans than the way they found it.  

The next time a thought crosses your mind that you ought to be able to keep every cent of the income that “you” earned, hopefully you will chew awhile on the fact that everything you enjoy today is the result of other living beings doing things for themselves and doing things for future generations. Some of them were your direct ancestors but the vast majority were not. They were people of all colors, countries and religious persuasions. 


And, every time you look at your computer screen, or watch a movie, or put on a pair of shoes, or use your indoor plumbing, or sleep in a vermin free house, or listen to a song, or pet your dog without it biting off your hand — all these things we take for granted were vast gifts from earlier and current generations. 

Yes, you should we rewarded for your hard work, but let’s not delude ourselves. The fraction of all that we have that we could have achieved on our own is miniscule. 

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Unstrung Bow & Unsteady Arrow of the Cruel


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The Unstrung Bow & The Unsteady Arrow of the Cruel


Tu-Swift discovered that waiting, just waiting, can often prove more difficult even than a hand-blistering day of shoveling horse manure. He returned to his training. “Inventory” he whispered to himself. After recalling everything about himself, his surroundings, Day-Nah, and the circumstances, he carefully went over the plans, if he might even call them that. He wished he had a weapon. His small sharp stone was no match for their odd looking bows, all of which they methodically hung up in a row on the outside of a building next to the barn, their strings dangling. Beneath each bow, a quiver of arrows stood upright on the pounded dirt. Tu-Swift’s brow furrowed as a strange thought came to edge of his mind. He nearly swatted it away as reflexively as he might swat away an annoying fly. 

Like all the Veritas, he had been taught that theft, like every manifestation of greed, was wrong-headed. It would be feeding the “bad wolf” within himself. He would never steal from another of the Veritas. But these people who stood atop horses had stolen him. And, he suspected, that they had also stolen Day-Nah. So, maybe stealing some of their bows would be….It took a lot of work and effort to make a good bow; this he knew from personal experience. But to steal a person from their family, from their tribe? Surely that was far worse. Those bows, along with the arrows, had been loosed upon his tribe. On the other hand, trying to carry several dozen bows would be too awkward when trying to escape. He dug out his hard, small stone and turned it over in his hand. Tu-Swift chuckled inwardly. “You are not much of a weapon, little stone, but perhaps you can defeat a stronger one.” He thought he would try to manage stealing three of the bows and a quiver of arrows.

black and brown bow on grass field during daytime

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Tu-Swift looked out into the dark, silent, and empty courtyard of the Center Place of the child-stealers. He heard no-one stirring about. He could hear the noises, faint and distant, of the horses nickering and of people snoring, but he could not detect any footsteps. He signaled Day-Nah to stay close and to stay quiet. Despite his young age, Day-Nah was quite adept at being careful and quiet. Careful to slink along in the shadows, they slowly made their way toward the paddock, from stump, to shed, to bush, always seeking some way to stay hidden in the darkness. Now, however, to get to the hanging bows, he would have to venture into open ground. If one of the guards saw him, they would raise an alarm. Others might think he was simply a youth on his way to relieve himself. 

He grabbed a handful of the bows and brought them into the vacant log building. He inserted his thin stone knife into the nock at the bottom of an unstrung bow and twisted. The nock snapped just as he had hoped. He worked as quickly as he could. After disabling the bows, he gestured for Day-Nah to stay inside while Tu-Swift ventured back outside to gather another armful of bows and quivers. He quickly snuck back inside and repeated the process. This time however, instead of completely breaking off the nock, he cracked it enough, as best he could judge, that attempting to string the bow would finish the job. 

abandoned architecture brick brick wall

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By being so organized, he reflected, these child-stealers had made themselves more vulnerable. That seemed odd, but Tu-Swift did not follow that path and instead looked about in the dim light for a place to hide arrows. Working quickly, he placed most of the arrows underfoot and bent them up enough to crack them without severing them. 

Although concentrating on breaking as many arrows as he could, he realized that this place was quite unlike anything among the Veritas. Nothing in this place seemed round and living. It all looked hard and sharp even in the semi-darkness. He whispered softly and gestured to Day-Nah making him to understand that he was to hide these bows and arrows. He went outside and gathered the rest of the bows and arrows. As he did so, he could perceive a slight glow on the horizon. The moon was about to rise! 


He went back inside and slung the arrows around the odd room, stomped on all the quivers, save one which he saved for himself. Then, he made Day-Nah understand that he needed now to be very quiet. He took his hand and they peered out into the courtyard. Still no-one appeared. Why were there no sentries? Did these people who stole children not suppose someone would come to rescue him? Another thought for another day. The moonlight now showed itself in patches between deep shadows as they padded their way to the meadow where the horses and mares were near each other though separated.  

Tu-Swift picked up two sticks from the woodpile and banged them together, trying to sound as much like a woodpecker as he could. “We are with the horses in the meadow. I am about to set them free on your signal.” 



Immediately, he heard another “woodpecker” answer: “We are here. Set them free. Then run to our sound.” 

He and Day-Nah went over to the small new pens that Tu-Swift had constructed to separate the foals and mares. He pulled out a few rails of wood and the foals were now free to go. The foals however did not seem to notice, instead sticking close to their mothers. Tu-Swift again cautioned Day-Nah to remain quiet. He saw shadowy figures emerge from the nearby grove of firs and they began dismantling the fence. A flash of moonlight happened to fall on the face of Shadow Walker and Tu-Swift could barely contain a cry of joy from escaping his throat. 

The horses had been nickering nervously from the smell of so many unknown humans, but now a few began rearing up and pawing the air. In so doing, they discovered that their feet were no longer strongly tethered. The mares whinnied and reunited through the broken fences with their foals. Tu-Swift then heard a wonderful sound – the sound of Shadow Walker saying it was time to join up. He grabbed Day-Nah’s hand and they ran toward the fir grove. The horses seemed to be scattering everywhere. 


As they ran into fir grove, he could hear yelling and many footsteps back in the main courtyard. Although he had learned almost nothing of the language of those who steal children, he could tell from the frustration in the voices that the warriors of those who steal children began to discover that their bows were not in their proper place. Better yet, they began screaming accusations at each other rather than searching for their lost weapons.

The Veritas party proceeded quickly through the fir grove through the trail that they had marked. Shadow Walker bore Day-Nah on his back. After running quickly for a time, Shadow Walker put up his hand and they all stopped to listen. They could hear a great many voices – the tribe who steals children sounded much like a broken hive of bees. Shadow Walker stood Day-Nah on the ground for a moment. Shadow Walker bent and put his hands on his knees to help catch his breath. He lifted his head and caught the eye of Day-Nah who said in heavily accented Veritas, “I run” and he used his hand to gesture a run, scissoring his fingers back and forth as Tu-Swift had done. Shadow Walker looked at the boys wide dark eyes and nodded. 

Now, the rescuers and the two boys jogged at an easier pace for nearly two hours, circling part-way around the stronghold of the tribe who steals children and back toward the home of the Veritas. Just before dawn, quite exhausted, after clambering up a fairly steep hill, they sat down to rest and stretch for a moment. Eagle Eyes scanned the horizon for pursuers but listened intently as Tu-Swift quickly recounted what he knew of this tribe who perches atop horses and steals children from their families. The boy spoke so quickly that Eagle Eyes had trouble understanding, but Hudah Salah appeared to follow the tale without difficulty.



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