She Who Saves Many Lives heard a familiar voice, as though from far away. I am dreaming, she realized. It is Tu-Swift. I wonder what he wants. Oh, of course. He wants me to bring Suze back to life. But I cannot do that. He knows that. Such a lovely dream. I must return. Such peace. So many flowers. There is a field of flowers. Wild roses, pink and white form hedges around the perimeter. And such lovely blue lupins. The happy white daisies. The bright sunflowers. You must see how beautiful it all is, Tu-Swift. But of course, he sees no such thing. His friend just died. I must rise from the dream now and give him my love. It seems so … difficult … to awake. It’s the fever. The red plague. Now Many Paths is talking too. What is she saying though? I must return to the dream. There, everything was easy…and beautiful. Understanding words is hard. Too hard. And understanding the meaning is harder still. And listening to the heart behind the meaning — the hope, the love, the fears — that is harder still. It is nearly time. Nearly time. But I must tell Many Paths something. And I must tell Tu-Swift something as well. Lids are such heavy things to lift. I never noticed that before.
“Hello, Many Paths. Hello, Tu-Swift.” The old shaman sighed and thought: My voice sounds so weak. Just a few hours ago, or possibly a few days ago, I sounded strong. And, look at my old lady’s skin. A covering of tiny red mountains. That is not so pretty.
Tu-Swift bent over her and said, “You’re awake! Good! Suze needs you! Many Paths cannot wake her! She needs a tonic from you or some magic or — I don’t know what! You must save her! Please!”
She Who Saves Many Lives looked at the face of Many Paths. The eyes of Many Paths held the answer that she already knew. She looked back to Tu-Swift. He knew as well. “I am so sorry, Tu-Swift. This red plague is not a good thing for us. Please back away from me. Don’t look at me like that. Of course, I still love you. While I was asleep, I recalled a story my mother told me long ago when I was a child much younger than you. Another plague came and people had to leave our village and go camp by themselves for a full moon. Those who stayed in the village almost all died, like Suze. Those who camped by themselves mostly lived. We must do the same. Stay back from the sick people. Even well people! Or you will get sick too. If two or three of us must talk, we must talk with a fire between us. Now, please, Tu-Swift, do not come close to me again, but you can go and make more of the healing tea for me. Leave it at the threshold and I’ll get it…or Many Paths may bring it to me. She’s just recovered. She won’t get sick again.”
Many Paths looked down at She Who Saves Many Lives and gently murmured, “Rest, Mother. Save your energy.”
The old Shaman smiled and spoke, “Yes, I will, but I may — I may soon join back with the soil from which the Great Tree of Life draws nourishment. There is something you must know. I need to … I had a dream. Perhaps I dreamt of the Forgotten Field of Flowers. Perhaps Not. But it was very beautiful and varied. And, it occurred to me that just as we who are among the Veritas all have something unique to contribute to the tribe, so too the various tribes have learned to adapt to various circumstances and therefore become expert in various things. This is the teaching of The Forgotten Field of Flowers, of course. That teaching is about people who may argue among the Veritas. But why limit it? Why not have all the Tribes come together and learn from each other?”
“Yes, as shown in The Battle of the Three Paths. In small. But are you saying include other tribes, even The ROI and the Z-Lotz? The Z-Lotz are treacherous! They steal children! That’s not even — that’s against life itself. And, they came — they may have brought the disease of red sores intentionally!”
“Yes. You cannot trust them. Not yet. But perhaps they will learn the value of truth from us and they could change. And, perhaps we can learn something from them. It doesn’t mean we have to steal children, or spread disease as they do.”
A silence grew between them. Many Paths held the old shaman’s hand. She could see that the Old One was drifting off to sleep so she held her hand and lay down beside her. Many Paths took deep calming breaths. She herself was not back to her full energy level so she let herself be lulled by the warm day into drowsiness. She listened to the sounds of her people at work outside. So many sick and unnecessarily so. It was hard to feel anything but contempt for the Z-Lotz who had brought them this disease. She wondered about Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes. What if they never returned? Perhaps they had been killed or taken captive. Maybe it was a mistake to even go there. As she usually did when she worried about Shadow Walker, she began to fiddle with the Sixth Ring of Empathy — the one that she alone shared with Shadow Walker. She turned it this way and that. She put it on her finger and her eyelids grew heavy with sleep.
She glanced over at She Who Saves Many Lives. She could see the many lines in her wrinkled visage. There was history there, Many Paths realized. And in her form was written, not just her personal history, but the history of the people. And in her form was written, not just the history of the Veritas, but the history of all people, for surely they all did form one small branch of the great Tree of Life. Many Paths contemplated this branch. Most of her friends were on this small branch — She Who Saves Many Lives, Shadow Walker, Tu-Swift, Eagle Eyes, Fleet of Foot. But every daisy, every oak, every butterfly, they were all on and constituted that great Tree of Life.
Many Paths listened to the beautiful haunting cooing of a mourning dove from somewhere outside. She wondered whether the dove also realized that they were from the same tree. If we are all of and make up the same tree, was it then possible, as She Who Saves Many Lives had hinted, for different tribes to get along? Many Paths closed her eyes and pictured Shadow Walker. Having him away — that was hard — especially when there was no guarantee that he would return. She touched the Sixth Ring of Empathy and traced the circle of metal around her finger. It calmed her and made her realize that the Tree itself was safe. So long as people of character like Shadow Walker did what they could, not only for themselves, but also for the Great Tree of Life itself, all would be well. Many Paths smiled. She knew in her heart that her friends would do what they could. Everyone’s path ended in this life. And yet, every path also led to other paths. A stream might dry up — even a lake — but water — water itself was plentiful. The path of paths went on forever. The water circled itself back into life. And the tree of life will be here long outlasting our individual lives, Many Paths realized. But this Tree of Life is not something separate from me, or from Shadow Walker or from Tu-Swift. We are all part of that Tree. In a way, dying was only an illusion. A tree doesn’t die, even in winter. It may lose all its leaves and look dead, but it is only dormant and waiting for another spring. None of us really dies. Still, I prefer him here, warm, in the pleasurable press of our warm bodies together. I will always have the memory, and there is that vast tree, The Tree of Life. That lasts forever. He is one of my favorite parts though. Yet, I feel as though he is alive. It could be illusion.
Many Paths jerked as her head began to fall with sleep and then she chuckled as an image flickered for a moment behind her eyes — an image of Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes sitting together on the throne of the Z-Lotz. She shook her head at that silliness then returned her mind back to the challenge that She Who Saves Many Lives had set for her: to bring all the tribes together. Was that possible? Or even desirable? A tree branches ever outwards. The branches don’t try to impale each other with thorns! Yet, Tu-Swift now feels as though he has been impaled. She Who Saves Many Lives sleeps. I will go and I will find Tu-Swift and comfort him. Can the Z-Lotz really have brought this plague here intentionally? And can I meet with them; dialogue with them if they have? But if I cannot meet with them, are we doomed yet again to war and killing and hatred? Then, her thoughts returned to Tu-Swift. Tu-Swift is alive and hurting. I must go see him. I just need to rest my eyes for a moment, then, I will find him.
Having concluded that, Many Paths fell into a deep sleep.