The news of the return of Eagle Eyes and Lion Slayer spread through the tribe quickly. When Hudah Salah first heard the news, she feared to believe it. She feared she might have misunderstood the language of the Veritas. As she scanned the faces around her and saw them all looking at her expectantly, she realized that she had heard correctly. Tears of joy streamed down her cheeks and once she determined which way her husband would be coming she began to walk toward him in a quick but dignified fashion. As she spied the familiar figure of the man she had been promised to as hardly more than a child, she forgot her studied decorum and trotted and then sprinted toward him calling his name. A grin consumed him and he ran toward her as well falling into a long, tight embrace.
The trio of berry pickers had just arrived in the Center Place of the Veritas when Eagle Eyes swung into the view as well. Trunk of Tree approached her awkwardly. She noticed something amiss in his bearing or she would have run into his arms as well. But perhaps, she thought, he has found another in my absence. For his part, Trunk of Tree saw her hesitation and considered that she was entering camp after a long absence in the company of another man, one for whom she obviously felt some affection. He frowned, not sure what to do in such a public forum. But Lion Slayer seemed to have eyes only for his own wife.
Many Paths embraced them both and suggested that rather than answering a thousand questions, they should all prepare a feast while their newly returned friends would have a chance to reconnect with their loved ones. After the feast, Many Paths suggested, the tribe should hear their tale from beginning to end, without interruption. After that, everyone could ask whatever questions they wished. Nods and assents as to the wisdom of this plan spread and the preparations were made. Many Paths saw that Lion Slayer took his wife by her hands and they made their way to their small tent. She also noted that Trunk of Tree spoke awkwardly with Eagle Eyes. After a few moments, Eagle Eyes walked over to Many Paths and the two of them embraced warmly. Eagles Eyes whispered to Many Paths during the embrace, “Many Paths, you can’t imagine how happy I am to see this place again. I look forward to sharing our adventures, but there is something I feel I must share with you immediately.”
Many Paths glanced at Trunk of Tree who stood awkwardly nearby. She whispered back to Eagle Eyes. “Certainly, though Trunk of Tree needs your assurance soon.”
Eagle Eyes stepped back a half pace. “I’m not sure he wants my assurances — or me. He seems much more distant than I pictured. Do you have any idea why?”
“Yes, I think he was — it’s a long story, truly, but what is your urgent news? You and I — we can catch up later and I will say what I know about Trunk of Tree and what I surmise. Anyway, you should prepare yourself for the feast. First, what is your news?”
“I will say more later, to the whole tribe, if you deem it wise. Everyone got separated in a fire and Lion Slayer and I looked for our companions but found no-one. A large caravan left the village of the ROI, which burned down, by the way, to a very large place such as I have never seen. It had many walls and there we saw … we saw someone — perhaps, the leader of this City torture and kill someone.”
“I am sorry you had to see that, Eagle Eyes.”
“No, you don’t understand. It was the way he did it. He pointed a kind of magic spear at the man but did not touch him at all! Yet, it caused great damage and pain nonetheless. Three times he pointed this — we came to call it a ‘killing stick’ — and each time he pointed it, it made the sound of thunder and the flash of lightning. And, three times, blood flowed from another wound. We argued about whether we should try to steal this but if we were captured….”
“No, you did the right thing. This is disturbing. But go now and rest for the feast. Talk with Trunk of Tree. You each thought you might be lost from the other. Some awkwardness is understandable. While you were gone — please don’t — never mind. Talk with him first, and we can talk later. I want to consult with She Who Saves Many Lives about your important news. You and I must talk more later.”
They held each other’s hands and looked deeply into each others eyes. They nodded and parted, each to consult now with another. Eagle Eyes walked back to Trunk of Tree with her hands out. Many Paths, turned to seek She Who Saves Many Lives, but the minute she turned, there was the elder walking toward her. Her gait was graceful and purposeful, though it lacked the springiness of youth.
Many Paths quickly related the observations of Eagle Eyes about the killing sticks.
She Who Saves Many Lives staggered upon hearing the news and grabbed hold of a nearby wood stack for support. She bowed her head and shook it slowly side to side and muttered, “I should have told everyone. Or, at least told you.”
“Whatever do you mean? Told me what?”
She Who Saves Many Lives sighed. “I had a dream, a prophesy dream, about such things. I should have told the tribe, or at least you, but I did not.”
“Indeed, Many Paths, now I think it a mistake. But the reason I did not tell the tribe. If they all knew that such a powerful weapon existed in the hands of our enemies and that we do not have such weapons, would it not panic them?”
“I don’t — I don’t know for certain, Revered One. But Eagle Eyes and Lion Slayer witnessed it first hand. And they did not panic. They made their way back despite such a weapon. They lived to tell the tale. Have you not always said that decisions are best when based on what is actually true — that we cannot pretend wishes are facts.”
“I have said that. And I believe it. Yet, it is also true that moods can be contagious. I wouldn’t want to have everyone give up without a fight because of all this killing stick or a prophesy dream about such killing sticks. A dark mood of hopelessness can be every bit as deadly as these killing sticks.”
Many Paths nodded. “Shadow Walker was just now saying the same thing.”
The Older Shaman frowned. “Shadow Walker? Is he back? Are you okay?”
Many Paths looked at She Who Saves Many Lives and said, “What? Oh, no, he’s not back. I miss him. But sometimes…he feels so close to me. I took out one of the rings of empathy while I was walking back with Easy Tears and Trunk of Tree. I felt such longing for Shadow Walker and that I mindlessly fingered the Sixth Ring of Empathy, I imagined that he was so close. I could hear him talking and saying the same thing about moods being contagious and about not knowing whether to share some truth with someone else. I miss him. But somehow, I am sure he is okay. First, let us feast and then let us hear the tale of Eagle Eyes. Then, if it comes to you, you might share your prophesy dream about the killing stick.”
“Yes. It was more than just the killing stick, though that itself is worthy of thought. Everything was dying. But, I should share something else with you. It wasn’t only that I was afraid of spreading a dark and hopeless mood. There was one very odd thing about this prophesy dream. It disturbs me.”
Silence. Many Paths began to wonder whether such a wise one as She Who Saves Many Lives had also the difficulty of choosing among so many ways to proceed, or whether there was one clear path but it was a difficult one to follow, or even begin. Many Paths imagined herself at the edge of a cliff overlooking water a roiling far below. A hundred enemies she knew would torture and kill her ran screaming toward her. She would jump. But it wouldn’t be easy. What to say? What to say, Many Paths wondered. Then, she simply smiled, moved forward a step and took the hands of She Who Saves Many Lives in her own, letting the warmth of their hands flow through each other and making a circle with their arms.
In this way, each of them really felt, as well as knew, that they were both close cousins, leaves on the same twig of the great tree of life. There was no need for secrecy. It’s all about all of us learning for all of us. All of us realize that it would be easier to leap off that cliff with someone else.
She Who Saves Many Lives continued, “Whenever I have had a prophesy dream before, I feel a strong wind in my face. I feel as though I am walking…not really walking…but floating forward, being drawn toward what I am about to see of the future.”
Many Paths nodded as she looked intently into She Who Saves Many Lives.
“But in that dream…in that dream I felt wind at my back, yet I was sucked backwards. I don’t know what this means. I have always heard in the tales handed down to me of dreaming in the former way. Is it thus with you as well?”
Many Paths said, “Oh, I hardly think my dreams really qualify as prophesy dreams…”
She Who Saves Many Lives tilted her head back and forth and clicked. “Many Paths. Come on. No need for false modesty. We’re trying to solve a problem here. Have your prophesy dreams had you going backwards or forwards or both?”
Many Paths nodded. “All my prophesy dreams save one have been as the first one you described, being drawn forward. But I also heard about prophesy dreams always in the terms you described long before I ever had one myself, so I suppose that could influence how it appeared to me, or indeed, how I remembered it.”
She Who Saves Many Lives nodded, “Or even how you describe it to me since you would still like to be in my good graces. Which you always will be, incidentally. But let’s get back to the one that was not like that. In that one you were going backwards?”
Artwork by Pierce Morgan
Many Paths shook her head. “No, I wasn’t going backwards. I stood there and watched things happening all around me. It was as though I could see every direction at once. It was like…when you are in a dance and everyone is singing around you and all the voices go together, but if you try, you can pick out the singing of each person because each person’s voice is slightly different. You can hear where everyone is all around you. It was like that but I could see as well as hear all around me. All my senses were everywhere! And, there were patterns. There were patterns sliding across patterns. But in my dream, there was not past. Nor future. There was only present. And present extended everywhere — everywhere at once. The past, the present, and the future were simply different ways to look at the patterns and only from one angle. The dream seemed to be telling me that past, present and future are all one. It makes no sense, but that is what it seemed.”
A long silence fell between them: the old leader and the new leader. Each considered the words of the other. At last, Many Paths realized that though she loved to gain the wise counsel of She Who Saves Many Lives, Many Paths herself was now leader. In her judgement, once the tale of the killing sticks was told, everyone should dialogue about these killing sticks. At that point, she guessed She Who Saves Many Lives would volunteer her dream as well. The tribe as a whole must decide what this meant for them. For her part, Many Paths found it hard to believe the tribe would ‘panic.’ No, there were many ways to kill. Even if there were many killing sticks among the people who steal children, even such as those must drink, they must sleep, they must breathe, they must eat. But this was something for the whole tribe to think on. She felt again a deep longing for Shadow Walker. Without thinking, she began to tumble the Rings of Empathy in her hands.
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