The Bonds of Horses and Humans
Tu-Swift awoke in pain. He began to panic. At first he wondered and quickly then became sure that they must have beaten him again. Inventory. “Don’t jump to conclusions.” That’s what Many Paths would have said. Inventory. He quickly realized nothing was broken. No, it was just that his muscles were sore. Although he spent a lot of time running, playing, and working among the Veritas, his ride on the back of a horse and then spending a day shoveling manure used his muscles in new ways. His body was okay. As he thought of the Veritas, however, his heart sank. Up to now, he had secretly thought that he would soon be rescued. Now a new and uglier thought crept into his soul. He took deep slow breaths and tried to calm himself. Day-Nah was beginning to stir and Tu-Swift didn’t want to alarm him by appearing scared. But the truth was, all the Veritas may be killed or enslaved. He might even be the only one to transmit their long collective years of wisdom accumulated.
That was the cold, bitter spider of doubt that clutched his heart. Though he had no idea whether or not the Veritas had survived the attack, he had been assuming that they had been alive. But there were many other possibilities. Tu-Swift set his jaw. He had always been one to leap before looking while Many Paths kept reminding him to consider other alternatives. But now — Many Paths was not here. He would have to rely on the Many Paths in his head. And, others. There were other voices Among the Veritas who he could use to help him find a means for escape. Meanwhile, he must keep his spirits up by reminding himself of what he liked; what he was grateful for. Tu-Swift realized that, among other things, he was actually grateful to have this small boy as a companion. Worrying about his small jail mate distracted Tu-Swift from his own predicament and uncertainty.
Just then, Day-Nah stirred and whimpered. He suddenly sat up and yelled. Day-Nah’s eyes returned to that wild-eyed stare that Tu-Swift had first observed. Tu-Swift patted his own chest forcefully and said, “Tu-Swift! Tu-Swift!” Then, he gestured toward Day-Nah by opening his arms and hands outward toward the youngster and said, “Day-Nah. Day-Nah!” The young boy blinked several times and seemed to recall his present circumstances. His breathing slowed, but he pulled his legs up, wrapped his arms around his knees and began rocking and silently crying.
Like most of the youth of the Veritas, Tu-Swift knew how to comfort the young of his own tribe, but he felt uncertain about approaching the boy in this state. Though tempted to hug him, he decided distraction might be a wiser course and he reviewed the language lessons they had already gone through, being a little more particular about pronunciation, both in his attempts to mimic the sounds of Day-Nah and in Day-Nah’s repetition of of Veritas. This seemed to calm the boy and his silent tears abated. Once more Tu-Swift grew both angry and troubled that anyone would steal such a young boy from his family.
The horses were stirring as well, though it was early morning, judging from the gray light that crept into the horse enclosure. In the distance, Tu-Swift could hear many people stirring and getting ready for the day. Again, he had the distinct feeling that it was like and yet very unlike mornings among the Veritas. There were footsteps, and there were voices. The accent and cadence of the voices was different, but something more profound was different. He heard birds chirping, squawking, crowing, cooing and so on, but some note was missing. Tu-Swift thought of a rainbow and imagined what it would be like to see a rainbow that was missing the blue or the red. But no! This rainbow was missing all color. Why did it sound like a colorless rainbow? That made no sense. Tu-Swift shook his head. He wished he could have a real conversation with Day-Nah, but he knew of no way to try to communicate such subtlety.
Three large, burly men came into the large horse room. One of them put down two dishes of food and a flask of water. He grumbled something at them. Tu-Swift noted that none of these people seemed very interested in trying to teach them their language. The other two stood nearby and all three watched as the boys ate whereupon they were led out to an open pit toilet and from there to a large field fenced in with logs. There were a large number of free running horses in this particular field and among them, Tu-Swift could see five foals. Working together, the three large men managed to separate one of the foals from its mother. Tu-Swift could see that the mare stomped around dangerously, whinnied, and that the whole herd seemed agitated. Every horse in the herd, however, shrunk back, terrified of the men and eventually one man managed to tie a rope around the foal’s two back legs and another around the forelegs. Tu-Swift looked to his own legs and those of Day-Nah and saw that they were in much the same predicament. They, like the foal, could walk, but not run or jump.
Tu-Swift realized how much he loved to run free. He reveled in the feeling and he felt both sadness and anger at being prevented from running. He wondered whether he would ever be able to run free again. He begin to wonder whether he — or the foal — could ever be truly happy if they could not run free. Then, Tu-Swift thought of the snails that he had so often collected from the Veritas gardens. He had looked fairly closely at the creatures. They were fairly cute actually. Of course, as Many Paths would point out, he had no way to tell how a snail felt. But there was no reason to think they wouldn’t be happy. Finding something nice to chew on would probably make the snail happy just as it made him happy. But it was not in the nature of a snail to run. At imagining this, Tu-Swift laughed.
Day-Nah tilted his head and looked at the older boy with his brows pinched together. Tu-Swift smiled at the boy and at his situation. How could he explain that he had been imagining a snail trying to run? Then, it suddenly hit Tu-Swift that the “color” that was missing from all the morning sound of these captor-people was laughter — not just laughter itself, but any kind of fun, or enjoyment. So far as he could tell, they did the same things that the Veritas did (except for tying up other creatures), but they didn’t seem to enjoy any of it! What a strange, gray life that must be, thought Tu-Swift. And he suddenly realized that he actually felt sorry for his captors! He imagined telling Many Paths.
Just then, all three men came over to them and shouted at the same time. Neither of the boys had even the slightest idea what they said and this must have been obvious to the three because they all switched to miming what the boys were to do. They were to do what the three grown men had just done! Somehow, they were to cull four more foals and tie their legs with rope! The Veritas had ropes, but Tu-Swift decided that it was a fair bet that Capture-People didn’t know that. The Veritas were all taught at an early age that those with more power seldom bother to learn even what would be of immense value to them if that knowledge lies with those out of power. The Capture-People had horses — and they had captured one, at least, of the Veritas. So, they would think themselves superior and be willing to believe any lack of intelligence or knowledge on the part of Tu-Swift.
He acted quite incapable with the ropes at first, only slowly catching on. Tu-Swift had no idea how the two of them were supposed to accomplish what looked very difficult even for three large men, three who did not have their legs tethered. Cautiously, they sidled into the pen staying near the exit that only they could squeeze through. Oh, thought Tu-Swift, Eagle Eyes will love to hear about that! Although tinged with sadness, he realized that he wasn’t really away from his own village at all! They all lived in his own head! As long as he lived, the Veritas lived!
Most of the herd headed to the far end as the boys entered, but one mare and her foal chanced nearing. The mare seemed to like their company! Perhaps she could see that they were tethered as they were. Tu-Swift gently tugged at Day-Nah by the arm and positioned him so that the men could not get a clear view of the mare. The mare smelled something nice on the rope between Tu-Swift’s legs. It began chewing on the rope. Tu-Swift admired the teeth and jaws of the horse before him. He spoke to the horse in Veritas though he was under no illusion that the horse would understand him, at least in any detail or words. “I am Tu-Swift. You are?”
At this point, the horse made a sound like “Kneeeeee -Kwah”
Tu-Swift continued, “‘eee-qua’ it is then.”
“Tu-Swift likes to run. Ee-qua like to run. We don’t like ropes. (Here he made a show of waving the ropes in the air so the three men would think they were making progress.) “We want to run free. Tu-Swift and Ee-qua run free one day. Yes, we will.”
Tu-Swift hobbled over to the foal and sat on the ground. “Hello little one. We have a predicament. I have these ropes on my legs. I don’t like them, but if we don’t wear them, they will beat us until we do. Your mother, Ee-qua chewed my ropes nearly through. So, I am going to put these ropes on you. But you will be able to run free in a few hours. I know you don’t understand a word I’m saying but maybe the sound of my voice will help you know that I am your friend regardless of how it seems.” Tu-Swift meanwhile, had succeeded in tying a rope around one of the young colt’s legs and “secured” it with a granny knot rather than the square not that the men had shown him. It was chancy to make life difficult for those that seemed to have power over him, but it had to be done; carefully, and never in the same way twice, but each day, Tu-Swift knew that he could find some way to make the lives of the Capture-People less pleasant, just as they were making his less pleasant.
Hiding tools, wrecking tools, backing up sewage, polluting water, passing on disease, poisoning — these were just a few of the ways he might or might not be able to fight back. Meanwhile though, he also had to be careful not to be caught and to have a well-worked out and plausible excuse. As Tu-Swift tied more legs with granny knots, he planned that he would feign astonishment and excitedly show his captors how he had tied the knots. He would tie granny knots. They would smack him about a bit of course. But then they would show him the correct way. He would again copy but make a granny knot. The Capture-People would smack him around a bit, so he imagined, and then show him again. He would feign insight and make a true square knot the next time. This would serve two purposes. It would cause them grief, but it would also, he hoped, endear him to them in some perverse way. It would be as though he could learn their tricks — eventually — but being more stupid than they are — it would take him longer naturally to learn to do things correctly. And, then again, he thought, fastening the fourth leg with a granny know, I may never even be accused.
Just then it occurred to Tu-Swift that the horses could chew threw their own tethers! Why hadn’t they thought of that. Maybe that’s not the sort of thing horses “think of.” Maybe they need to be shown. If they will eat through my ropes — and she could have easily gone all the way through — they could eat through their own, but how can I get food to put on those ropes?