Many Paths awoke with a smile. Without looking, she could feel the heat of Shadow Walker beside her. She slid carefully out from under the covers so as not to wake him. She had agreed to meet Eagle Eyes out by the river for some early morning fishing. Of course, the real reason was to talk. Both Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker would be leaving on the morrow to follow the trail of yesterday’s unusual visitors. It was something of a compromise between following immediately — when they might be detected — and waiting too long and thereby losing the trail. The ROI raiding party that had stolen Tu-Swift had done a terrible job of hiding their trail.
Many Paths prepared herself and gathered up her things as well as her thoughts. She hoped that she was encouraging the delay for those reasons and not simply because she would miss her two best friends. But no matter how she turned it over in her mind, Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker would be the best two for the mission. Eagle Eyes would likely see any trouble before that trouble saw them. And, she would be invaluable in seeing whatever was needed. Shadow Walker, on the other hand, she counted on to make wise decisions under pressure. Her one concern was that he would fight when they should be running. He had assured her that his ankle had completely healed. She believed him. And, she believed that he meant it when he promised not to get into a fight against an overwhelming odds. But she wasn’t sure he could always control it. Yesterday, when the visitors arrived, she could see that he was struggling with himself to keep from killing them on the spot.
For his part, he could not understand how she had not confronted them about the deaths and mayhem that they had caused including, most principally, stealing her own brother! She asked him, “to what end?” Their exchange became spirited and lively, but they not only loved each other; they respected each other as well. In the end, she agreed that there was some possibility that overt confrontation would change them, but it was very slim. They had to already know that it was despicable to steal children. Many Paths wanted the ROI — or Z-Lotz, if that is what they now called themselves, to be uncertain about how much they knew.
Many Paths strongly suspected that the man whom Eagle Eyes had described being killed with the killing sticks was, in fact, the leader of the ROI. The recent visitors had said they were now all Z-Lotz but that their leader was doing just fine. That seemed very unlikely, especially with people like NUT-PI. She thought, not for the first time, that from NUT-PI’s perspective, it had been the Veritas in general, and Many Paths in particular, who had been responsible for defeating him so badly in the battle of the three roads. The Cupiditas had been decimated. Hardly a recommendation for NUT-PI! And, yet, he seemed to be “in charge” of the entire large village of the Z-Lotz? How could that be? He must be using the Killing Sticks to threaten everyone else. They had used poison and they used fire. Now, Killing Sticks. What else might they use as weapons?
The cheery voice of Eagle Eyes broke her out of her reverie. “It is a good dawn! Are you ready to catch some breakfast? You looked as though deep in thought. Anything I should know?”
Many Paths smiled. She felt a tug in her heart about sending Eagle Eyes off on a dangerous mission — and with Trunk of Tree. “I was just trying to imagine what other sorts of weapons they might have. You know. The Z-Lotz.”
Eagle Eyes took her friend’s hand and turned toward the river. She glanced over and chuckled. “You’re very well-named! Always turning things this way and that in your head. And, speaking of weapons, did you know that your brother is not only skilled with the horses, but also with the eagles and hawks?”
“No. I didn’t even realize — I thought he was splitting his time between horses and decoding the — what I guess are called ‘books.’ So, he is also training the hawks and eagles, eh?”
“Yes. He’s quite good. And, yesterday…I wanted to show you this. I drew these last night.” Eagle Eyes held forth two pieces of paper birch with a likeness of NUT-PI drawn on them.
“Eagle Eyes, those — I have never seen such incredible likenesses…of anyone! How did you do this? Oh, the coins! That’s why you were so interested in the coins. But why? I mean, he’s not very beautiful. But those are great drawings.”
“I wouldn’t mind making pictures of you and Shadow Walker. And of Trunk of Tree though… I’m not … I do hope he’s okay, but even if he is, I’m not sure we’re okay. I wish I could talk with him before I left. Well, if he comes tonight, so be it. Otherwise, hopefully we’ll both get back here and have time to decide on next steps.” She paused as she completed baiting her hook. “If there are any.”
Many Paths had finished baiting her own hook. She padded carefully to a hiding spot near an overhang, hunkered down, and waited while she watched and felt for the tug of a nibble or a bite. She reflected that many things in life were like that. Patience. Making sure you were doing the right thing. If you waited too long, the fish would simply eat the bait. If you jerked too soon, you would scare the fish away.
Many Paths glanced at her friend. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Eagle Eyes sighed. “Not — not right now. He’s away. You know? We didn’t leave on such good terms. I thought about … I confronted him … not in a mad way … about his advances … and he got angry.” She sighed. “He even called you a liar. Tried to make out like you came on to him. But that — I could not believe. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that right now. Aren’t you curious about the drawings?”
“Well. You make many beautiful things. I am a little surprised you picked NUT-PI as a subject, but it’s really nicely made. Perhaps you could take them as a kind of gift. In case you do get found out, you could say you were merely following instructions and that this was one of the gifts you brought. Although … they are looking to meet with me. Alone? I don’t think so! I don’t trust NUT-PI at all! Do you?”
Eagle Eyes felt a real tug and jerked the pole. “Fish for breakfast! Thank you fish! Let’s get a few of your brothers.” She unhooked the fish and put it in her bucket. “That’s a good sized one. We’ll have better luck if we’re quiet. But yes, I trust Trunk of Tree. But I don’t think he always sees things as they actually are.”
Many Paths snorted, “I agree with you there! If he thinks I came on to him! But we were talking about NUT-PI. Do you trust NUT-PI?”
Eagle Eyes frowned, “No, of course not! Oh. I’m not … the reason I made these pictures is this. I am going to have Tu-Swift and Dah-Nah train the eagles and hawks to attack these. I am hoping I can get them to attack the real person. If need be. If he pulls out Killing Sticks I will all the eagles to attack. I don’t know whether it would really work. But they did a number on — do you think Trunk of Tree somehow holds me — responsible — for being attacked? I mean, that would be crazy, right?”
Many Paths hauled in a fish of her own. Once the tricky part was over, and she had again baited her hook, she glanced at Eagle Eyes and said, “Men do get jealous sometimes when there is nothing to be jealous about. I can tell you that. But whether Trunk of Tree specifically — Wait. What is your plan with NUT-PI? You are going to have the boys train the eagles to attack him by recognizing his picture? Will that work?”
Eagle Eyes shrugged. “I do not know for certain. But I know for sure that I can recognize people. And I also know for sure that the eagles can see far better than even I can. And, by the way, they can also see fish in the water and snatch them right out! Maybe I could even train them to fish on our behalf. Anyway, I think it might work. You’d be surprised how smart they are. We will see. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about Trunk of Tree any more.”
Many Paths smiled, looked at her friend and said, “I promise not to bring him up again, Eagle Eyes.”
Eagle Eyes nodded and said, “Thanks, Many.”
They fished in silence for a few minutes. Eagle Eyes got another bite and landed the third and largest fish which they judged enough for now. Normally, they would catch more fish, but Eagle Eyes was mindful that her friend wanted to breakfast with Shadow Walker. She put the top back on the fish bucket and wrapped the vine around her pole. She suddenly shook her head and looked at Many Paths. “You’re making a joke! You didn’t bring up Trunk of Tree. I did! Rascal! No fish for you! I’ll eat them all myself!”
“Oh, you don’t want to go down that path. It’s slippery as a … as a fish! Share and care, Eagle Eyes!”
“I will. Now, go wake your man up and I’ll clean and start cooking the fish. You’ll have to unclench when you smell the fish cooking. Or, if you can’t help yourself, you’ll just have to put up with cold fish!”
“Hah. Very funny! I’m sure we’ll be able to satisfy all our hungers, thanks.”
“Many Paths! You’re going to rub it in because Trunk of Tree isn’t here? Not nice.” Eagle Eyes pretended to pout.
“I’m so sorry, Eagle Eyes! I promised not to bring him up again and yet there I go.”
The two of them were still laughing when they returned to the Center Place.
Eagle Eyes grinned at Shadow Walker who apparently sensed the arrival of Many Paths and leaned out the door and greeted them. “Ah. There you two are. Can you come here for a bit, Many Paths? There’s something I need to discuss.” He smiled. Many Paths strode a few steps toward their cabin, turned and smiled at Eagle Eyes, and then turned again to enter their cabin. Fish? That was the last thing on her mind.