Tu-Swift shook his head. “We should all go. You and I are not all that fast either right now. He has knowledge about horses that we need to learn — and about the ROI. We cannot leave them here. We don’t know who is coming, but I doubt it’s a rescue party.”
Shadow Walker sighed. “All right. If Jaccim can walk out of here. I’m not carrying him. Nor is anyone else.”
Though the sun could not be seen, its hidden light from beyond the horizon lit high pink clouds as they tugged aside the heavy door. Tu-Swift, now fully awake, shouted down into the cellar. “Cat Eyes! Cat Eyes! Wake up! We hear war drums afar but coming closer. We should leave. I’m going down to help. Pack up quickly. Can you explain to the others?”
Tu-Swift, who had lost all fear of the others, began working his way down the stairs. The others were already packing. Apparently, they had no objection to leaving their adoptive slave-home, now in ruins. Tu-Swift could hear the soft yet insistent voice of Cat Eyes talking to the others in ROI. For some reason, it did not sound so foreign when she spoke it. Shadow Walker had also descended. He imagined his strength would be needed to get Jaccim up the stairway. Though if this really were a war party approaching, he doubted they could out-run or out-walk them. Working together, they managed to get everyone out of the cellar with their meager provisions and belongings.
Shadow Walker began working his way toward the cover of the burned and broken forest and motioned for the others to follow. Jaccim shook his head and jabbered something in ROI. Shadow Walker grew impatient. “We don’t have time to discuss. We can leave him here though I think it would be better to kill him outright. Otherwise, the ROI or whoever it is will force him to say which way we went. Let’s go!”
“No, no. You don’t understand,” began Cat Eyes. He wants to come with us, but he says we should go another, faster way.”
Shadow Walker asked, “How? What other way?”
Cat Eyes said, “He calls it a ‘flume’ but I don’t know what that is.” She glanced at Jaccim who grimaced in pain. It hurt him to move, but he began using sign language to supplement his words.
Cat Eyes, turned now to Shadow Walker. “He says that beyond the place where they kept the horses there is a branch of the river that was long ago dug to allow logs to flow down to the plane. Even among the ROI, it is not much thought of. But he thinks it will still work. There are still hollowed logs there that we can use to ride quickly down to the plain. If we hurry, and they don’t see us, we will escape them for good.”
Tu-Swift stared at Shadow Walker who stared back and then looked at Jaccim. Could Tu-Swift be right about this man? Does he really feel grateful for the medicine? Shadow Walker thought it would be almost impossible to outrun them anyway with his sprained ankle. “Yes, let’s try this ‘flume’.”
They made their way as quickly as possible back to the horse paddock. Beyond that they went toward a small stream. On the far side of the stream, the current had dug into the bank. In that darkness, floated several hollowed out logs.
Jaccim pointed toward them as though he wanted them to get in these logs. But then, as they approached, he suddenly shook his head and pointed urgently to a nearby large lever, hidden among vines, and signed for them to help him instead. It still wasn’t clear to Shadow Walker whether or not this was some sort of elaborate plot or trick. He kept his hand near his sword and whispered to Tu-Swift a single word: “Caution.”
Jaccim grimaced as he pulled back on the motionless lever. Cat Eyes, Shadow Walker, and Tu-Swift put their backs into it as well. The lever itself seemed to be made of that same material that the swords were fashioned from and the cellar trap door — and the door that Shadow Walker had moved long ago. They all pulled on the lever, but nothing happened. Then suddenly, all four of them fell on their backs as the lever gave way. Jaccim urged them to get into the dugouts now – at once. The lever had apparently been connected to a kind of gate which moved and allowed much of the river to veer off steeply to the right. Shadow Walker got in behind Jaccim. He wanted to keep an eye on him. Two women quickly got into another dugout, each holding one of the wolf pups cradled in her arms. Cat Eyes got into the third and last log and told Tu-Swift to get behind her.
The logs felt odd and unstable. They eddied around in the dark pool and Jaccim used his hands to paddle the log. Soon, Shadow Walker imitated him. Working together the log slowly inched its way out into the current. Suddenly, the log began to move quickly. Jaccim immediately put his hands out and grabbed the side of the bank. Then, with Shadow Walker’s help, they turned the boat slightly.
To Tu-Swift’s eyes, it seemed the boat had simply disappeared. Directly in front of him, he could see the two ROI women following. Their boat also fell from view. Tu-Swift was tempted to jump out. He knew how to swim but he had never ridden in a boat and he didn’t like it. But Cat Eyes grabbed at the shore and managed to turn their boat and then…whoosh! The two of them were falling, speeding downward. Tu-Swift grabbed Cat Eyes around the waist to help keep his balance. He could see that they rushed through a wooden channel — a kind of artificial river. They fell much faster than he could swim. The long beautiful hair of Cat Eyes streamed into his face making it hard to see. Maybe Jaccim had lured all of them to their death. He began to wonder how he and Shadow Walker could have been so stupid.
Suddenly, Tu-Swift found himself submerged in icy water. The breakneck flight of the log stopped. It resurfaced and bobbed along gently. Tu-Swift and Cat Eyes now floated together stuck to their clothes and to each other. Tu-Swift noticed that the other two logs floated nearby. He could hear the water rushing into this slow river behind him. Or, was the sound in front. Tu-Swift felt disoriented. In front, he could see Jaccim and Shadow Walker paddling wildly toward the shore. And, now, so did the other two ROI women. He and Cat Eyes followed suit, though he wasn’t sure why. They were already soaked. And, this seemed a pleasant enough way to travel. There was definitely a roar in front of them. He could see Jaccim and Shadow Walker scrambling out of their boat, grabbing their things and wading to shore, holding on to the branches of a fallen tree and pulling hand over hand to work toward the shore. Cat Eyes yelled above the din: “Come to shore! Now!”
Shadow Walker tried to pull the dugout along with him but the current dragged it away. It floated away and disappeared. Soon, he and Cat Eyes joined the other four on the shore, all of them soaked. They scrambled up a muddy embankment. From there, Tu-Swift found a higher vantage point and watched the other two logs disappear over a cliff of water. A sudden shiver shook him. Was it the cold, he wondered? Or, was it the knowledge that he had been seconds from being crushed from a fall?
Tu-Swift began to shiver uncontrollably now. Shadow Walker rummaged through his belongings but all the blankets were damp. He glanced at Jaccim and saw that he lay motionless, apparently exhausted from the effort required by their narrow escape. Shadow Walker felt loath to build a fire after seeing all the destruction and death it had caused, but he knew Tu-Swift especially needed warmth. He was so skinny. His lips were turning blue. Shadow Walker found himself wishing Tu-Swift could shake his body as violently as the wolf pups had done to dry themselves.
Shadow Walker glanced about. This part of the forest, far below the Center Place of the ROI had been spared by the great conflagration. He placed a few damp blankets and hides over Tu-Swift and searched for tinder and kindling. He now felt comfortable leaving Tu-Swift, at least for a time. He returned a few moments later to see a strange sight. Tu-Swift and Jaccim lay together. Both shook with cold but the three women had thrown their arms and legs around the two, using their own body heat to help keep everyone keep warm.
Shadow Walker created a place to set a fire with reflecting stones around them on one side and a rock behind on the other side. Before he began striking his milky blue-brown flints together though, he asked Cat Eyes to find out from Jaccim whether their fire could be seen from up above.
She quickly translated the short question into ROI, but Jaccim’s answer seemed too long. At last she said, “He rather doubts they will follow us. What they see from afar could be clouds from the water fall. Or, smoking remains of the fire. Those are not the war drums of the ROI, but of the Z-LOTZ. They are not actually even war drums but celebration drums. The leader of the Z-LOTZ proclaims that the ROI are now in default of their agreements and all will be made slaves. The drums are calling all the living ROI to come out and present themselves as slaves for the Z-LOTZ.”
Shadow Walker asked, “What agreement?”
Cat Eyes sighed. “That’s a long story but the main point is, it’s okay to set the fire.” Here, she looked straight at Shadow Walker.
“Tu-Swift is very cold! Please!” As she said this, she hugged Tu-Swift even more tightly as though to demonstrate her point.
Shadow Walker was a skilled fire starter. Even so, his own hands shook a bit as he set the fire and chipped his flints together.
Soon, Tu-Swift’s color returned. It felt quite nice being warmed by the three women. Especially Cat Eyes. Tu-Swift found her eyes very beautiful to look into. He stopped shivering and the women released him. He sighed and inched a little closer to the fire. He noticed a small stack of kindling laying a ways off.
Tu-Swift found the kindling — weird. Normally, Shadow Walker stacked firewood in a very methodical way. These sticks lay haphazardly splayed out at odd angles. Not surprising, thought Tu-Swift, because Shadow Walker had been in a hurry. Feeling a bit embarrassed by being so cold, and even more by the pleasure he derived from the women warming him, he decided to do something useful and to stack the wood carefully. He sat now still close to the fire, but with his back to it and began to stack the sticks. But as he did so, he felt an odd tingling sensation on the back of his neck. He noticed that his eyes stared fixedly at one little configuration of sticks. And, it reminded him somehow of Stone Chipper who had folded his arms just like that in order to signify…
Tu-Swift clapped his hands together. “The dream! The dream! The dream!” he exclaimed aloud.
Shadow Walker held up his hand and said, “Don’t shout so! What dream? What are you talking about?”
Tu-Swift stared at Shadow Walker and asked very slowly, “Did you save the hides with the strange markings? Did you?”
Shadow Walker nodded solemnly. “I did. You just now sat on one such hide over there.” Shadow Walker pointed at the spot where Tu-Swift had just been sitting. “What is going on?”
Tu-Swift glanced at the eyes of his companions. “I think I know what it means!”
Cat Eyes seemed excited. “The marks? You know what they mean?”
Tu-Swift nodded, “I think so. I have to check. You know the Z-LOTZ tongue as well as the ROI and Veritas, right, Cat Eyes?”
Cat Eyes. “Yes, I do.”
Tu-Swift added, “Good! Good! And sign language. You know their sign languages too, right?”
Cat Eyes answered, “Well, yes, but they are the same. Almost identical. Like three different leaves on the same tree.”
Tu-Swift eagerly asked, “And do they have the Legend about the gifts of sounds from the animals?”
Cat Eyes considered this for a moment. “Well, I am not sure. I have never heard it whole after I was stolen. They wouldn’t bother to entertain me or teach me about such things. It would take me some time to recall whether I overheard it but it sounds vaguely familiar.”
Tu-Swift, “Yes, yes. Well, it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter. Here, look at this. You see how these marks are like the arms and forearms and hands? Don’t you see?”
Cat Eyes looked at the excitement on Tu-Swift’s face. His eyes twinkled with the vibrant flames. “So, you think these marks are actually meant to be … pictures … of people doing sign language?”
Tu-Swift nodded vigorously. “Yes! Yes! But it’s more than that too. See? It isn’t just every sign that’s shown. Each sign is for one of the main sounds of the language! See? There is the ‘zzz’ of the buzzing bee! There is the ‘sss’ of the hissing snake! Do you see? Do you see? We can make these symbols line up into a whole story! Imagine!”
Shadow Walker frowned and shook his head. “That seems like a lot of work for nothing. Why not just tell you?”
Tu-Swift continued with unabated enthusiasm. “Yes, but — I’m here! But what if…what if we could…what if we could put such marks on a small piece of bark, tie it to the leg of one of the hawks that Eagle Eyes trained and you could … you could send these words to Many Paths! You could tell her we are alive. You could tell her…anything that you could tell her in person.”
Shadow Walker wrinkled up one eye. “What are you talking about? Are you suffering from being too cold?”
Cat Eyes had caught Tu-Swift’s enthusiasm. “No, no. He’s right! Tu-Swift’s right! We could use this to send our words. See. I think of a word. I put one of these signs for each sound. Now, when you look at it, you don’t think of the whole word; just think of the first sound. Now you put them together and it makes the sound of the word. You will know which word I meant.”
Shadow Walker tilted his head. “That might work. Yes. But why not just make a mark for each sign?”
Cat Eyes began talking while Tu-Swift considered this. “You could. But … I think sign language works well when you are there with the person. It doesn’t take a great imagination, if we are all wet and cold and you gesture toward firewood, we know what you mean. But how would you tell Many Paths, if she were not here, that Tu-Swift and you were both alive, had joined up with four ROI, their village had burned, and all would return by full moon?”
Shadow Walker. “I see. But that wouldn’t fit onto hawk’s leg!”
Tu-Swift said, “No, you are right. But now that we know such a thing is possible, we might find other uses or other ways to send messages some distance. Remember how we put false marks in the forest to thwart Nut-Pi?”
Shadow Walker nodded. “How do we know these marks are true? When you speak to someone, you can see the truth in their eyes. How do we know the marks are true?”
After a pause, Tu-Swift said, “That is a good question, Shadow Walker. A hard question. But a very good one.”
Books by the Author:
The Winning Weekend Warrior – strategy, tactics, & the mental game for all sports.
Turing’s Nightmares. Speculative Sci-FI about robotics and AI that raises ethical issues.
Fit in Bits describes many ways to work more fun, variety, and exercise into many of your daily activities to become fitter, thinner, & healthier.
Tales from an American Childhood recounts early experiences and then relates them to contemporary issues and events.