“Let’s go! It’s time to go!” The impatient voice of Trunk of Tree rung out too harshly in the soft glow of sunrise which reflected off the glaciers atop the Twin Peaks and suffused the village in a soft pink glow.
“Patience, friend,” said Fleet of Foot. “I want to try one more time to convince Cat Eyes to come with us. And, since you’re in a hurry, have you chosen a book yet?”
“I don’t want one. Just extra weight. They are mostly nonsense and lies anyway. Huh! Animals with necks as long as their bodies? Go have your conversation and then let’s go!”
Fleet of Foot shook his head and stared at Trunk of Tree. He sighed. “How can you … can’t you see how important these books are? You can at least see that they are important to this entire tribe. You know that many of the Veritas of the Center Place…” Fleet of Foot shook his head and broke off. He could see by the look on the face of his friend that he would not be convinced. At least not this way, he thought to himself. “Never mind. I’ll go talk with Cat Eyes one last time. I won’t be long.”
Cat Eyes was not difficult to find. Ever since they had arrived she had been an object of attention and now, all of these Veritas of the Twin Peaks treated her with a reverence beyond her years. Fleet of Foot stood quietly amid a small circle of people of all ages. Now, this particular group was dialoging about something called “logic.” When a decent cesura in the flow of conversation appeared, Fleet of Foot stepped forward and said, “Cat Eyes, I am sorry to interrupt you but may I please have a word with you in private?”
Several of the Twin Peaks Veritas glanced at Fleet of Foot. The group walked a few yards away and continued their dialogue. It seemed that the treasure that they had uncovered included books on almost every topic imaginable. Once Cat Eyes had brought the secret of decoding to her tribe, they had spent much time on these artifacts. The knowledge of how to decode them had spread quickly through the entire tribe, though decoding was still a slow process. Gentle Talons, the leader of the Twin Peaks Veritas, had gifted each of the Veritas one book of their choice to take back with them to the Center Place. All had eagerly and thankfully accepted.
Jaccim had chosen a book about training horses. Hudah Salah picked a book that promised to show how to use water on a desert to make it a field. She remained skeptical that such a thing could be done, but if it were possible, it would mean something wonderful for her tribe. Lion Slayer had opted for a book about lions and their close kin. Fleet of Foot had found a book with many pictures that claimed it showed how to run faster. Only Trunk of Tree had eschewed choosing any book at all.
“Cat Eyes, I think you know what I wish to speak about.”
“Indeed, Fleet of Foot. You want to persuade me to come with you. I suspect you do this mainly on behalf of Tu-Swift.”
Fleet of Foot blushed. “He does … he does hold you in high regard.”
Cat Eyes reached into her shoulder pack and brought out two books and a small piece of bark. “I wish you to give him these.” She handed him books as she said, “These are two books about training birds. I hope he will find these useful. One is my choice and one is Trunk of Tree’s though he doesn’t know that.” She smiled, “I know Tu-Swift is working with Suze to train Eagles to attack NUT-PI. Maybe these will help. I think they will. And…” Cat Eyes, who had always seemed confident, but even more so since returning to her home, especially so. Now, however, she hesitated, unsure whether to go on.
Fleet of Foot looked at her. “And…?” he prompted.
“And, although I tried to express how I feel in what I wrote for Tu-Swift, please convey to him my feeling which is hard to put into marks on paper birch. I feel split in two. I really loved my time with the Center Place Veritas, and I especially loved Tu-Swift. He will always have a special place in my heart of hearts. Look at my eyes. You must tell him this so that he believes it. I know that in some way he fancies me as well. But he and Suze have something special as well. They seem better matched to me. I am an oddball. I was a child here. Then, I was a slave. Then, I was a stranger in your Center Place. But now — now, I am home. I not only belong here. I can do something important for my people. I am teaching all of them about the wisdom of these books and — I think Tu-Swift will understand how important that is. But you must make him also understand how I love him.”
“I will do that.” Fleet of Foot again reddened as he said it. “Why not come back though and tell him yourself. We have the tunnel. It is only a few days journey. You can come back and describe what is here and then when you feel like it, you can come back again.”
“Perhaps I will one day visit. I have no faith right now that the tunnel will keep working. Based on what I have read so far, no-one alive really understand how those tunnels — and especially the doors — really work. Jaccim certainly doesn’t — and what disturbs me even more is that he doesn’t care that he doesn’t know. He doesn’t seem to care that he has always just done what he has been told to do — what he was expected to do — even if it was to steal children. He isn’t even cruel. He seems like a nice man; fundamentally kind. Yet — he stole children. And he uses things with no idea how they work and he’s never made any attempt to learn. The people who made the tunnel, and I now think the city of the Z-Lotz, are long dead. They were killed in some horrendous wars. If you get back to the Center Place and many people explore the tunnels and we read more in the books about how they work, maybe I will some day visit — visit — the Center Place Veritas and Tu-Swift. And perhaps I will hold the children of Tu-Swift and Suze and tell the stories about my birthplace. But for now, this is my place. You see that yourself. I know you do.”
Cat Eyes sighed and continued. “Tell Tu-Swift that someday I hope we shall meet again. Meanwhile, I wish him well in his endeavor to teach the eagles to hunt for NUT-PI. And, when we hopefully are done with that monster, I have another request. I am hoping he can train the eagles as well to hunt for, but not attack, my parents. No, don’t make that face. I realize that they are probably dead. But one never knows. They may have journeyed out to find me and ended up in a place by themselves. I know. I know. You need not put such a look upon your face. It’s been many years. I realize that. But I myself was lost from here for many years. Yet I am alive. And here. These are some likenesses of my parents from my memory and from the memories of two others who can make good likenesses and knew my parents well. It’s hope, Fleet of Foot. It’s hope. You must understand. I was hoping that they would be here. I need the hope. Even if they are never found or never return, I can still hope. It is a way to keep them alive in some small way.”
Fleet of Foot nodded. “I do understand. I will give Tu-Swift your messages — and your feelings.”
“There is something else. I feel … the Eagles have their own life. To use them as a weapon… I would be glad if something came of training them besides murder. Tu-Swift wondered about turning the Eagles into weapons as well. Is that any better than Killing Sticks? It bothered him but he resolved it. He overcame it. But I wonder how different that is from whatever went on in Jaccim’s mind to allow him to steal children from their parents.”
Fleet of Foot nodded. “Yes. As you say, Eagles do have their own lives. Many in the great web of life use others in the web. But the Eagles are free to attack or not attack, however you trained them. A Killing Stick however is not alive. It has no use I can see except to kill. It is not part of the web of life. It is not like the Eagles. At least I don’t think so. Tu-Swift, and Eagle Eyes before him, love the Eagles. If the Eagles choose to kill, it is partly due to that love returned. I don’t think of it as I do the Killing Sticks.”
“Nor I. But I think all of us would feel better if the Eagles were also trained to find people and lead us to them. Imagine. Wolves can also be trained for such a purpose. But for that…wolves do not see well like Eagles. They can smell the scent of animals though. I don’t have any artifacts from my parents left. After they had been gone for years, people began to use the things they left behind. But I suspect that my scent must be like their combined scents. So, perhaps you can use this scrap of my tunic to have wolves find them too. It’s not likely. But it’s possible.”
Fleet of Foot blinked. “That is an amazing idea! To use the wolves to find people by scent!”
The cat eyes of Cat Eyes twinkled. “Yes,” she chuckled, “though it isn’t mine. I read about it in a book. It can be done. Or, at least the book claims that it can be done.” Now Cat Eyes laughed aloud. “I can see your friend Trunk of Tree over there pacing and glowering, impatient as ever to get going. You had better begin your journey. I do wish you luck. I hope the tunnel still works and all of you return to the Veritas of the Center Place. And I hope… I wish Tu-Swift luck. That sounds cold. Just tell him I love him. But my life is here. And his life is with Suze. And with his sister. And you. And Shadow Walker.”
“He’s … young,” said Fleet of Foot.
Cat Eyes laughed. “Yes, he is younger than I, but he has … you must understand … it is not just years. He and I, of all the Veritas I have met were the only ones who were stolen from their parents. We share that. And… if you can survive it, it ages you. He is older than he seems. Or, let me say instead that he seems older than he is. Of course, you’re right. He should be with someone of his own age, like Suze. Farewell. Leave now or Trunk of Tree will shed all his bark!”
Fleet of Foot glanced at his friend and could see that Cat Eyes was right. He laughed and Cat Eyes joined. Fleet of Foot took her hands gently in his. “You are a remarkable young woman Cat Eyes. I do believe we will meet again. I hope so. On behalf of Tu-Swift, I thank you for the gifts.”
The small group of Center Place Veritas stood at the entrance to the tunnel and said goodbye one more time. Cat Eyes stood far off and waved to them. Even from a distance, Fleet of Foot could see the tears on her cheeks. Among the group returning through the tunnel was one from the Twin Peaks Veritas. Gentle Talons had chosen one from among his tribe to accompany them on their journey and to return in due course. This young woman’s name was “Flowing Waters.” She had artistic talent and, although quite bright and articulate, had been unable to master the decoding of books. Gentle Talons was hoping she could bring some drawings of the Center Place and its inhabitants back to Gentle Talons and his tribe some day.
A small number of Twin Peaks Veritas accompanied them on their journey back up to the door of the tunnel. Cat Eyes was not among them. She was already busy decoding more books and teaching others to do the same. Those who had come stood well back from the tunnel door acting for all the world as though some dark evil monster might emerge.
Hudah Salah noticed this wariness among the onlookers and considered. The only thing that had ever come out of that tunnel prior to the small Veritas delegation were child stealers. So! That really was a dark evil monster. No wonder they looked nervously toward the entrance, ready to bolt at the slightest urging.
Hudah turned and watched carefully as Jaccim opened the tunnel door. It opened and though no obvious monsters emerged, the Veritas from beyond the Twin Peaks drew no closer. They continued to stare as their visitors, now including one of their own — Flowing Waters —entered into the oddly lit corridor that stretched beyond sight. They continued to stare as the doors closed. The onlookers collectively sighed. It seemed as though the entire party had been swallowed by a gigantic monster of rock. They turned and walked back home, eager to learn more of this wonderful world through the magic that The Chosen One had revealed to them all.
Inside, the returning Veritas, along with their guest, again gaped at the odd lighting and high ceilings. They strode along the smooth path confidently. Only Fleet of Foot found himself wondering whether this tunnel might collapse. On the way in, though he had been awed, the didn’t imagine the tunnel would “stop working” any more than a tree would stop growing or a bee would stop buzzing. Now, thanks (or no thanks) to Cat Eyes, he realized that this tunnel was not something to be taken for granted. It did not just spring into being. It had been built. And the people who had known how to build such things were gone, if the books were correct. Fleet of Foot thought about some of the many gifts the Veritas had received from their ancestors. How to start a fire, bow and arrow, which plants could be used for which diseases. Why had he always accepted these as part of the world? They were part of his world, but each meant his ancestors for thousands of generations had worked to make these devices better. Everyone he had known his entire life had experimented to make things better.
Almost everyone, he realized. What if the likes of ALT-R and POND MUD had made these tunnels? They might have constructed them to appear an easy path — and then, they could collapse thus trapping and crushing their whole party under a mountain of hard rock. Did the books lie? Could there really have been a people so blind that they knew the story of the Orange Man and yet made the same mistakes again destroying in the process not just a single tribe but an entire civilization? No point in dwelling on a danger he had no idea how to defend against. He may as well walk to the end with as much happiness and joy in his heart as he could muster. If these were to be his last few moments on earth, he may as well enjoy them.
He smiled and caught up with Flowing Waters.
“Thanks for traveling with us, Flowing Waters. I saw some of your drawings. Excellent! I especially liked the sunset on the Twin Peaks.”
“Thank you, Fleet of Foot. I like to draw. Do you?”
The Forgotten Field — A Myth about the Importance of Finding Common Ground
The Orange Man — a Myth about the Importance of Truth
The First Ring of Empathy — The Beginning of Book One of the Myths of the Veritas
Hauntings Across the Time Zones – A Poem
Camelot – A Poem