After the feast, Many Paths rose to speak, “On behalf of the whole tribe, and on behalf of this woman who now speaks as well, I thank you, Shadow Walker, for finding Tu-Swift and returning him to me … to us. There is much that we would hear from you as to how this came about. We also would like to hear from Tu-Swift. As the elder, Shadow Walker, would you care to begin your tale?”
Shadow Walker rose, “Thank you, Many Paths. I will tell my tale in due course. Having already heard from Tu-Swift and the others, I believe that my own tale, though a useful one for us to consider, is not the first one that the tribe must hear. I believe we should first hear from Tu-Swift and then from Cat Eyes. I can tell my small tale last.”
Shadow Walker had discussed this with Tu-Swift who had reluctantly agreed. Tu-Swift, arose and Many Paths noted that as he did so, he braced himself strongly against the rough-hewn wooden table. The cheeks of Tu-Swift glowed with the red of the post-fire sunsets as he began his tale. Soon, however, he found himself “inside” the tale he was telling and his self-consciousness disappeared. A natural born storyteller, Tu-Swift illustrated his tale with sound effects, gestures, and facial expressions. Apart from babes in arms, the entire tribe, children and elders included, followed with rapt attention and respectful silence.
Tu-Swift recounted his initial abduction, his confusion, his despair, his meeting with Day-Nah, their work with the horses, how Jaccim had been the gentlest of the three overseers, both with the boys and with the horses. He described how he had sabotaged some of the weapons of the ROI and made it easy for the horses to escape. As he told his part, he glanced at Jaccim, whose eyes widened and whose jaw dropped open. He had no idea that Tu-Swift had played any part at all in the destruction of the ROI village.
Tu-Swift went on to describe his joy at being reunited with other Veritas and their being attacked yet again with flaming arrows. He described his terrifying run to avoid the flames and the sudden stab of pain that wrecked his knee. He described his long, painful hobble back to the village in hopes of finding food in the burned forest, his discovery of the sword which he held aloft dramatically. Tu-Swift’s face exploded into a large grin as he told of his second re-uniting with Shadow Walker and the Wolf Pups. The Veritas gasped as one when he told of the harrowing flume ride.
The Veritas learned at a young age to be respectful while someone told a tale. So, tonight, they said little or nothing — until Tu-Swift came to his last dream and as he told of his “decoding” of “Sooz” in the dream, he beamed at her. Now it was her turn to carminize and the others smiled at her. But as Tu-Swift began to explain his understanding of the game and its symbols, the tribe began to murmur restively. Tu-Swift had meant this revelation to be the exciting climax to his tale, but as he looked out among the Veritas, he saw understanding dawn quickly only on the faces of Many Paths, She Who Saved Many Lives, and Eagle Eyes. The eyes of those three grew wide with surprise and delight. Most of the Veritas, however frowned, shook their heads, and muttered below their breath to someone nearby.
The frowns most of them wore were reinforced as they looked to one another. Now, the contagion of doubt even spread back to Tu-Swift himself who also frowned. He looked at Many Paths for reassurance. Tu-Swift’s nicely told tale ended anti-climatically as he mumbled something about that being the end of his tale and sat back down, again using the edge of the table as support.
Many Paths quickly stood and spoke. Her mind raced with the astounding possibilities opened up by Tu-Swift’s revelation, and the possible uses of such symbols, but she reigned her mind back to the here and now. What this moment needed was to re-establish the unity in the tribe that came from shared experience. As she looked about her she saw that only a few among her people understood what Tu-Swift had said.
Many Paths used her strongest voice to speak to her people. “Tu-Swift, thank you for sharing your tale. I am eager to learn what Cat Eyes and Shadow Walker have to say, as I am sure the rest of the tribe is as well, but before we get to that, please indulge a few questions, for I am not sure I fully understand what you meant about these symbols. We have symbols for people and for other things. But you are saying that this is a different kind of language. Many of the tribes understand sign language which is common among us. But that sign language is limited. We understand each other when we are face to face.
“The language you speak of,” she continued, “is different. You claim there is a symbol for each sound — as in your example of your good friend Sooz. The “s” sound of “sooz” is shown by the stick figure representation of our sign language for “snake.” Then, the “ooo” sound is shown by the stick figure representing our sign language for “owl” who often makes the “ooo” sound. Last, the “zzz” sound of “Sooz” is shown by the stick figure of someone making our sign language for “buzzing bee.” So, such a language can cause one to think of a long sequence of words just as they would be spoken aloud. Is that right? Can this be so, Tu-Swift?”
Tu-Swift swallowed hard. He did not enjoy being put on the spot again. What had seemed so obvious to him, was apparently not so easy for others to grasp. He bit his lip. Through the fog of his embarrassment, he realized that Many Paths understood perfectly. She was helping the many of the Veritas understand that which was already understood by the few. Tu-Swift stood again, and nodded. “Exactly so, sister. You will hear next the tale of Cat Eyes who believes that there are complete stories made with such symbols and that those who understand such language can “hear” a story in the ears of their imagination. Maybe it will become clearer if you hear her story now.” Tu-Swift sat down, but to the surprise of Many Paths, Hudah Salah arose and spoke.
Many Paths recognized her to speak. Many Paths thought to herself how much she had changed since she first came to live with the Veritas. Then, she would never have risen to speak on her own but would silently support with her expressions, manner, and short utterances that which her husband Lion Slayer had already said. Now, however, she showed no hesitation to speak.
“Lion Slayer likely knows more of this than I do, but among our people there is a legend of such a language. Near the southern edge of the desert where we dwell, there is a place we call, “The Desert of the Desert” because nothing grows there. Only a few have ventured there for everyone who does so returns sick. But more than one such have told of odd symbols written there on very large rocks. Our legends say that such stones speak to those who can listen to them properly. None of those who visited there heard the stones speak. But now, I have to wonder whether those symbols are cousins to the ones that the ROI use.” Hudah Salah sat and Lion Slayer stood quickly adding, “It is just as Hudah Salah says. Such symbols may be dangerous. For, as Hudah Salah says, everyone who goes to hear these stones speak returns ill but none of those who have returned heard the rocks say anything beyond the windy whispers of the desert night breezes.”
A buzz of murmurs began among the Veritas, and Many Paths recognized Cat Eyes. “Let me begin my tale. First, I thank Shadow Walker and Tu-Swift for rescuing me and I thank all of you for welcoming me back to my tribe. For I too am of the Veritas.” As Cat Eyes looked among the Veritas, she could see more uncertainty and confusion. “Let me begin my tale with a reassurance however. I lived among both the Z-Lotz and the ROI and saw many people, including children, using and playing with the symbols that Tu-Swift spoke of. None of these became ill. Certainly, no-one among either of those tribes believes that such symbols cause illness. I suspect it may be the extreme dryness or heat of a place where nothing grows that causes the illness. Or, perhaps those symbols are different. But these symbols I have carried myself for years and not gotten ill. I now believe that these symbols allow the ROI and the Z-Lotz to plan and plot and tell tales across great distances and across many summers though I did not realize it at the time I lived among them. I have thought about it more and more after Tu-Swift’s revelation.” To illustrate her point, she held aloft one of the matts of symbols and let it unfold as she held it in her hand. She lightly brushed her hand over the symbols.
“This is not painful,” Cat Eyes continued, “and does not cause illness or I would be long dead for I have kept these hidden on my person or very near for years. Some of the richest among the Z-Lotz have a room where their children play and many of these kinds of matts are spread on the floor. The walls of these rooms are stacked with many sheaves of such symbols. They cause no harm that I could discern, nor the Z-Lotz who had their children play there.”
Eagle Eyes held something aloft, “Sheaves like these?” she questioned.
Many Paths worried that the clear telling of the tale of Cat Eyes might become derailed and confused. She took the object from the hand of Eagle Eyes and handed it to Cat Eyes.
Cat Eyes nodded and exchanged a look with Many Paths. “Indeed! This is exactly the sort of thing I am speaking of. Where did you find it?” After a moment she added, “This one seems damaged. There are missing leaves.”
Now it was Eagle Eyes’ turn to blush. “I found it when we searched for Tu-Swift and the others in the village of the Z-Lotz. I thought it was nothing more than a clever and less bulky way to carry fire-starting tinder. We used a few leaves to start a fire on our way back here. I had no idea….”
Many Paths jumped into the conversation. “We must study such symbols and learn from them. It will no doubt take time. But meanwhile, Cat Eyes, please tell us your tale, unbroken. I suspect that although it is late, many would like to hear that tale tonight. Others may be understandably tired and eager to put their children to bed. What say you people? Shall we hear this tale tonight or on the morrow?”
After much murmuring among the Veritas, the vote was taken by a show of hands. Nearly everyone longed to hear the tale of Cat Eyes now though the last bits of color had dimmed long ago. Many Paths nodded and gestured to Cat Eyes who began her own tale of how she had been stolen at an early age, even younger than Tu-Swift.
“Sixteen summers ago, I was born among the Veritas, in a village over the Twin Mountains,” she began.