Many Paths sighed. “What do you mean by saying that it has all happened before, brother of mine?”
Tu-Swift glanced back at Cat Eyes. Surely, Cat Eyes would be able to explain better than he could. But he could see that her parents Tree Vines and Gathers Acorns smothered her with affection, so he resolved to try to explain. “Throughout time, people have been prosperous for a time and then ruined it through the actions of the few who wish to indulge their greed and lies. We all know the story of the Orange Man. But there are many such stories, apparently from many places. Lies and greed always end the same way — with misery for the many and eventually with misery for those few greedy as well. I recently read — well, Cat Eyes read me a story about another liar whom they called “The Wobbly Man” who went into a beautiful, peaceful village and tore apart the people, one from another. And, just before Trunk of Tree came — before he discovered a short cut to the Veritas on the Other Side of the Mountain, we were decoding a whole series of stories that were meant to caution people so that they wouldn’t fall for the lies of the greedy. But why are such stories necessary? Why can’t people seem to see what the greedy are up to? If the answer to that puzzle is in the books, we have not yet found it.”
Many Paths nodded. “I wish to know about these books and the wisdom in them. I need to hold council with people here. I need everyone’s wisdom to help me try to bring peace among the tribes. It seems that I may also gain good counsel from those who have gone before us. If, as you — and She Who Saves Many Lives — both seem to claim, this has all happened before, we can learn from these books what wisdom they have. Can you read me one of these stories?”
So, it came to pass that Tu-Swift read to Many Paths the story called “The Three Blind Mice.” As he read, many of the Veritas gathered round to listen.
The Story of the Three Blind Mice.
Once before our time, a field of goldenrod provided a lovely home for a very large and prosperous camp-land of field mice. The goldenrod attracted grasshoppers and the mice loved the tasty and nutritious grasshoppers. When, as happens to all, eventually each individual mouse died, and they then provided food for the roots of the goldenrod which grew ever taller and more attractive to the grasshoppers. All was well in the golden field.
As things became ever more prosperous for the mice, a thought occurred to two of the mice. Their names were Cheat and Lie.
Cheat said to Lie: “We have more than we used to have. And that feels good. So, we would feel even better if we had more than anyone else.”
Lie said to Cheat: “I suppose you’re right. But so what? Why would everyone agree to give us more?”
They darted their eyes at random for awhile, wriggling their whiskers and trying to think of an answer to that puzzle.
Presently, Lie said to Cheat, “We will lie to them! We will tell the that they are not happy. We will tell them that they are in danger! We will tell them that they cannot trust each other. They can only trust us. We will keep them safe!”
Cheat said to Lie: “That’s a wonderful idea!” Then, a mousy frown appeared between Cheat’s eyes and he said, “But why would they believe it? I mean look at us. We’re not by any means the fastest mice or the strongest. We don’t have the best eyesight. Why would they believe that we can protect them better than they themselves can?”
Lie said to Cheat: “We will recruit Chaos to our cause! He has a knack for disorder. He will make everything so confusing that everyone will want to believe that we’ll take care of everything for them.”
That very night, while all the other mice slept, Cheat and Lie crept over to the usual sleeping spot of Chaos who was not too happy about being awakened.
Lie and Cheat cautioned him to be quiet and the trio snuck off to a part of the field that all the other mice typically avoided. They explained their plot to Chaos who readily agreed to play his part. He loved to confuse other mice every chance he had.
The three were startled by the sudden appearance of a huge pair of eyes atop a gigantic maw of jaws. The Fox’s voice however, was surprisingly warm and smooth. “No need to run. I’m not interested in hurting you three. I overheard your plans. Very smart. Very smart. Still, I think I could improve upon your plans quite a bit. With my help, you three clever mice will get what you deserve! You deserve more than an equal share. Much more. And, I will help you.”
The three mice were feeling both reassured and proud. After all, they had been called “smart” by a fox!
Cheat asked, “How can you help? And why would you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Fox nodded sagely. “You ask two excellent questions. You are indeed smart mice. First, let me just ask you a question so that I may answer your question in a way more tailored to your needs. Aren’t there among all you mice some that annoy you greatly or that you find unattractive?”
Cheat answered first, “I really hate those mice that have to make up and follow rules.”
Lie said, “And I hate the ones that always insist on the truth.”
Chaos answered, “I hate folks with pinkish toes. They just disgust me. For one thing, I’m highly attracted to them. But I don’t want to be. So, that makes me uncomfortable.”
Fox nodded. “I can see exactly why you find those sorts annoying. I do too! You say you want to make everyone afraid even though things are going well. Now, imagine how much more fearful everyone will be when a fox shows up and eats some of the mice. Not just any mice of course, but just the icky ones. Mice with pink toes or who insist on the truth or follow rules. Of course, we will first have to make sure that lots of your fellow mice also hate those with pink toes and so forth. And, now, as you clever mice surely see, I have answered your original questions. Firstly, I can help by making your fellow mice so scared, they will literally come to believe anything you say and won’t mind giving some of their grasshoppers to you. Secondly, the why is simple. I get to eat the hateful ones among you. And that will make life better for you as well — no more hateful ones around.”
And, so, their deal was settled and, sure enough, thanks to helpful suggestions from Fox, over time, many of the mice came to hate those who played by the rules and came to hate mice with pink toes, and came to hate mice who insisted on the truth.
Fox was happy to have his mice “delivered to him” ready to devour. He no longer had to chase after them.
After some months, however, the supply of the hateful mice began to dwindle. Fox was no longer satisfied. He made it quite clear that he needed to speak to Chaos, Lie, and Cheat who had by now grown quite fat with the extra provisions they took from the other mice.
Fox began: “Chaos, Lie, and Cheat, you have done quite well. Honestly, I’m quite amazed that things have gone as well as they have for all of us. You’re obviously all doing well. Let’s keep things going for both our sakes. You’ve run out of hateful mice, but that’s not a problem. We will simply need to expand the circle of hateful mice a little bit. No big deal. I can help you figure out how. Maybe mice with scraggly fur or mice with crooked teeth or mice that are unusually small. It’s totally up to you. I am really just a pawn in your plans.”
And, for a long while things went along much the same. Fox would get his fill of mice without having to chase them. The three mice — Chaos, Lie, and Cheat grew fatter and fatter. Some of the mice were rather shocked that Chaos, Lie, and Cheat were fomenting hate against certain mice and then ordering them to be rounded up to end up in the stomach of Fox. Some of the mice were rather glad it was happening. They were eager to help. They convinced themselves that they had always hated such and such a kind of mouse. Most of the mice were just glad that they weren’t the ones sacrificed to the Fox. After all, this was a world full of woe, just as Chaos, Lie, and Cheat kept saying.
At last, there came the day when Chaos, Lie, and Cheat had truly sad news to share with Fox. Cheat, Lie, and Chaos drew straws to see who would break the news to Fox. Lie lost and so he began: “I’m so sorry to break the bad news to you, Fox, but we seem to have run out of mice! We drew our circle tighter and tighter just as you suggested but you’ve now eaten up all of our hateful kin. But the good news is that you have been quite well fed for quite awhile and have plenty of fat to tide you over for a few months.”
Now, Cheat chimed in: “I suppose you’ll be moving on to other fields where there are still many mice?”
Lie added, “It has been a pleasure doing business with you, Fox.”
Fox smiled in a foxy sort of way: “Indeed it has. And, I will be moving on to other fields as you suggest. But, our business is not yet over, and I won’t be leaving this field today. First, to show my gratitude to three such clever mice, I have gifts for you. For each of you, I have a tooth of solid gold. Here, walk right in and take your trophy tooth.”
Fox opened his mouth wide. In walked the three clever mice to claim their prize.
And, never walked out.
When Tu-Swift finished, everyone sat silently for no-one wanted to be the first to speak. Each person who had heard felt a heaviness inside. Each recognized from their own experience how easy it is for greed to lead to blindness; for those who have more, to think that they will be cleverer than all the overly greedy people who went before. It had been so for the Orange Man. It had been so for NUT-PI. It had been so for ALT-R and POND MUD. Each wondered whether the Veritas were doomed to suffer the same dismal and inevitable fate. Or, whether this time, perhaps Many Paths could once again help them find a ray of hope.