There are some things whose memory we retain throughout our lifetime. Some remember their first look through a telescope or a microscope. Some remember their first taste of alcohol or coffee. Many remember their first kiss. All remember the first time they held their newborn baby and grandchild. So too, was it among the Veritas.
Tree Vines and Gathers Acorns immediately recognized the voice of their daughter despite their many years apart. They began to run toward the sound, but when they came within sight of her, they stopped. The couple held hands, and stared at their daughter who had now grown into a young woman.
Tree Vines thought of so many wasted years, but so many stories to tell and listen to. He would make it up to her — ever allowing her to be stolen in the first place.
Gathers Acorns regretted never have had a chance to talk with her daughter about so many important things. And who had raised her exactly? And, what kind of a person was she? But she’s my daughter, she thought. I want to hold her at long last.
Cat Eyes bit her lip. She thought: Could these be my parents? I have a family? Why did they let me get stolen? Of course, they had no choice. Tu-Swift doesn’t hate Many Paths for letting them steal him. I shouldn’t be mad at them but at the Z-Lotz and the ROI. That’s who I’m really mad at. But I am mad at my parents as well. It’s crazy. I wish I could have talked with Tu-Swift before I met them so suddenly. That didn’t happen so…I do feel like hugging them though.
All this flashed through each person’s mind in a split second of awkwardness and indecision. Then, the three of them melted into one six-legged, six-armed goddess of love. There were tears of joy and there were tears of regret and there were tears of anger and frustration as well.
Many Paths approached the reunited family holding hands with both Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker. Soon, Many Paths noticed that the gaze of Eagle Eyes had shifted away from Family Together at Last to Trunk of Tree. She ran toward him and flung her arms around him. Many Paths noticed that Trunk of Tree smiled with true happiness. She was happy for him. She let out a little chuckle.
Shadow Walker then smiled as well and tilted his head at Many Paths in a clear sign of query. The smile upon the face of Many Paths broadened. She rested her head on the shoulder of Shadow Walker. She spoke quietly so only he could hear. “I love you so much. I missed you. Among other things….” She paused and looked up at his large, warm & smiling eyes. “Among other things, I missed your wise counsel. I was just thinking how desperate I was to talk with you or Eagle Eyes or Tu-Swift. And, you were all gone. She Who Saves Many Lives is still sick and she’s asleep, so I didn’t want to disturb her. And, I’m not sure…well, sometimes she seems delirious. The other night in her sleep, she sat upright suddenly and said something like:
“It’s all happened before! This has all happened before!”
I was about to start a conversation with her but she fell back down into a deep sleep. I mean what does that mean? So, I’m not sure I can trust her judgement right now. And everyone I really wanted to talk with was gone. And, now, you’re all back. And I don’t know … I know what I want to do. But there’s so much to do with the tribe. Can you wait a few hours while we deliberate?”
“Wait for what?” Shadow Walker pretended not to have any idea what she was talking about.
Many Paths simply hugged him tighter and said, “I must ask you this though. Are you all right? Did they harm you?”
Shadow Walker winced. He didn’t want to think about how he and Eagle Eyes had been ambushed so easily when they thought they were sneaking in unseen. “Not really. It’s no fun being in prison, but they were going to torture all of us. If it hadn’t been for Eagle Eyes, I’d be dead. She’d be dead. The parents of Cat Eyes would be dead. We really cannot thank her enough.”
Many Paths laughed. “Let’s let Trunk of Tree thank her first.” She smiled at him coquettishly.
Shadow Walker laughed with her for a polite period and then said, “Well, if they are going to have a private thanking session, then we … and well met, Trunk of Tree. Well met.”
Trunk of Tree went straight to the point. “There is much to discuss and many people to thank. But right now, we must prepare for war.”
Many Paths took on a serious tone as well. “I agree. We need to prepare for war — but not in such a way that it makes war more likely. We don’t know what the Z-Lotz will do. First, let us delve into what we have learned. Then, we may prepare more completely and thoughtfully. We must hear all the relevant stories first and then make plans.”
Eagle Eyes, who had accompanied Trunk of Tree, said, “Don’t wait too long. But I don’t think we are in immediate danger. They seem to have lost their horses. And, I think they will be preoccupied for a time choosing their leader. I can’t tell how long, but the very people who would argue that Shadow Walker wasn’t a “real” king because he hadn’t by himself slain NUT-PI now face a situation in which no-one can claim to have killed NUT-PI or Shadow Walker. So, to regain legitimacy, they may well try to kill Shadow Walker, but they must first fight amongst themselves about who should do it. I think it will delay their plans. You see, none of the would-be kings wants to share the killing with any of the others.”
Many Paths shook her head and muttered, “What a lovely system. And I suppose no-one else gets hurt in the process?”
Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker exchanged glances. He spoke thus: “People — innocent people — do get hurt in the process. Of course. How could it be otherwise? NUT-PI, in his attempt to kill the eagles, instead killed several of the Z-Lotz. I’m sure he didn’t care, but I felt bad for them. That’s one reason — I hope I did the right thing — I destroyed the killing stick and then later, when I had a chance to take one or two, I took none. It may not have been … we have no idea how they work. I was afraid if we tried to take one apart to understand better how it works, we would have killed ourselves. Also, I remembered our “imagining exercise” where people pretended to have them to think about their uses. And two of our tribe were about to use the killing sticks over nothing. I mean over something so trivial that I cannot recall what it was. And, I guess that they don’t recall either. There is a reason that they are called “killing sticks.” Because that is what they do. Kill.”
Many Paths said, “I think we must continue to debate this, but not now. Now, we must focus on hearing the stories about the Z-Lotz and their likely tactics. And … but, Trunk of Tree, where did you come from? How did you get Tu-Swift and Cat Eyes?”
“I discovered a very short path to the Veritas on the other side of the mountain. I was hunting deer and the deer led me to this place that was a narrow cleft and then, I was at their village and there was Tu-Swift and Eagle Eyes. These two are … well, they know more about bawks than anyone else! You should see it.”
Tu-Swift, who had also joined the small group, said, “He means ‘books’ — it’s ‘books’ Trunk of Tree. Anyway, there is so much in those books, so many stories, no much information … and so much we still don’t understand. But this much we do understand. I have to tell you something. It is amazing and wonderful, but also … difficult. But we must understand the true story of how we got here before we plan what to do next. Do you agree?”
Many Paths shrugged. “I cannot disagree, at least not until I know more about what it is you’ve learned. What is it?”
Tu-Swift took a giant sigh. He looked down at the ground for a moment and then right into the eyes of his sister, Many Paths.
“This has all happened before.”