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Religious Themed Stories / The Game of God - Chapter 2

   There is nothing greater than the place called home. How great is your joy in returning home after a long absence. If great is your joy and the joy of your friends upon your return, how great will be your joy if you return to your home in eternity? - The Book of the Prophets of God, the words of Kel.

   

   It was one thing to announce that you would adopt a tree dweller as your son. It was quite another to actually bring one back to your dwelling to live with you. Ishihari did not know what to think about all this tree dweller business even if Zothor was her mate. Then there was the blessing by Tangalen. It was so unexpected not to mention never done before a gathering of the clan. It was almost as if the blessing was given to the tree dweller and the clan at the same time. Still, it was a matter of honor. The tree dweller had saved both her youngest son and her mate. She would accept him as her son. It was the demand of honor and she would be faithful to her duty to the clan and her mate.

   Zothor stood in the doorway to the living area with the tree dweller in claw. Ishihari looked up from where she was laying. “This is Ishihari my mate,” Zothor said.

   “Greetings,” Tangoral said in broken Brachyura.

   Ishihari was stunned. “He can talk?”

   “A little, but he learns quickly. I think he’ll get better,” Zothor replied.

   “Greetings to you my son,” she replied to Tangoral’s salutation. “Have you named him yet?”

   “I suspect he has a name of his own. When he can communicate a little better I think we will discover what his name is.”

   “So what do I call him in the meantime?”

   Zothor thought for a moment. “Nothing comes to me right off. Let me think on it a while,” he said.

   “Where are you going to put him?” Ishihari asked.

   “I thought I’d put him in the empty room next to Cantor. We’re not using it for anything but storage right now,” Zothor replied.

   “What will he sleep on? I doubt tree dwellers sleep on soft sand the way we do,” Ishihari said wondering if Zothor had thought of all the problems of keeping a tree dweller. She was beginning to think of the tree dweller as some kind of a pet that Zothor brought home.

   “Ishihari are you trying to aggravate me. Because if you’re not, you’re doing a wonderful job of it anyway,” Zothor said a bit perturbed. He was rather please with how the evening was going so far until he walked in on his mate. “He just arrived. Would I be getting this much grief if this was a guest and brother of the clan.”

   “Zothor, I’m just trying to point out that you haven’t thought this thing through. I mean like, have you even had the storeroom cleaned out yet?”

   “Well, no.”

   “Then you need to put him in a guestroom tonight. What does he eat?” she asked.

   “I don’t know,” Zothor replied. Ishihari was right he did need to think this through a little more. “Ok, I give up, you’re right, but he’s only been with us one evening. How much do you think I can learn about tree dwellers in that time? I have to learn to communicate with him first just so I can ask the questions you just asked me.”

   “You’re also right, my love. I did not consider the communication problem. Put him in a guestroom and I’ll get him settled in tomorrow. Then we can both spend time trying to teach him to talk,” Ishihari said.

   Zothor led Tangoral down a hall toward the guestroom wing of his dwelling. “Females! They drive you up a wall with details you never thought of or they drive you out of your shell with their own special brand of logic; which of course only another female could understand. If you ever get married my young friend it will either be the best thing you’ve ever done or your worst mistake. Most of the time you’ll wonder which it is,” Zothor rambled on stopping in a doorway. “This is your room for the night. Tomorrow we will get you your own room. Sleep well my son.” Zothor turned and left. This day was very tiring, he would sleep well tonight.

   The adrenaline still pumped through Tangoral’s body. To have been surrounded by a hundred and fifty-three hard-shells and still be alive was both terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Except for one brief moment he hadn’t understood anything the hard-shells said. Oh sure, a word or two now and again, but as far as he was concerned it might as well have been the language of the ancients, a long dead people. Tangoral was still too excited to sleep. He stuck his head out the door and looked both ways down the hall. No one was in sight when he stepped out of the guestroom. Silent as the night Tangoral began to explore his surroundings. He had almost completed his inspection of this section of the dwelling when he heard a loud crash from a room just ahead of him.

   Tangoral stuck his head around the edge of the doorway cautiously.  A small hard-shell was lying on the floor covered with the pans that had fallen off the wall. Tangoral recognized the young hard-shell as the one he had saved almost a half a moon ago. The room was amazing. All the pots and pans represented a fortune in metal. There is more metal in this one room than all the tribes together possessed, Tangoral thought. Small biscuits littered the floor along with the pots and pans. Tangoral stepped into the room.

   Cantor was afraid that someone had heard the racket, but was more than a little surprised when the tree dweller that had saved his life stepped into the room. He heard the tree dweller was here in the dwelling and that his father had adopted him as his son as honor demanded. He did not actually think he would see him. The tree dweller walked over to him and started to pick up some of the pans that had fallen on him.

   “Greetings,” Tangoral said.

   “Greetings,” Cantor replied a little surprised to find that the tree dweller could talk.

   Tangoral helped the small hard-shell to his few remaining legs. Pointing to himself he said, “Tangoral.” Tangoral pointed to himself again and said, “Tangoral.”

   It took a moment for Cantor to catch on. The word he said made no sense. It must be a tree dweller word. Then he was struck by a moment of understanding. Pointing to himself with one of his claws, “Cantor,” he said.

   After a few moments of working on the pronunciation of each other’s name they got on to the matter at hand. That of course was trying to hide the fact that Cantor had raided the cookie jar. Cantor pointed at a pot or a pan and then pointed at a spot on the wall. Tangoral would then hang that pan or pot on its spot on the wall. As Tangoral and Cantor picked up the biscuits on the floor couple of pairs of eyes that had watched much of the whole scene disappeared from the doorway.

   

   “What was the noise?” Ishihari asked Zothor as he returned to their room.

   “Nothing much. Cantor just knocked some pans off the wall getting some sweet bread,” he replied lying back down beside her.

   “You put him back in bed, didn’t you?”

   “No, I left him there covered in pans,” Zothor said somewhat sarcastically.

   “You didn’t really?” she asked to reassure herself that Zothor was only kidding.

   “Yes, I did really, but help had already reached him so I thought it best not to interfere.”

   “Who’s up this late?”

   “The tree dweller.”

   “What?” Ishihari started to get up.

   “Relax. When I left them they were putting all the pans back on the wall and were collecting a rather large supply of sweet bread,” Zothor reassured her.

   “Do you think it is wise to leave them together?” she asked setting back into the soft sand.

   “The tree dweller will learn our language far more quickly from Cantor than from me, and Cantor too will learn more than just a new language. There is much we will learn from each other in the coming days,” Zothor said. “Now go to sleep.”

   

   Tangoral awoke from a dream that he was surrounded by hard-shells. The warm sand on which he was laying was very comfortable, better than any hammock he’d ever slept in. Now he remembered where he was, this was Cantor’s room. They had spent most of the night trying to talk to one another and eating sweet bread. Cantor had shown him everything in his room and tried to explain the things he was showing Tangoral. Tangoral rolled over and stared at two retractable eyes looking at him.

   “Good morning Tangoral,” Cantor said.

   “Morning?” Tangoral asked. He didn’t understand the word. The “good” part he understood.

   “Early day greeting,” Cantor explained.

   “Oh. Morning, morning, I say that right?”

   “Close enough.”

   “What you do today?” Tangoral asked. Cantor had taught him more about speaking the language of the hard-shells in one night than Zothor did in two days and Tangoral wanted very much to learn the language.

   “I’m not doing anything, but it’s time for breakfast right now,” Cantor said. “Mother said to hurry or we will be late.”

   “Breakfast?” Tangoral asked half-understanding want Cantor just said.

   “Morning meal,” Cantor replied.

   “Meal?” He understood the “morning” part this time.

   “Food.”

   “Go, I follow,” Tangoral said. Another bite to eat wouldn’t hurt right now, but then he could eat anytime.

   The dining room was almost as large as the great hall. About third of the space was taken up by more than three dozen Brachyura as the hard-shells called themselves. Cantor taught him that last night. Cantor led him to the end of one of the tables. There was a bench that was for the use of the children of the dwelling. Cantor was having a little trouble getting up so Tangoral helped him, then he sat down next to him. Other children came in and climbed up on the bench as well. A hard-shell just a little smaller than Cantor climbed up next to Tangoral more because it was the only place left and no one wanted to sit next to the tree dweller.

   “Good morning,” Tangoral said.

   “Hi, Margeeum,” Cantor said to the small Brachyura sitting next to Tangoral.

   “Good morning,” Margeeum returned Tangoral’s greeting. “Hi Cantor, how’s the legs growing?”

   “Fine I guess. Hasn’t been very long yet,” Cantor replied.

   “Hey Cantor, who’s your two legged friend?” asked Kopel, a kid on the other end of the bench. It was an insult to be certain. Most Brachyura insults are related to the number of legs and claws you don’t have.

   “You know who he is as well as I do,” Cantor replied choosing to ignore the insult.

   “Cantor, forget Kopel. He just wants to hear you admit he’s your brother,” said Leygal from where he sat next to Cantor.

   “Tell us your brother’s name, or can’t he talk,” Kopel said taking another jab at Cantor. “Pull off a few more of your legs and you’d be twins.”

   “Ok, that’s it” Cantor said hopping off the bench none to gracefully. He limped down to where Kopel sat. “Let’s go right now. I can still beat you with half my legs and one claw tied behind my shell.”

   “You’re on legless.” Kopel jumped down and pushed Cantor back with his claw. Cantor fell over. “You can’t even stand up. What makes you think you can beat me, oh brother of a tree dweller?” Even as Cantor fell Tangoral was up off the bench and walking toward Kopel. He never liked bullies, and this certainly was one. Even though he hadn’t understood more than a word or two he knew this kid was trouble.

   “Kopel look out,” another kid yelled.

   Kopel turn an eye in the direction of the yell and saw the tree dweller coming toward him. “Stay back tree dweller or I’ll cut you into little pieces,” Kopel said brandishing his claws. Stopping next to Cantor, Tangoral stomped his foot at Kopel. Kopel backed against the wall screaming, “Help the tree dweller is attacking me!”

   Tangoral knelt down to help Cantor. He looked up at Kopel and said only one word. “Tomorrow.” He did not say it very loud but it carried far enough for Kopel to hear. It pierced through his shell and sunk deep into his heart and sowed the seed of fear.

   Ishihari dropped the food she was serving on the table and rushed to the table reserved for the children. Grizzon, Tragal, and several other elders of the clan followed her. Tangalen was already there when they arrived. “What is going on here?” Ishihari demanded.

   “All is well sister,” Tangalen said. “I heard and saw most of what was said and done. Kopel was trying to challenge Cantor. Kopel insulted the tree dweller and then Cantor. Cantor went down and challenged Kopel straight out with odds I would not want even if I were to play against the tree dweller even if they would be aloud to play, which they wouldn’t. Kopel push Cantor down. That’s when the tree dweller got up and walked down to help Cantor. Nothing more than that occurred except Kopel found himself facing the possibility of actually fighting someone with all their legs under them.”

   Ishihari turned and faced Kopel. Jabbing a giant claw in his face, “You go back to your room and stay there. Breakfast will be brought to you when everyone is done eating and the tables cleared. This tree dweller is a brother to this clan. He is my adopted son and brother to Cantor. If anybody has a problem with that, please, come see me.” Ishihari was still facing Kopel but looking at the rest of the clan. “Tragal please see that Kopel finds his room,” she asked.

   “Gladly,” he replied.

   “Now you two.” Ishihari turned and faced Tangoral and Cantor. “I want no more trouble from either of you.”

   “But mom he said…,” Cantor began.

   “But nothing. I don’t care what he said. Challenges are not to be given during breakfast, is that clear? Is it?” All four of her eyes were focused on her son.

   “Yes, it’s clear.”

   “Good. Now you two will eat quickly and leave,” Ishihari said. As everyone return to his or her place, Ishihari returned to serving the food. She could not help but wonder why Tangalen had been there. He never sat over by the children. They were always too loud for him, or so he always complained. Still, this incident made her feel better about having the tree dweller staying in the room next to Cantor.

   “That was so intense,” Leygal said as Cantor and Tangoral sat back down at the table.

   “Kopel should have accepted the challenge. It would be the only chance he has to beat Cantor at the Game,” Margeeum said.

   “I could beat him with or without my legs. Tangoral here could beat him and he doesn’t even know what the Game is,” Cantor stated flatly.

   “Game, what is game?” Tangoral asked hearing his name mentioned.

   “I’ll show you after breakfast,” Cantor replied.

   “What?”

   “After breakfast.”

   “Ok.”

   “He can talk?” asked Leygal

   “Of course he can talk,” Cantor replied.

   “He doesn’t talk very well does he,” Leygal said.

   “No, but then he’s just now learning to speak our language,” Cantor said. “If you were learning to speak the language of the tree dwellers you wouldn’t talk very well either.”

   “What’s his name?” Margeeum asked.

   “His name is Tangoral.”

   “What kind of word is that?” Leygal asked.

   “It’s a tree dweller word,” Cantor replied. Nudging Tangoral and pointing. “This is Leygal.”

   “Hi,” Leygal said.

   “Greetings,” Tangoral replied.

   “The female sitting next to you is Margeeum.”

   “Greetings Tangoral,” Margeeum said trying out Tangoral’s name. She did better than she thought.

   “Greetings Margeeeumm.” Tangoral was getting better at pronouncing Brachyura words and names.

   “How can you eat quickly and leave if all you fill your mouths with is words,” Tangalen interrupted from where he was sitting.

   “We’ll meet at the court,” Cantor said as he began stuffing his mouth with food. Tangoral and the others followed his example.

   

   Tangoral followed Cantor around the dwelling. The dwelling was built around one of the great trees like some kind of fungus growing at the base of the tree; a perverted sandcastle that bubbled out from the side of the tree and rose 12 lengths (24 meters) up the side of the tree in places and nearly encircled it. On the far side of the dwelling on the backside of the tree, if trees have a backside, there was a great gash in the tree in which a wall was set. It was toward the door in the wall that Cantor led Tangoral. Tangoral recognized the tree as one of the grandfather trees whose center had decayed. The great gash that opened up into the center of the tree was almost as tall as the dwelling. The wall that was set in the opening went from the ground all the way up to the point where the opening closed back into the tree. Above the door were inset three large windows one above the other. Despite the advancements of the Brachyura glass was unknown, so the windows were just large round holes set in the wall as were all the windows of the dwelling.

   Once through the door the space opened up into a large room with stairs that rose sharply up one side and hugged the inside wall of the tree. Before them was another wall with a door and windows set in it to match the windows of the outer wall. It was to this door that Cantor led Tangoral. Margeeum and Leygal were already on the court. The court itself was 7 lengths by 10 lengths (14 meters x 20 meters) and 17 lengths high (34 meters). High up on the back wall was an opening for the gallery where one could observe the game. Netting covered the windows and the back door was solid wood that fit flush with the wall. The clan symbol inlayed in the center of the floor with blue stones, and except for two black lines set into the floor, the floor was pure white. The line near the front wall was one and half-lengths from that wall. The back line was three lengths from the back wall.

   “We were wondering if you were ever going to show up,” Leygal said as Tangoral and Cantor stepped onto the court closing the door behind them.

   “Try walking without three of your legs,” Cantor replied.

   “Cantor, you want to bat a few balls?” Margeeum asked.

   “No, I can’t get to the next ball fast enough. I just end up chasing them, but you guys go head. We’ll just stand over here in the corner and watch you play and I’ll explain the game to Tangoral.”

   “Ok. Hey, Leygal, you want to serve.”

   “No, go ahead Margeeum.”

   Margeeum stood just behind the back line and a little right of center. She held a small round ball with her left claw. Throwing it high in the air she hit it hard with her right claw driving it hard against the front wall. Leygal easily returned the rebounding ball with his left claw sending it high and hard back against the front wall. Margeeum waited for the ball to come down, and then drove it hard toward the floor with her left claw. The ball struck the floor just the other side of the front line and then bounced off the wall. Leygal raced to the other side of the court and hit it with the back of his right claw. It was all he could do to just hit it. The ball bounced off the wall high and well out of Margeeum’s reach. She waited for the ball to come off the back wall and then catching it on the bounce she drove it hard and low into the wall with her right claw. Leygal was ready for her this time and returned the ball hard and fast with his left claw. Margeeum was just a little to slow and just missed hitting it with her left claw. The ball headed for the left corner where Cantor and Tangoral stood. Cantor pushed Tangoral out of the way and hit the ball hard with his left claw. The ball curved hard into the right corner striking the floor just a fraction before it hit the front wall and then the right side wall. The spin on the ball caused it to cut back hard to the left side of the court. Leygal was already moving right when he realized he was going the wrong way.

   “Hey, she doesn’t any help,” Leygal complained as he watched the ball roll across the floor.

   “Cantor you have to teach me how to put a spin on the ball the way you do,” Margeeum said.

   “Anytime,” Cantor said. Truth was he had tried once before, either she did not get it or he could not teach it. Cantor lived for the Game. He even gave adults a good workout but he had to keep from being stepped on when playing them and that kind of distracted from total concentration on the game. “We’re going up stairs to watch.”

   “Good,” Leygal said picking up the ball.

   Tangoral and Cantor followed the stairs up around the inside of the tree. Twelve lengths (24 meters) above the court floor the stairs opened into the gallery. It was a large theater like room with the seating area stacked sharply upward. Each row was a level above the one in front of it. The gallery could hold 60 of the Brachyura or almost all of Tangoral’s tribe. Cantor and Tangoral had the gallery to themselves. Tangoral looked down at Margeeum and Leygal playing. The game seemed to be played in spurts. At one moment it was moving hard and fast, the next it was slow and easy. Regardless whether it was fast or slow the ball almost always stayed in motion.

   “This is the Game, Tangoral. How do you like it?” Cantor asked.

   “Like?” Tangoral asked unsure of the word.

   “It means good.”

   “I like. How do you, ah, ah…” Tangoral started.

   “Play,” Cantor finished.

   “Yes, play. How do you play game?”

   “First you have to learn how to hit the ball.” The Game was Cantor’s life, it was the one thing he did best, but now it seemed as if part of him had died. It would take a cycle for his legs to grow back.

   “Hit, ball?” Tangoral asked.

   “Ball,” Cantor said pointing down at the ball with his claw following its every movement.

   “Oh. Hit?”

   Cantor hit Tangoral in the shoulder lightly. “Hit,” he said.

   “Oh, ok,” Tangoral said indicating that Cantor should continue.

   “First you hit the ball with one claw and then the next time you hit the ball with the other claw. See, watch Margeeum, she hits the ball with her right claw,” Cantor said holding out his right claw. “She’ll hit the ball next with her left claw,” he said extending left claw.

   “How do you end game?” Tangoral asked searching for a word he wanted and not finding it.

   “First one to five hundred wins.”

   “Five hundred?” Tangoral asked.

   Cantor quickly counted Tangoral’s fingers. “How many fingers?” he asked pointing at Tangoral’s fingers.

   “Ten,” Tangoral replied in his own language. Cantor, then in a funny kind of sign language that belongs to children everywhere made Tangoral understand one equaled ten and that there were fifty ones. This is going to be a long game, Tangoral thought.

   “It’s hard to have fun if you keep score though,” Cantor said.

   “You like Margeeum?” Tangoral asked to change the subject. Cantor was beginning to look a little dejected.

   “Yeah, but now she’ll play with Kopel,” Cantor said feeling even sadder.

   “You want to go?” Tangoral asked his friend.

   “Yeah.”

   Even though the game court was large by Brachyura standards outside was even larger. The trees seemed to go on endlessly above them. Members of the clan moved to and fro some carrying things, others not. High above the dwelling were the lookout posts, armed and ready. This was a holdover from an age before the Game. Everything seemed to remind Cantor of the game he could no longer play. He seemed to be losing everything, even his girlfriend.

   “You good play game?” Tangoral asked.

   “Yeah, I’m good at playing the game,” Cantor replied correcting Tangoral’s phrasing at the same time.

   “Teach me hit ball?”

   “I don’t see how. You don’t have claws,” Cantor said as they stopped to let a cart being pushed by a clan member go by.

   “What do you call that?” Tangoral asked pointing at the wheels of the cart. An idea on how to help Cantor struck him like a bolt of lightning.

   “Wheels,” Cantor replied.

   “You have small wheels?”

   “Sure, we have craftsmen that can make them, why?” Cantor asked.

   “You see. Show me crafts-men,” Tangoral replied with a smile.

   

   The craft hall was on the other side of the tree from where they were. It was a large structure that jutted out from the rest of the dwelling. Cantor was tired and he wished he had taken the shortcut instead of walking around the outside of the dwelling. Furnace flues protruded from the roof near the front of the structure. Eight of the largest half-round doors in the dwelling dotted the sides of the structure. Each door was one and a half lengths (3 meters) high and three lengths wide. The craft master watched as Cantor and Tangoral approached. In fact, all the craftsmen stopped to look at Tangoral.

   “Craft Master Sokegal, greetings. My brother and I have come because my brother wants some small wheels. I don’t know why and he can’t explain it to me,” Cantor said.

   “Cantor, you know this request should be made through your father,” The craft master replied sternly.

   “I know, but I can’t understand my brother very well yet and that might take a lot of time. I thought by bringing him to you, you could you help me understand what he wants to make so I can make the proper requests.”

   Tangoral bent down and began to draw something on the ground. “Wheels for that,” he said standing back up and pointing at the picture on the ground.

   Sokegal looked at the crude drawing on the ground and then looked at Cantor. “I’ll be damned,” he said looking at the drawing. “Cantor bring him in. Let’s get him some better drafting tools and paper. I’d like to see that drawing in greater detail.” Turning around he saw at the entire clan’s craftsmen just standing there staring at Tangoral. “Get back to work. You’d think you never seen a tree dweller before.” he roared

   Sokegal’s assistant came up behind him. “Craft Master?” he said more as a question to let Sokegal know he was ready to do his master’s bidding.

   “Find Zothor, tell him he needs to come down to see me. Tell him it has to do with his son’s rather unusual request outside of the proper order of things,” Sokegal said sending his assistant off to find Zothor. Cantor looked worried. “Not to worry Cantor,” he said reassuringly. “Your father will not be unhappy about this. Now if you and your brother will follow me to my office I’ll get some drawing tools and paper.”

   

   “Craft Master Sokegal, Zothor, what are you doing here?” Ishihari asked in surprise. Neither took breakfast this late or even ate in the dining hall. The craft master had breakfast brought to him in his office and Zothor ate in the kitchen often fixing his own breakfast; something was up.

   “Just talking about a new invention I was up all night working on Lady Ishihari,” the craft master said.

   “What’s your excuse? You were up with him I suppose?” she asked her mate and letting him know that she wanted to know more.

   “Well, for a good part of it I was. In fact, a lot of the brothers were up late last night so hold breakfast a little longer this morning,” Zothor replied.

   “And...,” she said knowing there was more.

   “You know me too well. I’m here to see Kopel get a harsh object lesson in life,” he said.

   “Then you know about that problem?” Ishihari asked.

   “From several sources, Kopel will bite off more than he can chew today, I think, and justice will be served up by our son. I did not wish to miss this moment in the life of our son,” Zothor replied not wishing to give away any more of what he knew.

   “What’s my dad doing here?” Leygal asked no one particular.

   “Hey Cantor, your dad’s here too. What’s up?” Margeeum asked.

   “They were up most all night working on a new invention. I guess my dad is meeting the craft master here for breakfast,” Cantor replied.

   “Hey legless, pass the sweet bread,” Kopel yelled from his spot near the end of the bench. Cantor passed the sweet bread.

   “Somebody should teach him a lesson,” Margeeum said.

   “You ought to try Margeeum,” Leygal said.

   “Margeeum, now that Cantor can’t play. How about you playing a few games with me? I’d love to play with you,” Kopel said stuffing his mouth with food. “Leygal can’t be much of a workout for you.”

   “I can wait. I’d rather give up playing than play with you,” Margeeum said feeling her anger rise. “Why don’t you stop picking on Cantor? What did he ever do to you?”

   “Hey, I’m not the one with a tree dweller for a brother. That’s a slap across the shell to the brotherhood. Tree dwellers are the children of the Evil One or so the Book of the Prophets of God says,” Kopel said. “Hey, legless wonder, you going to let the females fight your battles for you?”

   Tangoral whispered something to Cantor, patted him on the shell, got up from the bench and walked down toward Kopel. Kopel went dead silent. As Tangoral passed Kopel he said, “Kopel today is tomorrow.” Tangoral walked over to where Zothor and the craft master were sitting.

   “I’d rather have rothar for brother,” Kopel said.

   “Tangoral’s nice he’s not like other tree dwellers…,” Margeeum began to say.

   “Thanks Margeeum, but I can fight my own battles,” Cantor said. “Mother told me not to make challenges during breakfast.”

   “Cantor, I’m just trying to help,” she said.

   “I know, but what the fool on the other end doesn’t know is I could stand in one spot, never move, and still beat him. How could I play him knowing that? It wouldn’t be fair.”

   “You could barely beat me when you had legs runt. What makes you think you could beat me standing still?” Kopel asked. “Maybe you could get Margeeum to play in your place. Perhaps, you could even train your pet rothar to play. That’s all he’s good for, saving your sorry shell.”

   Cantor stood up on the bench and started walking down the bench to where Kopel sat. Other children in the way jumped down off the bench. “You have insulted me,” he began. “You’ve insulted my brother and my parents. You insult my friends. Now you will eat those words that you have vomited up. I challenge you for redress of the insults you have heaped upon me, my friends, and my family.”

   This was no ordinary challenge. The game would be real. It would be for judgment. Elders would set the points. This wasn’t a game to 500 that few ever really played out except in competition. Points for judgment started at 750. Disagreements between children rarely went beyond 500 in the game, but this could not be judged to be a disagreement. Suddenly Kopel was not all that sure of himself, but if he won he would have beaten Cantor the only kid in the dwelling he could not beat. “Am I going to have to wait a cycle to play you?” Kopel asked in jest. He knew the elders would never let Cantor play without all his legs.

   “No, today as soon as arrangements can be made,” Cantor snapped his reply.

   “As much as I’d like to play you, legless, the elders would never allow you to play,” Kopel shot back.

   “In that you are mistaken,” a voice boomed. “Adjustments can be made that would allow Cantor to play on nearly an equal level. The court will be cleared by midday. The game will be to 800. Either of you must win by 100 points. Except the challenge Kopel or withdraw and take back all your words before a gathering of the clan.” Kopel looked up to see the dwelling clan leader standing on the other side of the table. “Well Kopel, what will it be?” Zothor asked.

   Ishihari thought Zothor had lost his mind. She was not going to let her son play any such game. “Cantor, I said no challenges during breakfast and I meant it,” she said. “Nobody’s going to play anything. Zothor, I won’t allow Cantor to play in a game of judgment.”

   “First, breakfast is now ended,” Zothor said turning to face his mate. “Cantor, you can repeat your challenge if you like, but I think Kopel heard it well enough the first time. Second, the law is quite clear here. The Game must be played, judgment must be rendered.” Zothor turned back to face Kopel. “Your answer Kopel, except or withdraw.”

   Bullies are the same everywhere. When they think the odds are all on their side they will stand up against someone weaker than they are every time. “I accept,” Kopel said. He thought the dwelling clan leader was just trying to scare him out of playing. If he lost he’d have to stand before the clan, but he didn’t think he could lose.

   “Zothor are you out of your shell?” Ishihari asked as soon as she got her mate aside.

   “No.”

   “Then how could you let Cantor play in a judgment game. He’s missing three legs, how are you going to make things equal?” she asked. Ishihari lost all her color. “You’re not going to have Kopel’s legs cut off.” It was something that was done in the past history of the Game but not in recent times. If Kopel had heard that he might have withdrawn on the spot.

   “Ishihari, don’t worry. Kopel gets to keep his legs,” Zothor said. “Cantor will be fine, I watched him play a game to two hundred last night. I suspect Cantor is much better than anyone knows.”

   “Who did you get to play a crippled child,” Ishihari demanded.

   “It was truly one of the finest games I have ever played,” Sokegal said coming up behind Zothor and Ishihari. “I lost badly. I bet Kopel withdraws at 500. Lady Ishihari have no fear, Cantor will be fine. We’ve made many improvements on the new invention since last night. Kopel will get a lesson in life he will never forget”

   “What invention?” she asked.

   “Come and see,” Zothor said. “Our craft master had the whole craft hall up all night working on it.”

   “The crafts will bet heavily on Cantor,” Sokegal said. “Too bad too, that will drive the odds down.”

   “This invention, whatever it is had better work,” Ishihari said skeptically.

   “It will. It worked last night. Today it will work even better. I’ve made many improvements, you’ll see,” Sokegal reassured her as they walked out of the dining hall together.

   

   The gallery above the court was packed. Kopel’s parents were called, and the situation explained to them. They were horrified at the prospect that their son would have to play the Game for judgment. Zothor explained that he did not expect the game to go beyond 500 points, but still the game was to 800. He then reminded them that his own son would be playing and that adjustments had to be made for the game to be played at all. Because they were children the rest period would be shortened to 50 points. The side doors to the rest areas in the rear of the court were opened. Kopel had the right side and Cantor the left. The doors would be close during play and opened only during the rest periods.

   Betting was heavy in favor of Kopel even though news of the new invention had leaked. Though Kopel had never beaten Cantor, he had never lost to any of the other children. Cantor on the other claw lost now and again to the other children so the odds were not in his favor. The craftsmen as it turned out bet on both sides, a lot of little bets on Kopel and a couple really big wagers on Cantor. Zothor could see Sokegal’s claw in that. It kept the odds high in favor of Kopel. While Zothor could not bet in person Doesen and Kobeta bet large amounts on Cantor. Kobeta asked for the honor to be on Cantor’s side and help with refreshments during rest periods. Ishihari, Sokegal, and Tangoral would be there as well. Kopel’s father, Napel, and his mother were on his side of course and two of Napel’s closest friends also stood on Kopel’s side.

   “I should have my shell examined for letting you do this,” Ishihari said to her son.

   “He’ll be ok Lady Ishihari. I’d worry about the other kid if I were you. When Cantor is finished with him he’ll never play again,” Sokegal said to reassure her.

   “How can you be so sure he will not be hurt again out there? Kopel has beaten every other child old enough to play the game.” Ishihari was not certain her son could win much less play to 800. “He’ll be out for blood.”

   “Kopel has beaten all the other children except Cantor,” the craft master gently reminded her. “You have so little faith in your own child. Just how well do you know your son? My bet is that Kopel, will withdraw before 500 points can be reached.”

   “I suspect you will lose your money Craft Master. Zothor places his withdrawal before 200 points can be reached,” Kobeta said. “Lady Ishihari, look at Kopel across the way.” Ishihari looked across the court at Kopel standing near the door talking to his father. “Now look at your son.” Ishihari stopped and took a good look at her son. “Across the way you see false confidence. In here there is no false confidence, just grim determination to punish a wrong.”

   “You win?” Tangoral asked.

   “Yeah, he’ll never even get on the scoreboard,” Cantor replied grimly.

   “Good.”

   Ishihari looked at her son with new eyes. She watched as he played with and juggled the two balls that he held in each claw. The motion was so fluid and the balls were ever in motion even as he talked to those around him. No distraction could cause a break in the smooth movement of the balls. Ishihari looked across the way at Kopel again. He was still talking with his father. “I’ve never seen anyone handle balls like that,” Sokegal whispered to, Ishihari. “He played four adults last night, each to 50 points. We were just watching how the cart reacted, but the adults that played him all lost. I don’t think we got more than ten points all together. They were just short games, but I remember thinking the others must just be letting him win, then I got to play him. I never made a point.”

   “He will win won’t he,” she said.

   “Yes, he will.”

   Cantor began to juggle the four balls faster. The adults backed away to both move out of his way and watch him at the same time. Tangoral still fussed with the straps that held the cart in place. The cart was just a piece of padded wood with four very special wheels under it. It was all held on the bottom of his shell with straps. Cantor stepped to the doorway. The balls were a blur of motion now. He looked up and saw his dad look down at him from his place in the gallery. Tangalen sat next to him and was also looking at him. Cantor looked across the court. Kopel was standing with his back to the door talking to his father.

   Napel looked up and saw Cantor and the blur of motion that were his claws moving back and forth. Cantor stopped plucking all four balls from the air with the tips of his claws. Napel looked down at his son and knew he was in trouble. Tangoral stood next to Cantor and thought, if have to be a brother to a hard-shell this is the best one to have. He was very proud of his brother at that moment. Zothor looked down on his son and realized the Game would become his son’s life work for some time to come. He could see the great player his son would become. It was an adult not a child he saw standing in the doorway.

   “Don’t worry mom, this will all be over very quickly,” Cantor said grimly, stepping out onto the court. The rest area door was slipped into place behind him. Kopel stepped onto the court and the rest area door closed behind him as well.

   “We are gathered in judgment of the right and the truth,” Zothor began. “These are the rules of judgment. The game is to 800 points. The winner must win by 100 points. Because of your age and the requests of your mothers the rest period will be at every 50 points instead of every 100 points. The standard rules for the Game will apply. Either of you may withdraw at any time. Because my son stands on the court of judgment I may not keep score. I have asked Tangalen to stand in my place.”

   “This is the court of justice. Serve is determined by volley. Closest to the back line without going over will serve first,” Tangalen said dropping the ball that would be used. Kopel moved quickly to pick up the ball first. Cantor did not move.

    Kopel stepped to the back line threw the ball high in the air and hit it hard. The ball fell only a short step from the back line. “Let’s see you beat that legless,” he said. Cantor picked up the ball fumbled it and watched it rollback toward the back line. He caught it just before it rolled past the line with his left claw. Catching it and throwing it high in the air was almost one fluid motion. He hit it hard. The ball bounced high off the front wall landing so close to the line it almost looked like it hit the front edge. “Lucky shot,” Kopel said.

   “Service is Cantor’s. Let the game begin,” Tangalen said.

   “It wasn’t luck Kopel,” Cantor said as he positioned himself to serve the ball. Cantor threw the ball high in the air and made as if to hit it with his right claw, but he changed at the last moment and drove the ball hard into the wall with his left claw. The ball bounced down the right sidewall before Kopel could even move. Cantor picked up the ball and bounced it on the floor as he walked back to the spot he had chosen to stand throughout the game. He gave the ball one more good bounce as he stopped. As the ball began to fall back toward the floor he hit it hard with his right claw. This time the ball bounced along the left side wall. Kopel still was unable to move.

   “Come on, serve fair Cantor,” Kopel said.

   “It was fair Kopel, or the judge would have cried fault and given you the serve,” Cantor replied as he picked up the ball. This time Kopel lunged for the ball after Cantor served, but he just missed it. Time and time again Kopel thought he could get to the ball but the ball always remained just out of his reach.

   “Damn it Cantor, serve it so I can hit it,” Kopel cried.

   “This is judgment Kopel, I don’t have to serve it so you can hit it,” Cantor said. “In fact, I could stand here and serve the ball another 782 times without you hitting it at all, but I’ll do it your way.” Cantor hit the ball hard. The ball bounced off the front wall and went straight for Kopel. Kopel retracted his two eyes as the ball glanced off his shell between his two eye poles. Cantor used a playing serve to keep the ball in play. The ball passed just below Kopel’s shell between his legs. This time Kopel was able hit the ball with his right claw, but it was out of self-defense, as the ball would have hit him in the face after rebounding off the front wall. The ball bounced not forward but back over Kopel. Cantor plucked the ball from the air. This time he served it to the right side. It was a stretch for Kopel to hit the ball with his right claw. Kopel watched the ball as it hit the front wall. Cantor never moved. Kopel thought that at last he had gained the serve.

   “Fault,” cried Tangalen. “Striking the ball with the same claw twice in a row. Point to Cantor. Fault point to Cantor. Score is now 22 to 0 in favor of Cantor.”

   Cantor began to serve the ball so Kopel could hit it, but Kopel had to run for it. Kopel would hit the ball after running across the court only to watch Cantor take a few steps and hit the ball into some unreachable part of the court. More than once Kopel slammed hard into one of the sidewalls trying to hit the ball. Cantor never let him rest keeping the ball in play when he did not have to move far from the spot on the floor where he stood.

   “Fifty points have been reached,” Tangalen called out. “A rest period is called. Three time parts may be taken. The side doors opened and Kopel slowly walked toward his side. Cantor just stood there bouncing the ball off the front wall; twice with one claw and then twice with the other and then he rotated back to start over. The ball always struck the same spot on the wall and returned to him. Tangoral walked out to him.

   “You rest now?” he asked. “Your mother worried.”

   “I’m not tired. I’ll come in at the hundred mark,” Cantor replied still bouncing the ball off the front wall.

   “He give up so we go home?” Tangoral asked looking at Kopel. Cantor looked over at Kopel gulping water.

   “Not yet, but soon I think,” he replied. Tangoral checked the cart over, tugged on the straps, and fiddled with the wheels.

   “Problems?”

   “No, it feels good. Moves better than the one we tried last night.”

   “Rest period is ended,” Tangalen cried above the noise coming from the gallery. It was much too soon for Kopel. He was exhausted.

   It began again. Cantor would serve and Kopel would bounce off walls trying to get to the ball. Sometimes he’d hit the ball, but most of the time the ball would just glance off his claws or he’d miss it altogether. Near the second rest period, Kopel drew another fault for hitting the ball twice with the same claw. Kopel was tired. He just wanted this game to end as he staggered to his side for the second rest period at a hundred points. Napel was powerless to aid his son or give advice once the game started. The rules of judgment required that the challenger and the challenged to stand alone on the count of honor to battle for truth and justice. This would humble his son to the dust and in the long run would be for his good.

    Cantor took his refreshment during the second rest period. Returning to the floor he continued the battering he was giving to Kopel. All too soon the third rest period was upon them. Kopel retired to his side and Cantor remained standing on the court. He just bounced the ball on the floor now and again waiting for the rest period to end. Cantor looked at Kopel and felt a little sorry for him as water was poured over his shell to cool him off.

   “Rest period is ended,” Tangalen said no longer needing to yell over the noise in the gallery. “The score is 150 to 0 in favor of Cantor.” The outcome of the game was certain. “How long do we let this go on,” Tangalen whispered to Zothor.

   “I will stop it at 300, but I expect Kopel will withdraw very soon,” Zothor replied.

   Kopel took the floor once more. Once more the ball hugged one of the walls. Once again he missed the ball and crashed into the wall, but this time he heard his left claw crack. Cantor heard it too and looked up at Tangalen for judgment. Kopel too looked up at the gallery. He saw a lot of very silent, grim, looking adults staring down at him. He knew how this game would end. Cantor would win 800 to 0. He just stood in that same spot. Now it was clear to him Cantor let his friends win from time to time and he had never really been Cantor’s friend, that’s why he could never beat him. This was a lesson that would cost him his claw. Cantor served the ball and Kopel did not even try to get it. Cantor served again this time within easy reach but again Kopel did not try to hit the ball. Kopel turned and faced the gallery. “I withdraw,” he said and began to walk toward his side.

   “Kopel withdraws,” Tangalen said. “The judgment belongs to Cantor.”

   “Kopel,” Zothor commanded. Kopel turned to face the dwelling clan leader. “The gathering will be in two days time.” Kopel understood what that meant. “Napel,” he continued.

   “Yes, Clan Leader,” Napel replied coming to stand next to his son.

   “We have a new treatment for broken legs and claws. Except for the worst cases, legs and claws no longer need to be removed to heal. Please have Kopel’s left claw looked at,” Zothor said.

   “Thank you Clan Leader, I didn’t know that.”

   There was a certain amount of satisfaction for Cantor in beating Kopel, but there was no joy in the victory. Cantor to his credit felt sorry for humiliating Kopel and causing him to break his claw. He returned to his side of the court slowly. The adults looked on in silence. Never had they ever seen such a game. Normally, they would cheer the victor but this was not a victory any would savor. The lesson in life was given not only to Kopel but also to the clan as a whole. No one ever collected on the bets made for this game; nor would the clan of Zothor ever again bet on games of judgment. Two children had taught them the true meaning of the Game given to them by a compassionate God to render judgment between brothers and sisters of the Brachyura.

   Ishihari could not find the words to express what she was feeling at that moment as she watched her son walk off the court. Pride, joy, and sorrow flooded over her. Her son had grown up right before her eyes. Sokegal and Kobeta stepped aside as Cantor passed them. There were no words that could be found to express the moment. “I shall never look upon the Game with the same eyes as I did before this day,” Kobeta said after Cantor walked out of the room.

   “So it shall ever be,” Sokegal said. “I don’t think anyone who saw this game will ever be the same. The spirit of God has touched the souls of all who are here this day. Now, I understand the wisdom of the Great Maker of us all in giving us the Game. Praise be to His great name.”

   “May it ever be so,” Kobeta said.

   “So it shall ever be,” Ishihari said as she turned and followed after her son. Tangoral followed her out. He too had been touched by the Game. What began with joviality, ended in solemnity.

   

   The rain made the air cold not that it was ever really warm on the ground. This was the night of the gathering that was set for Kopel’s apology. The hearth fires were started early to warm the great hall. The food was set out and the clan called to dinner. The dinner seemed to be an extension of the Game as most of the clan ate in silence. Discussion among the clan was in whispers. This gathering was taking on the aspect of a worship service to the Great Creator and indeed His spirit seemed to fill the room. The food was consumed quickly, and the dishes cleared from the tables. Zothor and Tangalen stood in the center of the great hall. Cantor and Kopel stood in front of them. Kopel had a cast of spit-sand on his left claw. “Brothers and sisters, we are gathered to complete the terms of the Game of Judgment played between Kopel and Cantor,” Zothor said.

   “As the judge,” Tangalen began. “I attest that the game was played in fairness. The game ended when Kopel withdrew and judgment was given to Cantor at the score of 152 to 0.”

   “Kopel now has words to speak,” Zothor said.

   Kopel stepped to the center of the great hall as Zothor stepped aside. “Brothers and sisters of the clan, I have unjustly wronged my brother Cantor,” he began. “I thought myself better than my brother, and when calamity befell him I offered him insults instead of compassion. I insulted him, his friends, and his adopted brother. I thought only of myself and my desire to beat the one brother that I could never beat in friendly competition. I did not understand that Cantor loved his friends enough to let them win a few games so as not to hurt their feelings. I thought myself a great player of the Game. I know now that I am nothing.” Kopel fell to the floor sobbing.

   Cantor walked over to Kopel. “Kopel, the Game was never about being better than your brothers or sisters,” Cantor said. “The Game is about peace and love. It is why we play for judgment and why we play for fun. You never played the game for fun. If you had I’d have let you win too.”

   “You never boasted of your ability and I saw only my ability to beat those that beat you. I wanted to be the greatest player in the clan. I could never hope to be as good as you. I have made a fool of myself before the clan.”

   “Kopel you still are a good player and a fool would have played out the game to 800 points. Everybody is given gifts. My gift is to play the Game well. You will find what gift is yours in time and you will become great at something, but always remember even in greatness there is always someone greater.”

   “Can you forgive me the wrong that I have done you?” Kopel asked.

   “All is forgiven,” Cantor replied.

   “Justice has been well served this day,” Tangalen said as he stepped forward to stand just behind Cantor and Kopel. “The wisdom of the Most High in giving us the Game has been renewed in us this day. Let the wisdom of our Creator fill our hearts. We have been given a great gift. We have been given a greater understanding of the Game, and the greatness of our God has been manifested. Oh Great Father, we give thanks to you for showing forth Your merciful arm. Father, we give thanks for all the blessings that You shower upon us, your faithful servants. May we ever be faithful in our service to our Creator. May it ever be so.”

   “May it ever be so,” all the clan said in one great voice.

   “So it shall ever be,” Tangalen finished, so ended the ceremony of the Judgment of God.

   

   “Wake up,” Ishihari said softly as she nudged Cantor gently with one of her great claws.

   “Huh, why?” Cantor asked still half a sleep.

   “Anybody strong enough to play a game to 152 points is strong enough to go to school,” she replied. “Take Tangoral with you.”

   “Is he up?”

   “Yes he is, and he’s driving me crazy with questions. I don’t have time to answer the questions and then explain the answers too. So get up and take him to school with you,” Ishihari said as she left the room.

   The school was six rooms deep inside the dwelling. Each room was a given subject and the lessons varied with the age and understanding of the students. The subjects were language (reading and writing), history, mathematics, science, business, and skill development. Students flowed through school all day long, starting early in the morning, and going to late in the day. Older students started first and moved from class to class. They were followed by younger students coming in at different times until all the classes were filled. Each class lasted about 50 time parts (about 40 minutes). School lasted 3 units of time (about 4 hours). There is no age barrier in the school and early morning adult classes were offered. You would enter one room and exit into the next room and so on until you exited the last room at the end of your school day. The school ran for the whole cycle of the sun and was closed only due to holidays, and of course there were a lot of holidays.

   You might, as a child, learn to add in the same room where you would learn calculus as an adult. Classes were short to keep from overloading young and old minds alike. It was found short lessons were retained better than long lessons. Young minds drifted elsewhere if the lesson was made overly long, old minds tended to drift towards sleep, so school lessons were made short and snappy. Homework was rare, but not unheard of. This was all integrated with a testing program that insured the students were learning what was taught. The testing program was such as to allow students to jump classes if they could pass the proper tests. This encouraged self-study and was popular with the adults trying to advance themselves. To aid in self-study the dwelling boasted a rather large library and a few work places where experiments could be preformed and new ideas tried out.

   Cantor entered his first classroom with Tangoral trailing just behind him. The whole class turned to stare at Tangoral. The teacher did not expected to see Cantor because of his accident, but was even more unprepared for the tree dweller that followed behind him. Cantor was late for his first class by only a time part or two. Christeaen had taught at this dwelling for eight cycles. She thought this teaching post was finest place she had ever taught. In all her time here she had never had a surprise until today. “Cantor find a place quickly. Has ah… the tree dweller been tested for placement in this class?” she asked.

   “Not that I know of,” Cantor replied finding a spot near the side wall. “But my mom told me to take him with me, so here we are.”

   “Can he understand what we are saying?” Christeaen asked concern that the tree dweller’s educational needs might be best severed in a later class.

   “Most what said. Not all though,” Tangoral replied for himself.

   Christeaen was taken back. She had not thought he could speak the language of the Brachyura. “What is your name?” she asked slowly.

   “Tangoral.”

   “Welcome to history class Tangoral. If Ishihari sent you with Cantor then I guess you can remain here until you can be tested and your educational level determined.”

   “Thank you. Ishihari told me not ask many questions until I understanding language better,” Tangoral said sitting down on the floor next to Cantor.

   “How long have you been studying our language?” Christeaen asked fascinated that she was having a conversation with a tree dweller. Tangoral counted his fingers and then looked at Cantor.

   “Six,” Cantor said.

   “Six times sun gone down since I studying language,” Tangoral replied.

   Christeaen was stunned, nobody learned that fast. She spoke all the different clan dialects. It had taken her four seven-days or more to reach the level of understanding with just one of them that Tangoral was at now with his understanding of the language of the Brachyura. The language barrier must be greater between tree dwellers and us than that between the clans, she thought. “That’s amazing,” was all she could find to say. “Well, Tangoral today we are studying pre-history.” This signaled to the rest of the class that it was time to open their books.

   “In an age long before the rise of the Clans of the Brachyura. In a time before the world gave birth to the great trees. It is thought that the world was covered with great bodies of water. The Book of the Prophets of God tells us of great bodies of water called oceans. Ancient records of the inhabitants of this land before us also tell of these great bodies of water. Our records seem indicate that we came from these oceans. Indeed, the words of the prophets tell us that we came out of the sea of life. While we have recorded about 3000 cycles of our history, and while our records tells us of the great trees and how they rose up and covered the world, they tell us nothing of how we came to be. It is thought that we evolved at the end of some great world calamity that destroyed the last intelligent race that inhabited the world and many of the smaller animals as well.” Christeaen love history. She spent a cycle at a dig near the mountains in the far north, one of the few places on the planet not totally covered by the great trees; there they unearthed the remains of an ancient underground city.

   “The Book of the Prophets of God tells of the wrath of God that was poured out upon the inhabitants of the world. The prophets tell of a great evil that filled the face of the whole world. An evil brought about by the inhabitants of the world which caused God to destroy them. It is written that he cursed them, calling them the children of the Evil One. It is thought that the tree dwellers are what remains of those ancient inhabitants. However, given what little we know of the tree dwellers that is not likely. The prophets then say that we were raised up out of the sea of life to replace the inhabitants who would not listen to God’s voice and follow his laws. While this is not a very scientific explanation it does point out what most likely took place.”

   “Current thought is that the ancient inhabitants did something that caused the world to reject them. Another theory is that the world under went some great change that destroyed them. What we do know is that some kind of change took place worldwide. We know it was very sudden and that it caused a total change in the ecosystem of the world. It is thought that we were already on the rise intellectually and that the change in the world’s ecosystem gave us the needed push to become the intelligent creatures that we are today. While we have found some of the dwellings of these ancient inhabitants, what ancient records that remain don’t tell us what destroyed them. This in itself tells us something. The destruction that came upon them was very sudden. This is why we study history so we can avoid and learn from the mistakes of others.” Christeaen paused for a moment to give the children a moment to reflect and ponder what she had said.

   “Legend among my people,” Tangoral began as all eyes turned towards him. “The ancients did something, caused great change in the world. Ancients destroyed by great… giant… creatures. Some… lived and were changed by evil they make…made that filled the world.”

   “Doesn’t the Book of the Prophets of God say that God raised up monsters out of the earth to devour the inhabitants of the world?” Cantor asked following Tangoral’s line of thought.

   “Yeah, I remember reading that too,” Leygal chimed in.

   “What if the ancient inhabitants of our world did something terrible, something that changed the ecosystem of the world, and that change destroyed them. Wouldn’t any who survived be changed by a total change in the ecosystem?” Margeeum asked.

   “Might not that change be considered the curse of God he placed on the children of the Evil One?” another child asked.

   This was usually a very droll lesson that had taken on new life. It was both welcome and unexpected by Christeaen who found her students’ unexpected sudden interest in history refreshing. “Yes, it might, but there are no monsters,” she said.

   “Teacher,” Cantor raised his left claw.

   “Yes?”

   “Believe me, there are monsters. When you have a long neck eleven lengths long barreling down on you, you will believe in monsters too,” Cantor said softly. His eyes glassed over in the memory of the moment.

   Christeaen looked at Cantor, she knew the story of how Cantor lost his legs. She had never seen a long neck, but she had heard the stories. Few were delivered. “Yes, I see your point, there are some monsters, I stand corrected,” she amended herself.

   “Deep in the Great Swamp there are monsters like you never see beginning… no… be…be?” Tangoral was stuck.

   “Before,” Christeaen hazard the guess.

   “Yes, thank you, before. Monster like you never see - before,” Tangoral said.

   “Have seen, have never seen before. See, have seen, saw,” she corrected Tangoral on the spot. She knew he would understand why she corrected his language at the moment of infraction.

   “See, have seen, saw. See, have seen, saw,” Tangoral repeated.

   “What kind of monsters?” Christeaen asked.

   “Cantor’s long neck, small one, very small,” Tangoral replied. “Lots of shunails three high. Seen… have seen…”

   “Good.”

   “Have seen ten high shunail.”

   Great shunails that laid their eggs on dwelling land were just shy of three lengths high. A shunail as big as the dwelling was hard to imagine by anyone in the class. Most of the dwelling’s wealth was derived from the shunails. Little was known of the sex life of a shunail. Big shunails had to be killed or released. A dwelling’s land was defined by where five great shunails’ nests were. That was the custom long ago. Two more great shunails had built their nest on the dwelling’s land. Zothor paid the tithe required by the prophets and more. He released 10% of the babies as required and added 10% of the largest shunails of his herds. One of the new great shunails to build her nest on dwelling land was one of the first large shunails that Zothor had given to the care of God. A great shunail could lay more than a thousand eggs. Eight to ten thousand eggs were laid every other cycle like clockwork.

   “Deep in Great Swamp monsters no one have seen. Deep in Great Swamp everything bigger,” Tangoral said. “Deeper you go, bigger things get.”

   “How do you know that?” one of the children asked.

   “I traveled more than six cycles of the large moon into Great Swamp. I have seen, I know,” replied Tangoral. He saw much more than the great monsters of the swamp, but they did not ask about those things, so he remained silent on things that might have proved to be of great worth to the Brachyura.

   “What is a cycle of the moon?” Leygal asked.

   “Above us are three moons. We cannot see them because of the trees, but if you visit some place like the mountains where the trees are not in the way, you can see them. Each moon rises and sets like the sun. Each moon’s cycle is different in terms of time. The large moon has the slowest cycle. The cycle takes 45 days to complete,” Christeaen replied. “If you wish more details asked the question again in science class.”

   “What kind of disaster could change the ecosystem?” Margeeum asked.

   “We’re not sure,” Christeaen began. “Some think it was some kind of natural disaster. A giant meteor impact or a shift of the planet’s axis is the leading theories. The prophets would say that the ancients ripened in iniquity and thereby brought about their own destruction. It has been suggested that the ancients’ science created some great evil that they could not contain and it escaped to destroy the world. There is no proof for this theory and it seems unlikely given the swiftness of the destruction, but there is no proof in favor of any of the other theories either, so that theory could be just as valid as any other theory.”

   “Could not the proof for that theory be all around us?” Cantor asked. “Perhaps it was the same for the ancients. Maybe they surrounded themselves with the very thing that destroyed them, and then in a single moment whatever is was they created rose up and destroyed them.”

   “That is as good an explanation as any other Cantor.”

   “The proof could be the very monsters we have become accustom to.” Suddenly the words of the prophets became quite clear to him. Cantor pursued the thought. “The ancients created the very monsters that rose up out of the earth and destroyed them. This is the meaning of the words of the prophets. The ancients created something evil believing that they were doing something good for the benefit of all inhabitants of the world. Whatever it was did not escape, but rather it was released into the world. Whatever they released into the world created the monsters and changed the ecosystem of the world. The changes in the ecosystem went unnoticed by the ancients until it was too late. The monsters rose up from beneath the feet of the inhabitants of the world at that time and devoured them.” The vision seemed to close and fade from his view but Cantor knew this was the correct explanation.

   Christeaen could feel the truth of Cantor’s theory. “That’s a good theory Cantor, but it lacks proof,” she said. “It does answer many questions and fits most of the known facts, but it doesn’t answer the question of what it was that the ancients did to impact the ecosystem of the entire world. Until we know what it was that changed the ecosystem of the world, we will never know which theory is correct.”

   Tangoral followed Cantor’s line of thought and picked up where Cantor left off. “What they did was make monsters,” he said. “Monster everything, monster trees, monster long necks, monster shunails, monster everything.”

   “Why would an intelligent race do such a thing?” Christeaen asked to draw more out of the discussion. She was beginning to see where this line of thought was going.

   “You want more wood, easy, make bigger trees,” Tangoral replied.

   “If they could make bigger trees to produce more wood; might they also make bigger animals to produce more food?” Margeeum suggested.

   “The theory you’ve come up with is sound, but it still needs solid proof,” Christeaen replied.

   “The proof would be the ecosystem in which we live,” a child in the back of the room added.

   “The ecosystem we now live in would be the end result,” Christeaen began. “This is a new twist on an old theory you all have come up with. Be sure that I shall pass it on for consideration to those that have made it their life work to study this very question. You have offered very reasonable explanations for ‘why’ and ‘what’ and even ‘where,’ but it is the ‘how’ that seems to escape all the current theories including yours. Without the ‘how’ to complete the theory we cannot be sure which theory is the correct one.”

   “Do we really need to know how the ancients made the monsters they did?” Cantor asked.

   “No, we don’t, but a conformation of what exactly the ancients did is necessary so that we may move from theory to fact,” Christeaen replied.

   “What does the ancients records tell us?” Leygal asked.

   “The records were stored on paper and small round disks. There is also writings carved into stone and something like spit-sand, but this only has an artistic value. Their records were not stored in this manner. Very little of their paper records survived. What did survive we think were business or personal in nature and was found in small steel boxes that were very hard to open. We cannot read the small round disks,” Christeaen replied. “But, to answer the question, the records we have give us pretty good picture of what their business structure was like and what were some of the activities of individual ancients,” she added.

   “How did the ancients read their records?” Leygal asked again.

   “The disks were put into a machine which would display them in some format that could be read, or could otherwise be understood in some fashion. We have some of the machines. Even if they were workable, which they aren’t, we lack the technology to power them,” Christeaen answered. “It took a while but we have learned to read their language somewhat from the few records written on paper that has been found. Mostly, we understand their way of life through pictures we have found. One of these records was a manual for the basic operation of one of the machines that reads the disks. This manual had a lot of pictures and was written in several languages of the ancients. This was a great discovery, until then we could only guess what the disks were for. This was the proof need to substantiate the current theory at the time. You can see how this could answered the ‘how’ needed for proof for the current theory. We guessed the ‘what’ and ‘why’ and then speculated on ‘how’ but until we found the manual we could not even be sure that the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the theory was correct. It turned out that we were correct in our thinking.”

   “So what we need is some manual or some other record of the ancients that tells us how they made monsters,” Margeeum said.

   “You don’t really need to know how they made the monsters. You do need to find some record to confirm that they did make them to confirm your theory. If you could learn ‘why’ as well, then you could understand their motives for creating the monsters as well,” Christeaen replied. “Time has run out on us today. The next class we can continue this discussion if you like. We will also study the ancients lifestyle close-up, and I have some renderings of their dwellings that you’ll get to see as well.”

   The other classes followed the same pattern as the history class. Teachers were concerned that Tangoral had not been tested for placement. Lessons were short followed by discussion of the day’s topic. Tangoral did not say much, but when he did, it stimulated conversation. Language class was by far the hardest class for Tangoral. The teacher stopped Tangoral every time he said more than two words and corrected his grammar and sentence structure. Tangoral stayed in the language class for an extra class, and in the end, the teacher promised to help him with his language skills in the evening after dinner. The school tugged on his desire to know everything and he responded by absorbing everything they would give him.

   

   It was few days later when Ishihari got a chance to speak with the teachers about putting off the testing until Tangoral could communicate better. The teachers heaped praises on him as one of their brightest students, and questioned if the testing process would be effective on this young tree dweller. This in turn made them look at the testing program altogether. Ishihari began to take pride in her new son and his accomplishments. Every day he became less a tree dweller and more a beloved child of hers. Sokegal was teaching Tangoral drafting skills for his skills improvement class, and Sokegal never taught anyone personally. He always left that to some junior craftsman that had incurred his wrath. Many of the improvements to many of the products that the dwelling craftsmen made lately could be traced back to some question or suggestion that Tangoral made.

   Ishihari wondered about Tangoral’s parents. She thought she would have like to have met the tree dwellers that gave birth and raised such a child. They were dead; she knew that, killed by brothers of the clan. She worried about Tangoral. Sometimes he seemed cold and distant, and other times he was a compassionate child in love with life. Ishihari wondered why he stayed. She wondered if he missed his family and friends, and then one evening she found him standing out in the rain staring up at the trees. “Tangoral are you alright?” she asked walking out to stand next to him in the rain.

   “I’m fine. I was just thinking of my Dad.” Ishihari could feel the pain coursing through the soul of this young child.

   “Tell me about him?”

   “Oh, he was great. He’d take me hunting with him when I was very little. He showed me little things and how they worked in the great circle of life. It made me want to know how everything worked. When I was old enough to go out on my own; I went out not to hunt but to explore the world. That’s how I got my name, He Who Seeks Knowledge in the Tops of Trees and in Far Off Places. My mother loved my stories, and she always wanted to know what I saw in my wanderings when I returned. I spent many evenings telling her all the things I saw and learned. Sometimes I’d catch my Dad smiling when I embellished the stories for my mother’s sake. I think he knew I stretched the truth a bit. I still went hunting with my Dad sometimes… I wish I could hunt with him again… Maybe if I had been there they’d still be alive.” Tears rolled down Tangoral’s face and mingled with the rain. “I want to go home, but I have no home to go to,” he cried.

   Two great claws wrapped around him. “Tangoral, you will always have a home to go to,” she said. Tangoral collapsed on top of her shell. He buried his face in his arms and cried the tears he didn’t have time for before. Ishihari cried with him morning the loss of those she had never met.

   Zothor walked by the door and happened to glance out and saw Ishihari and Tangoral standing together in the rain. “I don’t suppose you two know it’s raining out there,” he said stepping to the door.

   “I thought they were tears washing us clean,” Ishihari replied.

   “Ah… yes… ok,” Zothor mumbled as he turn back into the dwelling. Must be one of those mother child things, he thought as he was walking away.

   It seemed like the trees were crying with them. They stood in the rain and were washed by it. “Are you ok now?” Ishihari asked.

   “Yes, no, but life must go on,” Tangoral replied. “Thank you.”

   “Thank you for what?”

   “For being my mother for a moment.”

   “You’re welcome my son. Now, I think we should get in out of the rain.” The rain had washed away more than a few specks of dirt. It had washed away the hatred of the Brachyura from Tangoral’s heart and replaced it with love. Love for his adopted family and the members of the dwelling’s clan.

   

   Everything for once was going well Zothor thought as he looked out the hole in the wall that was his office window. The clan was adjusting well to having a tree dweller around the dwelling. Tangoral was learning the language of the Brachyura with great speed. Zothor was surprised how easy it was to learn to speak the tree dweller language. A lot of words were similar to both languages. It was like their languages had the same roots. Something bothered Zothor about that, but he could not put his claw on it. Grizzon broke in on Zothor’s thoughts.

   “Clan Leader, tree dwellers have scattered one of our herds.”

   “How bad?” Zothor asked.

   “It was a big herd. They went up six trees. So far we have managed to keep the tree dwellers from getting to them without hurting them,” Grizzon replied.

   “Gather everyone you can and find Tangoral. Where was the herd?”

   “West of here, well inside the dwelling lands. I’ve never known tree dwellers to hit one of our herds this close to the dwelling,” Grizzon said.

   “Have the tree dwellers fled back to the forest?” Zothor asked.

   “No, not yet.”

   “Find my son first; tell him I’ll meet him out there. Follow with as many of the clan as you can gather.” Zothor was out the door and down the hall before Grizzon could move.

   

   Tangoral was in school when Grizzon found him. Grizzon entered the classroom followed by Tragal. “I’m sorry for the interruption,” he said. “Tangoral, tree dwellers have scattered one of our big herds to the West not far from here. Zothor wants you to meet him there.”

   “How many shunails have we lost?” Tangoral asked.

   “None yet, and the tree dwellers don’t seem willing to leave without a couple of our shunails. No one has been hurt yet that I know of. I am to follow with as many brothers as I can find,” Grizzon replied.

   “I am leaving now.” Tangoral got up and ran out the door, Tragal followed.

   “I guess class is dismissed,” the teacher said.

   

   Tangoral wondered what tribe lived this close to the dwelling and would be daring enough to hit one of the big herds. At least ten brothers of the clan would be watching over a big herd. He recognized one of the brothers in the tree and dropped down beside him. Doesen had spotted Tangoral in the last moments of his decent. “Greetings brother, it’s good that you have come,” he said as Tangoral landed on the limb next to him.

   “Hi Doesen, what’s the situation?” Tangoral asked.

   “We’re trying to keep the tree dwellers from getting the shunails. So far no one has been hurt, but we have had to fire on them to keep them back” Doesen replied.

   “Good, but why not just let them take a couple shunails?”

   “If we were on the boundary of our land I’d say fine, but this close to the dwelling it would set a dangerous precedent.”

   “I see. I’ll go talk with them and see if we can’t work this out.”

   “Good, it’s going to take a seven-day to get all the shunails out of these trees,” Doesen said.

   “OOOOWARRR,” Tangoral moaned plaintively. The shunails in the tree began to move toward Tangoral and Doesen. “Don’t worry we’ll be home by nightfall.” Tangoral hopped over Doesen and ran down the branch.

   

   Tangoral recognized the tree dwellers as those that went with Togatan. He circled them and then dropped down next to a female who was called Shelasaw. It was rare to find women on a hunt but this hunting party was almost all women. Tangoral had also seen several children. This is all wrong, he thought as he dropped toward Shelasaw. He saw the surprise and relief written in her face when she recognized him. “Tangoral” she said. It is amazing how much relief can be put into one word.

   “What has happened?” Tangoral asked.

   “Tangoral, thank the Maker of All Things you’re here,” Shelasaw said.

   “Shelasaw, what happened?”

   “Togatan led us deep into the forest, but food was scarce. When the food was all gone Togatan sent out hunting parties but they came back with little or nothing. We began to be very hungry so Togatan led a raiding party against a hard-shell dwelling to get some of the shunails for us to eat. Togatan and the men with him never returned. Then the hard-shells came and chased us for two days before we lost them. A few were killed. The sun has set 12 times since then. We have had little to eat and then we came upon this herd of shunails. If we could get one or two shunails we would leave, but the hard-shells keep them from us but they are the worst of shots with their weapons that throw stones that burst into fire,” Shelasaw related.

   “Shelasaw, the hard-shells of this dwelling have taken a vow not to kill our people if it can be avoided. That is why they seem to be bad shots, but they will shoot to kill to keep you from taking a single shunail. If you would have asked they would have given to you the food you needed. If you do as I say and help me to get the shunails down out of the trees I’ll see that you get food. Then I will lead you to where the rest of the tribe is living now.”

   “How can we get them down?” Shelasaw asked.

   “There is a way to call them. If you get the tribe above them and drive them toward the ground they will come out of the trees. I go now to explain to the leader of the hard-shells,” Tangoral explained.

   “You can speak their language?”

   “Yes, I can. Go and explain to the others.”

   “We will do as you say Tangoral.”

   

   Tangoral ran back down the branch and stopped in front of Doesen. “The tree dwellers are going to get above the shunails now, let them. They will now help us to get the shunails out of the trees,” he said.

   “You’re kidding right,” Doesen was surprised.

   “No, I’m not. I’m on way down to see Zothor now,” Tangoral replied.

   “I don’t understand, but I will do as my brother wishes.”

   “Thanks.” Tangoral trotted off down the branch headed for the ground.

   

   Zothor watched as Tangoral approached. “Did you just get here?” he asked.

   “No, I’ve been here a while,” Tangoral replied coming to a stop in front of the dwelling clan leader.

   “Will you go up and talk with them?”

   “I have already done so.”

   “Good, will they leave peacefully?” the dwelling clan leader asked.

   “Yes, and no. Give them a couple of shunails and they will go away,” Tangoral said.

   “I can’t do that. It would reward the tree dwellers for bad behavior. After all it’s not nice to scatter a herd. It’ll take at least two seven-days to get all the shunails out of these trees.”

   “Then they will not go away.”

   “Why won’t they go away?” Zothor asked.

   “They are starving and cannot go much farther without food,” Tangoral replied.

   “You know them?”

   “Yes, I do. They are the part of what remains of my tribe that chose not to follow Sorgarlac and myself, but followed Togatan instead. Togatan and most of the men were killed and now only the women and children remain. I told them that you’d feed them if they help get the shunails out of the trees.”

   “You told them what?!” Zothor could not believe what he just heard.

   “I told them that you’d feed them if they got the shunails out of the trees today,” Tangoral repeated.

   “How could you do that without asking?”

   “They are my people and they are starving. What would the least brother of the clan do if he found sisters of the clan starving? Would he ask before offering aid or would he give aid before asking? These are my brothers and sisters, would that not make them yours as well?” Tangoral asked.

   Zothor was mad at first, but his heart softened quickly in the rightness of Tangoral’s reply. “If they help get the shunails down, I’ll do as you ask,” Zothor said. It was a sad tale that Tangoral told.

   “Thank you. I’ll try and get them down before dinner,” Tangoral said.

   “You get them down today. I’ll give them a gather feast and we will hear the story of the lost found.”

   “This is the word of the Dwelling Clan Leader that I can give to the leader of the tribe?” Tangoral asked.

   “Yes, it is,” replied Zothor. Zothor suddenly felt like he had just been had on a bet.

   “Send someone to tell them to start cooking now. There will be guests for dinner,” Tangoral said with a big grin on his face. “Sometimes you should stop and listen to the animals you raise.” Tangoral began to call to the shunails. “OOOOWARRR… AOOOOOWARRRAW…” Driven by the tree dwellers and the clan, the shunails came down out of the trees rapidly.

   “How do you get them to come like that?” Zothor asked. He had never seen shunails do what they were doing. He knew he had been conned, but he didn’t care, he was so amazed at the moment. This would change the way they herded shunails.

   “Haven’t you heard the shunails at night calling to each other?” Tangoral asked in reply.

   Zothor thought about it a moment. “Yes, I have,” he replied.

   “Now you know how I can get them to come down. Enemies behind them and one of their own calling them to safety within the herd, what choice do they have? Wild shunails react the same way. They sleep in small groups at night calling to each other just before nightfall,” Tangoral explained. It was a secret he had told Sorgarlac.

   The remains of the tribe were afraid but they came down to the ground because Tangoral had promised them safety and food. Twelve women, two men, and eight children were all that was left of nearly forty people that followed Togatan. They were surrounded by almost a hundred hard-shells, many with their strange weapons beneath them. The strength had gone out of many of them both from fear and want of food. There was much hugging all around when Tangoral joined them.

   Ishihari had come with the rest of the clan to try to get the shunails out of the trees. Normally that meant a campout for about fourteen days, but when she arrived the shunails were already on the ground milling about. A small group of tree dwellers were surrounded by the brothers not far from where Zothor stood talking to the herders. Tangoral was with them. They looked rather sickly in comparison to her son. Most were women and children. Ishihari knew this was not right. She walked over to stand next to Tangoral. “Tangoral, something is wrong here, isn’t there?”

   “Yes, they have been without food for many days,” he replied. “The children are too weak to walk, so are some of the women. I fear I may have pushed them beyond their limits.”

   “What happened to them?”

   “Bad leadership. They are some of the remains of the people from my tribe. I promised food for helping us get the shunails out of the trees. When they are stronger I will take them back to be rejoined with the rest of the tribe.”

    “We should get some of the brothers to carry the children back to the dwelling and others to aid those that have trouble walking. Grizzon!” Ishihari called out.

   “Yes, Lady Ishihari,” Grizzon said as he walked over to her.

   “We need eight brothers to carry the children back to the dwelling, and probably a few more to aid the others. Send someone to tell the kitchen staff to be ready for guests and not to bother coming out. It looks like we’ll be coming in.”

   “The last part has already been done and I’ll go and gather some brothers right now.” Grizzon turned and walked off calling names of nearby brothers.

   

   Great claws gently scooped up the children. Other claws reached out to help steady some of the tree dwellers. Two women had to be carried. Shelasaw walked next to Tangoral on the trek back to the dwelling. “How have you learned the language of the hard-shells?” she asked.

   “I have lived with them for almost four of the large moon’s cycles and I have also found that our languages are similar to each other,” he replied. “Once I understood what the commonality was, understanding and speaking to the hard-shells became much easier.”

   “Who’s that hard-shell carrying my daughter? I saw you talking to it earlier.”

   “That’s Ishihari, my mother.”

   “That’s not your mother. I knew your mother,” Shelasaw exclaimed.

   “I’ve been adopted by the hard-shells and that is my mother and the dwelling clan leader is my father. That is one of the reasons you and the others are still alive,” Tangoral said. “These are good hard-shells. They all have good hearts.”

   “That may be and you tell us not to be afraid. You are our leader, we will not be afraid, but in my heart I am afraid Tangoral.”

   “Don’t be afraid. They are taking you to their home. They will give you places to sleep and food to eat, and they will celebrate your salvation. Then after all have regained their strength I will take you back to rejoin our tribe,” Tangoral reassured her.

   “Tangoral what did she say?” Ishihari asked.

   “She wanted to know how I learned to speak the language, and she said that she was afraid,” he replied

   “She doesn’t act afraid.”

   “I am their leader and I told them not to be afraid. They are more hungry than afraid. These are also women; they will risk a lot for their children and the others of the tribe.”

   “Is this her daughter I carry?” Ishihari asked.

   “Yes it is,” Tangoral replied.

   “Tell her she is sleeping soundly.”

   “What did it say Tangoral?” Shelasaw asked.

   “It’s a she, not an it. Ishihari has not once called you an, ‘it’. To answer your question she asked what you said and said to tell you your daughter is sleeping soundly,” Tangoral replied a bit annoyed not really understanding why he was annoyed with Shelasaw.

     

   The food was cleared and the gathered clan seemed to surround the small band of tree dwellers. Tangoral stood before them. As they could not speak the language of the Brachyura it fell to Tangoral to tell the story of the lost-found. The remains of the small tribe were well fed and treated with much kindness so their fears were eased. Zothor stood next to Tangoral and raised a claw for silence. “We are gathered to rejoice in that which has been found,” he began. “Not long ago I stood before you to adopt Tangoral as my son, and as a member of our clan. Some of his story is known to us mostly as a result of his living with us and us coming to know him. Yet, much is unknown.

   “We have benefited greatly by our association with him. I call him my son with as much pride as I call any of my natural children son or daughter. How many of you now think of Tangoral as a brother? The debt we owe him grows. The gifts of his sharp mind and knowledge of a world we know little about he has shared with us freely. His wisdom exceeds his youth. In the story of finding lost brothers and sisters we will learn a little more about him and his people. He must tell the story as he is the only one of his people who can speak our language,” Zothor finished and stepped aside to give Tangoral center floor.

   “There was a time I sought revenge against all the Brachyura for the deaths of my family and many members of my tribe,” Tangoral began. “Brothers, hunters, hard-shells as we call you set fire to my home, the dwelling of my people, in the early morning. They killed many of my people as they fled the fire. Killed were my mother and father and the leader of the tribe and his entire family. Many families were killed. Many women and children, many men died that morning. The forest claimed the hunters that destroyed my tribe, we were avenged in that. The tribe having lost its leader was split between two leaders Togatan and myself. I chose not to be the leader and stepped down leaving Sorgarlac, an elder and friend, as the leader of those that would follow my plan. I led my people to safety. Togatan and those that followed him went another way. It was during this time that I came to live among you, and it was your love and friendship that changed me, washing way the hate for all Brachyura from my heart. These tree dwellers as you call them are all that remains of about forty people that followed Togatan.”

   “Togatan led his people deep into the forest, but hunting was not good where he took them. They soon ran out of food. Hunting parties sent out returned with little or nothing. Desperate, Togatan took most of the men and tried a raid on a dwelling many days travel from here. Togatan and the men never returned. Togatan must have angered the clan of that dwelling. They sent a hunting party out to drive away or kill the rest of the tribe. The women fled before them, some were killed. After two days of being chased they lost the hunting party. They had little to eat and traveled for 12 days before they came across our herd. The rest of the story you know. I must take these sisters and brothers home to be rejoined with the tribe,” Tangoral finished. Not much of a story, he thought.

   Zothor stepped back up to stand next to Tangoral. “A sad tale, but we rejoice in their rescue and give thanks that no one was hurt. We also give thanks that none of the herd was lost and that we got them out of the trees in record time with the help of Tangoral’s friends. This is a small demonstration that we can live together in peace with the tree dwellers. Maybe in the future we will not have to live apart from one another.” So ended the gathering. Zothor learned something he did not know about Tangoral. It explained much about his adopted son. Here was a leader of a tribe of tree dwellers even though he had stepped aside to let another lead in his stead. This explained why Tangoral tended to react to him as an equal sometimes. This was very good fortune; it fit in with his plans even better than he had planned.

   

   The morning brought new problems. A hunting party from the green clan was spotted at the edge of the dwelling’s land. Eighteen of them were lightly armed with single rifles and four others were armed with twin guns. No heavy guns reported. Zothor waited with forty brothers, mostly soldiers, all armed with twin heavy guns. Zothor suspected this was the hunters chasing the tree dwellers. Tangoral watched from a distance behind his bodyguards of Tragal, Doesen, and Candean. Zothor boxed the hunting party in a good crossfire pattern before he stepped out from hiding with a small band of brothers.

   “Greetings brothers. What brings the green brothers so far from their home?” Zothor asked.

   “We thank our blue brothers for their greeting. We were hunting tree dwellers,” replied LaDajon, leader of the hunting party. He was armed with a single light rifle mounted beneath his dark green shell on the white underside.

   In contrast, Zothor was well armed, as were the ten brothers behind him. “You are very well armed for hunting tree dwellers,” he said.

   “We were after a raiding party of tree dwellers, but we became lost. We have been wandering about for about twelve days.”

   “What did they do to cause you to pursue the tree dwellers so deep into the forest?” Zothor asked.

   “A large raiding party of tree dwellers scattered two herds near the dwelling and raided the dwelling’s food stores. A few brothers were injured, but not badly. We killed all of the tree dwellers that raided us and then went out to look for the hive. We can’t let a hive that bold get that close to our lands. It was a small hive not well established. They fled at our coming and we pursued them for two days. That’s how we became lost,” explained LaDajon.

   “Well, you chased the tree dwellers into our lands where they scattered one of our large herds. They did not get any shunails though.”

   “We are sorry for that, but we have walked far. We’re tired and in need of a good meal.”

   “Now we come to a problem; we already have guests,” Zothor said.

   “Surely your guests would not begrudge us your aiding strangers in need?” LaDajon asked.

   “They might.”

   “They are not yellow brothers, are they?” The Green Brotherhood had a long standing grudge with the yellow clan.

   “No, they are not of the Yellow Brotherhood,” Zothor replied. “They are tree dwellers from a nearby hive.”

   “What!” exclaimed LaDajon. “You’d give preference to tree dwellers over the brotherhood?”

   “I give preference to no one,” Zothor snapped back. “I simply do not wish any conflict between my guests. I have cultivated a relationship with the tree dwellers near our land. It is an experiment I am trying. We have already reaped great benefits from this relationship that will also benefit the brotherhood as well in time. With their help we got our herd out of six trees in a single day without the loss of a single animal. So you can see if I would place a value on feeding a few lost brothers or destroying the efforts of many brothers’ labors in seeing this experiment succeed, you lose.”

   “Then you’d let us starve to keep from upsetting your precious tree dwellers,” LaDajon spat back.

   “No one will starve,” Zothor said flatly. “You have two choices, I can feed and shelter you here, or you can remove your weapons and give your promise not to upset my other guests. If you do that, we will take you back to the dwelling where you can relax from your wandering in the forest. The choice is yours.”

   “LaDajon, I’d rather not spend another night in the forest,” LaKayzin, a green soldier said. The others of the hunting party echoed LaKayzin’s feelings. Some began detaching their guns.

   LaDajon acquiesced. “You have me at a disadvantage, and I am compelled by my brothers to agree to your terms.”

   “Good,” Zothor said. “In return for your cooperation, we send you home well rested and well fed. I will also send you home with new medical technology that will be of great worth to your clan and the brotherhood in general.”

   “I thank our blue brother, but I question the wisdom of befriending tree dwellers.”

   “Perhaps it will prove a foolish effort, but for now we have gained much and lost nothing for our efforts.” Zothor watched as the hunting party was disarmed and all their weapons were collected. Once they were so disarmed they all returned to the dwelling. Guards were placed around the tree dwellers for their protection just in case. Tragal, Candean, and Doesen would rotate as Tangoral’s personal bodyguard for the time that the green brothers were at the dwelling. Their honor required they protect Tangoral with their lives if need be.

   

   “Where are you taking this tree dweller?” LaCowso, one of the Green Brotherhood asked Tragal who was following Tangoral. The dwelling clan leader’s personal dwelling was not far from the guestrooms.

   “I’m not taking him anywhere,” Tragal replied. “I just follow him around.”

   “To keep him from stealing things, a wise precaution.”

   “Do they make good pets?” LaKayzin asked coming over to get a closer look at the tree dweller. Tragal looked at Tangoral. He knew he could understand every word. Tangoral just smiled.

   “To prevent any conflict I’m only following him around until you or the tree dwellers leave,” Tragal said. “And no, they do not make good pets, but they do make good friends.”

   “Friends! Friends with a tree dweller, I’d rather be friends with a rothar,” LaCowso said. Others of the green brothers that had wandered over to listen to the conversation laughed.

   Tangoral could see that Tragal was starting to get mad. “Don’t worry Tragal. They’ve said nothing that would make me angry,” Tangoral said. “This one is probably already on a first name basis with all the rothars at his dwelling anyway.” Tragal stifled a laugh.

   The green brothers were stunned. “He can talk,” LaKayzin said.

   “It’s a trick,” LaCowso said.

   “It’s no trick, I can talk. I can also understand every word you are saying, so take care. I am not the half starved women and children you were chasing through the forest,” Tangoral said. “Tragal lets go.” Tangoral turned and walked out of the room and down the hall. LaKayzin followed after Tangoral before Tragal could turn. The cocking of his guns brought everyone to a stop. LaKayzin turned back to see two heavy guns aimed right at him.

   “I mean him no harm. I just wished to ask him some questions,” LaKayzin pleaded.

   “It’s ok Tragal. Anyone who seeks knowledge should find it. Let him come with us,” Tangoral said.

   Tragal replaced the safeties on his guns and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. “He should not have gotten between us.”

   “The green brothers have given their word not to harm us. We should have room for a little trust, don’t you think?” Tangoral asked Tragal.

   “Tangoral is right, please forgive my quick action without thought,” Tragal replied apologizing to LaKayzin.

   “All is well. I did not think of you as his personal guard. I was at fault placing myself between you and your charge,” LaKayzin said. Personal guards always stood between danger and those they protected. To get between them was to invite death. Tangoral, Tragal, and LaKayzin walked down the hall and entered the dwelling clan leader’s personal dwelling.

   “I did not know that you were going to see the dwelling clan leader. I should wait here,” LaKayzin said standing at the doorway.

   “Come in LaKayzin. I live here,” Tangoral said.

   “You live with the dwelling clan leader?”

   “Yes, I do.”

   “You must be considered a close personal friend to stay in the dwelling clan leader’s personal dwelling,” LaKayzin said.

   “It’s something like that,” Tangoral said not wishing to complicate things further. LaKayzin settled down on the living room floor. Tragal took a position so he could watch all entrances and LaKayzin at the same time. “What is it that you want to know LaKayzin?”

   “How is it possible that you speak our language so well?” LaKayzin asked.

   “My language and your language share the same roots,” Tangoral began his reply. “Once you understand how each language evolved it becomes easy to speak and understand either language, and it also takes practice of course. I have lived here for about a 120 days. I have had a lot of practice and the help of many brothers and sisters to reach this point in my learning of your language.”

   “In my youth I had always wanted a tree dweller for a pet. As time passed and I realized that was not possible, but I always wanted to study tree dwellers and now I find myself here talking to one. You don’t know what a thrill this is for me.”

   “I fear we would not make good pets, but as a companion I can see we would do quite well,” Tangoral said.

   “I can attest to that,” Tragal said from where he sat. “But, I suspect Tangoral is an above average tree dweller.”

   “Tragal is right in that I have greater thirst for knowledge than the average tree dweller, but what I have taught the brotherhood here is not new knowledge from my peoples’ perspective. We do things in a different way than you do and it is this knowledge I bring with me. It is the blending of our knowledge that can create new knowledge and new things.”

   “That’s just it; I’d like to know how you live, work, and play?” LaKayzin asked. “You can’t get close enough to a hive to observe tree dwellers without becoming dinner, I’ve tried.”

   “It would be hard for me to explain our lifestyle,” Tangoral explained. “We hunt for food, we build our home, and we have fun not unlike yourselves. You would have to live among us and learn our language to truly understand us. Even then it would be hard for you to understand us. You do not hunt as we do, so how could we teach you the way we hunt. The way we build takes many people working very fast. You would only be in the way as the Brachyura are not made to build the way we do. We are more adaptive to your knowledge and the way you do things than you are to ours. We are simply more flexible than you are.”

   “Still, how could I get close enough to a hive to observe it without becoming dinner?” LaKayzin asked.

   “Save the life of a tree dweller and he’ll be grateful enough not to eat you. It worked for me here.”

   “What do you mean?”

   “He means that the dwelling owes him five lives,” Tragal said. “That debt of honor is why he can live among us unharmed. There were many that did not like the idea of a tree dweller living among us at first. Now, many of the brothers and sisters of the clan love Tangoral. We have been greatly blessed by his being with us. When LaDajon asked our dwelling clan leader to choose between the brotherhood and the tree dwellers; he did not know he asked Zothor to choose between his son and the brotherhood.”

   “The dwelling clan leader has adopted this tree dweller as his son?” LaKayzin asked in disbelief.

   “He had little choice,” Tragal replied. “One life saved was his son’s. It became a question of honor not only for the dwelling clan leader but for the whole clan as well. It will never be said of us that the tree dwellers have greater honor than we do. This has proved to be a correct choice for us.”

   “Has his being here stopped the raids by the tree dwellers?”

   “We never really had that problem and his hive was quite close to us.”

   “Our leader at the time did not wish any conflict with the Brachyura, and as hunting was good, we had no need to raid any of the herds,” Tangoral explained. “It is a policy I have kept.”

   “What does your family think of your being here?” LaKayzin asked. There was dead silence for a moment. “Did I say something wrong?”

   “No, you didn’t, you just don’t know the story. Hunters from the brotherhood killed Tangoral’s family. Not brothers from this dwelling mind you, but clan none the less,” Tragal said. “Even after this he saved the lives of the dwelling clan leader, me, and three others from certain death. This added much to our debt of honor.”

   “I would think my family would worry about me as would yours if you ever got the chance to go and live with tree dwellers, but I have long since been of the age to go out into the world on my own,” Tangoral said. “The choice would be my own.”

   “I didn’t know. I’m sorry I asked.”

   “No harm done. You could not have known, and those responsible will never leave the care of the forest.”

   “What do you mean by that?” LaKayzin asked.

   “The hunters that burn the hive and killed many tree dwellers including his parents were in turn killed by stalkers,” Tragal said. “Very tragic, many brothers died to find out what happened to those brothers that never returned from that hunt.”

   “Let me ask you something LaKayzin, if I may?” Tangoral asked.

   “Please do,” LaKayzin replied.

   “The tree dwellers you were chasing said the hunting near your land, where their home… hive was, was very poor. Do you know why that is?”

   “No, I can’t say. Why do you ask?”

   “Around this dwelling hunting is very good,” Tangoral explained. “There are a lot of long necks and wild shunails. I would think it should be the same everywhere.”

   “There should be a lot of wild shunails around here,” Tragal said. “Zothor gives the tithe commanded by the prophets. We release more than 800 shunails every other cycle. This cycle we released 985 shunails back into the wild as the law required.”

   “I didn’t know that,” Tangoral said. “LaKayzin, does your dwelling do the same?”

   “Much to my shame, as a true believer, I cannot say that our dwelling does the same,” LaKayzin answered. “Some cycles of the sun we have not given to God all the things that we should. The last two cycles our herd numbers have been down so our dwelling clan leader chose to skip tithing for those cycles.”

   “When Zothor became dwelling clan leader we had similar problems,” Tragal injected. “His command of strict obedience to the law of tithing seemed foolish. Our herd numbers were way down. We had few craftsmen and so our product output numbers were down as well. We had fewer buildings than we have now and an outside game court in disrepair. But God rewards the faithful. Raids by the tree dwellers became less frequent and then stopped altogether. Our herds increased and two new great shunails made their nests on our land. Our craft hall doubled in size and two cycles of the sun ago we finished our indoor court.”

   “Interesting,” Tangoral mused.

   “What?” LaKayzin asked.

   “I just had a thought. I was thinking that there is a correlation between the number of shunails in an area and the amount of food and other animals in the same area,” Tangoral said.

   “How do you figure?” Tragal asked. He took note of a brother coming down the hallway, but it was the dwelling clan leader so Tragal did not move from where he sat at the ready.

   “I should like to hear the answer to that as well,” Zothor said as he walked into the room. “I heard you talking as I came down the hallway.”

    LaKayzin scrambled to his legs. “I apologize if I am imposing on your dwelling Clan Leader,” he said.

   “Not at all ah…”

   “LaKayzin,” he offered.

   “Not at all LaKayzin, I’m sure you were invited in by Tangoral or you would not be here,” Zothor said looking over at Tangoral who nodded his head. “So please make yourself comfortable again.” Zothor sank to the floor where he stood. “Tangoral, what was your thought as to the shunails and the other animals in the same area?” he asked to continue the conversation.

   “Shunails migrate from their nests into the Great Swamp where they grow to great sizes,” Tangoral began to explain his thought on the matter. “This is a very slow migration. A shunail does not travel very fast or far in a day. Only at night when they gather in small groups for protection do they move very far very fast. Many animals hunt wild shunails and where there are shunails there are long necks. Stalkers hunt both long necks and shunails and anything else. The great shunails come out of the Great Swamp to lay their eggs. The really big shunails don’t go much farther than the edge of the swamp before they lay their eggs. Many eggs are eaten by other animals, but a lot of shunails still hatch out. The abundance of shunails is in direct proportion to the number of animals eating them”

   “If there are a lot of shunails then there will be a lot of animals hunting them,” Tangoral continued. “If they are fewer then the other animals will be fewer as well. LaKayzin said his dwelling has not released any shunails in two cycles. Togatan moved his people into the forest by LaKayzin’s dwelling. Hunting was not good. In fact, hunting was so bad that Togatan dared to raid the dwelling’s food stores to feed his starving people. We, Tragal tells me, release over 800 shunails back into the wild every other cycle. Hunting has always been good in the forest around this dwelling, but hunting is better in the Great Swamp but it is also more dangerous. When we moved here we did not know that we were as close to this dwelling as we were because we didn’t need to go far to hunt. There is another tribe that lives on the other side of the dwelling’s land. They over built and extended out too far and the great rains of six cycles ago destroyed most of their home killing many. They are a small band, but they say that they cannot remember the hunting being as good as it is today. They don’t even need to raid the hard-shells anymore for food. Hard-shells are what we call the brotherhood.”

   “So you’re saying that by not releasing the shunails we created an ecological problem, and who was Togatan?” LaKayzin asked.

   “Togatan, was the leader of the tree dwellers you were chasing. He is dead most likely. Killed in the raid on your dwelling,” Zothor explained.

   “Yes, you are shooting yourself in the ecological leg,” Tangoral said. “If a stalker band moved near your dwelling and the food gave out, I would expect a raid by them as well as any other animals that depend on the shunails for their food. I’d bet that herds being scattered by long necks is also on the rise.”

   “Is what he is saying happening at your dwelling happening?” Zothor asked.

   “We’ve had our share of problems. We’ve had some pest problems with some of the herds and problems with the long necks are a little higher than normal, but not real bad,” LaKayzin replied.

   “When did you last release any shunails?” Tangoral asked LaKayzin.

   “More than three cycles of the sun ago,” he replied.

   “One of two things will happen then,” Tangoral said. “Either the hunters will go away on their own following after their prey or they will begin hunting your herds with rising earnest. I hope for your sake it is the first.”

   “If it is the second, what can we expect?” LaKayzin asked.

   “If several small bands of stalkers got together and were hungry enough they could raid the dwelling for food. It would happen either early in the morning or late evening,” Tangoral replied. “They respect and know what a gun is so they will not attack during the day when you are at your strongest. Stalkers, like my people, can wonder in and out of other bands freely and sometimes small bands will get together and hunt. Stalkers may seem dumb, but think of what fifty stalkers could do to a dwelling early in the morning. Stalkers would kill and maim much more than they could eat right away.” Tangoral could see it; some kitchen helper would look up to see an angry and starving stalker charging her. Some would die in their sleep; others would die trying to run away. A few lucky ones would escape. “That is of course is the worst case of what could happen.”

   “Do you still keep the watch?” Zothor asked.

   “No, there is no need,” LaKayzin replied. “With the end of the wars more than two thousand cycles ago we have not needed the watch. Don’t tell me that you still have brothers standing watch?”

   “We even still practice battle maneuvers,” Tragal said.

   “Then you have brothers that have been called as soldiers?”

   “Yes, we do,” Zothor replied.

   “Why keep to such an out dated code of conduct when almost all the brotherhood has abandoned that way of life?” LaKayzin asked.

   “First, because the prophets command that we keep the watch. Second, I am kept well informed as to all that goes on in our land. Third, I have an armed force that can deal with problems like being raided by tree dwellers quickly.” And deal with armed neighbors who show up on my doorstep, Zothor thought. “I don’t like the idea of having to go get a gun if I need one.”

   “Do you keep the custom of duty for life then?”

   “No,” replied Zothor, “we only ask that you serve two cycles for training. We also ask that all take turns standing watch. There are a few like Tragal here that have made being a soldier their life’s work.”

   “I wish we had your faith,” LaKayzin said. “We see the old laws and covenants as out dated and in need of change, but here you’ve made them work and work well.”

   “They may be old laws but the Prophet has told us that we should follow them as though they were given today. We are to watch and stand ready. As long as I’m dwelling clan leader we will follow the prophets and stand ready as servants of our Creator,” Zothor said.

   “Clan Leader, it grows late. I should be getting back to the others,” LaKayzin said getting up. “Thank you for your kindness. Tangoral you are most surprising for a tree dweller, not at all what I expected. Thank you for your kindness.” LaKayzin left happy and changed by his meeting with Tangoral and the dwelling clan leader.

   Zothor got up. “Goodnight Tragal. Tangoral don’t stay up too late if you still plan to leave in the morning,” he said headed for his own bedroom.

   “You still not going to take one of us with you?” Tragal asked.

   “No,” Tangoral said. “You would only slow us down, and I’d like to go and return quickly, nothing personal.” This day had been a long one. Tomorrow will be even longer, he thought. “Good night Tragal.” Tragal would stand his post until first light.

   “Good night my brother, sleep well,” Tragal replied.

   Tangoral walked out of the room down the hall turned the corner and almost fell over Zothor. Zothor caught and steadied him in his claws. “I’m sorry my son,” he said, “but I wanted to talk with you privately.”

   

   “Take me with you,” were the first words out of Cantor when Tangoral walked into his room.

   “Forget him he can’t walk. Take us” Margeeum said with Leygal standing behind her.

   They were all using the language of the people who live among the trees; trying to impress him with their skill in the use of his language. Ready for a grand adventure, Tangoral thought. He had taught them the trick of learning to speak his language but words are of little use in the face of real danger. “Do you think that you can speak the language of the People well enough to talk them out of eating you for dinner?” he asked.

   “You eat us?” Leygal asked a bit concerned.

   “Stewed, roasted, or fried, either way is fine with me, but the stew is really good,” Tangoral replied.

   “He’s just trying to scare us. It’s not easy for anybody to eat food that can talk to them,” Margeeum said.

   “That’s only if you get the chance to say something.”

   “You’d be with us, we’d be ok,” Cantor said.

   “If you could walk I’d take you, but I must go quickly. You would only slow me down,” Tangoral said. “I’ll take you all to my home some other time, I promise.”

   “I told you he wouldn’t let us come, so let’s go play a couple of games,” Leygal said.

   “Sure,” Margeeum agreed.

    “Wait for me,” Cantor said. “You get to leave and I get to stay here and go to school, doesn’t seem fair. I could keep up you know.”

   “I can run for two settings of the sun before I need rest. You could not keep up. I’d rather stay and go to school too,” Tangoral said.

   “Tangoral, do you know the saying, too much, too fast?”

   “Yes, I know this saying.”

   “I think you are learning too much to fast. You need to slow down and relax. You go by things so fast that you don’t get the full meaning of the things sometimes,” Cantor said.

   “You’re making fun of me because I want to learn everything that there is to know,” Tangoral said.

   “But, do you need to learn everything this seven-day?”

   “No, I wanted to learn everything last seven-day.”

   “You want to come watch us play?” Cantor asked.

   “No, not today, have you seen Ishihari?” Tangoral asked in return which is what he wanted ask when he entered Cantor’s room.

   “Mom is in the kitchen last I saw her.”

   “Thanks.” Tangoral turned and walked out of his room on his way to the kitchen.

   “I can keep up. I’ll show you too,” Cantor said to himself as he watched Tangoral walk down the hallway.

   

   Tangalen was lying out in front of his dwelling. His dwelling was small and sat almost at the top of the dwelling. He was struggling with many issues of the soul. He sought the answers in the comforting words from the Book of the Prophets of God that was open before him. He had been thinking about Tangoral a lot as of late. He even had Tangoral try to teach him to speak the language of the tree dwellers. He was just beginning to grasp the relationship between the two languages. The Book of the Prophets of God said the ancients taught the Brachyura their language. According to the signs, the coming of the Chosen One was at hand. Could this be the time when the children of the light would be taught the language of their fathers, and the law would be the law to all. Such thoughts plagued his mind as he gave thought to Tangoral’s request to study the words of the prophets.

   It was early morning, too early, he thought. The passage read: …and the One shall become two and fear of the two of them shall set hearts afire. The Book of the Prophets of God had many strange sayings like this one. How can one become two, he asked himself silently. The two became four, four became six, six became twelve, and the twelve are one. One in faith, Tangalen thought to himself as he read on. The sound of children always caught Tangalen’s attention, and this was much too early for any children to be about. He could just make out the words.

   “…we’ll stay in front of him…”

   “We’ll let them go by and then follow…”

   “Cantor we’re going to be in so much trouble when we get back.”

   “All we have to do…from being caught for…”

   “…Tangoral going to do? He wo…”

   “We’ll be the first to see the inside of a hive and live to tell…”

   Tangalen did not need to hear more to know what these children had planned. It was too early to wake anyone and Tangalen did not think he would need help to handle three kids. He took a single heavy gun with him out of habit; he did not intend to become a part of some youngsters’ grand adventure.

   

   Zothor saw off Tangoral and company at first light. All things considered everything went very well. None of the guests tried to kill one another. As guests go Zothor would rather have tree dwellers, they cost less, eat less, and clean up after themselves. Worth every gift and present and supplies he sent with them. The green brothers he still had to feed, resupply, and provide an armed escort to see them safely home. The armed escorts for the tree dwellers did not have to go far to see their guests safely home in the forest. Ishihari went out with them as did the craft master and many others whose lives had been touched by the plight of the tree dwellers. Zothor would not be surprised if he were hard pressed to find anyone that would want to go on the next escort for the green brothers.

   “I know that this is your world that you are returning to, but I’m still aloud to worry. I’m a mother it’s part of my job,” Ishihari said to Tangoral. This was her child and now she had to let go. “Still, you be careful.”

   “I’ll be fine. We’ll travel high, there is little danger there, don’t worry,” Tangoral said. “Tragal, you stayed up to be in my escort, I am honored.”

   “The honor is mine my brother,” Tragal replied.

   “I’d have gone to bed myself.”

   “So you say,” Tragal said, “but I don’t believe you mean what you say.” One of his eyes caught an image of a brother high in the trees. “Pardon me now, I must go and check on something.”

   “Tangoral, did your people like the gifts we gave them?” Ishihari asked.

   “Yes, very much,” Tangoral replied. “The pots and pans were the greatest prize. A great treasure to us is the metal they are made of. The wealth of our tribe will be increased by these gifts.”

   “Tangoral, can we go now?” Shelasaw asked rather loudly.

   “I have to go now,” Tangoral said. “I’ll be back as soon as I can, fifteen days at the most.”

   “Ok, be careful,” Ishihari said. Sometimes you just have to let go. Ishihari and the others watched as Tangoral and the other tree dwellers ran up the side of a tree and disappeared into its branches. Quick and silent they were, not even the pots and pans made a sound. Sokegal watched and wonder what kind of effect contact with Brachyura would have on the tree dwellers. He could see the effect it was having on the brotherhood. Many brothers and sisters had joined the escort to bid farewell to Tangoral and his people. It was a show of respect and honor for a much beloved brother. Sokegal too was a convert. Tangoral was the best of only a few students he ever taught.

   

   Tangoral looked down on his escort. He would be back; he was just learning to read. Shelasaw, the Flower that Blooms in the Night, stood next to him. “You were right, they do have good hearts. They gave us almost more metal than we can carry. Many useful things and so much food.”

   “Scraps, much of what they would throw away we could use. A few old pots and pans, what is that to a people that can make a thousand of them in a few settings of the sun,” Tangoral said. “Still, this dwelling would have given more if it could be carried, and you’re right they do have good hearts.”

   “You like them?”

   “Yes, I do.”

   “It was hard-shells that killed many of our people,” she reminded him.

   “My parents as well, but justice was served,” Tangoral replied. “Those that killed our people are dead. These hard-shells had nothing to do with that. How many of them have we eaten? Neither side is without fault. Before this, we couldn’t or wouldn’t talk with each other. Now, things are different, and things will change.”

   

~~~

   

   “We should have left him,” Leygal said. For more than three days, Margeeum, Cantor, and Leygal had managed to stay ahead of Tangoral and his people, but now Cantor’s new cart for ruff terrain was broken.

   “We should have let Tangoral find us before this,” Margeeum said. “We’re getting close to the Great Swamp.”

   “Maybe we can fix it,” Cantor said.

   “You’d need a forge to do that,” Leygal said. The metal plate that held the front wheel on the cart had snapped and the wheel came off. “How’d I let you two talk me into this I’ll never know.” Leygal was very tired.

   “It wasn’t hard,” Margeeum snapped back. She was just as tired as the others and was growing more apprehensive the closer they got to the Great Swamp.

   “Margeeum, do you remember when you told Tangoral you could talk your way out of becoming dinner for tree dwellers?” Cantor asked.

   “Yes, why?”

   “Well, here’s your chance.” All eyes turn to look in the direction that Cantor was pointing. Two tree dwellers with long wicked looking spears were walking slowly down the tree limb towards them. They stopped a short distance from Cantor and company.

   “My, my, what do we have here Geosamona?” the one tree dweller asked the other.

   “Little lost hard-shells I think. What do you think we should do with them Sheylmasa?”

   “Take them home for dinner I should think,” he replied. One of the small hard-shells started to walk towards them.

   “Here comes trouble,” Geosamona laughed as the small hard-shell stopped in front of them.

   “Hi,” Margeeum said. “My friends and I were looking for a friend of ours and we were hoping you’ve seen him?”

   Sheylmasa almost dropped his spear. Geosamona took a couple steps back. Neither could believe their ears. This small hard-shell could speak their language. “Hi,” Sheylmasa ventured.

   “We got kind of lost looking for our friend. If you’ve seen him it would be a great help.” Margeeum said.

   “Ah… Who is your friend?” Sheylmasa asked in return still stunned that he was talking to a hard-shell.

   “Tangoral.”

   “Tangoral?”

   “Yes, Tangoral, do you know him?” Margeeum asked.

   “Yes, we know him,” Sheylmasa replied.

   “Have you seen him?”

   “Not for many moons.”

   “Too bad I was rather hoping you had. I’m Margeeum, and my two friends are Cantor and Leygal.” Margeeum was hoping that by giving their names it would make them seem less like food and more like friends. “Cantor is the one trying to grow legs to replace his broken ones that got cut off.” Cantor waved his claw.

   “This is so weird,” Geosamona said. “I can’t believe we’re standing here talking with hard-shells. How’d they learn our language?”

   “I don’t know,” Sheylmasa replied. “How did you learn our language?”

   “Tangoral is Cantor’s brother, he taught us,” Margeeum replied.

   “Tangoral didn’t have any brothers and if he did none of them would be hard-shells,” Geosamona said.

   “Adopted brother I should have said,” Margeeum revised herself.

   “You speak the language of the People very well,” Sheylmasa said.

   “Thank you, I’m trying to keep from being roasted, fried, or turned into stew. How am I doing?”

   Sheylmasa started laughing. “You’re doing very well Margeeeum,” he replied. He was beginning to like this small hard-shell.

   “I get this feeling that we are not going to have them for dinner,” Geosamona said.

   “We’d love to have dinner with you as long as we aren’t the main course,” Leygal said walking up to stand behind Margeeum.

   “You’re too small to be anything more than a before meal snack,” Geosamona replied smiling. He too was beginning to find a certain amount of humor in talking to these small hard-shells. Two more tree dwellers walked up behind Sheylmasa and Geosamona.

   “Sheylmasa, I see you’ve found dinner.”

   “Not really,” he replied. “They can talk…”

   “Well, kill them, they’ll stop talking.”

   “Neylosso, they know Tangoral. I don’t think he’d want us to kill them,” Geosamona said.

   “How do you know that?” Neylosso asked.

   “I told you they can talk,” Sheylmasa said.

   “Hard-shells can’t talk,” the other tree dweller said. They all for the moment seem to forget Margeeum and Leygal standing a few steps away.

   “You know six moons ago, as you count the passing of time, we thought the same thing about you,” Margeeum injected. The new arrivals reacted as if some unseen force struck them a blow.

   “Canolasay, did you hear what I just heard?” Neylosso asked.

   “Yeah, I did. Say something else,” he asked not really believing he’d hear more.

   “What would you like me to say?” Margeeum replied. “I’ll say anything you like, I’m stalling for time. Tangoral is not far behind us with what remains of the people that went with Toegatand or Toeganan or something like that, I’m not good with your names yet. Cantor wanted to stay ahead of him to prove he could keep up with him, but we pushed the limits and Cantor broke the cart that enabled him to walk. Now we’re kind of stuck, almost out of food, and standing here trying to keep from being eaten by people who should be our friends. Do you want me to go on, I can? Cantor says I could talk a person out of their shell given half a chance.”

   “Back up, you said that Tangoral is coming with what remains of the people that went with Togatan?” Sheylmasa asked. “What happened to them?”

   “Togatan, I get that right.”

   “Yes.”

   “Togatan raided a dwelling twelve days or more to the North of our dwelling…”

   “What is North?” Geosamona asked.

   “North is a direction,” Margeeum replied to the question that interrupted the tale. “That way I think,” she said pointing with her small claw.

   “Please continue,” Sheylmasa said.

   “Hunting was very poor so Togatan and most of the men raided the dwelling storerooms for food and scattered many shunail herds. As far as we know none of those that went on that raid returned. Most likely the green hard-shells of that dwelling killed them. This raid angered the green hard-shells enough to drive the rest of the tribe off. The green hard-shells chased them for two days before they themselves got lost in the forest. The women and children out of hunger raided one of our large herds very near our dwelling but we did not let them take any of our animals. We were at a standoff because our dwelling clan leader had commanded that no tree dweller was to be killed on our land. Tangoral helped us to resolve the problem and got our shunails out of the trees. Now, he is returning with the women and children. We wanted to go with him…”

   “And I distinctly remember telling you no!” Everyone turned to look at Tangoral walking up behind the small hard-shells. “Your parents are going to be so angry with you that you might wish we had eaten you.”

   Margeeum looked at Tangoral and saw a change in him. He was no longer a child tree dweller who was her friend, but rather she saw a leader of a hive of tree dwellers equal in power and authority to Zothor and that frightened her more than just a little. Some of the women had already picked up Cantor and his cart and were carrying him down the branch. “But…,” she started to say.

   “But nothing! Zothor will send many brothers in search of you three. Your mothers will worry greatly and much sadness will ensue until I can get you safely back to the dwelling. You’re lucky to be alive.”

   “It’s not their fault, it’s mine,” Cantor said. “I talked them into coming, but I could have kept a head of you if my cart hadn’t gotten broke.”

   “Then I’m sure your punishment will be greater, but they knew better and came with you anyway,” Tangoral said. Tangoral turned to face Sheylmasa. “Thank you for not killing my friends.”

   “Your welcome, they were too small and not very dangerous. How have you been? The hard-shells must treat you well. You have grown much since we last saw you,” Sheylmasa replied.

   “I’m fine, I have learned much, and yes, the hard-shells do treat me very well. The hard-shells are gentle and kind with big hearts but I suspect they are the exception not the rule. How have you all been?”

   “We are doing very well. Hunting is very good. Construction on our home is going well. Sorgarlac was hurt trying to kill a long neck the way you do, but he’s ok now. He saved many lives. He tries to do what he thinks you would want him to do. He makes a good leader. He was a good choice, but in time when you have come into full manhood he will step aside to let you take your place as our leader.”

   “Did Margeeum tell all of what happened to Togatan?” Tangoral asked.

   “The short version I think,” Sheylmasa replied. “You should tell us the long version later.”

   “I will, but we need to keep going if we plan to make it home before tomorrow’s sun sets. Are you the outer patrol or a hunting party?”

   “Both, Sorgarlac combined them. We go out and sweep through forest on the lookout for hard-shells in the area. We hunt on the way back. We were out bound when we came across the small hard-shells.”

   “The hard-shells may come looking for their children. Send someone to get me if they do.” Tangoral looked down at Margeeum. “Did any of you bring something to write with?” he asked.

   “I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to cause you any trouble.” Margeeum started to cry.

   Tangoral stooped down and stroked her shell. “Margeeum, it’s ok,” he said. “You’re not any trouble for me. I would rather have brought you another time so that your visit would not come as a surprise to my people. That way you wouldn’t have to talk your way out of a cooking pot.”

   Tangoral seem to transform again. Once again he was her childhood friend. “I sorry, I’m so sorry,” she sobbed wrapping her small claws around him.

   “Tangoral, what did the hard-shell say?” Geosamona asked. Margeeum had reverted back to her own language.

   “Nothing important Geosamona,” he replied still stroking the top of her shell. “Leygal, did you bring something to write with.”

   “Yes, I did. I figured my dad wouldn’t be so mad at me if I took notes of what I saw.”

   “Write a note to your parents telling them that you are all safe, and with me, and we will return soon, ten setting of the sun or sooner. Shelasaw.”

   “Yes, Tangoral,” she replied. She had come up to see what the problem was.

   “Have one of the men that came with us take the note that Leygal is writing back to the dwelling with all speed and give it to the first hard-shell he sees and return. They will feed him and give him a place to sleep for the night if he wishes to rest before returning.”

   “What is, note and writing. I do not understand these words?” Shelasaw asked. They were transposed words that had no meaning in the language of the People. They had no written language.

   “A note is a picture with meaning, and writing is the drawing of that picture,” Tangoral replied. This was a thing he still needed to learn but its importance was made clear to him now. “It will tell the hard-shells that their children are safe.”

   “Why should we care what the hard-shells think. They came into the forest on their own. You could say you never saw them?” Neylosso asked.

   Tangoral stood up and walked over to stand in front of Neylosso. “First, because it is an honorable thing to do. Second, these are my friends. Third, I do not know how long it will be before Zothor, dwelling clan leader of the hard-shells sends an army of hard-shells out to look for these children. Do you want an a hundred armed hard-shells showing up at our home? I have seen Zothor track a quarry. He is a good tracker, and because there are many of us it would be an easy thing for him to follow us even after many settings of the sun. Last, a simple act of kindness would be rewarded over time increasing the wealth of the tribe or did you not notice all the metal we have brought with us; gifts from grateful hard-shells for just getting their shunails out of the trees for them. What gifts might we get for returning their children to them safe and unharmed?”

   “Hard-shells killed my family, and you expect me to repay them with kindness?” Neylosso’s family was his whole life and it was suddenly ripped from him. He wanted revenge.

   “They killed my family as well,” Tangoral reminded him. “But those that did so were eaten by stalkers. They ate first their legs and claws after having ripped them off one by one. The hard-shells that killed our families and friends did not die quickly of that you can be sure. The hard-shells that I offer a simple act of kindness to carried starving women and children into their homes and gave them food and a place to sleep. When their enemies came, the hard-shells protected our people. When our people were strong enough to leave, they gave us many gifts and saw us safely on our way. These are the hard-shells I expect you to treat kindly and with respect and honor, but any others you can cook and I’ll help you roast them.”

   “It was just a question. I do not question your leadership. Just don’t expect me to like them though,” Neylosso said.

   “You don’t have to like them Neylosso, but understand there are both good and bad hard-shells even as there are good and bad people. The good ones make good friends and the bad ones make good stew,” Tangoral said.

   “Tangoral, I’ve finished the note,” Leygal said. He handed Tangoral the note. Tangoral handed the note to Shelasaw who ran off to find one of the few remaining men of what was left of her tribe.

   “Sheylmasa,” Tangoral said. “The hard-shells that may be searching for these children will not use their weapons if they see you unless you do something to make them shoot at you. Their actions will not be that of hunters and there are a few that can speak our language. They could be in many small groups or few large groups. Still, it would be best if you are not seen if you see them.”

   “It will be as you say,” Sheylmasa said. “Did the hard-shells really open their home to our people in a time of need?”

   “Yes, they did, with arms open wide giving more than we ourselves would have given to strangers.”

   “I find it hard to believe that there are any good hard-shells.”

   “I too would think that,” Shelasaw said upon returning from her errand. “But, I was one of those that the hard-shells helped. They carried many of us into their home because we could walk no farther. They gave us all the food we could eat and the best places to sleep. When we left they gave us many gifts to take with us. I have no love for hard-shells. I have more reason to hate them than any of you, but these hard-shells are different from the others. I will not repay their kindness by eating their children or allowing their children to be eaten.”

   “The note is on its way?” Tangoral asked Shelasaw.

   “Yes it is, I sent Pogotawle and explained that it was very urgent and that he must go as fast as he could.”

   “Good. Sheylmasa we must go. I wish you good hunting.”

   “Have a safe journey Tangoral.”

   

~~~

   

   The day had started off well enough. The tree dwellers had gotten safely away and the escort had returned. Zothor went up to see Tangalen but he was not home. In fact, Zothor was not able to find him anywhere. Then after midday Grizzon informed him that Tragal missed his duty and that he could not be found anywhere. A search was then made for both Tangalen and Tragal. Zothor was now waiting in his office for the results of that search. This day was fast turning into a day when everything goes wrong. Just when he started to wonder what would go wrong next a sister burst into his office in tears.

   “She’s gone. You have to find her,” she cried.

   “Calm your self Osshreea. Who’s gone?”

   “My daughter.”

   “Margeeum?”

   “You have to find her.” Osshreea began to cry again. She was young and this was her only child. Her mate had died two cycles ago in a tragic accident. Margeeum was all she had left to remind her of the love she had and lost.

   “How could she be gone? Where could she go? How do you know she’s gone?” Osshreea just handed him a note. Zothor looked at the note and could not believe what he was reading.

   Mom:

   Cantor wanted to see Tangoral’s home. He couldn’t do it alone so Leygal and I are going with him. Don’t worry, Tangoral won’t let anything happen to us. We’ll be back in a couple of seven-days.

   Love,

   Margeeum

   Zothor dropped the note on his desk and raced out of his office. Tangalen and Tragal were forgotten in his concern for his own child. Osshreea followed him. Through the hallways and down a few ramps that led down to his dwelling he raced.

   “Zothor?” Ishihari asked as he raced passed her. He reached Cantor’s room and saw a note on his bed. Picking it up with trembling claws he read it.

   Dad:

   I’m going to see Tangoral’s home. He wouldn’t take me so we’re going to follow him. Margeeum and Leygal are going with me. We’re taking our guns and lots of food. We should be ok. We’ll come back with Tangoral in couple of seven-days.

   Cantor

   “Zothor what’s wrong?” Ishihari asked. She was very worried now with Osshreea standing behind her overly distressed. Zothor just handed her the note. “Oh god no,” was all she could say after reading the note. Zothor put his claws around his mate as she began to cry.

   

   This was a great tragedy. Three children could be lost in the forest. Two brothers were also missing; one was the patriarch of the dwelling. Zothor was tired. He had been up for four days straight searching for the children. Many search parties were sent out. Even the green brothers had joined in the search all to no avail. Zothor tracked Tangoral for two days before he lost the track. It just vanished and he could not pick it up again. Zothor suspected Tangoral obscured the track on purpose to prevent just what he had tried to do. All the other search parties returned without success. His own search party was the last to return and that was a day and a half ago. No trace of the brothers or the children was found. Sokegal went out searching with him. The craft master was most upset. He would have kept looking if Zothor had not made him come back.

   Tangalen had not been seen since the evening before Tangoral left. Tragal never returned from the escort that morning. The children probably left early in the morning before Tangoral’s escort. Tangalen had taken his gun and could be out hunting somewhere, but not likely. Everything seemed to hinge around Tangoral leaving. This whole affair had cut like a knife through the heart of the whole dwelling. Zothor called for a day of fasting and would not give up hope until Tangoral returned.

   

   Ishihari cried herself to sleep the first couple of nights. She began a fast for the safe return of her children the day before Zothor returned. She went out every day to search and pray and wait. Today she went out as the days before. Her legs led her to the spot where she last saw Tangoral. She collapsed on the spot and folded her claws back over the top of her shell and began to pray.

   “Oh my Father, listen to the prayer of your daughter and hear her plea. My son and the children of others are out in the forest alone and may be lost. Please keep them safe. We have ever been your servants, and we have done all that you asked and more. Now you have seen fit to try the faith of your children with a great trial. We are without hope and turn to you for deliverance. I turn to you Father and ask for your help. Perhaps I have failed you in some way, but do not lay my sins upon the shell of my child. Tell me what more I can do for you and I will gladly do it. Stretch forth your mighty arm and rescue our children from the dangers of the forest and bring them safely home. What have we done that you would punish us so? Have we become too complacent in our wealth? Have we failed you in some way? Tell us how and we will change; I will change. If you are angry with us do not take it out on our children. If this is a trial of our faith, then at least give us the knowledge of the fate that befell our children. Not knowing what became of them is tearing our hearts apart. My son and the other lost ones of our dwelling are in your hands, let Thy will be done. May it ever be so. So it shall ever be.”

   Ishihari lay there hoping for some kind of answer for a long time but at last she opened her eyes and stood up. When she did she saw a tree dweller standing in front of her. He held out his hand to her. In it was a piece of paper. She took the paper from him and unfolded it.

   To whoever gets this note:

   Tell our parents that we are ok and that Tangoral caught up to us before we became dinner. Margeeum, Cantor, and myself are fine. It was touch and go there for a few moments and Margeeum did a really good job of talking us out of a tree dweller cooking pot before Tangoral showed up. Cantor’s new cart broke. Tangoral was real mad and had me write this note to tell you that we are ok and that we will return in about ten days or so. I never realized that Tangoral is the leader of his tribe. It was a good thing too. Several tree dwellers wanted to have us for dinner. Some were not happy that Tangoral would not let them eat us. The tree dweller that gave you this note is probably very tired and hungry as Tangoral had him go as fast as he could to return to the dwelling with this note.

   Leygal

   Ishihari first hugged the note to herself and then she hugged the tree dweller. “Are you hungry? Do you need food, water?” she asked as she released a very startled tree dweller. “Please come back to the dwelling and rest.”

   “You speak our language,” Pogotawle said as he recovered from being nearly crushed by a hard-shell.

   “Yes I do, I’m Tangoral’s mother. Please come back to our dwelling and I will get you something to eat and you can rest from your long journey. My mate will want to talk with you.”

   “Thank you, I will come with you. I have traveled a night and two settings of the sun to give you that leaf like thing. I am very hungry and tired.” Part of Pogotawle didn’t want to have anything to do with these hard-shells but the other part, his stomach, over ruled his objection and they did have good food.

   “What is your name?” Ishihari asked.

   “Pogotawle.”

   “Pogotawle, thank you for coming so far to bring us this message, we will not forget this. I will not forget this.”

   The note brought by Pogotawle said nothing about Tragal and Tangalen and so their disappearance was still a mystery. The news of the children brought a sense of relief to the dwelling and a gathering for a prayer of thanksgiving was called. That prayer is recorded in the records of the dwelling for those that care to take the time to look it up. I shall not record it here as it was long and somewhat repetitive. You can be certain that the Brachyura of the dwelling were most grateful to their God. When Pogotawle left he had been over fed by the sisters and nearly buried in gifts from the brothers.

   

~~~

   

   “The smart thing to do would have been to wake someone up, but no, I had to go chase after these kids on my own. Yesterday I would have sworn I was on the right track. Today, today I’m lost. I’m too old for this kind of adventure,” Tangalen said to himself. He thought he could catch up to the kids in a few units of time, but now here it was almost four days later and there was no sign of the children. It was getting dark and he had been hearing noises behind him in the distance off and on all day. “There is never a good day to die but I’m afraid I’ll never get out of this forest alive. This is a good a place as any.” Tangalen found a small clear area in the mid-terrace tree limbs where he was and turned to face whatever was tracking him from behind. He readied his gun. “Come on whatever you are, come and eat me!” he yelled. The sounds kept getting closer. He took careful aim in the direction of the sound.

   Tragal walked into the clearing. “I won’t eat you, you’re too old and tuff, but I would have been tempted to shoot you in one of your legs to slow you down if I could have caught up with you.”

   “You shouldn’t scare an old brother like that.”

   “Tangalen, what are you doing out here? I didn’t know it was you I was tracking until this morning.”

   “Cantor and a couple of his friends were going to try and follow Tangoral to his home. I tried to follow them to keep them from doing something foolish.”

   “You know the saying in the Book of the Prophets of God about the foolish?” Tragal asked.

   “Do not emulate the foolish lease you become a greater fool than they are. That the one?” Tangalen replied.

   “That’s the one. It applies here.”

   “To who, you or me, because unless you know the way back, we’re both lost.”

   Tragal suddenly realized he was lost in the forest again. “We go back that way,” he said pointing back the way he came. He was not going to give Tangalen the satisfaction of knowing he was lost too.

   “Tangalen.”

   “What?”

   “Get down now,” Tragal said.

   “Why?”

   “Get down and do it now.” Tragal readied both his heavy guns. Tangalen was a little slow in his old age, but he wasn’t that slow. He hugged the tree branch and aimed back the other way. Tragal stood a little taller to get a clear field of fire over Tangalen. Tangalen’s move was a combat tactic, Tragal was impressed.

   Sheylmasa knew he was crazy, the others had told him so. He stood looking at the two hard-shells talking to each other. The clearing was too big for his small band to reach them quick enough to make the kill without someone being killed. Now was added the possibility that these could be friendly hard-shells and Tangoral might not want them killed. The only way to be sure was to give the hard-shells a chance to use their weapons. He did the only thing he could do, and that was to step out into the open. He should be dead now but he wasn’t.

   “You’ve been studying with Tangoral. How good are you at speaking their language?” Tragal asked.

   “I can say Tangoral’s name and a claw full of words,” Tangalen replied. “Why?”

   “You’ve just been promoted to head diplomat. Tangoral is the only word I know. I’ll turn sideways as you stand.”

   As Tangalen stood up Tragal turned and faced ninety degrees out from Tangalen’s line of fire. Sheylmasa had fewer weapons pointed at him and he still was not dead that made him feel better. “Hello,” Tangalen said. “You know Tangoral?”

   “Yes, I know Tangoral,” Sheylmasa said. Talking to the small hard-shells was fun and they were good at speaking the language, but talking to full grown armed hard-shells was a little unnerving.

   “We friends. Look for children.”

   “Small hard-shells, we found them. They are with Tangoral. You go home now.”

   “Would like. We lost.” Tangalen was running out of words. He hoped that this conversation wouldn’t last much longer.

   The hard-shells weren’t going to kill him, and that was good. That they were lost was not good. Sheylmasa did not know what to do. The others had come up to stand next to him. “They are lost and they know Tangoral, what do we do with them?” he asked.

   “Kill and eat them,” Canolasay ventured.

   “You see the hard-shell with the two guns?” Sheylmasa asked.

   “Yes.”

   “We are all standing together; he could shoot us all before we could reach them.”

   “Let’s take them to Tangoral if we can’t kill them and he can take them back with the little hard-shells,” Neylosso said.

   “Good idea, we’ll do that.” Sheylmasa turned and face the hard-shell. “We will take you to Tangoral” he said.

   “What did they say?” Tragal asked.

   “Something about eating us and something about you shooting them. Now they’re going to take us to Tangoral and the children,” Tangalen replied.

   

   Tangoral spent most of the daylight telling Sorgarlac and the other elders all that he had learned and done while he was living with the hard-shells. He still had not learned to make the guns and ammo that they might need to defend themselves. Everyone seemed to like Cantor, Margeeum, and Leygal. That they could talk was the telling factor. Construction of the home had gone well. Sorgarlac made a few changes in the outer wall that gave it added strength and offered more protection from long necks which seemed to be the main problem of living in the Great Swamp. So much to do and so little time before he had to return home. When did he start to think of the Brachyura dwelling as home, he wondered?

   “Tangoral, we have a problem,” Sorgarlac interrupted his thoughts.

   “What?”

   “Sheylmasa is bringing in two hard-shells. What do we do?” Sorgarlac asked. “They say they know you.”

   “Get some guns in place to cover them when they get here,” Tangoral replied. “Then get everyone off that level in case we start shooting.”

   “You expect trouble from your friends?” Sorgarlac asked with a touch of sarcasm.

   “No, I don’t, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for anything.”

   

   When Tragal first saw the hive of the tree dwellers he was impressed. This was a hive unlike any that he had ever seen before. The tree was unlike any tree that he had ever seen before either. One great tree trunk split and became five great trees just below the mid-tree level. The tree dwellers built in the space surrounded by the trees. There were gun platforms at the top, bottom, and middle of the hive. They were vulnerable to return fire, but were well placed. A brother would have to place himself in the line of fire to get a clear shot. The outer wall of the hive was like some great cage designed to keep something in. Tragal realized it was not to keep something in but rather to keep something out. This hive had three levels with a fourth under construction.

   “Tragal, where do you think they got the guns?” Tangalen asked. He too was amazed by what he saw.

   “From brothers that had no need of them any more no doubt.” Tragal knew exactly where and which brothers were missing their guns.

   “You mean they killed them and took their guns.”

   “No, they waited for the brothers to be killed and then took their guns.” A thought bothered Tragal. Did the tree dwellers set up the brothers to be killed? He would have to ask Tangoral sometime. Tragal counted the guns and found five unaccounted for. He suspected he would find out what they did with them very soon.

   “Have you ever seen a hive like this?” Tangalen asked.

   “No, I haven’t, and I doubt anyone else has either,” Tragal replied. “I doubt anyone has ever even seen a tree like that. Add to that we’re almost a full day’s travel into the Great Swamp. None of our brothers would dare come here. The guns are probably more for their protection from the wildlife than from us.”

   “Why would they need protection from us?”

   “You forget that it was brothers that destroyed the hive that Tangoral is from and killed his family and many of his friends as well.”

   “I’m beginning to think that I may have been better off lost in the forest,” Tangalen said.

   “Have faith in our brother. If they wanted us dead we’d be dead right now. They’ve had their guns trained on us for some time,” Tragal said. He would not die without a fight. If they give me the chance to fight, he thought as he walked into the hive and found the missing five guns aimed at him.

   “The search for the children was called off days ago, why have you come?” Tangoral asked standing where he could not be seen.

   “Tangalen saw the children leave and tried to follow and stop them. I was following him when we became lost. I knew nothing of the children until I caught up with him,” Tragal replied.

   “You place me in a difficult position Tragal. You are a soldier of the Brachyura and you have seen too much already. I do not care to have our position and defenses known.”

   “Then you should shoot us.”

   “I’d rather you didn’t,” Tangalen said.

   “We are your brothers,” Tragal said. “Your secrets are our secrets. Any brother would die to protect you and you know that. It is the Dwelling Clan Leader’s wish that we learn to live together. How can that be possible if we cannot trust each other? Yes, I am a soldier of the clan, but how could I array myself against a brother to whom I owe my life? How should I answer to my Creator if I were to do so?”

   “How would you explain our deaths to the children?” Tangalen asked.

   “They are on the upper level playing. They have not seen you come in. They have no idea you are here,” Tangoral replied. “If you come as friends then you must remove your weapons. For no one who is not from our home may enter it armed. This is our custom.”

   “Will we get our guns back?” Tangalen asked.

   “Why do you ask Tangalen?” Tangoral stepped out so they could see him.

   “I’ve had this gun a very long time. I’d like to get it back. It means a lot to me.”

   “You are a religious leader Tangalen. That is a very poor keepsake for a true believer especially with your life on the line because of it. Shouldn’t you cling to symbols of life rather than a symbol of death?”

   Tangalen could make no reply. The truth of what Tangoral had said hit him hard. He watched as Tragal removed his guns and then disabled them. A true soldier, not letting his guns fall into the hands of a possible enemy. He thought of all the times that he had used his gun and all the creatures that had died. Tangalen stripped his gun from his shell and flung it out the door.

   “That was a bit extreme Tangalen,” Tangoral said. “I might have given it back.”

   “I don’t want it back,” Tangalen said.

   “We need the ammo more than we need another gun or two Tragal,” Tangoral said as other tree dwellers picked up the guns and ammo.

   “I know the guns you have are defensive, but I’d still rather not have my guns used against the brotherhood,” Tragal said.

   “Sorgarlac, return the guns to their positions. Put on more food. We have two more unexpected guests.”

   “We should shoot them. Letting them live could be unwise,” Sorgarlac said.

   “Tragal is right; if we are to learn to live together we must learn to trust one another. If I must trust hard-shells, I’d rather trust hard-shells I know over hard-shells I don’t,” Tangoral said.

   “The little hard-shells the people like, but I do not know how they will react to adult hard-shells. We could have a problem.”

   “Problems?” Tangalen asked after walking up to where Tangoral stood and listening to the conversation.

   “The people are not going to like the fact that you are here as guests,” Tangoral replied.

   “Perhaps we could help you.”

   “I don’t know what you could do, but Tragal could help us improve our defenses.”

   “I couldn’t do much. Your defenses are already very good. Your guns are well placed. A brother would have to place himself in the line of fire to take out your guns. A long shot from a light gun might also take out your guns. You have no real front protection but you are well protected from the sides,” Tragal said.

   Tangoral translated for Sorgarlac. Sogarlac smiled and asked, “What kind of front protection, and if we were attacked how would the hard-shells attack? What would be a good escape route if we had to flee our home again? How could we protect ourselves from an attack with fire?” These were just the beginning of the questions that popped into Sorgarlac’s mind.

   Tangoral translated for Tragal and Tangalen. “I see you lack intelligence about us. As all your questions are about improving your defensive position I will be glad to help you,” Tragal said. “First, I’d like to get something to eat. I haven’t eaten since I last saw you. Tangalen cannot be fairing much better than I. We could both use a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow I’ll be happy to walk about with your friend here and see what we can do about strengthening your position from any possible attack.”

   “Good,” Sorgarlac said after Tangoral explained what Tragal had said. “We can tell the people they got lost looking for the small hard-shells, but in return for helping them to return home they will help us to strengthen our home from any possible attack by hard-shells. We can use the small hard-shells to help translate. I’ll go and tell the people now and see to the food for our guests.” Sorgarlac turned and walked off.

   “Who was that?” Tangalen asked.

   “Our tribe’s leader Sorgarlac,” Tangoral replied.

   “A leader that does what you tell him to,” Tragal said. “He may lead, but you, my brother, are the true leader of these tree dwellers. All of them would do what you tell them that is plain to see.”

   “That would explain much,” Tangalen said. “It would explain how easy it was for you to get the tree dwellers to help get the shunails out of the trees.”

   “It also explains why we are still alive. I doubt any other name would have kept us out of the cooking pot,” Tragal added.

   “We are all on new ground here. Ground only I have walked upon. The sign of a good leader is that he asks for help and knowledge when he needs it,” Tangoral said. “That you are alive is a sign of respect…”

   “For someone they hold in very high honor,” Tragal finished. “If you are not now the leader of this hive, you will be.”

   “Tragal, I could still have you shot.”

   “It would only serve to prove my point. Only the leader of the hive could order that now that we are guests.” Tragal was guessing here. For all he knew a child could have him shot, but he guessed correctly.

   “In that case, I’ll show you where you will be sleeping tonight,” Tangoral said.

   

   Tangoral, Sorgarlac, and Tragal were off taking an in depth look at the hives defenses leaving Tangalen to himself. Well, almost to himself, the child Margeeum was acting as his translator. Tangalen went up to watch the construction of the fourth level. The tree dwellers for the most part went out of their way to avoid him, but some spoke to Margeeum from time to time. He was about to ask her what the tree dwellers were saying to her when a nearby tree dweller who was pulling on a vine that would raise a beam in place slipped and lost his grip. Tangalen, without thinking, reached out and grabbed the vine to keep the beam from falling. The tree dweller got up from where he had fallen and just stared at Tangalen.

   “Brother Tangalen, they want you to pull on the vine so they can finish setting the beam in place,” Margeeum said after listening to what one of the tree dwellers was yelling.

   Tangalen pulled on the vine and the beam rose slowly and dropped into place. Cross members were dropped in place and great wooden pins were driven into place to hold the framework together. “Brother Tangalen, Cotayoak says thank you for grabbing the vine when he fell and wonders if you would like to help them,” Margeeum said relaying what Cotayoak was saying.

   “Tell him he is welcome and, yes, I would like to help if they could use an extra set of claws and I won’t be getting in the way,” Tangalen replied. Tangalen would live to regret his choice. He spent the rest of the day helping to set the rest of the fourth level framework in place. By the end of the day every muscle in his shell hurt. On the good side he could speak and understand the language better and the tree dwellers became friendlier towards him.

   “Cotayoak says for me to thank you for all your hard work. They got much more done than they had planned,” Margeeum said. “They will take the next day or two off to wait for the women to finish gathering the material for the floor. If we are still here and you wanted to help again. They could use your help.”

   “Cotayoak, long time since I work this hard. Most enjoyable. I still here, I like to help again,” Tangalen said. Every part of his body did not mean what he just said.

   “Dinner tonight is roasted long neck with vegetables, I think. That’s what I keep hearing,” Margeeum said.

   “All I want right now child is to go lie down and sleep.” But sleep was not to be had any time soon. Tragal and Tangoral were in a deep discussion about the hive defenses when Tangalen return to his assigned sleeping area. Sorgarlac stood a little apart from them, but still listening to the conversation. When he saw Tangalen walk up, he walked over to him.

   “I am Sorgarlac” he said. “You are the one called Tangalen?”

   “Yes, I am.”

   “I have heard many good words spoken of you this day. They say you understand our language better than you can speak it. Is this true?” Sorgarlac asked.

   “Yes,” Tangalen replied. “Speak very small… very little.”

   “Good, then you will understand when I say thank you on behalf of my people for your help with the construction of the forth level.”

   “You’re welcome. May I ask question?”

   “Yes, ask, I will answer if I know the answer.”

   “You are leader of people?” Tangalen began to try and find an answer.

   “Yes, I am the leader.”

   “What, who, Tangoral?” That was the best question Tangalen could come up with to find out Tangoral’s standing in the hive.

   “Our leader he was and is. To me he gave the responsibility of leading our tribe in the day to day things, and to carry out his plan the best I can. He is our leader in battle, our healer; he is the one that goes before us seeking knowledge in the tops of trees and in far off places,” Sorgarlac replied.

   “Healer?”

   “His father was our healer. His father is dead. That made Tangoral our healer being the only one taught in the art of his father. Tangoral is better than his father as a healer, and his father was the best healer we or any of the other tribes have had for a very long time.”

   “Leader in battle?”

   “He fights our battles for us if he can. He punishes our enemies with terrible punishments if they wrong us. No healer before him knows as much about the Great Circle of Life as Tangoral and he remembers everything,” Sorgarlac said.

   “How can healer fight?” Tangalen asked.

   “It is said a true healer can use the Great Circle of Life as his weapon, but only for the protection of the weak and defenseless and for the dead whose blood cries out for justice. For the dead he may avenge the wrong and there by return honor to the dead. Most healers can only heal the sick with the Great Circle of Life. Tangoral can kill with the Great Circle of Life. One healer in a thousand life times may gain such knowledge as Tangoral has,” Sorgarlac explained.

   “What of God?” asked Tangalen to change the subject.

   “It is said that God has forgotten us, but in the fullness of times he will again speak to us through the mouth of his servants. We are to wait and listen. That is all we know of God.”

   “God created Great Circle of Life.”

   “So some say, but the ancients created all the life there in and destroyed the plans of God.”

   “God plans not destroyed, he raised another, replaced ancients.”

   “So it is believed by some. I will wait and listen,” Sorgarlac said. “Tangoral has requested that you come and sit with the men tonight. He is going to put forth the request by your leader to our people and he has a message from your leader he would like you to read.” Sorgarlac smiled and walked off.

   “Wait moment, what request?” Tangalen asked. Sorgarlac took his place next to Tangoral. “What message?” Sorgarlac looking back at Tangalen winked and smiled and then went back to waiting and listening to Tangoral and Tragal argue. Tangalen knew he had been had in some wicked kind of tree dweller sense of humor. How could he go to sleep now?

   

   The circle of men, a kind of gathering for tree dwellers took place on the upper level. The men sat in a circle with a fire burning in the middle. The women sat in their own circle outside and around the men. This evening two hard-shells sat with the men. A small crippled hard-shell sat between them as translator. The other small hard-shells sat with the women and children. Sorgarlac stood up and held up his hand for silence, and the meeting to come to order. He began to pace as he spoke.

   “Today we have seen many changes,” Sorgarlac began. “We have seen hard-shells in our home walking around; not in a stew pot. Our children play with their children. We have worked side by side in the building of our home.” Sorgarlac stopped pacing in front of Tangalen. “It would shame our men to know that the hard-shell they worked with today is an, old father, among the hard-shells. How different is our world now with the hard-shells as our guests, and not as our dinner.” Sorgarlac stopped in front of Tragal. “We have one of their warriors advising us on ways to defend ourselves from attacks by his people. Many new ideas were born that will help protect and keep our people safe. A much needed healing of the anger in our hearts has begun.”

   “Tangoral wishes us to continue the small steps we have made in giving aid and our friendship to these hard-shells, and not eating them. This morning Pogotawle returned from their dwelling after giving a message to their leader. He returned with much metal and a message to Tangoral. Tangoral will explain further.” Sorgarlac returned to his place and then Tangoral got up.

   “My friends, my people, we have seen this day that all hard-shells are not all bad. There are many things we can learn from one another,” Tangoral said. “I would heal the breach between us. This is a great healing that will take much time. It will not be easy for us or the hard-shells. Nor do I ask that you like all hard-shells. I ask only that you judge their hearts. It is said that nothing bad can grow on good ground, nor can good grow on bad ground. Pogotawle has just returned from their home with a message from their leader, but I cannot translate the words of this message. I ask the hard-shell called Tangalen to read the words of his leader. Tangalen is a healer of the spirit among his people and an old father that often gives wise advice to their leader when he seeks the counsel of his people. I wish you to hear his words so you may judge his heart. The small hard-shell called Cantor will translate as Tangalen reads the message in his native language.” Tangoral stood before Tangalen with the note in hand. Tangalen stood up and took the note from Tangoral’s with his claw. He opened it and began to read it after Tangoral sat down.

   “Tangoral:

   How much of a debt of honor do we owe you now? How shall we ever repay your kindness? Many mothers cried tears of joy with the coming of your message, and the hearts of all the brothers and sisters of the dwelling were elevated. Ishihari thanks God daily for sending you into our lives and prays for your safe return as do many others and myself. Sokegal wonders what effect your being among us will have on your people. He awaits his favorite student’s return. I pointed out that you were his only student at the moment. He is a grateful father. He and I were that last to return from our search for the children. I with sad heart called off the search when we lost your track; that was before we got your message. That was a good trick; you will have to teach me how to track through it sometime.

   

   I thank you for the securing the safety of our children. I can but adopt you once as honor demands. I should count you as one of the most valued brothers of the dwelling. It is my honor to call you my son. While I have had little real contact with tree dwellers other than yourself and a few members of your tribe I feel it has been a mistake that the Brotherhood has not reached out its claw in friendship to your people. While the brotherhood as a whole will not reach out to you in friendship, the brothers and sisters of this dwelling will. I hope my proposal to you to ask of your people will be well received. I with my people pray for your safe return.

   

   On a sad note, Tangalen and Tragal are missing and have been missing since you left us. Have you seen or heard of them and could you search for them?

   Zothor”

   Tangalen sat back down. Tangoral stood back up after Cantor finished the translation. “This is the words of a leader of a small hard-shell home. This home is built at the base of a grand father tree. Their leader has purposed to share the tree with us and asked if a few families were willing to build a home in their tree. I ask if any family groups would take up the offer. This would increase the worth of our tribe. Consider the gifts already given and how much more we can obtain by being friends with these hard-shells. Those few that go at first will not have to work alone without aid. The hard-shells will give us whatever help we need.” Tangoral sat back down which opened the floor for discussion.

   “That’s asking to risk someone’s family to learn once and for all that we can’t trust hard-shells,” Dontowla said. Tangoral thought that one day he might have a problem with Dontowla.

   “These hard-shells here seem to have good hearts, and I should like to think that I can trust them,” Cotayoak said. “I have worked with the hard-shell called Tangalen. He worked harder than anyone I have ever known. Now I find out that he is an old father and I am shamed.”

   “Cotayoak, what is old father?” Tangalen asked.

   “Son, father, father’s father, old father, understand?”

   “Yes, thank you, Cotayoak. I am old, old father,” Tangalen said. You could have heard a twig snap at a thousand paces.

   “No one is that old Tangalen,” Cotayoak said breaking the silence.

   “This small child here has played with my son’s, son’s, son’s, son’s, son,” Tangalen said. Cantor translated for all the people to understand. Not even Tangoral could believe Tangalen was that old.

   “Do all of the hard-shells live as long?” Tangoral asked.

   “Most live to be old fathers at least, and there are some older than I am. The oldest recorded brother died at 168 cycles of the sun. I have not yet passed the 100 mark.” Tangalen use his mother tongue to answer Tangoral’s question who asked in the same language. Cantor translated both, but stopped and stared at Tangalen. Four small eyes looked up at the patriarch. A single eye glared back. “Alright, I lied, I’m a few cycles older than a hundred.”

   “… A hundred and twelve cycles this cycle of the sun,” Cantor added after he finished translating what Tangalen said.

   “How can you live so long?” Sheylmasa asked.

   “I eat well, I work hard, and I trust in God. Plus, I don’t live in an environment that might on any given day have me for dinner or make me flee for my life at a moment’s notice. I would think the elderly men among you go out hunting and just don’t come back one day.”

   “Tangalen, women too, my father’s mother went with her husband on a long searching in the Great Swamp,” Tangoral added.

   “Searching for what?” Tangalen asked.

   “The Beginning and the Great Cure that would heal the world,” Tangoral replied.

   Tangalen felt the spirit of God rest upon him and touch his mind with understanding. Cantor stopped translating and stared at Tangalen when he began to speak the language of the People of the Trees with clarity. “When you can cure all the hatred, some of which is rooted deep in the hearts of some beings, then you can heal the world. Heal hearts young healer, and then you can change the world. The first heart that you need to heal is your own. I have seen the changes in you as you became a part of us, but I think that you have yet to discover what it means to be a brother of the clan. For Ishihari you would die I have no doubt, and for Cantor your brother and his friends as well. For the rest of us I’m not so sure, but there will come a time when you will.” Tangalen felt the spirit of God withdraw leaving the knowledge that was given to him behind. Tangalen looked over at Tragal. He was staring at him in surprise.

   “Now I see why you are the spiritual leader of the clan and adviser to the dwelling clan leader,” Tangoral said stunned by the change in Tangalen and all the people with him.

   Tangalen realized he understood perfectly what was said to him. What Tangoral had said about the relation between the two languages suddenly clicked in his mind and he found that he could now speak with good clarity the language of the tree dwellers. He would thank God later. “I understand now what you said about the two languages being the same language,” he said.

   This was too much for Neylosso. “This is not right,” he said getting up. “What magic is this? I know what I just saw with my eyes and heard with my ears. He could not make but baby sounds but a moment ago. How can he do that? What dark art does he practice?”

   Tangoral stood up and looked at Neylosso. “Neylosso,” he said softly across the fire. Tangoral’s voice pierced Neylosso and held him. “Neylosso, among his people he is a healer, but he heals troubled spirits. If he can see into our hearts, how hard is it to look and see the way we speak from the heart? I know your heart and the pain in it. I know your anger and hate. I know your fear. I know that the only place the dark arts can be found are in the dark places in our hearts.” Tangoral smiled and sat back down. Neylosso sat down a moment later.

   “Old wise one, what do you think of your leader’s plan?” Sheylmasa asked.

   “Before we met Tangoral I would have said our leader was crazy. Before I met the people here I might have thought the plan wasn’t a very good idea. Today I would help you pack. I think it would be good for both our people,” Tangalen said.

   “Truly spoken, but what about the other hard-shells of your home, what will they think?” Cotayoak asked.

   “They will welcome you as long lost friends. To us Tangoral is the adopted son of our leader and brother to all our people. His friends are our friends.”

   “And they’ll feed you real well too,” Pogotawle added.

   “Perhaps we can trust these few, would you have us trust them all?” Dontowla asked.

   “We will trust only those that trust us,” Tangoral replied.

   “I will go for the people,” Sheylmasa said. He had come to like these hard-shells.

   “I also would like to go,” Cotayoak said. His wife gasped in the background. Cotayoak was a builder. To build in a grandfather tree was the chance of a lifetime.

   Shelasaw stood up in the women’s circle. “I too will go,” she said. She liked the hard-shell called Ishihari. They had become friends in a short time.

   “I too would like to go,” Geosamona said. He had always liked Shelasaw.

   “This is all the people I will need. Let the hard-shells first learn to live next to a few of us,” Tangoral said. “And us to them. Sheylmasa will lead the people there. We will leave in the morning.”

   “Early morning?” Cotayoak asked.

   “Late morning, the old wise one will need rest before we can leave,” Tangoral replied.

   “Bless you my brother,” Tangalen said.

   

   The whole tribe was on the move by midday, save a few left to guard the home. Tangoral would take no chances in a mishap on the return, also many gifts would be given and he wanted many hands to carry them. He even returned Tragal’s guns and half his ammo. Tragal restored his guns to working order as quickly as he disabled them. Tangoral even made a cast to repair the broken parts on Cantor’s cart just so Cantor would have to walk home. Bringing the whole tribe was also a show of power intended to impress Zothor and the clan.

   Six days to reach the outer dwelling pastures. Cantor’s cart broke again and Tangoral put another cast on the other side. Tangoral brought the tribe to the ground as soon as he reached the clan’s boundary. They did not have to go far before Zothor and almost the whole dwelling came out to welcome Tangoral and rejoice in the finding of that which was lost. Double was the joy of the clan when found that Tangalen and Tragal were among the lost-found. Much hugging ensued as the children were reunited with their families. Grateful parents hugged Tangoral many times much to the delight and dismay of the tribe. Ishihari’s great claws wrapped around Tangoral, as he stroked the top of her shell, he couldn’t help think that it was good to be home.

   The gather that evening was the largest in the history of the dwelling. The food was an unending stream and Tangoral, Tragal, and Tangalen told the stories. The Brachyura opened their personal dwellings to accommodate all their guests. Even the green brothers were impressed with the conduct of the tree dwellers. They were the best of guests. They didn’t make a mess or stay overly long.

   The tribe ate better than they could ever remember for the day and a half that they were at the dwelling, and when they left they each carried away many gifts of metal. Sorgarlac could see these hard-shells had good hearts, but he was still glad to leave. The tribe would add many new pots and pans to its much prized treasures of metal. All of the tribe now wore new knives and they were taking back many tools made of metal. Tragal gave many boxes of ammo for their guns with Zothor’s ok once he understood that the guns the tribe had could only be used in self-defense. Sorgarlac could see the benefits of being on friendly terms with these hard-shells as he played with his new metal knife whacking at small tree branches within reach as he walked along the path back home. Tangoral had increased the wealth of the tribe to an unheard of level. The tribe now had more metal than any other tribe ever. Every family would now have their own metal cooking pots. It was like having all the tribe’s tools turned into metal overnight. The whole tribe was transformed in just being around the hard-shells for a few days. Home will never be the same, Sorgarlac thought.

   It’s good to have all the children and brothers home again, Zothor thought. The tree dwellers had come and gone twice and the green brothers were still there.

   

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