of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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"We made it, momma! The edge of the forest!" Farrah said grinning.
"No... This is just the foothills, dear," Bootie gasped, and leaned against a tree. "We still have a long way to go... Over the mountain..." Bootie lowered herself to the ground gently, using the tree for support.
"Momma, what is it?" Farrah asked fearfully, seeing her mother's face.
"The baby... Hurry, find some night-moss..." Bootie replied, trying to control her breathing, trying to calm herself. "It's too soon..."
Farrah glanced around, her eyes measuring the forest up. She may have been frightened, but finally her mother was asking her to deal with something she knew, and knew well - the Healing-Lore of the Mice. "No, momma. These are mostly pines - I could search for days and not find any night-moss. You need yellow-berry. " she replied, then looked back to her mother. "Has your water broken?"
"No, no... I'm only in the early stages... But we can't let the baby be born now... It's too soon... Hurry..." Bootie replied, breathing calmly, her eyes closed.
Farrah nodded and dashed off, heading for the trees nearby. 'Spirits of my Ancestors, guide me!' she thought, her eyes searching the shadows. She knew speed was of the essence - if the contractions could be halted before they turned into full-blown labor, the baby would be alright. If not, then they would have to deliver the baby. And at a month premature, a baby mouse would not live.
In the back of her mind, she wondered if it would be a baby brother, or a baby sister. Either way, their name had already been determined by the Law of the Mice - if it was a brother, its name would be Tinker, as the oldest son of a Smith was always named Tinker. Farrah secretly hoped it would be a boy. She so very desperately dreamed of helping her momma and daddy raise a baby brother, and teaching him of her brave and noble older brother. Byarl had said her brother died bravely, saving Merle and the Defender, Xaa. That made Farrah very, very proud, somehow. She only hoped that someday, she would be able to tell her older brother's story to his younger namesake.
'There!' Farrah thought, her nose picking up the scent even before her eyes spotted the bush. She grabbed a pawful of yellow-berries, then glanced at the ground behind her. She had wandered a bit, but if she was careful, she could follow her tracks back. Farrah prayed to all the gods and spirits that watched over her people that she wouldn't get lost. Time was of the essence.
Bootie looked up at the sound of running footsteps, and saw Farrah coming. 'She'll make someone a fine mate to Potter, someday,' she thought to herself, and smiled briefly through the pain. Farrah dashed up, then dropped to her knees by her mother.
"How far along are you, momma? Is it too late?"
"No... I don't think so..." she replied, breathing carefully.
Farrah opened her paw - half a dozen small, round yellow-berries lay in her palm. "They're warm already from my paw, momma," she said, then paused. "Oh! I don't remember the dosage!"
"One per half-stone of weight, dear, rounding down..." Bootie replied, and picked up two berries, popping them into her muzzle. She grimaced briefly - the taste was horridly bitter, a warning of the toxin they contained. Still, it was the only way. Bootie chewed the berries completely, then swallowed them. "Water, dear..."
"We still have a little left, momma," Farrah replied, and slipped off her pack. In a few moments, Bootie was quietly sipping the last of the water, still trying to control her breathing.
Farrah waited impatiently, holding the remaining berries in her paw to keep them warm. She was frightened, yet at the same time, she still felt confident. This was something she knew. If they weren't administered too late, the yellow-berries always worked. In fact, all of the Lore of the Mice worked - if you applied it properly. She reached out, gently probing her mother's neck to the side of her windpipe, feeling the pulse there. It was slower than normal, but strong. Farrah smiled. "How do you feel, momma?"
"Better," Bootie replied, and smiled slightly. "I can't sit here, though. In a bit, you'll have to help me move away from here. We're too visible."
Farra let out a breath she hadn't even known she was holding, and grinned with relief. "Do you think you'll be able to walk after the yellow-berries?"
"Probably not," Bootie replied. "After I've taken the second dose, you'll probably have to drag me. The yellow-berries are a muscle-relaxant, as well, dear, and I'm very, very tired."
And that was precisely what happened. After two hours, Bootie simply couldn't walk - her legs were too unsteady. Farrah rigged a travois using her father's tools from two young saplings and one of their blankets, and after rolling her mother onto it, she dragged her away, deeper into the forested foothills.
As afternoon approached and Farrah began to set up their small camp, she felt her little heart slowly sink into despair. They had come so far, walking across the vast plains of the Unknown Lands, and yet the enormous mountains still lay before them, and untold leagues to follow after that. So far, the weather had been mild. What rain there had been was merely light showers that fell in the afternoons across the plains, which cooled them, gave them a bit to drink, and made their journey easier. Somehow, looking at the vast reaches of the mountains as they loomed above the forest canopy, Farrah didn't think the weather there would be as pleasant. Meanwhile, it was apparent her mother had walked as far as she could, for the moment. The Healing Lore of the Mice prescribed bed-rest for at least a week, now - but they couldn't possibly afford that much time. Farrah was sure her mother was right, and they were, perhaps, only a few days ahead of the cats, assuming the cats were still headed in roughly this direction. Farrah guessed that there might only be one truly usable pass through those forbidding mountains, and that they and the cats were both heading towards it. No matter what happened, Farrah and her mother couldn't stop. The fate of their people depended on them. Yet, they couldn't go on. Farrah didn't know what to do, and struggled quietly not to weep.
Finally, evening had come. Farrah had managed to find both food in the form of several roots and edible berries, and water in the form of a tiny creek that flowed nearby. Farrah chewed some blackroot to stay awake as she worked, trying to set up a small lean-to for her mother in case it rained while she rested. When she finally finished, she sat down heavily next to her, beneath the protective boughs she had lashed to the frame of the lean-to. "What do we do now, momma?"
Bootie was silent for a long moment, thinking. She knew the situation as well as Farrah did - better, in fact, as she was older and knew her own body. If the musties and the Defenders were on the other side of the mountain, she wouldn't make it to see them. She was simply too tired. Yet, their desperate plea for help had to be carried to them. There seemed little other choice.
"In the morning, you spend a few hours gathering food for yourself, then you leave me here and continue on alone," she replied quietly.
"Momma, no! I can't do that! I can't leave you here! You'll die!"
"Perhaps. There seems to be plenty of food around. If I can manage to gather it, I might live. But that's not important. What is important is that one of us make it to the musties or the Defenders, and ask for their help. And I can't make it, Farrah. I'm just not strong enough - if I try, I'll just go into labor again, and perhaps this time, I'll lose the baby. Maybe even die. You might make it, though. And you have to try. For your father, and all our people."
Farrah firmed her jaw, and crossed her arms. "No, momma. I am not leaving you here."
Bootie sighed. "Farrah, I-"
"No, momma. Don't try to talk me into it. I am not going to do it. If I have to drag you on that travois all the way across the mountains, if I have to drag you just as far beyond as we've come already, even if I have to drag you for the rest of my life I don't care I am not leaving you here!" Farrah yelled.
"Shhhh, dear. Voices carry farther at night," Bootie replied quietly, then smiled a little.
Farrah glared at Bootie in the growing gloom of night, and Bootie gazed back quietly, meeting her gaze. She could feel it. She was no longer looking at the same little mouse-girl she had birthed and raised for fourteen years. She was no longer looking at her daughter, the quiet little mouse that often wept hot tears of grief for her brother when she thought no-one was looking. No, Bootie realized she was now, finally, looking at someone who was every much an adult as she was. She felt proud of her daughter, and yet, at the same time, there was a poignant pang of loss - the quiet sadness of knowing that her little girl had grown.
Bootie reached out to Farrah, smiling sadly. Mother and daughter hugged for a long moment in silence, only the sound of a hoot-owl breaking the stillness.
Finally, Bootie let Farrah go, and they simply sat there beneath the lean-to, holding each other's paws. "Alright, then what do you suggest we do?" Bootie asked quietly, gazing into her daughter's eyes.
Farrah thought about it for a long while, gazing off into the darkness. Finally, she looked up. "I can make wheels for the travois. That will make it easier to pull. And a harness for my shoulders, so I don't get too tired holding it up."
"Dear, it would take weeks to make even one wheel, and we only have your father's small toolkit."
"No, I can cut down a tree two palms thick with the hatchet, then use the saw to cut it crosswise and make four wheels, one for each side of each shaft. We can heat daddy's iron in the fire to drill the holes for the axles, and use some of the nails in his toolkit to hold the wheels in place. Then I could drag you much easier, and you could just rest."
"You'd need a hardwood for the axles. They won't be much thicker than your thumb, and pine would just break," Bootie commented after a moment.
"There's an elm sapling I saw over that way when it was light. It would do. And there's enough of it to where I can make several axles for replacements as we go along, in case one does break."
Bootie nodded, thinking. "That might take a day for you to finish, dear. I don't know if we can wait that long. We have to keep moving, try to stay ahead of the cats - assuming they're still going the same general direction we are. They may have turned. No matter, though - every moment is precious."
"Then I'll get started
tonight," Farrah replied.
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