of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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"Fsst! My son is a fool!" R'Narr snarled, wadding the parchment into a ball.
Captain D'Viall paused, then decided it would be best to make a polite withdrawal. The news in the message hadn't been good apparently, and there wasn't anything he could do or say to make it any better. "Mrowrrr... By your leave, general, I still have to check the perimeter of our camp tonight."
R'Narr dismissed the captain with a curt nod, and turned his gaze to the crumpled parchment in his paw, hardly noticing as the captain backed out of the pavilion. "Fsst! I told him to wait until I returned before launching any attack!"
L'Sala was silent for a moment, sitting on R'Narr's cot, then looked up. "Miao... It is my mentation, my lord, that he may not have had any choice in the matter. Many things could have happened to force his paw. D'Vring and D'Lahst could have grown restless with inactivity, far from their lands. Or perhaps their troops grew restless instead. Or perhaps the mus had a weakness he noticed, and decided to exploit. Or perhaps they launched an attack, and he was forced to respond. Or, perhaps-"
"Fsst! All of that means nothing, L'Sala! If he was to launch an attack anywhere for any of the reasons you mentioned, it should have been in the south, through T'Mrr lands! The mus in the south are weak, their numbers worn down by years of fighting us! He could have crushed them easily with the warriors he has under his claw!"
"Miao... Perhaps, my lord, but then he would have had to face the mus, Xaa'ap'Gasha - the one known to our people far and wide as 'The Slayer.'"
"Fsst! And with that many troops at his back, he'd have killed him easily! But no, my son is a coward! He fears that rat!"
"Miao... Perhaps, my lord, but it is better this way. Had he killed Xaa'ap'Gasha, the mus would have then had a great martyr to rally them against us, and the war would be almost impossible to stop. There remains, at the moment, hope that we may be able to put an end to it."
R'Narr snarled wordlessly. Even knowing that his son's decision had helped rather than hurt his plans didn't ease the anger in his heart... Or the shame. He sat down on the cot next to L'Sala, grumbling. "Mrrr... Well, at least we're in T'Mrr lands, now. With the supplies we've gotten from them, we'll be able to travel directly to my castle, without stopping. From there, I can try to send word to my son to call off his attack, and return to my castle. Then we can proceed with the rest of the plan."
"Mrow... Yes, my lord," L'Sala replied non-committally. She had warned that gathering supplies from the village they had passed was risky. T'Zama T'Mrr might find out where they were, and make certain deductions. Still, their supplies were low, particularly their supplies of djuducu-fodder. There was little other choice.
R'Narr turned his head, and gazed at L'Sala for a moment. She returned his gaze quietly, her expression impassive, as usual. At night, when the camp was quiet, she might come to him - or she might not. R'Narr had never asked her to couple with him, nor had she ever asked him, beyond that first time. She would either come, or she wouldn't. R'Narr found, in the end, it was better that way. Better to think of it as merely scratching a mutual itch than anything deeper. His heart wanted more, but he knew there would never be more. She was a Mentalt - they didn't feel love. Still, she was so beautiful...
R'Narr flicked his tail, tossing aside his feelings again, and rose from the cot. 'Bah. You're a fool to even think such thoughts, R'Narr,' he thought, and snarled quietly. 'Oh, yes. The perfect mate for you, old tom. A mind as sharp as the keenest sword, a body as soft and inviting as a dream... Oh, yes. The perfect mate.' R'Narr sneered at himself. 'Bah! As if she would even consider it! I must be going senile.'
"Mrrr... Get out."
L'Sala blinked. "Mrow? Have I done something wrong, my lord?"
"Mrowrrr... No, you have not. Now get out."
L'Sala rose quietly, and stood behind R'Narr, watching his tail flick back and forth in irritation. For a long moment, she did not move. She simply watched him. "Miao... My lord, I will do as you ask, but please... I can see there is something on your mind, and it is my mentation it has something to do with me. Tell me... What is it?"
"Mrr... An old tom's fantasies, nothing more. Now get out."
L'Sala did not reply, yet did not leave. Finally, she spoke, her voice soft. "Purr... You love me."
R'Narr snarled. "Fsst! Yes! Though I know it is stupid, though I know it is merely a dream, though I know you are now probably laughing at me for being an old fool, yes, I do!" he replied, and turned to face her, his fangs bared in a snarl of rage.
"Purr... My lord, I-"
But what L'Sala was about to say would be lost for the moment, because just then a shout from one of the perimeter-guards rang throughout the camp. "Mrowr! Riders approaching from the north!"
R'Narr snarled again, then turned and stepped out of the pavilion.
L'Sala stood there for a moment, her face a mixture of sadness and frustration for several heartbeats. 'No, R'Narr... I wasn't laughing,' she thought at his back.
L'Sala calmed herself with an effort while R'Narr shouted orders outside the pavilion. The moment had been lost, and would not come again. Certainly, she could tell him her feelings later - but it was unlikely he would believe her. His anger and embarrassment would simmer deep in his heart, and by evening, even if she told him the truth, he would think it was another Manipulation. Indeed, after a confession like that, it was unlikely R'Narr would even wish to lie with her anymore - his confession would hang between them, a humiliation he would not be able to bear. L'Sala sighed, and started to step to the entrance of the pavilion to join R'Narr, but then stopped.
'No. I will not let this die so easily,' she thought to herself.
Then, for the first time in her life since she had passed the Test of the Initiate and become elevated above the nuns of T'Masa Keep, becoming recognized as a true Mentalt by her peers and bestowing great honor on her mother and grandmother, L'Sala did something she never thought she would do. It was something totally against the rules of her order, and something she never thought any Mentalt was even capable of.
She began a mentation for her own benefit.
To the nuns of T'Masa Keep, this was a crime. She knew that if she were found out, she would be cast out of their order. She would never see her friends, her mother or her grandmother again, and would live her life in shame and ignominy. The training a Mentalt received was never to be used for personal gain - only for the gain of their race and their culture as a whole. For a moment, she hesitated. Was he really worth it? Was R'Narr V'Nass truly worth giving up everything for?
For a long moment, L'Sala hesitated at that question.
Finally, she flicked her tail, casting aside her doubt. 'Yes. He is.' She was never more certain of a decision in her life. Though she would give up everything - her family, her friends, her pride, her honor, the respect of her peers, everything she had ever valued in her life - she would have him.
L'Sala pulled her cloak tight about herself, and stepped out of the pavilion just as R'Narr was coming back to fetch her. "Fsst! L'Sala, it's T'Zama T'Mrr. She's brought two hundred riders, and they've already got us encircled."
"Miao... Fighting, then, doesn't seem to be an option, my lord."
R'Narr spat. "Mrowr... Oh, no, L'Sala - you misunderstand her completely! She's not here to fight, far from it! She simply wants to share a meal with me, as a guest on her lands! Why, she's even brought a cow for us to butcher and divide among my warriors!" he replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Fsst! Somehow, she's found out about the Little Ones!"
"Miao... Unlikely, my lord. Certainly, she may have heard they exist from mus prisoners, and she may even have heard they exist somewhere to the south. As to finding out that we have the lot of them, that seems very unlikely. It seems more likely she is guessing, based on what she knows. She knows the supplies we requested, and undoubtedly her warriors who brought the supplies reported that we had three covered wagons with us. She also may know the emperor sent you on a special mission, and she is certainly aware that we came from the south, beyond the mountains. Other than that, she would be guessing. She may have correctly concluded we have them, but she does not know for certain. No, my lord, she knows nothing for certain - yet."
R'Narr nodded. "Mrr... Alright. I've asked for a few minutes to change out of my armor. All we can do is hope the wind doesn't shift, and she smells them," R'Narr said, and gestured at his pavilion. "Come."
"Miao... My lord, I'm sorry, but I have nothing to change into. This cloak and what is beneath is all the Shazad allowed me to have."
R'Narr chuckled. "Mrr... No, I want to work out signals with you so you can tell me what you read from their expressions during the conversation. Besides - she's brought D'Main and D'Larin, her sons, with her. If anything, your dress will serve as a distraction to them."
L'Sala tipped her head, and
smiled wryly. "Purr... I shall attempt to be as
distracting as possible without being too obvious, my
lord," she replied, and shifted her elbow, parting her cloak
and giving R'Narr a tantalizing glimpse of her thigh. R'Narr
simply chuckled again, and they walked into the pavilion
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