Legacy of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY

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Xaa shook his head. "No, Merle."

"You will not leave me behind, Xaa," Merle replied firmly, and crossed her arms. Outside, Merle could hear a shout from one of the guards on the castle walls that riders were approaching, but she ignored it. This was far more important.

Xaa didn't reply, he simply finished tying the lacings on his armor. When he was done with that, he tied his sash about his waist, then lifted his swords from the stand on the table in his room, and slipped them into his sash. Finally, he turned to face her. She already was dressed in her little green-dyed leather dress, her pack next to her. Xaa shook his head again. "Merle, you can't come with me. It's simply too dangerous."

"I don't care. You are not leaving me behind. I've fought by your side before, and I'll do so again. It's my duty, given to me by my chief, to guard you and protect you. That, and I love you, and I want to make sure you're alright."

"Yes. And I will want to make sure you are alright. And I'll be constantly thinking about you instead of thinking about what I need to do to win, and constantly trying to protect you instead of making sure I protect myself. And as such, I may lose and die anyway. Is that what you want?"

Merle started in surprise. She hadn't thought about it that way. Still, she was determined. "No, that's not what I want, and you know it!" she snapped.

Xaa knelt (to bring his head down nearer her level), and leaned forward, nuzzling her gently. After a moment, Merle nuzzled him back. "Merle... Can't you understand that I can't possibly take you with me? I need to know you are safe and sound, I can't have my mind distracted worrying about you."

Merle threw her arms around his neck, hugging him tight. "I'll do anything you say, and I won't be in the way. I'm not totally helpless you know - I fought with you against D'Sparil T'Chang and his warriors. I'd follow your orders, just like then, okay?" she asked, then let go of his neck, leaning back to glower at him. "You yourself said that we musties are all warrior-caste! I'm a warrior, just like you, and I will not be left behind! By the traditions of your people and mine, I can come if I want!"

"Well, yes... But you don't even have any armor," Xaa replied grasping at straws.

Merle blanched. "Well... You know I'm too small to wear any adult-size armor, and it would take weeks to make armor my size. I'll just be really careful."

"No, Merle. You'd have to at least have armor. Yes, by the traditions of our people you can ride with me if you wish, but you can't go unarmored."

Merle pouted. "That's terribly unfair, you know. It would take me weeks to make any armor for me, even if Var helped."

"Sorry, love, but you would at least have to have armor," Xaa repeated firmly.

"If I had armor, could I go with you?"

Xaa smiled, relieved to have finally grasped something he could use to stop Merle from coming along. "Certainly. You're a warrior, and you're right, you're not helpless. If you had armor and you were careful, certainly you could come."

"Okay," Merle replied, suddenly smiling, and walked to the door of Xaa's quarters, opening it. "C'dera? Xaa says I can go if I have some armor."

C'dera stepped up to the door from the hallway, carrying a box in her paws. "Why, isn't that convenient, my lady? I happen to have the armor I gave to my son for his third birthday, right here."

Xaa simply blinked in surprise as C'dera knelt and set the box down before Merle. C'dera then opened the box, pulling out the small-sized armor. "Yes, my son was very pleased when my mate and I gave him this armor, years ago. He wanted so much to have a full suit, just like his father - but of course he was so young, he never expected to get it, as we'd already told him he'd grow out of it too quickly. He wore it for a year thereafter, and his little friends were so jealous I thought they would just die," C'dera explained, smiling. "You will take good care of it, won't you, my lady? It's quite precious to me."

"Of course, C'dera," Merle replied, smiling.

Xaa continued to stare at the two of them as C'dera helped Merle don the armor, carefully lacing it up for her. By the time Merle had the armored war-boots and the skirt-plates on, he was grinning. By the time she had the armored sleeves on, he had begun to chuckle. By the time C'dera had finished lacing up the cuirass and was pulling the small helmet out of the box, he was roaring with laughter. "T'cheht! Hyouh tooh t'cheht Xaa!" he roared in Merle's language, his accent still atrocious.

Merle grinned. "Actually, the word is 'tricked', but yes, we did," she replied in her own language, trying on the helmet to see if it would fit.

"My lord, if you are saying that Lady Merle and I deceived you, then yes, we did. I must add, however, that I was only doing my duty to her," C'dera added.

Xaa waved off C'dera's explanation, still grinning. "I am not offended. Far from it. I am simply thinking that in two years, with the two of you working against me, I may have a problem."

To Merle's surprise, C'dera bowed low, placing her forehead on the floor. "My lord, we would never conspire against you. We both love you dearly, and we want to see you come home safe to us. Yet, of the two of us, only one is best equipped to insure that - your future mate, Lady Merle. I may be skilled at archery, but I have never fought in a battle before, and certainly never tried to fire my bow while riding. Lady Merle has fought by your side in the past, and she is willing and able to do so again. We conspired, yes - but not against you, my lord. We conspired for you."

Merle imitated C'dera, bowing low, and found it was actually somewhat difficult - the armor didn't let her bend much at the waist. "She's right, Xaa. I know that to you, the fight with D'Sparil T'Chang was nothing - a small skirmish. But I showed you then that I can fight by your side, and I will show you again, if you'll only give me a chance."

Xaa chuckled, gently reaching out a callused paw to each of them and lifting them back up again. "Stop that. C'dera, I am not upset. Don't waste an apology when I am happy with you."

C'dera nodded, smiling. She had known that, of course, just from his laughter. Still, deceiving him in this manner was somewhat disrespectful, and she had wanted to make sure that he knew her true feelings about him. "Thank you, my lord."

Xaa then looked to Merle, who was struggling to adjust the chin-strap of the helmet. "And Merle, you can go. But I want you to be careful, and follow my commands closely. This is war, not a simple ambush, like it was with D'Sparil," he said, then reached out and grasped the edges of her helmet in his paws, tugging it around.

Merle staggered for a moment as Xaa tugged this way and that on the helmet. "Hey!" she yelped.

"It seems to fit alright. It's important it not slip around on your head. That might blind you in a fight," Xaa said, then grabbed the edges of the cuirass Merle was wearing and tugged it around. "This needs to be a little looser, C'dera. She'll need to be able to take deep breaths in it."

"Yes, my lord," C'dera replied, and reached for the lacings.

"Thank you - it was kind of squishing my breasts," Merle replied, blushing again. She was glad she was a mustie, and her furry ears didn't show her blush like those of a mus or a mouse.

"And how do the boots fit, Merle?"

Merle grinned. Xaa was taking her completely seriously, and helping her get ready. This thrilled her greatly. "They fit fine, but they're heavy. That steel toe-cap and the plate along the back make them weigh a lot."

"You'll get used to it," Xaa replied, and examined the chainmail sleeves. "C'dera, these gloves are far too large for her. I'm going to loosen the lacings and take them off. She'll never be able to manage her sling or her knife with them."

"Yes, my lord," C'dera replied, still working on the lacings for the cuirass.

Finally, they were done. Merle looked herself over, and grinned. "How do I look?"

"Like a proper warrior," Xaa replied, grinning back.

"Not quite, my lord," C'dera replied, looking Merle over. "There is still one thing missing - and without it, she shouldn't be allowed to go with you at all. She would dishonor herself, and you," she said with mock-gravity.

"Ah - yes. You're right," Xaa replied, looking Merle over again and nodding.

"What? What am I missing?!" Merle yelped.

C'dera smiled, reaching into the box again and producing a small sash, then tying it about Merle's waist. She then produced to small swords, miniature versions of the ones Xaa wore, one long and one short. She slipped them into the sash, and smiled again.

Merle grinned, and looked them over, tugging on the hilt of the smaller one. To her surprise, it simply slid out of the sash. "Oh! It's not real! It's just a stick made to look like a sheathed sword."

"No, it is what my son wore with this. He was a bit too young to give a real blade to," C'dera replied with a smile.

Xaa grinned, then loosened the chin-strap for Merle's helmet and pulled it off. "Just carry the helmet with you until you're ready to ride, Merle. It can get quite hot."


Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. C'dera rose to answer it, opening the door to reveal Lord Jamat, a tan-furred mus who was one of the landless warriors who had sworn fealty to Xaa and guarded his castle. "Greetings, my lord, Lady Merle, Lady Vhross," Lord Jamat called, and bowed.

"Greetings, Lord Jamat," Xaa replied formally, and the three of them bowed in return. "What brings you to here, to Castle W'mefa? Is there a problem?"

Jamat straightened up, and frowned. "Possibly, my lord - we aren't sure. One of the musties came to the castle two days ago, and said that two Little Ones and a strange, mute female being had been found in the forest. I'm afraid that none of us really has mastered their language yet, so we don't exactly know what the problem is. We only know that one of the Little Ones was pregnant, and has now given birth, and that there seems to be some calamity that brought them here. The third creature, the mute... Well, we have never seen the like before. She is like us, my lord, and yet... Not. It is very strange. She resembles a deer, a bit, but that is the best I can describe her, other than to say she's quite tall. She carried the knife-making mustie, Ayori, to the castle to alert us to the problem. She runs very swiftly, my lord - nearly as swiftly as a djuducu-bird," Jamat explained, then reached to his sash and pulled out a scroll case. "Ayori brought this message from their chief, my lord - it is sealed. Perhaps it explains more?"

Xaa took the scroll case, breaking the seal with a claw and slipping out the parchment. He looked it over, then shook his head. "Chief Byarl still hasn't mastered our written language, nor I his," he said, and gave it to Merle. "Read this for me, love."

Merle nodded, taking the parchment and reading. As her eyes slowly moved over Byarl's careful, precise script, she gasped. When she came to the end, she was visibly shaken.

"What is it, Merle?" Xaa asked, and eyebrow raised at her expression.

"My lady? Is something wrong?" C'dera asked.

"Xaa, we have to get to my village, now!" Merle yelped, so excited she didn't even think to speak in the language of the mus. Of course, Xaa could still understand her.

"Why? What has happened?"

"Byarl says that Bootie and Farrah are there, and-"

"Wait, wait - who are they?"

"Tinker's momma and sister! Byarl says that the cats somehow found out where the mice were living, and captured them all! They must be going to use them against the mus!"

"Hrm..." Xaa replied, and stroked his whiskers.

"My lord, what is it?" C'dera asked.

"Hrm?! I tell you something like this, and all you can say is 'hrm'?!" Merle yelped, switching to the language of the mus. Xaa looked to Merle sharply, and she blanched. "Sorry. It's just that..."

"I understand, Merle. Unfortunately, there isn't anything I can do about it. My path is set - this afternoon, I ride with sixteen of W'mefa's warriors and four of my own, heading north to try to take command of what remains of the armies of the northlands. I can't do anything about what Byarl has said has happened, no matter how much I want to. Far too many are counting on me."

"What has happened, my lord?" Jamat asked.

"The cats have somehow found the location of the village of the Little Ones and captured the lot, all but for two, which escaped and are now in the village of our allies, the musties. Merle thinks the cats intend to use the technology of the Little Ones against us - and I agree with her."

"That is terrible, my lord!" C'dera yelped, surprised and shocked.

"I agree, my lady - what shall we do, Lord Xaa?" Jamat asked.

"Jamat, tell Lord W'mefa what has happened. Tell him that Lady Merle will be riding back to mustie-village with you, immediately. Tell him also I would appreciate it if he could spare Lord O'dmemet and as many riders as he can gather, other than those that will be coming with me, and send them along after her as soon as possible. Perhaps, with luck, O'dmemet can snatch them from the cat's paws. Lady Merle will meet you at the stables, as soon as she's saddled her bird - I charge you with watching over her, as well."

"Yes, my lord," Jamat replied, bowing, then turned and trotted away, back through the door and down the hallway.

"But, Xaa! I was coming with you!" Merle yelped.

"Not anymore, Merle. I need you here. You speak the language of the Little Ones - Lord O'dmemet and Lord W'mefa do not. Chief Byarl speaks our language, but he is hard to understand. No, I need you here. You're the only person who could possibly help. I'm sorry, Merle," he replied, then nuzzled her gently. Merle muzzled him back, disappointed and upset. "Now, get going, love," he rumbled, and smiled.

"Well... Alright, but you be careful!" Merle snapped, fighting back tears.

"You, too, my love," Xaa replied quietly.

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