of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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"That's the last of them, my lord," Y'dahk said, pointing.
Xaa nodded. The remnants of the cats' forces had fled across the Silver River, which marked the borders between the lands of the mus and those of the cats here in the northlands. As he watched from the nearby hill, the last of the cats splashed out of the river, and ran into the forest on the other side. His own army was gathered on at the base of the hill, in ranks, facing the river and waiting for the decision to advance or withdraw.
The mus had gone from being outnumbered, demoralized and scattered to being victorious - and their victory was total, their casualties minimal. The mus had won. More, they now had ample supplies, having captured the cats' entire supply-train two days earlier. They had enough supplies now to where they could continue fighting until late fall, if they wished. But there was no longer any need.
Xaa sighed, thinking of Merle, and going home. Then, with a start, he remembered - she wouldn't be there.
She would be with O'dmemet, trying to rescue the Little Ones.
That, in itself, was probably quite dangerous. They would have to penetrate deep into the lands of the cats, and intercept the party of warriors that had captured the Little Ones before they reached their destination. O'dmemet had taken two hundred warriors with him - all that W'mefa could spare - but it was possible they had run into the forces of the cats, and been wiped out. In fact, it was highly likely. It would take skilled scouts to even have a chance to avoid the cats' forces - but two hundred riders would make that extremely difficult. Xaa doubted even he could sneak that many through the cats' lands. Almost certainly they had run across a patrol, or a village, or something. Almost certainly word had spread of their presence within the cats' lands. With luck, they might have succeeded. Yet, Xaa knew it wasn't likely.
It was far more likely he would never see Merle alive again.
This was the thought that had been in his mind since the night he spoke with P'jasta - the realization that even if he succeeded against impossible odds, even if he somehow managed to survive, much less win, it wouldn't matter. Merle was, most likely, dead - or worse, a captive of the cats.
Xaa hadn't wanted to send her along. Yet, he knew there was no other choice. Someone had to go with O'dmemet to translate for the mice, should O'dmemet manage to free them. If Byarl sent any of his people along to help, it would improve O'dmemet's chances of survival and success, but again someone would be needed to translate - Byarl's command of the language of the mus was only fair, at best. Just as Xaa was where he needed to be, Merle was where she needed to be. There simply was no other choice.
"Fate," Xaa muttered, shifting in his saddle.
"So sorry, my lord?" Lord Y'dahk asked, an eyebrow raised.
Xaa shook his head. "Nothing."
"Yes, my lord."
Xaa sighed quietly, lost in his own thoughts.
After a long moment, Y'dahk spoke again. "What now, my lord?"
"Hrm?" Xaa replied, looking up.
"Well, they flee our lands - we have them defeated. This was, more than likely, the majority of their forces. It may be years before they can muster this kind of an army again. What do we do now?"
Xaa opened his mouth to reply, then paused. As he gazed at the fleeing cats, the memory of a day long ago came to his mind, unbidden.
It was five years ago, nearly to the day, that the T'Chang clan had laid siege to his castle. Five years ago, Xaa had lost all his servants and nearly all his vassals in a single stroke - what pitiful few remained afterwards, the cats had managed to kill over the years. Old friends, many of them - all dead. Most, the cats had tortured to death just outside the walls of his castle, on that dark, dark day half a decade ago. Xaa could still hear their screams for mercy echoing in his mind, even now.
Five years ago, he had lost his wife to the poisons of the cats. She died in a screaming, frothing fit of madness. She never even knew that the one who held her, trying to comfort her, the one she sank her teeth deep into in the last, final spasm before she died, was her beloved mate. The scar on his shoulder burned in Xaa's mind as he thought of his dead wife, and thought of his daughter, rendered helpless for years by the same poisons.
But now, the war was over...
Or was it?
"My lord? What do we do now?"
Xaa bared his fangs, his golden, predator's eyes blazing with fury. "Now we kill them," he growled.
Y'dahk blinked. "My lord?"
"They will be back. They will always come back. They will fight us and kill us because they are worse than animals. They have no honor, no feelings - all they know is the joy of killing. They flee us today, yes. But in a year, perhaps two, they will be back. And they will keep coming back, over and over and over because they are little more than rabid bears, killing and killing and killing in their madness until there is nothing left to kill but each other! But we will put an end to this, forever! We will carve our marks into their backs so deeply that they will NEVER think of attacking us again!" Xaa roared, then turned to look at Y'dahk. "What shall we do, you ask?!"
"Yes, my lord," Y'dahk replied, startled.
"We shall KILL THEM ALL!" Xaa roared, and drew his sword. Clapping his heels to his bird, he rode down the hill, before his waiting army. "My warriors! For all those you have lost to the stinking cats! For your friends! For your loved ones! For your homes! For your clans! For our people!" Xaa roared, then turned to face the river. "Forward!"
The army of the northlands roared
their approval, and followed Xaa as he rode into the river.
Y'dahk clapped his heels to his mount, and rode after his
liege-lord. Though he knew not where this path might lead, he
could feel in his heart that this was their destiny.
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