of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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R'Narr gazed at L'Sala's nude form as she lay beside him in the darkness of his pavilion, his cat's eyes easily spotting her in the gloom. Gently, he stroked his paw over her flat stomach, and smiled. L'Sala purred, and smiled back. They gazed at each other in silence, his paw resting gently on her stomach, both of them saying nothing, simply smiling.
It was with some relief that R'Narr had noted that she had said nothing about his confession of love for her since the moment he uttered the words several days ago. The whole incident had left him very embarrassed. More, as he thought about it, he wasn't really sure where he stood with her at all.
Part of him believed she could not love him. She was, after all, far more than an ordinary female - she was a Mentalt. If the legends were true, they didn't even have emotions. Years of rigorous training at T'Masa Keep burned all traces of emotion from their hearts and minds. R'Narr's confession of love for her was as insipid as if he'd confessed to be in love with a tree, or a stone.
Yet... She had wept.
'Did she weep for my son?' R'Narr wondered, for perhaps the hundredth time. R'Narr hadn't asked her about it. Just as she had not mentioned his own foolish words, he had not mentioned her own tears. Instead, both incidents simply hung silently over them, almost as a balance.
R'Narr quietly traced the outline of her navel with a fingertip, and L'sala purred again. 'I wonder... Does she carry my child?' he thought. They had coupled several times, and she-cats came into heat five times a year. It was entirely possible she did. R'Narr looked to her face, an eyebrow raised. He was about to ask her, when she simply smiled and shook her head.
"Purr... My lord, if you are wondering if I carry your child, I do not. I have been using Djada-weed to prevent it, as I am in heat at the moment."
"Mrr? Why prevent it? Am I no longer worthy of siring a child with a Mentalt?" he asked, and was somewhat surprised to discover that he was, strangely, disappointed by her revelation. Djada-weed was bitter and vile to the tastebud of a cat, and its effects were well known. Cattle, goats and sheep that ate it were unable to conceive, the effect lasting several days even after they had stopped eating it. The cats had discovered ages ago that it worked on any female mammal that ate it, though none knew why. Animals only ate it when other fodder had gone, however, as it apparently tasted vile to them, as well.
L'Sala shook her head, purring, and placed her paw over R'Narr's. "Purr... Far from it, my lord. I do not carry your child because you have not given me permission to."
R'Narr simply blinked in surprise for a moment. "Mrr... I... I didn't think you would need my permission."
"Mrr... I want nothing to influence your decision, my lord. Whether you choose to keep me when this is over, or send me away... I want your decision to be without bias. Were I pregnant, you might choose to keep me, though you truly did not want me."
"Mrr... I... I did not know I had the option of keeping you, L'Sala. I thought... I thought that you would be eager to return to T'Masa Keep, once this is all over."
L'Sala was silent for a long moment, gazing into R'Narr's face, judging him carefully by his expression, his tone of voice, the shift of his whiskers... Finally, she shook her head. "Mrr... Hardly, my lord. Returning to T'Masa is, perhaps, the last thing I want."
"Mrr? Why? What do you want, then?" R'Narr asked in surprise.
L'Sala gazed at R'narr in silence for a long moment, then shook her head. "Mrr... I may not say, my lord."
"Mrowrrr... And why not?"
"Miao... My lord, if I did say it, you would not believe me."
"Mrr... Try me," R'Narr replied, gazing back at her.
L'Sala hesitated. R'Narr tried to read her expression, but could not. What did it really mean when he knew he was looking at a Mentalt? Yes, she looked pensive... But was she?
Finally, she seemed to come to a decision, and spoke. "Miao... My lord, you once told me you loved me... This was something that shamed you, as you felt it was as though you had announced you were in love with a stone. You thought I was laughing at you, inside."
R'Narr nodded, frowning, but said nothing. It was already embarrassing enough that he'd said it, and admitted he was an old fool.
"Mew... My lord, I was not laughing," L'Sala finished quietly.
R'Narr stared in shock and surprise. 'A trick... It has to be! Mentalts cannot feel love... Can they?' he wondered, his heart filling with hope, even against his best judgement.
"Miao... My lord, I know that you do not believe me - and still, the word has not yet passed my lips. Yet, it is true. I cannot say it and have you believe it - and with good reason," L'Sala said, and paused. Lowering her gaze, she continued, her voice barely above a whisper. "Mew... It is against the rules of our order. It is against all of our training. I have chosen an action that will, once discovered, cause me to be cast out of the order. I shall never see my mother, grandmother, or my friends again. Having taken this path, even if you do not accept me, I cannot return. To the nuns of T'Masa Keep, I shall always be an outcast, whatever your decision, and shall live my life in shame and ignominy. Yet, even this I cannot prove to you with merely my words. You know as well as any that we Mentalts can control our emotions, and lie quite well. Even if I were foolish enough to simply say the words, you still would not believe me. You would believe it to be a lie, another Manipulation. Thus, I shall not say how I feel. I shall prove it, instead."
"Mrr? Prove it? How?" R'Narr asked, his ears cocked curiously.
"Mew... I can only prove it with my actions, my lord," she replied, her voice very small.
R'Narr gazed at her, considering her words. She was right, and he knew it. If she simply said 'Yes, R'Narr V'Nass, I love you with all my heart,' he would instantly disbelieve her. He knew it couldn't be true. Yes, it was what his heart hoped for and wished for, and was the subject of many an idle thought, yet... She was right. If she simply said it, he would not believe it, and think it to be a Manipulation. Even know, having said what she had, there was still a small, suspicious part of him, the part that had foiled many a female's Manipulation before... A part of him that whispered it was still, every word, a lie.
R'Narr gazed into her face, but she did not return his gaze. Instead, she kept her eyes lowered. 'Test her...' the little suspicious part of his mind said. Yet, R'Narr had no idea how. There was no test he could think of that would determine the truth of her feelings, save to simply watch her, and allow her to prove herself to him. Still, at the same time, R'Narr's heart filled with hope and joy at the possibility that she might not be lying... That what she'd said might, indeed be true.
"Purr... You love me," he said at last, tossing her own words back into her face. Yet his words were not entirely calculated. Part of him was also rejoicing.
L'Sala said nothing in reply, and kept her gaze averted.
R'Narr lifted his paw to her chin, lifting her gaze and looking into her eyes. He smiled warmly at her, and, slowly, she smiled back.
They gazed at each other in silence for a long moment. There was, simply, nothing more that could be said.
A sudden voice from outside his pavilion broke the spell of the quiet moment. "Mrowl! General! There is a problem! I apologize if I am intruding, but..." Captain D'Viall called.
"Miao... What is it, Captain?" R'Narr called, turning his head to the entrance of the pavilion. The tent-flap was still closed - Captain D'Viall had enough sense to not simply barge in.
"Mrowl... One of our scouts is missing, my lord."
"Mrr... I'll be out in a moment," R'Narr called, and rolled to his feet. He spent a moment slipping on his doublet and breeches, then paused. Grinning, he knelt beside L'Sala, and nuzzled her gently. L'Sala nuzzled him back, and smiled. She said nothing, but her gaze was enough. Once L'Sala had pulled the blanket to cover herself, R'Narr turned to the entrance of the pavilion, and stepped outside.
A few minutes later, R'Narr stood next to Captain D'Viall and one of the scouts at the northeastern perimeter of their camp. R'Narr had just finished listening to the scout's explanation, and was not pleased. "Mrr... And how long has he been missing, Captain?"
"Mrow... He's an hour overdue, General," Captain D'Viall replied, looking deep into the darkened shadows of the forest with the keen night-vision of a cat.
R'Narr nodded, then looked to the scout standing by D'Viall. "Mrr... And you're certain you heard a shot?"
The scout nodded. "Mrowr... Positive, General - though it was muffled by distance."
"Mrr... Could he have encountered a bear, and shot at it?" the Captain wondered aloud.
The scout shook his head. "Mrowl... No, Captain. Bears see poorly at night, and would all be sleeping. It isn't quite three hours to dawn, and they would hardly be about at this time of night. Also, the sound was... Sharper than the report of our own guns. Higher pitched. As though the gun was of a smaller caliber."
"Mrr... Not one of the weapons of the mus, then, either..." Captain D'Viall muttered, thinking.
R'Narr nodded, casting his gaze over the darkened forest again, shivering slightly as the cool night breeze penetrated his doublet. As he looked into the darkness that surrounded his camp, the fur on the back of his neck slowly fluffed out. Yet, it was not from the chill, but from something deeper... R'Narr always attributed these gut-feelings to years of battle experience - though, in truth, he had always had a seeming 'sixth sense' for danger, and it had served him well over the years.
Finally, R'Narr came to a decision. "Mrr... Captain D'Viall, we break camp immediately. I want us gone from here before first light. Something is out there... And every instinct I have says it's probably an enemy."
Captain D'Viall bowed. "Mrowr! It shall be as you command, General!"
R'Narr turned and trotted back to
his pavilion to fetch L'Sala. There would be time enough a few
days hence, in his castle, to work out what existed between them.
For now, every instinct he had said that they needed to be gone
from these woods - and now. There was a battle
brewing... He could feel it in his bones. And somehow, R'Narr
knew that if stayed to fight it, he would almost certainly die.
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