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

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"Mrowrrr! Kill her, my lord!"

R'Narr blinked in stunned surprise. "Mrow? What? Why?"

"Mrowrrr! I beg you, my lord, kill the horse!" L'Sala screamed, clapping her paws to the sides of her head and shutting her eyes tight.

A rumble distracted him, and R'Narr looked forward again. The Slayer pointed to L'Sala, an eyebrow raised, rumbling again what was obviously a question. R'Narr snarled - he didn't speak the language of the mus, but the question was obvious. "Fsst! I don't know what in the nine hells is the matter with her! She seems to be afraid of your horse-slave, that's all I know!"

"Her?" The Slayer rumbled in the language of the cats, jerking a thumb at the horse. His accent was atrocious, but he was understandable. The other twenty mus standing behind him looked on with expressions ranging from simple curiosity to astonishment. R'Narr's own warriors looked equally confused.

"Mrowrrr... Yes, her," R'Narr replied, trying to control himself. This meeting was too important to risk souring it - yet, L'Sala, inexplicably, seemed to have lost her senses.

"Mrowrrrrr! My lord, if you cannot kill her, then kill me! Quickly!" L'Sala shrieked.

R'Narr boggled. "Fsst! Have you gone completely mad?!"

In reply, L'Sala simply dropped to her knees, her eyes shut tight and her paws gripping the sides of her head, and began a keening wail, rocking back and forth.

The Slayer turned, rumbling something at the horse. As R'Narr stood, dumbfounded and completely at a loss as to what to do, The Little One that stood beside the horse shook her head, and squeaked something in reply. The Slayer then shrugged, and snapped a curt command, pointing back to the hill on which the non-combatants of the mus were. The horse nodded, turned, and trotted off. The Slayer then turned back to R'Narr, and spoke again. "There. She's gone."

L'Sala looked up. "Mrowrrr... Is the horse-slave truly gone, my lord?" she asked, looking around.

R'Narr nodded, bewildered. "Mrow... Yes."

L'Sala's face instantly smoothed, and she rose gracefully to her feet. "Mrr... Thank you, my lord," she replied, totally calm.

R'Narr blinked. "Mrowrrr... What in the nine hells is the matter with you?!"

L'Sala looked at R'Narr quietly for a moment, her face expressionless. Finally, she spoke. "Miao... My lord, I cannot explain it here. Later, for your ears alone, I will explain it. But not here."

R'Narr snarled wordlessly. Finally, he looked into her eyes. "Mrr... But you are alright, now?"

L'Sala nodded. "Miao... Yes, my lord."

"Mrr... Alright, can you translate for us? I want no misunderstandings in this meeting, and though he appears to speak our language, I can barely understand his atrocious accent. Still, if you don't feel up to it..."

"Miao... I am fine, my lord," L'Sala replied calmly, then looked to The Slayer. "Miao... My lord, I beg your forgiveness for having caused this interruption, but now we must begin the negotiations. I can tell by the expression on the face of Xaa'ap'Gasha, the one we call The Slayer, that he grows annoyed, and believes this to be some kind of delaying tactic."

"You're right, cat. I agreed to wait and speak with you before you released the Little Ones to our possession only because I did not wish to risk any of them being injured in a battle between us - but I won't wait much longer. I've several thousand riders surrounding you, now, all waiting for my command. They have spent the last several weeks killing cats, and they will be more than happy to finish off what remains here, now that you've been so kind as to gather the last in one spot for us," Xaa rumbled in his own language, the his paws open and loose, his stance relaxed, yet ready.

L'Sala translated what Xaa had said, and R'Narr suppressed a quiet snarl. "Mrr... Alright. That we understand each other, Slayer, let me begin by saying this: I've no light feelings for you. I loathe and despise you. You've killed my son."

Xaa nodded. "And I've no light feelings for you or your people. Your people killed my wife, and my unborn child. But as for your son, honor demands that I tell you one thing about him."

"Fsst! What?" R'Narr snapped, his tail flicking in irritation once L'Sala had translated Xaa's words.

"I once thought him to be a coward, because he withdrew at the Battle of Three Creeks. I was wrong. He died bravely, and with honor," Xaa replied, and bowed carefully, never taking his eyes from R'Narr.

R'Narr started at L'Sala's translation, then slowly returned the bow, a bemused expression on his face. "Mrr... Coming from his enemy, I take that as a compliment of the highest order, Slayer."

"It was meant to be," Xaa replied, straightening up and resuming his previous, 'ready' stance.

R'Narr shook his head, setting aside his feelings about his son's death for the moment with a flick of his tail. "Mrr... I know you are probably wondering what conditions we want to release the Little Ones to you. Well, I have but one: You must sit with me, and hear me out. If you will agree to that, I will release them to you immediately. I grant that you could take them if you wished, and you could easily kill us all to do it. I hope, however, that you will consider this request, instead."

Xaa snorted. "So sorry, but why should I? What could you possibly tell me that I may be interested in hearing? A plea for mercy for you and your warriors? Bah! In a year, perhaps two, you'll be at the gates of one of our castles again, ready to kill! That's all your people know, and it's all you understand! You have no art, no culture, nothing other than the lust to kill! No, if it's mercy you want, we shall give you the Mercy of the Mus - a swift death, as painless as possible," Xaa growled, and the twenty mus behind him nodded in agreement.

L'Sala spoke the moment she had finished her translation. "Mrowr... My lord, I must tell you - their word for mercy does not have the same meaning as ours. To us, the word implies compassion that forbears punishing even when justice demands it. To the mus, mercy implies the administration of a punishment that is swift and ended quickly. There is no concept for escaping the punishment that justice may demand contained in their word for mercy - in their culture, the guilty are always punished to a degree befitting their crime. A request for mercy is, to them, a request that the punishment be simple, fair, and ended quickly, with no further penance or recrimination against the accused."

R'Narr nodded. He wasn't about to ask for mercy, anyway - though the information was useful. It told him what The Slayer was actually thinking. R'Narr looked into Xaa's eyes. "Mrr... I am not here to ask for your mercy. I ask for you to listen," R'Narr replied, then paused. "Mrr... You are wrong about us. Blood and death is not all we think of. We, the clans of the eastern hinterlands, also know honor, and duty. Yet, there is more. You think that you killed my son?" R'Narr asked, then shook his head. "Fsst! You did not. The Shazad killed my son, not you! For if a lord sends his warrior into a cave, telling them to fight whatever they may encounter there, and they die to a bear, who is responsible for the warrior's death, the bear, the warrior, or the lord who foolishly gave the order?" R'Narr snarled, then drew himself to his full height, nearly a head taller than Xaa.

"Fsst! It was Shazad D'Zhin who ordered this war begun, it was by his orders the poisons that killed your mate and child be developed, and it was by his orders that my son attacked the richer northern provinces of your lands, rather than the more easily-conquered southern provinces! This war was started because in the west, our numbers are great, and our lands insufficient. The Shazad decided that he would spark a war, and simply take the lands we needed from your people. But we of the eastern hinterlands no longer agree - particularly since now, I have learned this whole war was unnecessary! To the south, beyond the mountains, are endless leagues of untamed wilderness! It is my plan to wrest the throne from D'Zhin, and end this war, turning our people to the south, as they should have gone years before!" R'Narr said, gesturing southwards with a paw, then crossed his arms. "Mrr... And that is what I wished to discuss with you. Not your mercy, or your forgiveness. I wished to discuss an alliance with you, against Shazad D'Zhin, your true enemy, and mine."

L'Sala glanced nervously at R'Narr for a moment before she managed to smooth her expression. He was, without thinking about it, assuming the physical posture and tone of voice of a tom trying to use his skill of Domination on another. Yet, Xaa'ap'Gasha seemed unaffected. L'Sala studied the mus carefully, and those behind him. They seemed affected - their paws crept almost imperceptibly closer the hilts of their swords, and their tails flicked in agitation. Yet, The Slayer was not. L'Sala studied The Slayer's expression as he gazed back at R'Narr, considering what had been said. After a moment, L'Sala realized that The Slayer simply did not fear R'Narr - or any other cat, for that matter. He had slain hundreds personally, and was, perhaps, the most deadly warrior the mus had ever produced. He did not fear R'Narr, simply because he knew in his heart he could kill him. L'Sala studied his stance, his posture and his expression, she realized that he probably could. R'Narr was a master swordsman - one of the best. Still, just from the way he carried himself, L'Sala realized The Slayer was easily R'Narr's equal - and possibly his better.

"So, you mean to ally with us, rebel against your emperor, seize his throne and become emperor yourself?" Xaa rumbled.

"Mrr... That I do," R'Narr replied.

"And were we to help you, what would be in it for us?"

"Mrr... Peace. So long as I am Shazad, no cat will ever raise a paw against your people again."

"There is peace in death, as well. With your people dead, ours would finally be able to live in peace," Xaa growled in reply.

L'Sala spoke up suddenly, interrupting R'Narr's snarled retort. "Miao... There is more, Slayer. Trade and commerce between our people would help both of us grow. Then, there is the matter of the slaves that have been taken over the years. We here in the east do not use slaves - we have found the practice to be less than efficient. Thus, most of your people who were taken as slaves are held by the western clans. Were R'Narr to become Shazad, they could be freed. It would take several lifetimes for you to free them by the sword - yet only a few years, were R'Narr to be made Shazad."

R'Narr looked to L'Sala, an eyebrow raised. He hadn't considered that possibility, himself, and was once again reminded how much he needed her by his side. For his part, Xaa simply stroked his whiskers, thinking. In the silence that ensued, Farrah suddenly squeaked. "Lord Xaa! Please! I have to ask you something!"

"Hwaht hyouh hwant?" Xaa rumbled in Farrah's language, turning to face her.

Farrah dashed up hopping before Xaa and gesturing for him to bend down. Xaa knelt before the little mouse, and she whispered intently into his ear, cupping her paw over her muzzle. After a moment, she stopped. Xaa thought about it for a moment, then shrugged. "Ahlraht," he rumbled, and smiled as Farrah hugged him quickly, then dashed back to the rest of the mus, blushing. Xaa rose, and faced R'Narr again. "The Little One, Farrah, asks that you also free the horse-people should you become emperor of your people."

"Mrr? Why?" R'Narr asked, surprised.

"I've no idea. Apparently, she feels indebted to one of them - the one this female here feared," Xaa replied, nodding to L'Sala.

"Fsst! The western clans rely on them for nearly every menial task! Farming, mining, construction... Everything! That would cripple their economies for years!" R'Narr snarled in reply, once L'Sala had translated Xaa's words.

"Miao... My lord, this is true - and, as much of the goods and supplies used here in the east come from the west, it would harm us, as well, unless the mus begin trade with us. Still, in the end, it would serve to your benefit. The western clans would be weakened, making it less likely they would rebel against your rule - they would not be able to afford to pay for the warriors they would need to overcome you," L'Sala interjected.

Xaa made a moue', as a warrior who had to be paid to fight (rather than fighting out of loyalty to his liege, out of tradition or out of duty to his clan) was perhaps one of the lowest things he could think of. R'Narr, however, didn't notice. "Mrr... I agree," he replied, then looked to Xaa. "Mrr... Alright - should I become Shazad, I shall free all the slaves, both the mus we've captured and our horse-slaves. We've held the horses for perhaps six centuries, though, I doubt they can survive on their own. Still, they shall all be freed, and sent to your lands - if I become Shazad."

Xaa thought about it for a long moment, gazing at R'Narr. Finally, he nodded. "I agree to your terms, then. Release the Little Ones now, and I shall sit with you and discuss these things you have spoken of."

"Mrowr! Captain D'Viall, release the Little Ones!"

In a moment, the warriors that surrounded the mice stepped aside, and they dashed towards the safety of the twenty mus that they saw before them. Before they'd gotten halfway there, a sudden shout stopped them in their tracks.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Smith squeaked angrily.

"We-we're leaving! With the Defenders!" Potter squeaked back, and several echoed his words.

"Without our library?! You're going to leave everything we have struggled to save and protect for eight centuries in their paws?!" Smith raged, pointing to the fourth wagon.

"But-but how will we move it, Smith? We don't know anything about those birds, and it's way too much for even all of us to carry!" Potter squeaked in reply.

"Y'dahk - fetch that wagon, please," Xaa rumbled, jerking a thumb at the open wagon, loaded with large chests. "Once you have it, take the Little Ones back to our encampment, and leave them with O'dmemet. Tell our healers to look them over closely - this trip seems to have left them somewhat worse for wear," Xaa remarked, looking over the mice of the Wild Wood. They were filthy, their clothes rumpled and stained, and they looked utterly worn out. Farrah bounced around her father and hugged him tight, and while Smith's expression told Xaa he was happy to see her, he could also see from his eyes that the ordeal had taken a great deal from the little mouse. There was a haunted look to those little black eyes, a look that spoke volumes. Yet, there was also a fire of determination Xaa had never before seen in the gaze of any of the Little Ones. Xaa pushed the thought out of his mind, for the moment - there would be time enough later to find out what had happened to him, and the rest of the mice.

"Yes, my lord," Lord Y'dahk replied, bowing, then mounted his bird. A few moments later, he was leading the birds hitched to the wagon over to the rest of the mus, past them, and out of the cat's defensive square. The mice of the Wild Wood followed quietly, too exhausted to really celebrate their freedom, but the weary smiles on their little faces showing they were happy nonetheless.

Xaa turned back to R'Narr, who was struggling to remain calm and not show how angry he was at losing even the library. A small smile flickered across Xaa's face briefly as he caught R'Narr's discomfort, but it was only for a moment. "Let us begin," he rumbled.

R'Narr nodded, and together, the two warriors sat to discuss the future of their peoples.

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