of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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"What the hell is she doing, Merle?" Xaa rumbled, looking to Farrah.
"I don't know, Xaa - I just don't know," Merle replied, staring in wonder.
Around the center of the mustie's village, the mice stood in a circle - some chittering and squeaking with anger, others silent, watching. The musties had come out of their homes at Fannie's scream, and stood among the mice, also watching silently. There were few mus present - Lord O'dmemet and his warriors were camped nearby, and save for those that had already been chosen to escort the mice back to their village in the morning, all would be returning to Castle W'mefa come dawn. The warriors who were of the army of the northlands had, for the most part, ridden home after the last battle with the cats. A dozen who once were in the service of the late Lord Naash had been accepted as Xaa's vassals, and had stayed with him. They remained in the mustie village, along with Lord Jamat and Lord Y'dahk. The hundred or so servant-caste mus who had entered Xaa's service were, for the moment, also camped with Lord O'dmemet. Xaa had been in the process of arranging with Lord Jamat where all his servant-caste mus would stay - there was an empty village just outside Castle Xaa that would accommodate them all until the repairs on the castle were finished next year - when Farrah had come dashing out of Byarl's home, and this current crisis had begun.
"Stop her! Someone must stop her!" Fannie screamed.
There were murmurs of assent from some of the other mice, but when a few of the males started to edge closer to her, Farrah shouted again. "One step closer and it goes right in the fire!" The mice stopped, squeaking angrily.
Xaa watched the crisis with interest. Farrah stood before the communal cook-fire in the center of the village. Above her head, she held a large cloth scroll-case, ornately embroidered and decorated. Even the two posts passing through the case to hold each half of the scroll were elaborately carved. It was obvious she had taken it from the wagon that contained the library of the mice. Farrah trembled with the effort of holding it above her head - Xaa realized it must be quite heavy for a little mouse. The scroll was very large, and appeared to weigh about a stone. At her feet, Farrah had placed a small axe.
"Farrah, what are you doing?" Byarl called from the crowd, Ellie standing beside him.
"Farrah, stop this, now!" Smith called, his tail lashing. Bootie stood beside him, cradling her son in her arms, watching quietly.
"No, daddy, I will not! It is time for everyone to listen to me! And if you don't, I toss the Law on the fire right now!"
Byarl crossed his arms, wincing slightly as he did so. "Well, Farrah, I'd have to say that you definitely have everyone's attention. Say what it is you wanted to say," he replied dryly.
Farrah nodded. "Alright, I will. My father did what was necessary to save the children of our village. Now, you call for him to be shunned! Would you be happier if all your children were dead?!"
"He murdered my mate!" Fannie screamed.
"Oh, Fannie, shut up," Byarl snapped irritably. The wound in his side still ached quite a bit at times, and this was one of them. "We all know that, it's all you mice talked about on the trip, and it's all you've talked about all day and into the night since you've been back. Yes, we musties are very sad this had to happen - me in particular. I've known Cooper all my life. We played together as pups. Still, Farrah is right. Would you rather your son was dead instead of your mate?"
Fannie simply sputtered - she'd never been spoken to in this way in all her life by a mustie. The musties, when they had lived with the mice, had always been extremely polite. She started an angry retort, when Byarl simply glared at her, baring his fangs. Fannie's voice stilled, and she trembled. Byarl was no longer the sweet, polite ally of the mice, and he was still a dangerous predator in his own right. If what the musties said was true, Byarl had killed one of the cats, himself. Fannie remembered that his "adult name", the name Byarl had been given upon his Coming of Age ceremony, was "Byarl Bearkiller." It hadn't been a whim that had given him that name - he had earned it, helping to kill a bear that charged into village of the musties when Byarl was thirteen. Fannie looked into Byarl's eyes, and trembled again. Byarl was, to her, truly fearsome.
Farrah took advantage of the silence that ensued, and spoke again. "Byarl, Daddy, Merle... ALL of you! Listen to me! The Law of the Mice was wrong! It cost us everything! It cost us our friendship with the mus eight centuries ago, and cost thousands and thousands of our ancestors their lives! It cost us our friendship with the musties, and now, that's cost Mayor Cooper his life!" Farrah shouted, echoing her mother's words. "Now, you are going to shun my father for doing what was necessary to save the children of the village, all because of the law! Well, the Law of the Mice is wrong! We should burn the law before we should allow it to hurt us and cost us anything more! We should make a new law, instead!"
Then, to the shock and horror of all the mice present and the bemusement of the musties and the mus, Farrah dropped the scroll onto the fire.
"No!" came the scream from several mice, and they dashed forward. Farrah swiftly bent down, snatching up the axe she'd placed at her feet, and took a swipe at the closest mice, who leaped back out of range. For several seconds, she held six of the male mice at bay, swinging the axe at them to keep them back.
Suddenly, as Farrah raised the axe again, she felt a firm paw grip it and snatch it from her paws. Farrah spun, only to see Xaa standing behind her, holding the axe in a paw, up and out of her reach. "Noh. Noh mohrr mow-seez dah. Naht toh-deh," he said simply, and clapped his other paw to the back of her dress, lifting her easily from the ground and dropping the axe. He stepped away from the fire, and in a moment, he had set Farrah beside Merle, keeping a firm grip on Farrah's shoulder.
For several seconds there was frantic activity around the campfire as Farmer picked up the axe, flipped the scroll out from the fire, then he and five other males frantically smothered it with their tunics to extinguish the small flames that had started on the fabric case. As the other mice watched nervously, Farmer gently slid the scroll from its case, and looked it over. "It's a little scorched, but it's alright," he announced after a moment.
"I call for the shunning!" Fannie screamed. "On her, on her father, on her whole evil family!"
The mice instantly broke into a babble of shouting, both for and against. Farmer slipped the Law of the Mice back into it's scorched case while the other four council-members stepped out from the crowd and tried to shout for order. For a long moment, their shouts went unheard as the mice squeaked and argued among themselves. Byarl added his voice to the calls for silence, but it was hopeless.
A sudden, deafening roar split the air, and the mice, as one, jumped with fear, shocked into silence. Their little black eyes were all on Xaa as he stood there, paws on hips.
In the silence that followed, Byarl spoke up. "Thank you, Lord Xaa," he said, bowing.
"Youh whul'cahm, Greht T'chehf B'hyahrrl," Xaa rumbled in reply, bowing in return.
Byarl then turned, casting his eye across the mice gathered around the center of the village. "Now; before you mice decide to shun Smith and Farrah and Bootie, I'd like to remind you of something: If you shun them now, we musties aren't about to follow along and shun them, as well, and watch them shiver in the cold at night, get sick, and maybe die. That means you'll have to shun us, too. The mus aren't about to shun them, either - so you'll have to shun them, too. Ask yourselves - where will you sleep after that? How will you get home with no-one to show you the way?"
Farmer shook his head. "The Law of the Mice is clear, Byarl. Smith murdered another mouse. This has never happened in all our history. Ever. And now, Farrah raised a weapon against other mice. Both are crimes against our law, and call for the Shunning. I don't like it, either. But, such is the law."
"Then the law must change," Merle said suddenly, making a face.
Farmer nodded to Merle. "Perhaps it will - but it will never change enough to permit a mouse to kill another, or to permit a mouse to raise a weapon against another. That is not our way."
"Nor is it ours, Farmer. We don't kill each other, or raise weapons against each other," Byarl replied. "Still, there must be an allowance for circumstances."
Farmer shook his head. "No, Byarl. There is never an excuse for murder."
"Not even to save the children?" Byarl asked, eyeing Farmer quietly.
Farmer slowly shook his head. "Not even for that. Yes, we're all glad that our children lived, but-"
"Not all of us agree with that, Farmer!" Potter shouted.
Carder, Drummer and Dunlass stepped forth, standing next to Potter. "He's right, Farmer," Carder called. "Not all of us agree with the law. Some of us think Smith did the only thing possible under the circumstances, and we feel that if you're going to shun him, you may as well shun us, as well."
"And some of us agree with what Farrah said," Drummer added. "Some of us think the law was wrong, and it's cost us everything. Our friendship with the Xaa and his people, our friendship with the musties and their people... Everything! The Law of the Mice is worthless, Farmer! It's hurt us more than it's ever helped!"
"Heresy!" Farmer replied, shocked, and several other mice echoed the cry.
"Yes, Heresy!" Smith yelled suddenly. Bootie looked in surprise to her mate. His expression was firm, his eyes blazing with an inner fire. She had never seen him like this before - though the other mice had. This was the same strong Smith they had come to know and follow, the same one that had led them through their ordeal safely. "I agree with my wife and daughter! The law is wrong, it has cost us everything we ever held dear, and we should burn the law before we allow it to harm us any further!"
"Spirits! Can't you hear yourself, Smith?!" Farmer squeaked, shocked. "Step back from this position, lest you risk your immortal soul!"
"That is already forfeit, under the law, Farmer," Smith replied dryly. "Shun me if you wish - I no longer care," he said, then looked to Potter, Carder and Dunlass. "As for the rest of you who agree with me, you can either follow me or follow Farmer. If you follow Farmer, perhaps the Defen... My pardon, the mus will take you back home in the morning. If you follow me, we have nowhere to go. We have no homes, no tools to make new homes, nothing. It's likely we'll all starve to death, or freeze to death when winter comes. Still, it matters little to me how I die, anymore - so long as I die free."
Xaa smiled, and rumbled something in his language that Smith didn't understand. Merle spoke up immediately, translating for him. "Xaa says you won't starve or freeze. There are several abandoned villages on his land that you can live in, and he can provide you with some basic tools. Perhaps even we musties can let you use our forge, until you manage to build your own," Merle said, then paused, listening to Xaa's rumbling again. "He says that you, Smith, are the dream of Dash'Du'ragh come true. Even if you are the only mouse who will ever learn to fight your own battles, he still would never let you starve or freeze." The other mus standing behind Xaa nodded, smiling, and Lord Y'dahk bowed deeply to Smith. Soon, all the mus were bowing to Smith. Smith, somewhat surprised, bowed in return.
"He's right, Smith, we would. You're not like the other mice. You, I think we can trust," Byarl called, and he and the other musties smiled and nodded.
"You mean... You mean that you musties will be his friend again, like you were back in the Wild Wood?" Dunlass asked, his eyes widening.
Byarl shrugged. "Not like that, no. We'll be friends with him, yes - but we'll never be the slaves or servants of the mice again."
Smith shook his head. "Nor would I ever want you to be. My daughter is right - the Law of the Mice is wrong. What we mice did to you was wrong. What we did to the mus was wrong. And we did it because it was required by the law," Smith said, then sighed. "I know I cannot ask you for forgiveness. And I will not."
Byarl smiled, then walked over to Smith, taking his paw and clasping forearms with him in friendship. "But you shall have it anyway, my friend."
Smith blinked as tears came unbidden to his eyes. "Thank you," he replied, then looked up to Xaa. "And you, Lord Xaa?"
Xaa smiled and rumbled something briefly. Merle grinned, and translated for him. "Xaa says that the mus forgave the mice a long, long time ago, Smith."
Farmer sighed, looking at Smith. "Smith, I'm sorry... But it's the law. I can see just by their faces the other council members agree with me - the law must be obeyed. Yet, I can see that there are many others who disagree. I suggest that all those who agree with Smith go stand by him, and all those who do not come stand by me. When we have rested, the mus can take us back. Thereafter, all who stand with Smith will be shunned, by the law," he said, then raised his head, calling loudly across the quiet that ensued. "I call for the Great Silence during this decision. No mouse shall speak and influence another into making the wrong decision for them, not even their mate or child," Farmer said, then stood, waiting, cradling the scorched scroll in his arms like a wounded child.
Xaa rumbled briefly to the other mus, explaining what Farmer had said, and they nodded. Each stepped over to bow briefly to Smith, then stand behind Xaa. Xaa simply clapped a paw to Smith's little shoulder, and waited. Byarl simply turned and looked to the musties, and as one, they all came to stand by Smith.
Slowly, the mice then began to move. Carder, Dunlass and Potter were first, coming over to clasp paws with Smith, then stand beside him. Weaver and his mate stared at their son for the longest time, and Potter's ears flushed bright pink - but he did not step back to them. Weaver gazed at his mate for a moment, and she nodded. Quietly, they walked over to stand beside their son, leading their four-year-old daughter by the paw.
And so it went for many minutes, each mouse making their choice. Only two families were split - Carder's and Mason's. Carder gazed sadly at his parents and brothers, but he did not go back to stand with them beside Farmer. Mason gazed quietly at his eldest daughter and mate, who had stepped away from beside him and his sons to stand beside Smith, and he struggled to obey the Great Silence as he saw his daughter hug Carder.
Finally, each mouse had made their choice. In all, fifty mice of all ages and both genders stood by Smith - about a third of the village. The rest stood by Farmer.
"We will take the library with us, of course," Farmer said quietly.
"Of course," Smith replied, standing straight and tall - or, at least, as tall as a little mouse could. "We, on the other paw, will create a new library - one containing the collected knowledge of ourselves, the mus, and the musties," he said, then looked up to Xaa. "Perhaps, Lord Xaa, if the truce with R'Narr goes well, someday we will even keep the collected knowledge of the cats within it, as well," he said.
Xaa simply nodded, smiling briefly.
Only one person was left in the middle - Amani. Slowly, all eyes turned to her.
Amani had sat quietly throughout the whole affair, keeping her thoughts to herself, and staying out of the way. For a long moment, she looked to Farmer.
*I am sorry, little mouse,* she thought to him, her silent voice echoing in his mind. *I understand your feelings, I really do. More than anyone else here, in fact. And, I know that were my people to follow yours, we would have endless amounts of grasslands open to us. We would also have, as our friends, your people, who are gentle, sweet, and in many ways identical to us, despite the differences in our bodies. Yet, when I turn my inner eye to this question, I know there is only one place I and my people should be.*
Farmer's tail twitched nervously at Amani's mind-voice - even in the week-long ride from the lands of the cats to Laughing Wood, he still had not gotten used to her soundless voice in his head. Few other mice had. Only Farrah and Bootie seemed really accustomed to it.
Slowly, Amani rose to her feet, then walked over to stand by Smith.
Amani looked down to Smith, and smiled at him. *Please... Add the stories of my people to your library, little mouse,* she said to him, then nickered quietly. *When you build it, that is.*
Smith smiled and nodded.
Farmer gazed quietly at Smith for a long moment, silent, waiting to see if anyone on either side would change their mind. Finally, he sighed. "So be it. In the morning, the mus can take us back. Afterwards, all that remain will be shunned from now until the end of time."
Xaa nodded. "Y'dahk, you were with me when we went to fetch the musties last year. Do you remember the route?"
Y'dahk nodded. "Very well, my lord."
"Good. Then, in the morning, we can fetch some wagons from the work crews at the castle, stock up on water and some basic supplies, and you can take them all home. Grnagh can help you make the arrangements - he needs to see what I have available to me, anyway, if he's to be a proper chamberlain. Have a care you return before the first snows - I've been over that pass in winter, and it's not pleasant."
"Yes, my lord."
Xaa bowed to Byarl. "Great Chief Byarl, could you please explain what I intend to the mice? I'm going to go talk to Grnagh and tell him what I plan, as well, then Merle and I will camp with Lord O'dmemet and his warriors."
"Certainly, Lord Xaa. Pleasant dreams," Byarl replied, bowing in return.
Merle grinned as Xaa nuzzled her, then followed him as he walked away, followed by his warriors.
Farmer nodded, once Byarl had finished explaining what Xaa had said. "Alright, Byarl. We'll be ready in the morning."
In a few minutes, the center of the village was quiet again, as the mice filed back into the homes of the musties to sleep for the night. The musties followed quietly, many obviously still thinking about the incredible turn of events that had just unfolded. Byarl took Nellie's paw, and looked to Smith and Bootie. "Come on - time to get some sleep. You'll need it."
Bootie nodded, and turned to Smith. "Come, dear. Let's get some rest. Maybe after Lord Xaa has shown us this new village, we can plan on how we're going to fatten you back up again. I swear the cats slimmed you down so much if you turned sideways you'd vanish."
Smith grinned, while Farrah giggled. Byarl and Nellie grinned, then turned and walked into their house.
"Come, dear. You'll need some sleep, too," Bootie called to Farrah, smiling. "I've a feeling we're all in for a long day, tomorrow."
"Umm... Momma, can I stay out with Amani for just a little bit longer?"
Bootie looked up to the enormous mare, and nodded. "Certainly - but only if Amani promises to send you to bed very soon. You need your rest."
Amani smiled. *I shall, Bootie Smithsmate.*
Bootie smiled back. "Alright," she replied, then walked into Byarl's house, arm-in-arm with her mate.
Amani sat beside Farrah, bringing her head down closer to her level. She knew what Farrah was thinking, and smiled. *Yes, little mouse. You are correct. My vision has come true, and your actions have begun to heal the rift between your people and the mustelids. With a bit of care, love, and respect, your people and theirs will someday once again be good friends.*
"But what about your people? How will you make friends with them, or the mus, after what's happened between you and Ayori?"
*That, I will deal with in my own way, little mouse. I have turned by inner eye to the question for several days, and though I denied my vision at first, I now accept that it is the only solution that exists. It is also my vision that someday soon, more of my people shall be in the lands of the mus - and that somehow, I have been the cause of this. I do not understand how, I only know it is so. My dream of seeing my people free lies sometime near, in the future... But before this may happen, I must do what I must do. In the full of time, you will understand - but for now, please do not worry.*
"There's something you're not telling me," Farrah replied, looking into Amani's eyes.
Amani smiled. *Perhaps I am - but that is because it is something you need not worry about,* she replied, then paused. *Please... It is... My private thing... My secret. I have never had a secret in my entire life, ever. We horses cannot have secrets from each other. It is impossible. You will have learned what it is I am not telling you soon enough, little mouse. Yet, it is... Special, somehow. Please... Allow me to have this one secret, for now. You will know soon enough.*
Farrah nodded. "Alright - for now," she replied, and hugged Amani tight. "Will you be coming with us when Lord Xaa takes us to this abandoned village he talked about?"
Amani shook her head. *No, little mouse. I must stay here, for now. I will see you again soon enough,* she replied, then smiled. *For now, it is time you went to bed. Your mother was right - you have a long day ahead of you, come the dawn.*
Farrah frowned for a moment, then hugged Amani again. "Well, alright. Goodnight, Amani."
Smithsdaughter,* Amani replied, and sent Farrah a warm,
mental 'horse hug.'
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