of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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"I think they're gone, momma," Farrah said, her voice muffled by her kerchief.
Bootie listened carefully in the darkness of the firebox, and nodded. "I do, too. See if you can get the door open," Bootie replied.
Farrah nodded, fumbling with the latch to the boiler's firebox. "Daddy said he made the latch so it could be opened from the inside in case the door ever closed on him while he was cleaning the firebox, but it's all slippery with soot, momma," Farrah whined.
"Hold your breath and use your kerchief."
Farrah nodded, lowering her left paw that held the kerchief over her muzzle and wrapping it over the handle, then twisting. With a click, the latch finally opened. Farrah squirmed out of the firebox, once again glad it was summer and it simply was too warm for her father to have run the boiler. Her momma had groused about not being able to run her sewing machine, but now the empty firebox had apparently saved them from the cats. When the cats first surrounded the village, Smith had ordered his wife and daughter crawl inside to hide, making sure they had kerchiefs over their noses to protect them from breathing the soot.
"Help me out, Farrah," Bootie called, holding her paw out through the firebox door. Her paw and arm was black with soot, and as Farrah tugged, eventually the rest of her mother emerged, covered head to tailtip in dark, black soot.
"Oh, momma! You're a mess!"
"You don't look much better, dear."
Farrah wanted to laugh, but she couldn't - what had happened was simply too terrible. "Oh, momma! I thought that big cat with the gray muzzle was gonna find us for sure! I was peeking through the vent holes in the door and he was right there!"
"I heard him poking around the door - what happened?" her mother asked, kicking the firebox door shut.
"He sneezed from the soot, and then daddy started struggling and yelling and carrying on and then I guess he forgot about looking."
Bootie nodded. "Your father was very brave, then. He kept them from finding us."
Farrah sneezed from the soot that was ground into her fur, then looked around for a moment, tears welling up in her little eyes. "Oh, momma! They took daddy away!"
Bootie sneezed, then nodded. "Yes, dear. Now come - let's get cleaned up. Don't rub your eyes - you'll rub the soot into them."
"But momma! What are we going to do?!" Farrah sobbed.
"First, we're going to get cleaned up. The cats are gone, we're safe for the moment. Come," Bootie replied, holding out a sooty paw.
"But, momma! I'm so scared!"
"I am, too, dear. Now come. Let's get cleaned up, then we'll think of what to do."
An hour later, Farrah was standing next to the tub with the scrubbing-brush, helping her pregnant mother get clean again. Everything had gone so terribly wrong. Farrah had hoped that perhaps the Council would be able to do something when she made it back to the village to tell them, but all Cooper, Smith and the others had done was talk. She tried to tell them there might not be time to talk, they needed to do something now, but it hadn't helped. Two hours later, her father came back to the house and told them that the Council had ordered him to make four dozen new guns for the rest of the adult males of the village. 'But that will take months! The cats might be back here tonight!' her mother had yelped. 'I know, Bootie, but what else can I do?' her father had replied. Two hours later, the cats had surrounded the village, and the screaming began. Her father had stuffed Farrah and her mother into the boiler's firebox and closed the door only minutes before the cats started to break down the door to their little house.
"Oh, momma! They didn't do anything! They just talked!" Farrah sobbed as she helped her mother dry herself with a towel.
"I know, dear. That's why I think the Council needs new voices - voices like yours, and the mice that will follow you," Bootie replied, and after she had wrapped a towel around herself, she took Farrah's paw and led her to her room, quietly explained her thinking to Farrah.
"Well, yes... I think you're right, momma," Farrah replied at last, sitting nude on her bed, her mother sitting next to her. Farrah sniffled. "But what difference does that make now?! The cats took daddy away! I don't hear anyone else in the village - I think they took everyone away!"
"I think so, too, dear. We'll get dressed and check. I want you to put on your green dress and your brown leather smithing smock you use when you're helping your daddy, alright? And your work boots, the black pair I made that you said was the comfortable pair - don't forget."
"So we can hide," Farrah said aloud, realizing what her mother had in mind. "I think that's what saved me - I had my green smock on earlier."
"Exactly, dear. Now hurry and get dressed, and we'll check the other houses."
It was long after dark when Farrah and Bootie finally returned to their little home, alone. They had checked all the other houses - no other mice had escaped. Some had tried to hide, that was obvious. Mayor Cooper had tried to hide his family in some of the barrels he made. He'd wanted to make barrels for everyone, and he'd said that the legends the cats were simply too stupid to be able to think of looking in barrels - but there simply hadn't been enough time for him to make that many barrels, so when the cats came, everyone hid where they could. Unfortunately, it hadn't worked. The cats had checked every hiding place - except one, the one that made the old cat sneeze. Even then, he might have checked it anyway if Smith hadn't distracted him by making a fuss. The cats had also cleaned out the village library, making their intent obvious - they wanted the Lore of the Mice, the secret knowledge the mice had kept for eight centuries, the same knowledge the defender, Xaa, had come for over a year and a half ago. Farrah wept. "We should have agreed to help the Defender. Then they would be protecting us again, and none of this would have happened."
"Perhaps, dear. But what of the musties?" her mother asked, examining a leather backpack she had salvaged from one of the other houses.
"We should have told them the truth long ago, and taught them what they needed to know to make their own tools. The Law of the Mice was wrong, momma. Now we're all alone - and look what's happened! We should have burned the laws rather than let this happen to us!"
Bootie stopped, gazing at her daughter. What she'd said, to a mouse, was the most blatant heresy one could possibly imagine. To burn the laws? Unthinkable. Yet, Bootie knew in her heart Farrah was right. Finally, she spoke. "I agree, Farrah. I've had the same thought myself for almost two years, now. Now, what do you think we should do about what's happened?"
"I don't know, momma," Farrah replied, and sat in a nearby chair and sobbed.
Bootie sighed. "Farrah, stop that. We don't have time to cry, now. Don't you think I'm sad, too? Don't you think I'm worried for your father and all the others? He's my mate, and I love him dearly and I'm worried to death about him! But you don't see me crying, do you?" she asked, and Farrah shook her head. "Exactly. And that's because we simply don't have the time. We have to act quickly if we're going to save your father and all of our people," Bootie said, then leaned over and gave her daughter a hug. "Afterwards... After everything is over, then we can cry. But not now, okay? For now, we have to hurry."
"Okay, momma - but what will we do?"
"We go find help."
"You mean we should go find the musties?"
"Or the Defenders, yes. Either would do, and apparently the musties went to live with the Defenders. We find them, then we beg them to help us."
"But how?! We don't even know where they went!"
"I do. Your father told me what the Defender, Xaa, said when he left. The mustie, Merle, translated for him. He said 'When your people have learned to fight your own battles instead of having others fight and die for you, contact us again. You will find us on the other side of the mountains to the northeast. Our people forgave you for what you did ages ago, and we do not hate you. Tinker has shown us that deep down, you are a gentle, kind-hearted people. We would enjoy being your friends again in the future. But neither we nor the musties will ever be your slaves again.'"
"Yes. We're going to pack this bag, then travel across the mountains in the northeast, and pray we find them. Then we will beg them to fight just one more battle for us - beg them to help us one last time. We will tell them that we tried, but we simply weren't strong enough. We are not a warrior-people, as they are," Bootie said, then fell silent. She reached up, quietly wiping her eyes, and Farrah realized she was struggling not to cry.
"It's alright, momma," Farrah said, rising to hug Bootie. "We'll find them, somehow. And you're right - we aren't a warrior people. The Law of the Mice is not the law of a warrior-people. The Law needs to change. Our people need to change. And somehow, we will."
Bootie hugged her back for a moment, then smiled. "Alright. Now, find your father's general toolkit - the one in the blue-painted box. Then, go find us some warm coats and some blankets. I'll get us some dried food and fill a jug with water. Oh! And see if you can find your father's tinderbox, too."
"Okay, momma!" Farrah replied, smiling and turning to get to work, but then stopped. "Wait - how far is it to where the Defenders live? How far away are the mountains?"
"I don't know, dear. Not far, I hope. The baby is due in a few months, I don't know if I can walk too far," Bootie replied, frowning.
Farrah smiled. "I'm sure it
won't be too far, momma. We'll be fine."
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