Ayre of the Last God
(Book III of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY


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L'Valin held perfectly still, her sapphire eyes slitted, her ears folded tightly against her skull. She was crouched below the top of the knee-high grass, her weight resting on her knees and paws. Quietly, she gathered herself to spring, tensing the wasted muscles in her legs, lifting herself onto her toes. Her tail she held carefully down and straight, so as not to alert her target.

A sudden, almost fearful twitch, and L'Valin realized with a curse her target had spotted her. With a snarl, she leaped, her claws extended. Her leap, however, was far too slow, and the rabbit zipped out of her reach. Scrambling, L'Valin snatched at it, but in a moment, it was easily seen it had escaped. "Mroooowwwrrrrr! I was so close!" she yowled in disappointment. The rabbit stopped, as though having pity on her, but L'Valin made no motion to chase it. She simply sat on her bony rump and sighed, her tail flicking back and forth.

The black stallion snorted, walking towards L'Valin as he wrapped the coil of line he'd woven. As he reached it's end, the stuffed, woven-grass faux-rabbit he'd made danced on the end of it's tether, and was drawn up into the stallion's fore-hooves. Little more than an oblong woven ball stuffed with dry grass, it had been the tool the stallion used to try to teach her to hunt for herself these last eight days. As he sat next to her, slipping his pack from his back, L'Valin whined.

"Mrowrrrr... I'll never get this. It's too hard for me. I've never hunted in my life - and neither have you! How can you possibly teach me? And I'm too weak and I'm hungry and I'm tired and my legs hurt and I wish you hadn't thrown my catnip away!" she yelled.

The stallion nodded, reaching for his pack and producing the small stick he had made a week ago. Made from a short tree branch and smoothed with a stone, L'Valin had grown to hate it. "Mrrrooooowww... I don't want that today, I just want my catnip back, damn you!"

The stallion snorted, then lashed out a fore-hoof, dragging L'Valin into his lap. L'Valin howled and struggled as he pressed the strange little stick behind her left ear for a long, painful moment, then pinched the fold of her ear between the stick and his hoof. The stallion grimaced, as well, his empathic abilities forcing him to feel everything he did to her. Still, the pain was minor, and his will was far stronger than L'Valin's. He endured it, and after a long moment, he released her.

L'Valin whimpered, rubbing her ear with a paw. Her hunger for catnip had faded again, though she didn't know if that was because the strange healing-techniques of the stallion actually worked, or if the pain from her ear simply distracted her from it. "Fsst! That hurts, you know!"

The stallion simply nodded, slipping the stick back into the small woven pack he had made.

"Fsst! And I'm still hungry!"

The stallion rolled his eyes, and sighed deeply. After a moment, he lifted a hoof, and pointed past her. L'Valin looked, and to her amazement, spotted a fat little rabbit was calmly nibbling on grass, a hundred paces away.

"Mrow? He should be able to smell me... Why is he still there?" L'Valin whispered, realizing the rabbit was downwind.

The stallion nodded, then tipped his head, laying a hoof to the side and closing his eyes, as though asleep. Then he reached out with his other arm, curling it across his body, and pulled it in, leaving a gap - as though he was pulling something or someone to him. He then looked at L'Valin, and tapped his nose meaningfully.

"Mrr... You mean I've slept with you so often, I have your scent - and rabbits aren't afraid of horses." L'Valin whispered, understanding.

The stallion nodded, then pointed towards the rabbit again, eyeing L'Valin.

L'Valin nodded, and lay on her belly. On elbows and knees, she began to quietly sneak closer to the rabbit, slipping through the grass as carefully as she could.

It wasn't easy to move like this - it took practice, and strength - neither of which L'Valin had. Hunting unarmed was possible for a cat, but extremely difficult - normally, they used weapons, like any other sapient carnivore. More, L'Valin was particularly poorly equipped to even try - her emaciated body simply lacked the strength, speed and endurance required to hunt bare-pawed.

By the time L'Valin had crawled twenty-five paces, she was beginning to tire. By the time she had crawled fifty paces, her arms and inner thighs ached with the effort of slowly, stealthily creeping up on the rabbit while staying low to the ground. By the time she had crawled seventy-five paces, her thin, wasted muscles were burning with sharp pain. It was an incredible effort for her to remain silent, and crawl up to the last few yards.

Slowly, L'Valin drew her aching legs beneath herself, keeping her tail down. She tensed her trembling, burning leg-muscles, then, with a snarl she hoped would startle the rabbit into immobility, she threw herself at it.

The rabbit leaped, easily evading L'Valin's clumsy attempt to grab it, and sprinted away, running for it's life.

L'Valin stared after the rabbit's retreating form for a long moment, her sapphire eyes welling with tears. She was too weak from the attempt to even rise and walk back to the stallion. She felt completely helpless, and completely pathetic.

Quietly, L'Valin hung her head, and wept.

A long moment later, L'Valin heard the heavy hooves of the stallion step up beside her, and felt him gently lift her in his powerful arms. "Mew... I'm sorry... I tried, I really did... But I just can't. I'm going to starve out here, and leave you all alone... I'm sorry," she sobbed, tucking her head into his broad shoulder.

The stallion silently shook his head, carrying L'Valin back to the tree under which he'd set his pack, and sitting in it's shade. Shifting her into his lap, he reached into his pack, and pulled out four robin's eggs and a half-dozen gooseberries. L'Valin lifted a trembling paw, but the stallion simply brushed it aside as he set the food on the ground before him - it was obvious even to L'Valin that her exhausted arms were shaking so badly, she'd probably drop the eggs before she got them even near her mouth. Quietly, the stallion lifted the first egg, holding it before her muzzle. After a moment, L'Valin opened her mouth, and the stallion gently slipped the egg into her muzzle.

In this manner, with a soft, gentle touch, the stallion fed her the meager meal he'd gathered. Gooseberries were edible to cats, though they couldn't live on them - a steady diet of gooseberries loosened a cat's bowels, making them quite ill. The robin's eggs were more along the lines of what she needed, though there were few of them. Still, it wasn't what he fed her, but how he fed her... The simple, compassionate gesture touched L'Valin deeply, and sent her heart to singing. When she had eaten the last of the food, she reached out her trembling paws, taking his enormous muzzle gently, and nuzzled him lovingly, rubbing the scent-glands below her eyes into his fur over and over again. The stallion simply held her in his massive arms, and when she let him go, he tucked her head into his shoulder again.

L'Valin desperately wanted to ask him if he loved her in return - but she couldn't. Her heart ached to know that he felt the same way towards her, and she wept hot tears into his furry shoulder as she felt the ache in her soul. Yet, she did not. She could not.

For in her heart, L'Valin was afraid that the answer might be a silent shake of the head.

An eternity passed as L'Valin simply rested, held in the stallion's strong and gentle arms. Finally, as she began to doze, he gently laid her on the ground, then lay beside her. Tucking her bony back into his broad, muscular chest again, he wrapped an arm around her as she curled up into a tight ball. L'Valin purred quietly, relishing the nearness and warmth of his body, and slowly fell asleep.

Silently, the stallion looked down to her as she slept, and quietly sighed.

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