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


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L'Valin sat to wait nearby the stallion while he grazed. With a wry smile, she remembered the cabbie's complaint - the stallion really did eat an enormous amount. In fact, he often grazed constantly while they passed through wooded areas, simply snatching branches from trees and nibbling the leaves off, as he apparently could eat nearly anything that was green. He often stopped to rest for L'Valin, however, giving her weakened body a chance to recuperate while he simply sat and grazed. His gazing was quite simple - he merely sat, reached down to the green grasses beside him, and began pulling up huge clumps of it. He would simply shake the dirt free of the roots, pop the grass into his mouth, and begin chewing.

L'Valin looked down at herself while the stallion grazed. Though she was still pitifully thin, two weeks of walking combined with what the stallion had managed to gather for her was beginning to have an effect. L'Valin smiled. When their journey began, she could hardly walk two hours before becoming exhausted, and needing to be carried by the stallion the rest of the day. Now, she could walk by his side easily - given the rest breaks he took to eat. Then, with a sudden start, L'Valin realized something more.

She no longer felt the cravings for catnip.

It had been two days since the stallion applied his little stick to her ear, and yet she had no cravings at all for the drug. L'Valin grinned at the stallion. Whether it was because of the stallion's strange (and somewhat painful) healing methods, or simply because she had done without it for nearly a month, she could not say. Either way, the cravings were gone. "Mrr... Thank you," she said, knowing he would know what she meant, since he could sense her thoughts. He had, most likely, saved her life.

The stallion nodded to L'Valin, smiling slightly, then resumed grazing.

L'Valin sighed. "Miao... It's too bad you can't talk. It's sometimes very quiet out here... I find I sometimes am hungry for conversation."

The stallion smiled. Chewing a mouthful of grass, he reached to L'Valin, between her breasts, drew his fore-hoof over her head, then flicked it over his shoulder. He then winked at her, and grinned before popping another clump of grass into his muzzle.

"Mrow? I don't know what you mean."

The stallion shrugged, then reached to his pack, clopping a hoof atop it and drawing it near. In a moment, he pulled out his little wooden stick again.

"Mrowwwwrrr! I don't need that anymore, I'm cured!" L'Valin yowled, clapping her paws protectively to her ears.

The stallion whinnied with laughter, then reached out with the stick and gently tapped L'Valin on the tip of her nose. He then grinned at her, slipped the stick back into his pack, and resumed grazing.

L'Valin wondered what he meant, and thought about it for a long moment. She once was a Mentalt, trained to apply her mind in ways others knew little of. She struggled, gathering her weak will to apply to the question of the stallion's meaning, and finally nodded. "Mrr... You mean that I am interested in conversation now that my mind is no longer fogged by catnip." The stallion smiled and nodded, and L'Valin grinned, quite pleased with herself.

L'Valin's stomach growled, and she was reminded that she hadn't eaten yet, herself. The stallion looked to her, nodded, then reached to his pack again. As he passed bird's nests and other things that L'Valin found edible, he gathered them, dropping what he'd found into his pack as he walked. And, as time passed, the eggs began to contain unhatched chicks. This was a delicacy, to a cat - though L'Valin could tell by the stallion's expression each time she crunched down on one that he was not pleased by her diet. It was as though he could sense the deaths of the unhatched chicks, somehow... And L'Valin suspected he could, knowing what she did about the horses. L'Valin was at a loss as to what to do about it, however. She had to eat - yet, she could not survive on plants, as he could.

With a sigh, L'Valin took the eggs the stallion held out to her, clinging to the frog of his fore-hoof by the power of his will. There was little to be done about it, and when she'd once tried to withdraw far enough away so the stallion wouldn't sense the death of the chicks, he'd simply dragged her back next to him again. He may not like it, but at least he appeared to be willing to put up with it, for now - and he certainly wasn't about to let L'Valin out of his sight. L'Valin began popping the eggs into her muzzle one at a time, and quietly crunching down on them. The stallion grimaced slightly as her teeth crushed the unhatched chick inside each egg, but continued grazing. When she was done, L'Valin quietly lapped at her paws and face, then sat back and sighed again.

"Mew... I'm sorry. I know you don't like it... And I so want to please you, not disappoint you."

The stallion looked to her, and for a moment, his eyes were filled with sadness again. He shook his head, then gestured expansively, helplessly. Finally, he sighed, and slowly rose from the ground, holding out a fore-hoof to L'Valin. L'Valin reached up to his fore-hoof, and felt the tingle of his grip as he pulled her to her feet. As he reached down to pick up his pack again, L'Valin nodded. "Miao... I think you want to be able to talk to me as much as I want to be able to talk to you, yes?"

The stallion shoulder his pack, and nodded.

"Miao... Well, perhaps it's possible?"

The stallion nickered in amusement, and shook his head.

"Mrowr! Well, we could try, at any rate!" L'Valin said firmly, paws on hips.

The stallion paused, then shrugged. Setting his pack down again, he stood before L'Valin, reaching down to her head and lifting it until she was looking into his eyes. His face assumed a look of intense concentration for a long moment.

L'Valin stared back silently.

Nearly a minute passed before L'Valin spoke. "Mew... Umm... I'm sorry, but what's supposed to happen?"

The stallion sighed, his face relaxing, then held his fore-hooves up helplessly.

"Miao... Oh, alright. I accept it's impossible. Let's just move on," L'Valin replied, and sighed.

The stallion nodded, shouldering his pack again, and leading the way. L'Valin took his forearm in a paw, and followed along. The stallion was again leading them southeast, his path almost wandering, yet still generally southeast. L'Valin's mind had cleared to the point where she had recognized days ago that his wandering path led them around villages and towns. His range at being able to sense another's mind didn't seem far, perhaps only two hundred paces. Still, he had eyes, ears, and a nose. Each time a village or town of the felines appeared on the horizon, he carefully led them around it. The 'why' of that was obvious. He was an escaped slave - and valuable property, to his owners in the west. There may even be a reward for him, though even if there wasn't, he could still easily be sold to a slave trader for twenty gold talents - enough to feed any impoverished peasant family they might run across for years. He couldn't run, and he certainly couldn't fight. So, he had to avoid feline villages and towns, lest he simply be enslaved again.

L'Valin knew that this wouldn't be enough, however. Sooner or later, they would encounter other cats - and though most here in the eastern hinterlands would obey the edict of Lord R'Narr, some, like the cabbie, might not. In a few days, they would near the border between the lands of Clan V'Nass and Clan T'Mrr. They were almost certain to be encountered by a patrol - and from there, anything could happen. 'If I were still a real Mentalt, I might be able to come up with a plan to protect him,' she thought.

As they walked, L'Valin realized that she had no other choice - she would have to think of something. Eventually, they would be found by some patrol. She had to have some kind of story ready to tell them, to explain their presence, and allow them to continue on to the lands of the mus. Only there would he be free... Though what would happen after that, L'Valin had no idea.

'Focus your will, students,' her trainer's voice came to her, a sudden memory of happier times. 'Focus your will on the problem, not merely your thought. Your mind is a tool - focus your will, and use it. Don't think about the problem, mentate on it. Apply your will, as you have been trained, and all will become clear...'

L'Valin struggled to comply, gathering her shattered, weakened will. To her surprise, she felt her will was somewhat stronger than it was weeks ago, when this journey began. It was still nowhere near the titanic will which had once allowed her to resist the Shazad's torturer for four hours - yet, it was stronger than the will she had possessed as a drug-addicted street-whore.

After a moment, L'Valin saw a solution. L'Valin grinned, pleased with herself, then looked up to the stallion. "Miao... When we near a patrol or a town, you must lift me and carry me. I know what to say to keep you safe from the slave-block, but you must carry me for my story to work."

The stallion looked down to her, and nodded silently. He gazed at her for a moment longer, and L'Valin guessed (quite correctly) that he was sensing her plan in her mind. After a moment, he smiled and nodded again.

L'Valin hugged his massive arm as she walked beside him. "Mew... Don't worry. Nothing will happen to you. I love you, and I won't let anyone take you from me."

The stallion simply nodded, his gaze lost in the southeast.

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