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


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"I don't trust her, Amani," Ayori said, again glancing out the window of his little house to the ebon mare that sat in the cool shade of one of the trees nearby.

Amani nodded as she lay in the living room of Ayori's little home. It was the only room she could really fit into, and she couldn't sit up - she had to lie down. Ayori puttered about the house aimlessly, now dusting a shelf, then a moment later, simply pacing. There really was nothing for him to do. It was near noon, he had already caught two rabbits, skinned and gutted them and dropped them in the communal cookpot to cook until evening. As the day was rather warm, he and Amani had retired to the coolness of his little earthen home until the evening meal.

Amani reached out a fore-hoof, and Ayori nodded. He stopped his aimless puttering with the house, and sat next to her on the rabbit-fur carpet that covered the wooden floor of his living room, taking her fore-hoof in his paws. "Sorry. I know you can't talk unless I'm touching you... I'm just upset."

*Why do you not trust Naien, my little love?* Amani asked, her silent voice echoing hollowly in Ayori's mind.

"I don't know... I just don't trust her. Something about her..." he said, then paused. Ayori hung his head. "I... I'm sorry, but something about her reminds me of you... When we first met."

Amani nodded, understanding his meaning from his mind. Amani had once hurt Ayori deeply by rejecting his love, because to her people, he was a little monster. Now, she knew better. *And I regret that more than I can express, my little love,* Amani said, her mind's voice tinged with deep sorrow and remorse.

"I know, and I forgave you for it." Ayori replied, and smiled as he nuzzled her. Amani nuzzled Ayori back, smiling at the golden, shimmering flare of light in his mind - the love he had for her, easily sensed by her mind. Ayori sighed. "Still... There's something about her, Amani... I can't put my finger on it, but... There's something she's not telling us."

Amani nickered in amusement. *She's not telling you anything, since she hasn't quite mastered the trick of speaking to carnivores, as yet. Give her a few more days under my instruction, my little love.*

Ayori made a face. "That's not what I meant, and you know it."

Amani smiled weakly. *I am sorry, Ayori Treeclimber. I was trying to make you laugh.*

"Oh, okay," Ayori said, and smiled briefly. "Still..."

Amani thought about it for a long moment. How much could she tell him? If he were a stallion, he would already know - he would be able to sense much of it from her mind, and when she explained it, he would know as much as she did. More, if he were a stallion, Amani could simply share the same vision Naien had shared with her, and he would understand and accept it. But, he was not - and trying to explain it to the closed mind of a carnivore involved some risk... He might jump to conclusions before her explanation was done, and think badly of Naien.

Yet, Ayori was more than just another carnivore. He could hear Amani's mind-voice easily when they touched, and Amani did not have to mentally scream to get him to hear her. Amani knew this was primarily simply from practice on his part, but it was also obvious that they were heart-linked - their minds had fallen into sync, as though they were a mated pair of horses. Amani now could easily sense Ayori's slightest thought, regardless of the distance between them. If he was a stallion, he would be able to do the same with her, and they would be able to converse, even if hundreds of leagues separated them. Unfortunately, he was not - he was a male mustelid, with the unempathic, mentally deaf mind of a carnivore, and he could only sense her thoughts when they touched.

Then, as Amani's thoughts turned towards Ayori's mind, she made a startling revelation.

They were heart-linked - and Ayori had unconsciously picked up bits and pieces of her thoughts about Naien, and Naien's vision, as he touched her to hear her voice from time to time this last week. That was the true source of his discomfort with her - even though Naien had not said or done anything to arouse the suspicions of anyone, Ayori had sensed a bit of the truth from Amani's mind. Perhaps, then, he would understand. He, of any living being, was closest to her, and had the greatest chance of understanding her thoughts. In a rush of excited thought and emotion, she sent all this to Ayori.

"Wait! Wait! That's too much!" Ayori replied, and burst into giggles. "That's like a thousand and twenty-four different things, all at once! All I got was that our hearts were one, like we were mated."

Amani nickered in amusement. *Yes, my little love. Though your mind is deaf, practice has honed your skill at hearing my voice, to the point where I no longer have to scream at you. And, in the course of your learning to do this, our two hearts have bonded.*

Ayori suddenly stopped, then looked at Amani, his heart bursting with a melange of emotion. "So... Does this mean we're mated? I mean, by the traditions of your people?"

Amani smiled. *Well, in the old days, before the cats took us as slaves, no. Back then, each stallion gathered a harem of mares to himself, competing with the other stallions to prove his wisdom, his strength, and his ability to care for and love us all, and all our foals. In turn, the mares of the harem made the family decisions - where to travel, who shall lead, and so on. Today, we cannot do that. The cats determine what stallion goes with which mares, and they think us sub-intelligent. A stallion who shows no interest in a mare he is penned with for coupling is deemed unsuitable, gelded, and sent off to become a simple sweat-laborer.*

"That's terrible!" Ayori yelped angrily.

*Indeed - and yet, we have survived this, and surmounted it. We mares reach out with our minds to the stallions that we live and work with, seeking compatible stallions... And if a stallion near us is compatible, we become life-mates - not through our bodies, but through our minds and hearts. Our stallions may be required to couple with another by our masters, but their hearts and minds belong to their mates,* Amani replied, then paused.

For a long moment, Amani was silent. Could she... Dare she say what was on her mind? A stallion of her people would already know how she felt - the question simply never would be asked, as the answer would be apparent long before Ayori's question would ever be posed. Ayori, however, was not a horse, he was a mustelid. Still...

Amani reached out to Ayori's mind for a moment, but this helped little - she already knew how he would feel about it. The real question was how she would feel about it. Their diets were still an enormous stumbling block. Yet...

Finally, Amani came to a decision. *Ayori Treeclimber, my dearest, little love... By the ancient traditions of my people, traditions which we hope to renew someday soon, we are not mates. Even by the traditions we live under today, we are not truly mates - close friends and lovers, yes, but not mates. Yet-*

Ayori sat back, looking down to the floor, and put his paws in his lap, breaking his contact with Amani. "Oh," he replied, his heart heavy with disappointment.

Amani snorted, then reached out with a fore-hoof. Ayori looked up as Amani grabbed his paw, the tingling force of her mind's grip holding it fast to the frog of her fore-hoof. *I wasn't finished,* she chided gently.

"Sorry," Ayori replied, still depressed, and looked down to his lap again.

*Ayori Treeclimber, my dearest, sweetest little love... No, by the tradition of our people, we are not mates. But that does not mean I do not wish to be.*

"You mean..." Ayori gasped, his heart bursting again.

*Yes, my little love. I love you very, very much. You have been so much to me... Teacher, lover, and friend. You have taught me more of your people that I could have learned otherwise in a thousand lifetimes. You have taught me to speak to carnivores - and I am the first of my people to ever learn how to do so. You make love to me with a tenderness, passion and fire that thrills me more than I can express. Yes, Ayori Treeclimber... I wish to be your mate," Amani replied, then smiled. *If you will have me, of course.*

Ayori hugged Amani tight, then leaped to his feet and danced around his little living room, chittering with delight. "Woo-hoo! Wooooo-hooooo! I'm the happiest mustie alive!" he shouted, then, after nuzzling Amani again, he ran outside to shout the news to the whole village.

'I take it that means he will, indeed, have me,' Amani thought to herself, then whinnied with laughter for a long moment. Ayori could be so terribly cute, at times.

*You did not tell him,* a quiet voice said in her mind.

*No, Naien, I did not,* Amani replied. Amani knew Naien had been listening, but this did not bother her. Such was the way of her people, to listen to the thoughts of everyone around them - the horses had no real concept of 'privacy,' as the whole idea of keeping one's thoughts secret from others was simply an impossibility, for them. Amani had learned from the musties and the mice, however, what privacy truly meant to the non-empathic beings of Oerth, and she was careful not to reveal things that let the mind-deaf know she knew their every thought.

*Will you?* Naien asked, her mind's voice betraying her nervous thoughts.

*Yes, my friend, I will - and probably soon. He, of all people, will understand. We are heart-linked, Naien, and I think that we are close enough now to where I can simply share your vision with him - and my own, of course.*

*I hope you are right, Amani. I hope that you can at least make one of them understand. I do not wish them to all hate me, once the truth is known.*

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