of the Last God
(Book III of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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"Mrr... You can see why I brought them to you, mother," D'Main said, smiling as he gestured at the prisoners from the back of his mount. "Mrow... They are quite unusual - and, as you've said many times, that which is unusual is often worth a second glance."
T'Zama nodded her tawny head, looking over the two prisoners carefully from the back of her djuducu-bird. An enormous black stallion, easily the largest horse-slave T'Zama had ever seen in her life, carrying a scrawny, scarred, seal-pointed she-cat. More, the she-cat was dressed in a garment that was identical to that worn by horse-slave mares. "Mrr... You're right, my son. Highly unusual."
"Mrowrrr... Forgive me, Lady T'Zama, Lord D'Main, but I fail to see what is so interesting about these two," Lord R'Zin remarked, his voice very polite but his tail flicking irritably as he shifted atop his mount. "Mrr... Already we've wasted half an hour, here. We need to keep the army moving towards our goal, or the mercenary captains will begin to mutter among themselves," R'Zin finished, waving a paw at the ranks of riders and infantry that were gathered around them. Ten thousand warriors awaited their orders - and T'Zama could see by the shuffling and annoyed glances from the ranks of the mercenaries that R'Zin was right, and they waited impatiently.
T'Zama nodded to R'Zin, then paused, thinking. Her son had been right - R'Zin was a capable and skilled leader, and his advice was inestimably valuable. Also, it was apparent from the soft sounds she occasionally heard coming from her son's pavilion at night that D'Main had R'Zin firmly under his sway. 'Merely planning our strategy,' R'Zin had explained one morning, not knowing that T'Zama knew full well the relationship between him and her son - nor did she plan on revealing that she knew, as T'Zama found R'Zin's fear of the relationship being revealed to be a useful lever against him. Still, when R'Zin spoke, T'Zama listened. He knew the art of war quite well, and were his clan not so small, T'Zama was certain he'd be a lord to be reckoned with. 'It is, perhaps, only his own sodomy that's held him back,' T'Zama mused quietly. 'There are rumors... And those rumors are, perhaps, keeping him from gathering a large number of warriors beneath his claw.' T'Zama glanced at the sun, guessing the time. "Miao... We have perhaps two hours before the sun sets, yes, Lord R'Zin?"
R'Zin nodded, shifting in his saddle as he glanced at the sun. "Mrr... I'd say about that, yes, my lady."
"Mrr... Tell the mercenary captains that we've found someone who may or may not have information regarding the defenses at Castle V'Nass, and I am interrogating them to determine the truth of the matter. After all, we wouldn't want any of them to die needlessly, when we may be able to find a weakness in the castle's defenses. For now, we can pitch camp here."
R'Zin nodded. "Mrr... As you wish, my lady - though I doubt this she-cat knows anything of use."
"Miao... Probably not, my lord, but the extra hour of rest will keep the mercenaries happy, will it not?"
R'Zin nodded. "Mrr... That it will, my lady. I'll see to it your pavilions are pitched over there, on that rise."
"Mrr... Thank you, Lord R'Zin," T'Zama replied, then as he rode off, she turned her full attention to the prisoners.
The scrawny she-cat in the stallion's arms had not spoken during all this, as T'Zama might have expected - particularly when T'Zama told R'Zin that she might have information about R'Narr's defenses. 'How interesting...' T'Zama thought. Several explanations came immediately to mind - the first was that somehow, by blind luck, the she-cat really did have useful information, and had been shocked into silence by T'Zama's words. T'Zama looked at the she-cat's face, and saw it was totally calm and impassive. 'Hmmm... Not likely. She's probably just smart enough to know that nothing she said would have made any difference in my decision,' T'Zama thought.
"Mrr... She reminds me somehow of a song I heard, mother," D'Main said suddenly, eyeing the she-cat.
T'Zama's ears pricked beneath her helmet. This was a code-phrase between her and her son. They had many such phrases they used - T'Zama had trained her son well in the Art of Manipulation, and they often worked together as a team to bring their plans to fruition. "Mrow? Where did you hear it, my son?"
D'Main smiled. "Mrr... At your knee, mother, when I was eight."
T'Zama nodded. 'So... She reminds him of a rumor of the Shazad's court, eh? And a recent one...' T'Zama wracked her brain, trying to remember what rumors of court she had recently heard.
While T'Zama struggled to remember, the she-cat suddenly spoke. "Mew... With respect, my lord and lady, I know nothing that would be of any use to you. I am not from this area, and know nothing about it."
"Mrr... Tell my mother the story you told me." D'Main purred.
"Mew... As you wish, my lord. I am T'Mirith T'Chasa, of clan T'Chasa. I was traveling westwards towards the lands of the mus. We have heard of the truce and trade that Lord R'Narr has made with the mus, and were interested in possibly establishing a similar trade arrangement. My retinue and I were set upon by bandits. They were killed, and I was tortured, raped, and left for dead. This horse-slave found me, nursed me back to health, and is helping me continue my journey - I have taken him on as my servant. I ask, in the name of Clan T'Chasa, that you allow myself and my servant to continue onwards, that I might complete my mission."
T'Zama's eyes narrowed. 'Now I see why my son brought her to me,' she thought. The she-cat's story would have fooled nearly anyone here in the eastern hinterlands - it apparently had fooled R'Zin, and spurred his impatience with the delay of dealing with the she-cat. T'Zama, however, was originally from the western side of the empire, and was far more familiar with the western clans than R'Zin or any other easterner might otherwise be. "Mrr... I greet you warmly, T'Mirith. It is a pleasure to see you again," T'Zama purred, and smiled as the she-cat's eyes widened. "Miao.. I believe the last time I saw you was at your first birthday party, shortly before I made the decision to move my clan here to the eastern hinterlands, in the hope of gaining more lands for us. Your father was quite proud of you, and invited all his allies to come to your party. He would be terribly unhappy to see you here, you know," T'Zama said, and paused, smiling. "Mrr... A child of eight should hardly be this far from home."
The black stallion snorted nervously, and D'Main grinned broadly as the she-cat in the stallion's arms gasped. D'Main knew that bringing this one to his mother and letting her hear the story she had told would be productive. He hadn't remembered that the real T'Mirith T'Chasa was only eight, but his mother had. Slipping his paw to the hilt of his rapier, he smiled at the she-cat. "Mrr... I suggest you tell my mother the truth, wench, or I may be forced to add another scar or two to that pelt of yours." It was an empty threat, of course - D'Main had never drawn blood with his sword in his life. Still, the she-cat couldn't know that, and D'Main knew it would probably work.
The she-cat nodded, regaining her composure. "Mew... Yes, my lord," she replied, and took a deep breath. "Mew... I am L'Valin T'Masa, a Mentalt. This stallion with me is an escaped slave, and I have chosen for my own reasons to accompany him to the lands of the mus. Under the laws of Lord R'Narr, Overlord of the Eastern Hinterlands, the stallion is to be sheltered and kept moving westwards, into the lands of the mus. I am sorry that I attempted to deceive you, but I felt that it was necessary. I wanted as little delay as possible to our journey. I now humbly ask that you please allow us to continue our journey."
"Fsst! You are no Mentalt! Mentalts hate horses!" D'Main snarled. "Fsst! Another lie!"
T'Zama blinked, remembering. She eyed the scars on the she-cat's pelt carefully, then nodded. 'The marks of torture, no doubt,' she thought. "Mrr... I have finally remembered that song you spoke of, my son," T'Zama said, remembering the rumors of the Mentalt that the Shazad had nearly tortured to death. "Mrr... It was quite charming."
D'Main paused. "Charming" was his mother's code-word meaning "this is true" - and in this case, D'Main realized, she meant that not only did she think the rumor was true, but that this cat before them was, indeed, L'Valin T'Masa. D'Main nodded. "Mrr... So it was, mother."
T'Zama nodded to L'Valin. "Mrr... I do believe you are L'Valin T'Masa. As such, I have an offer for you. I have need of a good Mentalt in my service. I have heard that the nuns of T'Masa Keep have ejected you from their order for some slight... But I care little for that. What matters to me is that I need your services - and if you help us and we manage to win our battle, I can reward you quite well."
L'Valin shook her head. "Mew... With respect, my lady, I must refuse."
"Mrow? But I can offer you great riches... The treasury of Castle V'Nass is quite large, and once we take it, any aid you give us would be well rewarded."
"Mew... I have no need of riches, my lady."
T'Zama snarled in irritation. They had wasted an hour of travel, now, and all for nothing. The reasoning power of a Mentalt would be an incredibly useful tool in her paws - this, T'Zama knew from having been on the receiving end of a Mentalt's manipulation, a year ago... But it was not to be. "Fsst! As you wish," T'Zama hissed, then looked at the stallion. "Fsst! And as for the horse-slave... Well, I go to fight against R'Narr V'Nass, I've no reason to support the laws of the Overlord of the East, since I intend to attack him! We can use him to pull one of our supply wagons - he seems large and strong enough to easily do the job of two birds, at least, and that will free up two mounts for my warriors." T'Zama looked to D'Main. "Mrowr! Son, take that horse and yoke him to one of our wagons, and send this worthless wench on her way."
"Mrowrrr! No!" L'Valin yowled as D'Main swung down from the saddle. The black stallion whinnied angrily, and stepped back away from D'Main, still carrying L'Valin.
"Fsst! He's a feisty one, my son. Call over a few of our warriors, tie him and geld him. That will take the fight out of him," T'Zama snarled, annoyed even further by the stallion's resistance.
D'Main nodded. "Mrr... A good idea, mother."
L'Valin howled, throwing her arms about the stallion's neck. "Mroooowwwwlllll! No! Don't hurt him, please! I beg you, I'll do anything you ask, just don't hurt him, please!"
T'Zama blinked in surprise, then looked again at L'Valin. She didn't know why, but it was obvious the Mentalt-witch was concerned for the horse-slave... And T'Zama could tell leverage when she saw it. "Mrr... Wait, my son." she called, then looked into L'Valin's eyes. "Mrr... Alright... If you'll serve me well and faithfully, L'Valin, I'll consider leaving him unharmed."
"Mew... I will serve, my lady... Only please... Don't hurt him."
T'Zama smiled. "Mrr... That will depend entirely on your performance, Mentalt. For now, he will be yoked to one of our wagons, where we can keep an eye on him."
"Mew... You promise you won't hurt him, though?"
T'Zama purred. The key to controlling and harnessing the Mentalt's mind was obviously the black stallion. 'How very fascinating,' T'Zama thought. 'I wonder what it is that links the two? She acts almost as though she loves the creature... But that can't be possible... Can it?' "Mrr... Certainly... For now. Of course, you'll have to get him to cooperate..."
L'Valin looked up to the stallion. "Mew... Please... Don't resist them... Just do it. Everything will be alright..."
The stallion snorted, then gently set L'Valin on her feet, and stood there quietly.
"Mrr... Take him away, my son, and I'll have a little chat with this Mentalt while our pavilions are being erected."
"Miao... Yes, mother." D'Main replied with a smile. He crooked a finger at the stallion, and the stallion nodded in reply, following him as he rode off towards the supply wagons.
T'Zama swung down from her bird, then looked L'Valin over. She seemed to control herself with an effort - though how much of her emotions were real and how much were faked, she could not tell. Rumor had it Mentalts had no emotion - all their feelings were burned out of them by the rigorous training they endured as children. Still, it was obvious she wanted the stallion alive and unharmed, for some reason. 'Perhaps some manipulation of hers, or of the Nuns of T'Masa Keep... Perhaps she wasn't ejected from their order at all, and that was merely a ruse to conceal their true plans...' T'Zama thought, and put the notion aside for the moment to consider later. "Mrr... Alright, Mentalt. It is time to see just how useful your mind will be to my plans to take Castle V'Nass."
L'Valin shuddered briefly, then
her face calmed, assuming the distant, impassive gaze of a
Mentalt. "Miao... Yes, my lady."
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