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


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"Mrr... Alright, mentalt... Have you any suggestions before we launch our attack?" Lord R'Zin asked, reigning in his mount before L'Valin. Lady T'Mrr and her son stood near, watching, and at R'Zin's words, turned to gaze at L'Valin curiously.

L'Valin looked to the castle that lay beyond the ranks of the T'Mrr troops. It seemed, to her untrained eye, a rather well-built fortification. A river-fed moat ten paces wide surrounded it, and the drawbridge was already up. L'Valin could see warriors manning the walls, but they were far too distant to read by signs of posture and expression.

L'Valin was tempted to admit that neither she nor any other Mentalt was trained for war - the Test of the Initiate divided the she-cats of T'Masa keep into Mentalts and Nuns. The Mentalts underwent rigorous mental training, while the nuns received the physical skills necessary to maintain the keep. Though this primarily involved ordinary tasks such as cooking, cleaning, planting, harvesting, and maintaining the enormous library of T'Masa, a pawful were also trained in how to fight, in the event it might be necessary to defend the keep. One of those few nuns who were trained in such things might be able to advise R'Zin, but not a Mentalt. Yet, L'Valin knew that if she admitted a gap in her knowledge, it might occur to them that she may have other flaws, as well. For the moment, she still had them convinced she was true Mentalt. They had to remain convinced, or the life of the black stallion might be forfeit.

L'Valin focused her will, gathering every scrap of knowledge she could recall about castles, war, and sieges, and observing the castle closely. After a long moment, L'Valin struggled to suppress a sigh. She could think of nothing but the obvious things, such as if the enemy felt they were vastly outnumbered and would certainly lose, they would have already surrendered by now - and they showed no sign that they were that intimidated. 'I must say something...' L'Valin thought, struggling to remember her lessons.

Suddenly, the voice of her instructor came to her, a quiet memory. 'Part of our mystery is that none know what we are thinking, students. When forced to speak and you are unsure of the facts, speak in riddles. When the querent asks a question you are certain they already know the answer to, give them the answer in a manner that forces them to consider your words to understand their meaning. When you simply have no reply at all, examine the querent and their motivations. And always - remain aloof and unconcerned, as though you viewed all existence as trivial. Never reveal your true thoughts.'

"Fsst! Well?!" R'Zin snapped, his patience having expired during the long wait for L'Valin's response.

L'Valin eyed R'Zin coolly, and the words came smoothly to her lips. "Miao... My lord, it seems to me that you know everything you need to know to take this castle, and are merely testing me again. However, I will satisfy your wish - my advice to you is to beware the enemy. Appearances can be deceiving, and they may have a trick or two behind their paw," she replied, and bowed her head. "Mew... That is all, my lord."

R'Zin paused, then nodded. "Mrr... So, you think they may have some sort of trickery in store, eh?"

L'Valin had not thought that at all - though now that R'Zin had asked, her answer seemed obvious. "Mew... Of course, my lord. Would not you, my lord, also have something planned were you in their position?" she lied smoothly, keeping her head bowed.

D'Main looked to R'Zin. "Mrr... The Mentalt is right, my friend - they almost certainly have something planned. Be careful."

R'Zin smiled warmly at his secret lover. "Mrr... I shall, D'Main," he replied, then turned his mount and clapped his heels to it's sides, riding towards his musicians.

L'Valin kept her face smooth with an effort of will, suppressing the smile that threatened to come to her lips. "Miao... With your permission, my lady, I believe I shall retire to check on my horse. There is little you need me for, at the moment," she said, bowing to Lady T'Mrr.

T'Zama T'Mrr dismissed L'Valin with a negligent wave, and watched as she walked off. D'Main nudged his horse closer to his mother just as the first strains of 'Advance' rang out from R'Zin's musicians. "Mrowrrrr... Her concern for that horse still has me extremely curious, mother. Mentalts hate horses. They kill any horse found within ten leagues of T'Masa Keep."

"Mrr... I know, my son. She's thin as a stick, like she's been starved for months. She dresses like a horse-slave mare, she spends every free moment with that stallion... Something very curious is going on between them, my son, and you know I detest mysteries," T'Zama replied, making a face beneath her helmet. "Mrr... I shall have the answer to it, I think, even if I have to have it out of her ugly, scarred pelt."

D'Main smiled. "Miao... I'm sure you will, mother," he replied. "Mrr... Now - let us go. We must stay by R'Zin's side, that we may at least present the illusion we lead this army, not R'Zin."

T'Zama nodded, and together, they rode towards the loudly-playing musicians and the dull roar of the beginning battle.

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