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


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"Fsst! I cannot move against the Shazad without an alliance treaty with the mus! They'll attack my rear the moment my troops begin to head west!" R'Narr snarled, pacing inside the door leading to the balcony. Outside, the rain fell in a slow patter of drops. 'It is, at least, some comfort that the harvest will go well this spring, and we will have plenty of fodder for the djuducu,' he thought quietly, struggling to calm himself. Still, the old general stroked the graying fur of his muzzle in thought, and snarled again in irritation. It seemed far too risky to the orange tabby tom - yet, he knew if he did not move, Shazad D'Zhin would have the initiative against him and the rest of his rebel alliance.

L'Sala looked up, her face calm and impassive as she sat at the table, the weekly reports from R'Narr's vassals and allies before her. Her emerald eyes for several moments silently regarded the bulky frame that lay beneath R'Narr's blue doublet and trousers - his size and strength was quite unusual, for a cat. Finally, the young jellicle she-cat spoke. "Mrr... My lord, I disagree. The mus, Xaa'ap'Gasha, has sent word that he will extend his truce with you to a permanent basis, allowing you to freely move against the Shazad. The other lords and ladies of the lands of the mus seem willing to at least wait, for the time being, and see what will happen before they move. As I predicted, they are following the lead of The Slayer and his ally, Lord W'Mefa'ap'Hrasht. It is my mentation that you have little to fear from them, my lord - so long as you continue to follow through on each and every one of your agreements with them, precisely, and to the letter." L'Sala replied, sliding the reports to the side for the moment.

"Fsst! Bah! What makes you so certain?! They could attack as soon as my troops are over the horizon - it would be the perfect moment for them to do so, as well, to gain revenge for ten years of unprovoked warfare against them!"

"Mrr... My lord, you forget - I am a Mentalt. It is my mentation that they will not. They are not like us, my lord. They are a different people, with a different culture. They understand that the war was not your doing, but Shazad D'Zhin's. They do not trust us, but they are willing to wait and see what we will do in regards to this peace treaty. So long as we keep our end of the bargains we have made and continue to deal with them fairly, honestly and honorably, they will deal with us in the same coin. In addition, it is still possible that The Slayer or his ally, Lord W'mefa'ap'Hrasht, may choose to ally with us. This grows more and more likely with each passing month that we continue to uphold our end of the peace agreements, and even more likely should you manage to tuck a victory or two against the Shazad beneath your belt."

R'Narr paused, looking to L'Sala, and shook his head. "Mrr... No, my mate. I have not forgotten you were a Mentalt, nor could I ever mistake you for a mere female, skilled perhaps in the Art of Manipulation, and little more. It is those qualities of logic and reason which, indeed, endear you to me. As beautiful as a dream, with a mind as sharp as the edge of my own sword. D'Zhin once gave you to me, calling you 'his sword.' He never knew that you would choose to remain by my side, and allow me to turn your keen edge against him," R'Narr replied, and smiled briefly. "Purr... No, my beloved. I had not forgotten..." he said, then fell silent. After a long moment, he sighed. "Mrr... It's just that..."

"Purr... You still wish me by your side, my beloved lord." L'Sala observed, and smiled.

R'Narr nodded. "Mrr... Yes. I still feel that with you at my side, I would stand the best chance. With your advice, my mate, I could rule the world."

"Miao... My lord, while it is true I can advise you far better than any other advisor you may find, and while it is true my knowledge of many things is far greater than your own, in the end, you are the better-skilled one at the Art of War. No advice I give regarding your campaign against the Shazad can possibly be better than your own counsel. As you once observed, you have battle-scars older than I." L'Sala replied, and smiled wryly. "Mrr... Besides, my lord - I can hardly follow you on this campaign in my current condition," she replied, and stood.

R'Narr looked to L'Sala, and smiled. Her abdomen bulged slightly beneath her long blue dress, distended with a kit - perhaps two, at the speed her belly had swelled in recent weeks. R'Narr stepped over to her, then nuzzled her lovingly. He stroked a gentle paw over her abdomen, and smiled. R'Narr had three daughters from his late mate, though all were grown and had been properly married off to secure various alliances with other clans of the Eastern Hinterlands. R'Narr found he was looking forward to having a kit or two around the castle again, and gazed at L'Sala warmly. "Mrr... Well, that's true enough, my mate. Still-"

L'Sala shook her head. "Mrr... No, my lord. You need me here. Between the two of us, you are the master of war, not I. You also need someone to manage your lands while you are gone, and manage your treaty agreements with the mus - and while the former is something you might leave in the capable paws of your Seneschal, D'Viall, the latter is something that only I am best equipped to manage."

"Mrowrrr... And that's another thing... I need a new aide-de-camp, since D'Viall is now my seneschal, and-"

"Purr... My lord, you are fretting needlessly. You've said yourself that Sergeant D'Kith would make a fine aide, and D'Viall himself has recommended him. Choose him, and get it over with, my lord. Stop worrying about me. I will be fine, my beloved lord," L'Sala replied, and nuzzled R'Narr with a smile.

R'Narr nuzzled L'Sala back for a moment, then frowned. His tail lashed about agitatedly. "Mrowrrrr... And what of T'Zama T'Mrr? She hates me, now, and has refused to join in an alliance against the Shazad. She could turn against me, and attack the moment I have taken my army away from here."

L'Sala nodded, her smile fading, to be replaced by the calm, dispassionate expression of a Mentalt. "Miao... My lord, I will not lie to you. This is likely. You killed her son, D'Larin, in a duel - and shamed her deeply. It is very likely she may choose to take advantage of the situation and launch an attack as soon as you are too distant to immediately respond."

"Fsst! All the more reason for you to come with me, rather than stay here! I can retake the lands later, and-"

"Miao... No, my lord. If she attacks, I will send word to the mus, and ask for help. In addition, she has lost quite a few of the warriors that once were under her claw with the death of her son. Her remaining son, D'Main, is widely rumored to be a sodomite - and it is my mentation, having observed him in person, that this is true. It is my mentation that he may have some influence with a few of the other lords who are similarly inclined - it is also my mentation that his mother has taught him the Art of Manipulation, as though he were a female, and thus may easily be able to insure the cooperation of sodomite lords who are his lovers. Still, even if T'Zama T'Mrr gathers several allies using both her and her son's influence, we will be able to hold out in the castle until your return. T'Zama T'Mrr is not going to allow another lord to lead her troops - not when she has lost so much already. D'Main T'Mrr strikes me as being inexperienced in war, as well. This means that T'Zama and her son will have to do a delicate dance of manipulation and guile to maintain a semblance of leadership and command, and yet still have much of the decisions made by those leaders she and her son may attract to her cause to fight for her. You know yourself that unity of command cannot be maintained indefinitely on such a basis," L'Sala said, then tipped her head. "Mrr... My lord, if the mus help, they may break the siege she will almost certainly lay on this castle. If they do not, there still remains the possibility that you will return in time to lift the siege yourself. Yes, there is a risk. Yet, as your mate, it is a risk I am willing to take. The throne is more important, my lord. Not only for you, but for the future of our people. D'Zhin must be overthrown. The war with the mus must end."

R'Narr nodded - this was a discussion he and L'Sala had held many times before. While R'Narr and many of the cats had viewed the Felines and the Mus of Oerth as being evenly matched, like two stags in the forest who lock antlers and struggle until they are both exhausted, this simply was not the case. In reality, it was more like the cats were hunters, and the mus were bears. The cats had, over the course of ten years of warfare ordered by Shazad D'Zhin, killed all the slow, fat and weak bears. Now, all that remained was the fast, lean and strong bears, who became faster and stronger each year as they raised another generation of cubs. The technology of the mus had improved to the point where they had rifles that simply out-matched anything the cats had, and their battle-tactics had been honed to perfection. R'Narr knew L'Sala was right - the war had to end. If not, then soon it would be the mus, armed with superior technology and a burning hatred of the cats, who would be the hunters, and the cats themselves who would be the hunted.

R'Narr cast his doubts aside with a flick of his tail. L'Sala might be less than half his age, but she was a Mentalt, and no ordinary female. If anyone could hold out against T'Zama, she could. "Mrr... Alright, my mate. But you be careful."

"Miao... Of course, my lord. Though... May I ask you to do me a favor? I want you to bring me something..."

"Mrow! Of course, my beloved! What is it? Another hunger for a bit of meat or an herb, from your pregnancy? What can I get you?" R'Narr asked, concerned.

"Miao... No, my lord. As you may recall, D'Zhin entered T'Masa keep three years ago, and selected myself and five other Mentalts he found attractive for use as his personal advisors and as his concubines. I was the youngest at twenty, my lord, and I had yet to have the privilege of being selected to give a young tom his warrior's rest - I was still a virgin. To be a mere concubine is, to a Mentalt, a humiliating thing, my lord. We are not common wenches, to be used as the Shazad wills. Also, the result of his actions led me down a path that has left me both joyous and sad. I rejoice in the knowledge that I am your mate, and that together, we may save our people from the self-destructive path D'Zhin has set us on. Yet, I find I weep, as well."

"Mrr? You weep?" R'Narr asked, raising an eyebrow. "Mrow... Is it because... Is it because the Mentalts cast you out, for becoming my mate?"

"Mrr... No, my lord," L'Sala replied, and gently stroked R'Narr's cheek with a paw. "Mew... Yes, I shall never see my mother, my grandmother, my friends, or anyone else I ever knew in T'Masa keep ever again, because I chose to fall in love with you, rather than simply use you to accomplish our goals, then return to T'Masa Keep... Yet, I do not regret my choice, my beloved lord. In you, I find my soul is filled with joy daily, and I bear your children proudly and happily," she replied, and R'Narr smiled as she continued.

"Miao... No, my lord. I do not weep for that... I weep for the nights I spent being used as D'Zhin desired, like a common whore. I weep for the knowledge that my sister-Mentalts endured the same humiliation. I weep for what he did to my sister-Mentalt, L'Valin. He destroyed her, my beloved lord, in trying to learn the truth of my Grand Manipulation regarding you and the Mus. He crushed her will under torture, and she no longer had the will to be a Mentalt - from what I have heard, she could do little more than whimper at the memory, and had become a catnip addict to dull the pain of her wounds. Catnip is forbidden to us, my lord - she has been cast out of T'Masa keep, and so far as I know, she is dead. This is what I weep for, my lord," L'Sala replied quietly.

R'Narr nodded, nuzzling his mate gently as he stroked her back. Finally, he looked into her eyes. Her expression was still calm, impassive. "Mrr... Alright, my mate... But what is it you wanted me to get?"

"Miao... My lord, I find I am in need of a small pouch in which to carry coins and other small items. If you would be so kind as to obtain one from D'Zhin's scrotum?" she replied, deadpan.

R'Narr did a double take. He started to laugh, but as he gazed into his mate's eyes, he realized she was not making a joke. She was asking him, as her mate, to avenge her - to slay her rapist, and bring proof her vengeance had been exacted, in accordance with the traditions of feline culture. R'Narr grinned fiercely. "Mrr... Your wish is my command, my beloved mate."

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