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

JIM FARRIS

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Thirty-One.



*My love... The mustelid, Ayori Treeclimber, has forgiven me for using the She-Cat, L'Valin, to save you, my love. The seer, Amani of the Blue Wind Clan, says that in the full of time, they all shall forgive me. There is hope, my love.*



The black stallion looked up at the silent voice in his mind. He kept his face as calm and expressionless as he could - it would not do to disturb the she-cat, L'Valin, in her concentration. He could sense L'Valin's mind - brilliant, powerful, but crippled by fear. Through her quiet brushing of his mane and pelt, she calmed herself, and overcame her handicap. Even now, her mind sparkled as she sat behind him, and he was awed by the vast power of it. It was within her power to find a way for the two of them to escape, grasping at hundreds of small, inconsequential facts her mind had observed, and putting them all together in a process that was as esoteric as it was awesome to watch. Aijou knew, however, that he could not afford to distract L'Valin from her Mentation with even a quiet nicker of pleasure - so he remained calm at the sound of Naien's quiet mind-voice, though his heart sang with happiness.



*The she-cat, L'Valin, has gained her full powers again, Naien. It is... Truly astounding. I have never seen the mind of a Mentalt, fully active as hers is now. It is brilliant, and shines like the sun. Her mind is closed, deaf to my thoughts, as all cats are... Yet, her mind out-shines all the others I have seen in my life. It is a tragedy she is still crippled by her fears.*



*How deeply is she affected by fear?*



The black stallion frowned slightly, sending his thoughts back to his heart-bonded mate, many leagues to the southeast. It was only their bond of love that allowed them to communicate over such a great distance, and Aijou treasured these quiet moments. *Very deeply, my beloved. The slightest threat to me, and the brilliant flare of her mind collapses into sputters and sparks of worry, fear, and self-doubt, like the mirrored surface of a small pond is rippled and distorted by even the smallest pebble. She brushes me now, using her love for me as a crutch to soothe and calm herself. It is... Truly sad. The work of the torturer has not merely left scars on her body, but on her mind, as well. More, I cannot tell if these scars will ever heal, for I am not a seer, as you are.*



There was a long pause, then Aijou sensed a deep sigh across the leagues that separated him from Naien. *I... I hardly feel like a seer, Aijou... I feel more like a foolish mare who has led her stallion into trouble through her own stupidity. I feel so helpless, my love. Each time I turn my inner eye to you, I cannot see what may happen. I do not know how to advise you, except to tell you what Amani advised - keep the she-cat calm and content, that she may use the powers of her mind to find a way for you to escape.* There was another long pause before Naien spoke again. *Amani is... She is a far greater seer than I, Aijou. I... I feel I am not worthy of you.*



The black stallion smiled, and sent a warming mental hug back to his mate. *You are more than worthy, my beloved. Fear not that the mare, Amani, is a greater seer than you. This matters little, to me. Indeed, it would not matter to me even if you were an ordinary mare, with a mind no greater than my own. I love you for who you are, not what you are, Naien.*



*I thank you, and I love you, too - but it matters much, to me. I wish to be the best... For you.*



*Then learn from the mare, Amani. Ask her to teach you her ways, and to help sharpen the vision of your inner eye. Your weakness may simply be from the lack of Clan-Memories that plagues the Dark Flame Clan. Few have taught, so few have learned. Learn from her, and grow.*



*I shall, my beloved Aijou... For you.*



There was silence after that, and Aijou idly wondered what might be happening where Naien was. Perhaps the musties had come, wanting to play a game with her. From what she had said, the strange little carnivores all enjoyed games, from the youngest to the oldest. Or, perhaps she was asking Amani to teach her, to help her hone the skills of the seer. Aijou looked up to the late afternoon sky, and watched the sun slowly sink towards the horizon. Perhaps Naien simply needed to sleep.



L'Valin's will began to tire, and her mind flickered as idle thoughts crept in at the edges. Aijou watched with his mind as L'Valin rested, gathering her will and calming herself by running her fingers lightly over his hard-muscled back. Aijou sat quietly, letting her rest undisturbed. He could sense the quiet thoughts, the worries, the fears that threatened to end her attempt at Mentation. He knew what was bothering her. Aijou reached out with his mind to Naien. *The She-Cat, L'Valin, fears I do not love her, and this eats away at her weakened will, Naien. What should I do? Should I try to tell her how I feel for her?*



Aijou felt Naien's response as a rush of worry and fear. *How... How do you feel for her, my love?*



Aijou sent back the mental equivalent of a shrug. *It is difficult to say. I pity her, mainly. The tortures she has undergone... How she clings to me like a little foal might tearfully cling to her father after a beating by the cats... Yet, at the same time, I also despise her. She is a carnivore, one who tears the living breath from another and devours their flesh to live. An unholy thing of darkness... A monster. And yet...*



*Yes?*



*And yet... There is so much more than that, my beloved. You cannot have someone cling to you for weeks like a frightened little foal, sacrificing everything, and working so hard to please you and help you... And not feel something in return. Perhaps a cat might be able to ignore her, to cast her aside without a second thought as a worthless, scarred, ugly thing. But I am not a cat.*



*Do you love her?* Naien asked, the quiet words of her mind containing an ocean of worry and doubt.



Aijou paused. He knew that if Naien was near him, she could simply sense the feelings in his mind - and with her skills as a seer, she would know his feelings better than he knew himself. Yet, she was not near, and all she knew was the thoughts he sent to her, his minds's silent voice echoing quietly across the leagues that separated them. *I...*



*Do you love her?!* Naien asked again, her voice a shout of desperation across the leagues.



*I don't know!* Aijou snapped in reply. *That is what I was trying to tell you before, Naien!* Aijou suppressed a quiet sigh, and tried again. *I'm sorry... It's just... Sometimes I pity her. Other times I loathe her. But then, there are times...* Aijou paused. *I'm sorry - I just don't know. I only know that I pity her - and pity is not love.*



A long silence ensued, and Aijou considered his feelings quietly. He really didn't know how if he loved L'Valin. Finally, he looked up again at Naien's silent, mental voice. *I... I am sorry, my love. I do not wish to lose you, so I was harsh with you.*



*I understand. I do not wish to lose you, either, my beloved.*



*Amani says... Amani says that you may pity her, but you must not loathe her. She has learned that this part of our people's beliefs was wrong, my love. And I have seen her vision, shared her memories... And she is right. We must not loathe the carnivores for what they eat. They cannot help the way they were made, any more than we can.*



*So you have said before. I am trying my beloved, but it is difficult. To shake the beliefs of a lifetime is no easy task.*



*I know, my love, but we must.*



L'Valin's gentle paw on his back faltered, and stopped. Aijou could feel L'Valin's mind filling with doubt, her will flickering, then dying. *The She-Cat, L'Valin, needs me now, my beloved. I will talk to you later.*



*I will be listening for your voice,* Naien replied, then fell silent.



Aijou shuffled on the grass, turning to face L'Valin. The she-cat looked tired and sad, her slitted, sapphire eyes misted with tears. She didn't speak aloud, as she didn't wish her words to be overheard by the wagon-driver, who even now worked nearby to light a small fire for his dinner. Instead, L'Valin simply thought to the stallion, knowing he would hear. 'I so wish you could talk to me,' she thought, looking into his eyes.



*I can talk to you, L'Valin T'Masa - and I am talking to you. I have been talking to you since the moment we first met, when you saw me shivering and cold in the rain. I have greeted you each morning, I have bid you sleep well each night. I have whispered words of encouragement, I have advised you when you were in doubt, and I have comforted you on those nights you were so terribly sad. When you collapsed that day you saw the rainbow, having overdosed on your drug and brought yourself so near death you lay unconscious for two days, I held you in my arms, enduring your fleas and other parasites, and sang to you as I struggled to heal you. Yes, L'Valin T'Masa - I can talk to you, I have been talking to you and singing to you and even screaming at you from time to time. Yet, all of it has meant nothing. You are mind-deaf, as are all carnivores,* he replied, and sighed, knowing she could not hear him.



'I... I love you. I love you more than life itself. Yet... I do not even know your name,' L'Valin thought to him, then paused. 'You do have a name, yes? I mean... You horses do have names you use with each other?'



The black stallion nickered quietly in amusement, then nodded. *Aijou. My name is Aijou.*



L'Valin sighed quietly. 'If only you could tell me what it is,' she thought, looking down to her lap. 'If only... If only you could tell me if you loved me back.'



Aijou sighed, and felt a surge of familiar frustration. Naien had explained what Amani had taught her - the secret of speaking to the mind-deaf. Yet, no matter how many times he tried, L'Valin never seemed to hear him. There was so much he wanted to say to her... And yet, he simply couldn't. Perhaps the mustelid's minds were easier to reach than the cold, calculating minds of the cats. Or, perhaps it was simply that he as a stallion - the mind of a stallion was, in general, weaker than that of a mare. A stallion's strength was his body, and his song - a mare's strength was her wisdom, and her mind. Or, perhaps it was simply that only the mind of a seer had the power necessary to break through the barrier of a carnivore's non-empathic mind, structured so that they would not feel empathy for those beings they had to kill. Naien had explained what Amani had discovered, and Aijou understood. A carnivore's mind was like this for a reason. If they were not mind-deaf, they would be able to feel the dying scream of their prey, and would not be able to kill - and that meant they would starve to death. In the end, Naien was right - they could not help being how they were, anymore than he could help being how he was. But it was still enormously frustrating.



Aijou felt a surge of anger, and reached out with his fore-hooves, placing one to each side of L'Valin's head, lifting her face to look into her slitted, sapphire eyes. *Aijou! My name is Aijou! If you hear nothing else from me in your life, at least hear that! My name is Aijou! I don't know if I love you! Sometimes I pity you, sometimes I loathe you, sometimes I sit in awe of you, sometimes I sit in disgust of you! Sometimes you whimper and whine and are so helpless and pathetic I don't know whether to hold you in my arms and pity you or just turn my head and vomit! Other times you are strong and powerful, your mind so beautiful to behold, it's almost terrifying! I don't know how I feel about you anymore, so even if you could hear me, I couldn't tell you! All I can tell you is MY NAME IS AIJOU! Hear me just one time, you wonderful, horrible creature! Just once, hear me! MY NAME IS AIJOU!*



L'Valin's eyes widened, and her jaw dropped. With trembling paws, she reached up to hold the black stallion's fore-hooves to the sides of her head. "Ssss... Aijou... Your name is Aijou..." she whispered, her voice hushed with awe at the quiet whisper she had heard echoing in her mind.



Aijou sighed with relief, and smiled. She had heard. It had taken a scream of frustration and rage, and what she had heard was a whisper so soft, she nearly hadn't noticed it at all - but she had heard. He had poured all his feelings, weeks of frustration, irritation and anger, into that single shout, and now found himself spent. He was no seer, with the vast resources of a seer's mind to call upon - he was merely an ordinary stallion of his people. It would be many minutes before he could muster the emotional energy necessary to scream at her like that again. Yet, Naien was right - it did work. Gently, he slipped his arms around L'Valin, and hugged her softly. *Yes. My name is Aijou.*



L'Valin nuzzled Aijou's broad, muscular chest, and purred quietly. "Mrr... Aijou..." she whispered, her heart bursting with joy.
   

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