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


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The interruption could not have come at a more inappropriate time. D'Lith, Lord of Clan T'Chala, was in the process of saddling his bird, and the bird was being stubborn. It had been a long campaign so far, with a great deal of riding, and the bird was being fractious this morning. He'd even had to muzzle the beast when it tried to peck at him.

"Mrowww... My lord, we found this one sniffing about at our eastern perimeter. What should we do with her?" the captain asked.

D'Lith paused, looking over his shoulder in annoyance. In that moment of distraction, the nine hundred pound bird lurched, sending the half-ready saddle slipping from it's back as it skipped away with what sounded like a definite cackle of amusement. D'Lith swore - the bird was hobbled, and would be easy to catch, yet this was still quite annoying. It wouldn't do for the leader of Clan T'Chala to look like he couldn't master his own bird. "Fsst! What is it?!" D'Lith snarled, turning to glower at the captain.

The captain bowed quickly, his flicking between his legs. "Mrowrrrr... Your pardon, my lord, but we found this one sniffing about at our eastern perimeter. What should we do with her?" he repeated, gesturing to his left.

D'Lith examined the prisoner with a sour glare. A dun mare, the horse slave knelt quietly, her head bowed in proper submission. She was quite attractive, for a horse - and it was obvious that several of his warriors had noticed this long before she'd been brought to him. The simple garment the mare wore was torn in spots, and blood oozed from small cuts on her shoulders and hips, where a few of the warriors who had availed themselves of her had clawed her slightly in their passion. Her garment was tied up around her breasts, in the position the female horse-slaves used when running long distances, leaving her sex bare. Almost certainly, she was a slave of a local family, out on an errand, and had been stumbled upon by a patrol of his warriors - it seemed highly unlikely to D'Lith that even a stupid horse-slave would intentionally approach an army's camp. D'Lith guessed that the patrol who'd caught her probably availed themselves of her, then brought her back to be used by their friends. Had the captain not apparently interfered, grabbing her and dragging her before D'Lith, this probably would have continued for hours and distracted several hundred of his warriors - perhaps even sparked fights among them as they argued over whose turn it was next. D'Lith snorted in disgust. "Fsst! We're a week's ride from Sezawa Plains, and you bring me this?!" he snarled, and clouted the captain over his ear. The captain staggered, then bowed even lower as D'Lith continued to snarl at him. "Fsst! Use your head! I don't need six thousand concupiscent toms under my command fighting each other over this worthless slave while we're trying to lure the rebel R'Narr into the Shazad's trap! Get rid of her!"

The horse slave looked up suddenly at D'Lith's words, her eyes searching his face. D'Lith, his eyes on the captain, did not notice her expression - but even if he had, he would not have understood it, nor would he really have cared. His mind was only on fulfilling his part of the Shazad's battle plan. The future of his clan, and indeed the future of the empire may be at stake. His part in the plan may not have been a great one, but it was important, nonetheless. His troops would be the final lure, drawing the rebel R'Narr's troops forward to Mirawa Pass, just before D'Zhin's troops swept in behind, trapping them between the Yellow River and Mirawa Ridge, and ensuring their doom. He could not afford a lack of discipline among his legions - the stakes were simply too high.

"Mrowrrr! My lord, I-"

"Fsst! You idiot! What do you think D'Zhin will think when he hears how little discipline the warriors under your command have?! You think he'll blame you, or me?!"

"Mrowrrrr! Forgive me, my lord! I'll dispose of her at once!" the captain replied, reaching to his side for his dagger.

Suddenly, the dun mare scrambled to her feet, then sprinted off, her long legs carrying her swiftly away. The captain snarled. "Fsst! I'll get my mount and catch her, my lord!"

"Fsst! Don't bother catching her, idiot! Just drive her off! We're too close to the final battle to have this kind of distraction! And keep a tighter rein on your troops, or by the nine hells there'll be a new captain of my second legion by tomorrow!"

The captain bowed low again. "Mrowr! It shall be as you command, my lord!" he replied, and trotted off.

D'Lith spat, then turned back to his bird. The bird gazed at him from behind the leather, bag-like muzzle with an expression of avian amusement. "Fsst! And as for you, if you give me any more trouble today, once this campaign is over, I'll feast on your liver!" D'Lith snarled, shaking a finger at it. The bird grackled in reply, watching carefully as D'Lith picked up his saddle again. D'Lith then lashed out a paw, grabbing the trailing reins before the bird could skitter away, and began to try to saddle the fractious bird again. Half an hour later, D'Lith had mounted the bird, and was riding among his troops, snarling out the day's orders. The dun mare, of course, had completely slipped his mind, as an event of little importance.

Ten leagues away, the dun mare was still running, the wind of her passage whipping through the dark hair of her tail and mane. D'Lith had not slipped her mind. Not at all.

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