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


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"Fsst! What is that doing here?!" R'Zin snarled, pointing. D'Main and T'Zama looked up to the entrance of the pavilion, and saw L'Valin standing there with the black stallion.

L'Valin looked to R'Zin coolly, holding the stallion's fore-hoof in her paws. "Miao... The stallion is my property, General, and I am not entirely satisfied with the way he has been treated. His feed has been somewhat short for a horse-slave of his size, for example. In point of fact, neither he nor I are going anywhere, since you have decided to lay siege to the castle, and I find serving Lady T'Mrr to be interesting. Thus, I am keeping him by my side, to insure he is properly cared for." By way of emphasis, L'Valin wrapped her arms around the stallion's massive forearm, her paws cradling his broad fore-hoof protectively. The stallion simply stood beside her silently, his face betraying his slight nervousness.

D'Main's eyes narrowed. "Fsst! Mother, forgive me for saying this, but to me, this proves it. This wench cannot be a true Mentalt - she's simply been deceiving us. Mentalts hate horses."

L'Valin turned her dispassionate gaze upon D'Main as he sat next to his mother. "Miao... Is that so, my lord? Shall I prove my abilities to you? Perhaps by a demonstration of my ability to discern your innermost secrets through my mentations, my lord? Shall we say... Reciting your list of lovers for the last month?" she asked, then smiled slightly at D'Main's gasp. "Mrr... It's a short list, my lord, but an interesting one," she said, her eyes glancing to R'Zin briefly.

R'Zin snarled, his paw nearly flying to the hilt of his sword before he could control himself. He risked a glance to T'Zama, but her face revealed nothing to him - she simply looked at L'Valin curiously. 'Does the Mentalt witch really know? And if she tells, will this ruin D'Main in his mother's eyes?' The fur of R'Zin's neck and tail fluffed out, and his tail flicked back and forth as he struggled to master his emotions and not reveal the secret he and D'Main shared.

D'Main said nothing, simply staring at L'Valin as he mentally kicked himself for his lack of control. 'I spoke too hastily,' he thought. 'Mother will not be amused.'

T'Zama simply smiled. "Mrr... Enough. I am convinced she is a Mentalt. That is all we need worry about," T'Zama purred, and looked to the stallion. "Mrr... Keep the horse-slave with you, if you wish, L'Valin. It is of little concern to me, so long as you serve me well, and willingly."

L'Valin bowed her head. "Mew... That I shall, my lady."

R'Zin slowly allowed himself to relax - the secret he and D'Main shared was safe, for the moment. "Mrr... As you wish, Lady T'Mrr," he replied, trying to keep his voice level. Turning to the table in the pavilion, he pointed to the papers on the table before him. "Mrowrrr... Now, 'Mentalt', here is our situation," R'Zin said, and began to explain.

L'Valin listened with the calm mind of a mentalt, the tips of her fingers lightly stroking the frog of Aijou's fore-hoof. Just the simple contact with him, touching him, knowing he was safe and sound, allowed her to calm her mind. After a few minutes, it became apparent what R'Zin was getting at in his long-winded synopsis. The T'Mrr were having logistics problems. The food they had planned on having for their birds and for their warriors would not be enough to allow them to out-last the defenders in a protracted siege.

*Yes. The one called Lord R'Zin is thinking they will run out of food in two moons.*

L'Valin smiled slightly at the quiet whisper in her mind. Aijou had eventually explained it wasn't a whisper for him - to him, it was a scream, and took an enormous amount of emotional energy for him to do. His words were spaced apart by many minutes - the time it took him to muster the emotional energy necessary to scream loud and forcefully enough for her to hear. More, she could only hear him when they were touching, and she was listening carefully, and her mind was relatively calm. Yet, she could hear him.

'I know, Aijou,' she thought in reply, her face calm. 'I can infer as much from his stance, his voice, and the gist of his conversation. Do not waste your strength telling me that which I can determine myself. Listen for their innermost thoughts - particularly those of T'Zama T'Mrr,' she replied.

Aijou did not reply - it would take him another few minutes to gather the emotional strength necessary to scream at L'Valin again. Instead, he simply pressed his arm to his side, squeezing L'Valin's arm gently.

Finally, L'Valin realized there was little more to be learned from listening to R'Zin. L'Valin put on a face of extreme boredom, and pretended to yawn. R'Zin caught L'Valin's expression, and snarled. "Fsst! Do I bore you, witch?"

"Miao... With respect, my lord, yes, you do. If you are asking me to Mentate upon a solution, you should have asked me a week ago. It has been obvious to me since before the siege began that the mercenaries you hired to handle the wagons have been stealing from you. Even now, the empty wagons you have sent back to the lands of the T'Mrr to establish a supply-train are almost certainly becoming a windfall of profit for these thieves, as it is my mentation that each and every one had a false bottom. If you are asking for my advice, I recommend you take the quartermaster you hired and have him drawn and quartered, and order he be replaced. Then, announce that each day your supply-count comes up short, you will draw and quarter the replacement, and order another to be selected. It is my mentation that afterwards, a recount of your supplies will show that the missing supplies have miraculously been found."

R'Zin sputtered, but T'Zama nodded. "Mrr... A good suggestion, L'Valin. Lord R'Zin, make it so."

"Mrowr! Lady T'Zama..." R'Zin started, then controlled himself. "Mrowrrrr... Yes, my lady," R'Zin replied, then bowed. Without a further word, he turned and left the pavilion tent.

L'Valin looked to T'Zama. The smile on her muzzle hadn't faded, and T'Zama still regarded L'Valin with an expression that appeared to be mild amusement. "Mew... Was there anything else, my lady?" L'Valin asked, bowing her head.

"Mrr... No, no - that will be all, for now," T'Zama replied, waving a paw to dismiss L'Valin.

L'Valin nodded, and turned to leave, the stallion walking by her side.

*You are a plaything to her, L'Valin T'Masa. She amuses herself with you.*

L'Valin nodded at Aijou's silent whisper. 'I know,' she thought in reply. 'She almost certainly had concluded the mercenaries were stealing long before she sent the guard to come fetch me to her pavilion. She was merely testing me again. R'Zin is almost certainly involved, somehow... I think he intended to come away with a profit, no matter how this campaign went, and is, perhaps, collaborating with them. And T'Zama may be perceptive enough to realize this. Her son, D'Main, however, cannot see this. I think...' L'Valin paused, focusing her will, her mind gathering a hundred little details of voice and glance she had observed over the last week... The twitch of a whisker, the set of an ear... 'I think D'Main is falling in love with R'Zin, and cannot see what his mother sees in him.'

Aijou nodded, squeezing L'Valin's arm to his side gently. L'Valin smiled - it was reassuring to know that her mentation of the situation was correct. A few moments later, L'Valin stopped by her tent, and sat. Aijou sat next to her, and gathered himself for another attempt at talking to her. L'Valin waited patiently, holding a fore-hoof in her paws. Now that she was at her full abilities, it had been child's play to convince the wagon-driver that T'Zama had authorized her to take Aijou. And, now that Aijou was near and she could touch him as she pleased, L'Valin found she was no longer worried about him, and could concentrate with ease.

Finally, Aijou looked to L'Valin, his face a mask of concentration. His voice was the faintest whisper in her mind, and she almost couldn't hear it at all. *She will tire of her toy... Someday...*

L'Valin nodded. 'With luck, we will have escaped before then,' she thought in reply, and produced her brush. Aijou smiled, and turned around where he sat. In a few moments, L'Valin had begun brushing his mane, her mind already considering a thousand different possibilities while the fingers of her free paw rested idly on the hard muscles of his shoulder.

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