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


Click here to go to the most recent post!
Netscape users - click here to hear the music for this page.


The mittened, van tom snarled at R'Zin, his tail lashing back and forth in anger. "Fsst! We had a deal, General!"

"Fsst! That was before the Mentalt told Lady T'Mrr what was happening!" R'Zin snapped in reply. The trees of the nearby woods hid then from the view of anyone else, and the distance from his army's encampment would hopefully prevent anyone from overhearing. Still, R'Zin was cautious. "Fsst! Now, we'll be lucky if the wench doesn't tell her everything, and we don't all end up like the D'Kalas!" he hissed, referring to the dead quartermaster. The drawing and quartering had been particularly brutal. D'Kalas had screamed and wept, begging for mercy. When the four birds his limbs were tied to were lashed with the whip, ripping his limbs from their sockets, his torso had been dragged for a dozen paces by the sinews of a partially-torn arm before it ripped loose, then bounced free. D'Kalas lay there for nearly half a minute, screaming in agony as the blood spurted from the empty stumps, until finally he fainted from loss of blood, and died. The Mentalt had been right, however - the next quartermaster did, miraculously, discover the missing supplies.

"Fsst! She won't talk much after I wring her scrawny neck."

Without warning, R'Zin lashed out, clouting the mercenary captain across the ear and sending him sprawling to the ground. "Fsst! You fool! If she dies, T'Zama will know for sure something is up!"

The van tom's paw leap to the hilt of the sword at his hip, but in the blink of an eye, the tip of R'Zin's rapier was beneath his chin.

"Mrr... If you wish to die now, D'Kath, just say so. I can easily explain your demise as being another of D'Kalas' conspirators," R'Zin purred menacingly.

D'Kath slowly removed his paw from his sword.

"Mrr... Much better, D'Kath," R'Zin purred, then snarled. "Fsst! Now put away your stupid thoughts of killing the wench, and let's discuss how in the nine hells we're going to pull our tails out of this little trap she's laid for us!" he snapped, then sheathed his sword with the smooth, single motion of an expert swordsman.

"Mrowrrr... I... I'm sorry, General," D'Kath replied. "Mrr... D'Kalas was... He was more than just the quartermaster for my troops. He was... A special friend."

R'Zin nodded. "Mrr... I know. It was he who recommended I hire your mercenary clan for this campaign, above the others I was considering. He was..." R'Zin said, pausing. "Mrr... He was my special friend, as well," R'Zin finished, his voice quiet.

D'Kath looked up sharply, but he could see no guile or subterfuge in R'Zin's eyes - only a brief flash of sadness. The two toms exchanged a long look in silence.

Finally, D'Kath nodded, and R'Zin held out a paw. D'Kath smiled and took it, and R'Zin pulled him to his feet again. D'Kath clasped R'Zin's paw in both of his own, and looked into R'Zin's emerald eyes. "Mew... He had a lovely singing voice. Did he ever sing for you?"

R'Zin nodded, bringing his other paw atop D'Kath's. "Mrr... Like a bird. He sang the Ballad of D'Sail T'Rin to me, once... I wept."

The two toms fell silent after that, simply gazing at each other.

Finally, R'Zin sighed. "Mrr... I didn't want to order it done, you know. I had no choice. T'Zama ordered it, and I could not refuse without revealing..."

D'Kath simply nodded.

"Mrr... D'Kalas knew this campaign was risky... Yes, D'Zhin is likely to win, and that will put all of us in favor with the Shazad, no matter how this siege turns out. More, if we win here, we'll each have a share of the loot from Castle V'Nass. But, if D'Zhin does not win..."

"Mrowr... Then we'll all have to flee the wrath of the Overlord of the East and his allies, and we'll need every gold talent we can lay our paws on to buy or bribe our way to safety," D'Kath finished, nodding. "Mrr... That's why I agreed to the skim in the first place."

R'Zin nodded, releasing D'Kath's paws, then leaned against a nearby tree, crossing his arms. "Miao... I had a dream of what to do with my share, regardless of how this turns out. Did D'Kalas ever tell you of it?"

D'Kath shook his head. "Mrr... No, do tell."

"Miao... There are rumors... Rumors that far to the south, beyond the southern mountains, is an endless, fertile plain. With a bit of seed to grow fodder and a few livestock... Perhaps a few dozen workers skilled in building a keep... Then, away from the disparaging glances of those who do not understand... Our own little kingdom, really, one where we no longer need to hide our true loves, where we can be open, and proud, and free."

D'Kath grinned. "Mrowr! A grand dream, indeed, General. And leave the T'Mrr to their fate, regardless of who wins the civil war!"

"Mrr... Not all the T'Mrr, D'Kath. I would ask D'Main to come with me. He is... A 'special friend', of mine, as well," R'Zin replied, and smiled.

D'Kath smiled in return. "Mrr... He is a sweet one, isn't he?"

R'Zin nodded. "Mrr... Very. And I think he loves me, as well."

The two toms gazed at each other for a long moment in silence, smiling. Finally, R'Zin sighed. "Mrr... Still... There is the matter of what's to be done, now that the Mentalt knows of the skim."

D'Kath nodded, stroking his whiskers. "Mrr... She didn't want to be here in the first place. Her willingness to serve Lady T'Mrr, I think, is feigned. She was traveling somewhere with that horse - and probably for a reason."

R'Zin spat. "Fsst! Probably to serve some esoteric manipulation of the Nuns of T'Masa. She tried to pass herself off as a noble's daughter when we first caught the two of them - it's likely the horse is with her because she didn't want anyone to know she was really a Mentalt."

D'Kath nodded again. "Mrr... That would make sense. Everyone knows the Mentalts hate horses - they've slaughtered enough of them who wander onto their lands, and I've even seen one drop into a fit when a horse came near. Traveling with a horse would easily hide what she truly was," D'Kath agreed. "Miao... To what purpose, though, I wonder? Where is she traveling, and what does she hope to accomplish?"

R'Zin paused, thinking. "Mrr... She said she was traveling to the lands of the mus... Perhaps they mean to infiltrate the mus, somehow?"

"Mrr... It's a possibility," D'Kath agreed. "Miao... More, that means that all we would have to do is let them go. If she is on a mission to infiltrate the mus, she is probably eager to sneak away from us, somehow. Only the slowness of that musclebound beast she is with keeps her from just sneaking off right now, I think. She knows our riders could run them down easily, catch them, and bring them back."

R'Zin nodded. "Mrr... But she won't even try unless we tell her that we would let her escape, and I give orders she is not to be chased down - and that would mean revealing everything. T'Zama would certainly hear of my orders, and that would be that."

"Mrr... Perhaps if we-"

"Fsst! Wait..." R'Zin said, holding up a paw at the sound of an approaching djuducu-bird's heavy footsteps. Glancing between the trees, he spotted the rider. "Mrr... It's D'Main. Say nothing, let me do all the talking." he murmered, and D'Kath nodded.

A few moments later, D'Main had dismounted, and stepped between the trees to smile at R'Zin. The tawny tom's grin was as gleaming as his mirror-polished armor. "Mrow! There you are! If you thought to hide, R'Zin, you forget - I am an excellent hunter. I followed the tracks of your birds."

R'Zin grinned in reply. "Mrr... No, Lord D'Main, I wasn't trying to hide - only trying to discuss the matter of the quartermaster with D'Kath without fear of being overheard. D'Kath knew nothing of the quartermaster's plans, my friend. I believe we can still rely on the loyalty of both him and his troops."

D'Main nodded. "Mrow! Well, so long as you are satisfied that the matter is resolved, R'Zin, then I am satisfied," D'Main replied, and gestured in dismissal to D'Kath. "Mrr... You may go now, Captain. I have some things I wish to discuss with General R'Zin, and they're not for your ears, so just toddle along, please."

"Miao... Yes, my lord," D'Kath replied, bowing. D'Main nodded in return, and D'Kath stepped between the trees to fetch his bird. D'Main sat in the soft grass beneath a nearby tree, waiting until D'Kath was well out of earshot.

R'Zin looked down to D'Main. "Mrr... What is it you wanted to talk about, D'Main?"

D'Main grinned, reaching up to catch one of R'Zin's paws and pull him down beside him. "Mrr... You and me, and this lovely little hiding-spot you've found..." he purred, nuzzling R'Zin with a click as their metal cuirass' tapped together.

"Mrr... Now, now, my sweet D'Main... You'll scratch the finish of your lovely breastplate," R'Zin replied with a chuckle.

"Mrr... Oh, bother that, I've three more just like it," D'Main replied, pulling R'Zin closer.

Click here to read the next chapter!


Chapter One<<<<