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


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"Miao... Come on - the rain's starting. Come," L'Valin called, waving a paw from inside her tent.

Aijou simply looked down at L'Valin, the reddish light of sunset casting a strange sheen on his ebon pelt. Slowly, he shook his head as the light drizzle began to dampen his fur.

"Mrow? What's the matter? It's big enough. I got a bigger tent from the new quartermaster," L'Valin explained. And, indeed, she had. L'Valin had simply walked up to the new quartermaster, and told him that the stallion was her property, and she had no intention of seeing him shiver in the rain and perhaps become ill. The quartermaster complied without comment, not willing to find out just how far L'Valin's influence with Lady T'Mrr went - he was well aware of what had happened to his predecessor. L'Valin now had a small pavilion, which was more than large enough for the two of them.

Aijou hesitated, then finally looked up to the sky, and sighed. Nodding, he stepped into the pavilion, ducking at the opening, which was tall enough for a cat, but not quite tall enough for him. Aijou sat quietly in the far corner of the tent, watching silently as L'Valin carefully buttoned the outside flap, then the inside. With the only light that of the setting sun, to his eyes, it was nearly dark inside the small pavilion.

L'Valin finished sealing the entrance against the rain, then turned to look at Aijou. Blinking in the shadowy interior of the tent, her eyes adjusted to the gloom after a few moments. L'Valin gazed curiously at Aijou, her head cocked to one side. "Mrow? What's the matter? You look very uncomfortable," she asked, sitting before him. Aijou simply shook his head, and waved a fore-hoof dismissively. It didn't seem worth the effort it would take to explain to the mind-deaf she-cat that small, dark spaces like the interior of this tent made him uncomfortable - a normal reaction, for a horse. To L'Valin, the tent was large, roomy and comfortable; yet to Aijou, who was considerably larger than her, it was not. However, it was dry, and getting soaked and chilled seemed infinitely less desirable than being uncomfortable in a little canvas box for a few hours.

L'Valin gazed at Aijou for a long moment in silence, gathering her will. Aijou marveled silently as he watched - it was truly an amazing sight, to a horse. It was not something of the eyes, of course, but a sensation of the mind. Still, to Aijou, it was beautiful. Her mind calmed as her will came to the fore, and she began to observe him. For a long moment, her mind quietly gathered the hundreds of small signs he had made in face and body, noting the set of his head, the flare of his nostrils and a hundred other small clues he gave off now, then comparing them to the hundreds of small cues he had given off before he entered the tent. Finally, the brilliant flare of her mind crystallized on a single conclusion. "Mrr... You're claustrophobic. This tent seems small to you, and makes you uncomfortable."

Aijou smiled briefly, and nodded.

L'Valin gazed at Aijou a moment longer, thinking. "Mrr... Well, I am thinking that if you were one of us, a cat, you would want to be left alone, and given as much space as possible in here. Yet, you are not. I am thinking that your people are as different from us as night is from day, and if another horse was here, you would touch and comfort each other," she said, then scooted closer to him. Reaching beside him, she picked up a small cloth she had appropriated earlier, then took his left fore-hoof in her other paw and tugged. "Mrr... Come... Lay here. Relax," she said. Aijou shuffled about in the darkness, guided by her gentle paws, and lay quietly in the middle of the tent. L'Valin shifted next to him, lifting one of his massive legs and laying it across her lap, then slowly began wiping the bottom of his hoof with the cloth. Aijou smiled for a moment as he sensed her intent in her mind. She was cleaning him - a normal activity for a cat, and an expression of great love between them. Aijou only regretted that he simply did not love her in return.

Oh, certainly he felt for her. He couldn't help but have at least the simple compassion any horse would give another living being. L'Valin had suffered so much, and endured so much, it was difficult not to pity her, as well. She had also striven so hard to please him all these many weeks, he could not help but have warm feelings towards her. 'But it is not love,' he told himself. 'It is merely pity and compassion. Yes, that's all it is. Nothing more.'

Aijou nearly jumped out of his skin at a damp touch above his hoof. It was several moments before he realized that L'Valin had begin gently lapping at his skin, cleaning his fur with her sand-paper tongue. Her mind was calm, and she was enjoying herself - and Aijou could sense that she was remembering the bath he gave her, weeks ago. That experience had not been gentle - indeed, Aijou had been thoroughly disgusted with her filth, and completely annoyed with her. Yet, she remembered it fondly. She knew it was driven by necessity and made harsh by her own actions, yet, she still viewed it as an act of compassion, coming from the one she loved.

Aijou sighed quietly. It had not been compassion, but simply irritation, and an unwillingness to endure her fleas another night. She had nearly died - her starvation combined with walking about Raldad for hours had brought her to the brink of collapse - yet, because of the drug she sniffed, she could not feel how close to death she truly was. He had held her in his arms for two days, traveling onward, never letting her leave his touch until he knew she would recover. Holding her close at night, stroking her gently, singing to her with his mind, applying what little he knew of the healing techniques of the horse-people, all to try to keep her alive. When she finally awoke two days later and clawed him in outrage for his discarding her drug, he snapped. Days of maddening itching had finally taken their toll on his patience. And yet, she still thought of it kindly. Indeed, everything about him she thought of warmly. Her love for him was bright, shining, and true.

Aijou sighed again - her love shamed him deeply, because he could not return it, and could not bring himself to tell her this.

L'Valin, caught up in the moment, began to purr and she gently lapped her way up his legs. Aijou tried to simply relax. It was a pleasant sensation - a rather sensual caress, in fact...

With a sudden shock, Aijou realized he was becoming aroused by L'Valin's caress.

L'Valin's purr became almost a chuckle as she noticed his arousal. She paused for a moment, gazing at his loincloth with a wry grin, then lifted his fore-hoof in her paws and began lapping at his wrist, continuing her gentle cleaning. The rain began to fall harder outside the tent, pattering loudly against the canvas walls as thunder rumbled in the distance.

Aijou struggled to build up the emotions necessary to scream loud enough for her to hear... To tell her he wanted her to stop... But he could not. He could not even summon the will to pull his arm from her gentle embrace, to stop her tongue's sensual caress...

'She is merely cleaning me... In the manner of her people... Nothing more...' he tried to tell himself. But even he knew it was a lie. He could easily sense the arousal in her mind, the deep desire... She had seen his own arousal, and now wished to please him, to repay him for his compassion and his tenderness, and show him her love.

L'Valin purred quietly as she gently lapped across Aijou's chest, then down his belly. Aijou nickered with passion, his eyes closed.

L'Valin finally paused, lightly running her fingers over his loincloth. "Mrr... Quietly, my love. The walls are only made of canvas," she whispered, just loud enough to be heard over the patter of the rain, and grinned in the darkness. Slowly, she lowered her muzzle to his belly, and resumed gently cleaning him.

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Chapter One<<<<