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


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Merle reached out her paw to Ayori from the back of her bird, and Ayori hopped up to grab it. In a moment, he'd swung up to grab the pack behind the large saddle, then scrambled atop brownie to sit behind Merle. "Got it?" Merle called over her shoulder.

"Yep!" Ayori replied, nodding. Ayori looked around. Already, the thousands of other mus who had gathered near Castle Dakah in the pre-dawn chill of this summer morning were mounting their birds in preparation to ride. As the campaign was expected to be short, there were only a few hundred servant-caste along with them, most of whom rode double with warriors of their clan. All the supplies everyone would need would simply carried on the backs of several hundred pack-birds - who, like the war-birds, grackled quietly in anticipation as the eastern sky slowly lightened. The mus preferred to travel fast, when they could - and with everyone mounted, their army would move very fast, indeed. Ayori let out a slow exhalation of breath. "Wow, Merle... I never knew there were so many mus! This is even more than Lord Xaa had last year!"

Merle nodded. "Half the armies of the mus are gathered here, Ayori - and all the servant-caste needed to keep them fed and equipped for a short campaign. Almost one hundred thousand warriors."

"Why so many? Will the battle really be that bad?"

"I don't think so, no. I think it's really more to show that all the clan-leaders have agreed to obey their new emperor, W'mefa. So, everyone did what he asked, and sent half their warriors. Even W'Mefa sent half his warriors - Lord O'dmemet and his command is over there," Merle replied, and pointed.

Ayori nodded, thinking, then blinked. "But Merle! Byarl only sent an octet! Will that embarrass him to the mus?"

Merle giggled. "No! They know there's only about two hundred of us, and we don't have enough armor for everyone, yet. So, Byarl just picked the same eight who had proved themselves in battle last year. And we'll be doing the same thing we did then, too - scouting, a bit of hunting, helping guard the camps, and helping to guard the servant-caste in the rear," Merle replied, then changed the subject. "How is Amani getting along?"

"Pretty good! She's had a lot of practice talking to us musties, and Healer Kargh picked up the trick of listening for her mind's voice pretty quickly. He still has to be touching her, though, just like us. Amani was hoping that because they were related to the mice, it might be easier, but it wasn't - it was just as hard as talking to us. She says she thinks it's just the way a carnivore's mind is made," Ayori replied.

"Hmmm... You know, I haven't had a chance to talk to her myself, come to think of it. Do you think you could teach me, Ayori? Xaa says it may be a week before we arrive, barring any problems. Is that long enough to learn?"

"Sure!" Ayori replied, grinning. "It's not that hard - I picked it up in about an hour. Most of the musties in the village picked it up in under a week, some just as fast as I did. Of course, it helps that Amani has had a lot of practice talking to us, too. She says her mind's voice is so loud, now, that another horse could hear her a very long way away if she yelled. You can come to our tent tonight when we make camp, and I'll teach you the basics, then Amani can start trying to talk to you. I'm sure you'll pick it up really quickly Merle. It's like listening for a quiet whisper, only with your mind, not your ears. Amani says what's even better is that someday, more of her people will be in the lands of the mus, and once we carnivores learn the trick, it should be easy for us to talk to any of them. They just have to scream really, really loud with their minds so we can hear, because it's like we're deaf," Ayori said, then suddenly pointed to the ranks of mounted mus. "Ooo! Look! I think they're ready!"

Merle nodded in agreement - all the warriors of the mus were mounted, and everyone appeared ready, waiting. A few heartbeats later, Xaa rode out to face the massive formation. Taking a deep breath, he roared, his voice rolling out across the flat fields and farmlands surrounding Castle Dakah. Instantly, thousands of conversations stilled. Silence reigned, and in that silence, Xaa roared again.

"My friends! Today, we ride forth to make history! Today, we ride under the banner of the first emperor of the mus in over two centuries! Let those a thousand years from now look back on this moment, and say 'This day, this hour, this moment, was the beginning of our Golden Age!'" Xaa shouted, and the mus, as one, roared their approval, while the musties ululated. Xaa turned his black bird to the west, and raised a paw. "For the emperor!"

"For the emperor!" the mus roared back.

"Forward!" Xaa roared, and clapped his heels to his mount, riding forward at a quick trot. Merle flicked the reins of her bird, and soon she and all the other riders followed Xaa towards the rolling plains to the west, the way before them lit by the light of the rising sun.

"Woo-hoo! We're on our way!" Ayori chittered happily.

"Yep!" Merle shouted back over the thunder of thousands of trotting birds. Merle couldn't help but grin. Yes, it would be dangerous - such was the nature of war. Some would live, many would die. It was even possible that they may not arrive in time, and Castle V'Nass had already fallen to the T'Mrr clan. After all, it had taken nearly two weeks to gather everyone together. Over a month had passed since the lone carrier pigeon that Merle helped save had arrived at Castle Xaa. Yet, she couldn't help thinking that Xaa's words were true - a thousand years from now, their descendants would look back on this day, this very moment, and call it the beginning of a Golden Age, and their finest hour.

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