of the Last God
(Book III of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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"Miao... Here it is, my lady," D'Viall called, bowing as a sergeant wheeled the stone into the room in a wheelbarrow. "Mrr... I'm sorry I couldn't simply allow you to go outside and examine it yourself, but that's simply too dangerous. I've already lost one warrior to being struck by a stone, and I certainly am not willing to allow you to risk the same fate, my lady." Another loud thump in the distance told her another stone had smashed into the walls of the inner keep, punctuating D'Viall's concern.
L'Sala nodded. "Mrr... I was not offended, Lord D'Viall. Your concern is justifiable. I find I am too close to term to be waddling about outside and dodging catapult-stones, anyway," she said, and grinned wryly. The sergeant struggled to suppress a snicker, and D'Viall grinned.
L'Sala waved to the sergeant, and he wheeled the stone closer. L'Sala bent over it, blowing a puff of breath across it to remove some of the dust, and brushing it with a paw. L'Sala examined the painted runes carefully, scuffed as they were by impact with the walls of the keep and bouncing across the courtyard. Her emerald eyes widened noticeably.
"Mrow? My lady? What does it say?" D'Viall asked, seeing her expression.
"Mrr... It... It is written in the language of the Little Ones, Lord D'Viall, an ancient tongue we of T'Masa Keep have used as a scholarly language for centuries. This first line here says 'Xaa'ap'Gasha comes soon.' This second line here is a name... A name of someone I thought dead."
"Mrow? Who, my lady?"
"Mrr... L'Valin T'Masa, my sister-Mentalt."
"Mrowrrr... It is a trick, then, my lady. Certainly, we've seen a lone female wandering about inside their camp in the distance, but it cannot possibly be a Mentalt. They have a horse in their camp, my lady."
"Mrr... So you've said before, Lord D'Viall," L'Sala replied, thinking. It seemed impossible. L'Valin was dead - she had to be. And certainly if she lived, she would not suffer the presence of a horse near her. And yet...
And yet, if it was a trick, it was a poorly thought-out one. If the message was to be believed, it would inspire hope in the defenders of the castle, not despair. It would only lengthen the siege, not shorten it. More, it would have been far easier to simply tie a message to an arrow and send it over the wall than to paint a message on a catapult stone. And then there was the question of how the T'Mrr might have both learned that L'Sala awaited the coming of the mus, and learned enough about the ancient language of the Little Ones to write the message in the practiced, expert paw she saw on the stone.
The conclusion was inescapable. The message was genuine, and L'Valin stood, somewhere outside the walls, in the camp of the enemy. Why she permitted a horse next to her, L'Sala could not imagine. The horse would, of course, learn the secret the Mentalts had held for so long - that the Mentalts were aware of the horses telepathic abilities. And yet, L'Valin may have reasoned that if R'Narr won, the horses would all be freed, and the secret would become a moot point, anyway. She may even be using the horse to conceal the fact that she is a Mentalt, passing herself off as a simple camp-follower - though what reason she would have for doing so, L'Sala was at a loss to guess. No matter - the conclusion remained. The message was valid, and the mus were coming - and, if L'Valin was correct, they would be coming soon. The only question that remained was whether it would be soon enough.
L'Sala looked up to D'Viall. "Mrr... It is my mentation, Lord D'Viall, that the message is genuine. Pass the word around the castle - the mus are coming to break the siege, and they are led by The Slayer. We must hold out until they arrive. And leave the stone here when you leave."
D'Viall bowed, and the sergeant next to him grinned broadly. "Mrowr! It shall be as you command, my lady," D'Viall replied, then straightened up and gestured to the sergeant to follow. A few moments, later, they had closed the door behind them.
For a long while afterwards,
L'Sala stroked the stone quietly with a paw, thinking, her
emerald eyes glittering with hope.
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