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


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Amani looked up as Ayori returned, and smiled. He had taken off his armor and returned to wearing his green-dyed leather garments, as the army of the mus had camped for the night and he wasn't quite used to sleeping in his armor yet. Ayori noticed Amani had taken her garment and re-tied it in her "everyday wear" manner for walking about the camp in the evening, which at least was a bit more acceptable to the sensibilities of the mus and the musties, at any rate. Ayori smiled back, seeing her unspoken question. "Yes, I told him," Ayori said, plopping himself before Amani and reaching out to lay a paw atop her fore-hoof.

*Thank you, my little love. It was important that the mus know there will be at least one cat there that they should watch out for - L'Valin T'Masa. She will be among the enemy, and I feared that she might simply be killed in the fighting, as she may be mistaken for one of them rather than as Aijou's companion. I am sorry to have to ask you to do that, but the mus, Xaa'ap'Gasha, seems terribly busy to me, and I hesitated to disturb him.*

Ayori chuckled. "More like you were scared of him, Amani."

Amani grinned wryly. *Well, yes, a bit. You cannot see his mind, my little love. You have no idea what it is like - much less what it is like to a horse. His mind is constantly on alert. Whenever he gazes at anyone, his mind habitually considers how they might launch an attack from their current stance and body position, and he is on guard for it - even with his closest friends.*

Ayori blinked. "Really?!"

Amani nodded. *Yes. I can tell from his mind that it is merely a habit with him - and, judging by his mind, it is apparently one his father taught him when he was young, and a habit that has kept him alive over the years. Though I know he means no harm to me, it is still very disconcerting to sense in his mind that he is visualizing how I might lash out with a hoof to crush his skull, and he would, at my slightest movement to do so, instantly draw his sword and cut me down without a thought - an action almost of reflex.*

Ayori goggled for a moment. "And this is a habit?!"

*Yes... Like a game, my little love. A game he is constantly playing, has played since he was a child, and now that he is an adult, has simply become a habitual behavior he gives little thought to.*

Ayori shook his head, and grinned. "Well, that's why he's warrior-caste, I guess. Don't worry, though - he'd never hurt you, Amani."

Amani nickered in amusement. *Oh, no, my little love. He would kill me in an instant if I threatened him or his love, Merle Mousefinder. Do not mis-judge that one. He is as dangerous as any bear - more so, in truth.*

Ayori giggled. "Oh, you've no idea! He's far more dangerous than a bear! Why, when we were living in the Wild Wood a few years ago and he first came to visit, he killed a bear with nothing but his paws and his teeth!"

Now it was Amani's turn to goggle in amazement. *Really? Tell me the story, my little love.*

Ayori shrugged. "Well, there's not much to tell. There was a bear trying to dig it's way into Mason's house - probably the last bear in the Wild Woods, back then. Tinker ran all the way to our village to tell us about it, and Merle and Xaa ran out to kill it. Merle couldn't really do anything, but Xaa jumped on it and tore it's throat out with his teeth. I didn't get there until it was all over, though, so I don't know much more than that. Merle saw the whole fight - you could ask her. Or you could ask Lord Xaa, himself."

Amani shook her head. She could sense from Ayori's mind what the scene was like. Ayori running through the forest with the other males of the village, having been delayed in responding by a layer of snow that covered the doors of their home and kept them from getting out for several minutes. Running through the woods, and as he approached the village of the mice, hearing the sounds of the battle - the agonized roars of the mortally-wounded bear, and the enraged roars of a warrior-mus. Then, arriving after the battle was over, and seeing the enormous amount of blood scattered for yards in the snow, and the cooling corpse of the bear. *No, my little love. I can sense enough of it from your mind to know that it is a story for a brave carnivore and a warrior, such as yourself, and not a story for a timid little mare such as me.*

"Little?!" Ayori replied, and burst into giggles. Amani simply grinned.

Ayori stood, then reached out and hugged Amani for a long moment, luxuriating in her embrace. Amani smiled and hugged him back quietly, enjoying the moment. Finally, Ayori sighed, and leaned back, taking Amani's fore-hoof in his paws. "It's only too bad my tent is too small for you to join me."

*I will be fine, my little love,* Amani replied with a smile.

"But what if it rains?! You'll be cold, maybe even get sick!"

Amani smiled, and sent Ayori a warm, mental 'horse-hug'. *I will not. We horses are more used to rain and cold than that, my little love. Besides, it will not rain again for another two weeks.*

Ayori was about to ask 'how do you know?', then realized Amani was a seer - she simply knew. Amani nodded at Ayori's thought, and Ayori grinned at her. "Well, Lord Xaa said it was only about a two-week ride to Castle V'Nass, so we should be there in a few more days. Afterwards, we can go home again, and we can soften you up some more by having you sleep in my house again," Ayori said, and giggled. Ayori then nuzzled Amani lovingly, and slipped into his tent to sleep.

Amani lay down quietly beside the opening to Ayori's tent, watching him silently in the flickering firelight. Wrapping her blanket about her self, she drew her head close to his, inhaling his faint scent, and smiled.

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