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


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"Mrr... She's over here, General. By the creek," Captain D'Kith called.

R'Narr rode over to the banks of the small creek that cut through Sezawa Plains, ducking a tree branch from the small elms that grew by the stream. Sure enough, the dun mare had returned, and now knelt by the stream in the light of dawn. She gestured with a fore-hoof, waving R'Narr to come closer. R'Narr nodded, slipping from his saddle, and strode over to the mare. 'You barely made it, mare. We were about to break camp and ride,' R'Narr thought silently to her, then looked to his aide-de-camp. "Mrr... I see her, Captain. Wait here while I see what it is she's doing."

Beside the stream, the mare had piled several large river-stones in a line. From beside her where she knelt, she picked up two small sticks from a pile by her knee, poking them into the soft earth of the grassy bank between the stones and the water. She then took the remainder of the sticks, and laid them atop the stones.

"Mrow? General, what is she up to?" D'Kith asked, having dismounted and walked over to stand beside R'Narr.

"Mrr... That's what I'm trying to find out, Captain," R'Narr replied. R'Narr watched curiously, wondering what she was up to.

The dun mare reached out, taking R'Narr's paw in the tingling grip of her fore-hoof, and tugging him down to kneel with her beside the strange thing she was making. She then took R'Narr's paw and placed it atop one of the sticks, holding it wrapped about one end of the stick. While R'Narr watched curiously, the mare moved one stick, then R'Narr's paw and the second to follow, lifting the first from the ground and poking it in a little farther along, then moving the stick R'Narr's paw was atop to follow. In a few moments, the first stick and the one R'Narr was touching were between the stones and the water - at which point the mare reached out with her other fore-hoof to pick up a third stick from atop the stones, tapped it on the ground following a path down from the stones and behind R'Narr's paw, then poked it into the earth on the opposite side of R'Narr's stick. Then, she picked up another and did the same. Then another, and another.

R'Narr looked up suddenly. 'The stick I hold is my army, and the other sticks the army of my enemy?' he thought silently.

The dun mare nodded, then released R'Narr's paw.

R'Narr looked again at the sticks, the stream, and the stones, then considering the geography of the terrain that lay in the direction his army was traveling. After a moment, he saw it. 'And the rocks represent Mirawa Ridge, I take it, and the stream the Yellow River?'

The dun mare nodded again.

R'Narr nodded, examining the sticks and the stones again. It was a beautiful trap - and he had nearly fallen for it. The Shazad was a clever and devious warrior, much as his father had been. But R'Narr had been cleverer still. R'Narr looked into the mare's brown eyes, and grinned. 'If you were a she-cat, I'd nuzzle you, you gorgeous creature. You're the best spy I've ever had.'

The dun mare grinned back, nickering with amusement.

R'Narr looked the mare over. She was dirty and sweaty from days of running, and she had several small, half-healed cuts on her shoulders and hips where she'd apparently been clawed slightly. R'Narr guessed she'd been captured, stripped of the supplies he'd given her, and raped by the troops of the Shazad. She was probably very tired, sore and hungry.

The dun mare nodded again at R'Narr's thoughts, and R'Narr again was struck with the nobility of the horse-slaves. Through the pain, through hunger, through thirst, she had continued on to bring him this message. 'The price you paid shall be remembered, mare,' R'Narr thought to her quietly.

R'Narr rose to his feet, and the mare did likewise. "Mrr... D'Kith, take this mare to the healers to have those cuts cleaned and bandaged, then give her a cloth to clean herself in the creek, here. Once she's rested, see that she's equipped with food and water again, and send her onwards to the east. Have a care that none interfere with her - I want none of our troops to lay a paw on her. See to it personally, D'Kith."

D'Kith bowed. "Miao... It shall be as you command, General."

R'Narr nodded. "Good. Afterwards, join me in the center of camp. We'll not be breaking camp this morning - we'll be staying here. I'll be having an officer's meeting about noon," R'Narr called, then turned to mount his bird again.

"Miao... As you wish, General," D'Kith replied, bowing briefly. He waved a paw at the dun mare as R'Narr rode off, and shook his head. "Mrr... I know not what interest he has in you, slave, and that has me curious. Still, he is the Overlord of the East - I'm sure there's a good reason. Come - the healers are this way," D'Kith called, snatching the reins to his bird and mounting.

The dun mare followed D'Kith silently, gazing at R'Narr's back as he rode off towards the camp. Slowly, a smile crossed her muzzle - a smile of gratitude, and hope.

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