of the Last God
(Book III of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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Amani suddenly stopped at the edge of the village, and sighed, smiling beatifically. Ayori looked up, tugging her fore-hoof. "Amani? I thought you wanted me to show you the new knives I made? What are you stopping for?"
Amani sighed again, then looked over to the elm tree at the edge of the clearing, where Aijou and Naien sat. They both sat silently in the elm's shade, facing each other, their eyes closed. Naien, however, had the same beatific smile on her face as she touched fore-hooves with Aijou. Amani shook her head, as if to clear it of something. *Aijou is singing again, my little love. I'm sorry - it distracted me for a moment. You are right - lead on, please.*
Ayori scratched his head with his free paw. "Hrm... I don't understand. Is it like when we musties sing, but just with your mind?"
Amani nickered in amusement. *No, my little love. Though sometimes when you musties sing, I can hear similar things from your minds, it is not the same. The song of a stallion is a special, wonderful thing... We mares cannot sing at all, but they can. And, with a few stallions, their voice is so beautiful, it can bring one to weep,* Amani replied, then looked down to Ayori. *I told you that by our ancient traditions, stallions competed with each other for the hearts of the mares, yes?* she asked, and Ayori nodded. *Well, that is how they competed - with their songs. It is a thing only a stallion can do, and it is truly wonderful to hear.* Amani said, looking at Aijou quietly for a moment, then sighed. *Naien says of all the stallions she ever met in her life, Aijou's song was the sweetest. I find I have to agree. He sang for me at Castle V'Nass. It was as beautiful then as it is now - and I had not heard the song of a stallion in so long, I wept.*
Ayori made a face, feeling a little jealous. "I can sing, too, you know." He didn't like that expression on Amani's face - particularly since he knew he hadn't put it there.
Amani nickered in amusement again. *It is not the same, my little love - though sometimes you come close. Shall we have Aijou show you? You're quite adept now at listening for our voices. Perhaps you can hear his song if you are touching him.*
"Alright," Ayori replied. He was still a bit miffed, but he decided it would be best to at least try to hear it before he said anything more - Ayori had learned in the weeks since they'd been formally united as mates that there were certain adjustments that he had to make, now.
Ayori and Amani had been mated in a very happy ceremony in the village just a few weeks before, a day after he and Amani had returned to the village - the ceremony had been a very joyful one, with all the musties dancing and singing jubilantly. However, though Ayori thought that their relationship would not change once they had been formally mated, he found it had - though not because of their being mated, but rather through the arrival of the freed horses that had been liberated by the dictates of Shazad R'Narr.
Amani often needed to speak to the newly-arriving horses, and her frequent absences sometimes drove Ayori to distraction. Ayori had thought that Amani would only have to go once to speak to newly-arriving horses, and share her vision of the future with them. The seers of the horse-clans had all sensed that the Laughing Wood should be the first destination for their people - though many did not know why until after they and their people had arrived. As Amani shared her vision, it was passed from seer to seer, and shared with the other horses. Yet many wished to meet with Amani, the horse who had started them all on their road to freedom, and share her vision personally. Ayori had shared her vision, and knew how wonderful it was, and could not blame the horses for wanting to share it as well - but it was often inconvenient for Ayori to accompany her. While the horses could simply sit and eat grass, Ayori had to hunt, or he would starve. More, he still had other duties, such as forging knives for the village - and these duties often meant he had to be separated from Amani for hours at a time. And now, when they were finally able to get together again today, it seemed Amani was to be distracted by something Ayori didn't even understand - the song of a stallion. Still, Ayori wasn't about to let that stop him. Some adjustments had to be made if he was to be Amani's mate - and learning to understand the horses better was one of them.
Amani and Ayori walked over to where Aijou and Naien sat, and they opened their eyes and looked at Amani. After a moment, Aijou nodded, smiling to Ayori and gesturing for the two of them to sit. Once they had, Aijou reached out a fore-hoof to Ayori, and closed his eyes. Ayori did the same, clearing his mind in case it was something faint that required practice and a calm mind for him to hear. Ayori waited quietly.
Then, suddenly, it began.
It was not sound, and yet it was similar. In his mind, he heard tones, like music - and yet, they were not tones, but emotions, images... Feelings, sensations, smells... He could feel the enormous, ancient trees Aijou once felled. He could smell that distant forest he had once worked in, feel it's depth, it's majesty, it's grandeur... And feel Aijou's sadness at having to fell the lovely trees of the forest so his masters might profit from the wood.
Then, the song changed. Ayori could feel Aijou's fear at learning of Naien's vision - a vision that showed if he did not flee his slavery, he would die. He could see the vastness of the Yellow River, feel the chill of the icy waters on Aijou's powerful, tree-trunk legs as he strode down the river, hiding his trail in it's rushing waters, striding league after league against a powerful current that would easily have swept Ayori away... Then, the days of cross-country travel... The terror of being captured again by the cab-driver, and the fear he might be returned to his original masters and gelded. The days of service, dragging the cab in Raldad, ending with his meeting with the she-cat, L'Valin...
Ayori sat, listening, hearing, seeing, smelling and feeling the story of Aijou's journey, and his eventual arrival in the lands of the mus. It was joyous, it was sad, and it was profoundly beautiful. And as Aijou ended his song on his finally being able to touch Naien, the one he loved, Ayori found he couldn't help himself.
It was incredibly beautiful - and Ayori not only wept at the glory, the beauty of Aijou's song, but wept at the knowledge that this was something he would not be able to give Amani. And that, most of all, hurt him deeply. He wanted to make Amani happy, to fulfill her every wish - but this was one thing he could not do. He was profoundly moved by the beauty of Aijou's song, yet, at the same time, he found he was terribly jealous of him, and terribly sad that he could not do the same for Amani.
Amani reached out a fore-hoof suddenly, taking Ayori's paw in her tingling, invisible grip. *No, my little love. Do not be sad for that - I already knew you could not sing for me like a stallion of my people. This does not make me unhappy, my little love. I love you for what you are, and I do not mourn what you are not.*
Ayori looked up, and firmed his jaw. "I can do that. And I will do that! I will! For you!" he replied, and hopped to his feet, then ran to his house.
Amani sat, hanging her head, and sighed. *I am sorry. I have spoiled the moment.*
Naien and Aijou smiled, and Aijou shook his head. *No - let your mate try. Naien said once that they were a marvelous people, and now, having lived with them for several weeks, I agree with her. If any of the mustelids can possibly sing a true stallion's song, it is your mate, Ayori Treeclimber,* the enormous ebon stallion replied.
Naien nodded. *And if he succeeds, we will have been the first to hear it - a wonderful memory to pass down through our clan,* she said, and smiled again.
Amani simply nodded, waiting.
A few minutes later, Ayori came trotting back out of his house, his little mustie-drum under an arm. Plopping himself down before Amani again, Ayori paused - he knew his mind was full of jealousy and anger and sadness, and it dawned on him that probably wouldn't make a nice song, to a horse. Ayori closed his eyes, trying to calm himself. He let his fingers rest upon the skin of the drum, and when he finally had calmed himself a bit, he started to think of what song he would sing, and how he would sing it. 'Well... I want this to be a song of celebration,' he thought to himself. Amani's being with him as his mate made him happy. Each day he was with her, he wanted to sing and dance with joy - and, sometimes, he did. Ayori settled on a song - a traditional and ancient mustie dance of celebration. Then, lifting his fingers from the skin of the drum, he began.
Aoyori kept his eyes closed, concentrating on the song, and his feelings for Amani. He sang not simply to the air and with his voice, but from his heart, and to Amani. Perhaps he could not hear their mind's voices, as he was mind-deaf like all carnivores, but he knew she could hear his, and he wanted to send to her the feelings of love and joy in his heart - the same feelings he had just from the simple pleasure of her company. The softness of her lips, nuzzling at his ear... The joy of caressing her, of holding her close... The quiet pleasure of resting his head upon her chest, and hearing her large, warm heart beat beneath her ribs. The intense, erotic pleasure of coupling with her, and the warm, joyful moment of laying next to her thereafter, enjoying the afterglow. The pleasure of making something new for her - or simply fixing something old. The pleasure of waking up in the morning, and seeing her brown-dappled, white-furred form lying beside him. The beauty of her eyes... The quiet elegance of her silent voice... All of this, and more, Ayori tried to project through his song, reaching deep into his heart to sing to the one he loved.
As Ayori played and sang, the other musties noticed, and grinned. They could hear the emotion in his voice, see the passion on his face, and a few whispered conversations later, Nito sat beside Ayori with his flute, and began to play. A bit after that, Nona came by with her tambourine and joined in, playing and singing. Byarl, stepping outside his house at the sound of the music, grinned, and waved to Ellie and his sons. Soon, they had joined in. In a few minutes, all the village had gathered 'round - some playing and singing, the rest dancing to the song of celebration.
Far from being distracted by the other musties, Ayori found his heart was filled even more by the joy of knowing that his happiness was shared and treasured by the rest of his village, as was the mustie way. He played louder, and sang louder, his body swaying with the rhythm of the music, his heart swelling with happiness and pride in his mate.
Finally, Ayori brought the spontaneous celebration to an end with a flourish of his mustie drum, opening his eyes and grinning. The musties gathered 'round all applauded, cheering Ayori - Aijou and Naien clopped their fore-hooves together in imitation of the mustie's applause, whinnying their approval. Ayori, however, blinked in surprise. Amani sat there, weeping.
"I... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you cry," he said, abashed.
Amani shook her head, grinning, then suddenly reached out with arms and pulled Ayori to her with her greater strength, and hugged him tightly.
"Ack!" Ayori yelped, squished against Amani's breasts, then burst into giggles as he hugged her back. "So, you liked?"
Amani nuzzled Ayori lovingly. *Oh, my little love... It was a beautiful as Aijou's song - and more, because it came from you, the one I love with all my heart.*
Naien and Aijou nodded vigorously, and Aijou bowed his head to Ayori, tapping his fore-hooves together in imitation of applause and grinning broadly.
"Well, I think I know who gets to lead the music at the next mid-winter dance!" Byarl exclaimed, grinning, and several of the other musties cheered, shouting Arori's name - "Ayo-RI! Ayo-RI!"
Amani let Ayori go, so he turned himself around to face Byarl and the rest of the musties, then sat in Amani's lap, grinning sheepishly. "Umm... Thanks, Chief, but... Well, I didn't mean to get everyone to dancing and singing, I was just singing to Amani about my love for her, and... Well, it just sort of happened."
"Well, Ayori, isn't that what being a mustie is all about?" Byarl asked with a grin, and the other musties gathered 'round all burst into giggles.
Ayori giggled for a moment, then
grinned back. "Well, yes, Chief, I guess it is," he
replied, and Amani hugged him tight again, nickering softly with
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