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


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"Mrowrrr... There is someone to see you, my king," the beggar said, shuffling closer. "Mrr... A she-cat... Very beautiful. Looks very rich, too."

R'Min looked up from where he sat on the dirt floor of his hovel, narrowed his one good eye, and gave the pile of rags standing before him a glare with his milk-white eye. "Fsst! Your brain's gone soft, R'Nit! What would a beautiful, rich she-cat want here?"

R'Nit bowed his rag-wrapped head. "Mrowrrr... I do not know, my king - but she is here. What shall we do with her?"

R'Min spat, then took a moment to arrange his rags to conceal the worst of his deformities a bit better. "Fsst! Alright, let her in."

R'Nit nodded, then stepped back to the door, opening it. R'Min gazed at the she cat who walked in, dressed as she was in a black, hooded cloak. "Fsst! Well?! What is it you want with me?!" he snapped.

The she-cat reached up with her paws, parting her cloak, and pulled back the hood of her cloak, then placed her paws on her hips and gazed back at R'Min. R'Min simply stared.

She was dressed in a skin-tight silk bodysuit that bared only her wrists and paws, her foot-paws, her neck and her head. Beneath that, R'Min could see that the she-cat had a muscular, lovely body. As his eye traveled up her body, he drank in each curve with great appreciation. Then, as he gazed at her face, he paused again, in shock.

It was L'Valin.

"Mrr... I had expected a somewhat warmer welcome, R'Min," she purred, and smiled.

R'Min stared. "Mrowr! 'Val?! But... But you're dead!"

"Mrr... Not quite - though there were times I wished I was, and twice when I nearly was. Aijou saved me, however - and, in the end, gave my life back to me, and allowed me to recover my true abilities... As a Mentalt."

"Mrowr?! A Mentalt?!"

L'Valin smiled again. "Mrr... Yes, R'Min. The she-cat that gave you your adult's spirit was a Mentalt. How I came to be the drug-addicted street-whore you knew is a long story, involving our former Shazad. And, how I came to be here before you now is another long story, involving Aijou."

R'Min shifted uncomfortably as he sat on the floor, painfully aware of his rags and his ugliness. Drawing his twisted leg closer in that it might not peek out from beneath his garments, he looked away. "Mrowr... Who is Aijou?"

"Mrr... That horse-slave you saw me with that day I left, R'Min. They have names, R'Min - not the insipid names we give them, like "Slowpoke" and "Blackie", but real names they use among themselves. And his name was Aijou."

"Mrowrrr... How can dumb mutes have names?"

L'Valin smiled. "Mrr... Another long story, R'Min."

R'Min looked up to L'Valin sharply. She was toying with him, that much was obvious. "Fsst! Well, you've had your fun, 'Val. You say you're a Mentalt... Fine - you're a Mentalt. If you've come to see the freak known as the Beggar-King of Raldad before you trot back to T'Masa Keep, you've seen him."

"Miao... That is not why I am here, R'Min."

"Fsst! Well, then why are you here, 'Val?"

"Mrr... Once, we had something... Special, you and I. We shared a moment, R'Min... A moment I still cherish to this day. I have come to ask if that moment might be stretched into a lifetime," L'Valin replied, then looked into R'Min's single, emerald eye.

R'Min gazed back at L'Valin's sapphire eyes, his heart thudding in his chest. "Sss... Do you... Do you really mean it?" he whispered.

L'Valin smiled. "Mrr... With all my heart."

R'Min scrambled to his feet, and started towards L'Valin, but his twisted right leg betrayed him, and he started to fall. L'Valin lashed out a paw, catching his palsied, withered right arm and steadying him. R'Min tried to withdraw the horrid, hairless limb beneath his rags again, but L'Valin did not let go. Instead, she lifted his withered paw to her face, and nuzzled it gently. She then looked into his eye, leaned forward, and nuzzled his face for a moment. "Purr... Please?"

"Sss... Yes, 'Val," R'Min whispered, and nuzzled her back.

L'Valin smiled. "Mrr... Thank you, 'Min. Now: It seems to me that you have a fairly effective information network set up here in the city - and, to a certain extent, beyond it. With a bit of work, you could turn that information into a decent profit, not only for yourselves, but the beggars of Raldad. Information is often worth gold, 'Min, and I know a few who'd be willing to pay quite well. With some careful planning and investment of that income, you could provide better not only for yourself, but your subjects. Better places to sleep, perhaps even healers when a beggar becomes ill - I know that's something you've talked about before, but never been able to fully accomplish. Well, with my advice, you just might be able to manage it in a year or two."

"Mrow?! What?! You can do that?"

"Mrr... Certainly, 'Min. All you really need is a good advisor - and I'm probably the best you'll ever find," L'Valin replied, and nuzzled him again.

R'Min blinked, then chuckled. "Mrowr! This must be what it's like for Shazad R'Narr, being the mate of a Mentalt."

L'Valin smiled again. "Mrr... You will be pleased to know that L'Sala T'Masa, the Shazad's mate, is a close personal friend of mine... In fact, we are closer than sisters. And, one of your main customers for this information will be the Shazad himself."

R'Min gaped. "Mrow?! You would help me make a contact with Shazad R'Narr?!"

L'Valin nuzzled R'Min again, and smiled. "Mrr... For you, my love... Anything."

R'Min suddenly turned to R'Nit, who gaped openly from beneath his rags, his eyes wide in astonishment. "Fsst! R'Nit, hit me!"

R'Nit simply stared. "Mrow?! What, my king?"

"Fsst! HIT ME!"

R'Nit nodded, and clouted R'Min across the ear. R'Min winced, and nodded. "Mrr... Thank you."

L'Valin gazed at R'Min, an eyebrow raised. "Mrr? What was that for?"

"Mrowrrr... 'Val, I've just had the she-cat of my dreams, one whom I thought was dead, walk back into my life and tell me that all my dreams are about to come true. You'll pardon me, 'Val, if I wanted to make sure I wasn't still asleep in my damn bed."

L'Valin snorted, then burst into giggles. R'Min joined her, laughing heartily for perhaps the first time in his life. And, somehow, he knew that it would not be the last.

The End.

Chapter One of the fourth book in this series, "Children of the Last God", will be posted monday morning.


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