Children of the Last God
(Book IV of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2001 BY

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"Ic že žancas do," the Little One, said, smiling, and sipped quietly at the skin of water Zhebo had given her as she rode. As about half of the supplies W'mefa's entourage had brought along had been used on the trip, Jendara was simply placed on the bare back of one of the pack-birds, it's pack-saddle folded and stored on one of the others for the return trip, and the reins of the bird tied to the saddle of one of the other pack-birds. She had, at first, been terribly frightened of the enormous djuducu-birds, and chittered nervously - but now, on the third day of their journey homeward, she seemed to have adjusted to them.

"Hrm..." W'mefa rumbled, gazing at Jendara as he pondered her words. The servants that had come along with him on this trip had taken a gray wool saddle-blanket, cut a hole in the center for her head, and given it to the Little One to wear as a poncho, of sorts. It was a bit short, but at least it covered most of her. During the day, however, particularly at noon and in the afternoon, she simply would not wear it. "Wa la wa!" she would cry, and pant as though suffering from heat. Indeed, it was noon, now, and all she wore was the thin silk garment W'mefa had first seen her in. On her back, she had a tiny leather pack, presumably containing her supplies. It had been left outside the castle when she was first brought to meet W'mefa, but now was worn nearly constantly. "My lady, that... What you said... That means 'thank you', I gather?"

Jendara smiled. "Ic nat," she replied, the chittered on for several seconds in her incomprehensible language.

'No, not her incomprehensible language, but our incomprehensible language,' W'mefa thought to himself. After listening to her for several days, he had come to the conclusion that she was trying, after a fashion, to speak the language that the Little Ones remembered as being that of the mus, eight centuries before. Unfortunately, time had changed the words of the mus, and what was obviously carefully spoken and pronounced by Jendara was now little more than babble to W'mefa - and, apparently, his words were almost meaningless to her, as well. Still, there were times when what she would say had the ring of familiarity... Particularly when the context was known.

'How did Xaa ever manage this?' W'mefa wondered with a sigh of frustration, suddenly seeing his old friend and ally in a new light. It was not easy to master a new language - and, from the story Lord Xaa and Lady Merle had told him, that was precisely what the two of them had managed to do during their first year together. 'Hmmm... As I remember, Xaa said they started with the basics... Naming the things around them... Then worked from there. Perhaps we'll try that as the days progress,' W'mefa thought, stroking his whiskers as he rode. Though he knew that learning her language in the two-week trip back to his castle was an impossible task, it would at least pass the quiet hours of evening. Of course, W'mefa knew he shouldn't distract himself with something like quite yet. 'No, not quite yet. There's still danger ahead, and I'll bet my tail we'll not be clear of it for at least another two day's ride.'

"My lord, the marker. We are at the edge of J'taash territory. Ahead lies that of Clan Dakah," Lord Zhebo called, pointing as he reined his bird to a halt.

W'mefa nodded. "Good," he rumbled, gazing at the wooded plains before him. "Have all our servants stay close to the center of our formation, with the pack-birds. Send N'Chasa and Hrasha to the flanks with six warriors each. Have them beat the bushes for bandits as we go along - but remind them they are under direct orders not to go farther than a hundred paces from us."

Zhebo blinked. "Bandits, my lord? In Clan Dakah's domain?" It seemed impossible to Zhebo that such a thing could even happen. Clan Dakah was widely known for crushing any bandits found on their lands with an iron fist. If any bandits were to be encountered, it seemed to Zhebo that they would have run across them in the lands of the late Lord Naash, where untended fields lay fallow and weed-ridden, the burned castle three day's ride behind them giving mute testimony as to the reason for the emptiness of the lands.

W'mefa nodded. "See to it."

Zhebo bowed in his saddle. "Yes, my lord." Zhebo turned his bird and rode off towards Lord N'Chasa to give him his instructions.

Jendara babbled at W'mefa in a curious voice, and W'mefa glanced at her. "It's nothing, Little One. We'll be moving on in a moment," W'mefa rumbled. 'Yes, nothing - I hope,' W'mefa thought silently. W'mefa was no fool - he was, rather, a skilled diplomat with decades of experience, and a skilled warrior and strategist. Yet, for the first time in his life, he found himself hoping that all his years of experience had failed him, and he was wrong.

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