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

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Ellie scratched her head, thinking. The expectant eyes of all the musties in the village were upon her as they awaited her decision. Merle waited expectantly, as well - though four years of living with the mus had allowed her a bit more control over her expression, Ellie could still tell Merle was very anxious. Beside her was the enormous mus, Lady C'dera, sitting quietly on the small blanket that had been laid out to protect her and Merle's delicate silk kimonos. Behind the circle of musties were the six warrior-caste mus that had accompanied Merle and Lady C'dera - Ellie recognized Lord Jamat and Lord Y'dahk among them. All waited for her response - though the warriors had expressions of indifference, as they didn't speak the language of the musties, and didn't quite comprehend what the decision was about.

"Hmm... And the whole village would receive a share of the money from selling these... What did you call them, Merle?" Ellie asked.

"Calculators," Merle replied, smiling. "The name was actually C'dera's idea. I just call the one I made Click-Click, after the first one I made years ago out of wood. I called it that because it goes 'click-click' when you play with it. My first one wasn't like this one. One turn was 'one', not a thousand and twenty-four. I didn't know how to make toothed gears, then, I just had little wood flippers. Well, C'dera said that 'Calculator' was a better name for this one, because it did calculations. I thought she was right, so that's what I call it."

C'dera nodded. "Baht Nrummm-"

"Musties, C'dera," Merle corrected politely.

"Ah, hyehs, thahnk hyouh," C'dera rumbled in the atrocious accent of a mus, smiling as she bowed her head briefly. Merle smiled and bowed in return. The musties, now used to the way mus had to struggle to pronounce their language, didn't laugh (despite how amusing it was to them), because they knew it wouldn't be polite to a mus. C'dera looked to Ellie, and tried again. "Baht mahsteehz cahn hahv' hahf mah'neh frahm Cahl'kyoo'lah'tarr. Bah maneh thing... Thing Lohrd Xaa may-beh naht hahv fohr tooh trayd', hyehs?"

Ellie nodded. "Yes, we could many buy things that Lord Xaa doesn't have to trade otherwise, and half the money you get for them is very generous, I'm sure. Of course, where would we spend the money? And what would we buy? There really isn't much that we need that the forest doesn't already provide..." Ellie said, and paused a moment, thinking. Merle looked on nervously - Xaa needed the money badly, but she didn't want to pressure Ellie into making a decision that wasn't good for the tribe - that wasn't the mustie way. In the end, Ellie was the mate of Byarl, and with him in the south, that meant she was Chief for now. Her decisions had to be respected.

Finally, Ellie nodded. "Still, someday, things will change. My mate says we must look to the future, and someday, Lord Xaa will be rich and powerful again, and there will be many craftsfolk in the towns and villages on his land. We may not need anything today, but someday, we might want something - and someday, Lord Xaa will have what we need. We could all pitch in and make many of these... 'Calculator'-things you've invented, Merle. Then, when you sell them, we will take our share and share it evenly with everyone who worked on making the machines. Share and share alike, that's the mustie way," Ellie said, and all the musties of the village nodded in agreement, smiling as Ellie continued.

"Well, then every family would have a little bit of money, and the whole village together would probably have quite a bit. If there was something we needed that Lord Xaa didn't have to trade, or if perhaps Lord Xaa ever got into a fix and needed money, we could help," Ellie said, then grinned. "Who knows? Maybe someday, our whole village will need to buy things we haven't even thought of, yet. Having money to do it would be good. You mus are our allies, and Byarl explained that you do almost everything with money, because it's more convenient than bartering. Byarl says that we're not only Xaa's allies, it's like we're a High Clan of the Mus - we owe nobody fealty except the Emperor, W'mefa, and the chief of our tribe gets to help vote for Emperor. Well, if we're going to be a part of your society, we need to learn your ways, and your ways use money, so that is that!"

Merle grinned broadly. "Thank you, Ellie! I'll work together with Bakah and have the molds for the brass parts ready in a few days, and when I have it all done, I'll come by and we'll spend a day or two building a few of them so everyone knows how, then I'll just let you work on it while C'dera and I write some letters to spread the word about them and what they do."

"Ooo!" Nona chittered excitedly from the circle of musties. "Could we carve the boxes and make them look really pretty, too? That would be fun!"

Nito nodded in agreement. "That would be fun! We could carve pictures of the Laughing Wood and musties and deer and rabbits and birds and mus and all sorts of fun things! Ooo! And the mice showed me how to make little glass marbles with different colors and little shapes inside! They make really fun toys and good stones for a sling, but they would look very pretty instead of just brass. Could we do that, too?"

Merle grinned. "I think those are all wonderful ideas!"

Ellie nodded, grinning back at Merle. "I do, too!" Ellie chittered, and hopped to her feet. "Merle, when you're ready, bring whatever you think we'll need to get started, and we'll all pitch in and make a whole bunch of these things you've invented!"

As the musties cheered, Merle grinned again, rising to her feet, and bowed. "Thank you, Ellie - Xaa really needs the help, and I'm glad that our tribe can help him." Though bowing wasn't part of the mustie culture, it was part of the mus, four years of living among the mus had changed Merle. Ellie simply bowed back, smiling, as did all the musties of the village. "Come on, C'dera! We've got to get back to the castle. I've got a lot of work ahead of me to get everything ready."

"Yes, my lady," C'dera rumbled in reply, smiling broadly as she rose to her feet and bowed.

A few minutes later Merle and C'dera rode back to the castle, escorted by the six warrior-caste mus who were Xaa's vassals, as all the musties waved and shouted happy farewells. It was a small moment, really - a quiet, ordinary day of a quiet, ordinary summer.

Of course, many momentous events in history often seem very small and ordinary to those who actually were there.

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