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

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"'Tis certain, Friend Smith, I be yet a fool with nary the brains of a cave-cricket," Jendara muttered, and sighed. The night had passed without further incident, and the morning had seen only the simple loading and mounting of the riding birds, yet Jendara could tell she had earned no friends, here.

Smith, who rode in front of Jendara on the back of the duducu-bird led by Lord Jamat, simply nodded. "Indeed, thou wert quite the fool, yestere'en. Yet 'tis my impression that thou art still young, and as such thou art as yet inexperienced in the ways of the world," Smith replied in Jendara's archaic language. "'Tis fortunate for you that Lady Merle is a Mustie, and not a mus, for I fear that had she been of my lord's race, thou wouldst this morn nurse a sore jaw from an angry mate's slap - or mayhap worse."

"Worse?" Jendara squeaked.

"Indeed. The mus art a very powerful people, and an angry she-mus who did slap thee back-handedly might have yet broken thine jawbone in teaching thee proper manners, not intending such injury at all. My own noble lord did himself once slay a bear of the Wild Wood empty-pawed - that I did see with mine own eyes. The mus are not a people to be trifled with," Smith replied, and as Jendara nodded in understanding, he continued. "Neither is it wise to gravel the musties as you did Lady Merle, Jendara. They are at heart a happy and friendly people, howe'er they are yet carnivores, and they will indeed fight if necessary. Lady Merle has, herself, fought in two battles against the felines. In both, she did acquit herself most honorably, and with great bravery. All the mus in all the lands hold her in high regard for this, and for the many other great accomplishments she hath yet done."

"Felines? The monstrous beasts of our ancient legends?" Jendara asked, her pink eyes widening beneath her thin silk blindfold.

"The same. I have seen them myself and e'en been the captive of them. They are, indeed, a most fearsome foe. They are very much like the Fanged Ones you did describe, yet taller, and having longer tails and cruel talons upon each paw. Trifle not with the musties, but rather treat them with respect. They and the mus are yet wonderful allies and friends, but terrible enemies."

Jendara was silent for a long moment before she spoke again. "Mayhap I might make apology, and say that I am yet young and foolish, being yet merely eighteen years?"

Smith shook his head. "Thou wouldst make the situation much worse."

"Worse? How so?"

"Lady Merle, herself, is only eighteen years. Age is no excuse for poor manners - only children can yet be excused, and thou art no child."

Jendara hung her head. "That be quite true, Friend Smith, and I be yet heartily penitent. 'Tis only that I..."

"Thou art far from home, you were to say," Smith guessed, and Jendara nodded silently. "Mine eldest son wert yet far from home, as well - and it did bring out a side of him that yet were not his true nature, and he did yet bring much shame to his people, e'en as you have yet done to yours."

"Thy eldest son? Where be he now?"

"Dead," Smith replied flatly, and in a voice that meant he had no desire to discuss it.

Jendara blanched, but pressed on anyway. "Was... Was it yet the Defenders that did slay him for his impertinence?"

"Mus, Jendara," Smith corrected firmly. "And no. Mine eldest son did yet die at the talons of a she-cat. Yet, had he not estranged all the mus about him with his rudeness, but instead did yet embrace them as I and those of my village now have, he would yet have remained under their watchful eye, and might yet live, today. The mus did forgive our people their sins many long years past, Jendara. But in truth, thou didst see my lord as merely a lesser being, and did amuse thyself by teasing him. I and those of my village have learnt the true lesson of the Night of the Long Knives, and now do see that the mus art yet a noble and honorable people, worthy of the open paws of friendship and respect. Yours have not."

Jendara sighed again. "What mayest I do, then?"

"Learn, and grow," Smith replied flatly.

"But I must yet make amends for what I have done!"

"No. Mayhap if Lady Merle wert yet a mouse, thou wouldst have need of such. But she is not. She is a mustie. Simply learn, and do show her thou hast yet grown beyond our ancient prejudices, even as I and those of my village have yet done. Do thus, and she will yet one day offer to you the open paw of friendship," Smith replied. "And when that day comes, clasp that paw tightly, and ne'er let go."

"I shall, Friend Smith. I shall," Jendara replied, bowing her head as they rode.

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