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

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Johm'rouh waited impatiently, smoothing her snow-white kimono with an equally pale paw. The ride to Castle Xaa from Castle W'mefa had been a long one - two days journey - and each moment had seemed an eternity. Yet, when she arrived, she found she had to wait even longer, as a rider was sent to the mustie village. Now, she waited in the quiet little room for C'dera's return, too nervous to even touch her tea. Suddenly, the door opened, and Johm'rouh looked up. "Is it ready? Is it finished?" Johm'rouh asked excitedly, her blue eyes sparkling.

C'dera nodded, smiling as she came into the room, Sarto following. The little mustie carried a long velvet bag in his paws. With a flourish, Sarto whipped the bag aside, revealing an intricately carved box. After laying the bag down on the low table, he set the box atop it before Johm'rouh.

"There you go!" Sarto said, grinning.

Johm'rouh grinned in return, lifting the box from the table. After examining it a moment, Johm'rouh beamed at the little mustie, and set the box back down. "Thahnk hyouh," Johm'rouh said, bowing deeply to Sarto as she spoke the words of the Little People through the atrocious accent of a mus.

"Oh, you welcome, Lady Johm'rouh! You welcome muchly! No worries, Lady Johm'rouh! Me speaking your language real good! Me practice muchly! Me glad you am liking calculator! Must go now! Lord Rahktah waiting to take me back to village! Bye bye!" Sarto chittered in reply, grinning broadly and bowing to the two she-mus. Once Lady C'dera had bowed in return, he scampered out of the room.

C'dera sat at the low table, grinning after Sarto. "They are terribly cute, sometimes," she said, then looked to the calculator on the table before her. "And yet, so incredibly wise."

"I think so, too," Johm'rouh replied, looking at the intricately detailed carvings on her box. "Ah, look! Sarto carved my father, just like I asked! There he is, at the Battle of Three Armies!" Johm'rough exclaimed, examining the box with joy. On the front side, a glorious battle scene of Xaa fighting the army of the late Shazad D'Zhin was intricately carved. On the back side, a scene of Xaa meeting with General R'Narr, later to become Shazad R'Narr, and freeing the Little Ones from bondage. The rest of the box was intricately carved with various trees, birds, rabbits and flowers, with Sarto's name carefully carved on one side, and the date he completed the work (in the mus system of reckoning). Like nearly all examples Johm'rouh had seen, it was incredibly well-done, a true piece of art.

"You should have seen the rendering of your father that Nona did for me," C'dera replied with a smile. "I sent a sketch I'd done, and it was perfectly reproduced."

Johm'rouh nodded. "Okay... Show me again how it works."

C'dera smiled. "Well, Johm'rouh, it's quite simple. Each comes with a little booklet we made that explains it in detail, but the key is using the same numbers the musties do - binary."

"I know that part, C'dera. I know mustie numbers. Lady Merle taught me. I meant how do you make it add and subtract for you?"

C'dera nodded, and showed Johm'rouh how the calculator was used. Johm'rouh watched intently as the pretty little marbles bounced in their polished brass tubes, and after a few moments, she had mastered it.

Johm'rouh grinned. "I'm so glad to have this! Doing my mate's accounts will be so much easier and faster, now."

C'dera nodded. "Someday, when Lord O'dmemet inherits, you will find that little machine quite useful, Johm'rouh," she replied, then paused. "Oh - how did Hakht like his calculator?" C'dera asked, mentioning W'mefa's chamberlain.

"Well, at first he couldn't use it, of course - he had to study the booklet you sent along with it. I helped him a little because I know mustie numbers, but the explanation you put in that little booklet was really all he needed to understand. After that, he just practiced until he had it. Now, he loves it! It made the summer inventory much easier! Well, I saw that, and I saw that all the other ladies were getting one to make their bookkeeping easier, and even Lady Ara had one, and I just had to have one myself!"

C'dera nodded, and smiled. Lady Merle's little invention was quite popular among the warrior-caste females, as well as those servant-caste who served as chamberlains. Even the merchants wanted them - though the price was a bit out of reach for most of them. C'dera sighed at that thought. The price, indeed, had brought about their only problem - competition.

"What's the matter?" Johm'rouh asked, catching C'dera's expression.

"Oh, I'm still a bit upset. Clan Gahktah is sitting there over on the coast, making copies of this and selling them, and Lady Merle's invention is not bringing in as much as it could for my lord's treasury because of that."

Johm'rouh made a face. "Pfft. Don't worry about them. Nobody wants their calculators except for poor merchants who can't afford a real mustie-calculator. They don't have any carvings at all, they just use little brass balls, and they're not pretty like these are, they're very plain and ugly."

"Well, perhaps, but-"

"No, no 'buts'. I've been watching and listening, C'dera. Since my father-in-law has become emperor, everyone is concerned with making their best impression - and I'm telling you, a mustie calculator is now considered the thing to have. Everyone thinks that only a true mustie calculator is really worth having. Yes, Clan Gahktah produces many times what the musties do, they sell for a fraction of the cost, and they're both just as accurate, but a mustie calculator has more warmth and personality. Each one is unique and a work of art, made by our special magical friends, the musties. And for a little extra, you can get exactly what you want carved on it. That makes each one more valuable," Johm'rouh explained, and wrinkled her nose as she continued.

"Those plain Gahktah calculators just look like cheap imitations, C'dera, and from what I've heard, even the merchants who buy them are saving up so that eventually they can afford a real mustie calculator of their own. It's like a sword, C'dera. You can buy a cheaper sword from a lower-ranked school or an unknown smith, and it will cut just as well - but who buys them? Only those who are poor. Everyone wants the highest quality swords from the famous schools and the famous smiths, and some even think the best smiths make swords that are almost magic. Well, this is the same thing."

C'dera smiled. "Do you really think so?"

Johm'rouh nodded. "Definitely. You could charge twice what you charge now, and still sell as many."

C'dera smiled again, though somewhat wanly. "Thank you, Johm'rouh. I suppose you're right - and since Ellie said that they can't make too many, as they still have to manage their lands, I suppose that perhaps I could even raise the price a bit, and work out a somewhat smaller production schedule with Ellie so the musties don't work too hard..." C'dera said, and fell silent.

Johm'rouh looked at C'dera for a long moment. "You're worried about my father," she said, pointedly. "That's what's really bothering you - not Clan Gahktah and their cheap calculators."

C'dera nodded. "And I worry for Lady Merle, as well. She is my closest friend, Johm'rouh."

Johm'rouh reached out her paw, taking C'dera's paw in hers, and squeezing it. "He will be alright, C'dera. They will both be alright."

"I hope so, Johm'rouh. I truly hope so. I burn incense every night, and pray that the spirits of my ancestors will watch over them."

"I do, too, C'dera. We all do," Johm'rouh replied quietly, and reached out to give C'dera a hug. C'dera sighed, and hugged back.

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