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

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L'Sala smiled as she entered the small room. "Mrr... You wanted to see me, my lord?"

R'Narr nodded, the large and well-muscled orange tabby tom pausing in his pacing of the floor to look to his mate and smile back. "Mrr... Yes, 'Sal. Are you done with the children, for the moment?"

L'Sala nodded. "Miao... V'Omoi is sleeping easily, as usual, but R'Maril fretted for nearly an hour before I could get him to sleep. He is teething, at the moment. He will probably wake up again in a few minutes, my lord, but I am free for now," the jellicle she-cat replied, smiling again.

"Mrr... Well, good. I've received a package from the mus, and I can't make heads or tails of it. I need you to look at this, and tell me what it is," R'Narr replied, gesturing to the table beside him and taking a seat. "What do you make of this?"

L'Sala examined the strange wooden box on the table. It was covered in intricately done carvings of those strange, mysterious allies of Lord Xaa, the musties. Scenes of hunting, dancing, and other idyllic and pastoral themes decorated the sides of the box. Across the top were several brass tubes, each with a brightly colored little marble inside, and on one side was a small handle. "Miao... I have no idea what it might be, my lord. The carvings are very intricate and skillfully executed - I would venture to guess it is either a work of art, or perhaps a toy of some kind for the children to play with. The latter seems the most logical explanation, as Lord Xaa is your ally, and he is well aware that you now have young children. I'm afraid, however, that I know too little about this to possibly mentate upon it. Did it come with any explanation?"

"Mrowr! My pardon, 'Sal," R'Narr replied, reaching across with his long arms and scooping up a letter and a small book from the end of the table. "Mrr... This letter and this book came with it - though both are in their language, and I've no idea what they say."

L'Sala took the letter, setting aside the little book for the moment, and glanced at it. "Miao... My lord, the letter says little. It is apparently from Lord Xaa's courtesan, Lady C'dera, and is addressed to me."

"Mrow? What does it say?"

"Miao... My lord, it says this:" L'Sala said, and read the letter.

'My dear Lady L'Sala,

Here is a small device of the musties which we have found to be of some use in bookkeeping. I do not know if you serve your lord in the same manner as I serve mine, or even if any of the ladies of your people do so. However, as your lord is the ally of my lord, I thought it might, perhaps, be of some use to you. If you or any of the noble ladies in your lands might find more of these devices useful, please let me know. The device was invented by Lady Merle, Lord Xaa's mate. The musties, who are allies of Lord Xaa, manufacture a small number of them for Clan Xaa, and we sell and distribute them, sharing the proceeds with the musties. If you like, we can arrange a small distribution of them through you on a commission or percentage, allowing both your lord and mine to benefit.

With Respect;

Lady C'dera'ap'Vhross of Clan Xaa, Courtesan to Lord Xaa'ap'Gasha and Lady Merle Mousefinder.'

"Mrr... Interesting - but it still doesn't tell me what it is, or why anyone would want it," R'Narr commented, stroking his graying muzzle.

"Miao... Perhaps this little book will explain it, my lord," L'Sala replied, putting down the letter and picking up the small book.

R'Narr nodded, waiting as L'Sala read the little book. After a moment, he gazed in curiosity as he watched L'Sala's emerald eyes widen and her eyebrows slowly rise. "Mrr? What is it?"

"Miao! My lord, this, apparently, is a machine the mus call a 'calculator'. It is the invention of Lord Xaa's mate, a mustie, and is apparently manufactured by her mysterious little people," L'Sala replied, then pointed to the carvings on the box. "If you look here, my lord, this is apparently what they look like. They are quite small - the size of the Little Ones - and are carnivores, like we and the mus. I met one of their people last year, after the siege had been lifted by the mus. He was called 'Ayori', and he brought L'Valin and the mus-healer, Kargh, to help me in my time of labor. Quite a fascinating individual."

"Mrr? Yes, yes, that's all well and good, but what does the machine do?" R'Narr asked, gazing at the carved box.

"Miao! My lord, apparently it adds and subtracts numbers, and has a register of between zero and of up to one hundred thirty-one thousand and seventy-one," L'Sala replied, her voice showing great excitement.

"Mrr? How can a machine add and subtract?"

"Miao! I do not know, my lord - and that is what interests me!" L'Sala replied, holding the book in one paw and poking at the little marbles on the top of the machine for a moment. She then turned the crank, making the little marbles in the top bounce inside their brass tubes until the machine made a quiet ding sound. Glancing again at the book, L'Sala grinned. "Miao! My lord, it is my mentation that a series of levers are used in an alternating fashion, each one changing the position of the next sequentially as the crank is turned. Beyond that, however, I would have to take the machine apart to know for certain."

R'Narr shrugged. "Mrr... Go ahead, then."

L'Sala put the little booklet down, then looked to R'Narr. "Miao... I cannot, my lord. I do not know if the machine would function once I disassembled it - and certainly if Lord Xaa came to visit, he would want to see that the gift of his courtesan was appreciated, not destroyed to satisfy feline curiosity. Please note the carving, my lord. This is more than simply a machine - it is also a work of art. The mus might not take well the destruction of a work of art sent as a gift."

R'Narr nodded. "Mrr... I see your point. As terrible an enemy as The Slayer ever was, he also has been a useful ally since our peace-treaty. The last thing we need to do is annoy him. So what do we do with it, then?"

"Miao... Well, my lord, I have several ideas. This one, of course, I'll simply place on a shelf and display as a work of art. Still, though it is of little use to me as I am trained to be able to do simple arithmetic in my head far faster than this machine can do the same, most cannot do so, and many would find the device quite useful, once they understood it's workings. Every exchequer in the land would benefit from such a device, my lord, as it would greatly simplify the task of bookkeeping for those who lack the training of a Mentalt. I can also see these devices being of use to merchants and moneylenders, my lord. And as such, it's possible that you could make a great deal of gold from them."

"Mrr? How?"

"Miao... My lord, Lady C'dera mentions in this letter a possible distribution arrangement. You would make a percentage from each one sold. It is my mentation, given the elaborate ornamentation, that the production of these devices is quite limited. Demand for a limited supply will allow us to charge quite a bit for them - this is particularly true if each is a unique work of art as well as a functional and useful device. And once it becomes known that the Reverend Mother of T'Masa Keep is fascinated by these devices, demand for them will only increase."

"Mrow? The Nuns of T'Masa are interested in this... 'Calculator' thing?"

L'Sala grinned wickedly. "Mrr... They will be, my lord. They will be."

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