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

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Omoi paused in her sweeping of the courtyard, looking up at the meaningless shout of the guard upon the wall. Though his words meant nothing to her, she could read their meaning from his mind - a mustelid approached the castle. Omoi, a seer among her people, could sense farther with her mind than others. She reached out, now, and could feel the mustie's mind at the edge of her range, about a league away. Omoi smiled - though she did not have the tremendous range of Amani, the famous seer of the Blue Wind clan, Omoi was still a seer of the Crimson Cloud clan, and her range was still quite good.

Omoi trotted over to the gate, and looked. There, in the distance, a female mustelid walked down the road towards the castle. It was a long walk from the Laughing Wood - made all the longer by a mustelid's short legs. In truth, the road to Laughing Wood was really little more than a path, worn by countless feet of people and riding birds. Omoi could sense that the mustelid was quite tired - the late summer day was very warm.

*Omoi? What is it?*

Omoi turned to look to the stallion coming out of the djuducu-stables, his strong hoof wrapped around his shovel. Omoi flashed a smile at him from across the courtyard. *It is a mustelid, Tashou. They are about a league from the castle, yet.*

*That is a long walk for a tiny mustelid,* Tashou replied silently, his mind's voice echoing Omoi's very thoughts of a moment ago. *I am done with the stables, for now. Do you think I should go out to them and offer to carry them the rest of the way? It would be at least half an hour more, otherwise.*

Omoi nodded. *I think they would appreciate that. I sense from their mind that they are quite tired, and have been walking since dawn.*

Tashou nodded. *I shall do so, then.* After taking a moment to put away his shovel, the tall bay stallion trotted out the gate, then slipped into an easy run.

It was only a few moments later that Lady C'dera came out into the courtyard, accompanied by two servants and two guards. "Omoi? Did Tashou go out to fetch the mustie?" she called.

Omoi nodded, trotting over to C'dera and bowing. Once C'dera had bowed in return, Omoi looked over her shoulder to the gate, then back to C'dera. It was sometimes quite inconvenient, not being able to simply speak to the mus. Omoi could sense that even now, Tashou was kneeling before the little mustelid, touching his fore-hooves together and trying to offer her a lift. The mustelid understood immediately, and shortly Tashou was trotting back, the mustelid sitting in the cradle of his arms. Omoi looked to C'dera, cradling her arms, then pretending to run in place.

"Ah - he's carrying them back now?"

Omoi nodded, smiling.

C'dera smiled in reply, then turned to give her orders to the servants. A meal was to be prepared for their guest, of course, as well as other pleasantries. As always, she was very polite, and Omoi could sense within her mind that she truly appreciated and respected her servants - Omoi included. Omoi found this to be a vast change from her former masters, the felines, who had little respect for the horses at all, as they were merely slaves. In truth, being a free and respected member of society was wonderful and exciting to Omoi - as it was to all the horses. Omoi and the other hoses had been even more surprised to learn that as servant-caste, she received a small annual stipend, based on her official duties here in the castle. Moreover, so did all the servant-caste and warrior-caste of Castle Xaa. Being paid for working was something completely new to Omoi, and all the other horses - and they all enjoyed the feelings this gave them quite a bit. Though the money wasn't much, as Omoi's position in the hierarchy of the servants of Castle Xaa was quite low, it was still something, and to Omoi and all the other horses, these small stipends represented far more than merely the ability to save for things they might wish to buy - it represented freedom.

"Well, we'll just wait here and see who it is, then," C'dera replied, once she was done giving her orders to the other servants and they had bowed and left the courtyard. "If Tashou is done with the stables for today, he can carry them back to the Laughing Wood when they are ready to return - that will save them a long walk."

Omoi nodded, holding out a fore-hoof, but C'dera simply smiled and shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't quite have the time to clear my mind to hear your voice, Omoi. Are you trying to tell me that Tashou is done?"

Omoi nodded again, smiling.

"Ah, very good. Tell him what I said, then, please."

*Tashou, Lady C'dera says that she would like you to carry the mustelid back to Laughing Wood when they are ready to return, to save them a long walk,* Omoi called silently, raising her mind's voice to a shout.

*I shall, Omoi,* Tashou called back. Though the stallion was still too far for any other horse to hear him, Omoi's range was, of course, greater than the norm.

Omoi looked to C'dera and smiled again.

"Ah, you've told him?"

Omoi nodded.

"Very good, thank you, Omoi."

Omoi grinned broadly. She knew it was something that Lady C'dera would never understand - nor, for that matter, was it something that anyone who was not a horse would understand. Yet, the simple knowledge that she was liked and appreciated, instead of simply taken for granted and used at whim, left Omoi feeling very, very happy.

A minute later, Tashou came trotting through the gate, carrying the female mustelid in his arms. Omoi did not recognize her, but C'dera did immediately - it was Ellie Sharptooth, the mate of Byarl Bearkiller, Chief of the Musties of Laughing Wood. C'dera bowed, as was proper by the customs of the mus, particularly when greeting a sworn ally of one's clan. The two warrior-caste mus at her sides bowed as well, and Omoi imitated them, as she could sense in their minds that this was expected. Tashou stopped before C'dera, kneeling to gently set Ellie on the ground. Ellie grinned and bowed to the mus and to Omoi. Omoi smiled, sensing in Ellie's mind that to her, the whole practice of bowing in greeting was a bit silly.

"Hoyo, Lady C'dera!" Ellie called as they straightened up.

"Good day, Lady Ellie. What brings you out to our humble castle this warm day?" C'dera replied in the language of the mus.

Ellie, who had learned the language of the mus through Byarl, sighed. "Well... Ummm... Actually, I've come to see Omoi. I wanted to ask her something..."

Omoi smiled, gazing down at Ellie. It was obvious to her what Ellie wanted - she could read it in Ellie's mind easily.

"Well, I'm sure you're very tired after such a long walk. If you like, you can take a nice bath, then have lunch with me. Omoi can fetch Gahkta to speak for her, and meet us for lunch. Gahkta is quite skilled at hearing the voices of the horses, and we're all quite proud of her."

"Oh? I don't think I've met her," Ellie replied, scratching her head.

"She's very nice. You'll like her, I'm quite sure. She can hear the voice of any horse with only a moment to clear her mind - sometimes, she can manage it simply from a touch. Of course, they say they are still screaming at her for her to hear, but I suppose that's to be expected. Afterwards, Tashou can carry you home, to save you a long walk. How does that sound?"

Ellie grinned broadly. "That sounds very nice, thanks."

C'dera smiled. "Omoi, please go fetch Gahkta, and meet us in an hour. Come, Lady Ellie - the bath house is this way," C'dera called.

An hour later, Omoi and Gahkta walked out onto the small balcony where lunch had been served for Lady C'dera and Ellie. After bowing politely, they knelt on the pillows provided, and Gahkta took one of Omoi's fore-hooves in her paws. Omoi again marveled at Gahkta - the tan-furred she-mus could clear and calm her mind very quickly. Of course, this was probably because she was, by birth, warrior-caste. As a young girl, she had decided that the burdens of rulership were too much for her gentle soul to bear, and asked to become servant-caste - a highly unusual request, but not unheard of. Still, she continued her studies of Zen, and now, as an adult, her skill at meditation learned while younger served her well in her new role as Speaker for Horses within Clan Xaa.

"Omoi says, 'I greet you warmly, Ellie Sharptooth,'" Gahkta said after a moment, and both she and Omoi smiled.

Ellie smiled back. Fresh from the baths, a nice fur-brushing and a warm meal, she was very happy despite the real reason she had come. "Well, I suppose Omoi already knows why I'm here. I'm worried about my mate. I know he's not due back until the fall - perhaps not until the spring. Still, I'm worried about him. I know that the seers among the horses can tell things about the future and distant things... Can you tell me if he's well? Can you tell me if he'll return alright?"

"Omoi says that she can try, Lady Ellie. She says she is not quite the seer Amani of the Blue Wind clan is - her range is not as great, and the vision of her inner eye is not as clear, particularly regarding those whom she does not know personally. She says of all the mares she has ever met, Amani is probably the best seer - and as Amani is with your mate, he has the best chance of returning to you safely. Still, she will try."

Omoi nodded at Gahkta's translation of her silent voice, then closed her eyes, reaching out with her mind. The process was nothing that could be explained to anyone who was not a horse - it was not a seeing of future events, but a knowing. It took a great deal of training and practice to sense the ebb and flow of infinite possibilities which made up the existence of even a single being that was known to her, and sensing the nexi of possibilities related to someone that was unknown to her was quite difficult.

Omoi relaxed, and simply allowed her mind to float. She could sense the minds of the three individuals sitting nearby - the nervous anticipation of Ellie Sharptooth, the quiet curiosity of Lady C'dera, and the calm waiting of Gahkta. More distantly, she could sense the minds of the other people in the castle and beyond, out to the limit of her range - hundreds of minds, smiling, laughing, sighing, working, living their lives. Beneath this was the hubbub of animal life - the dim-witted djuducu-birds in the stables, the pigeons in the coop, dozens of sparrows, the carp in the moat, chickens, goats, and countless other dim, flickering lights that were the minds of the unintelligent beasts within her range. Omoi did not focus on any of them, but rather calmed herself, allowing her mind to sense the deeper reality - the gentle thrum of existence, the tingling vibrations of possibilities which made up the here and now. An infinity of possibilities could have brought each of these living creatures and every inanimate object within her range to exactly the position and state it was in at the moment - yet only one set of possibilities comprised the past. A million million possible fates awaited them all, based on their actions - yet only a few outcomes were truly possible, and only one outcome would eventually happen. Strangely, by attempting to sense the future, Omoi knew that she became a part of causing it to come about. It was one of the risks of a seer - by sensing a possible outcome and telling others about it, she helped that outcome come about. Without her use of her inner eye, anything was possible. Yet, once viewed, countless future possibilities would no longer happen. This was the paradox that seers lived with each day of their lives.

After a long moment, Omoi opened her eyes, and looked to Gahkta.

"Lady Ellie, Omoi says she cannot tell what will happen to your mate. She says any number of possibilities are equally likely at this point - his fate, at the moment, rests in the capable hooves of Amani. However, she has had a vision - and it is one that she recommends Lady C'dera act upon at once," Gahkta said.

Ellie sighed in disappointment, but Lady C'dera looked to Omoi curiously. "Oh? What might that be?"

Gahktah explained carefully, and C'dera nodded, listening. Ellie listened as well, her face turning to one of grim determination.

"Hmm..." C'dera said after a long moment. "And how likely do you think this is to happen, Omoi?"

"She says very likely, my lady. In fact, she is certain of it. I cannot relate her explanation, however - the concepts she uses to think about the past, present and future simply have no words in our language. Still, she is certain," Gahkta replied.

"Well, then we'll have to do something about it," Ellie said firmly.

C'dera nodded. "Yes - and soon. When winter arrives, the mountains will be almost impassable. I'll have Lord Y'dahk make all the preparations - he knows the way there," she replied, then looked to Ellie, and smiled. "Shall we have Tashou take you back, now?"

Ellie nodded. "Yes, please."

Gahkta spoke up again, bowing. "Lady Ellie, Omoi says she regrets that she could not answer your question directly. As she said before, she is a lesser seer than Amani, and few, if any, are truly Amani's equal. If she knew your mate better, she might have had a greater chance for success, but in truth, she has never met him."

Ellie smiled slightly. "That's alright. Spirits, we musties know we can't always get what we want. The real key to happiness is learning to want what we need," Ellie replied, and hopped to her feet. "Lady C'dera, we have quite a bit of smoked rabbit this year - there was an excess of them this summer. We can help provision Lord Y'dahk, if he'll stop by our village on the way. That might save you some time. We should be able to provide a stone, perhaps a stone and a half of jerky."

C'dera thought a moment, then nodded. "That would be more than sufficient, and would save us a day of preparation. He should be there sometime in the morning, Lady Ellie."

Ellie grinned, and Omoi smiled at the flash of emotion in her mind. It was one of the most wonderful things about musties - even when they were miserable, they could reach within their souls and find the courage to be happy. Even in the face of sorrow, they could find it within themselves to dance. It was not their way to dwell on misery and unhappiness, but rather to seek joy in each moment of life. That, to a horse, was a wonderful and precious gift.

"Well, let's get to work, then," Ellie said, grinning, and Omoi simply basked in the wondrous emotional radiance of her sparkling, happy mind.

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