of the Last God
(Book IV of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2001 BY
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"Merle, she says we have to get him sitting up," Smith said after listening to Jendara for a moment.
"Oh, spirits! He's so heavy, I don't know if we can!" Merle replied, sniffling.
Smith translated that to Jendara, and she nodded, turning to Lannan and speaking rapidly in her ancient language. After a few moments, half a dozen mice gathered near. Smith, Merle and all the mice struggled for a few moments, and finally they had Xaa sitting up. Smith and two other mice held him up while Jendara worked on a small bowl, apparently intended for Xaa.
"What is that?" Merle asked, pointing.
"She says it's a tea, Merle - well, it's not really a tea, it's cold, but that's the closest I can describe it. It's made from three types of bugs and a green mold they found here in the caves centuries ago. They grow it, now, for it's healing properties - Jendara showed me how it's done, and I have a sample of it stored in a bottle. She says the bugs are for food value, and the mold does the actual work of curing. She says it doesn't work all the time, but it does work often," Smith replied.
"How do they know it will help him?! He's not a mouse, he's a mus! Bugs and mold might kill him!"
"This disease will kill him anyway, Merle. It's all we have to try," Smith replied quietly.
Merle suppressed a sob as Jendara stepped up to Xaa, holding out the little bowl. Jendara held the bowl up to Xaa's muzzle and chittered at him, and Smith translated. "Drink, Lord Xaa. It's good for you. It'll make you feel better."
Xaa simply stared blankly, and shivered.
Jendara frowned, then put the bowl down. She looked at Xaa, her face showing nervousness - then she firmed her jaw. Drawing back her paw, she slapped him as hard as she could.
"Hey!" Merle yelped, starting for Jendara, but Smith caught her arm.
"Merle, she has to get his attention. He's in a stupor - he can't drink. It's the fever, Merle - she has to get his attention."
Merle nodded, and simply waited. Jendara looked back to Xaa, and slapped him again - and again. After a moment, Xaa blinked, looked down at Jendara, and snarled weakly, his fangs bared. A mouse in the same stupor might have cringed or wept upon regaining consciousness - but a mus, while similar to a mouse, was a carnivore, and a different being. Jendara trembled for a moment at Xaa's glare, but still reached down to pick up the bowl again and hold it out to Xaa. "Drink, my lord. It's medicine," Smith called.
Xaa nodded, sipping at the brew. Merle could tell by his face it was horrid - but he drank it anyway.
At a word from Jendara, the mice carefully laid Xaa back down on his side again. She then looked to Merle, and chittered for a long moment. Afterwards, she picked up a cloth, dipped it into a bowl of water, and began wiping down Xaa's ears and head.
"Merle, she says you should take off your armor and get under the blankets with him. You'll help keep his body warm so he doesn't shiver. Right now, she says she has to cool his head a bit to keep him from falling into a stupor again, so she's going to wet his ears and head."
Merle nodded - a mouse's ears and tail were what kept them cool, and it was the same with their larger, carnivorous relatives, the mus. So, wetting his head and ears was understandable. Merle blushed for a moment at the thought of removing her armor, as she was wearing nothing beneath it - but she reached for the laces anyway. Smith simply looked away politely, and the other mice simply acted as though they couldn't see Merle's nudity. Merle realized that it was simply their culture that caused them to act this way, though in truth, some of the mice here probably couldn't see her - the only illumination was from Smith's little lantern, and most of the mice of the Great Cavern were, quite literally, blind as a bat. A few moments later, Merle dropped the last of her armor to the cave floor, and slipped under the blankets with her mate.
Xaa blinked at Merle, his expression looking somewhat more alert as Jendara finished wiping down his ears, then began wiping down the large, flat expanse of skull atop his head, between his ears. Merle nuzzled Xaa lovingly, then wrapped her arms around his neck and holding him tight, tucked her head beneath his chin.
Jendara finally stopped, and felt Xaa's ears, nose and head. Satisfied, she sat back on her heels. Looking up to Smith, she squeaked for several moments in her ancient language. "Merle... She says she's going to leave the cloth and the water here with you. If his head gets hot, you have to dip the cloth in the water, squeeze out the excess, then wet his ears and between his ears, like she did. For now, she's going to make another batch of medicine. He's very large, Merle... It takes a lot. I'm going to watch to see how it's done."
"How will I know if it's working?"
Smith sighed. "You'll know it's working if he doesn't die in the next hour or two, Merle." Merle gasped, and Smith shook his head. "I'm sorry, Merle, but it's the truth. If he's still alive in two hours, she's going to come back and give him some more medicine. The rest is up to you. There's nothing more they can do except wait."
Merle nodded, tears starting from her eyes, and the mice left. Smith stayed a moment, tucking the blankets in, his own eyes misting, then followed.
For a long while afterwards, Merle hugged her mate tightly, and wept, stroking his damp head. "Oh, Xaa..." It was unimaginable to her that the enormous mus could even become ill, much less die - but deep in her heart, she knew he was mortal, like anyone else. As much as the mus looked at the musties as being magical, like little forest spirits, the musties looked to the mus as being magical, as well. Like powerful and wise giants, they were the indomitable masters of all they surveyed. Merle loved the gentle giant she called her mate very dearly - and the thought of him slipping away while she held him in her arms left her sobbing. Merle nuzzled Xaa over and over, whispering his name as she stroked his head. "Xaa..."
"Merle..." Xaa whispered.
"Oh, Xaa! I love you so much!" Merle sobbed.
"I love you, too, Merle..." Xaa whispered, his voice very soft. Merle felt his large arm reach up to her, laying across her. "Merle..."
"I think I'm dying, Merle..."
"No! You can't die!"
There was a long pause, and finally Xaa whispered again. "All things die, Merle... It is... Zen..."
"Well, maybe, but you can't die! You just can't!" There was another long pause, and Merle thought Xaa had fallen asleep - or worse. Her heart stopped for a moment, until she realized she could still hear his soft breathing. "You can't die, Xaa. You just can't."
"Why... Why not?" Xaa whispered, with a breathy sound that Merle realized was a very weak chuckle.
"Ummm... Because..." Merle struggled to come up with an answer. "Ummm... Well, because C'dera is pregnant!" she yelped, grasping at straws.
"Yes! You remember, don't you? That night after I accepted C'dera? It was so sweet and wonderful and she and I enjoyed it very much, and I know you enjoyed it! Well, she's pregnant. We found out just before you and I left on this journey, and C'dera and I decided to surprise you when we got back!"
"Ah... Another child to carry on my line..." Xaa whispered, his voice barely audible, and seemed to relax.
Merle squeezed Xaa tight. "No! You don't understand! It could be a boy, and then what would we do?! I don't know how to teach a warrior-caste mus to fight, and neither does C'dera! Only you can possibly teach your son! And it's going to be a son! We musties know these things, Xaa! We're very special, magical creatures - you said so yourself! Well, I know it's going to be a boy, and you have to be there to help raise it as a warrior! That's why you can't die! Your son needs you!"
"My... My son?" Xaa whispered.
There was a long moment of silence, and Merle hugged her mate again, nuzzling him lovingly. Then, from deep within Xaa's chest, a soft rumble of pleasure began.
"My son," Xaa rumbled, and Merle grinned again to see a weak smile light the corners of his muzzle.
"Yes, that's right. So you have to live, okay?!"
"Alright, Merle..." Xaa whispered, and fell silent. After a moment, Merle realized he was breathing slowly and deeply, in a manner she was very familiar with - he was asleep.
Merle gently, lovingly stroked her mate's face, head, ears and neck, cooing and whispering softly into his ears. She told him of how strong his son would be, how brave, how noble... His eyes would be like his father's, of course. In coloration, he would favor C'dera. A handsome boy to be proud of, who would carry on Xaa's line with honor all the days of his life. It had to be so, Merle explained in a gentle whisper, as she was a mustie, and could tell these things. By the laws and traditions of the mus, he would be the child of all three - Xaa, Merle and C'dera. Merle, of course, would be very proud of their son, and would teach him the Mustie Way. He would live a happy life, and make his father proud. On and on Merle went, spinning a quiet fantasy for her sleeping mate, stroking him softly all the while.
Merle stopped suddenly, noticing a soft white paw reaching past her face to Xaa's ear. Merle looked up - it was Jendara, taking Xaa's pulse from the large vessel in his ear. Jendara smiled as she discovered what Merle already knew - Xaa was still alive. Behind her stood Smith, smiling broadly, and half a dozen of the pale mice of the Great Cavern. "We have to get him to sit up again, Merle. It's time for the second dose of medicine."
Merle grinned, wiping the tears
from her eyes. "Okay."
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