of the Last God
(Book IV of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2001 BY
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Two weeks after Xaa first fell ill, and nearly two months after they had entered, Merle, Xaa, Smith, Jendara and Kahgah emerged from the little cave on the lands of Clan J'taash. Lord Jamat was overjoyed to see them, though he controlled himself well, of course. In their absence, Kahgah's servants had built a small pen for all their birds, and brought regular supplies of meat for the warriors and fodder for the birds - all as per Kahgah's orders. Now, while Xaa's warriors sorted out the birds and made ready for the two-week ride back to Castle Xaa, Kahgah paused, and turned to Smith. "Smith... I would like to ask if you would be so kind as to translate for me to Jendara. I would like to speak to her, but I have yet to master her language, and I cannot understand the ancient version of our own language that she speaks."
"Of course, Lord Kahgah," Smith replied politely, keeping his face smooth. What he wanted to say was, of course, something that Smith already knew. Yet, he was fairly certain what the answer would be before the question was even asked. Smith had stood outside the home of Jendara's parents, waiting with the others, and had heard her final conversation with them. It seemed likely to Smith that this story would not end happily for either Lord Kahgah or Jendara - yet, the question had to be asked, and the answer received.
Smith had spoken to Jendara over the last few days, and she had asked about whether or not a mouse could bear the child of a mus. Smith had decided to simply tell her the truth - yes, it was possible, the infants of mus and mouse were nearly the same size. It hadn't happened in eight centuries, of course, but despite what Jendara's people thought, the Healing Lore that had been handed down among Smith's people said that the offspring would always be a mus, and though they possessed the eidetic memory of a mouse, they were always sterile. Smith did not know whether or not this answer would affect Jendara's decision, but he felt at the time it was best that she know the truth before the day came when she would have to decide. Now, that day of decision had apparently arrived.
Smith called to Jendara, asking her to come over, and telling her that Lord Kahgah wanted to speak with her. Once she was near, Kahgah knelt on one knee to bring his head down closer to her level, then spoke.
"Jendara... I hardly have the words to tell you what is in my heart. I am not a poet, or a diplomat, or any other weaver of words. I am, and have always been merely a warrior. Yet, it is my hope that you will hear my words, and forgive my clumsy manner of speaking my thoughts," Kahgah said, then waited for Smith to translate what he'd said before he continued.
"Jendara says for you to speak your mind, Lord Kahgah, and not to worry whether or not your words are poetry. She knows from your voice and your face your feelings, and she says that is poetry enough," Smith said after listening to Jendara for a moment.
Kaghgah nodded. "Then that I shall do," he rumbled. "Jendara, I love you. I have no mate of my own. I am twenty-four years of age, and one of the most powerful leaders in my clan. My lands cover nearly five hundred square leagues, and I am considered to be fairly wealthy among my people. As you can see, I would make an excellent husband. I would be honored if you would consider becoming my mate," Kahgah said, then blushed at the clumsiness of his words, his ears turning bright pink against his ebon fur as his hairless tail flicked back and forth nervously.
Jendara stood quietly for a long moment, then spoke softly, gazing into Kahgah's golden eyes sadly. When she was done, Smith suppressed a sigh, and translated her words. "Lord Kahgah, Jendara says this: 'If you lived a thousand years, Lord Kahgah, you would still never know how deeply I am honored by your offer, and how much I care for you. The moment we shared in the caves was special and sweet, and shall always be a fond memory for me. Yet, my father is right. Our people are few, and we must grow. My destiny lies with the mice of Smith's Village, for the very fate of our race depends on all of us joining together once again, and renewing our people's numbers. Smith says that by our own stories, he believes there may be many more of our people living in small, isolated villages, hidden in the vast mountain ranges to the north and south of the lands of the mus. Lord Xaa says it is the emperor's wish that these hidden villages be sought out - and so they shall be. As time passes, they will all be found by your people, and they too will join with Smith's Village, to renew our race. I love you, Lord Kahgah, but my destiny lies elsewhere. Thus, I cannot marry you. I am sorry.' That is what she says, my lord."
Jendara then rose on her tip-toes, and wrapped her arms around Kahgah's neck, hugging him tightly. Kahgah reached his arms around the little mouse, hugging her back gently. Jendara nuzzled him for a long moment, her tears dampening the translucent spider-silk blindfold she wore against the sun's bright rays. After a long moment, she let him go, and stepped back. "Wes šu hal, Hlaford Kahgah," Jendara said, in the ancient tongue of the mus that she knew, and sniffled. "Wes šu hal." Jendara then turned and walked away to where Merle, Xaa, and the other mice of the Great Cavern stood, her tail drooping low.
Kahgah gazed after her for a long moment in silence. Smith wondered if he should say something - but knew not what to say. The mus were like the mice in many ways, but in other ways, they were not. Though another mouse might have appreciated a sympathetic hug or a kind word, a mus might not.
Finally, just as Smith opened his muzzle to offer at least a gentle condolence, Kahgah rose to his feet, then spat. "Bah. Fate conspires against me, again," he growled sourly. "First, the leadership of a High Clan slips through my fingers, and now the most beautiful..." Kahgah shook his head, then looked down at Smith. "Take care of her, Smith. I would not see her unhappy for this decision. I understand it, I respect it, and I shall honor it - but I ask that you see she does not regret it," he rumbled, then turned his head to where his own warriors stood. "Ho, Grahgh!"
"Yes, my lord?" the warrior shouted back.
"Bring me my mount! It's time we left, I think - we've been away nearly two months, and I need to insure the work on the castle is proceeding according to schedule. Take twenty warriors with you, and make sure Lord Xaa and his party have safe escort to the borders of our lands, then return to the castle as soon as you can!"
"Yes, my lord!" Lord Grahgh replied, and began snapping out orders.
A few moments later, Kahgah swung into his saddle, then turned his bird to trot over to Xaa. In a moment, he stood before Xaa and Merle. "Lord Xaa, it has been my pleasure to accompany you on this journey. I hope we meet again someday soon," he rumbled, and bowed from his saddle.
Xaa paused in adjusting his saddle, and returned Kahgah's bow with a polite nod, as was appropriate to his station compared to Kahgah's, then smiled. "I'm sure we will, Lord Kahgah. After all, we still have a date to go hunting, sometime."
Kahgah grinned, and for a moment, the two warriors exchanged a silent grin of understanding. "That we do, Lord Xaa, that we do. Farewell," Kahgah replied, and with a flick of his reins, he rode away.
Jendara sat quietly for a long while afterwards, until finally she noticed a mus-warrior beside her was speaking to her. It was Lord Jamat, leading the bird she and Smith would ride back to Lord Xaa's lands. All the other mice had already been put on a bird, sitting behind one of Lord Xaa's warriors, and both Merle and Lord Xaa were astride their own birds nearby, waiting. "Come, Jendara," Smith called in the ancient language Jendara spoke. "Lord Jamat tries to tell thee 'tis time to go."
Jendara stood, slipping on her pack, then held her arms out to Lord Jamat. Jamat lifted her easily, setting her behind Smith, then swung into the saddle of his own bird. "We're ready, my lord," he called to Xaa.
Xaa nodded. "Then let us be off," he called, and twitched the reins to his mount to lead the way. Merle followed, along with all Xaa's warriors and their small escort. They were on their way.
Smith said nothing for the longest time. He could feel Jendara's arms around him, holding on so she wouldn't slip off, yet he could tell that she was also hugging him for more than just a bit of stability. She sighed often, and sniffled occasionally. Smith lifted a paw from the pommel of the saddle, and patted one of her paws. "'Twas for the best, Jendara," was all he could say.
"This I know, friend Smith,
this I know - but my heart must needs heal, for the knowing is
yet painful," Jendara replied, and began to weep.
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