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

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Byarl sighed. It had been two weeks since they started their journey homeward. Byarl had been reassured to discover that the Wild Musties traveled quickly - athletic and used to walking long distances when hunting, the wild musties made good time each day. Yet, he knew it wasn't going to be fast enough. It would be at least a year of travel before they made it back home to the Laughing Wood.

Byarl pondered what he might do as he slowly chewed the roast rabbit that had been caught earlier in the day. The Wild Musties hunted while moving, killing pretty much anything that fled their advance, and small game such as rabbits and the like were becoming more and more common as they left the edges of the jungle and approached the vast, ancient forests that lay northward. Byarl had spoken to Pup-Chup, and all the Wild Musties had begun making slings, to conserve their blow-darts and poisons. There weren't any poisonous frogs in the Laughing Wood, nor really anywhere in the lands of the mus, nor were the poisons of the snakes strong enough to use. Thus, the Wild Musties would have to save their supplies of poisons for when they were truly needed, as they would not be able to replenish them.

As he finished the last of the rabbit and tossed the bones in the campfire before him, Byarl lay on his back, and gazed up at the stars that gleamed from far above the trees of the forest. It was early fall, now, and Ellie would be very upset when he did not return by spring. She would be even more upset when he did not return the following summer or fall. Byarl guessed that it would be at least early winter of the following year before they finally arrived at the Laughing Wood, and by then, Ellie might have given him up for dead.

She would be chief, of course, and would manage the tribe to the best of her ability. Byarl had full confidence in her, and knew his tribe would be alright. He only wondered if she truly would believe him dead... And perhaps take another mate.

Musties were, in the end, a very practical people. Ellie would be very lonely, of course, and the single males of the tribe would certainly not wish to see her unhappy. His sons would be old enough to join the other young, single musties at the communal campfire, and would probably begin building their own houses. Thus, the house would be empty, and Ellie would be alone.

'Sarto, most likely,' Byarl thought. 'If she picked anyone, it would be Sarto.' Sarto was a skilled hunter, and a good friend of Ellie's. He was, at age twenty, the oldest of the single males at the central cookfire. Ellie, herself, was only thirty-four - as she was the older, however, it would be a great honor for her to choose Sarto, and by the Mustie Way, a great compliment to his maturity and skill. Almost certainly, once it was decided Byarl was dead, the single males would begin to court Ellie. Sarto was her most likely choice, to Byarl's mind. Byarl sighed. When he arrived back in the Laughing Wood, it would be a very awkward situation.

Byarl pushed these sad thoughts from his mind with an effort, and wrapped himself up in his blanket, covering his head to keep night-insects from bothering him. It was not the Mustie Way to dwell on problems that had no solution, and hadn't even come about yet. It was possible it might never happen - there was at least one other seer among the horses in Lord Xaa's service. Ellie might learn from her that Byarl was alive, and would eventually return. 'Why, a thousand and twenty-four things could happen between then and now,' Byarl thought, and closed his eyes to sleep.

"Booya!" one of the wild musties at the perimeter of the camp shouted. "Ka chata wango!" In a moment, all the Wild Musties were chittering with excitement.

Byarl grumbled, and pulled the blanket tighter over himself. It was, most likely, a deer or some other animal they'd spotted in the distance. The Wild Musties were all excellent hunters, having been forced to become so by the circumstances of their previous lives. The animals of the jungle had, for the most part, learned to avoid the living areas of the musties, and they often had to roam far afield for game. Animals in these parts, however, had not been hunted by musties - or, at least, had not been hunted by them in a very long time. It would not be surprising for a young stag, in curiosity or in defense of it's territory, to peer out at the camp from behind a tree. Of course, once the Wild Musties spotted it, it wouldn't live long. 'Well, Ayori's on watch. If it's anything I need to know about, he'll wake me,' Byarl thought, and tried to get some sleep. It had been a very long day, one of many, and he was very tired.

The heavy tread of a horse's hooves came to Byarl's ear, and the sound of a dozen or more of the Wild Musties chittering "Eetchi! Eetchi! Eetchi!" accompanied it's approach. Byarl sighed. The word meant, loosely, "wow" or "gosh", and the Wild Musties used it quite a bit as they spotted new animals or flowers they'd never seen before. 'I was right, they've killed a stag,' Byarl thought, annoyed. Almost certainly Pup-Chup or one of the others would be asking him to identify it or explain minor differences in it's appearance from the deer they were used to, and Amani would want to help translate their endless questions. A horse's nicker confirmed Byarl's thoughts, and he sighed beneath his blanket. "Amani, not now, please. Have them talk to Ayori," Byarl muttered. "I'm exhausted."

A louder nicker was the reply to Byarl's request, and the Wild Musties continued to chitter excitedly. Byarl sighed again, pulling the blanket from over his head. "Amani, I said..." Byarl started in annoyance, his words fading as he looked, blinking in both tiredness and surprise.

Before him stood a tall, dun mare, wearing a horse-garment embroidered with the black circle and sheathed, crossed swords of Clan Xaa. She was very beautiful, and smiled as she tossed the dark hair of her mane. She also was not Amani.

"Wh-what?! Who are you?!" Byarl yelped, sitting up suddenly.

"Forgive me, Great Chief Byarl," a mus' voice called, "but I find I cannot clear my mind and speak for Omoi with all these musties bouncing about me and trying to touch me."

Byarl looked - nearby, a she-mus of the servant caste smiled and nodded to a dozen Wild Musties who bounced and chittered about her. She seemed very embarrassed and upset, and Byarl realized it was because that several of the Wild Musties were trying to feel her long, pink, nearly hairless tail. Byarl tossed the blanket aside, rising to his feet. "Stop!" he yelled in the language of the Wild Musties, then yelled to tell them not to touch the tails of a mus, as it was considered very rude.

By the third time Byarl had repeated himself, the Wild Musties got the message, and had stopped. At that moment, another voice called out to him, and Byarl looked to see a familiar brown-furred warrior-mus in full armor, striding towards him. "Ah, Great Chief Byarl! There you are. The one called Ayori said you'd be over here - he's over by our mounts, now, speaking with the leader of these musties, here. We weren't sure we'd find you, even though Omoi said we were near, but apparently once we drew near enough, Omoi and Amani were able to sense each other's presence. Ayori and Amani led us here - and it's a good thing they did, as your camp is well-concealed. Not surprising, considering you are musties, after all."

"Lord Y'dahk!" Byarl called, grinning. "What are you doing here?!"

"Why, looking for you, Great Chief Byarl," Y'dahk replied, and grinned as he bowed to Byarl. "The mare, Omoi, had a vision that fifty birds would be needed to meet your group as it returned from the jungles. She did not know whether or not you personally would survive your adventure, she only knew we would be needed, and roughly where to lead us. Lady C'dera trusted her vision, and ordered myself and twenty warriors to go, each leading a string of birds. Of course, I and everyone else who came along hoped we would find you alive and well, and I'm glad to see that this is so."

"No more than I am, Lord Y'dahk," Byarl replied, chuckling, and bowed in return. Byarl grinned broadly as he straightened up. He was going home.


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