of the Last God
(Book IV of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2001 BY
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"Fsst! A bit of warning before she arrived would have been nice!" R'Narr snarled. L'Char's arrival had been completely without fanfare - she and a mounted retinue of ten armed female guards, war-trained nuns of T'Masa keep, had simply arrived at the castle gates a few hours after their messenger, and politely requested an audience. R'Narr was not amused.
"Miao... I'm sorry, my lord, but as I told you, I only learned of it myself this morning. She has also made it plain that she wishes her arrival to be kept quiet, which would explain the short notice - almost certainly, she sent her messenger on ahead only after she arrived at the borders of your lands. The longer we took to prepare for her arrival, the more likely word of her presence would spread - and, apparently, she wishes few or none to know of her presence." L'Sala replied calmly. "Mrr... She also made it plain that she wanted no special ceremony. She simply wants to meet with you, and then me, and then be on her way."
"Mrowrrr... I dislike this, 'Sal. What is she planning?" R'Narr started, then looked into L'Sala's eyes. "Mrow! She doesn't mean... She couldn't mean to extend to you forgiveness, and to try to take you back to T'Masa?!" R'Narr's eyes narrowed. "Fsst! I'll kill her before I let that happen!"
L'Sala smiled, and nuzzled her mate. "Mrr... Never fear, my lord. I would not go back, even if it were possible. I have made my choice, and that is to be with you, as your mate. However, by the rules of our order, it is not possible for me to return. Having once been ejected, we are on our own. She has no hold over me, and cannot order me to return - nor could she possibly offer any inducement for me to do so on my own, as it would violate the rules of our order for her to do so."
R'Narr smiled, and was about to speak, when there was a knock at the door. "Mrowr! Enter!" he called.
D'Viall, the Seneschal of Castle V'Nass, opened the door with a sweeping gesture, and bowed formally. "Mrowr... The Reverend Mother Superior, L'Char T'Masa," he announced, his tail properly lowered and his eyes to the floor.
R'Narr bowed formally, and L'Sala did likewise. Technically, as Shazad of all the Cat-Clans, he was her superior in rank - yet, one did not annoy the Nuns of T'Masa without good cause. "Mrr... Good Day, Reverend Mother," R'Narr called politely.
"Miao... Good day, Your Imperial Highness," L'Char replied, bowing in return, then smiled slightly. "Mrr... It is good to see you again."
"Mrr... It is good to see you again, as well," R'Narr replied. R'Narr then straightened up, and an uncomfortable silence ensued. L'Char simply stared at him with the piercing gaze of a trained Mentalt, assessing him by a hundred small signs his body gave off. The position of his whiskers, his tail, his posture, his gaze, and a hundred more things all fell beneath her keen eye. R'Narr resisted the urge to cross his arms, and simply gazed back, studying her in return.
L'Char had been the female with whom R'Narr had taken his Warrior's Rest, gaining his adulthood as he slept upon her after a long night of coupling, as was the custom of the felines of Oerth. Of course, back then, she had merely been another of the nuns of T'Masa Keep, and R'Narr a young noble's scion of sixteen years of age. Just like R'Narr, however, L'Char had come far in four decades - she now was the Mother Superior of T'Masa. The habit the gray-muzzled, jellicle she-cat before him wore was quite interesting to R'Narr. Ash-gray in color and generally shaped like a long-sleeved dress, it had a wide, white collar that lay about her shoulders like a capelet, and was belted with a small silver chain at her waist. In her left paw she bore an ornately-carved walking-staff, though R'Narr realized by her stance that it was both an affectation of her rank and an assistance to her walking. Only her head and paws were visible from beneath the dress, and her gray muzzle reminded R'Narr she was still nearly two decades older than him. The resemblance between L'Char and L'Sala was striking. Though R'Narr had lain with L'Char and L'Char was L'Sala's grandmother, L'Sala was, however, no relation to him (indeed, L'Sala had confided that her father was the late Lord D'Kas, killed in R'Narr's campaign to seize the throne). R'Narr gazed appreciatively at L'Char. Though the stunning beauty of L'Char T'Masa's youth may have faded now that she was over seventy, she still retained a commanding and regal presence.
"Miao... If I may, Your Imperial Highness, I would like to ask a question of you, then speak with L'Sala alone. As you may have guessed, I have received the second 'calculating machine' L'Sala obtained from the mus, and I am quite fascinated by it. I wish to chat with her about it - as well as family matters, and other things."
R'Narr forced a smile to his muzzle. "Mrr... Ask anything you wish, Reverend Mother," he replied, dismissing D'Viall with a wave of a paw. D'Viall closed the door quietly behind him. "Mrr... Would you like a seat, Reverend Mother?" R'Narr asked, gesturing to the chairs beside the table.
L'Char shook her head, and smiled slightly. "Mrr... Our conversation will not take that long, Your Imperial Highness," she replied. "Miao... I am curious as to your reasons for freeing the horse slaves, and having them all sent to the lands of the mus."
R'Narr pondered his answer only for a moment, then realized that he was facing a Mentalt - possibly the most skilled Mentalt alive. If he lied, she would know. "Mrr... I did it for three reasons. Firstly, because their ability to read minds chilled me to the bone. I cannot abide the thought that they know all our secrets, simply by standing near us. The mus apparently know this, as well, but it does not bother them. Perhaps they can accept knowing that they have no secrets from the horses, but I cannot. A cat without a secret is like a cat without a tail - and for six centuries, they have kept us tailless, without our ever knowing. What secrets of ours have they stolen? What more might they steal over time? I did not know - but I knew it was time for them to go," he replied, and L'Char nodded as he continued.
"Mrr... Second, I freed them because it weakened the western clans, eliminating their primary source of labor and threatening the collapse of their economies, and making them entirely dependent on me. I followed this by allowing them to enslave the defeated royalist clans. Now, all those clans who opposed me are no more, and the western clans who supported me will continue to do so. And, finally, I did it because it was just."
"Mrr? Just, Your Imperial Highness? I'm afraid I fail to understand your meaning," L'Char replied with a smile, leaning on her staff.
R'Narr suspected she knew precisely what he meant, but only wanted to hear it from his own muzzle. Still, it was best to humor her - she was the Mother Superior of T'Masa, after all. "Mrr... I shall try to explain, Reverend Mother..." R'Narr replied, and stroked his chin for a moment before continuing. "Mrr... I owe the crown to one of their people - a mare, named Omoi. I may, perhaps, even owe her my life - hence, my newest daughter is named after her. Omoi helped me out of self-interest - she knew I planned to free her people. Yet, as I looked upon her and the others that day I came up with the plan for using her as a spy, it dawned on me that these people were no mere pacifist, sub-intelligent servant-race, to be used and manipulated at our whim. Yet, at the same time, they were no sinister thought-thieves, either. As I looked into Omoi's face, it dawned on me that they were, in the end, a simple, primitive, yet noble people. They submitted because they had no other choice - their people were absolute pacifists, and could not resist us. Fighting meant pain to them, and killing meant their own deaths. Yet, even after centuries of slavery, they still held their heads high. That, Reverend Mother, is strength, not weakness. They deserved far better - and I knew they would never receive such in our lands. I pitied them, Reverend Mother. As much as I loathed them, I pitied them. Thus, I freed them."
L'Char was silent for a moment, gazing at R'Narr, judging the truth of his words by the countless signs of his body and voice. Finally, she nodded. "Miao... I understand, Your Imperial Highness - and more, I shall tell you something that is for your ears, and your ears alone."
"Mrr? Yes, Reverend Mother?" R'Narr asked calmly, trying not to reveal his curiosity.
"Miao... It is obvious to me that your mate has told you the secret we kept for three centuries - but, it was just as well she did, as it was something you needed to know. In the early days of our civilization, we needed the horses, to provide us with cheap labor, and to free our paws for better things. We are not like the Little Ones or the Mus, or their mysterious allies, the Musties. Our people have ever been a physical race, and when our paws are full of tools or weapons, our minds are not working to advance our knowledge, or advance our understanding of ourselves. To become civilized, both in the sense of building our first cities and in the sense of becoming less barbaric, we needed slave-labor. Now, that time is past. Now, our people need to work to develop labor-saving technologies, even as our legends say the Little Ones once had. Your action, taken to insure the loyalty of the western clans, was precisely what needed to be done. They will not find their new slaves as compliant as the old ones, oh, no," L'Char explained, and chuckled.
"Miao... Your Imperial Majesty, it is my mentation that in perhaps two centuries or so, perhaps even less, the presence of enslaved cats in the western lands will spark a revolution in thought - particularly as those cats make efforts to escape their bondage, and are eventually recaptured or killed. The concepts of "Social Rights" and "Social Justice", concepts which we of T'Masa Keep have discussed for centuries and which, apparently, are common knowledge to the races of the east, will arise in the minds of our people."
"Mrr? What are "Social Rights" and "Social Justice"?"
"Miao... Exactly what you gave to the horses, Your Imperial Highness. You recognized that they, as a people, had a right to be free. That is a part of "Social Rights". You recognized that it was just for them to be free, and it was what they deserved. That is a part of "Social Justice." It is also the same conclusion we of T'Masa Keep came to two centuries ago - but the time was not yet ripe for them to be freed. And that, Your Imperial Highness," L'Char said, smiling, "was why we went to such elaborate steps to prevent them from reading our thoughts. We could not have them know that we knew their secret. We could not have them know that we knew they were not sub-intelligent beasts. No, they could not know that - because once they did, they would know that we knew they should be free, and would, perhaps, act on that knowledge. No, the time was not ripe for them to have that knowledge, anymore than it was for them to be free. Now, however, it is." L'Char then bowed her head. "Miao... And now, I must speak to your mate alone, Your Imperial Highness."
R'Narr nodded. "Mrr... I shall wait in the other room. Do but open the door and call when you are through, Reverend Mother," R'Narr replied, then turned and walked to the door on the opposite side of the room. Stepping through, he closed it behind him.
L'Char walked over to the chairs beside the table, and took a seat. "Mrr... Sit, Sister L'Sala."
"Miao... Yes, Reverend Mother," L'Sala replied, taking the chair beside her.
"Miao... Your mate is wise. He will make a fine Shazad - for perhaps fifteen or twenty years. After that, his mind will begin to slip from age."
"Miao... Perhaps not," L'Sala replied, raising her chin defiantly. "Mrr... I could give him the herbs we use at T'Masa, to maintain our minds past our dotage. You were a fool to ostracize me, grandmother. I know too much."
L'Char chuckled. "Mrr... Hardly. I simply acted as it seemed your Manipulation required for success - for tell me this was not all your Manipulation, eh? Tell me it was not your Mentation that you could easily sway R'Narr's heart, become his mate, and then, when he died, our people would have a Mentalt in power over them?"
L'Sala's expression did not change, but L'Char cackled with amusement anyway. "Miao... Yes, yes. Don't try to deny it out of modesty, L'Sala. It is obvious. You have birthed a she-kit already - in a few years, you can easily train her to take your place on the throne, as a Mentalt. R'Narr is of the blood, as his father was - your daughter most likely possesses the potential to become a Mentalt. The alliance with the mus was a stroke of genius, incidentally. We wanted the war to end, but to actually ally with The Slayer was more than we could possibly have hoped! In a few decades, technological and social exchange will occur, further removing our people from their barbaric origins and civilizing them, and staving off the possibility that we may someday engage in a self-destructive war. A truly brilliant manipulation, L'Sala - though only what I would have expected of my granddaughter," L'Char said, and smiled wickedly.
L'Sala remained silent, her face impassive as she gazed back at her grandmother.
"Miao... Always the modest one, L'Sala. You make your mother and I quite proud. The calculator-machine you sent us was quite fascinating. The technologies our people stand to gain through this alliance you have arranged are truly phenomenal. Ah, no need to maintain that aloofness with me, dear. I know the truth. Come, come! Tell me what you plan on doing, that we of T'Masa Keep might work together with you."
L'Sala was silent for a long moment, her face the cool, impassive mask of a Mentalt. Finally, she spoke, her voice even, level, and under the rigid and unwavering control of her iron-hard will. "Mrr... When R'Narr passes on, I shall indeed rule the lands after. And after myself, my daughter, who shall indeed be raised a Mentalt. She will, most likely, choose a tom who is of the blood, and raise a Mentalt to replace her. The dreams of T'Masa will come true. Our people will shake the endless warfare which has dominated our history, and will rise to a brighter future - a future of peace. And all you and the others of T'Masa need to do to see that this happens, grandmother, is stay out of my way."
L'Char smiled broadly. "Miao! Ah, my granddaughter... You make me so proud. Yes, of course, we'll stay out of your way. Any association between you and us will, naturally cause your whole Manipulation to fail, due to distrust. I'll return to T'Masa, and publicly denounce you as having failed our order, of course. For love you fell into the arms of a tom - and we, of course, do not feel love, thus we shall denounce you as being a failure, and no Mentalt at all," L'Char said, and cackled again.
"Miao! That will be the easiest part, after centuries of everyone believing our own propaganda. If you ever need anything, of course, do let us know. If necessary, contact the Noxatii. We have an arrangement with them, and you can use them to secretly send messages to us," L'Char said, and rose to her feet. "Mrow! And don't forget to send your son to the keep when he's of age, my daughter, and ready for his Warrior's Rest. That will be expected by the public, of course. More importantly, the bloodlines must be maintained. Never forget, L'Sala - it has taken us centuries to breed the majority of the nobles to a more intelligent line, and one less prone to the barbaric brutality of our ancestors. We can't have a single drop of the blood wasted." L'Char grinned. "Miao... And now, I must put on my 'angry' face and storm out of here, as though annoyed with you. But always remember, L'Sala - you make me very, very proud, indeed. Farewell."
L'Sala nodded, her face still an emotionless mask. L'Char then raised her staff, and whacked it soundly against the floor. "Fsst! You stupid, stupid girl! You're no Mentalt at all! I denounced you before, and I denounce you again!" she shrieked, loud enough for R'Narr to hear in the other room, then stormed over to the door leading to the hallway, yanked it open, and strode away quickly, nearly bowling over a guard in the corridor - who almost certainly had heard L'Char's tirade.
L'Sala rose quietly from her chair, went to the hallway door, and closed it softly. She then leaned her head against the door, and silently wept.
Large, gentle paws on her shoulders turned her around, and L'Sala found herself in R'Narr's arms. She hugged him tight, still weeping silently. "Mrr... 'Sal... What happened?" R'Narr asked, gently drawing her over to the chairs. R'Narr sat, pulling L'Sala into his lap. It was a long moment before she could reply - she simply sat and wept silently.
Finally, L'Sala lifted her head from R'Narr's broad shoulder, and looked into his eyes. "Mew... Oh, R'Narr..."
R'Narr nuzzled L'Sala lovingly. "Mrr... Tell me, 'Sal. What happened?"
"Mew... I shall, R'Narr. I shall tell you everything. Every word we spoke. We once agreed that there would be no secrets between us - and there never shall be, my love," L'Sala replied, and began.
And L'Sala did tell R'Narr every word L'Char had spoken, without omission. R'Narr listened quietly, his face a mask. Finally, L'Sala was done, and she reached up with a paw to wipe her eyes. "Mew... But R'Narr, you must understand - there was one thing that my grandmother was wrong about, one thing she could not possibly understand, and I could not possibly explain to her..."
"Mrr... What, 'Sal?"
"Mew... She was wrong, R'Narr. There never was an ulterior motive. I became your mate because I love you. That was all," L'Sala replied, and looked deeply into R'Narr's emerald eyes. "Mew... You must believe me, R'Narr... Please... Yes, all her dreams will come true. All the dreams of T'Masa will come true. Yes, I will give you the secret herbs we Mentalts use to preserve your mind through your old age. Yes, I will rule after you. Yes, I will raise V'Omoi as a Mentalt. But I will not do these things because it is their wish, I will do these things because they are the best things to do for both the future of your royal line, and the future of our people. There never was an ulterior motive, R'Narr. Ever. I love you. I did not become your mate to fulfill a Manipulation, my love. I became your mate because I love you - and I always will. Please, please, please believe me, R'Narr!"
R'Narr was silent for a moment, gazing into L'Sala's emerald eyes. Finally, he smiled. "Mrr... I do, L'Sala. Your grandmother may think I'm an idiot, but I suppose that's normal for a in-law to think," he said, and chuckled. "Purr... L'Sala, I've known you two years, now - and despite what your grandmother may think, I'm not easily manipulated, as well you know. I've often thought that was the only error in their Grand Manipulation for Eugenics among our people. I'm from the same bloodlines as the Mentalts are, 'Sal, as my father was - and as such, I'm a bit more perceptive than your mother apparently gives me credit for being, and not so easily manipulated. D'Zhin was the same, as you recall. Despite what L'Char may think, if you had truly done all this according to some Grand Manipulation, I'd have seen through it by now. I would never have become your mate if I thought you were capable of lying to me, 'Sal, nor would I remain your mate if I thought you were lying to me. Please, Sal... Don't cry. I believe you," R'Narr purred.
L'Sala hugged R'Narr tight.
"Purr... Now come, 'Sal," R'Narr purred, lapping away her tears. "Mrr... We can't have you weeping before the guards - or worse, before D'Viall. You are a Mentalt, after all, and my mate, the Shazadi of all the Cat Clans. You have a reputation to maintain, despite what your grandmother's about to try to do to smear it."
L'Sala leaned back and smiled, nodding. She then closed her eyes for a moment, placing her paws in her lap. After a few seconds, she had calmed herself. "Mrr... Thank you, my lord."
quite welcome, 'Sal," R'Narr replied, and smiled.
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