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

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C'dera walked past the little tea-house in the castle garden, and spotted Merle a few yards away. C'dera quietly walked up behind Merle, who was kneeling as she finished patting a small pawful of soil back in place. "What is that, my lady?"

Merle grinned as she slipped the little painted stick into the soft earth of the garden, the marker the mus used to show new plantings. "Back when Byarl and Xaa were first talking about Byarl's trip to the jungles last year, I asked Byarl if he could stop by and find an acorn from Old Gnarly. Now I've planted it - I've already told Khrgh'ahk the gardener about it, so he knows to watch for it."

"Ohld Gnahrleh?" C'dera asked, trying out the words in Merle's language.

"It's an oak tree - a very old and very special tree. I grew up playing around it, really." Merle grinned. "My father used to say that half my life was spent in it's branches. And he was right, really. It was the largest, oldest oak in all the Wild Wood, and to me, it seemed like a magical place. I don't know how old it was, really. Centuries, perhaps. Maybe longer. Maybe it had been around since the dawn of Oerth. Maybe even the Ancient Ones once sat beneath it, and enjoyed it's shade. I don't know - I only know it was very old," Merle said, and grinned again. "It was a very special tree, really. Why, Tinker and I..." Merle said, then paused suddenly. After a long moment, she sighed.

Merle's childhood friend, Tinker, had been dead for three years. Yet, as she thought of him, now, the memories were just as fresh - as was the sadness at the thought that he was gone forever. There was even a time, before Xaa entered her life, when Merle thought she might someday be Tinker's mate. They had even talked about it, once. But...

C'dera sat beside Merle on the soft grass of the garden, already turning brown as winter quickly approached. "Do go on, my lady."

Merle nodded, sitting to face her enormous friend. "Well, Tinker and I used to meet by Old Gnarly all the time. We would talk a lot, mainly. About the future, or... Well... Just talk. Sometimes we would play a game there, sitting in the shade of it's branches. Sometimes we would lay on our backs there, watching the clouds go by, and try to guess their shapes. It was... Well, kind of a special spot, because of that. I loved that tree very much - and I loved Tinker, too. The tree is still there, of course, but I'll probably never see it again. So, when Byarl and Xaa were first talking about Byarl's trip to the southern jungles, I asked if Byarl might take a minute or two to try to find an acorn or two from Old Gnarly. He only found one - but it looks perfect. It should grow, here - I've seen other oaks in the Laughing Wood. I'll water it and tend it carefully and put a little fence around it to protect it as it grows and soon we'll have one of Old Gnarly's seedlings right here, in the garden."

C'dera smiled. "What a wonderful memorial to the Little One, Tinker, my lady."

"Well, it's more than that, really. I know I can't go back to the tribe. My life is with Xaa, now. Yet, I wanted to have... Well..." Merle sighed. "I don't know. I guess I just wanted to have something from the Wild Wood here, in the castle, to always remind me..."

C'dera smiled, and reached out to hug Merle quietly. Merle hugged C'dera back for a long moment, and afterwards, the two friends simply sat back and held each other's paws in silence.

Finally, C'dera spoke. "My lady, I wanted to tell you something."

Merle rolled her eyes. "Oh, C'dera! We've been best friends for four years, and you're the courtesan of my mate. Nobody's around, right now, and nobody will ever hear you. If there's anytime when you can just call me 'Merle', this is it," she whispered, and grinned again. "You mus can be so stuffy at times!"

C'dera giggled for several moments afterwards, and grinned. "Alright, Merle." C'dera was silent for a long moment after that, simply holding Merle's little paw in her much larger one. Finally, she squeezed Merle's paw gently. "You saved him again, Merle. He told me."

Merle shrugged. "Maybe the medicine would have worked even if I wasn't there, you know."

C'dera shook her head. "No. I heard his story - and I know you saved him again. Your little lie gave him something to live for, a reason to fight for life, and your warmth and touching him and stroking him helped keep him alive. We are not like the Little Ones, Merle. That's what we do when someone is very sick - we touch them and stroke them and whisper encouragement to them. You did it out of love for him, Merle - but it was exactly what needed to be done to help the medicine, I think. I..." C'dera fell silent, then reached out to hug Merle. "Oh, Merle... I love him so. I'm so glad... And sad, too. I only wish... I only wish I did have a son in my womb for him. And for you."

Merle stood, and hugged C'dera back. After a moment, she realized that C'dera was silently weeping. Merle hugged C'dera tightly, whispering into her large, pink ears. "Shhh... It's okay. I understand, really. More than you know."

For a long moment, Merle and C'dera simply hugged each other. Finally, C'dera sighed, and let Merle go. Merle gently wiped C'dera's tears with her paw. "Xaa thinks I'm magic, you know," she whispered, smiling.

C'dera nodded. "We all do."

Merle giggled. "No, no. I mean he thinks that maybe I can make sure it's a boy by just wiggling my fingers over your tummy or something."

C'dera let out a snort, then burst into giggles.

"Well... Who knows? I mean... Maybe..." Merle shrugged. "Who knows? It's the right time of year for you. Maybe it'll happen. I mean, we sure worked at it enough. Did you see him this morning? That's the soundest I've ever seen him sleep," Merle said, and grinned impishly. C'dera laughed, and Merle giggled. "Xaa thinks I'm magic. I don't - I think I'm just me. But, just in case he's right..." Merle wiggled her fingers at C'dera's tummy. "Ooga-booga!" she intoned, grinning. C'dera whooped with laughter, until she was quite short of breath.

After a long moment, C'dera had finally managed to control her laughter. Reaching out again, she hugged Merle tightly. "Thank you, Merle. For everything."

"You're welcome, C'dera. For everything," Merle replied, and smiled.

C'dera slowly let Merle go, and Merle sat before her again. The two friends then simply held each other's paws in silence for a long moment after that, smiling.

"Ah, there you are," a familiar voice rumbled.

Merle and C'dera rose, bowing to Xaa as he entered the garden. Xaa bowed in return, and smiled. "I've been looking for you two for almost an hour - what have you been up to?"

C'dera started to apologize, but Merle cut her off. "C'dera was helping me learn Zen. I planted an acorn from Old Gnarly - you remember that tree? I showed it to you, when we were in the Wild Wood." Merle gave C'dera a quick conspiratorial glance, and the corner of C'dera's mouth twitched in a barely-suppressed grin.

Xaa paused a moment, then nodded. "Ah, yes. I remember it well. A vast and lovely oak." Xaa looked to C'dera. "You should have seen it, C'dera. Truly enormous, it's branches twisted almost as though by the paw of an artist. Very lovely," Xaa rumbled, and C'dera nodded.

Merle smiled. "Well, like I said, C'dera was helping me learn Zen. I planted an acorn from Old Gnarly right here in this spot, and now we're going to sit and watch it grow. You know - like when you tried to teach me how to watch stone grow the other day?"

Xaa nodded. "Yes, Merle. The act of watching stone grow is an important part of Zen. It helps one build the contemplative mind - and, as we have recently discovered, that helps one be able to talk to the horses. I've a feeling that skill will be of more and more importance, in the future." Xaa glanced at the sun. "We've awhile before lunch," he said, then smiled at Merle and C'dera. "May I join you? We'll sit and watch it grow together."

"Yes, my lord," C'dera replied with a smile, bowing her head.

"Sure, Xaa!" Merle replied with a grin.

Xaa knelt on the browning grass, then sat on his heels and held his paws out. C'dera sat to his left, taking his paw in hers, and Merle to his right, doing likewise. Together, the three of them sat in silence for a long while thereafter, simply gazing silently at the little painted stick which marked the acorn's position.

The sun shone down warmly, in the last day before the snows would fall. Merle felt the reassuring strength of her mate's paw in hers as she gazed at the painted stick, and smiled. By tomorrow, all the lands would be covered in a blanket of white, the branches of the trees glistening beautifully with frost. The land would be cold and silent - yet, Merle knew that spring would come, and soon, the first leaves of the little acorn would peep out from the ground. Merle knew, deep in her heart, that she would be spending much time here in the garden from now on, watching the seedling grow into tree, remembering and cherishing the past as she relished in the present, and in the future she would spend together with her mate. And, someday, there would be a son - Merle knew it in her heart. Xaa and C'dera, of course, would teach him the traditions of the mus, and the warrior-caste - a proud, noble and stoic way of life. And someday, Merle would sit with the young mus she would call her son beneath the spreading branches of the young oak, and teach him her way, the way of the musties - the way of embracing each day, seeking joy even in the midst of sorrow, laughter even in the midst of tragedy, and seeing oneself as a part of nature and the vast and glorious circle of life.

Merle looked up to Xaa, squeezing his paw, and smiled. "I love you, Xaa."

Xaa looked back down to Merle, and smiled back. "I love you, too, Merle. With all my heart."


This concludes the First Oerth Cycle, the Story of Merle Mousefinder and The Last God.

Though the stories of Oerth go on, tracing the history of the Children of the Last God beyond the foundation of the Second Empire, beyond the rise of the Eastern Alliance and the fate of the Canid Federation, beyond even their journey to the stars and their encounter with the civilization of the Ancient Ones...

...for now, the chronicler's pen falls silent.



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