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

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"The Lady Amani, my lord," Grnargh called from the doorway, and bowed.

Amani trembled slightly as Xaa looked up, pausing in his examination of the day's records. She could sense his mind, feel his thoughts - and though she knew he meant her no harm, he still was, to a horse, a rather frightening being. He had a little mental 'game' he played with himself - something, apparently, taught to him by his father when he was very young, and now merely habit, ingrained by decades of idle practice. He would, upon looking at anyone near him, imagine how they might launch an attack from where they were standing and the current position of their body - and he would be on guard against it, the lower, reflexive parts of his mind already tensed. Though to a warrior-caste male mus this was not unusual, to a horse, it was frightening. It did not help that Amani knew from her mate, Ayori, that Lord Xaa had once killed a full-grown bear empty-pawed, tearing it's throat out with the terrible bite of a mus. Their large fangs combined with their rodentine incisors and backed up with the massive jaw-muscles of a mus gave them a lethal bite that even the cats feared. Amani managed a small smile and bowed, sensing from Xaa's mind that a bow was the appropriate thing to do.

"Mmm? What is it, lady Amani? Your pardon, my lady, but I'm quite busy at the moment - I've still a dozen more letters and reports to read through, and I'm sure my new mate grows impatient already," Xaa rumbled, his voice and expression polite, but his mind flashing slight irritation. He'd only been married a few hours ago, yet, he was still a king, with many responsibilities. While some smaller problems could be put off, not all the affairs of state could wait. "Your mate is not here to speak for you?" Xaa asked, raising an eyebrow as Grnargh bowed and left the room, leaving Amani standing alone by the door.

Amani shook her head, walking over to Xaa and kneeling quietly beside him on the mat-covered floor. She suppressed a tremble at his idle thoughts - a brief, flickering vision of how she might lash out at him with her fore-hoof from where she sat, and how he would, should she try, instantly draw his sword and cut her down. It was hardly even a part of his conscious thought - the little game his father had taught him so long ago, a game which had kept him alive through countless dangers in the years that followed, was simple habit, and really not anything he ever gave any conscious thought to. Mutely, Amani held out a fore-hoof to him.

"Ah. Your mate has told me how to speak with you - it requires a meditative state of mind," Xaa said, and laid the paper in his paw on the low table before him. Xaa closed his golden, owl-like eyes for a moment. To Amani's surprise, his mind quieted within a few moments. She could sense from his mind that this was part of something he called 'Zen' - which, itself, was a vast and fascinating concept that flickered about in his mind, and apparently was something that governed much of his waking life. A moment later, he reached out with his left paw (leaving his sword-paw open, out of habit), and took her fore-hoof in his callused grip.

*Can you hear me now?* Amani asked, looking at him.

Xaa nodded, his owl-like eyes opening again. "Indeed, I can. It is much as your mate described - a quiet whisper that echoes in the mind. It is not so difficult to do as he described, however.*

*It is, in fact, a mental scream, Lord Xaa'ap'Gasha,* Amani replied, and smiled. *Though you are mind-deaf, as are all carnivores, your ease of hearing me is, I think, because your mind is honed by different skills than that of my mate, Ayori Treeclimber. You already knew of meditation before you met me, and were well familiar with the concept of calming your mind. He did not.*

Xaa nodded. "So it seems. Now, what is it that brings you to me today, my lady?" he rumbled curiously. Xaa addressed Amani as 'Lady Amani', as did all the mus, because she was the mate of Ayori and had been accepted by the musties of Laughing Wood as a full member of their tribe. To the mus, all the musties were warrior-caste, as they all hunted and all defended the tribe from enemies. Thus, if Amani had been accepted as one of them, then she was, to the mind of a mus, warrior-caste. Amani found this aspect of mus culture and psychology to be quite amusing, as she felt she was hardly a real warrior or a real mustie - though she kept this to herself, of course.

*I have come here to warn you, Lord Xaa'ap'Gasha.*

"Warn me? Of what?" Xaa rumbled, flickering thoughts of enemies and battles looming at the edges of his warrior's mind.

Amani nickered in amusement. *No, it is nothing like that. It is that of all the people of Oerth, there is only one other who might tell you what it is like to be the mate of a mustie when one is not a mustie themselves.*

"I have known Merle for four years, my lady. There is little you could possibly tell me about her or her people that I do not already know,* Xaa rumbled, his mind already considering how he might politely end this quiet conversation and resume his work.

Amani nickered again. *There is still much more you do not know, Lord Xaa'ap'Gasha.*

"Oh? Like what?"

Amani smiled, and told him. Xaa already knew that musties, unlike the mus, played from the day they were born to the day they died. Games and playing were an important part of their lives. He even knew that to a mustie, one's mate was often selected because they were the one that a mustie wished to play with for the rest of their lives, and they were usually the first person a mustie turned to when they were in the mood to sing, dance or play. What he did not know, but Amani did from experience, is just how important play really was in the relationship of a mated mustie to their mate. It was, in many ways, equally as important as conversation, or tender moments exchanged in darkness. Xaa nodded. "I can see I will have some adjustments to make," he rumbled.

*As did I - but still, there is more,* Amani replied, smiling wryly.

"More? What more?"

*Mating season is fast approaching... You have... Some surprises in store,* Amani replied, and nickered again.

"Well, ours approaches, as well - as does your people's season, as I understand it. Summer seems to be a universal time for all of our people of the Eastern Alliance - the horses, the mice, the mus, and the musties,* Xaa replied. Amani could see the tips of his ears blushing pink slightly, though she pretended not to notice, as she could sense from his mind it would be impolite to do so. "Still, if you are concerned about the difference in size between us... Well, I've already resolved to be as gentle as possible." Xaa's ears now blushed bright pink, and Amani had to struggle to suppress a whinny of laughter, as she could sense from his mind that laughing at him would be quite rude, particularly since he was warrior-caste, and particularly since he was the king of all the lands for many leagues around.

"No, Lord Xaa'ap'Gasha, Lord of Clan Xaa and mate of Merle Mousefinder, that is not what I had to tell you. It is not you who will have to worry about being gentle, I think, but rather your mate who will have to worry about being gentle with you," Amani replied, grinning, and explained what her experience with Ayori had been like.

Xaa blinked his golden, owl-like eyes in silent surprise for many moments before he finally found his voice. "They... They couple for two to three hours at a time?"

Amani grinned. *And more, during mating season, they often couple three to five times a day for two weeks.*

"But I... She..." Xaa stammered.

Amani caught his meaning from his mind - a memory of once, years ago, in a cave in a place the mus knew as Grah'nahdo mountain. A brief moment between Tinker and Merle - a moment that led to shame and embarrassment both for Merle, and for Xaa. Amani smiled reassuringly. *I think that moment you recall was, most likely, a moment of youthful fumbling, muted both by the situation and the late Tinker Smithsson's inexperience. You will find, as I have, that a mature mustie is a completely different thing.*

Xaa was silent for a long moment, thinking. Amani could sense his thoughts, of course, but she left him to his pondering and did not interrupt. Having lived with Ayori for a year had taught her what it was the carnivores meant by 'privacy', and she knew that this was the moment to allow him to consider her words, and not forcefully remind him that she could hear his every thought. After a long moment, Xaa finally nodded. "Hrm... I can see I definitely have... Some adjustments to make," he rumbled.

Amani nodded, smiling. *That you do, Lord Xaa'ap'Gasha - even as I did. The musties are not mus, nor are they horses, and their ways are not your ways, nor are they our ways. Still, I believe that you will find, even as I did, that their ways are, nearly always, quite pleasant.*

Xaa nodded, smiling in return. "I thank you, Amani of the Blue Wind Clan. I shall take your warning... Under advisement," he replied, and chuckled again. Xaa then bowed in gratitude to Amani from where he sat. Amani smiled, and bowed in return.

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