The Last God
(Book I of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 1999 BY

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"Absolutely not. Go away. If I need your help, I'll call you. Until then, go sit outside and wait," Tinker replied, and crossed his arms.

Merle bit her lip. There were times she just wanted to slap Tinker, and this was one of them. The blacksmith waited patiently for Merle's translation of what Tinker had said, and finally Merle sighed and turned to him. "Him say no, so sorry, no can stay inside. Must wait outside. He say he call if need help," Merle explained.

The blacksmith looked at Merle, an expression of shock on his furry face. "Leave my own smithy?! That's outrageous!" he snarled, then managed to control himself after a moment. "Please tell the Little One that I apologize deeply for my misunderstanding, it was entirely my fault, of course. I will wait patiently outside until he requires my assistance, and I am deeply honored to have him here in my humble workshop," the blacksmith said, then stepped outside the door and sat down on a small stool, his tail lashing in anger.

Merle translated the blacksmith's polite reply, then gave Tinker a cold look. "I don't see how you can be so rude to these people!"

Tinker shrugged. "The Law of the Mice says that none of our secrets must be shared."

"Yes, I understand that, and so do they, but you don't have to be so rude about it!" Merle snapped.

"Fine, then! Tell the big lummox to come back in here and do the work himself - if he even understands what I'm trying to do! I'm going to take a nap!" Tinker snapped back, and started to walk to the door.

Merle grabbed Tinker's arm. "No! No, wait, Tinker. I'm sorry, it's just that I really think you could be a bit more polite to these people. They really do need your help, you know," Merle said, trying to smile.

Tinker looked back at Merle. "I'm not here to help them! That is not why I came along! I came along because I love you, and I didn't want you to walk out of my life forever. I don't care if they all die tomorrow or the next day or whenever, I only care about you."

"Yes, Tinker, but if they get killed, then the cats will come in here. You they might save to use as a slave, or maybe as food, but me, they'll just kill along with everyone else," Merle said, hanging her head as though she was sad.

"Do you really think they might eat me?" Tinker asked nervously.

"Yes, Tinker," Merle replied. 'Hopefully they'll choke on you, too,' she thought. "If you really love me, you'll help these people. If they lose, the cats probably will kill me. I promised I'd help them, but I don't know everything you know, Tinker. You're the mousie, not me. You know how to make all the marvelous things they want and need to survive, I don't. Please, Tinker. If you love me, help these people. They need you, and the wisdom of the mice," Merle said humbly.

Tinker snorted. "Well, then maybe they shouldn't have murdered our people and driven us away to live in the cold, barren wilderness."

"Yes, Tinker. You're so right. They are sorry for that, too," Merle said quietly, hating herself for saying it.

"Well, alright. I'll get to work. But I want no interruptions from that big stupid lummox who thinks he knows metalworking!" Tinker declared imperiously.

Merle lifted her head and plastered a grin on her face. "Oh, Tinker! Thank you! You're so nice and sweet!" Merle yelped, and hugged Tinker tight.

"Thank you, Merle," Tinker said, hugging back. "Now you go sit outside, too. I can't let you see any of my work, either," he said.

"Yes, Tinker. I'll sit right outside with the blacksmith. Just call, and we'll both come in and I can translate for you and tell him what you need," Merle said, and skipped outside, then shut the door. As soon as the door was shut behind her, she dropped the facade.

"Is everything alright, Lady Merle?" the blacksmith asked, looking up from his seat next to the smithy in the courtyard.

"That... That..." Merle snarled. "Me not know word," she said, then spat on the ground as she'd seen Xaa to several times when talking about Tinker.

"That's the word, my lady," the blacksmith said, and then laughed. Merle giggled, and looked around for a seat for herself in the busy courtyard.

The courtyard was indeed quite busy. What with the building of the pens and hundreds of people carrying things in or leading Djuducu-birds or goats or any number of various animals to the pens already built, the courtyard was a constant hubbub of activity. The blacksmith saw Merle looking about, and stood. "Please, Lady Merle. Take my seat - I can find another," he said politely.

"No, you need stay here. Me need stay here, too. You need sit - may wait long time. Me need sit, too. Not have answer, but you stand all day no good," Merle replied.

The blacksmith chuckled. "Lady Merle, I'm a blacksmith. I stand all day in my job, or lean against one of my workbenches. I rarely sit down. I'll be fine, thank you. Please, take the stool."

"Thank you. What your name?" Merle asked, bowing.

"I'm called Var, Lady," the blacksmith replied, bowing in return.

Merle sat down, and Var stood beside her, leaning up against the wall. Merle tried to listen, but even though she could hear Tinker working in there, she couldn't make out what he was doing just by the sounds. "What you think he do?"

Var thought about it, listening. "Well, Lady Merle, I really would only be guessing."

Merle made a face at Var. "Me know you not stupid. Tinker think all mus stupid. Me know better. Mus lots smarter than me. Var know how work iron and steel. Merle not know. Var smarter," Merle replied.

"I thank you very much for the compliment, Lady Merle, but what I know doesn't make me smarter than you. It only means I know something you do not," Var replied. He said it in the fashion mus often used when repeating a cliche', and Merle realized that there must be an old mus saying that went something along those lines. Var listened again to the noises Tinker was making in the smithy. "Well, Lady Merle, it sounds like he's scraping. I've no idea what he's scraping, but the sound is long, and changes pitch during each stroke. Since be brought in one of the guns the warriors captured from the cats, I'd imagine he's doing something to the barrel - though exactly what he's doing, I've no idea. That's the best I can tell you without seeing what he's doing, and I don't think he's going to let me. He's as secretive as a Djuducu-hen about to lay her eggs," Var said, and grinned.

Merle knew that it was important for the mus to learn what Tinker was doing, so they could do it themselves. Unfortunately, she didn't see any way they were ever going to learn from Tinker if he kept being this secretive. The wooden walls of the smithy may as well have been an impenetrable fortress, separating the mus from the very knowledge they needed to survive. Suddenly, Merle had an idea - and then realized she didn't know the words to explain it. "Ack! What word for thing what hold wood together? Small, like claw? Made of metal? Use hammer, whack whack?" Merle struggled.

"Nail?" Var offered.

Merle nodded. "Yes. You have nail?"

Var reached into the pockets of his leather smith's apron, producing a very slim, flat, tiny piece of metal that was a little longer than her palm and had a rounded end - a nail. He held it out to Merle, and she took it. Leaning down, she rubbed the tip of the nail hard against the flagstones of the courtyard until the tip had a chisel-like edge. "You pick me up. Hold to chest, like so," Merle said, demonstrating. "Face wall. Be quiet, listen to see if him come to door," Merle said.

"Yes, Lady Merle," Var replied, placing his enormous paws beneath her shoulders and lifting her easily. He then held her flat against his chest, facing the wall. Merle reached out with the nail, jabbing it into the wood, then twisting it back and forth. Var watched over her shoulder, and grinned. "Ah, I see," Var commented.

"Not yet. Soon you will," Merle replied, and giggled.

It was long, tiring work, and after a few minutes, Merle's forearms ached, and she could hardly grip the nail at all. She had switched paws several times, but it hadn't helped much. "Let me do it, Lady Merle. I'm a bit stronger than you. I'm a blacksmith. I have very strong arms," Var said.

"No. If him catch me, me say me bored, me play. Me mustie. Him think mustie stupid, only play, never think. Him believe that. If him catch you, him not believe. Him know you peek. Me stupid mustie," Merle said, and sniffled for a moment before returning to drilling at the wooden wall with the sharpened nail. 'Very stupid, in fact. I once loved Tinker very much, and wanted him to be my mate. I still do love him, too. I can't explain it in your language, I don't know the words, but I do love him, and I also despise him. He's my best friend in the world, my only friend growing up, and I love him very much, but I despise him. He's sweet and wonderful and gentle and timid and so good with his paws and making things and he's also selfish and petty and spiteful and I love him and I hate him and oh, SPIRITS my arm HURTS...' Merle thought, the tears rolling down her face as she continued.

By half an hour, the pain was a throbbing, burning fire in her forearm muscles, and a sharp, hot flame in her fingers where the nail was wearing a blister. After an hour, Merle was quietly crying with agony. The blisters were long gone - now it was just raw flesh. She could feel Var's arms trembling, and she stopped for a moment. "If you arm tired, put me down," she said, trying not to sob.

"Lady Merle, if you can take it, so can I," Var replied.

Merle nodded silently, and resumed work. 'Oh, spirits the pain is so bad I know they are going to just have to cut off my arms oh please let me get through this wall before he comes back out please...'

Suddenly, the tip of the nail slipped, and for a moment, Merle thought she'd dropped it. She looked again, since her pain-numbed fingers were beyond telling her what was happening, and saw the nail was through. She knew she'd have to push it in tight to keep it from falling out, but she couldn't grip it anymore with her fingers. She thought about using her knife, but then discarded the idea - the way her fingers felt now, she might drop it and make a noise that would attract Tinker's attention. Finally, Merle just reached up, placed her right palm on the head of the nail, put her left paw on top of her right, and pressed hard. 'Oh, spirits that HURTS...'

Merle looked at her paw. The head of the nail hadn't pierced the skin of her palm, but it had nearly done so. Her fingertips on both paws were raw, especially on her right paw, which was actually bleeding slightly. "Put me down, please," she said, struggling not to cry with the pain. Var did so, but nearly dropped her, his arms were so tired. Merle just plopped herself down on the stool, placed her forearms in her lap, palms up, and wept silently, biting her lip so as not to cry aloud. When she finally had herself under control, she spoke. "You put paw over nail. Then put head so shadow fall on paw. Then pull nail with fingers. Then look. When done, put nail back before pull head away, or him see sunlight through hole. Later, when him gone, you make hole little bigger, nail slip all way in, him not see, you see better. Try now."

"In a moment, my lady. I'm still having trouble lifting my paws above my waist," Var replied, his voice pained.

"It is good you blacksmith. Me think Warrior's arms give out long before," Merle said, trying to be complimentary.

"And it is good you are a warrior, my lady. I think a blacksmith would have given up with paws that looked like that," Var replied.

Merle looked down at her paws, and nodded. Her abused fingers were swelling, and the pain was excruciating both in her fingertips and in her forearms. 'Oh, spirits, I can hardly close my fingers anymore, and it hurts so bad...'

Var stepped over to the nail, lifting his paws to cover it with a small wince of pain. He then moved his head close, quietly wiggled the nail from the hole, and pressed his eye to the tiny hole. After looking for a few minutes, he slipped his paws back up, thrust the nail in, pushed on it hard to make sure it stayed, then leaned against the wall. "Well, My lady, I thank you. I now see what he is doing. I don't know why he is doing it, but I can see what he's doing, and it looks simple enough."

"What he do?"

"It appears he's ruining the barrel of a perfectly good gun," Var replied, scratching his head with a wince of pain.

"Maybe it make sense after we see finished?" Merle asked.

Var nodded. "Yes, my lady. After he's done, the end result may make more sense," Var looked down at her fingers again. "With your permission, I'm going to fetch a healer for you, my lady. If he calls for me, you can give him some kind of excuse - tell him I went to the privy or something. That might work. Is that alright?"

Merle couldn't speak - she just nodded. Var turned and trotted away quickly, heading to one of the doors in the nearby buildings of the castle. Merle waited what felt like an eternity, but she knew it couldn't have been more than a few minutes. Finally, Var came back out, the Master Healer Ead'xas close behind. He was carrying a large wooden box by a handle on it's top, which he set down in front of Merle and sat down on. Without a word, he gently took Merle's forearms in his huge paws. He very, very gently applied pressure to her forearms with her thumbs, and Merle squeaked with pain. "Very sore, but less now than it was when you stopped a few minutes ago, yes?" he asked quietly.

"Yes," Merle whimpered.

Ead'xas examined her fingertips for a moment, then slipped off the box and knelt, pulling it to his side and opening it. He pulled out a small jar, then unscrewed it's cap, dipping his fingers into the pink, pasty goo that was inside. He then gently rubbed the goo onto Merle's fingertips, and Merle was shocked at the sudden coolness - the pain in her fingertips eased almost immediately. Ead'xas then sealed the jar, dropped it back in the box, and pulled out some white cloth bandages, and spoke as he wrapped up her paws one at a time. "No using your paws for one day. The bloodmoss unguent will completely heal your fingertips by then, but you've strained your muscles quite a bit, my lady. Understand? You are not allowed to use your paws for one full day, for anything," Ead'xas ordered, his voice very quiet, and Merle nodded. After he tied off the bandages, he dropped the remainder back in his box, closed the box again, then tugged the sleeves of her kimono to cover the bandages completely. "There - the sleeves will hide it, my lady. They're nice and long, it shouldn't be a problem. That way the Little One will never know anything happened."

"Wait - how me use privy? How me eat?" Merle hissed quietly.

"Ask any one of the female servants to help you with the privy. I'll pass the word as to what has happened, and the sacrifice you have made, and they will be more than happy to help you without you having to explain. As to eating, I believe you are scheduled to dine privately with Lord Xaa tonight, yes?"

Merle looked at Ead'xas in surprise. "Me am?" she asked.

Ead'xas smiled. "You will be. Good afternoon, my lady," he said, then walked away quickly.

Just then, the door to the smithy opened. "Merle?! Oh, there you are," Tinker said, spotting Merle sitting. "Tell the big lummox here I need him to stoke the fire and pump the bellows for me - I need to do some forging, and his fire isn't hot enough to boil water."

"Of course, Tinker," Merle replied, smiling sweetly. "Him say so sorry please to stoke fire and pump bellows, him want do work and fire not hot enough for to boil water."

Var grinned. "I'm sure he didn't ask me that nicely, my lady, but please tell him said I would be honored to assist him with my meager skills in any way I can," Var replied.

Merle giggled, and translated what Var wanted her to tell Tinker.

"Ah, good. Let's get to work. Come on, Merle, I'll need you to talk for me," Tinker said, and walked back into the smithy.

Merle glanced up at the nail stuck in the wall a final time before stepping inside. 'Oh, spirits, what a tiny, tiny peephole to let so much hope through," she thought.

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