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

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"I still can't believe it worked," W'mefa rumbled.

Merle nodded. It had seemed crazy. Xaa had ridden out of the gate, leading the reins of the bird drawing the cart, the servants all sitting on top of the meat piled in back of the two-wheeled cart. They looked very silly, precariously perched on top of the pile of food. Two hours later, they had come riding back fast, tossing meat behind them. They'd zipped across the drawbridge and into the castle just after tossing the last of the meat, and hundreds of cats mounted on Djuducu-birds had crested the hill in the distance just as the drawbridge came up. Now, they were gathered at the front of the castle just outside of bowshot, those few cats who snatched up the meat arguing with their fellows about who would get it. Small fights had broken out among them, and their leaders were struggling to regain control.

"It hasn't worked yet, old friend. All I've managed to do so far is bring them here, and save us a few farmhouses. Now we have to wait for D'Larith to restore order," Xaa rumbled in reply, and O'dmemet nodded.

Merle looked along the walls of the castle. Xaa had placed a hundred the best archers W'mefa had along the south wall, the front wall of the castle, facing the cats. They all crouched behind the parapets, waiting. The rest were distributed around the remainder of the castle walls. Xaa, W'Mefa, O'dmemet and Merle stood at the south wall, watching the cats and waiting. Everyone was wearing armor except Merle - they didn't have anything small enough to fit her. Merle wasn't worried - her chin only barely cleared the crenelation on the stone parapet, and she figured she'd just hide behind the stones if needed.

Finally, Merle noticed a black cat dressed all in red riding among the others, stopping at groups of cats that were fighting and lashing at them with a whip, snarling and growling something at them. "Is that him?" she asked.

"Yes, Merle - that's D'Larith T'Chang. This is the closest I've seen him in three years. Normally, he directs his warriors from the rear," Xaa replied.

"What are you going to do?" Merle asked, watching in fascination as the cat struggled to get his troops under control.

"Right now, nothing. For my plan to work, he needs to regain control of his warriors. I'll just have to wait."

Merle nodded, and watched D'Larith ride among his troops, lashing out here and there with his whip, snarling, growling, exerting his will. It was fascinating to watch.

"What an undisciplined rabble," O'dmemet commented.

W'mefa nodded. "Indeed. They must be quite hungry, my son."

"What is he yelling to them?" Merle asked.

"He's telling them the meat's probably poisoned, and that it's all a trick. Since they use tactics like that themselves, it's easily believed. Of course, the problem apparently is that most of the meat has already been eaten. This is causing some of his warriors to become rather distraught because they don't want to die, and others to become equally distraught, because they're hungry and can see their fellows who ate aren't dead yet," Xaa replied, and chuckled.

W'mefa and O'dmemet chuckled, and Merle giggled. Eventually, D'Larith had regained control of his warriors, and all the meat that remained lay in a pile before his bird. "So, little mice think they can trick us with poisoned meat? We spit on you and your tricks!" D'Larith yelled up to the castle walls.

Xaa turned and growled behind him. "Bring up the prisoner!", then looked back again. Xaa took a deep breath and roared across the moat. "No tricks, no poisons! We're not filthy cats! The meat is for your warriors! They may take it and leave! If they promise to return to your homelands in the west, they may go in peace! You, however, we have tired of! D'Larith T'Chang of the clan T'Chang, you may not go in peace! You are here today to die! I, Xaa, of the Clan Xaa, have spoken!"

Merle looked behind her, and from up the stairs leading to the parapet, T'Vril's guard came, with T'Vril close behind. She saw Xaa on the parapet, and trembled. Below, D'Larith snarled something to his warriors, then shouted back up at the castle. "Sorry, little mouse, but I fail to find you in the least bit frightening!" he replied, and laughed up at the castle.

"Come here, cat," Xaa growled. T'Vril came over, shuddering with fear, and Xaa grabbed her arm and yanked her closer. "Down there is your lord. Tell him we have five hundred new guns which have twice the range of a bow, and thrice the range of the guns he has. Tell him this is all a trap, and I intend to kill him today, and then kill all his warriors who remain on my lands within the week," Xaa growled.

T'Vril trembled in fear, her eyes widening. "Yes, Lord Xaa," she whimpered, then turned to D'Larith and yowled something down to him. Merle didn't understand what she said, but when she asked O'dmemet, he translated quietly. "My lord! It is I, T'Vril! I was captured, but they allow me to warn you! Flee, my lord! It is a trap! They have five hundred guns with twice the range of bows, and thrice the range of our guns! Xaa intends to kill you today in revenge for what you did to his family, and then kill all of your warriors who remain on his lands within the week!"

D'Larith's warriors shuffled nervously at that, but D'Larith didn't allow T'Vril's words a chance to frighten any of them off. "What, I am supposed to believe the words of a prisoner with a knife to their back?! I am not afraid, little mouse! There is no such thing! No gun can shoot that far! Do your worst!" He yelled back in the language of the mus, and then held his arms out wide.

Merle realized what D'Larith was doing when she saw the reaction of his warriors. D'Larith was calling what he thought was an obvious bluff, and showing his warriors that he was fit to lead by his bravery - which wasn't much, in Merle's opinion, since they were all easily outside of bowshot. Merle saw several of the warriors puff out their chest and grin, and a few imitate their leader, holding their arms out wide. Merle looked over to Xaa who was lifting the gun while he shoved T'Vril back into the arms of her guard. Her guard drew her away, and she trembled in fear. Merle looked down to D'Larith as Xaa cocked the gun, and she couldn't help herself. "You'll be soooooorry!" she yelled down at him, then giggled. This only caused D'Larith and his warriors to laugh.

Merle jumped at the BANG as Xaa fired. She looked, and for a moment, she thought Xaa had missed. D'Larith still sat there on his bird, his arms outstretched.

Then, like a tree slowly falling to the axe, he tilted to the side, slipped out of the saddle, and fell heavily to the ground with a loud clatter of metal from his armor.

T'Vril yowled in fear at the sight, and her reaction was joined by many of D'Larith's warriors. Xaa jerked his thumb to the side, and her guard nodded, dragging her away and down the stairs. Xaa then took another deep breath and roared down to them. "The rest of you may go in peace! Bear in mind that all those I find on my lands one week from today will meet the same fate! Now begone from the lands of my ally, Lord W'mefa, while I am still in a good mood!" Xaa then turned to W'mefa and O'dmemet. "Now," he rumbled.

O'Dmemet drew his sword, raising it above his head. "Ready!" he roared. One hundred archers stood from behind the cover of the parapet - but they didn't raise bows. No, they raised sticks.

This was the part of the plan that made Merle the most nervous. It seemed obvious when Xaa was setting it up what he intended to do - he was going to bluff the cats into thinking they were facing one hundred of the guns that had just felled their leader. To Merle, it seemed like it would never work. They'd see they were only sticks, and they wouldn't be fooled. Xaa simply said they would. He said that when the cats looked up, they would be expecting to see guns, they would have seen one in use, and their minds would trick them into thinking they were looking at guns. Merle was sure that they would see the sticks, grow enraged at having been tricked, and charge the castle. Xaa simply told her that even if they did, they'd hit the moat, and O'dmemet's archers would simply pick up their bows and slaughter as many of them as they could before they regained their senses and withdrew. The T'Chang would have lost most of their riders and their leader, and it really would be possible for the mus to take Xaa's lands back.

The cats took one look, and began to yowl. Suddenly the neat, orderly ranks D'Larith had managed to restore dissolved into chaos as hundreds of riders attempted to turn and flee at the same time. A few of the officers were trying to just get their warriors to withdraw to beyond twice the range of a bow, but it was hopeless - a general rout was unavoidable, and the officers finally gave up and just followed their fleeing warriors.

Merle couldn't help herself - she burst out laughing.

W'mefa patted her on the shoulder, chuckling, and O'dmemet waved his sword above his head. "Victory!" he crowed, and his warriors raised their sticks and howled with laughter.

"Son, stand down the warriors from the walls except those normally on watch at this time of day, and send riders to Lord Jharak and Lady Ara. We'll need them to support us from the rear when our warriors advance on Xaa's lands tomorrow. They should be able to spare five hundred riders each - that should be enough to hold things here in case of a counter-attack. We'll have two hundred riders head out in the morning towards Xaa's castle. By the time they get there, most of the T'Chang will have fled, and the sight of our riders will send most of the remainder fleeing, as well. With luck, we'll be able to take the castle with little or no resistance. If not, we'll just withdraw and wait until a few more of my allies can send reinforcements, then see what we can do from there," W'mefa ordered.

"Yes, father," O'dmemet replied, sheathing his sword and beginning to bark out orders.

"Lord W'mefa think cats run from riders?" Merle asked.

"Yes, Lady Merle. They'll see the cloud of snow behind them raised by our warriors, but we'll be too far behind for them to tell how many are chasing them. If we can keep them running, keep them panicked, they'll reach the castle, grab their families, and flee. Without D'Larith to hold them together, it's likely the remainder will flee, as well - especially once they hear the tale of how we are able to strike them down without them even being able to shoot back. You see, my lady, they're not like us. Where we are held together by tradition, honor and discipline, they are held together by strength of arms and the ability of a leader to dominate those beneath him," W'mefa explained.

"What if cats find new leader? Many maybe want to be leader, no can be leader with D'Larith leader, now can be?" Merle asked, struggling to find the words.

"That's possible, Lady Merle. One of their captains could try to seize control of the clan. That would take days, however - and we don't plan on giving them that kind of time. And, thanks to Lord Xaa, we soon will have the guns we told the cats we had, and the powder we have sought," W'mefa said, then looked around. "Wait - where is Xaa? I wanted to thank him - his plan worked flawlessly," W'mefa wondered aloud.

Merle looked around. Xaa had vanished. Merle looked to W'mefa. "Me know where him go. Me tell him you happy," Merle said, and after exchanging a bow with W'mefa, she walked to the stairs.

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