(Book I of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 1999 BY
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Xaa stepped to a clearing in the trees, to where the blue sky shone through. Kneeling quietly, he laid Tinker softly on the grass, then sat beside him, stroking his paw.
Merle sat next to Tinker, and nuzzled him, sobbing. Slowly, Tinker opened his eyes again. A gentle breeze blew across them, rustling the trees quietly, and bringing the scent of the forest and the grass to Merle's nose. The dappled shadows of the leaves on the trees played across Tinker's features, his eyes looking upwards to the clouds above. After a moment, Tinker spoke. "So... So nice to be back in the Wild Wood again. Thank you, Xaa... Thank you for bringing me home..."
"Youh Whul'cahm," Xaa rumbled gently, squeezing Tinker's tiny paw.
"I... I'm sorry I was so mean to you, Xaa... And your people..."
Xaa rumbled quietly to Merle, gently squeezing Tinker's paw again. Merle sobbed for a moment, then translated for Tinker. "Tinker, Xaa says that he forgives you. All the mus do. They understand the mice, and they forgave you a long, long time ago."
Tinker didn't reply, but instead quietly gazed up at the soft, fluffy clouds in the sky above.
"Look, Merle... It's a bird, there. In that cloud..."
Merle looked up, sobbing. "Yes, Tinker. And that one. That one looks like Old Gnarly, see?"
"Yes... And that one... It looks like my momma's face... Oh, momma... I'm sorry..." Tinker said, his voice nearly a whisper.
Xaa whispered to Merle, and Merle sobbed. "Your momma says she forgives you Tinker, and she's very, very proud of you. You're a good boy."
Tinker smiled quietly. "I love you, Merle..." he whispered, then his eyes closed.
"I love you too, Tinker. You're my best friend," Merle sobbed.
Tinker did not reply.
Xaa moved over next to Merle, then drew her
into his arms and hugged her tight. Merle hugged him back, and
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