(Book I of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 1999 BY
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Byarl looked up from the fire at the shouted warning from the lookout, and grinned. It was Merle and Xaa, each mounted on some kind of enormous bird, riding into the village. "Hoyo, Merle!" Byarl called, rising to his feet.
"Hoyo, Chief!" Merle yelled back, waving over the heads of the musties gathered round.
The musties of the village were excited to see Merle return, and the enormous size of the birds had them frightened a bit, as well. Merle whistled, and the bird she was riding sat on the ground, allowing her to dismount. Xaa simply swung his leg over and dismounted. "Isn't that a neat trick, Chief? Tinker trained this one," Merle said, slipping a bag over it's large beak and then dropping a berry into the bag. The bird made pleased sounds as it chomped the berry along with whatever else was in the bag - Byarl guessed it was a feed-bag of some sort. Xaa placed a bag over the beak of his bird, and then began quietly greeting all of the excited musties around him.
"He did, eh? Where is he now?" Byarl asked, bowing in response to Xaa's greeting.
Merle looked sad for a moment. "Dead. He was killed saving all our lives - not just me and Xaa, but everyone. He really was a great hero," Merle said, then hugged Byarl. "Oh, Chief! It was so sad and there was so much that happened and I really need to sit down with you somewhere quiet and tell you the whole story and everything I learned!"
Byarl nodded, then shouted, holding up his paw for silence. When the musties finally were still, he spoke. "Now I know you're all excited at Merle's coming home, but she has some important things she wants to tell me. Also, I have some careful thinking to do about what I am going to tell the mice. It appears that Tinker has died. He died bravely, saving their lives, but he's dead nonetheless, and that means I am going to have to break the news to his parents. Xaa, if you would, please, have a seat by the campfire. I'm sure everyone will have a double pawful of questions, and I would like you to try to do your best to answer them," Byarl ordered, and Xaa bowed in reply. "Thank you. Now, for the rest of you, I'm going into my burrow with Merle. Once we're done chatting, we'll come back out and you can all hug Merle and tell her how happy you are to see her and so on, alright?"
There were various nods and murmurs of assent, and Xaa grinned at all of them as he took a seat by the fire. The musties all began hopping around, grinning and peppering Xaa with questions, and Xaa chuckled as he tried to reply to each of them in his thickly-accented speech.
Byarl reached out, taking Merle's paw in his. Merle looked at Byarl, and their eyes met. Byarl stared at Merle in silence for awhile, then spoke. "You have grown, Daughter of the Wild Wood. Not in body, for you were as large as any of our females ever gets, but in spirit. I can see it in your eyes."
Merle bowed her head. "Thank you, Chief. Coming from you, that really means a lot to me."
Byarl nodded, then tugged Merle's paw, leading
her into his burrow.
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