The leaves whispered in the wind, casting dappled shade over the sandy ravine, which overlooked a foaming river. Situated beneath the ravine was a shallow hollow, with crumbling stone encircling it, patched with ivy in places where the structure had collapsed completely. The clearing inside of the hollow was covered with grass, mostly yellowed and withered, but starting to regain their former vibrance.
Beyond the camp, birch trees crisscrossed with one another in tight clusters, forming an intricately woven canopy. Flowerkit watched as BirchClan’s deputy, Stripefur, padded out from the warriors’ den, dew glittering beneath his paws. He licked his ruffled chest fur and turned back to the warriors’ den, poking his head through the curtain of moss hanging down.
“Cloudclaw, Fernstripe, and Blossomsong!” he ordered briskly. “Go on the dawn patrol, and mark the FlameClan border extra heavily today--they’ve been straying a bit too close to our borders for my liking.” His amber eyes narrowed. “I want them to get the message that no trespassers are welcome on BirchClan’s territory.”
Cloudclaw, a powerful white tom, dipped his head in acceptance. “Right away, Stripefur,” he rumbled, and Fernstripe chimed in from beside his shoulder. “Those mangy FlameClan cats need to be taught a lesson!” The yellow tom’s claws curled into the earth, and his eyes gleamed with hunger, anticipating a battle.
“Not so fast, Fernstripe,” Stripefur warned. “We can’t be too eager to start fights.”
The tom sheathed his claws a bit reluctantly, and Flowerkit peeked at him through the branches of the nursery bush. Secretly, she agreed with Fernstripe; she wanted to show all of her enemies to never mess with BirchClan again!
She looked at her younger brother, Treekit, and prodded him with a paw. “Come on!” she whispered. “The dawn patrol’s going out!”
He woke up instantly, his eyes alert. “The dawn patrol?” he repeated enthusiastically, wriggling under Snowdrop’s fluffy white tail. The brown tabby tom-kit peered outside, where the receding forms of Cloudclaw, Fernstripe, and Blossomsong were barely visible through the gorse tunnel.
“Soon you’ll both be going on patrol together,” a soft voice meowed, and Flowerkit looked back to see that Snowdrop was awake.
StarClan, she silently prayed, Don’t let her assign me tick duty with the elders again for sneaking out!
“My two brave, kind kits,” Snowdrop continued, her eyes glowing. “Well, I suppose you can go out into the camp--I can see you’re longing to, and you’ll sneak out in the middle of the night if I don’t let you now anyway.”
“Thanks, Snowdrop!” Flowerkit leaped out of her nest and landed on the grass a bit awkwardly, scrambling back to her feet. I hope Stormpaw didn’t see that--he’d never like me then!
Flower brushed past the branches that poked at her pelt uncomfortably, emerging into the daylight. She bounded over to the Pile, throwing up a cloud of dust in her wake and causing Treekit to sneeze. “Sorry,” she mewed apologetically, glancing over her shoulder.
Treekit still didn’t move, and he coughed violently, his breath raspy. “Are you all right?” Flowerkit asked, concerned.
He wrapped his yellow tail tighter around his paws. “Fine,” he wheezed, coughing again. “It’s just some dust stuck in my throat.”
Flowerkit glanced at the nursery anxiously. Snowdrop’s going to freak...she thought dreadfully. I better try and fix this.
She sweeped her tail over his flank soothingly. “It’s all right,” she assured him. “If you cough more, you’re just going to tire your throat. I’ll get some wet moss for you.” She tore off a clump of moss from a rock nearby and splashed it into a pool of water dripping from the icicles, pushing it closer to Treekit’s muzzle.
“Here,” she instructed. “This should clear up the dust.” She glanced again at the nursery, half-expecting a white pelt to emerge from the bush, but was relieved when the nursery remained still and quiet save for some shuffling inside.
Treekit bent his head and lapped at the moss, drinking deeply, before setting it aside. He looked at Flowerkit. “My throat still hurts,” he complained, his voice thin and reedy as he dissolved into another fit of coughing.
Great StarClan, Flowerkit thought, eyeing the nursery warily, he’s going to wake up the whole camp with that noise!
She tried a different tactic, sitting down beside him with her paws tucked under her. “What about clearing your throat?” she suggested, a hint of impatience beginning to creep in. “No need to make such a fuss about it--it’s just some dust.”
Treekit cleared his throat, and just as Flowerkit looked toward the nursery, a white pelt emerged from the bush. Uh oh.
She watched as Snowdrop bundled her coughing kit into her fur and shot an exasperated look at Flowerkit. “You couldn’t think to tell me that Treekit has a cough?” she fretted, nosing the yellow tom. “Darling, are you all right?”
“My throat hurts,” Treekit whined pitifully, his body convulsing with coughs.
“I know, darling,” Snowdrop murmured worriedly, bending her head to lap his ears. “Thunderstorm!” she yowled. “Come watch this one. I need to go take Treekit to the medicine cat--he looks like he has a serious cough.”
This one? Flowerkit had been demoted from the beloved daughter to this one? She stared at Snowdrop disbelievingly, but her mother didn’t notice, licking Treekit’s ears fiercely, as if she could erase his cough by grooming him.
A muscular dark gray tom walked out of the warriors’ den immediately, his gaze quickly assessing the situation as he stood for a moment in silence.
“Well?” Snowdrop demanded, picking up Treekit by his scruff. “Go take care of her, I’ll hopefully be right back.” She carried him to the large gap between the two rocks that made up the medicine den, her form receding into the distance.
Thunderstorm ushered Flowerkit along with his tail to the warriors’ den, his eyes fixed straight ahead as he plodded on in silence. “Is Treekit going to be all right?” Flowerkit asked him, trying to start conversation.
Thunderstorm shook his head, muttering something unintelligible under his breath before he spoke directly to her. “It’s just a cough,” he meowed firmly. “Nothing more to get worried about.” He guided her through the entrance and sat down in his nest, his tail curled around himself and his eyes scrunched in thought.
And that was the beginning of a long list of such excuses and dismissals. Ever since that fateful day when Treekit had contracted greencough, life became unbearable for Flowerkit. She had lost both of her parents’ affections, while Treekit wallowed in luxury and had well-wishes and prey delivered to him daily. Her? She was just the neglected sibling. The nobody. She had to watch other apprentices get as much training time as they needed, and she wasn’t ever able to spend time with Stormstrike. The other she-cats of BirchClan, however, seemed to have plenty of time to spend with him, while she had to suffer through the jealousy that plagued her every day. Her only joy came from the time she spent inventing more hunting moves, and the comfort of her friend, Stonepaw, who remained by her side throughout the whole ordeal.
Tansyflower, BirchClan’s medicine cat, had declared Treekit ill of greencough on the same day Snowdrop had taken Treekit in to be checked over. Unfortunately, their supplies of catmint were bare, which meant that her brother would have to fight back the greencough on his own--or so she’d thought. Juniperclaw, a friend of Thunderstorm’s, had been the first to propose visiting the
Hot Waters, which was located beyond the Clans’ territories. It was a little-visited spot that was supposedly in a glade, and the air of the Hot Waters could cure greencough by clearing up the chest.
Yet, it was the best suggestion, so Flowerkit’s parents and their leader, Birchstar, had consented to Juniperclaw’s idea. Snowdrop had then set out with Treekit to travel to the Hot Waters, for Treekit was too weak to make the journey by himself. Before his departure, he’d been spoiled and fussed over by the entire Clan, while Flowerkit sat in the shadows, isolated from the rest of her Clanmates.
She tried not to resent her brother for all the attention he received--after all, wasn’t it well-earned? But still, surely her parents could spare her more than a sideways glance... Couldn’t they? She wouldn’t even mind if Snowdrop just greeted her with a simple “Hello”--just anything to let her know that she was still regarded by her parents as someone.
Flowerpaw finished scraping out the last of the dirty elders’ moss, wrinkling her nose at the stench. She glanced outside hopefully, momentarily distracted from the pungent smell of the elders’ dirty bedding. Maybe Treekit’s visit isn’t today?
Her hopes were just as quickly crushed when she noticed the mass of cats crowded around the gorse tunnel, chattering with one another as if they were going to a Gathering. Flowerpaw sighed, ducking her head out of the dark, stuffy elders’ den.
“Bye, Elderberry, Stumpyface!” she called over her shoulder, bounding over to a small pool in the center of the clearing to wash her paws. I’ll get as much training done as I can, she thought determinedly, squaring her shoulders as she dropped into a crouch.
Now...what about if I leap, feigning right, so that the bird will try to fly away left, only to be caught?
She bunched her hindquarters and sprang, feigning a leap to the right, then spuun gracefully and hooked the air with her claw, bringing her imaginary prey down to the ground before she snapped her teeth over the space above the ground.
Stormstrike, who’d gotten his warrior name a couple moons ago, watched from beside the fresh-kill pile, his gaze impressed. “Good job, Flowerpaw,” he congratulated her. “Where’d you learn that move?”
She felt a warm glow spread through her from nose to tail-tip, and she flicked her tail eagerly. “I can show you if you want,” she meowed. “I invented it.”
“Wow,” Stormstrike mewed, still impressed. “That’s actually really creative of you, Flowerpaw. I’d always thought you were secretly apprenticed to some great hunter warrior; but I guess all those cool moves are just...you.” Pride coursed through her, cut short by the memory of how much training she’d missed. “Well, I’m not perfect or anything. I still need to work on my battle training. No one’s had ti -” She cut herself off, looking down dejectedly. Stormstrike brushed along her flank in a friendly way and huffed. “Well, if there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s battle training and I would be happy to help you work on it now. If you’re free, I mean...”
Just as she was about to reply, the gorse tunnel shivered, and Snowdrop emerged with Treekit swinging from her muzzle.
Oh, come on! Just when things were getting good!
The cats around her loosed into a semi-circle, leaving a gap for Snowdrop to cross through. The queen set Treekit down on the ground and searched the crowd. “Flowerpaw!” she yowled. “Come watch your brother. I’ve had a long journey and I need some rest.”
“Sorry,” Flowerpaw meowed ruefully, looking at the ground. “I have to go be with Treekit.”
“It’s all right,” Stormstrike meowed, turning around to head for the warriors’ den. “Feel free to call me anytime you want battle training!” he said over his shoulder before disappearing through the thickly crowded branches of the bush.
Flowerpaw sighed as the crowd parted, leaving her room to get to Treekit free of difficulties. She picked up Treekit by his scruff gently, taking care not to let him swing too much from her jaws, and carried him to the medicine den. Since he could become more sick than he was now any time, he’d took up a residency at the medicine den rather than at the nursery.
She set him down on the moss nest inside the den, unfurling a leaf that contained delicate lavender petals, and put them in front of Treekit’s nose. “These should make you feel calmer,” she told him, stroking his back with her tail.
Treekit coughed feebly before taking a deep sniff of the lavender, his shoulders slumping as he relaxed. “Thanks, Flowerpaw,” he slurred sleepily, getting to his paws. His eyes were glassy and tired, but there was still a hint of the playful, energetic brother he used to be in his eyes.
“Can you teach me some battle moves?” he asked eagerly, his sentence interrupted with a cough. “I’ll shred my enemies!”
“I’m sure you will,” Flowerpaw meowed. “But you need to save your strength for fighting the greencough, remember?” She touched his chest with a paw lightly, hearing the rasp of his breath as he inhaled. “Even Snowdrop said that’s the most important thing right now.”
“But I’m bored!” Treekit complained, scratching at his bedding with his claws. “No one plays with me anymore. Can you play with me?” He widened his eyes pleadingly at Flowerpaw.
“How about you help me sort some of these herbs? I heard Aspenheart has taught you some of them, and he needs some help sorting out his supplies.” Flowerpaw kept her tone as netural as possible, trying not to give away her lie.
“I suppose I’ll help Aspenheart,” Treekit conceded, stretching his head above his nest to peer at the herbs stacked against the wall. “But he needs to sort out his own supplies in the future.”
Flowerpaw stifled a purr at his cheekiness, reaching out with a paw to push a stack of glossy dark green leaves toward him. “See if you can find anything out of place here, all right? When you’re done with that one, I’ll give you this pile.” She nodded to a stack of spiky thistles. “Just make sure not to prick yourself,” she warned.
Treekit sorted out the pile expertly, then pushed it toward her. “Done!” he announced. “Next pile?”
Flowerpaw hooked the thistle by its stem wth her claw, pushing it to his nest. Treekit flicked out a dark green leaf from the thistles, tossing it into the bundle at her side. “That’s it,” he meowed importantly, nudging the thistles aside.
Flowerpaw looked outside wistfully, where Stormstrike was chatting with two she-cats, Roseplum and Sweetflower. I could be with him, she thought jealously, but instead I’m stuck tending to a kit with greencough.
Not a kit, she reminded herself sternly, your brother.
She nosed a light green leaf that contained lavender petals to Treekit, unfurling it with her paw. “These should help you get to sleep,” she explained. “I think you’ve had enough adventures for one day.”
Treekit opened his mouth to argue, but decided against it and bent his head to sniff deeply at the lavender. His muscles loosened and his eyes drooped, and his breathing becoming deeper and more steady.
Finally! Flowerpaw thought wearily, ducking out of the medicine den. A group of cats was clustered around Snowdrop, who was retelling what had happened on their journey with a solemn expression. So much for getting some rest, Flowerpaw thought bitterly, blending in with the mass of cats.
Stonepaw, a friend that Flowerpaw had made recently, pressed closely against her, catching her off guard. “You were amazing with those hunting moves you invented back there,” Stonepaw whispered, trying to make her feel better. “I think I have an idea for you--if you’re willing to carry it out, of course. It’ll help your brother recover, and you’ll have more time to train.”
That caught Flowerpaw’s attention, and her head snapped around to face Stonepaw. “What is it?” she asked enthusiastically. Something to help Treekit? More training time?
“Hmm…” Stonepaw began thoughtfully, tapping his tail on the ground rhythmically. “Well, you know how Treekit needs catmint to treat the greencough, since the air of the Hot Waters only really helps with the side effects?”
Flowerpaw nodded impatiently. “So, the idea?”
Stonepaw stilled his tail. “Well, I was just getting to that. What if you can host a training session, where you show everyone else your hunting moves that you’ve invented, but to get in you have to bring some catmint with you?”
“That’s brilliant, Stonepaw!” Flowerpaw exclaimed eagerly, earning a cross look from one of her Clanmates who was listening to Snowdrop. She lowered her voice. “What if we host it soon? I’ll try and finish everything I have to do for Treekit quickly.”
Stonepaw shook his head. “No, I’ll organize everything with Stormstrike,” he insisted. “You just work on being with Treekit and review your hunting moves.”
“Stormstrike agreed to help?” Flowerpaw repeated faintly.
“Yeah, I told him what was going on with your apprentice duties and how you don’t really get to train since Treekit’s sick. He agreed to help with getting Treekit better again,” Stonepaw explained. “Sorry I didn’t tell you at first, but I didn’t want word slipping out or anything, so I tried to keep it to as little cats as possible.”
“It’s all right, Stonepaw,” Flowerpaw reassured him, resting her tail lightly on his back. “Your idea is brilliant, though, and I’m sure it’ll help Treekit--especially with Stormstrike helping!”
Stonepaw’s eyes narrowed a bit at the last part of her statement, and Flowerpaw tilted her head infinitesmally, puzzled. Why did he seem to hold a grudge against Stormstrike?
Stonepaw smiled at her, his eyes returning to normal. “Well, I’m going to go start organizing the session with Stormstrike,” he said. “We still have to get the area where you’re going to host the session cleared of any debris, so it won’t get in anyone’s way.”
“Thanks again!” Flowerpaw called after him in a whisper as he slipped through the crowd. He dipped his head just a tiny bit, to let her know that he heard, and disappeared from view as a thick gray pelt followed him.
She felt a light tap on her shoulder, and a gruff voice said, “Go get some herbs for Treekit.” Flowerpaw dipped her head in acknowledgement to Thunderstorm, weaving through the crowd and squeezing through the gorse tunnel.
She surveyed the forest in front of her with a sigh. Time to gather some herbs. Again.
A quarter-moon had passed since Snowdrop and Treekit’s arrival, and Stormstrike and Stonepaw were nearly finished with organizing everything for the session. All they had to do was attract a few more cats to the meeting, Stormstrike had told Flowerpaw, and everything would be ready.
She put a tiny black poppy seed into a nearby leaf, pushing it closer to Treekit with her paw. “Eat these,” she instructed gently. “They’ll help you sleep.”
Treekit coughed once, his body shaking with the effort, and bent his head to lap up the seed. His muscles started loosening, his eyelids drooping, and he drifted off to sleep shortly after he’d swallowed the seed.
Flowerpaw got to her feet, stretching out each of her stiff limbs, before she slipped out of the medicine den and into the quiet evening. Stonepaw and Stormstrike were lingering next to the fresh-kill pile, occasionally shooting glances at the medicine den but otherwise acting as if they were conversing casually.
She hurried over to them, slowing when she was a tail-length in front of them. “Progress?” she whispered, her tail-tip twitching to and fro anxiously.
“We’re finished,” Stonepaw whispered back eagerly. “Do you want to have the meeting at sunhigh?”
“Sure,” she replied excitedly, practically bouncing on her paws. Finally--maybe after this, Treekit will get better and I’ll be able to train more!
“You can come look at it if you want to,” Stormstrike put in. “Just see if you want to make any edits or if you want to change anything.”
“Sounds good,” she responded, stifling the overwhelming exultance that seemed to spread through her rapidly. “Where to?”
“We used the hollow behind the camp,” Stonepaw explained, setting off at a trot. “Since it’s mostly unused now, and it’s an empty space, Stormstrike and I figured it would be the best spot.”
He went through the gorse tunnel, Stormstrike behind him and Flowerpaw following in single file. They emerged into the forest, where long shadows stretched over the ground, dappling the forest floor in darkness with a few spots of light visible.
Stonepaw swerved left, trotting through a gap between two tall aspen trees, whose spindly branches towered high above them. They emerged into a peaceful glade, with a babbling creek nearby that had water rippling over the smooth pebbles of the riverbed. Trees surrounded them on all sides, and the grass was free of any yellowed patches or twigs, the blades soft and cushiony under their paws.
“You wouldn’t believe how cluttered this was,” Stonepaw meowed, waving his tail around. “It had brambles and ivy choking everything, and the creek was really dirty, so we had to clear the water of any dirt or twigs that had fallen in.”
“No wonder it was so unused,” Stormstrike remarked wryly. “Although, it does look really pretty when it’s not...covered in filth.” He wrinkled his nose at a memory.
“This looks really good,” Flowerpaw said to them with a huge grin. “Thank you so much for helping me!”
“No problem, Flowerpaw,” Stonepaw responded warmly, resting his tail on her back. “No cat deserves to have their training taken away from them just because of a sick brother.”
“We should probably catch some sleep,” Stormstrike said, interrupting them as he looked up at the sky. “It’s getting dark, and we’ll have to wake up at the crack of dawn if we want to make any last-minute changes. Flowerpaw, you can review your hunting moves one last time.”
“Perfect!” Flowerpaw said happily, setting off at a normal pace with a bounce in her step. She ducked through the gorse tunnel, nodding to Ashcinder, who was on watch, and went into the apprentices’ den.
She sank into her comfortable moss nest, her tail curled over her eyes, and drifted off into contented sleep.
A paw prodded her flank, jolting her from sleep, and she sat up, rubbing her eyes blearily. “Who is…?” she started to grumble, then trailed off when she saw Stonepaw. The session!
“Come on!” he whispered. “You can show me your hunting moves as practice.”
Alert now, she followed Stonepaw outside, where they exited the camp through the gorse tunnel and went to the hollow. She crouched low to the ground, her chin lowered to the grass, and stalked forward, setting each paw down carefully.
She leaped up a tree, focusing on a robin that was pecking at the ground below her. Using the rustle of the leaves to mask her approach, she crept forward onto the branch and jumped down, killing the bird with a bite to its neck. Flowerpaw settled onto the ground, putting the robin between her and Stonepaw. “Share?” she offered.
He nodded gratefully, taking a few bites before letting her have the rest. “You have the big portion,” he insisted. “You’ll need it for your hunting session.”
She took it thankfully, eating it quickly before picking up its carcass and burying it outside the hollow, as to not disturb the soil of the glade. Flowerpaw came back, tingling with anxiety as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Stonepaw got to his paws. “I’m going to get the rest of the cats,” he told her, disappearing from sight and leaving her alone in the hollow.
Flowerpaw went over the moves she’d invented, her muscles taut as she waited for the sound of paw-steps to near. At last, she heard paws thudding on the earth, and the expectant faces of her Clanmates appeared, pouring through the gap between the two trees.
She waited for all of them to arrive to the hollow before she leaped onto a stump in the center of the clearing, her leap graceful. She dipped her head to them once she had climbed the tree stump, opening her mouth to begin. “I want to thank you all for coming here,” she began. “This is a major contribution to my brother, Treekit’s, well-being, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that we’re grateful for your support.”
Flowerpaw sought out her brother’s face amongst the throng of cats, strengthening a bit when she saw his green eyes wide open, his face more alert than it had been for moons. “Go, Flowerpaw!” he cheered, and she couldn’t help the small smile that crept into view.
“Well,” she continued, “we all came here to learn some unique hunting moves, yes?”
Murmurs of assent rippled through the crowd, and Flowerpaw flicked her tail decisively. “All right then,” she meowed decidedly, “I’ll need another pair of paws for my first demonstration. Stonepaw, will you come forward, please?”
Nervously, Stonepaw stepped into view, and Flowerpaw leaped down to join him. In answer, the crowd moved back a few steps to give them room, and she rested her tail on his back.
“Before we begin,” she meowed, “I’d also like to give my thanks to Stonepaw and Stormstrike, who were the two cats who cleared this hollow and made it suitable for a session.”
She let her tail drop to her flank, then she dropped into a crouch. “This is what we’re going to start out with,” she continued. “It’s one of my favorite moves.” She stole forward silently, her paw-steps not making a sound on the grass. “It gives you the advantage of surprise, as well as tricking your prey. I call it the Wind Leap.”
Flowerpaw angled her body to the right and pounced, but at the last second, she twisted and hooked her claw through the air. “So when you’re starting out, you leap to the right, but it’s only a ruse for your prey; at the last second, jump to the left and grab the bird.”
Flowerpaw continued showing the cats the hunting moves she’d invented, slowly gaining popularity among the crowd. When she reached the end of the session, cats crowded in around her, praising her and complimenting her on her creativity.
She waited as the cats streamed past her, looking for one face in particular. She found him between Snowdrop and Thunderstorm, and made her way over to him. “Hi, Treekit,” she said softly. “You’ll be better now.”
Flowerpaw hooked a furry catmint leaf from the huge pile that she’d amassed, giving it to Treekit. He sniffed it once before chewing it and swallowing, his gaze bright. “Can I have more?” he asked after he’d finished the leaf, his voice slightly clearer and less raspy.
“Of course,” she assured him, giving him two more leaves. “Not that much, though, or you’ll get sick.”
Treekit ate them eagerly, swiping his tongue over his muzzle. “I feel much better!” he proclaimed, weaving around Flowerpaw. “Thank you!” he squeaked, and even Snowdrop rested her muzzle on Flowerpaw’s head.
“Good job, my darling,” she purred.
With her parents’ scent weaving around her, thick in the air, and Treekit winding around their legs squeaking enthusiastically, she thought she could never be happier.