"I am the princess of the Court. There is no one more powerful than the she-cat in line for the throne. That of course, is me. Any problems the King cannot address goes to me. I am the best--"
"I think I get it, Kaytani."
I turn my nose down at the playful eyes of my best friend. "Oh be quiet, Zachary," I roll my eyes, "you're supposed to respect me, remember?"
Zachary smirks. He bows low, his nose brushing the ground. "I apologize Princess Kaytani for my rude behavior. What can I do to regain your favor?"
I giggle. "Well I am still in need of a best friend."
Zachary straightens. "Glad to know I'm excused from formalities then," he gives me an impish grin, "it's not like I can go to any of the formal parties. I'd screw up big time there, calling you by your given name rather than your title." The black tom stretches lazily.
"What are you doing here today anyways?" I examine one of my claws. "Usually you're not even allowed to come here. I always have to go to your place."
His eyes darken momentarily before regaining their mischevious gleam. "Ah well, the usual. My father is consoling the Court today. I didn't have anything to do at home naturally...so I decided to pay you a well deserved visit. It's been a moon, Kay."
"Sorry Zach," I wince, "I know it's been a moon, but I've been busy. The Court does not deal well with their princess flaunting with a side street tom."
"A side street tom," Zachary narrows his eyes, "surely there are better words to describe the citizens of Aayrie. After all, with the Clans so close to turning on the Court, they'll need all the support they can get from the villages of Aayrie."
"Sorry," I grimace, "Court talk has gotten to me."
"Any ideas on what we can do to pass time?" Zachary flicks his tail, "My father doesn't even know I'm here. Though there's no chance he's finishing anytime soon. I have a few hours to kill before I have to go back to my village."
Zachary lives in the small village closest to the Court's residence in the capital of Aayrie. Aayrie is the territory in which the Court rules over. It doesn't exactly rule over the Clans, which marks Aayrie's borders, but we have fairly tense relationships with the Clans, who live much differently than we do.
"It's a close walk from the palace to your village," I dismiss, "we have a lot of time to kill."
The black tom flops down. "Please tell me there is interesting things to do in your chambers. Or, you can take me to a party. Is there a party going on right now? Please tell me there is. That would totally make my day."
"There is a party going on," I say regretfully, "but I've been forbidden to attend it."
Zachary's immediate excitement dies down. "Forbidden?" He echoes, "You're the princess for stars sake, you can go wherever you like. Is your father the reason?"
"I don't know," I admit, "my father told me the Court is having a private party and only invited guests are allowed. I have no role in whatever the party is for, which means I can't go." Usually I only attend parties to show off as the groomed princess. I have to show that I'm going to be there future ruler and that I'm suited for the job. Therefore I have to attend those.
"You've never been banned from anywhere before," Zachary frowns, "I say we check this thing out."
"You can't check anything out," I remind him, "your father is here on some secret business to present to the Court and there's some fancy party going on that I can't go to. If I can't go to it, you certainly cannot attend either. Plus, every cat in this palace knows who I am."
Zachary rolls over to face me. "Aw, come on, we can disguise you. Plus, who says anyone will know you're sneaking around unless you get caught? We'll just have to slip in, that's all."
"No," I say firmly, "Zach, it's too risky. You're not even supposed to be in the palace and I'm not allowed to be at the party. I don't even mind all too much; those parties are a waste of time."
"I wouldn't know," Zachary sits up.
I watch the black tom begin to clean his paws. "How are things at the village?" I finally ask, "I'm sorry I haven't been able to go check on you since my busy schedule. I hope the villagers aren't displeased with my absense." I recall some of Zachary's villagers.
The black tom's face sours. "As if."
I blink. Zachary takes a moment to take in what he just said. "I mean, they're busy also. Being so far away, Kay, you're not on the cats' minds as much as your father is. I'm sure they would love it if you came to visit, but it's not an immediate concern, don't worry."
His golden eyes flit back and forth, trying not to meet my gaze. I instantly know Zachary is hiding something. "Zach," I begin.
"I have to go," he shoots to his feet, "I'll see you some other day, Kaytani. Please take care of yourself, okay? Don't worry about me. Don't visit. I'll make sure I come here if I need to talk to you."
But he's out the entrance of my chambers in a flash. I scramble outside after him but all I see is my daily guard standing outside my chambers. Zachary is gone. "Your Highness," the guard dips his head at me, "do you need me for anything?"
"Nothing," I turn back to walk into my room, "thank you."
The meeting seems to last forever before my father finally steps out of the conference room. He starts when he sees me at the door. "Kaytani," he greets me, "what are you doing here?"
"I live here."
"Not in this hall you don't," my father narrows his eyes, "I told you to stay in your room, did I not?"
"I don't remember," I lie.
My father stares down at me. "Princess Kaytani, you would not disobey a direct order from the King, none other than your father, would you?"
"You didn't order me to stay in my room," I say cheekily.
The king curls his lips. "I order you to go to your room and stay there until I fetch a guard to ask you to come to dinner. If you leave before, there will be consequences." He turns and without another word, stalks back into the conference room. To my dismay, nobody else comes out.
"Princess," the guard standing at the entrance nervously says, "you must go up to your room. I can escort you--"
I turn and stalk away, stomping back through the corridors until I reach my room. I head inside, the guard looked expecially solemn. He closes the chamber screen behind me and I flop down with a sigh. There's no way to get out of my chamber except through the main entrance. There is a tiny window near the back, but it's a small hole, barely big enough for a cat to squeeze through. It's a long climb down the side of the rugged terrain of the hill, so it's not worth a try.
I squint down and see a familiar black shape darting away. Zachary? I think, although I don't move or call out to him. I watch as he fades into the distance. It's until he's completely out of sight do I realize he isn't heading the right way to his village. In fact, he's heading farther into the capital itself.
What is that idiot doing? I narrow my eyes. I consider climbing out of my window or even just streaking out of the palace, but at that moment, my screen is ripped open and a guard comes in.
"Your father summons you."
Forget Zachary and his schemes. I had other things to worry about first.
My father is sitting in the throne room, seated upon his stone slab, glowering at the entrance. As we enter, he narrows his eyes and straightens up. There's a stone pedastal beside him. Every time I see it, an ache goes through me at the thought of my mother. I shake my head vigorously, trying to wipe away the memories.
"Thank you guards," my father nods to them, "you are dismissed."
They leave without a second word. My father steps off his throne and comes to me. "Kaytani, you do not directly disobey me in front of my own soldiers. You may be the princess and the next heir to the throne, but I am still king. Am I understood?"
"Yes," I mumble, impatient as I wanted to see what Zachary was up to.
"Now I didn't summon you here to reprimand you about your rashness. In fact, we can talk about that some other day. There are more important matters at paw, and you must listen carefully."
The seriousness in his eyes startles me. My father rarely trusts me with business issues, despite me being the heir to the throne.
"Today it has come to my attention that the Clans are massing their troops at the border, ready to strike at any minute. We must prepare also, though I fear the villages of Aayrie are too laid back and relaxed. We must send an important figure to the villages to rally them. I cannot go, and none of my generals will do enough. It must be someone of royal blood."
It takes me a moment to register what he means. "You want me to go?" I gape.
"Yes, Kaytani. It is within your responsibility to do so. This is your kingdom too."
Joy and excitement florishes through me, despite it being a serious occasion. "Return to your chambers and prepare. Tomorrow, two of my loyalest guards will accompany you on the journey. You must travel to each village and rally the troops. You should be done with the trip in five days and be able to start your journey home."
"I'll do my best!" I turn and scamper out of the throne room, aware that my father hadn't actually dismissed me yet. I beam at the guards and head up to my chambers, where I find a surprise waiting me.
"Zachary!" I gasp, my eyes widening, "What are you doing back here already?"
"I overheard my father talking to one of the generals he was walking with," Zachary breathes out, drawing me to the back of my room, "he talked about your father sending a royal convoy out to the villages."
"Yes," I agree, puzzled by the alarm in his voice, "I am to be the royal convoy. Tomorrow I will set out to rally troops to defend against the Clans who are preparing to strike against us."
"That's not what you're really going to do," Zachary's voice is barely audible, "the king wants to kill you, Kaytani. He knows the villages have no real love for the princess, as they do not want a queen ruling over them. The idea of having a feminine leader breaks down the structure of how Aayrie was designed. You have to come with me now. We have to leave before your escorts get here. After that, they won't ever leave your side until they perform the final blow."
A shiver runs down my spine. "Are you sure?" I demand, "This is my father we're talking about. He may be harsh, but he is still my father."
"Does he love you?"
I hesitate. My father doesn't show much affection, and he never did with my mother either. I'm not too sure how they even became mates. "Well--"
"Exactly," Zachary interrupts, "do you trust me?"
I gaze into his luminous golden eyes. I found it in my heart that I do trust him, more than I trusted anyone else, maybe even my father.
"Yes," I whisper, "I trust you."
We're out the window and I find myself scrambling for a hold on the slippery slope. I almost regret sneaking out with Zachary, but he helps me down, keeping a firm hold on me in case I slip. I don't know how he managed to climb up these slopes, but I'm relieved when my paws touch the ground.
"Come on," Zachary hisses, "we're not safe here. We have to get out of the main city."
"Where are we going to go?" I pant, "Your place?"
"Of course not," Zachary shakes his head, "My father has been formulating a plan to kill you all these moons. He's in league with your father. He'll be returning home soon, which means he'll be suspicious when I don't come home tonight. I don't want to risk leaving you alone anywhere. We'll be heading for the Clans."
"The Clans?" I gape at Zachary, "Are you insane?"
"No," the black tom stares at me with his golden eyes, "it's the best way."
I draw away from him immediately. "The Clans are Aayrie's enemy. We will be in danger there, especially if they knew of my status. Despite my father wanting to murder me, I bet they won't be so hesitant to do so also. They hate my father's rule and will do anything to stop it."
"Then we won't tell them," Zachary decides, edging back to my side, "this is the best way, Kay. Your father will be looking for you. He won't expect you to flee to the Clans."
"I didn't expect it either," I mutter.
"We'll need to change your name too," Zachary adds.
My eyes widen. All my life I had been Princess Kaytani. "No way," I refuse, "You can just call me Kay. Nobody will suspect that it's a shorter version for Kaytani."
Zach looks worried but he nods. "All right. Come on, we have to get out of the main city by nightfall to ensure that the royal convoy does not begin its search for you."
I hesitate for a moment before scampering after him. "You have a common gray pelt," Zachary continues, "so it'll be easy to hide you among the crowd."
"Are you sure about the Clans?" I follow him, trotting beside him, "What if they hate me for who I am?"
"We can't tell them you're the princess, Kay. You have to drop the title until we can reclaim it from your father. The Clans will never accept us if they know you are the princess. We must act like cats trying to find a new home and we must act like we're running away from Aayrie."
"Aayrie is my kingdom," I murmur sorrowfully.
"I know," Zachary places a reassuring tail on my back. "We will get it back, Kay, I promise. But for now, you must promise me that you won't act as if you are the princess of Aayrie."
"I promise," I sigh.
We continue onwards, barely stopping as we exit the capital and continue into the forest that would lead to Zachary's village. But even as we get there, Zachary doesn't stop walking. "Zach," I pant, "why aren't we stopping?"
"My father will be returning here soon. He will notice me missing and that will be a disaster. We can't stop here, especially not so close to the palace."
He's right; we can still see the palace looming behind us if we turn around. But I'm tired and aching. "Zachary," I whine, "your princess is tired."
"You aren't the princess right now, Kay," Zachary casts me a warning glance, "and we can't stop now. We'll stop at the next village."
I gape at him. "The next village is nearly half a day's walk away! There's no way we'll get there before night fall."
"Then we'll keep walking, or we can stop in the middle," Zach dismisses, "we can't stop here, Kay."
"Please," I plead, stopping. Zach halts a few paces away before looping back around. "Zachary, you still have to listen to me, especially if we're going to reclaim my title. You cannot disobey me."
"Kay," Zach says patiently, "we're taking a huge risk in stopping here. I plead you to understand my position. We must get you far away from the palace and quick. We must arrive at the Clan's border before this supposed war begins. We cannot get trapped in between or else we will lose this battle, Kay."
There's urgency in his tone that makes me pause and reconsider, but my paws hurt from all the walking and I've never felt such excrutiating pain. "No," I say firmly, "I must rest."
"Can we stay outside of the village?" Zachary asks.
"Never," My eyes widen, "you know Aayrie's patrols will sweep through the countryside and round up anyone not in a village. We'll be arrested and you'll be convicted of kidnapping the princess and if what you says is real, my father will proceed to kill me as well."
"He will do worse than that," Zach's eyes darken, "he will frame your death and blame it on me."
"So we cannot stay out here," I conclude, "get us into one of those empty dens in the village. Every village has those that you can pay for. We could hunt a bit before heading inside."
"Do you know how to hunt?"
I'm taken aback by that question. "Of course I can," I reply, feeling indignant.
The black tom arches an eyebrow and he flicks his tail, indicating that we should go now. I follow him into the woods to hunt.
It turns out I can't hunt. We spend all evening trying to catch five pieces of prey. Four to pay for one night at the den, and one to share when we get hungry.
Zach hunts his heart out and we come up with four pieces. "Is there any cheaper dens we can go to?" I stare mournfully at the prey, "Perhaps two?"
"Four is the cheapest," Zach shakes his head, "We'll have to go hungry tonight."
Hungry? This has to be the worst day of my life. We've gone all day without much food, just continuous traveling and now Zachary is telling me I must sleep on an empty stomach. This day cannot be much worse, can it?
We enter the village and Zachary leads me expertly to the den renter. We buy a den for four pieces of prey and Zachary leads me into the tiniest looking den in history. It's even smaller inside, with barely any space. There's moss inside, but it seems stale and disgusting, so I decide to sleep on the floor. It's gross inside, and I get the feeling no one has bothered cleaning this place in ages.
"It's the cheapest for a reason," Zachary apologizes.
I grit my teeth and curl up, desperate to prove to Zachary that I can be an ordinary citizen and that being a princess hasn't spoiled me. Zachary doesn't let me, however, and he uses the moss to clean the floor space for me. "Sleep here," he advises.
"Thank you," I whisper and gratefully take up the clean space. Zachary doesn't hesitate to curl up next to me, keeping close to shield me from the harsh winds coming from outside.
It doesn't take me long to fall asleep.
Zachary wakes me up at the crack of dawn. "There are cats outside," he hisses, "I think there are kingsmen looking for us and the cat we paid tipped us off for more prey."
"How did he know who we were?"
"Descriptions," Zach shrugs, "I don't know."
I scramble to sit up. "What are we going to do? We can't just stay here like sitting ducks. The kingsmen will capture us and accuse you of kidnapping me. Or worse, my father will label both of us as traitors and execute us."
Zachary furrows his brow. "The den isn't well supported, which means we can dig a hole through the back and escape from there. They aren't expecting us to be awake, as weary travelers never are at this time of day. We'll have a headstart from there to escape to the Clans."
He moves to the back of the den, where he digs his claws into the soil and begin to scoop out soft dirt. He sets it behind me, almost hitting me with it.
"Watch it!" I can't help but yelp.
"Kay," Zach turns to face me, one paw in the dirt, "please keep your voice down. And if you want to make it out of here in one piece, I'd suggest you help me." The coldness in his voice makes me flinch and scurry to his side to help. We don't speak as we dig out pawfuls of dirt and flinging it behind us. I try not to think about the dirt embedding itself between my claws as we finally make a hole wide enough for us to squeeze through.
"You go first," Zach pushes me hurriedly towards the hole, "hurry. They're bound to enter soon."
This time I don't hestiate to dive into the hole. I burrow through, gritting my teeth as dirt showers on top of me and Zachary follows from behind. Soon we pop out together on the outside of the den. I can hear the kingsmen's voices from here.
"Let's go," Zachary murmurs into my ear, leading the way.
He weaves his way expertly through the village. Most of the cats are still asleep, though some are awake to go hunting for their family. They ignore us as we ignore them. Zachary keeps his head low and I follow his example as we leave the village.
"The Clans should be this way," Zachary points along a beaten path, "We'll follow on the side, not on the main path. We can't risk others seeing us."
I bob my head, too terrified of the possibility of my father's cats finding us. "That also means no renting out dens," Zachary warns, "It'll take a few days for us to reach the Clans and I don't want us risking being turned over again. We'll stay out here, with one of us standing guard."
Standing guard? I've always had guards outside my door, but it's never been a responsibility I thought I would have to pick up.
The black tom doesn't take excuses, however, and he forges forward into the forest. I scamper after him, not wanting to be left behind.
"Have you been to the Clans before?" I ask quietly, when we're far from the village.
"Once," Zachary admits, "My mother took me."
Zachary never talks about his mother to me. It's as if she had faded away from his life when he was young. Zachary was always detached from his past, more focused on the present. But that had always seemed like a guise to me.
"Your mother?" I echo, careful not to sound too indifferent yet not too prying.
The black tom nods, glancing over at me with unfathomable eyes, "Yes, my mother. I know I've never talked about her, but in truth, I don't like to remember or relive the past."
I think back to my own mother, who I had been told had died giving birth to me. For all sixteen moons of my life, I have lived under the strict rule of my father.
"She was a Clan cat," Zachary tells me, "and my father loved her dearly. I think she's the only cat my father has ever come to love. When I was five moons old, one of her old Clanmates came back and he was raving about how my mother was betraying her family and her Clan and how he had come to end the humiliation brought upon his Clan. He killed her there and then, with my father and I watching. My father was enraged and killed the Clan warrior. He got away with no charges of murder, claiming it was self-defense and he had been protecting his five moon old son."
"I'm sorry," I whisper, even though it must not be enough.
Zach doesn't reply and we keep walking. "Don't worry," he finally glances back at me, "it doesn't bother me that much."
It doesn't actually take that long to reach FrostClan's border. I thought it would take days, but Zachary leads me up a section of the forest and points across. "I bet there are guards around here, hidden, but this is the Clan border. We need to make sure we're confronted by a Clan warrior, not a kingsmen guard."
"How do we do that?" I mumble.
My best friend shrugs. "We run across."
Before I can ask why, Zachary streaks towards the border. I follow quickly and immediately I hear the shouts of guards trying to stop us. Even though my legs are already burning from all the walking and my stomach feels as empty as the sky, I manage to evade the guards and make it across, leaving Aayrie officially.
It feels weird, knowing that I've finally let Aayrie.
I don't have time to wonder over it because I crash headlong into Zachary, who is stopped by a ring of Clan warriors. "Who are you?" One of them, a scarred brown tabby cat growls. "You came from the Aayrie Kingdom."
"We are Zachary and Kay," Zach talks for us, "and we were fleeing the kingsmen."
"Fleeing?" A small cream colored she-cat echoes, "Who flees from their own country?"
"Be quiet, Irispaw," a skinny white tom snaps, "Let Hawkflash speak for us."
Irispaw shoots the white tom a cranky look but lets Hawkflash--the scarred tom who spoke first--continue. "the High Guard only pursues criminals of their kingdom. Are you telling me you are a wanted criminal in Aayrie?"
Zachary shakes his head. "Kay and I have been trying to get to the Clans for awhile. As you know, that in itself is a crime in Aayrie. The king is unjust and we refuse to be under his rule. He is going to pitch all of Aayrie in a war against the Clans."
"A war you say?" Hawkflash leans forward, "Dovestar has suspected it for a long time, but we never thought King Carlos would actually do it."
"King Carlos is scheming something," I blurt out, "we were trying to find out what but we were almost caught instead. The first thing we could think of was to escape to the Clans after that."
Hawkflash's eyes spark with even more interest. "All right, you've convinced me. I'll allow you to return with us to camp. Dovestar will hear out your story and decide from there. Whiteheart, Irispaw, flank them."
Zachary presses against me reassuringly, as if to tell me that we did it. The first step is done. We've successfull gotten into the Clans, but at what cost?
I glance back at Aayrie.
Will I ever come back?
The Clan territory isn't that big. We reach FrostClan camp quickly and Hawkflash usher us inside. He leads us to Dovestar's den and requests to enter.
Her den is spacious. Dovestar is a medium sized gray she-cat with sharp amber eyes. She notices us immediately. "What do we have here, Hawkflash?"
"Two cats claiming to know a scheme from King Carlos of Aayrie. They were running from the king's warriors and ran across the Clan border. I brought them here for you to hear them out and see if you can trust their story as I do." I'm surprised Hawkflash has already given his support for us without actually knowing the story.
"A scheme?" Dovestar leans forward, "Please elaborate."
"We don't know it exactly," Zachary says smoothly, "but we suspect that the king is trying to kill his own daughter, the crown princess."
"That feather-brained little she-cat?" Dovestar twitches her whiskers. I feel Zach press against me reassuringly and I try to keep my fur flat at her insult. "Why would King Carlos want to kill off his little pawn? She would do anything he said I hear."
I speak up first. "King Carlos wants to control all areas of Aayrie and the lands outside of Aayrie. But with a heir to the throne, some will support her instead of the king. He is unjust and therefore will have enemies."
"All leaders have enemies," Dovestar dismisses, "I promise you if the princess really does step up to take the throne after King Carlos, she will not be much better. What does she know? The kingdom of Aayrie will fall in her paws."
I flatten my ears. "How do you know that?" I retort, "You've never actually seen the princess, have you? You don't know what she's capable of."
"I suppose not," Dovestar dismisses, "but I know enough."
After a long silence as I don't have a reply to Dovestar's comment, the leader of FrostClan continues. "Tell me about yourselves," she settles back, "I have heard enough of the princess and the king's scheme."
I glance at Zachary for help but the black tom is already talking. "My name is Zachary and I am part Aayrie part Clan," he explains, "My mother is a Clan cat while my father is a lowly villager in Aayrie. Kay here is my adoptive sister, who we found abandoned by Aayrie citizens. Since then, we've never been completely loyal to Aayrie and that's how we ended up investigating King Carlos' plan."
"I knew a she-cat who mated an Aayrie cat," Hawkflash narrows his eyes, "she was from SmokeClan. They're not so fond of betrayers or those who defect from the Clan."
"I never knew what Clan my mother was from," Zach shrugs, "I don't see why it matters." But I know he wants to know because Zach glances fleetingly at the deputy.
"SmokeClan has been known to kill all traitors," Dovestar tips her head, "and any cat that is not fully SmokeClan."
Zachary's tail flicks, but other than that he doesn't show his agitation. "Then my mother cannot be from SmokeClan," he dismisses, "or I would be dead."
"You have a point," Hawkflash looks amused but doesn't offer any explanation.
"You two seem to be able cats," Dovestar looks over us, dismissing my fluffy pelt for Zachary's lean muscles. "I will allow you two to join my Clan on one condition."
"What is that?" Zachary asks respectfully, dipping his head to mirror what he would do if he was speaking to my father.
"After we uproot the monarchy, you are to return to Aayrie. You belong to the kingdom while we belong to a Clan. Our kinds don't mix and I do not wish for that to start with the two of you."
"Of course," Zach agrees, "We do not plan on staying."
Dovestar nods once. "Now I'm willing to help you destroy the monarchy unless we can insert a just leader in the place of King Carlos."
I want to tell Dovestar that I can surely do a much better job than my father, but I don't dare to. These cats would never be on my side and I cannot tell them who I really am. "MistClan and SmokeClan want to dissolve the kingdom and divide the territory into three parts for each Clan to claim."
I flatten my ears in horror. "No way!" I protest, "You guys have to give the princess of Aayrie a chance first. She may have lived under her father's shadow her whole life, but she isn't cruel. She isn't anything like her father." I hesitate, "She's like...her mother."
Hawkflash draws in his breath sharply and I flinch at the noise. I never really knew my mother, but I knew she had been a calm, soothing figure to my father's harsh rule.
"The late queen?" Dovestar fixes her gaze on me, "I remember the queen before her mysterious death. Perhaps you may be right, Kay, but we do not know for sure."
"Give her a chance and then we'll see," I say firmly, "we have to save the kingdom, not destroy it."
"I agree with her," Zachary immediately says, "The princess needs to be offered a chance. I will willingly throw my support behind the princess."
"Don't say that around the Clan," Dovestar mutters, "but I agree. I do not like the idea of dissolving Aayrie, as I believe having the rogues under the kingdom makes peace between them and the Clans."
"Hawkflash," she continues, "this discussion is over. Please show our guests to a den of their own. After that, you and I have other things to discuss." She gives her deputy a meaningful glance that he returns. He turns and the brown tom leads us back outside and towards an empty den near the edge of the clearing. Cats watch us curiously, though some hiss in hostility.
"They are not familiar to rogues," Hawkflash explains, "please stay in this den unless you are called for a patrol, or at least the cats are used to the two of you."
"Thank you," I smile fleetingly at the brown tom who gives me a stoic nod.
"Welcome to FrostClan," he says grimly, "I hope you enjoy your stay."
"What do you make of them?" Zachary murmurs after I wake up from the nap I take the moment Hawkflash leaves. When I give him a bleary look, the black tom clarifies, "The Clan cats."
"Well we've only met Dovestar and Hawkflash," I yawn.
"We met the other cats near the border. Irispaw and the warriors." I jolt in surprise when I realize Zachary even remembered the little she-cat's name.
"Well...they seem nice," I offer, "I mean, they offered us their home for free."
Zachary squints at me. "That's not a way to judge someone, Kay. They've been giving us hostile looks since we crossed their border. I'm not so sure that we're welcome here anymore."
"Well we can't leave!" I point out, "We need the Clans' support in order to overthrow...King Carlos." I refuse to call him my father as long as we were in the Clans. I can't risk being caught after all.
My best friend furrows his brow. "I know. I just worry about you."
"Me?" I squeak, "Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."
He shakes his head. "Maybe it was a mistake to bring you. I don't want you to get hurt or worse." His yellow eyes meet my blue eyes.
"Where would you take me if we didn't come here?" I nudge him with one paw, "Don't worry, okay? We're going to be fine. That's why you brought me here: so we can solve everything. These are the cats who hate King Carlos as much as we do." As much as you do. I think to myself, because I can't bring myself to hate my father even if he wanted to kill me.
"I don't know," Zachary sighs, "maybe we would have just fled the land. Run away from Aayrie and the Clans and live on our own."
"And leave all those cats?" I ask softly, "I can't do that."
"Why?" Zachary whirls on me, "They've nothing but hated the monarchy since your father rose to power. It didn't get much better when your mother died and you were his pawn."
He sees me flinch and softens. "I'm sorry, Kay, I didn't mean it like that."
"I know," I meet his gaze evenly, "but what you said is true. I'm going to grow out of it and make sure I can treat my cats properly."
Zachary smiles and moves to my side so he can press his pelt against mine. "That's the spirit, Kay. You're going to be a great leader, I just know it."
"Thanks," I lean against him, savoring his warmth and strength. "When we overthrow the king, will you lead alongside me?"
I can feel Zach jerk in surprise and to my surprise, his ears are a deep red. "L-lead with you?" He repeats, "You want me to do that?"
"Sure," I blink, "Why wouldn't I want you to lead with me? You're my best friend."
Zachary relaxes--or maybe he deflated--a bit, "Of course, Kay." He gives me a smile though it's not a full smile, "I'd love to be your partner."
I don't know why that makes me so ridiculously happy--that Zachary would actually want to lead with me, despite all my faults.