Episode Eight, Season Two, of Solitary.
I fought the urge to hide myself at that very moment, as I felt a feeling of regret course through me. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought them this close… I looked worried as I turned towards the Clan cats, who were still looking a little despondent.
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked softly, breaking the silence as I padded towards them cautiously.
Waterfall was the only cat who reacted immediately. The blue-gray she-cat looked at me sadly. “Wisp, you don’t fully understand what it means to be living in a Clan, don’t you?” She sighed softly after finishing her sentence.
I didn’t reply, unsure how to word a response. Instead, I looked at Scorch, who was at the back of the group: the confused look in her eyes told me that she didn’t know either. I gulped and shuffled my paws.
“I didn’t think so.” Waterfall straightened up, tail twitching for a moment before she continued speaking. “Wisp, you understand the purpose of the Clans, their morals. However, you can only fully understand it when you live it.”
Curiously, I tipped my head. Sure, I’m not a Clan cat, but… Obviously there was more to the Clans than what met the eye. My tail drooped ever so slightly. “What do you mean?”
Waterfall cleared her throat. “I think it’s time,” she mewed, as she looked at the border, “that us warriors share you a few stories. Stories of what it means to be a Clan cat, a warrior.”
The other Clan cats nodded in agreement. “There is much importance to Clan life, Wisp. You’ve only seen some of it. You’ve never been in either of our camps long enough to glimpse it properly.”
“Then show me,” I mewed, bringing my front right paw down to the ground. “Show me what it means.”
Waterfall shook her head. “We can’t show you in person right now. Next time you come to TreeClan, maybe. In the meantime, we’ll show you through stories. Wisp, the importance of Clan life starts when you’re young, from when you’re born. There’s a lot there…”
“Race you to the elders’ den!” A high-pitched voice squeaked nearby, and Waterkit felt paws hitting her flank. “Applewhisker promised to tell me an awesome story today! She said it would be on some cool warriors doing –”
She shoved my brother off her. “Shut up, Pebblekit, I’m coming.” The blue-gray kit rose to her paws, her gaze on the small dark gray shape at the end of the nursery. She ran after him on short legs, stumbling slightly as she came to a stop.
“Don’t be away for too long, kits!” Waterkit’s mother, Mistnose, spoke. “I want to –”
“Whatever.” Pebblekit broke Mistnose off and barrelled out of the nursery. Waterkit, meanwhile, watched as Mistnose glared at her brother as he exited. She, too, then followed.
“Wait for me, Pebblekit!” she shrieked, seeing him racing across camp. Looking at the gray kit go into the elders’ den, she narrowed her eyes and followed him.
As she entered, she ran so fast – so fast that she ended up crashing into Pebblekit. “Oof!” She heard the tom-kit mew as she landed into him.
“Ah, you’re both here.” A mottled, pale brown she-cat spoke, her green eyes setting on both young cats. Applewhisker! “Want to hear the story on how the Clans came to be?”
“Yes!” Waterkit squeaked, cutting off Pebblekit, who had opened his mouth to protest. Where did this group come from?
Applewhisker shifted in her nest before beginning the story. “It started many seasons ago. There were many rogues in the forest, the one where we live now. There was, however, one big group, and they had a leader called Hawk.”
Taking it all in, Waterkit nodded, my eyes widening. Pebblekit, meanwhile, was pawing the side of the nest. “So?”
“Hawk was an old leader,” Applewhisker mewed, answering his question. “One day, he fell asleep, and didn’t wake up. Unfortunately, he hadn’t yet decided who would succeed him. As a result, naturally, there was a huge argument.”
“A fight?” the blue-gray kit mewed, looking up at Applewhisker. “Did they have a fight? A battle?” My eyes rounded at the thought.
“Sort of,” Applewhisker replied. “Two cats thought they had the skills to succeed Hawk. One was Forest, the dark tabby tom. He was strict yet wise, and had experience on his side. Then, there was Tree, the pale brown she-cat. Young and inexperienced compared to Forest, cats respected her because they thought she was fair and just.”
“So what happened?” Pebblekit asked, curiosity in his tone.
“They couldn’t decide who was leader. Forest wanted to fight, but Tree said to let the cats decide. Forest, reluctantly agreed… but when the cats had their say, it was a tie. Forest was not pleased, and decided he’d make himself be leader. He took all the cats away who wanted to be in his group, leaving Tree with her followers.”
“They just left?” Waterkit asked, her tail flicking. “But they don’t have Clan names. Where did those come from?”
“Ah,” Applewhisker purred. “Young Waterkit, that’s the next part. The two groups had a meeting at the full moon, organized by Tree, who still wasn’t sure that the idea of two groups was best. While they were arguing, their deceased ancestors came –”
“StarClan!” Waterkit and Pebblekit gasped in unison.
Applewhisker nodded. “StarClan came down – well, the beginning of StarClan anyway – and announced to the groups that they were to become Clans – separate, yet asked to work together. Tree and Forest became Treestar and Foreststar, and over the following seasons they and their successors shaped their Clans to what they are today.”
Waterkit nodded at the end of the story. However, when she looked over at Pebblekit, she noticed that he appeared to be frustrated by the ending. “I didn’t like that ending. Can we listen to another –”
“Kits! Time to head back to the nursery now.” A gray head appeared at the entrance to the elders’ den: it was Mistnose, summoning her kits back. “The story of Tree and Forest, huh? I loved that story,” she mewed to Applewhisker.
The brown elder nodded, but the two kits moaned. Waterkit padded reluctantly to her mother’s side, while Pebblekit was protesting. “But I want to –”
“No.” Mistnose gathered up her son, and them and Waterkit went back to the nursery, leaving the comfort – and stories – of the elders’ den behind.
“So you weren’t always Waterfall?” I queried in surprise, looking at Waterfall with an unusual glare.
Waterfall looked surprised. “I thought that, because of Cinderfire, you’d know that one.” The blue-gray she-cat flicked her tail. “Kits have the suffix ‘kit’ on the end of their names. Leaders have a special suffix too – ‘star’. Then there are the apprentices, who are in training to become warriors. They have the suffix –”
“‘Paw’,” interrupted a gruff voice, and I turned to see Gorsetuft. The black tom shrugged as I turned to him. “Apprenticeship, Wisp, is a tale in itself. Becoming an apprentice is an important day of Clan life. I remember my own ceremony well…”
“Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey gather below the Meeting Rock for a Clan meeting!”
Gorsekit’s paws kneaded the ground in excitement as he saw his father leap ungracefully onto the Meeting Rock. Today I’ll finally be an apprentice! Once the Clan had gathered, Whitestar looked down on his cats, his gaze flicking towards Gorsekit and his siblings. “Today, I am happy to make three kits ForestClan apprentices.”
“Good luck, my kits.” Gorsekit heard his mother, Oakstripe, whisper. The reddish-brown tabby nodded, looking up at her mate on the rock.
“I would now like to ask Stoatkit, Rowankit, and Gorsekit to come forward.”
Stoatkit was the first to move, his reddish-brown fur bristling in excitement as he raced forward. Gorsekit followed in a more dignified manner. His fur was also spiked, but not because it was bristling: it was naturally like that. Rowankit, his sister, followed them, her green eyes wide as she stepped forward.
As they stopped at the foot of the Meeting Rock, Whitestar spoke again: “You are now six moons old, and of age to start serving ForestClan. From this moment on, you shall be known as Stoatpaw, Rowanpaw, and Gorsepaw.”
Gorsepaw. Gorsepaw’s new name rang in his ears as he heard the Clan cheering it from behind him. He puffed out his chest in pride.
Whitestar silenced his tail with a flick. “Stoatpaw, your mentor will be Smallstripe. He is an experienced warrior, and will train you well.” Gorsepaw turned his head to see his reddish-brown brother touch noses with the small brown tabby. Stoatpaw looked displeased: there was no denying that he would be a strict mentor.
“Rowanpaw, your mentor will be Starlingclaw.” Starlingclaw! Envy flooded through Gorsepaw. How come his sister got the deputy? “This is your first apprentice since I appointed you as my deputy. I trust you are ready to juggle both roles.”
“Certainly,” Starlingclaw mewed, stepping out from the shadow of the Meeting Rock to meet his new apprentice. Rowanpaw’s green eyes shone with delight as they touched noses.
“Finally, Gorsepaw, your mentor will be Swallowwing.”
Gorsepaw huffed, secretly wishing he'd gotten a better cat. It's better than Smallstripe, I guess. He saw the dark gray tabby emerge from the crowd as Whitestar mewed: “Swallowwing, Gorsepaw will be your first apprentice. I am sure that you have the experience to teach Gorsepaw all you know.”
Gorsepaw hesitated as the two cats stared as each other, before they too touched noses, as they did so, he heard the ForestClan cats resuming their cheers:
“Stoatpaw! Rowanpaw! Gorsepaw!”
“What happened to Starlingclaw?” I asked, once Gorsetuft finished his story. “I mean, Swallowwing –”
Gorsetuft abruptly cut me off. “He died as a result of the Twolegs barging into our old territory. Swallowwing was his replacement.” The black tom snorted. “Rowanwing was distraught. She’d become really good friends with him as a result of her apprenticeship to him.”
I nodded; making the connection that Rowanwing was the Rowanpaw in Gorsetuft’s story. I wanted to say something, but… I decided against it, making my mind up that it was not the right time to do so. “Do you have –”
“Any other ceremonies?” A voice spoke up.
I nodded as I turned to see Cinderfire, whose amber eyes were shining. “The warrior ceremony is magnificent. I mean, mine was when I just joined the Clan, but I loved it.”
“Yeah.” Molefrost spoke up this time. “Your warrior ceremony is always a special thing. Care to explain to Wisp yours?”
Cinderfire hesitated, before turning to me and nodded. “Sure. Here goes…”
Cinder paused by the tree stump that graced TreeClan’s camp – or what was the beginning of it, anyway. It was nowhere near established to the camp of rogues where she used to be. The dens were a work in progress: she could see a brown-and-white tabby ordering some cats around. “There’s a space here that needs protection, Pebblenose,” he called to a small gray tom.
With a hurried nod, she saw Pebblenose fix up the gap that had been instructed. Cinder paused, looking at him for a while, before she heard a thumping nose nearby. Looking up at the stump, she saw Hawkstar. “Let all cats gather below the stump for a Clan meeting!” she called.
As the cats in the camp started to gather, Hawkstar glared down at her. “You stay there,” she told Cinder. “Just listen to my words, and you’ll be fine.”
Cinder nodded uneasily. There was little she understood about what was happening next. Hawkstar had only told her, after she’d agreed to a warrior name, that she’d be given it in a ceremony in front of the Clan. “It’s Clan tradition,” she’d responded, when Cinder had asked why.
So now Cinder found herself here. By now, the cats had gathered: some were glaring at her suspiciously. There was no denying that some cats doubted her. Clan cats were not a fan of rogues, as she’d already found out.
Hawkstar silenced her cats before speaking: “Today, we have a new cat joining our ranks. Cinder, a rogue, wants to join us, and she will be receiving a warrior name.”
There were a few annoyed mutters from some cats in the crowd, but Hawkstar quickly silenced them. “Silence. We are in a new territory, and there is no denying that cats will be interested in us. I am sure that Cinder will not be the last. Cinder, come here.”
As Hawkstar flicked her tail at her, Cinder edged forward uneasily. The whole Clan’s eyes were on her. Trying to ignore their stares, she looked up at Hawkstar, who cleared her throat and started to speak.
“I, Hawkstar, leader of TreeClan, ask my warrior ancestors to look down on Cinder. Although she has not yet learnt the ways of your code, we hope that, in receiving her warrior name, she will start to do so and serve TreeClan loyally. Do you, Cinder, promise to uphold the warrior code and to defend this Clan, even at the cost of your life?”
Cinder gulped nervously. This seemed like a big promise to make. However, she held firm to herself, as she remembered what she was meant to say. “I do.”
Hawkstar nodded. “Then by the power of StarClan, I give you your warrior name. Cinder, from this moment on, you shall be known as Cinderfire. StarClan honours your courage and determination, and we welcome you as a full warrior of TreeClan.”
Hawkstar leapt off the stump and came towards the new warrior. Remembering what she’d said, Cinderfire licked her new leader’s shoulder and then stepped back. Behind her, she heard the cheers of her new Clanmates: soft at first, but at each mention of her new name got louder.
“Cinderfire! Cinderfire! Cinderfire!”
“Looking back,” Cinderfire concluded, “it means more to me now. It’s a sign of your acceptance into the Clan.”
The other warriors nodded as Cinderfire stepped back. I blinked. So they make a promise. Must be some commitment. I then turned to Tawnydapple, who wasn’t saying much. “It isn’t easy being a warrior all the time, right?”
The tortoiseshell cat shook her head. “Oh, yes. This journey is tough, for one. I want to go back to my Clan! There are hard times… and this is one of them. Leaving our original territory was another.”
Tawnydapple flattened her heads at the sound of wailing – wails of warriors and kits alike. “I want to go home!” she heard a kit moan, and it made her heart hurt.
Beyond were the terrors: the terrors that their old territory had. The young warrior had seen all of it: the Twolegs cutting down the trees, scaring them off. The camp had been destroyed. There was no going back.
Whitestar was nearby, his green eyes mournful. The ForestClan leader looked defeated. “We’ve lost our home,” he sighed reluctantly, for all the cats nearby to hear. “We can’t go back.”
“So now what?” Smallstripe stepped forward, looking irritated. The brown tabby’s eyes flashed – not only with anger, but with tiredness. “If we can’t go here, where else? There’s gonna be Twolegs near here if we don’t go –”
“That’s the problem,” Whitestar mewed. Tawnydapple meanwhile, felt her blood run cold as he continued: “We can’t stay here, not with the Twolegs.”
Questions ran into Tawnydapple’s mind. Is he thinking of… leaving? We can’t leave TreeClan behind, surely? Where would we go? Worry bubbled up inside of her.
“We’re gonna have to leave here, for the sake of the Clan,” he mewed. “Of course, we’d have to ask TreeClan, as they have to come too, but –”
Whitestar’s mew was cut off with moans, Tawnydapple included. The tortoiseshell felt like she wanted to grieve. She’d lived here all her life. How could they leave?
The Clans have lived here from season upon season. How can we leave the land where it all began?
“I still miss the old territories,” Tawnydapple sniffed. The young warrior lowered her head. “I miss my Clan. I want to go home.” Softly, she whimpered, and I wished that I could console her. But I don’t understand what she’s gone through.
Some of the other warriors murmured responses to her, giving her comfort. I stayed there and watched, not knowing what to say. I mean, I didn’t go on their journey.
Molefrost was one of the cats that did so, before turning back to me. “These times make us sad. We miss our Clans. We want to go home.” The black-and-brown warrior sighed.
“I know,” I mewed, meeting the TreeClan cat’s eyes. “You all –”
Before I could continue, Molefrost cut me off. “It’s not all about the sorrow, Wisp. It’s also about the joy. That’s what makes being a Clan cat worth it. Like when we found our home – our new home…”
There was no denying the fact that Molefrost was exhausted. He, his Clan, and ForestClan had been travelling for a moon. They were all fed up with it, and just wanted to settle down.
It was dusk right now, and for the night, the Clans were settling. They were at the edge of a forest, and for once there was a light mood in the air. They hadn’t been under cover for so long – their journey had largely been over moors and marshes.
“Maybe it’s a sign.” A ForestClan apprentice that Molefrost didn’t know spoke. He was talking to a warrior from his own Clan. “I mean, this is the first forest we’ve seen in StarClan knows how long. Maybe we’re finally here.”
“Well, I hope you are right, because I sure am over this journey,” his Clanmate replied, looking irritated. Molefrost watched them move off, hoping that the apprentice was not wrong either. Haven’t we all had enough?
“Let’s settle down for the night.” Hawkstar’s voice rang across the clearing, and at once every cat fell silent. Molefrost turned towards the brown tabby, who was with Whitestar nearby. “Every cat needs to rest.”
A murmur of assent followed this. Molefrost nodded. Don’t we all?
“Tomorrow, we will see if StarClan has brought us to where they have wanted us to go,” Hawkstar finished. Following this, Molefrost heard cats murmuring excitedly.
Are we finally here? The thought echoed in the warrior’s mind, and he hoped the answer was yes. Regardless, he felt a sense of joy wash over him. I think we’re finally here… thank StarClan.
“And, as everyone very well knows, we did find it,” Molefrost concluded, tail flicking. “Thank goodness for that. I don’t think ForestClan or TreeClan would’ve lasted much longer.”
The rest of the warriors nodded, while I reflected. It was obvious that they wanted to help the Clan in any way possible. They would do anything for them. They also – most certainly – did not want to let them down. So, with all of that considered, I responded.
“Well, why did you want to go back to your Clans then? You want them to do well. You don’t want them to fail. Going back means we’ve failed. We need to finish this first – now, and together.”
All six warriors stared for a moment, and then – gradually – they all nodded. “You’re right,” I heard Waterfall breathe, her voice soft. “We can’t give up now. I know it’s hard, but we have to continue.”
There was hesitation from the rest of the warriors, but eventually they all agreed. “Waterfall is right. We can’t let our Clans down,” Gorsetuft mewed. “Let’s go.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Well, thank goodness for that. “Let’s go, then,” I mewed, flicking my tail. The rest of the cats followed me as we left the border, and I looked up at the sky as we moved away. There was no denying that this was hard for everyone. However, I knew that it was getting to breaking point.
We have to find the Gathering place soon… after all, it’s only going to get harder.