A Midnight Meeting
Tigerheart patiently waited for Dovewing at the Thunderclan-Shadowclan border near the twolegplace. They had been meeting here during the night for moons now. Dovewing was never this late.
"Tigerheart." Dovewing cautiously padded out from behind a towering maple tree, an anxious aura about her. She walked slowly, as if she were ashamed of herself, until she met him. Tigerheart decided to cut to the chase.
"Tigerheart, I have a problem. A big problem." Dovewing let out a heavy sigh and sat down next to a patch of clover.
"Just tell me, Dove," Tigerheart mewed as he settled down next to her. Dovewing sighed again.
"Tigerheart, I'm expecting kits." Her eyes watered a little bit, and she blinked a couple times. Tigerheart's eyes brightened, his ears perked up, and he scooted himself a little closer to Dovewing.
"Dovewing, that's great!" Tigerheart congratulated her, wrapping his tail around her.
"No, it's not, it's the opposite of great! It's terrible is what it is! You know what happened to Hollyleaf!" Dovewing continued on, breaking away from Tigerheart. "The warrior code meant everything to her. And when she found out that her mother broke the medicine cat code and the warrior code, it was all she could do to keep from going mad. What if our kits are like that?"
"Dovewing, there have been half clan cats before. What about Stormfur and Feathertail? What about Mistystar and Stonefur?" Tigerheart's voice grew softened as he continued. "What about me and my littermates?"
"I know." Dovewing closed her eyes.
"Dovewing, you don't have to tell the clan who the father is. Everyone will understand if you don't want them to know." Dovewing lowered her voice.
"Tigerheart, our medicine cat can read minds! You know that. It's not like I can just avoid him for the rest of my life."
"Oh. Yeah." Tigerheart mewed, realizing what a problem that would create. "I guess it's just up to him then. But whatever happens, remember, I will always be there for you. He gently nuzzled Dovewing. "I have to go now. I have battle training in the morning, and you need your rest." He then scampered away, nimbly leaping over rocks and underbrush. Dovewing hung her head and walked away dejectedly.
"Great hunt, Dovewing!" Bumblestripe declared, mouth full of blackbird. "I don't think I've ever seen a cat jump as high as when you caught that sparrow."
"Yeah, thanks," Dovewing mumbled, not really listening to him. It had been good hunt- the freshkill pile looked well stocked, even for greenleaf. But though she seemed absorbed with catching prey on the outside, on the inside she was somewhere else. She, Bumblestripe, and Birchfall, the hunting patrol, were now gathered around the freshkill pile, talking and eating while waiting for their next orders.
"Dovewing!" Bumblestripe flicked her nose with his tail. "Jayfeather!" She looked up, her train of thought interrupted. And there was Jayfeather, standing a little outside the enterance to the medicine den.
"Dovewing! Come here!" He yowled, twitching his tail impatiently. Dovewing finished her wood mouse in a couple quick bites and moseyed over to the medicine den, dreading what Jayfeather was going to say.
"I need to talk to you. Come on in." Prepared for the worst, Dovewing followed him. On the right side of his den, herbs were stored on natural shelves that were built into the rock. On the left was a pool of water with a constant drip from up above, and behind that was a little room that had was heavily carpeted with moss and feathers that served as Jayfeather's nest. It was big enough to serve as a nest for up to two other cats, if they were sick. At the back of the den was Briarlight's currently unoccupied nest.
Jayfeather led Dovewing around the water pool behind his nest into an empty stone section. Dovewing gussed this was where he talked to cats.
"I know, I know! I shouldn't have kits with cats from different clans!" Dovewing exploded. "I don't know why we even have that rule! It's stupid! If cats from different clans can be friends, why not mates? Besides," she added wryly, her tail lashing back and forth, "It's not like half-clan cats are all that rare these days."
"What!?" Jayfeather hissed. "You're one of the four! You shouldn't even have kits right now! Let alone kits from another clan!"
"And why shouldn't I?" Dovewing challenged. "We're not "the four" anymore! The final battle is over. The prophecy was fulfilled! We aren't connected now!"
Jayfeather's eyes narrowed into slits. "Yes. The final battle is over. Firestar is dead, along with countless other cats. We're right in the middle of rebuilding the clans. You realize if won't sound good if one of the four cats in an ancient prophesy that saved the clans goes and breaks the warrior code, don't you?"
"But-" Dovewing started, worry in her eyes.
"Whatever. That's not my problem. I was going to ask you to help Briarlight with some swim therapy at the lake. But it looks like you had something else in mind when I asked you to talk to me."
Jayfeather's body language screamed fury, but his voice was no calm. "She knows her exercises. Just make sure she doesn't drown. She's over talking to Purdy if you'll go and get her." His eyes followed Dovewing out of the medicine den.
What have I done? Dovewing asked herself as she padded away.
The Two Sisters
Ivypool was up before every other cat. It was still dark out. In the crowded warriors den, cats were almost sharing nests. We need to make a new den, or at least expand this one, she thought grumpily, edging away from Berrynose only to bump into Rainwhisker. How do I wake up Dovewing, all the way across the den, without disturbing the others? Ivypool slowly got up- one paw at a time. Tiptoeing between cats, she managed to make it over to Dovewing without waking anyone else.
“Dovewing! Wake up!” She whispered, prodding her with a paw. Dovewing yawned loudly and stretched, pushing away Bumblestripe.
“Shh! Don’t wake anyone else up!” Ivypool whispered anxiously, looking for signs of stirring cats. Luckily, there were none. Dovewing sat up and blinked a few times to awaken her eyes.
“What is it?” Dovewing questioned.
“I need to talk to you,” Ivypool explained. “Follow me out of the warriors den.” The two sisters tiptoed past the sleeping warriors, careful not to step on tails or trip over bodies. Once outside, Ivypool motioned for Dovewing to exit camp.
“Just so we’re not overheard,” Ivypool whispered as an explanation. They stopped at the birch tree right outside the clan entrance. Ivypool sat down, and Dovewing joined her.
“Dovewing,” Ivypool began, “Yesterday Jayfeather told me to go gather some comfrey. He said there was a big clump of it at the Shadowclan border, by the rabbit burrow. There was. I picked some and headed back to camp.” Dovewing flinched, understanding where this was going.
“As I was about to give it to him, I heard part of your conversation. I just want to know, if you knew you were expecting half-clan kits, why didn’t you tell me?” Ivypool asked. “You know you can tell me anything,” she added gently.
“I guess I was worried. Worried that no one would… accept me after they found out. Even you.”
“Well… you should have known better. Think of all the mothers of half-clan kits there have been! Bluestar lived a normal life. So did Gorsetail. Leafpool broke two codes, and she still has friends. You’ll be just like them.” Dovewing sighed.
“Thanks Ivypool. That really helped. More than what Tigerheart said, Dovewing thought.
“Will the father be Tigerheart?” inquired Ivypool
“Yes. And this is just between us. No other cat can know, okay?”
“You didn’t have to tell me.”
“Hey, Dovewing!” Poppyfrost called out, padding over to her. It was early newleaf, and Dovewing’s belly was growing more noticeable every week. Cats were lounging about the camp, sharing tounges and basking in the sun.
“Hi, Hollyleaf!” Dovewing replied, sitting up. “Did you hear about Dustpelt’s hunting accident?”
“Yeah, can you believe it? Wrenching your leg in pursuit of a blackbird!”
“I hope he’ll be okay. But I think he might be joining the elders den soon. He’s certainly not young anymore.”
“And neither are you, by the looks of it- but not in the same way. Are you expecting kits?” Flustered, Dovewing didn’t know what to say.
“Er, um, well, yes, but don’t tell anyone,” Dovewing said lamely.
“Well, to be honest with you Dovewing, I think everyone already knows,” Poppyfrost said, smiling and flicking Dovewing’s ear playfully with her tail. She then walked away to talk to Sandstorm. How many cats know I’m expecting kits? Dovewing asked herself. Whitewing, the deputy? Spiderleg, the newest elder? What have I gotten myself into, Dovewing asked herself for the hundredth time. She padded over to Ivypool.
"Hey, Ivypool, do you want to go gather some herbs for Jayfeather with me?" Dovewing asked her, her voice forcibly cheerful.
"Sure," said Ivypool, seeing that she wanted to talk. Besides, she knew that Jayfeather needed mint anyway. "Whitewing, may Dovewing and I go collect herbs for Jayfeather"
"Sure, if he needs them." Ivypool nodded to the deputy and flicked her tail for Dovewing to follow her into the forest.
"Is my belly really so noticeable that Poppyfrost is spreading rumors of my kitting?" asked Dovewing angrily.
"Well, no. It's noticeable enough that everyone already knows about your kitting," she said. "I think you shouldn't deny it. It might look suspicious. Like I said before, everyone will understand if you don't want to share who the father is."
"Okay, thanks Ivypool."
"The mint clump is over there just a ways. I think that after we deliver it to Jayfeather you should have him check up on you. Like I said, you're close to kitting, and he needs to make sure everything's going okay."
Dovewing relaxed herself in the nursery. Jayfeather said that her kits were coming along fine. Everything was normal- except for the sheer number of the kits. While most queens had two or three- four at most- Dovewing was expecting seven. Seven! Jayfeather had warned her that she might not have enough milk for all of them. But if she started taking borage supplements now, it would be better. Cinderheart, the other queen, would probably be able to help her too. She was on a walk.
"Hey Dovewing, how are you doing?" asked Ivypool, stepping inside the nursery. It was built under a clump of thick bramble bushes. A hollow had been dug out underneath of them, and most of the inside of the bush was cleared out. The outer bush was reinforced with thick roots and large leaves, making it waterproof. With moss and sheep's wool added in the nests, the nursery was a cozy place for the queens to relax and the kits to play.
"I'm fine," Dovewing purred. "It's really nice here in the nursery. The moss is extra soft, and it's really shady and cool."
"I'm glad," Ivypool purred back. "I'm sure your kits will love it. It looks like they'll be coming soon," she added with a glance at her belly.
"I'm so excited! But," she said in a quieter tone, "I'm also nervous. Won't the kits want to know who their father is?"
"They might," Ivypool replied, "But they might not. Being fatherless will be the only think they'll have ever known."
"I guess your right," Dovewing sighed.
"I'm sure they will all grow up to be happy, healthy apprentices," said Ivypool, determinedly cheerful.
"You're probably right. I think I'll get some rest now. I've been really tired lately," Said Dovewing as Cinderheart returned to the nursery.
"Did you hear about how the evening patrol yesterday found Riverclan scents across the border?" Dovewing asked Cinderheart, stretching out in her nest.
"Yeah. How can they even think that the halfbridge is theirs? It's clearly in our territory," she said. "Besides, it's not like they need the extra prey. At this time of year they'll be overfed on fish!"
"We'll show them," Dovewing growled. She then felt a wave of pain that surged through her her belly all the way to her hips.
"Go get Jayfeather!" she gasped as the pain wave ended. But Cinderheart was already running.
All of Dovewing's problems ran through her head as the next pain wave came, along with new ones. What if the kits looked like Tigerheart? What if they wanted their father? What if I can't stand the pain? What if there isn't enough milk for all of them?
Jayfeather came rushing in with a bundle of herbs. "Cinderheart, fetch a strong stick. Ivypool, get some wet moss." Ivypool had heard the screeching and rushed over right after Jayfeather. "Here, eat these," Jayfeather said, easing the herbs into Dovewing's mouth. Ivypool arrived with the wet moss."Have a drink. It will help the herbs go down," Jayfeather urged her. After that, there was pain, worse than before. Dovewing let out a wail and started to push the first kit out. Minutes later, the dark-brown she-kit was licked clean and nursing.
What seemed like a lifetime later, seven healthy kits were nursing an exhausted Dovewing: A dark brown tabby she-kit, a light brown tabby she-kit, a white she-kit, a grey she-kit, a tortoise-shell she-kit, a pale ginger tom, and a dark ginger tom.
"You'll have a fun time naming all those," said Cinderheart softly.
Hopekit, Leafkit, Twokit, Newkit, Poolkit, Shinekit, and Rainkit were all 2 moons old and rambunctious as ever. Hopekit was giving Leafkit a “hunting lesson” next to a clump of grass right outside the entrance to the nursery, Shinekit and Twokit were play fighting over a beetle they had caught; Poolkit and Rainkit were boasting to the elders of what great warriors they’d be, and Newkit was napping with Dovewing.
Bramblestar sat on a rock ledge, contentedly surveying his clan. The small cave that was the medicine den was well hidden by a leafy fern on the far left; the apprentice den was of the same build and spacy; his den was at the back of camp; the elder’s den was the strongest and in the far left corner, the warriors were situated next to the entrance, and the most protected den, the nursery, was in perfect condition. But his eyes stopped there- a problem that had been bothering him for moons came up. Who was Dovewing’s mate? The proud father would usually spend as much time with his kits as possible, playing with them when the queen got tired and bonding with them at every chance. But these kits had no father, and the tireless Dovewing mothered every single one of them by herself.
Bramblestar tried to shake the problem off, telling himself that Dovewing had it all covered, but he knew she didn't. Though she always tried to appear bright and energetic to her kits, the lack of sleep was showing in her eyes. And seven kits, plus the four that Rosepetal had and Hazeltail's two, would mean thirteen extra mouths to feed. Thirteen hungry, helpless mouths. Well, the two would be warriors soon enough. But what in the meantime?
"Graystripe," Bramblestar called. He appeared from behind the freshkill pile, a sparrow in his jaws. All that remained was a scrawny squirrel and a sorry looking shrew. "Assign cats to attend the gathering. I have to go think in my den." Graystripe simply nodded and ran off to the warriors den. Bramblestar retreated.
Bramblestar led the party assigned to attend the gathering. Willowriver, a new apprentice, practically bounced her way out of the camp. Her mentor, Leopardclaw, rolled her eyes good-naturedly. Dovewing followed at the back of the group. She was unsure of how the other clans would judge her. Nervous of seeing Tigerheart again. And worst of all, without Ivypool. Why did I agree to come? She thought in regret. As the clan neared the island, something seemed off. Was it too quiet? Too still? Or maybe it was just because she hadn't gone to a gathering in so long. Dovewing shook it off, although she wasn't the only one who seemed uneasy. They walked across the bridge to the island, the gathering place. Shadowclan was waiting there, obviously annoyed and agitated.
"Where are Riverclan and Windclan?" snapped Blackstar, already waiting on the branch where only the leaders were allowed.
"I have no idea. This has never happened before," mused Bramblestar anxiously. "We definitely aren't early, and no clan would dare show up late. They must be doing something else... something more important than the gathering..." A look of fear struck his face. "We have to get back to camp. NOW!"
"Follow me! Hurry!" yowled Nightstar, to scared to worry about taking orders from another clan. The cats rushed back across the natural bridge as fast as they could, fed by adrenaline. Dovewing wasn't in prime condition from caring for her kits day and night, and felt her hear burn and her muscles clench as she raced to catch up with her clanmates. But Dovewing didn't see her clanmates. She didn't see them, or Shadowclan, or the forest, or anything, really. All she saw were her seven precious kits waiting vulnerable at the camp. No time, no energy to think about anything else. The more you have on your mind, the more room there is for mistake. And a mistake on Dovewing's part could be deadly.
Past the trees and bushes, past the grasses and the clearings, past the trees again that gave slight cover to the camp, and into the camp. A mixture of Riverclan and Windclan warriors were fighting the few Thunderclan warriors who had stayed behind. The Windclan cats, usually scrawny and frail this time of year, were surprisingly well muscled and sleek as the Riverclan cats. Bramblestar jumped into the battle with a yowl that would cause chills, and others followed suit. Dovewing rushes towards the nursery, ignoring her clanmates. As she tore through the entrance, she found her worst nightmare.
A large, grey, sinewy tom stood in front of her cowering kits. They were pressed together so closely it was hard to count them.
"If you want your kits to live," he spat, "You'll run away before I get to three. One." He smiled wickedly. Dovewing stood frozen. Her one mission was having a conflict. "Two." Dovewing threw herself at the tom. She feinted and nimbly sidestepped before lunging at his lower back, claws unsheathed. They sunk into flesh, and she savagely ripped them out at an angle to tear flesh. The tom yowled in pain and fought with a new stamina as her kits sat frigid in the corner. The tom managed to pin Dovewing down and lunged at her throat with the intent to kill. With an amazing surge of strength, she twisted beneath him so the bite landed on her right shoulder blade instead. She ignored the crippling pain and twisted again, this time aiming her claws towards his belly. They sunk in deep through his matted fur, and she twisted them in deeper before withdrawing her blood-stained paws. The tom raked his claw across Dovewing's face, catching the corner of her eye and leaving four red streaks. Dovewing went for the killing bite. She didn't miss. The exhausted Tom dropped to the ground with a thump, his mangled fur stained red.
Dovewing feebly limped towards her kits, collapsing at the ground before them as the pain hit her in full force. Battle was clearly continuing outside of the nursery.
"Kits," Dovewing gasped. Her vision was hazy. The sounds were distorted. Yowling in pain, crying kits, scratches, bites, wails of misery and grievance. Tigerheart meeting her for the first time, Jayfeather's disgust at her pregnancy, the pains of kitting, the pains of having no mate to help her out. The pains of having no father for her kits. The gray tom, his grotesquely maimed body rotating slowly in the air. The killing bite. Her kits. Her kits. It was like the worst dream she'd ever had, with despair and torture and murder. And her kits. Her kits never left.