"Cinderpaw? Cinderpaw, are you listening to me?"
Cinderpaw looked up with a start to see that her mentor, Yellowfang, was glaring at her irritably.
"Huh? Oh, s-sorry, Yellowfang." Cinderpaw stepped back in embarrassment.
But Yellowfang just shook her head in exasperation, letting out an annoyed sigh as she looked back up at her apprentice.
"That's the third time I've asked you to take juniper berries to Mousefur." She snarled, lashing her tail. "What's going on with you today? Is something wrong?"
But Cinderpaw just shook her head vigorously. "No, Yellowfang. I'm fine."
But Yellowfang continued to eye her apprentice suspiciously, her orange eyes narrowed to slits. But finally, the old medicine cat flicked her tail in consent.
"If you insist...." She growled.
Cinderpaw ducked her head, then padded over to the store of herbs that Yellowfang kept in their den and began to search for some juniper berries to take to Mousefur. But after poking her nose through the various sweet-smelling herbs, Cinderpaw turned back to face her mentor.
"I think we're all out, Yellowfang." She stepped back so that her mentor could take a look.
"What?" Yellowfang pushed past Cinderpaw and began searching through the store for the missing herb.
"Argh...." Yellowfang let out an annoyed growl, then turned back to face Cinderpaw.
"I think you're right." She meowed with a sigh.
But Cinderpaw just nudged her mentor affectionately.
"I could go collect some more if you'd like." She offered gently.
Yellowfang looked up at her apprentice, her eyes brimming with appreciation.
"Oh, would you? I think there's some by the-" Suddenly, she stopped and twitched her whiskers.
"But your leg...." She meowed, eying Cinderpaw's bad leg doubtfully.
Cinderpaw lashed her tail. "Please, Yellowfang! I'll be fine, really! I need to get out of camp anyway."
Yellowfang flashed her one last reproachful glance, then nodded.
"But only if you take a warrior with you." She added, after hearing Cinderpaw's delighted purr. "It's dangerous out there."
Cinderpaw's heart nearly leaped out of her chest. Fireheart!
"Of course, Yellowfang." She meowed out loud, resting her tail reassuringly on her mentor's shoulder.
Yellowfang snorted. "Well, get on with it then." She mewed, gently pulling away from Cinderpaw. "You haven't got all day."
Cinderpaw nodded eagerly, then turned away, bounding towards the fern tunnel with her tail held high. When she emerged into the clearing, the camp was bustling with activity. Bluestar, leader of ThunderClan, was talking with her deputy, Tigerclaw, beneath the Highrock. The two cats had their heads together, and were talking in low voices. Cinderpaw shrugged. Turning her gaze away from them, she searched the clearing for a certain flame-colored coat. There! But Cinderpaw's heart sank when she saw that Fireheart was sharing prey with Sandstorm. Sandstorm! Cinderpaw nearly turned away again, but determination overcame frustration, and she turned back and padded over to the two cats. As she approached, Sandstorm narrowed her eyes, but Fireheart looked up and flicked his tail in greeting.
"Hello, Cinderpaw." He meowed. "What can we do for you today?"
With a wary glance at Sandstorm, Cinderpaw sat down next to Fireheart and wrapped her tail around her paws.
"Hello, Fireheart. Hello, Sandstorm." She dipped her head to the ginger she-cat. "Yellowfang just needs me to go and collect some herbs for her." She flicked her tail at the fern tunnel.
Sandstorm snorted. "And why are you bothering to tell us that?" She mewed tartly, twitching her whiskers.
Cinderpaw bristled. "I was getting to that."
Sandstorm hissed and deliberately turned away.
Cinderpaw glanced at her doubtfully.
"Anyway, I need a warrior to go with me." She turned and fixed her brilliant, blue gaze on Fireheart. "And I was wondering if you'd like to come."
Oh, Fireheart. Please come with me. Just you and me. Away from that stupid Sandstorm....
Fireheart swiped his tongue around his jaws. "Sure." He meowed.
Rising to his paws, he added, "I need to get out of camp anyway."
But before he could continue, Sandstorm leaped to her paws, her tail spiked up with rage.
"What!?" She hissed, glaring at him. "You want to go with her, and not stay with me?"
Sandstorm shot Cinderpaw a nasty glare, then turned back to Fireheart, a look of hurt in her glittering, green eyes.
Cinderpaw lashed her tail. Faker!
But Fireheart was genuinely convinced by Sandstorm's act, and gently rested his tail on her shoulder.
"That's not it at all...." He began, but Sandstorm deliberately turned away, her tail held high.
"Fine, Fireheart. Fine." She meowed. "Go with her, then. Play favorites."
"No, wait! Sandstorm!" Brushing past Cinderpaw, Fireheart shot after the ginger she-cat.
Cinderpaw's tail drooped.
She looked down at her paws. She could hear him talking to Sandstorm in an urgent voice, but the ginger she-cat kept retaliating with accusations against the flame-colored warrior.
"You're lying, admit it! You never wanted to be with me anyway." She turned away again.
Fireheart watched her go, then, sighing, turned back to face Cinderpaw. For a moment, hope flared in Cinderpaw's chest.
But the high-flying feelings were crushed as Fireheart padded back up to her, an annoyed look in his green eyes.
"Cinderpaw," He snarled. "Why do you always have to start these rifts?"
Cinderpaw was dumbfounded.
"Sandstorm is so sensitive." He continued.
Right. Cinderpaw twitched her whiskers in annoyance.
"And you should understand that." With an angry snort, Fireheart turned away. "You can find another warrior to gather herbs with."
Cinderpaw's heart ached as she watched him pad away.
"Oh, Fireheart." She whispered. "Are you really so blind to my feelings?"
"Are you sure you don't need any help?"
Cinderpaw gritted her teeth. "I'm fine, thank you."
So much for having a good time collecting herbs. She thought irritably.
She had asked Graystripe to come with her. But for all the gray warrior's good intentions, he was just being a nuisance. She turned back to face him, her blue eyes softening.
"I really do appreciate your coming out though, Graystripe." She forced a purr. "Thank you."
The gray tom looked surprised, but dipped his head in acceptance.
"It's no problem." He mumbled.
Looking up again, he meowed, "But, Cinderpaw, seriously. Are you sure you don't need any help?"
Cinderpaw was tempted to bite his tail off. But she merely shook her head. "You don't need to worry about me, Graystripe." She tried to sound reassuring. "I've done this many times before."
Graystripe nodded, and Cinderpaw turned back to the pile of juniper berries she had collected.
"Maybe I should pick up some marigold on the way back." She mumbled to herself, sorting through the herbs.
"What was that?" Graystripe pricked his ears.
Cinderpaw stifled a sigh.
"I was just talking to myself." She mewed, gathering the berries onto a holly leaf.
"Oh." Graystripe was silent for a moment, then he slowly rose to his paws.
Cinderpaw looked up.
"Are you sure you don't need any help?"
"Oh, thank you so much, Cinderpaw!"
Yellowfang brushed her muzzle up against Cinderpaw's. "I hope it wasn't too much trouble."
Cinderpaw dropped the leaf wrap at Yellowfang's paws and flicked her tail.
"It was no biggie." Her blue eyes gleamed.
Yellowfang bent her head and sniffed at the herbs. "Good, good...." She mumbled, continuing to nose through the small pile.
Looking back up again, she flicked her tail at Cinderpaw.
"How about you go and fetch Bluestar a piece of fresh-kill? I'm sure she'd appreciate it."
Cinderpaw nodded, then dashed off towards the fern tunnel. But on her way through, she cannoned into another cat who was coming from the opposite direction.
"Sorry!" Cinderpaw took a step backwards, then went hot with embarrassment.
Fireheart flicked his tail.
"It's okay." Looking more serious, he added, "I just wanted to come and apologize to you....for earlier."
Cinderpaw blinked in surprise. "Oh, uh...." She couldn't find the right words to say.
Fireheart beckoned to her with his tail. "How about we go and sit by the nettle patch?"
Cinderpaw hesitated. "Won't Sandstorm be upset?"
Fireheart's whiskers twitched.
"She can tread on her own tail if she tries to stop me from talking to you!"
Warmth spread through Cinderpaw as she followed the flame-colored warrior to a patch of sunlight by the nettle patch. She settled down across from him and tucked her paws underneath her.
Fireheart's green eyes bore into hers as he meowed, "I'm really sorry, Cinderpaw."
Cinderpaw knew he meant it.
"Sandstorm is just more sensitive than you, which is why I chose to follow her. It has nothing to do with favorites."
There was a long silence, then Cinderpaw nodded.
"I understand, Fireheart." She murmured. Her blue eyes glazed over with sadness as she continued, "I know medicine cat's aren't allowed to have kits, and I'm sorry for making this difficult for you. I've always wanted to be with you, ever since I became your apprentice, and....I'm sorry."
She trailed off, staring down at her paws.
"Wha-what?" Fireheart looked bewildered. "What in StarClan's name are you talking about, Cinderpaw?"
Cinderpaw looked up sharply, realizing too late the extent of what she had just said to him. She had just revealed her deepest, darkest secret; she had told Fireheart that she loved him!
"Er, I'm just talking about, uh." I'm in trouble. "About, about being your apprentice. Ever since I was apprenticed to you I've always wanted to spend time with you."
But Fireheart seemed to accept her words and nodded.
Looking back up again, he meowed, "But what was that about kits?"
Cinderpaw snorted. "Kits? What are you talking about, Fireheart?"
But before he could reply, she scrambled to her paws.
"Yeah, well, sorry to bail on you, but Yellowfang just asked me to take some fresh-kill to Bluestar, so, um, I'll see ya' later, okay?"
Without waiting for an answer, she dashed off, leaving Fireheart to stare after her.
"How could I be so stupid?" She snarled at herself as she trotted over to the fresh-kill pile. "It was so involuntary....as if I had to tell him what I was feeling...."
Shaking off her troubled thoughts, she grabbed a thrush from the pile and trotted over to Bluestar's den. She set down the thrush, then called in to Bluestar. When the ThunderClan leader gave her permission, Cinderpaw slipped into the den, the thrush clamped firmly between her teeth. Bluestar was just visible in the darkness, a pale gray shape lying at the back of the den.
"Greetings, Cinderpaw." The ThunderClan leader waved her tail in welcome. "Is there something I can do for you?"
Cinderpaw set the thrush down and pushed it towards Bluestar.
"Yellowfang just told me to bring you something to eat." Cinderpaw meowed politely. "It's been a long day."
Bluestar nodded, sighing. "I know."
She reached out and pawed the thrush forward. She gave it a sniff, then took a bite. Looking back up again, she blinked gratefully.
"Thank you, Cinderpaw. Give Yellowfang my thanks as well."
Cinderpaw dipped her head, then slipped out of the den. As she emerged into the sunlight, she saw Fireheart still sitting beside the nettle patch. His flame-colored fur glowed in the sunlight. When he saw her, he rose to his paws and began padding towards her, but Cinderpaw pretended not to notice, and limped as fast as she could toward the fern tunnel.
Don't call out to me! Don't call out to me!
She slipped through the ferns and was gone.
Fireheart crashed into Cinderpaw as she padded through the gorse tunnel. She let out a meow of protest and scattered the herbs she had been carrying. Her whiskers twitched with annoyance.
Fireheart's eyes were filled with a wild light, and Cinderpaw's belly clenched with fear.
Swallowing, she repeated, "Yellowfang?"
She tried to keep her voice from shaking as she continued, "She went over to Snakerocks. It's the best place to find yarrow."
Now why'd you say that? Does Fireheart really care about yarrow?
"What's the matter?" Cinderpaw pressed.
Fireheart gulped. "There's a cat, Silverstream, by the Sunningrocks. She's having her kits, but something's gone wrong."
Cinderpaw took a sharp intake of breath.
"Oh, StarClan, help her!"
Her legs began to wobble.
Getting control of herself, she meowed, "I'll come. Wait there; I need to fetch supplies."
She whirled around and vanished into the tunnel.
As she emerged into the clearing, she saw her brother, Brackenfur, basking himself outside the warriors' den.
When the golden-brown tom looked up, she signaled urgently to him with her tail.
"There's no time to explain." She hissed as he came up beside her. "Go and fetch Yellowfang. She's at Snakerocks. And hurry! I'll be at Sunningrocks."
Without waiting for an answer, she spun around and began hurrying toward the fern tunnel. But her bad leg was slowing her down.
"Fox dung!" She spat as she pushed through the tunnel. "This stupid leg."
She hurried into her den and began gathering as many herbs as possible.
"Cobwebs, poppy seeds...."
She gathered all the herbs into a small leaf wrap, picked it up in her jaws, then stumbled towards the den entrance. When she had gone back through the gorse tunnel, she saw Fireheart outside, kneading the ground impatiently with his front paws. She signaled with her tail for him to lead the way, then limped after him as fast as she could. The going was slow, and Cinderpaw could see the frustration in Fireheart's green eyes as she tried her hardest to go faster.
Think of Silverstream. She ordered herself.
Limping faster and faster, she followed Fireheart as he wove between the trees, glancing over his shoulder every few seconds to see that she was keeping up. When the duo neared Sunningrocks, Fireheart bounded ahead of Cinderpaw and raced to the top of a rock, looking down into a gully. Cinderpaw followed as fast as she could, her paws aching from the effort of hurrying, and slipped down into the gully. As she peered around, she finally caught sight of Silverstream. The silver tabby was lying on her side, with Graystripe crouched over her, her mouth wide open in a silent wail of distress. Cinderpaw hurried to her side and set her herbs down next to the pregnant queen. Silverstream let out a wimper, and Cinderpaw rested her paw on Silverstream's heaving flank.
"Steady, Silverstream." She murmured. "It'll be over soon. Just push a little harder."
The silver tabby let out another feeble wimper as she pushed with all her strength. But the spasms shaking her body were weakening her. "Come on, Silverstream." Cinderpaw whispered, running her tail down Silverstream's flank. The tabby queen gave another strong push, hissing in pain, and a moment later, a small, dark gray tom slid out onto the grass. Cinderpaw sniffed him, to make sure he was alive, then picked him up by his scruff.
"Fireheart!" She called, setting the kit down. "Get down here, I need you!"
A moment later, the flame-colored warrior was at her side. He stared down at the kit.
"Is it dead?"
"No!" Cinderpaw snapped, her patience wearing away. "Lick, Fireheart! Make it warm, get its blood flowing!"
Without waiting for an answer, she turned back around, meowing reassuringly to Silverstream.
"Is she going to be alright?" Graystripe asked anxiously.
His thick, gray tail was spiked up with terror.
He must be the father.
Cinderpaw didn't answer, not even sure if she knew the answer, then continued to reassure Silverstream with comforting words.
Suddenly, she heard an exclamation from behind her. "It's alive!"
"Told you!" She called to Fireheart over her shoulder. "There's another one coming, any moment now. That's right, Silverstream," She turned back to face the silver tabby. "You're doing fine."
The RiverClan queen's body spasmed again, and her eyes widened with pain.
"Don't worry, my love." Graystripe whispered from beside Cinderpaw. "It'll be over soon."
Graystripe glanced at Cinderpaw. She knew that he was relying on her. Taking a deep breath, she whispered encouragement into Silverstream's ear, and the silver queen let out another powerful push, wailing in agony, and another kit slipped out onto the grass, her silver tabby fur plastered to her body. Cinderpaw let out a yowl of triumph.
"You've done it, Silverstream!"
She picked up the little kit, and turned around. She was surprised to see that Tigerclaw had come down into the gully, but wasted no time in setting the kit down in front of him.
She turned back around, but Tigerclaw glared at her.
"I'm not a medicine cat." He snarled.
Cinderpaw rounded on him, her blue eyes blazing with fury.
"You've got a tongue, haven't you?" She hissed. "Lick, you useless lump of fur. Do you want the kit to die?"
Tigerclaw's nostrils flared, but he bent his head obediently and licked the kit. Satisfied, Cinderpaw turned back around. She pawed at one of the herbs in her leaf wrap and put it to Silverstream's mouth.
"You need to swallow this." She mewed gently.
But the queen only moaned. Turning to Graystripe, Cinderpaw handed him the herb.
"Here, Graystripe, make her eat as much as she can. We've got to stop the bleeding."
But Silverstream refused to eat the herb, and instead let out a wail of pain.
"Hold on, Silverstream!" Cinderpaw's meow rose in desperation, and Graystripe's eyes were wild with fear as he yowled, "Silverstream!"
Cinderpaw watched helplessly, barely aware of Fireheart at her side, as the silver tabby feebly rose her head and licked Graystripe's cheek.
"Good-bye, Graystripe." She whispered. "I love you. Take care of our kits."
Then Silverstream's body gave a massive shudder, her head fell back onto the grass, her paws jerked, and she was still.
"No, Silverstream, no." Cinderpaw could barely hear Graystripe's soft mew.
"Don't go. Don't leave me." He bent over her limp body and nuzzled her gently. "Silverstream." He suddenly reared up, his wails of grief splitting the quiet air. "Silverstream!"
Cinderpaw's eyes were wide with horror as she gently nudged at Silverstream's body. But she finally admitted defeat, sitting up and staring out into the forest.
I love you, Graystripe. Take care of our kits. Silverstream's final words echoed in Cinderpaw's head.
Silverstream, no! Graystripe's yowl pierced at her heart, sending a shiver up her spine.
"No." Cinderpaw's eyes were dull and full of anguish.
Lost in her own thoughts, she hadn't heard Fireheart approach.
"Cinderpaw, the kits are safe." He murmured, gently nuzzling her.
She slowly turned to look at him.
"But their mother is dead." Her whisper was hoarse, and she saw the fear in Fireheart's eyes deepen as she continued, "I lost her, Fireheart."
Her throat tightened.
"It's all my fault...."
"Thank you for nursing them, Goldenflower." Cinderpaw's voice was barely above a whisper as she watched the two kits suckling at their "mother's" belly.
Goldenflower blinked warmly at Cinderpaw, then turned her gaze back to the kits.
"How could I turn them away?" She purred. "They're so precious."
Cinderpaw stared down blankly at the two kits. The dark gray tom looked a lot like his father, but the tabby....
Tears threatened to burst down Cinderpaw's face. The silver tabby looked exactly like her mother.
"You're right." Cinderpaw forced herself to meow, her voice level and steady. "They're going to make great warriors."
"But they're not Clanborn." Speckletail, another nursing queen, was glaring at the kits through narrowed eyes.
Cinderpaw stiffened. "It doesn't matter to me where a kit gulps its first breath." She meowed patiently. "Or who its parents are. Who are we to judge them anyway?"
Speckletail hissed and turned away.
Cinderpaw ignored her. There was no good reason to be nice to Speckletail if she wasn't willing to accept two helpless kits who had no mother. No mother....
"Quiet, Speckletail!" Goldenflower spat, her eyes blazing.
Cinderpaw was surprised at the passion in Goldenflower's voice. Maybe she understands....
For a moment, there was pure silence. No cat said a word. Not even the kits made a sound. Finally, Cinderpaw rose to her paws. She dipped her head to the two queens, then slipped out of the nursery.
"Graystripe mated with a RiverClan cat?" Yellowfang's eyes widened in amazement.
Cinderpaw stared down at her paws, misery threatening to sweep her over, and Fireheart rested his tail reassuringly on her quivering flank. Yellowfang shook herself, and Cinderpaw knew that she was reminding herself of the situation at hand. The old medicine cat came over and gently licked Cinderpaw's ear.
"You did the best you could." She murmured. "You shouldn't expect any more of yourself."
But Cinderpaw looked back up at her, her eyes two pools of grief.
"But I lost her, Yellowfang." She croaked, her throat tightening as she tried to hold back tears. "And I know for a fact that you wouldn't have."
Her eyes glued back down to her paws, and a faint whimper rose in her throat.
"But you saved the kits." Fireheart's gentle voice soothed her, his warm breath tickling the fur on her ear.
She was grateful for his presence. She leaned up against his flank, drinking in his familiar scent. She felt a ripple of surprise go through the young warrior, but he embraced her, rasping his tongue over her ear.
"If only I could've done more...." She whispered.
"Rogues!" Tigerclaw's voice echoed across the clearing. "Warriors, to me!"
Cinderpaw poked her head out of the fern tunnel and saw Tigerclaw facing the camp's entrance with his lips curled back in a snarl and his dark tabby fur bristling with rage.
"Rogues?" That was the last thing Cinderpaw had expected. If anyone should attack us, it should be RiverClan. She thought bitterly. Since I killed Silverstream.
"What's going on?" Yellowfang padded up to Cinderpaw's side, and was just in time to see a stream of rogues shoot through the gorse tunnel, their faces distorted with rage, and their eyes wild with the light of battle.
Cinderpaw's jaw dropped open. "Great StarClan, no!"
Cinderpaw saw Yellowfang's eyes widen with fear. Turning to Cinderpaw, she hissed, "Get some herbs ready! And fast! I'll make sure none of these filthy rogues get in our den."
Cinderpaw nodded, then turned and limped towards the medicine den. She slipped inside, and began frantically searching for the useful herbs used for battle wounds. But as she searched through the cleft in the rock, she suddenly froze, her blue eyes widening with shock. Bluestar was on her last life!
"Oh, no....oh, no, no, no."
Cinderpaw hurriedly gathered the herbs onto a holly leaf, wrapped it up, scooped it up in her jaws, then hurried back to Yellowfang. The old medicine cat was driving away a skinny, black tom, her teeth bared in a vicious snarl.
Cinderpaw immediately dropped her leaf wrap and hurried over to help her mentor. "Hold on, Yellowfang!"
She tried to leap at the rogue cat, but her injured leg protested feebly, and she stumbled to the ground, hissing with rage. Yellowfang glanced back over her shoulder, then let out a warning snarl.
"Get back, fool!" She snapped. "Do you want to get yourself killed?"
Cinderpaw stumbled backwards, despair and frustration mingling together in her knotted stomach. Why was she so worthless?
Yellowfang slashed her claws across the rogue's face, and he sprinted away, howling in pain. Yellowfang yowled after him. "And don't come back!"
Cinderpaw was crouched farther back in the fern tunnel, her tail lashing with fury. Yellowfang looked down at her frustrated apprentice, and her orange eyes softened with sympathy.
"Don't worry, Cinderpaw." She soothed, her voice unusually gentle. "You have your own duty to your Clan."
Cinderpaw lashed her tail. Her mind was reeling with unpleasant thoughts, but she didn't want to upset her mentor; and especially not at a time like this.
"Yellowfang!" There was a ragged gasp from outside the tunnel, and Cinderpaw saw Whitestorm limping towards the medicine clearing, dragging a limp, ginger-and-white body behind him. Cinderpaw's eyes widened with fear as she recognized the matted fur of her sister, Brightpaw. The medicine cat apprentice grabbed a wad of cobwebs and a marigold leaf, desperate to help her sister, then hurried over to stand beside Yellowfang. Whitestorm set the apprentice down, then shot back into the battle. Yellowfang crouched over the apprentice, searching for any serious wounds. There was a deep slash cut across the apprentice's side, and Cinderpaw's tail lashed in fury. What right did these rogue cats have to charge into the ThunderClan camp and murder all these innocent cats like this?
Cinderpaw limped up to her mentor and pressed the cobwebs to Brightpaw's side. Her voice was hot with fury as she meowed, "Why are these rogues doing this to us?"
Yellowfang didn't answer, only nudged despairingly at Brightpaw's side. Blood was gushing from the wound. Cinderpaw pressed more cobwebs onto the wound. Yellowfang was chewing the marigold leaf into a pulp; when she was through, she spat it onto the apprentice's wound and began spreading it around, making sure it was soaking in to the bloody fur. Cinderpaw watched in silence, continuing to press cobwebs onto the cut.
"If you weren't here, Yellowfang, would Brightpaw die?" Cinderpaw's murmur was too low for Yellowfang to hear. "Would I lose her, like I did Silverstream?"
A shiver ran through Cinderpaw. As she stared down at Brightpaw's limp body, the apprentice's ginger-and-white fur slowly turned to silver, dark tabby stripes rippling across her pelt. Her short fur grew longer, and her body grew narrow and slender. Two smudges appeared at her chest, one dark gray and the other silver. Cinderpaw choked back a cry of horror. "Silverstream!"
Yellowfang looked up with a start. "What?"
"Oh, Silverstream!" Cinderpaw was sobbing now. "It's all my fault! I let you die. I let your kits go motherless!"
"Cinderpaw, what are you doing?" Yellowfang looked scared now.
Cinderpaw's eyes were glazed over as Brightpaw's body twitched. She was immediately yanked back to the present. She stood there a moment, gasping, then looked over at her mentor. Yellowfang looked terrified, her long fur fluffed up with terror. "C-Cinderpaw, are you okay?"
Cinderpaw forced her fur to lie flat. "I...I'm sorry, Yellowfang." She hung her head. Not only was she worthless, unable to fend for herself, but she couldn't let go of the past. And she was breaking the warrior code behind her mentor's back; falling in love with Fireheart! Cinderpaw had never heard a more ridiculous thing in all her life. She almost had a breakdown right then and there. But she forced herself to stay calm. With a determined flick of her tail, she looked up at her mentor. "I'm here, Yellowfang. You can count on me."
"Tigerclaw tried to kill Bluestar?" Cinderpaw could hardly believe it.
But her youngest brother, Thornpaw, was nodding. He looked just as shocked. "Look." He pointed with his tail at the entrance to Bluestar's den.
Cold claws of fear gripped at Cinderpaw's heart as she watched Sandstorm slip out of Bluestar's den, followed by the former ThunderClan deputy, who was stumbling out behind her. Bluestar came next, her head and tail drooping, and then Cinderpaw's oldest brother, Brackenfur, who was trailing the injured deputy with his eyes narrowed in concentration. Last of all came Graystripe. The gray tom was limping, and he collapsed in a heap under the shade of the Highrock as soon as he emerged into the sunlight. Cinderpaw hurried over to him, and sniffed at his wound.
"You'll need to get herbs for that." She meowed, flicking her tail at the long slash cut across his side. Graystripe was too exhausted to reply. "Definitely cobwebs....maybe marigold...." She muttered to herself, but as she continued to examine Graystripe, Bluestar's voice rang out across the clearing.
"Come here, all of you." She rasped, beckoning with her tail.
Suddenly, Cinderpaw noticed Fireheart padding up to her. "Can you give Tigerclaw anything for his wounds?" The young ThunderClan warrior asked. "Something to ease the pain?"
Cinderpaw was a bit surprised, but shared Fireheart's compassion for the former ThunderClan deputy. "Sure." She meowed. "I'll fetch something for Graystripe as well."
Rising to her paws, she began to limp towards Yellowfang's den. She slipped through the fern tunnel and into the medicine den. She gathered the necessary herbs onto a holly leaf, then limped out into the clearing, the herb packet grasped firmly between her teeth. She padded over to Tigerclaw and patted a wad of herbs towards him, then gave the rest to Graystripe. As the gray tom began to chew, Bluestar's voice rang out across the clearing.
"I present you with Tigerclaw, now a prisoner. He-"
But Bluestar was cut off by outrageous yowls from the Clan.
"A prisoner?" Darkstripe, a ThunderClan warrior, snarled disbelievingly, his fur fluffed up with rage. "Tigerclaw's your deputy. What has he done?"
"I'll tell you." Bluestar meowed evenly. "Just now, in my den, Tigerclaw attacked me. He would have killed me if Fireheart hadn't arrived in time."
Cinderpaw's jaw dropped. She still could hardly believe it. Apparently, the Clan shared her anxiety, for they were yowling in disbelief, their protests like feeble wails echoing inside Cinderpaw's head. She could hardly take it. She rested her head on her paws, staying silent throughout the entire ordeal.
Darkstripe, who had been one of Tigerclaw's strongest supporters, rose to his paws. "There must be some mistake."
Cinderpaw scowled in disgust, and was happy when Bluestar meowed, "Do you think I can't tell when a cat tries to murder me?"
But Darkstripe continued to protest. "But Tigerclaw-"
"Tigerclaw is a traitor to the Clan!" Fireheart had sprung to his paws, and was glaring at Darkstripe through narrowed eyes. "He brought the rogue cats here today."
Cinderpaw felt warm with pride when she heard the authority in Fireheart's meow, but stiffened when Darkstripe continued to defend his former deputy.
"He'd never have done that. Prove it, kittypet!"
Fireheart glanced at Bluestar, and she nodded at him. "Fireheart, tell the Clan what you know. Everything."
The flame-colored warrior hesitated, then padded forward until he was standing beside Bluestar. "Cats of ThunderClan," He began, his voice shaking. He paused to control himself, then continued, "Cats of ThunderClan, do you remember when Redtail died? Tigerclaw told you that Oakheart killed him, but he was lying. It was Tigerclaw who killed Redtail!"
"He killed Redtail?" Cinderpaw was shocked.
"How do you know?" Longtail, who was another of Tigerclaw's supporters, snarled at Fireheart. "You weren't at the battle."
"I know because I talked to someone who was." Fireheart replied. "Ravenpaw told me."
"Oh, very useful!" Darkstripe sneered. "Ravenpaw's dead. You can tell us he said anything, and nobody can prove you wrong."
Cinderpaw held her breath as she waited for Fireheart's answer. Finally, the ThunderClan warrior bowed his head. "Ravenpaw isn't dead. I took him away after Tigerclaw tried to kill him for knowing too much."
There were more protests, but Cinderpaw remained silent, appalled at all the secrets that had been hidden from her. The uproar continued, until it swelled into a huge yowl of protest. When it showed no signs of quieting down, Whitestorm rose to his paws. "Quiet! Let Fireheart speak."
Fireheart dipped his head thankfully to the older warrior, then continued, "Ravenpaw told me that Oakheart died when rocks fell on him. Redtail fled from the rockfall, and ran straight into Tigerclaw. Tigerclaw pounced on him and killed him."
"It's true." Graystripe meowed, lifting his head. Cinderpaw immediately began to press more herbs into his side, for his voice sounded fatigued and breathy. "I was there when Ravenpaw told Fireheart this."
"And I've spoken to cats from RiverClan." Fireheart added. "They tell the same story, that Oakheart died in a rockfall."
ThunderClan was silent, exchanging looks of disbelief. Cinderpaw continued pressing herbs onto Graystripe's side, but said nothing.
"Tigerclaw expected to be made deputy then." Fireheart went on. "But Bluestar chose Lionheart instead. Then Lionheart died fighting ShadowClan, and at last, Tigerclaw achieved his ambition. But being deputy wasn't enough for him. I....I think he even laid a trap for Bluestar beside the Thunderpath, but Cinderpaw was caught in it instead." He glanced at Cinderpaw.
Her eyes widened in disbelief and her jaws gaped open. "He did this to me?"
She almost missed what Bluestar said next. "Fireheart told me his suspiscions." The ThunderClan leader murmured. "I didn't-I couldn't-believe him. I trusted Tigerclaw." She bowed her head. "I was wrong."
"But how could he expect to be made leader if he killed you?" Mousefur called from beside her brother, Runningwind. "The Clan would never support him."
Fireheart answered for Bluestar. "I think that's why he planned this attack the way he did. I guess he meant for us to think that one of the outlaws killed Bluestar. After all," Fireheart's voice hardened. "Who would expect Tigerclaw, the loyal deputy, to lay a claw on his leader?" Fireheart's green eyes flashed with anger.
"Bluestar," Whitestorm spoke up. "What will happen to Tigerclaw now?"
His question set off a crescendo of furious yowling from the Clan.
"Drive him out of the forest!"
Bluestar was motionless, her eyes closed. Cinderpaw watched her carefully, waiting for the ThunderClan leader's repsonse. Finally, the blue-gray she-cat spoke. "Tigerclaw, have you anything to say in your defense?"
Cinderpaw glanced at the former deputy as he rose to his paws. "Defend myself to you, you gutless excuse for a warrior? What sort of leader are you? Keeping the peace with other Clans. Helping them! You barely punished Fireheart and Graystripe for feeding RiverClan, and you sent them to fetch WindClan home! I would have never shown such kittypet softness. I would have brought back the days of TigerClan. I would have made ThunderClan great!"
"And how many cats would have died for it?" Bluestar murmured. "If you have nothing else to say, then I sentence you to exile."
There were anxious murmurs as Bluestar continued, "You will leave ThunderClan territory now, and if any cat sees you here after sunrise tomorrow, they have my permission to kill you."
"Kill me?" Tigerclaw snorted in disbelief. "I'd like to see any of them try."
"Fireheart beat you!" Graystripe called from beside Cinderpaw.
"Fireheart." Tigerclaw turned his amber gaze on the young warrior who had exposed his deepest, darkest secret.
"Cross my path again, you stinking furball, and we'll see who's the stronger."
End of Part One
Part Two - Giving In