Chapter 1: Mistake
Moonpaw’s eyes flitted anxiously up to the HighStone, where her father, Birchstar, towered above the Clan. His powerful shoulders rippled his light tabby fur. He easily jumped the old, eroded rock in the center of the camp. She could not detect any trace of feeling from his stone-cold face. Moonpaw’s silver pelt prickled with worry.
Birchstar made warning eye-contact with several of the cats below the rock before speaking. ‘I am sorry for what happened to our sandbank. It is valuable, but I don’t think we should try to invade CavernClan and take back what is rightfully ours. Our warriors need to heal and I know the right time will come.’ The strong leader looked around the circle of cats below as if searching for one particular face. Moonpaw would not meet her father’s gaze. ‘Moonpaw, you didn’t mean to do any wrong. We all know it wasn’t your fault.’ Several cats grunted in disagreement as the leader spoke, but he did not flinch, speaking boldly to the fatigued Clan. ‘I call an end to this Clan meeting.’
Moonpaw stared at her paws, barely daring to move. The Clan was hurt because of her. It was her fault they had lost an important piece of territory, valuable with fish and sunshine. The sandbank lay in the narrow stretch of water between IslandClan and CavernClan. The lakebed sloped up to form a long but small piece of land, perfect for fishing or sunning in green-leaf.
She inwardly replayed the scene in her head, shrinking from the thoughts. She could see the battle as clearly as when she had been there. IslandClan cats were still swimming to the sandbank, while CavernClan had already arrived at the sandbank. Robinstar’s voice yowled above the others: ‘Attack!’ Moonpaw had flung herself in the battle, excited to win her first battle as an apprentice. She had slashed around with sharp claws, striking down a few smaller apprentices. As she had challenged a CavernClan warrior, an older apprentice had dragged her away. The flame-colored pelt flashed around the battle, wounding many IslandClan cats. Moonpaw lunged and missed his whiskers by an inch. Sand sprayed all around her. She spun around to meet the cat’s amber eyes.
‘Follow me,’ he hissed through sharp fangs. ‘I know where your father’s body is.’
Moonpaw had felt her blood turn to ice. She spun around and searched the seething battle, but the CavernClan cat was right. Her father wasn’t there. He couldn’t be dead! I need to say goodbye, Moonpaw thought desperately, turning back to the CavernClan apprentice.
‘Show me,’ Her voice was filled with pain as she followed him through the water into CavernClan territory. The territory was full of caves, and small streams flowed from the lake into the caves, Soon they came to CavernClan’s camp. Moonpaw’s pelt prickled with fear. She had never been to another Clan’s camp before. This one smelled of reeking falcon meat, like all the CavernClan cats. She shivered as several cats came over to see who the stranger was, but then snickered evilly as though there was something to laugh at. Then it reached her—something was terribly wrong. Moonpaw’s eyes grew wide in hopeless fear. Her paws wanted to run back to the lake and swim across to the safe island—but if they really had Birchstar’s body, she would do anything to say goodbye to her father.
‘Stay in here,’ the CavernClan apprentice growled as he shoved Moonpaw into a small, smelly den, smashing her into the prickly brambles. Several warriors worked together to roll a heavy stone in front of the tiny opening through which she had been pushed. Her mind registered the moment quickly.
‘No!’ she screeched. ‘You tricked me! Let me go—now!’
The CavernClan cats laughed at the young IslandClan apprentice as she fought against the thickly woven reeds and brambles that formed her prison. Moonpaw’s hopes plummeted deeper than the lake’s sandy bottom. She crumbled, letting her mind go blank. She did not wake until a familiar voice yowled her name.
‘Birchstar?’ Moonpaw got to her feet, a spark of hope bursting into flames. ‘You’re here!’
She pummeled into the bracken once more, hoping to free herself in time to fight alongside her father.
‘Moonpaw! Are you all right?’ Birchstar called out from the CavernClan camp. Moonpaw fixed her ears on the cats, but there wasn’t a hint of the usual battle screams. Instead, the CavernClan cats were silent as the grave. Several cats rolled away the stone to free Moonpaw. She whirled on the CavernClan cats, but the triumph was clearly shown on their faces, and Moonpaw didn't attack.
‘Moonpaw, you’re safe now,’ Birchstar bounded to his daughter, nosing her fur. A small patrol was with him—Ivyfoot, Nightstrike, and Rainwhisker. They watched from a few tail-lengths away, alarm and relief washing over their faces both at once.
‘Come, we’ll go home,’ Birchstar swept past the stocky CavernClan guards at the camp’s exit. They did not budge to try and stop the IslandClan warriors. They stared after the cats.
’But—’Moonpaw protested, wanting to know the whole truth about this mysterious way of freeing her. Soon a CavernClan patrol ran after them, and Moonpaw started, anxiously pointing it out to the IslandClan patrol.
‘Don’t ask questions,’ Birchstar meowed. ‘You’ll learn what happened when we’ve reached the camp.’
Moonpaw remained silent until they came home. She leaped into the camp, expecting several warm greetings, but only her two brothers and her mother ran over to meet her joyously. The Clan regarded her with cold silence, glaring viciously at the young apprentice.
‘What did I do?’ she half wailed to her mother when she was alone with Brookblossom. ‘They’re treating me like a piece of fox dung!’
‘Hush, Moonpaw,’ Brookblossom answered. ‘Lightpaw and Sprucepaw will tell you about it in the den.’
Thankfully there had been no other apprentices in the den, and Moonpaw could hear the truth from two friends she trusted.
‘We were winning the battle,’ Sprucepaw explained. ‘But then Sunpaw tricked you away into their camp, and CavernClan took you as their prisoner.’
Lightpaw nodded. ‘We didn’t even realize until Robinstar demanded the territory be given peacefully. When Birchstar asked why he claimed that, he said that they would kill you if the bank wasn’t given to them by sunhigh.’ Moonpaw gasped. What if the Clan had objected?
‘Of course, Birchstar gave up the bank to CavernClan, and he went to rescue you from their camp,’ Lightpaw went on. ‘The sandbank is now rightfully theirs, I guess.’
‘No,’ Moonpaw cried incredulously. ‘If they hadn’t kidnapped me in the first place, the bank would still be ours.’
‘But you believed Sunpaw,’ Sprucepaw pointed out. ‘Didn’t you ever learn not to believe anything CavernClan says to you?’
Moonpaw had fallen silent, and her brothers shared her will to keep their thoughts to themselves. Only a moment later, Birchstar’s call for a Clan meeting had rung through the air, and Moonpaw had looked up, alarmed. Would he speak of her in front of the whole Clan?
So, he had, and now Moonpaw was trembling as the gaze of many cats penetrated her. She had done wrong, she knew. But why did IslandClan hate her now? Surely Birchstar himself had made such mistakes as an apprentice, too?
‘You’ll bring your share of fresh-kill to the elders tonight,’ Birchstar steady voice spoke close to her ear and interrupted her thoughts. ‘We will suffer a loss in prey because of the lost bank, and you’ll experience hunger then. You can experience hunger now.’ As Moonpaw looked up into her father’s deep, amber eyes, she saw a hint of sympathy hidden among the disappointment. With a softer voice, he added, ‘I’m doing it for the good of the Clan. Show your worth in this situation, Moonpaw.’
Moonpaw nodded, and Birchstar padded off to his den. His otherwise confident stride looked weary and broken today. Moonpaw cringed with the thought that it was only because of her. She hadn’t meant to inflict such harm upon the Clan, and her beloved family.
I need to show my worth, Moonpaw inwardly repeated Birchstar’s meaningful words. But how can I ever prove myself to the Clan, if they already hate me within the first seven moons of my life?
The next morning looked gloomy and sinister as Moonpaw crept outside just as the sun peered over the tops of the trees. The cold of dawn still hovered in the air and Moonpaw shivered as it penetrated her thick, silver fur. The island started every day with icy cold dawn, but at noon the sun stood glaring overhead. Luckily the IslandClan cats had long adapted their fur to this unusual climate. She trotted briskly to the puny fresh-kill pile and selected a small vole to eat before the hunting. Cold mornings weren’t really Moonpaw’s thing, so she groggily began chewing her breakfast, trying to warm up a little. Briarclaw, her mentor, came over to see her. His long, thick fur insulated his body so well he was never bothered by foggy, cold days. ’I see you’ve already started your meal,’ he said. ’Meet your brother and Nightstrike at the camp entrance when you’re finished for an early hunting patrol; I’ll wait for you near the training beach.’
Moonpaw nodded. She didn’t ask why he left so early—she knew he trusted her to keep it for herself. Briarclaw turned around and padded to his den, the fluffy, brown tip of his tail dipping with every step. Moonpaw lingered longer than needed. She knew she was just scared of hunting in a larger group, but it made her unconfident of herself. What if Nightstrike hated her? What could happen? Already Moonpaw knew this day would be restless and she would be hiding most of the time. But hunting with mentors wasn’t something you could avoid. Moonpaw sighed and heaved herself to her paws. She trotted to the camp entrance and met Sprucepaw with his mentor, Nightstrike. Sprucepaw was eager for the usual adventure. He loved danger as much as she hated it.
The fog clung to the new-leaf pines and large oaks as they made their way down the overgrown path to the training beach on one side of the island. The far-away mountains belonging to VolcanoClan were shrouded by the wet fog, and Moonpaw stopped to look down the hills at the landscape. It was as if a blanket had been thrown hastily onto the world—here and there a bump in the landscape looked like a pebble under the fog—and a crease ran down in what Moonpaw recognized as the brook to CavernClan. Even the wide, deep lake was hidden from sight by the thick fog that lay on its surface.
Sprucepaw called to her from the beach that skirted one end of their island. Moonpaw looked through the trees and saw her brother’s warm, amber eyes glinting at her.
She gently leaped into the sand on the edge of the trees and met the two cats waiting for her. Suddenly she saw that Briarclaw was standing with them. He was staring at something not very far off. She followed his gaze and gasped.
The water surrounding their island had risen to the trees! It had never come up this far for as long as she knew. The sandy beach might as well be forgotten. Somewhere, deep beneath those dark waves lay the young palm trees heavy with large coconuts, the luxurious, warm sand, and the tide-pools filled with shells and urchins. It was hard to believe, but the truth was there.
’I knew it had come up higher than normal this year, but...but this—’ Moonpaw stammered helplessly. Briarclaw tried to assure his apprentice by licking the young cat’s ear fondly. ‘The water simply gulped up the beach like a piece of fresh-kill!’
Sprucepaw seemed less distorted. He bounded to the water’s edge and peered into the small, guilty-looking waves.
’I can’t see very deep. It isn’t sand at the bottom, I suppose. Maybe moss. Doesn’t it look rather dark and gloomy?’
Moonpaw swallowed with much effort and timidly got herself together. ’What are we going to do? Straight back to camp?’
’I suppose Birchstar will need to hear this as soon as possible. I don’t think a dawn patrol went out before us today, so he doesn’t know yet.’
The four cats steadily started their trek back to the camp, each busy with their own thoughts. Moonpaw noticed the fog starting to drift up from the water, and felt an eerie silence fall over them. The surroundings made Moonpaw think of StarClan. Were they watching? Did the noble cats in Silverpelt want this to happen to IslandClan? Was her clan meant to drown in the waters, or starve because of the lack of prey?
Moonpaw sighed worriedly. She wished she could stop thinking for a moment—to feel the nature around her, the solitude, the sky, and maybe StarClan, too? She knew it was wrong to doubt StarClan, but Moonpaw sometimes wondered where they were. They said they always guided the Clans, but how can they care about every cat if the clans are enemies? Moonpaw simply wished there was peace between all the clans and that StarClan was there to show them the way. Would this ever be possible?