Chapter 10: Lakefrost
The moon shone full overhead, a great silver berry with deep gray patches. There was not a cloud anywhere. The stars were bright and brilliant in the dark sky. The night felt very warm, not a hint of the coming leafbare. Lakefrost found it hard to believe this night was even dangerous at all, that StarClan would lose their power.
He and his siblings walked near the lake, the rest of the Clan mere shadows prowling beside them. Fallingstar led the Clan to the island for the Gathering. She'd almost decided not to let them go, after all, Lakefrost's punishment the first time he went over the ThunderClan border was that he would not to go to the next three Gatherings. But Honeybee asked kindly to let him go; he'd found her and brought her back to the Clan. So Fallingstar reluctantly agreed, but it wasn't like the Clan hated him anymore. They'd quickly stopped believing him a ThunderClan-loving tom, although he'd feared it would brand him for the rest of his warrior days.
Mallowstalk sighed. He glanced at his ginger sister. "Something wrong?"
"No," she meowed. "I'm just worried about the cats we left behind."
Lakefrost nodded. He was too.
"You don't think they'll be attacked?" Honeybee meowed.
"This is the Dark Forest we're talking about," Mallowstalk turned to her. "They would attack with the best warriors and leaders out of the Clan. When we all go back to our territories, the other Clans won't know what happened. That sort of turmoil is exactly what an enemy would want."
"I agree," Lakefrost meowed over Honeybee's astonished gasp. "They might also attack us on the island before anyone returns. Finish the strongest off and then go for the weakest. We have to warn the Clans in time."
"We should have told Fallingstar yesterday," Honeybee wailed quietly. "Then our whole Clan could come with us."
Scorchtree glanced at them. The older warrior was walking near them and had heard Honeybee's odd tone. Lakefrost nodded pleasantly as if nothing was wrong, but the older tom frowned and shook his head. Lakefrost glanced around, but no one else was nearby.
"She might not have let us come to the Gathering at all," he whispered to them. "She might not believe us and wouldn't want us spreading tales just to scare everyone."
He could remember their return from the tunnels. They were the very last cats back that evening. When she saw them, the ShadowClan leader rushed over, completely worried. The kits had told a tale of the underground and having fun, first seeing Mallowstalk and then as they came out of the tunnel their reunion with the Clan and how Mallowstalk was unable to get out in time. So the ShadowClan leader knew her children were below and when the warriors said the tunnel the kits had retreated from had been buried, she must have thought they were dead.
Mallowstalk told her how they'd gotten out in ThunderClan territory and had been attacked by ThunderClan, but were saved when they explained to Lionblaze about the tunnel. However, there was no mention of the voices Honeybee had heard or that it had been Fawnfur who'd convinced Lionblaze to listen. Finally Lakefrost told her about seeing WindClan below and how they'd been willing to let Pinekit and Chestnutkit to die in the flood. The Clan had grown silent and a frosty mood hung in the air. Fallingstar would have plenty to say that night at the Gathering. But last night had been the closest the Clan had been, sharing tongues, cleaning the mud and blood from their returned warriors. The three had agreed it was no time to tell Fallingstar about StarClan's prophesy, even when she wondered aloud what had gotten into the Clans to make them feel leaving kits endangered.
"The tree," Badgerface spoke up.
Lakefrost pulled away from these thoughts and looked up. The fallen tree bridge stretched across the undulating black water. The silver speckles nothing more than bobbing bits of fluff reflecting the stars. He could just see a group of cats clawing their way across the slippery, barkless trunk. He lifted his nose and scented WindClan. A low growl was in his throat.
ShadowClan arrived, just skirting the tall rushes and reeds of RiverClan territory, as the last of the moorland cats crossed.
"No word about the tunnels to anyone," Fallingstar growled to them. "Not until I challenged Onestar about it. He can explain it to all the Clans then."
Reluctantly the warriors accepted. Even Tigerheart, though moody, nodded his great head. Only Ashpaw had to speak up.
"We should have confronted those fleapelts last night, charged into their camp and fought them!"
"More can be accomplished in a Gathering than with claws," Brownfeather told him, hushing his apprentice with a wave of his brown tail.
"Right," Fallingstar meowed, glancing around. "No word. Not even to RiverClan about our useless border skirmish."
"Or ThunderClan about theirs," Dawncloud muttered.
"Now them I'd like to talk to," Knotfur hissed low. She'd been the cat leading the patrol when ThunderClan tricked Ashpaw into crossing. Lakefrost had almost forgotten, because that was the day Honeybee disappeared. He hadn't even heard of the RiverClan battle as he'd been out of the territory.
"Nothing," Fallingstar ordered, eyeing them. "Not until I bring it up."
"They might bring it up first," meowed Tigerheart, her deputy.
"RiverClan? Not likely, they didn't win anything out of it and they were in the wrong. Now, I am concerned about the other two. . ." She shook her head and then looked as if she was afraid she'd said too much. Her gaze drifted and Lakefrost realized she was looking behind them. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a group of cats coming from the direction of WindClan. It had to be ThunderClan, usually the very last Clan to any Gathering.
"Over," Fallingstar meowed. She jumped up first and started across, her Clan following.
Lakefrost tried to hang back on the shore, but Brownfeather was there, making sure his apprentice would make it across the slippery tree. The young warrior sighed and got on, just after Knotfur, Ashpaw scratching behind him. He'd have to meet Fawnfur on the island and not before. He wouldn t even know if she was with her Clan.
Once on the island, he could see something was wrong. RiverClan and WindClan weren't talking. The apprentices didn't mix and the warriors stood off, glaring at each other. Rainstar and Onestar sat in the Great Oak, each on opposite sides of the low branches. Pinefur and Sunfrost sat stiffly in the roots. ShadowClan's arrival didn't help much either, RiverClan hissed at them, but WindClan, still not realizing they had any problem with the Clan on the opposite side of the lake, acted more friendly; the apprentices trying to mingle and the Warriors grinning and saying friendly things. But Ashpaw and Wrenpaw turned their heads and wouldn't speak and the warriors just sat stiffly, answering as shortly as possible. Mostly they stayed as a group and walked to the typical spot their Clan sat in every Gathering. ThunderClan came next, once again WindClan seemed friendly and the gesture was returned to them and to RiverClan, but there was glaring over at ShadowClan. Lakefrost ignored it and looked for a familiar ginger-brown pelt.
Fallingstar jumped into the tree and sat next to Onestar who greeted her pleasantly and Rainstar who just growled something low. Fallingstar narrowed her eyes and both and pursed her mouth as if nothing was wrong, or else that she was just tolerating a rotting carcass. Bramblestar leaped up to them, sitting next to Rainstar.
Lakefrost finally spotted her next to her mentor, the medicine cat. She was walking with her head down, most of her Clan not beside her, as if they were ignoring her presence, although he did see at least two cats glaring at her. He narrowed his eyes and his ears flicked in suppressed anger. How dare they treat her like some diseased animal.
"Hold it," Mallowstalk growled at him, her paw on his thrashing tail. "Not yet. You can't go yet."
He knew it was mostly because she was surrounded by her Clanmates and in the open. Also because none of the other Clans, except maybe ThunderClan, was breaking apart and going to the other Clans. It would be odd for ShadowClan to approach a Clan they were almost at war with. They'd have to wait until the leaders started talking or else Fawnfur walked into the shadows of the island. He knew this but still resented Mallowstalk holding him back.
His siblings waited, watching the others. It didn't seem like much was different. No one was scared of a sudden attack. There was mostly smoldering anger in cats' eyes. Lakefrost wondered when the best opportunity to tell the Clans about the Dark Forest would be. He wanted to see Fawnfur first and ask her opinion about how they should tell the others.
They didn't have long to wait, the leaders still let the Clans talk, waiting before they started the meeting. Jayfeather leaned over and nudged his apprentice, whispering in her ear. One flicked and she slowly got up, walking away into the dark. Jayfeather didn't watch her go, but as she picked her way over, some cats turned to her, gazing as she left. She ignored them and disappeared to the outer edge of the island.
"Now?" Honeybee meowed.
"Fine," Mallowstalk sighed. "Badgerface come with me. You two start off in a different direction."
She stood up and after a flick of her tail, Badgerface went with her. Scorchtree meowed, "Where you going?"
"To talk with some ThunderClan cats," Mallowstalk meowed.
Lakefrost's heart froze, surprised she was giving them up so easily.
Scorchtree just shook his head. "All right." It sounded like he thought they were mouse-brained, but he said nothing more, just watching the two leave. Ashpaw, over with the apprentices and looking bored, spotted them and looked like he might join them, but Buddingpaw asked him a question. Lakefrost soon got up and Honeybee too.
"And where are you going?" the warrior asked again.
"What are you," Honeybee snipped, "our mentor?"
Scorchtree's ears flicked and even Dawncloud looked surprised.
"Dirtplace," Lakefrost interrupted. "We're going to the dirtplace. I don't feel so well, I think that frog was a little. . . bad."
He walked away, limping a bit as if his stomach was cramping and Honeybee followed after. He could see her golden ears turning red. "Mouse-brain," he hissed at her.
"Sorry," she whispered back. "I. . . thought he was being annoying asking so many questions. We're warriors, we should be able to go anywhere we feel like now."
"True," he answered, walking regular now that they'd disappeared behind a bush. "But they're just worried. Maybe he wants to make sure we don't start fighting with WindClan or RiverClan. Or warning them about Fallingstar's challenge. Or maybe he wanted us to get back before the meeting started."
"Hmm." She sounded convinced and embarrassed.
He let the subject drop, following the scent of Mallowstalk and Badgerface. To the side he could just see the lake shimmering in the darkness and to the other side he could just see the other cats in their circle. Rainstar was just standing up, it looked like he might give the starting yowl.
Ahead he caught sight of three cats sitting together, as he and Honeybee approached, their steps kind of loud, the three looked up guiltily and leaned away from each other. Fawnfur sat with a hunch, her eyes rimmed with red, her mouth in a frown. She gave him a relieved, but tired look when he sat down beside her.
"You don't look so good," he meowed.
"That's what Mallowstalk was telling me," Fawnfur replied.
He glanced at his sister. She just frowned back. He had a feeling it hadn't been in a nice or concerned way. "Then your Clan has been. . .?"
He let the question drift.
"Do we have time for this?" Mallowstalk snapped. "The Dark Forest could attack at any heartbeat and you want to have a friendly chat?"
"I agree with Mallowstalk," Badgerface spoke up, slowly but still firm.
"It's not like we can do anything," Honeybee meowed quietly, "The Gathering's started. We can't interrupt the leaders."
"Let's get closer and listen," Fawnfur meowed. She stood up and walked forward to the bushes. She stopped before poking through so no other cats would see her. The ShadowClan siblings moved forward with her.
"I want to hear what they say," she explained. "We can tell them after. They might want to fight, but at least we can direct them to fight the right enemy."
"How do you know they'll want to fight?" Lakefrost meowed.
"After everything this moon?" Fawnfur meowed quietly. "Jayfeather said the Dark Forest has been haunting other cats' dreams, taunting them, challenging them, turning them against the other Clans. They don't really need their living traitors to get us to fight each other."
"I'm sorry," Lakefrost meowed. "We didn't find anyone. We didn't have time."
"I understand," she meowed back. "I'm glad you got Honeybee back."
She smiled at the golden she-cat who blinked pleasantly back. Then the five gazed into the small clearing. Rainstar was done talking long ago, after some sort of report and then Onestar was just finishing after one of his boring explanations of that moon. Bramblestar and Fallingstar eyed each other, wondering who would go first. The dark brown tabby tom motioned for her. The small she-cat gave him a nod and then walked to the fore of her branch.
"My Clan is well, except for an accident just the other day," she meowed smoothly. The cats all looked up at her, their ears titling in surprise at a change in the usual summary the other leaders had given. "Our two kits found the tunnels below our territories. They nearly drowned. WindClan was there in the tunnels and left our kits," she spat, glaring at Onestar. "My warriors saw a patrol turn away calmly."
"You are mistaken," Onestar growled. "My warriors would never do something like that."
"But you know about the tunnels," she growled back. "Your Clan knows a way in."
He didn't answer and that spoke for itself.
"And one of your patrols did see Batwing's kits," Fallingstar pressed. "A Timberleaf," she said the name slowly as Lakefrost had told her. "And a few others, a tom and a she-cat. Your cats left my kits."
"They would not," Onestar snapped.
"It is true," Bramblestar meowed from behind. "One of our patrols spotted Fallingstar's cats returning from the tunnels and were told everything."
The cats below murmured. Lakefrost peered through the jagged leaves and branches, around a furry shoulder of his sister, and tried to see where that same Timberleaf was, but she wasn't with the other cats. She must have stayed in camp.
"They never told me about this," Onestar meowed slowly, closing his yellow eyes. "I am sorry for their behavior."
"As you should," Fallingstar spat. "Do not let this happen again."
"Do not tell me what to do!"
"You owe her something," Rainstar meowed. "You owe ShadowClan for your warriors' behavior."
"Oh, really," Onestar spat. "And what should I give her? Hmm? A rabbit? That is not worth two kits' lives! And I can't give her any of my territory." His Clan growled at the thought.
"Then I suggest an apology to the kits' mother," Fallingstar meowed quietly. "I will ask of nothing else."
He glared at her but turned to the cats below. "Is she here?" And when Fallingstar nodded he looked down. Batwing gazed up at him, her eyes hard, her body stiff. "I am sorry for what my warriors have done," Onestar meowed loudly to her. "They should have never endangered any kits, not from any Clan. I am sincerely horrified by their actions. I will have Timberleaf herself go to your Clan tomorrow and ask for your forgiveness."
"I accept this," Batwing meowed, her voice hard. She turned away, but really didn't look satisfied.
No one else spoke and Fallingstar started again. "Other than a few useless border battles, my Clan has been fine." She stepped back. Lakefrost was surprised when she didn't make a big deal out of what the other Clans had done. Then he realized pushing them would make her seem demanding and any points she'd received for treating Onestar as politely as she had would be lost. She'd loose everyone's respect.
Bramblestar moved forward. "I regret to inform you of a death of Graykit. Greencough got to him. His parents are devastated." There was a murmur of sympathy. Lakefrost looked at Fawnfur in surprise. She seemed even more miserable. He leaned against her in sympathy and she sighed.
"I need to bring up that we have had our own disputes over the border," the ThunderClan leader continued. "Fallingstar, your warriors tried to rearrange our border."
Her ears rose in shock. "They never tried! Your warriors attacked my patrol first! I was told how they convinced one of my apprentices over and attacked him."
Ashpaw's ears went down in embarrassment. He was the only tom apprentice in ShadowClan and he'd fallen for their trick.
Bramblestar glared at her. "You doubt the words of my warriors?"
"Yes," she told him simply. "From their actions one of my own warriors disappeared. I was afraid she'd never come back. I am grateful that she did."
Bramblestar seemed confused and angry all at the same time. She had insulted his cats. And what was she talking about, disappearing cats?
"I would take the word over Bramblestar than yours," Rainstorm meowed. Onestar looked surprised. The two had just backed her up against him, now they were turning against her. "My own Clan fought yours not too long ago over our territory."
"It was on ShadowClan land," she hissed at him. "Your cats were stealing our prey. It would have been a simple patrol matter if you hadn't turned it into a battle!"
"We don't need your prey," he growled.
"Then why were your cats on the other side of the greenleaf-twoleg-place?"
Rainstar glared at her. He couldn't think of anything to say in defense. Her challenge had merit.
Bramblestar looked surprised and even Onestar was shocked to hear about this unknown battle. But the ThunderClan leader didn't like that they'd veered away from what he was saying. He quickly started, "Your cats have been on my territory too much for me to think this border incident was a mistake, Fallingstar."
"Lakefrost acted of his own accord," Fallingstar meowed to him. "He was not under any of my orders. I punished him."
"And why is he here then?" Bramblestar growled. "This punished tom?"
Everyone looked around. Lakefrost shrank away even though they couldn't see him. Eventually Bramblestar realized Lakefrost was nowhere in sight and his ears flicked, his eyes glancing downward. Perhaps he'd been mistaken. Fallingstar continued to look around, seeming confused, probably wondering where all her children had gotten to.
"Obviously ShadowClan has a paw in everything," Rainstar growled. "Causing battles with my Clan and yours Bramblestar, convinced they're seeing WindClan in these odd tunnels that seem to keep disappearing. I'm not so sure they're innocent."
The Clans growled and suddenly the other tom leaders looked up, their ears straight. They stared at Fallingstar.
"Who saw my cats below?" Onestar meowed suddenly.
Fallingstar turned to him. "What does that matter? Your cats would still be at fault either way."
"Well we can ask your warrior exactly what they saw," Onestar meowed, his voice confident, but his eyes narrowed. "Who were these other cats with Timberleaf? How does he or she know it was WindClan when they were all going to drown?"
Fallingstar frowned at him. Lakefrost's heart jumped. If she brought his name up one more time at the same Gathering. . . then the cats would see so many connections. That he was practically in on everything. Cats with that distinction were either Firestar or had ended up in the Dark Forest.
"There isn't any way RiverClan could pin him starting the border battle," Honeybee suddenly whispered. "Lakefrost was looking for me."
"Thank you so much for that," Lakefrost growled back. "Like I really want to know all the Clans want to blame something on me."
"I told you getting into this would cause trouble," Mallowstalk spat. "They're going to start doubting all of ShadowClan because of this."
"Quiet," Badgerface meowed. He looked back at the clearing where many of the cats were standing now, turned to ShadowClan, the leaders snarling at each other. Somehow they'd missed where the Gathering had turned to something close to war.
"This is the wrong enemy," Fawnfur whispered, watching them. "The wrong enemy. . ."
She suddenly stood out and pushed through the bushes. "Stop this!" she yowled. "These cats have nothing to do with your troubles!"
Eyes turned to her. Lakefrost wanted to lurch out after her, but again Mallowstalk pulled him back.
"We can't abandon her," he growled. "She'd about to tell them about the Dark Forest!"
"You fool, if we appear next to her, what will the other cats think?" Mallowstalk hissed. "We'll go out another way. We aren't going to leave her. Now hurry up."