Chapter 11: Badgerface
Lakefrost left yesterday, taking Ashpaw with him. Badgerface wondered how far they'd have to go. From what he'd gathered the two were going after Honeybee. He didn't know why his sister had left. He wasn't sure if that was just him or if the whole Clan was confused, but no one seemed to mind her disappearance. They didn't seem concerned about the she-cat. They didn't talk about their missing Clan member. Only Orangestripe seemed sad, staring around camp listlessly, and Fallingstar seemed worried. Everyone else was too busy preparing for battle. There were cats shoring up the bushes with thorns and branches, cats mock fighting. They didn't know what direction the battle would come from, ThunderClan or RiverClan, but they would be ready.
Badgerface lay near the warrior den, resting after training with Ivytail. He was exhausted from the double patrols Fallingstar had them all on. He rested in the sunhigh beam of sunlight slicing through the needles of the trees in to the clearing. A few clouds moved quickly overhead, dowsing them in shadow and then scattering for the light again.
He looked up to see his ginger sister Mallowstalk standing over him, blocking the sunlight. Fortunately his hearing was working that day. He could even hear the birds singing. He watched his sister. Her ears were half down on her head and she was frowning. She seemed convinced her sister was working for the Dark Forest and hadn't been in a good mood since Lakefrost left.
Badgerface wasn't so certain that Honeybee was a traitor. Deviousness wasn't in her nature. She hadn't acted strangely until the morning after the visit to StarClan. She'd seemed so occupied before the border skirmish, right after waking up, as if her dreams had haunted her. He knew about that. His dreams told him he wasn't the best warrior, that he would fail and hurt the Clan because he couldn't hear.
"Tigerheart wants us hunting," Mallowstalk meowed when she had her brother's attention. "The Clan needs to be fed."
Badgerface nodded. Who better to ask to provide for the Clan than the best hunter. Mallowstalk was known for staying out in the forest for long periods of time just hunting. Although lately she'd stayed near camp. Staying by her siblings, keeping an eye on Lakefrost so he wouldn't do anything mouse-brained. Perhaps when the battle was over, things might get back to normal, and Mallowstalk wouldn't be around camp so often.
He stood up, not wanting to pass this opportunity by. He hadn't been hunting in a long while. This moon he'd guarded the camp so many times. He'd been secretly impaired by his hearing loss and felt the only thing he'd be good at was guarding. He'd never be able to hunt without hearing his prey or hearing how hard his paws pressed down. To save himself shame and be somewhat useful, he volunteered to protect the camp so everyone else could keep them fed. Now that he could hear, he wanted to find one of the biggest birds and bring it back.
Just as he and Mallowstalk turned for the camp wall, Bluepaw ran into the clearing. The ferns and leaves shook in her passing. The apprentice came to a halt, staring wide eyed and panting.
"RiverClan!" she yowled.
Tigerheart, the only leader in camp as Fallingstar was on the border patrol, rushed over. Without telling her to, the apprentice continued.
"We caught a group hunting on our land. Our patrol attacked. The noise drew the other patrol, but more RiverClan cats heard. It's more than over prey or the border now."
Tigerheart nodded and turned to the rest of the cats in camp. There weren't many, but it might be enough to turn the balance of the battle.
"Acornpelt, Stoneheart, guard the camp. Everyone else, go."
He led the way from camp, the cats not named racing after their deputy. The two toms left to guard the camp quickly stood near the nursery and the elder's den, keeping their eyes open for any cats trying to sneak up on them.
Badgerface's heart pounded, a smile lighting on his face. The tiredness left his mind and his muscles stretched as he flexed his claws. He wanted to fight. His siblings had all the fun that moon. The only time he'd gotten to use his battle moves was when Lakefrost crossed the ThunderClan border the first time and a patrol found the four. Badgerface had known then they were in the wrong and hadn't enjoyed that fight. This one was different. He could finally get some frustration out. Frustration that the Dark Forest was taking so long to make a move. And now he could rescue his Clan leader. Fallingstar was in that border patrol, already leading them into the battle.
The five cats left at camp (Tigerheart, Bluepaw, Ivytail, Mallowstalk, and Badgerface) raced through the territory for the RiverClan border. They leaped over the fallen logs and around the boulders and few bushes. The ground started to become wet underpaw. They reached the border. Shrieks and yowls filled the air. Just before the open ground separating RiverClan from ShadowClan, cats rolled over each other, many jumping and slashing, while others were chased just to turn around and claw their pursuer. Fur flew and blood ran. It was a wonder no twolegs from the twoleg-greenleaf-place hadn't come. Perhaps they'd avoided the lake because of the clouds. It was also surprising RiverClan had dared crossing that open ground just to fight with ShadowClan.
Tigerheart stopped before they entered the fray, he motioned them over. "We need to target the leaders. Find Pinefur or Rainstar. Come at them from behind. Mallowstalk. . . . . . . . . . . ."
The deputy's mouth still moved, his eyes flickering from face to face, but Badgerface heard nothing. The empty sound filled his ears like thick cotton. His eyes widened in horror. No! Not now! This was important. He had to hear this! His claws came out, piercing the ground as if trying to hold on.
Tigerheart looked at him, speaking. Badgerface just stared at him. He nodded as if he understood, but inside the eagerness had left him for cold dread. His heart beat calmly when it should have been as rapid as a mouse's. He felt so sick.
The dark tabby deputy turned away from them. He started slinking off around the group. Bluepaw trailed after him, Ivytail by their side. Mallowstalk's tail brushed his flank and he turned to her. She jerked her head in the opposite direction. Badgerface slunk after her, his breathing ragged, his throat constricted. What was he supposed to do? What had Tigerheart said? He could only keep his eyes on his sister's ginger tail as they walked around the battle.
In his own world of no sound, only he existed. He could feel his heart beating, his chest heaving in and out, every pawstep shifting on needles and moss, but there was nothing on the outside. He couldn't hear the wind in the trees. He certainly couldn't hear the battle anymore. What before had overtaken the battle was a mere nothing in his mind. He turned his head to look at them.
Through the tree trunks and the few bushes he could see them. They moved quickly and fiercely, snarls on their faces. Gorseclaw, a RiverClan warrior, leaped up and Olivespot dived under, avoiding the crash. She jumped up again, turning on the gray tom with ginger marks on his legs. She caught his tail, pulling on him, her claws digging into his back legs. Robintail came to his Clanmate's rescue, pulling his claws down Olivespot's belly. The she-cat released the tom and her mouth opened in a silent yowl.
There was nothing in his ears and he felt so detached from it all, just an observer. If these were his Clanmates and enemies, he felt nothing for them at all. He felt nothing but a deep cutting worry, that he was a failure, that he was in danger and a fool for not knowing what Tigerheart wanted.
Mallowstalk suddenly stopped and Badgerface caught her movement from the corner of his eye. He halted, facing her. She stared at him. Her mouth moved as she meowed something to him, her eyes darting to the fighting Clans. He stared at her, just nodding his head, his jaw firmly closed, not sure if he were meant to reply in any way or what he was supposed to say. She grinned at him and started running past him, directly for the battle.
Badgerface turned in surprise, her tail barely missing him as she darted around the trees and for the fighting. Badgerface hurried after her, determined to keep her in his sight. What she did, he would have to copy. Tigerheart had them together for a reason after all.
They passed the first two tussling cats. Orangestripe shot them a glance before striking the paws out from under his opponent. Mallowstalk didn't stop but continued on for the thickest part of the fighting. Badgerface glanced up. He thought he could spot the light gray and brown tabby pelt of Fallingstar. From the other side he could even see Tigerheart coming in. The deputy's mouth was open and Badgerface thought he might have been calling a battle cry. His companions echoed it and Badgerface realized maybe he and Mallowstalk were meant to cause a distraction. He felt his face burn. Already he'd failed.
Mallowstalk continued to run on. She reached out and struck a RiverClan warrior's ear. The warrior hissed and ducked away, giving Snowbird time to jump on him. They continued on through the fighters. She then leaped on top of a RiverClan warrior, pulling the golden tabby she-cat to the ground and off of Wrenpaw. The other cat's claws stuck in Wrenpaw's brown fur and she cried out, a soundless scream accompanied by an arching back and still tail, yellow eyes staring into the tree tops.
Badgerface hurried forward, pulling his Clanmate free before turning on the RiverClan she-cat.The two she-cats lay on the ground. Weavingreed struggled in Mallowstalk's grasp, his sister had her jaws buried in the loose skin around the warrior's nape, her back claws kicking down. Weavingreed tried to flip over, but Badgerface stopped her, clawing into her chest. She bared her teeth and Badgerface thought she might have yowled, but he couldn't hear.
Mallowstalk suddenly let go and the RiverClan she-cat shot up, racing away with her tail low. The sound rushed back and Badgerface stood there, dazzled as shrieks crashed into his ears. There were some battle cries, names and insults, and the heavy sounds of cat claws hitting flesh and cats falling to the needle filled ground.
" . . . . your own. . ."
His eyes locked onto his sister as all the sounds faded again into nothing. She closed her mouth, done speaking. Fire blazed in her eyes, blood at the corner of her jaws, a scratch along her shoulder. He nodded slowly as if he'd heard her.
'Your own'? His own what? Did she not want his help? He cringed as she turned away. Maybe he was supposed to fight his own battle while Tigerheart and the others showed up. He wasn't doing his assignment. He kept his eyes on Mallowstalk's back as she pounded toward the center of the group and Fallingstar. He sighed and turned away finding a new opponent.
Just as he tripped Pepplepelt, the rest of the cats seemed to focus on something. Badgerface glanced in the direction of the RiverClan territory to see Tigerheart, Bluepaw, and Ivytail racing in, heads thrown back, claws flashing as they pushed aside cats. The RiverClan warriors scattered, fearing more cats had arrived. Badgerface spotted Mallowstalk with Fallingstar, facing Rainstar. Tigerheart was making his way there, but from behind Mallowstalk, a gray and white cat jumped on her, forcing her down. Heartened, the RiverClan cats regrouped, forcing Fallingstar back.
Badgerface felt something strike his shoulder and turned in time for Pebblepelt to topple him. His belly was exposed and Pebblepelt lowered his head and opened his mouth moving as if speaking. When Badgerface had no reaction, Pebblepelt's ears tilted and confusion lit on the silver face. Badgerface used that time to fling the tom off of him. He heaved himself up and shot forward.
Paws pounded around him, he could feel the vibrations in the ground, but he didn't look up from Pebblepelt. The tom crouched low. As Badgerface jumped, Pebblepelt sprang up. Badgerface was expecting that and twisted in the air, slashing upward with his claws, parting fur along the side of the gray tom's head. Pebblepelt came crashing down, wincing, unable to open his right eye. Badgerface landed on his feet and fought to keep his balance. A shoulder rammed into him, shoving him away. He hissed and turned to his attacker. It was only Redsky.
". . . . .retreating. . . " he suddenly heard before all sound left him.
Badgerface looked up in shock. ShadowClan was running back into the territory. RiverClan formed a line behind them, snarling and taunting as ShadowClan fled on their own land. He nodded and hurried way with Redsky as Pebblepelt limped back to his Clan.
The two toms retreated behind the first row of trees. Some of their Clan waited. Teeth flashed, but when Knotfur and Brownfeather saw Clanmates, they relaxed and let them pass. Not much farther away, the rest of the Clan had stopped. They stood heads bowed, sides heaving. Badgerface looked around. He and Redsky were the last cats back.
Fallingstar looked around, walking to her warriors, sharing words and smiles, seeming to encourage them to sit or lie down and care for their wounds even when she continued on, blood leaking from her legs and neck.
A ginger she-cat smelling of blood and pines came near, underneath those scents was the familiar one of his sister and he knew it was her before he even turned to face her. She snarled at him. The expression on her face made him recoil. He sat down hard as she leaned in close.
". . . . weren't supposed to lose! We didn't have to retreat. We could have won that battle if you'd just been there to stop someone from jumping on my back!"
He could only blink at her.
"Stop it, Mallowstalk," Fallingstar meowed, hurrying over, but Mallowstalk had already drawn attention. "It isn't his fault."
"It is," Mallowstalk protested. "Tigerheart told him to help me get to you so we could protect you and hold off the cats while he and the others surprised them from the back. It was working too before I was attacked."
"It doesn't matter," Fallingstar growled. "We all came out alive and RiverClan won't keep the territory. They don't want to cross the twoleg-greenleaf-place every day just to mark the border. We only suffered a blow to moral."
"But he was supposed to be there! I told him not to go off on his own and to keep to the plan. He just ran off and wasn't there to help." She turned back on him and Badgerface's ears went flattened. So that's what she'd said.
"What is wrong with you?" she spat.
And the world was wrapped in cotton. He heard nothing more.
"I'm fine," he muttered.
Mallowstalk got a line between her eyes as she stared at him in confusion.
"I'm fine," he said louder, pronouncing his words slower. "I'm sorry. I just forgot."
Her teeth flashed as she growled something back.
Cats moved around them and Badgerface glanced at them. Their heads had turned away and now they stared at the area they'd just fought. Badgerface looked over his shoulder as Knotfur and Brownfeather came closer. Knotfur shook her head, looking disappointed. Suddenly they all flinched, ducking down. Badgerface stared about in confusion, wondering what the problem was. He just caught a glimpse of a dark wing as a large bird disappeared into the trees.
Mallowstalk looked up at him, concern drowning out the anger. She opened her mouth and he knew she'd asked something, but he didn't know what to reply. Cats stood up again, turning to each other, fur ruffled, but otherwise unaffected by the startled crow. As Mallowstalk stood, Badgerface got on his feet. Mallowstalk scanned the area, but her eyes turned back to him. He continued to watch her, wondering what she wanted him to say. Again her eyes drifted and he felt a touch on his shoulder.
He turned around and saw Fallingstar now staring at him. Her mouth moved. He felt apprehensive now. What did they want? What did they keep asking? His heartbeat picked up and his stomach felt tight. This hadn't ever happened to him before. No one had ever questioned him like this. He could usually fade away into the background when he was deaf, avoiding demanding questions.
Fallingstar suddenly flinched and stared over his shoulder. She glared, her eyes narrowed and her nose wrinkled. Badgerface turned to look and saw everyone staring at Mallowstalk in shock. Badgerface knew she'd done something, just knew it. She stared at him with odd eyes. She raised her paw and waved it in front of his face. He flinched away.
"What are you doing?" he meowed.
Mallowstalk looked at him, then glanced at Fallingstar. She shook her ginger head and then back at him in pity. Suddenly he knew his secret wasn't so secret anymore. He looked around. Everyone was staring at him with wide eyes. They whispered to each other, still staring at him. He could feel their gaze scorching over his pelt like flame. They were judging him, realized what a poor warrior he was. That he was impaired. He could never be right in their eyes again. He was a no good warrior, unfit for any task. He was the cause of their defeat against RiverClan. It was because he couldn't hear that RiverClan was celebrating their victory.
Fallingstar touched his shoulder again, but he couldn't take it anymore. He raced way, brushing his pelt against Mallowstalk as he ran deeper into the territory. He didn't know if anyone ever called him back.
Later that night he huddled under one of the few bushes in the territory. He'd managed to catch a mouse, but it was nearly a miss. It heard him and only his speed help him fill his belly. He swallowed now, his throat tight as he realized he'd never make it on his own. He couldn't go back to the Clan, not when they knew how impaired he was. It would never be the same. They'd never rely on him, give him strange glances, avoid talking about his hearing. But he couldn't live alone either. He didn't know where to go. He wouldn't know how to live. He would die, unable to hear foxes or twolegs, scaring away his prey. It was all hopeless. He just wished he could die now and end his misery.
Ginger fur stood out in the night. He peered from his bush, passed leaves and branches and the little red berries, and saw Mallowstalk. She stood by the pine trees, head tilted as she looked around, her nose twitching. Her wounds were covered in cobwebs. She spotted the movement and came over. He tried to leave first, but she was there. Her jaws grasped his tail, her paws holding him back. He struggled, trying to pull away, but she held on. Her claws weren't out and her teeth weren't piercing. She just held. He lay out, his body extended on the ground as he squirmed, trying to get away.
Finally he stopped and looked up at her. She stared hard at him and then let go. She slunk forward and lay by his side, resting her head on top of his own. He could feel her throat vibrate. He wasn't sure if she was purring or speaking, but it felt calming just to be like this.
The world filled with sound. He could suddenly hear the flitting of bat wings overhead, skittering of lizards in the needles, the slight breeze rattling in the bush leaves, and most of all, his sister's purr. He nuzzled closer, wishing that was the last time his deafness would return, but knowing full well it was not.
"Let's go home," Mallowstalk whispered. Then she sighed, her body tense. "StarClan! I don't know what to say to you. You can't hear a word. How am I supposed to make you understand?"
"I can hear," he told her.
She pulled away and shared at him in surprise.
"When?" she demanded. "Now? This sunhigh? Later this moon?"
"It comes and goes." He avoided her eyes.
"Well that explains it," she shook her head with a sigh. "How long?"
"Since before I became a warrior," he meowed quietly.
"Will it get better?"
"It's only gotten worse," he replied, curling his tail around his body. "I don't want to go to the elders den!"
Mallowstalk licked his cheek, cleaning off the dried blood. "Fallingstar won't make you," she assured him.
"But I'm a useless warrior. I can't hunt if I can't hear and today I lost the battle!"
Mallowstalk looked at him, her eyes wide. "You did not. I'm sorry I blamed you, but it isn't your fault."
"It is," he wailed. "I didn't hear what Tigerheart wanted us to do. If I had, we wouldn't have lost and no one would know I'm an invalid. StarClan shouldn't have made me a part of the prophecy. I'm not any help to them."
"Don't talk nonsense, Badgerface," she snapped. "You can't tell the future. You don't know if we would have won or lost if we'd followed Tigerheart's plan like a tick on an elder. And StarClan choose you for a reason. They know you can help the Clans, no matter what. You did help in fact. Who else could have made me agree to Fawnfur? I was going to refuse. You were the first to offer. Not including Lakefrost, of course. Without you we wouldn't have gotten this far."
As he listened, he felt warmth enter his chest. Her worlds helped dispel some of the self pity just a bit. She wasn't lying, just talking to make him feel better. She meant it. Every word.
"Thank you," he whispered, but she must not have heard because she gave no reply other than:
"Should we go back to the Clan tonight?"
He quickly shook his head. "They won't accept me. They. . . ." he trailed off not sure how to put his shame into words.
"They might know the truth now," she growled, "but if they treat you any differently that's their own fault. They just have to accept you the way you are now. They'll have to adjust for you not you for them. You are still their Clanmate. Still my brother. We don't have to go back right now though. It's been a while since I've been away from the Clan for the night."
He nodded. He wasn't so anxious to return to camp, to see them again or explain. No matter what Mallowstalk said, he knew they wouldn't see him as a true warrior anymore. But as Badgerface and Mallowstalk curled under the bush together, he remembered not everyone did know what his problem was. Lakefrost, Honeybee, and Ashpaw were still unaware. He smiled as he started to drift into dreams. They wouldn't care and they wouldn't treat him differently.