Chapter 14: Lakefrost
In all, three days had passed since Honeybee had run away tomorrow would make it a fourth and three days left until the Gathering. So much time had passed. There was little time to prepare against the coming darkness.
Clouds gathered overhead beyond the leaves. The thick gray blocked out the stars and the air grew heavy. Lakefrost guided Ashpaw through the darkness. The apprentice yawned, stumbling over knobby roots, his eyes drooping. Ashpaw started complaining how tired he was and so Lakefrost finally choose a place to rest. In the early morning they started walking again. They reached Clan territory after sunhigh the next day.
"We're almost there," Lakefrost assured.
"How can you tell?" Ashpaw asked thickly.
"Can't you smell the markers?"
The apprentice raised his head and sniffed loudly. "I can smell the stream."
The water continued to gurgle beside them, and the reeds brushed together soothingly. He ignored the wet and covering smell of the stream because through it all he could smell the familiar scents that made his tense muscles relax and his mind wake up. He shook his head. Ashpaw would realize it soon as well.
They walked on, pawsteps quiet on the grass. It slowly turned into crackles as dried pine needles snapped under their weight. The needles thickened and their gait became quiet again just as the markers washed over them. Ashpaw perked up and trotted over the border. Lakefrost let the apprentice lead him to camp. On the way it seemed so quiet.
They entered the ring of bushes and Lakefrost looked around, it didn't look like anyone was around. Overhead the gray clouds tinged with golden red on their edges, the few bare spots a brilliant bright blue.
"Lakefrost? You're back!"
Olivespot bounded forward in greeting, running out from the nursery. Lakefrost nudged heads with his Clanmate. Ashpaw tried the same, but Olivespot shifted away with a wince. She looked down at her son apologetically, licking him on the head. Lakefrost could see scratch marks in her fur.
"What happened?" he demanded.
"RiverClan attacked yesterday. We lost. But they didn't keep the territory fortunately."
"Who started the battle?'
"RiverClan, the prey thieves."
"Why would they want our prey?" Ashpaw meowed. "I thought they only liked fish."
"No idea," the she-cat answered. "But they did it."
Ashpaw suddenly yawned.
"You should sleep," Olivespot meowed, smiling. "You must have been on a long journey to take so long. We can talk more in the evening or tomorrow. I'm sure Fallingstar would like to hear it straight from you rather than me."
"Where is everyone by the way?" Lakefrost meowed.
"Out," Olivespot told him while Ashpaw trotted for the apprentice den. "They've been guarding both borders like a hawk watching a mouse. We can't let anyone else attack us or think we're getting weak."
Lakefrost nodded and started for the warriors' den.
"Where is your sister?" Olivespot meowed suddenly.
"She didn't come," he meowed quietly.
"I have more bad news," she sighed. "Badgerface is deaf."
"What?" Lakefrost demanded turning around quickly. "What are you talking about?"
"You should ask him. It isn't my place to say."
Lakefrost growled in irritation. Almost having reached the warrior den he realized he still had to sleep in the apprentice den. He'd forgotten his punishment. He turned away and started over when Olivespot stopped him.
"Go," she insisted. "Ashpaw might keep you up. And I don't think Fallingstar won't mind. I think you've acted like a warrior."
"I hope she doesn't," Lakefrost meowed, but he went back. He really just wanted to be with his family that night. When they came in they'd see him. It didn't really matter where he got to sleep as long as he could. He ducked into the bush and found a bit of moss that smelled like his siblings. He could catch the very faint scentof Honeybee and his heart ached.
He didn't get much sleep. He felt as if he'd just closed his eyes when he felt nudges and licks and the loud sound of happy purring. He opened his blurry eyes, groggy and not sure what was going on. It wasn't too long after that the rest of the Clan was surrounding him. He could see cobwebs wrapped around body parts, poultices hanging from fur and healing wounds. Everyone asked what his journey was like, where he went, and why Honeybee wasn't back with him.
"I have to talk to Fallingstar first," he kept saying.
Finally Brownfeather dragged him to the Large Stump and the den beneath the wood and bark. His mother was inside, preparing for the night. Beside her lay two pieces of prey. She pushed a frog to him and he gratefully accepted. She glanced at Brownfeather and the dark brown tabby backed away.
"Is she fine?" Fallingstar asked when her mate was gone.
"She's safe and well," Lakefrost meowed through the frog meat.
"Where is she? Why isn't she here?"
Lakefrost sat up and licked his lips. How was he to say this? Honeybee hadn't wanted anyone to know her choice, but what was he to do? He had to tell the truth, but not all because Fallingstar knew nothing of the prophecy.
"She feels she cannot stay in the Clan. She doesn't think she's a proper warrior. She lost her fight and realized she doesn't feel safe here. She doesn't want battles or wounds."
Fallingstar nodded for him to continue, ignoring her own food.
"She chose a new life in a twolegplace," he meowed, ducking his head.
Fallingstar stared, her mouth hanging open. "A kittypet?"
He nodded. "She doesn't want the Clan to know."
"We can't tell them she died! Or nothing at all. Ashpaw might have already said something."
Lakefrost's heart sank. She was right. If Ashpaw had been woken up like him the apprentice couldn't help but babble what he heard to his siblings or the rest of the Clan. Not every apprentice went on a journey like that. The secret was already blown.
"I will do what I can," Fallingstar sighed. "But why did she choose to be a kittypet?"
"Safer. Food when she wants it. She isn't really trained to fight. She believes she was a burden to our Clan."
"Who told her that?"
"She claims no one," he replied. But he thought differently. He wouldn't speak badly about her, but usually it took a lot to get her notice. "She feels you didn't give her any responsibility. That you don't trust her with anything important. She believes the actions alone of her Clanmates are proof how useless we thought she was."
"So she's really not coming back?" Fallingstar whispered.
He shook his head. He would say nothing how he hadn't wanted her to return. Or say how that in the coming battle she would be safer away.
"What happened here?" he asked, interested to know how the battle had started.
"You'd better ask your siblings. Take your frog. I need to think."
He picked up the prey and backed out. As he left he saw her stare at her front paws, sighing, and shaking her head. She was taking the lost of her kit hard. He felt guilt prick at him. He'd promised to bring her home, but instead he'd made sure she stayed away. He was hurting his Clan leader, his mother, by doing this.
He glanced over his shoulder. Mallowstalk waved her tail at him, encouraging him to come over. He nodded and turned around. He still had questions to ask. As he went, he saw Ashpaw stumble from the den, eyes blinking rapidly. His siblings surrounded him, drawing him out to get something to eat. Lakefrost glanced at his own siblings and nodded but walked to the gray apprentice.
Ashpaw saw him. "Bluepaw, Wrenpaw, you go on ahead, I'll join you in a short time."
His sisters nodded and Ashpaw and Lakefrost were relatively alone.
Lakefrost placed the frog down. Eyes darting to make sure no one was near, he whispered, "What did you say to your sisters?"
Ashpaw licked his lips. "I told them nothing. They're kind of annoyed with me right now. They wanted to know all about it.
Lakefrost blinked in surprise.
Ashpaw smiled at him. "I know she wanted this to be a secret. I'm not a squirrel to tell everyone what happened. So don't worry."
"Thank you," Lakefrost told him.
"It's all right. She wanted it to be a secret. Fallingstar will know what to tell the Clan."
Lakefrost felt like licking the apprentice on the head, but refrained. Instead he picked up his frog and continued to his own family while Ashpaw caught up to his sisters. On the way, Knotfur wove her way over. She leaned against him, quickly licking his head.
"I missed you," she purred.
"I missed you too," he told her. His eyes softened as he took in her familiar form and scent. She was relatively unhurt, but there were still cobwebs on her fur, some of her tangles torn. He used to help her untangle her fur. He wondered if someday he'd be allowed to again.
"Did you want to eat with me?" she asked hopefully. That was a start. He was tempted, but he was also pulled to his family.
"Not right now," he sighed. "I need to be with Mallowstalk and Badgerface."
"I understand," she told him. "I'm sorry Honeybee didn't come back."
He nodded and she quickly left him so he could continue. He laid down beside them, finally able to finish his frog. They waited for him before Mallowstalk spoke up. "Where is she?"
"Elsewhere," he meowed vaguely. It really wasn't his place to say, not even to his siblings.
"She really is working for the Dark Forest, isn't she?" the ginger she-cat snorted.
"No," Lakefrost hissed at her. "She isn't at all. She only felt the Clan didn't want her or need her. She felt useless and a burden. She's safer where she's at," he continued grudgingly.
"Well why don't we all go where it's safer then!" Mallowstalk meowed sarcastically. "She's giving up on us. I don't blame her. This whole thing is useless. We haven't found anyone in the other Clans."
"Have you even been looking?" he asked sullenly.
She turned away.
Lakefrost shook his head. Now really wasn't the time to be talking about the Dark Forest. Not in the middle of camp with all their Clanmates gathered before nightfall.
"What happened while I was gone? I heard there was a battle."
"RiverClan fought us," Mallowstalk told him.
He glanced at her. She seemed angry but at the same time sad. He wasn't sure what was going on. He looked over at Badgerface, but his brother wouldn't even meet his eyes. He thought back to what Olivespot had said that sunhigh.
"You two weren't hurt?" he meowed quietly.
Mallowstalk turned on him, the fire back in her eyes. "Yes."
"I'd heard that. . ." he wasn't sure how to say it. Obviously Badgerface would take it hard, if he could hear at all. " . . . Badgerface was deaf because if it."
She glanced at Badgerface and his green eyes blinked at her. The brown tabby brother turned to Lakefrost and he held his breath.
"Not because of the battle," he replied quietly.
"Well obviously you heard me now," Lakefrost answered. "So Olivespot must have been mistaken."
Badgerface let out a strained laugh. "No, I can't hear sometimes. It lost us the battle."
"It did not!" Mallowstalk growled. "How many times do I have to tell you? You had nothing to do with us losing." She turned to Lakefrost. "It started before we were warriors. He's lived with it a long time now and we never noticed. It just proves what a skilled warrior he really is."
"I just didn't want to go to the elders' den," Badgerface muttered.
"But any other cat would have given up," Mallowstalk replied. "You're still strong despite the obstacles StarClan put in your path."
"I don't think they caused it," he meowed.
"Well they still called on you to help the prophecy even though you had this problem. They have a lot of trust and faith in you."
"Strong words for a cat who doesn't even want to help prevent it," Lakefrost snorted.
"I just think it's too late now," his sister turned on him. "Honeybee's gone. So what's the point? She just gave up. Badgerface had more right than her, but he's still here, not running off like a kittypet."
Lakefrost caught his breath, his eyes wide. She couldn't know! He quickly shook his head. No, not possible. It was just a saying.
"If she doesn't think there is reason to stay, we are already lost," she sighed. "So we just need to wait out the battle. ThunderClan has Fawnfur. They'll be fine."
"You can't go back to that!" he exclaimed, rising. He felt anger against her. They'd gotten this far! They had answers from StarClan finally and now she wanted to give up. She wasn't any better than Honeybee! The gray tabby tom stalked off, leaving them behind. His Clanmates watched him as he stalked away. He left the camp as the sun slipped beyond the horizon, the orange sky deepening into purple.
He sighed, shaking his head as he walked around the pines. Mallowstalk wasn't right. They couldn't leave Fawnfur on her own. She still needed them just like ThunderClan needed them. Of course it might be too late to stop the Dark Forest, but that didn't mean they couldn't help the other Clans defend themselves. If only Honeybee hadn't left. Mallowstalk wouldn't have gone back to her usual protests.
He wondered what Badgerface thought. Usually he didn't ask his brother things, nor did the dark brown tabby offer his opinions. Now he knew why. Badgerface was deaf on occasion. No wonder he wouldn't have spoken, afraid he might say the wrong thing. He was surprised he hadn't realized how oddly his brother was acting. There had been times he'd wondered what was bothering Badgerface, but he never would have guessed this. His brother still kept up his warrior duties despite his impairment. He wasn't a burden to the Clan at all.
Lakefrost looked up as the scent-markers filled his nose. He'd reached the border. His paws had brought him back here. Of course he'd meant to go back to the stream, back on the path to Honeybee, not to ThunderClan. His tail twitched. He knew there was something he had to say to her. Something he'd just learned from his siblings. It wasn't a fully formed idea and kept hiding back beneath the leaves of his mind.
"I can't get her involved again," he told himself stopping as he turned away from ThunderClan to walk to the stream beside the mountain. He wanted to go back to camp, but his paws refused to move.
He stared back out into the darkness. Heavy clouds now drew closer. The air was so still and there wasn't even a sound from prey. The storm was coming. He could feel it. And he knew he wanted Honeybee by his side when it finally came. She didn't realize what she was giving up or what she'd done to them. StarClan wanted her, Lakefrost wanted her even though he felt she was safer away, and Mallowstalk felt it was best to give up if they all weren't together. He had to bring her back. At least try harder to make her understand.
Suddenly he heard movement and a shadowy shape tore itself from the undergrowth. He had been found by ThunderClan again!