An Apprenticeship

Despite the slight age difference between the two litters, Embertooth's and Littlefern's kits were still apprenticed on the same day. In fact, it wasn't much of a day, with a dim, cloudy atmosphere. Pathetic dribbles of rain fell, on and off, throughout the morning, but Morningstar still went ahead with the ceremony. She had recovered well from the kitting, and the shock that she had birthed only one kit. Sedgewing, however was still nursing a set of vicious claw marks, dealt by a certain vengeful she-cat, on his cheek bone, centimeters below his eye.

When the time for the ceremony was nigh- despite the clouds, Morningstar had pronounced it to be sunhigh- the tawny leader gathered PureClan beneath the Speaking Hill. The five apprentices to-be, preened and prepared, sat off to one side. Their anticipation threatened to undo the grooming their mothers had so laboriously applied. There was a certain sadness in Littlefern's eyes, a sadness she could not quite hide beneath her mask of indifference as she watched her remaining kits. There were only three now; Slatekit, Nettlekit and Smokekit. Rainkit had, apparently, wandered off in the middle of the night and had been caught by a fox or badger, or perhaps even a malevolent Tainted, the rumours speculated. Morningstar called the whole affair a tragic accident, but her cunning eyes gleamed whenever she looked at her single child.

Sorrelstorm struggled to contain his disgust whenever he saw Morningstar. It had been much harder to 'dispose' of a near-grown kit, rather than a newborn. Rainkit hadn't gone easy. She'd put up a fight, and the medicine cat was still having to hide the shiny pink scars from the Clan. He had to, or else they'd get suspicious.

They queen had named the tom Strongkit, and already he had a higher status than the apprentices and many of the younger warriors.

"PureClan, warriors, apprentices, kits and queens, I have called a meeting for announce the apprenticeship of these young cats," Morningstar boomed. Yet again, there were no cheers, only silence to greet the announcement.

"From this moment forward, until they have earned their warrior names, they will be known as Slatepaw, Nettlepaw, Smokepaw, Sablepaw and Pepperpaw. Slatepaw will be mentored by Thornstreak, who has proved his worth in his capture of the Tainted. Tornear, you are practiced in the way of battle and will make a suitable mentor for Pepperpaw."

There were ripples of shock when she declared that Waterstripe would mentor Smokepaw; he, out of all the toms, had a reputation of softness. And that was barely tolerable.

Nettlepaw was quickly apprenticed to Fallenfeather, as if Morningstar hoped to distract the Clan with her next quick volley of words.

"Sablepaw. You will be mentored by Meadowmist," Morningstar said, beckoning the white she-cat forward. Softly, she bumped her pale pink nose against Sablepaw's.

"And that concludes the meeting," Morningstar cried. She was already scrambling off the knoll and towards the nursery where Strongkit waited. Sablepaw didn't like his round eyes; they always seemed to be watching her, calculating her movements, analysing anything and everything she did. It was unbelievably creepy, but the arrogant fur-ball seemed to think he had the right, as the leader's sole kit, to do whatever he wanted.

"Come on," Meadowmist said, beginning to walk away. She looked back at her new apprentice with impatient eyes. "Do you want to go explore or sit around in camp?" Sablepaw startled and trotted after her mentor.

At first, Meadowmist seemed to weave through the forest without any aim, until they reached a wide river with a flat silver surface.

"This is one border of our vast territory," the pale she-cat announced. Her voice was bored; she'd been here, dragging too many apprentices along on the same old tour and intoning the same old speech too many times. Sablepaw herself appeared no different from the rest of the rabble. Without giving her curious apprentice much time to glance around- it was just a river, after all- she continued on her well-worn path. The next landmark they visited was a wizened old deciduous tree with a smattering of owl pellets on the forest floor around it. Meadowmist reluctantly stopped, but only told Sablepaw to watch out, if you don't want to end up as one of those little pellets by the time night rolls around.

Before long the pair were trotting off again to mark yet another border- thin one was a crumbling edge of a ravine. Sablepaw gulped when she peered over; many meters below lay a jagged bed of rocks. A small, merry blue stream wound its way around the jutting grey obstacles.

A few paw steps into the forest, they were joined by Tornear and Pepperpaw. The two warriors chatted almost amiably- they had to remain above a certain of aloofness, to protect their impressionable apprentices- but the two young cats padded behind them in an awkward silence. They hadn't spoken to each other in moons, but Sablepaw could still remember the warm and milky morning, when her brother had been cruelly torn away. It seemed he did too, and he kept darting her tiny, wary glances.

But it was clear they were both thinking the same thing:

Love is poison...love leads to your own death. All the cautioning tales the elders had ever told them whirred through their minds, one after the other, each bringing with it a warning. Instinctively, they stuck to opposite sides of the path. It was simply so ingrained, the wariness of the opposing sex, that it did not occur to them to make a polite or casual conversation.

Neither asked, so, the weather, eh?

They did not ask each other how they liked their apprenticeship or their mentors so far. To a strange cat, an unsuspecting Tainted, they would seem odd and unnatural, but by now, this behaviour came second nature to the young siblings.

Together, they visited the stand-out landmarks of their territory; an underground stone cavern to weather out the storms in; a lovely green meadow on the outskirts of the territory (Meadowmist did not live up to her light and airy namesake); numerous old trees which mice frequented for the acorns and nuts, and lastly the place where the smooth river, in a crescendo of white water, off a pebbled cliff. There was a crumbling path etched into the rock-face that led down the roughly-hewn rock wall, but not cat was brave enough to try it.

Together, the brother and sister returned to camp, but by the end of the night, they had retired, separately, to different dens on the opposite sides of camp.

I'm guessing this isn't my best work, but I have a bit of a cold and I'm not feeling the brightest.

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