Story by Al, of Porcelain Llama Theater
They entered the tall reeds that spread out from the banks of the river like a spill of milk spreading across a kitchen floor. It was still many walks to their destination. Jadeshadow spoke up again. “But why do we take these things to the river?” Her voice was muffled by the spoon she carried in her mouth, but that hadn’t stopped the kit’s constant questions.
Cloudchaser’s ears went flat, but only for a moment. He was a tutor, tasked with teaching the stories and the ways to the young ones, to guide them gently down the path. It was easier to remember that with some kits than with others. “Where were you last story day?”
“I was there,” Jadeshadow said, nearly dropping her spoon as she half-yowled the protest.
“Your body was there, kit, but I think your mind was chasing butterflies in the field,” he growled. Gently guide, tutor. He told himself. Gently guide. “Very well, I will tell you again. What lives in the river?”
“Long water cats! Everyone knows that.”
“Right. And what do long water cats love more than anything else?”
“It’s something very close to you right now, Jadeshadow.” There was a long pause as the kit looked about, puzzled, her head heavy with the weight of the spoon in her mouth. Cloudchaser sighed again. “Very close.” He turned and bumped the spoon she carried with the pair in his own mouth.
“Two-leg eating things?”
“Yes! Or anything shiny. Now, when do we take these to the river?”
“Every year,” Jadeshadow said promptly, high-stepping with pride. The effect was spoiled slightly as a grassjumper sailed overhead and the kit jerked her head around to follow, throwing herself off balance. Cloudchaser jumped back and pushed his head into her flank, righting her before the spoon could dip into the soft mud that was beginning to well up between the reeds.
“Yes, every year. Is it easy to get these?” He looked down, making sure the kit was stable, and then headed off again.
“Well, pretty easy,” Jadeshadow said thoughtfully as she trotted to catch up. “The two-legs sleep a lot at night, and they don’t hear very good. But you have to find the right ones, and then drag them out, and they’re heavy. Plus we have to carry them all the way here. That’s hard.”
“So why would we cats go to all that trouble?”
There was another long pause as Jadeshadow thought about it. Finally she said. “There must be a good reason. You should never work without a good reason for it.” She looked at Cloudchaser hopefully, but the older cat didn’t even look back, just kept marching along. She thought some more. The spoon was heavy, and the mud was starting to smell. Not bad, but it was strong, and it was starting to get thick. She was going to get her paws dirty. Maybe even her legs. And they did this every year? “It must have been something big!” She said, with sudden realization. “Some big good reason, and I bet it happened this time of the year a long time ago. And we’re still working to pay for whatever it was, a long time ago.”
Cloudchaser stopped, and looked back at her kindly. “That’s right,” he said, and she could hear the proud note in his voice. He wasn’t that bad, for such an old cat. She vowed to try to pay more attention during story days in the future. But there was a story here she’d missed. A secret. He tail twitched as if she were ready to pounce. “So what is it? What did they do? What happened?”
Cloudchaser laughed a little. Jadeshadow was a good kit, smart, inquisitive, quick to pounce on a clue. If her mind was prone to chase butterflies, well, that was the prerogative of the young, wasn’t it?
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll tell you the story…” He cleared his throat, adopting a formal, tutor’s tone. “Have you ever heard of Moggy Br—”
“Moggy Briarpraw! She was a great warrior of the Wood Clan! She’s my ancestress, you know.”
Cloudchaser laughed. “I do know! Now listen…” And he began a lilting song, in the Rhyming Yowl, pitching his voice low like wind through trees on a summer night.
“Moggy the Briar Paw,
Warrior of the Wood Clan
Silent as moonlight, hard as the oak
Came to the village, searching for secrets,
Came to the village, knowing not what she’d find.
“The sound of a struggle
Heard Moggy the Briarpaw
Swift as a night-wind, she ran to the fight.
There in the grass, a gravely wounded mother cat
There in the grass, for her kittens she cried.
“Cowards and murderers
Had leapt on the mother cat
Stolen her kittens, and left her to die
With the last of her life, she told Moggy Briarpaw
With the last of her life, she showed her the way.”
Cloudchaser stopped. He looked back. Jadeshadow had sat down, heedless of the welling mud, her eyes wide. Cloudchaser moved to her and nudged the kit to her feet, then gently pushed her forward, walking close beside her as he continued, his voice calm, grave.
“Too late for the battle
Was Moggy the Briarpaw
Too late for the mother cat, but not for cause.
Justice swore Moggy, strongest of the Wood Clan,
Justice swore Moggy, no matter what came.”
Jadeshadow nodded. Everyone knew that Wood Clan cats were the toughest and most determined warriors. Moggy would run those cowards down wherever they went!
“The sounds of the battle
Brought three other brave souls
True warriors all, fearless they came.
From each of the clans, came forth a warrior
From each of the clans, now hear their names:
“From the River Clan, Needle-Reed, best of all divers, with the strongest of hearts and the strongest of paws.
From the Mountain Clan, Grizzleface, fire-blood, eater, great was his girth, his spirit, his maw.
From the Meadow Clan, Smokecharmer, best of all leapers, hider-in-plain-sight, knower-of-all.
“Four clans, four warriors
Brought for one purpose
United by fate, and sworn to the cause
‘For the kittens’ they cried, as the followed the scent-path,
‘For the kittens’ they cried, a true warriror’s call.
“Smokecharmer, tireless, led them to the towers,
Which o’erlook tail lands, and bring scents from all.
‘To the swamplands’ cried Needle-Reed, sampling the wind
‘The fools think to lose us, but those are my lands.’
’The curs will not lose us, my warrior band.”
“Stride after stride
They ran, never tiring
Following the scent-path of of the curs, of the hounds
It was hounds that had come, and savaged the mother cat
It was hounds that had come, and stolen her kits.
“ ‘We will eat of their hearts,’
Snarled Grizzleface of the Mountain Clan,
‘Devour their flesh, and spit out their bones!’
Onward they sped, the four noble warriors
Onward they sped, ‘For the kittens’ they cried.
“To the river they came
The four noble warriors
When up from the mud, one thousand bugs swarmed
One thousand great bugs, as long my tail,
One thousand great bugs, hungry for cat-flesh.
“ ‘Nothing but mud-bugs.’
Laughed Needle-Reed of the River Clan
’There’s only a few, but they’ll do for some lunch!’
One swipe of his paw laid open five hundred
One swipe of his paw swept the rest far and wide.
“Smokecharmer devoured them
With skill and great delicacy
Grizzleface gulped down dozens still pinching and whole
‘We must move down the river,’ Said Moggy the Briarpaw
‘We must move down the river, though it’s cold, swift, and deep.’
“Up from the water
Came King Tail Biter
Lord of the Turtles, Sovereign of the Swamp
‘My jesters will aid you,’ said King Tail Biter
‘My jesters will aid you, though they have their price.’
“Three long water cats,
Jesters to King Tail Biter,
Came up from the water, and called out their price
‘Three things shine!’ Called out the long water cats
‘Three things that shine, each year on this day!’ ”
Cloudchaser paused, cleared his throat, and pitched his voice in the ancient Call-and-Challenge Yowl of the River Clan.
“ ‘Clean bones’, offered Grizzleface, ‘the skulls of your enemies?’
‘No!’ called the jesters, ‘Three things that will shine!’
’I’ll capture the moon,’ offered Moggy the Briarpaw, ‘and set it on water, to shine for your eyes?’
‘No’ called the Jesters, ‘Three things that will shine!’.
‘Long water cats’ whispered Needle-Reed of the River clan, ‘Prize two-leg tools above all else that shines’.
‘Three spoons on this day’ said Smokecharmer of the Meadowclan. ‘I know where to find them—’
’WE’LL TAKE THAT AS PAY!”
Cloudchaser had been changing his voice, imitating the accents of the different clans and then rising into a high, wild chitter for the long river cats. Each call and challenge had grown faster and the accents more outrageous, and the final line was a high, burbling shriek that sent Jadeshadow rolling on the ground with laughter. She stopped abruptly when the shadow of Cloudchaser fell over her, the tutor looking down sternly. “An—and that’s why we take these to the river?”
Cloudchaser smiled warmly and stepped back, helping her to her feet with one paw. “That’s why, kit. Now, me must—”
“But what happened then? What did the long water cats do to help? And what about the kittens? And the hounds?”
Cloudchaser chuckled. “I’ll be telling that part next story day, kit. Maybe this time you’ll be there?”
Hear the full story by listening to the live-play podcast of Warrior Cats, coming soon on Porcelain Llama Theater.