One moment they had been tiny kits hiding in his tail for warmth, and now they were bustling and bumbling around the nursery, busy as bees in a patch of honeysuckle. Lionstar smiled at the good memories, and called softly to Moonfeather in the early hours of the morning. Tonight was the night of the Gathering. This had put him into the mindset of a tom who didn't want to beat around the bush any longer; it was going to be a night of decisions. And ceremonies, if he could round the Clan up in time to welcome in their new apprentices. Their duty would be to guard the camp during the gathering - a task they would all undoubtedly enjoy.
"Good morning, Moonfeather. I'd like to speak with you. Take a walk with me," he knew that she knew what this was about. None knew her own kits' growth more than their mother, and that the next stages of their lives were going to start very soon. It was time to decide what her next stage in life was going to be.
"I'm strongly considering turning the kits into apprentices, before we leave for the Gathering." Lionstar looked at her, his steps patient and slow as heavy golden paws began an unconscious path for the sparkling brook. "Their futures are clear to me, but yours is still a bit..." He searched for the right word. "Hazy. Have you thought of becoming a permanent part of Clan life?"
Perhaps these five moons with TreeClan had won her over? Perhaps, but Lionstar was prepared for her to say no. It was a very real possibility, and he would respect her choice no matter what it was.
Take it to the world, gonna sing it like an anthem
She lifted her head from her task of giving Amberkit a good grooming when her name was called. The kit was taking it rather well, considering the others were bustling around getting to play. But she'd gone head first into a prickle bush and her siblings had not, so she got to sit while her mother picked them all out. She rose after only a moment. "You three behave, don't give Silentsong or Mockingbird any trouble." She waited only a moment then walked out, her odd gait ambling as much as she could. Her center of balance was shifted slightly forward and to one side, which was how she'd learned to walk as a kit. Her ungainly legs made anything else impossible.
"Lionstar, I haven't seen you in some time." She flicked her tail and considered the large tom, walking alongside him easily despite the difference in their sizes. "The kits are all fat and healthy now, even little Aspenkit." She smiled as she said it, fondness for her offspring showing. "I did good by them, didn't I?" She knew they were strong now, and that she'd gotten them here. The question was mostly for a little bit of affirmation for all she'd gone through for her family.
His next words chilled her blood, though she knew it was coming long before this. "I know. They're finally thriving, even if it took them longer than your clan-kits. They are ready to move on, to start learning. I can teach them how to take care of themselves, but...my kits are going to need more than my fishing skills to get them by here in TreeClan."
Her head was down even as she spoke. It hurt to think they didn't really need her anymore, but at the same time it was bittersweet. They had lived, despite all the odds against them. And Lionstar was talking now about her future. "What future? I don't want to leave but what do I really have to offer your clan? My hunting skills on land are meager at best, I can catch fish and swim very well but that is pretty much useless here. Moreover, I don't believe in your StarClan."
"A belief in StarClan isn't fundamental to being a good Clan-cat, despite what anyone says." Lionstar added gently. "What I want to know, Moonfeather, is why you believe you have so little to offer TreeClan. With effort and patience, you could be just as great a warrior as any cat here. But only if you're willing to become one." Lionstar's golden tail swept forward, indicating the brook. "There's fish in here, so you will be able to show us your talents. And besides," he mewed, analyzing her stance, finally noticing the off-balance way she moved, "we will teach you how to hunt in the forest. New place, new techniques."
Lionstar possessed enough tact not to mention that her hunting stances and sense of balance were... very off. He planned to enlist Feathercloud's help as soon as the warrioress had healed from the LightningClan scuffle. Moonfeather's long legs had probably been difficult to work with, growing up, and Lionstar, with many moons' experience under his pelt, sensed that whoever taught her to hunt might not have known what they were doing.
Or they were just repeating the same information that was taught to them. Normally this would be fine, but not all cats could learn the same way. Some needed a different approach.
He stopped moving, golden eyes fixing on the slender she-cat. With a soft speaking voice, the leonine warrior smiled, the expression carrying a trace of sadness. "I don't want to separate you from your family. They will always need you, Moonfeather."
Take it to the world, gonna sing it like an anthem
"Perhaps that is something you should tell your warriors then." She hissed lowly at that, tail tipping irratably. Then taking a breath to calm herself, the young she-cat evened herself out. "I've been in fights in the past, it was sort of necessary to staying alive." She stared at the brook, considering the small fish swimming around before her.
"I can hunt, and I can climb, I'm just not very good at it. My balance is so bad I risk my life just climbing a tree. The little scar at the base of my tail?" She motioned to the small bald patch where the scar was with her head. "Fell from a tree, my father caught me at the rump and his teeth dug too far. Because I thought I could climb." She sounded sad, but she wasn't really finished. "I can catch land prey pretty well, as long as they don't climb or fly. I did that the whole way here with my kits. I guess the reason I feel I have next to nothing to offer is my general disposition. I don't trust many of your cats, and honestly I probably never will. I don't see myself able to put my life or safety or that of my kits into some of these cats. I do not like your Deputy. I will take orders from you, but I respect you, not him."
She blew out a breath, tail flicking as she sat down at the water's edge. "I'm a huntress, not a warrior. I've fought cats before, but only when I had to defend myself or my kits. I don't want to fight these other clans, not unless they are trying to hurt me and mine directly." She sighed. "Some of your toms keep trying to drill this 'warrior code' into my head, and then they get angry when I don't agree with them. Defend your Clan, even at the cost of your life." Here she snorted. "Warriors can defend themselves. I would defend those that couldn't. The queens who deserve their rest, and the kits and young in training that haven't learned to yet. If someone is in danger then yes I'd help them, but if you are stupid enough to approach someone and get into a fight over something trivial then you are on your own."
Moonfeather tipped her head, green eyes focusing on the fluffy tom. "And if you try to call me 'Moonpaw' I will be extremely displeased." She looked back at the brook. "Prey is killed only to be eaten. Sometimes creatures need to be killed to protect those around you. I mean...what would you do if a fox found its way into camp?" She wasn't purposefully being difficult, these were just things she'd been bantered at and talked over since she'd come here. "The word of the Clan leader is the warrior code. A leader is not infallible." She met his eyes. "If you told me to do something that went against what I believe in, I would get in trouble because I wouldn't do it. If a leader tells his or her clan to kill the kits, is that leader then still to be obeyed?"
Moonfeather was done finally, ears flicking and fur a little rankled as she wondered if he'd chase her off for her own questions. "An unwavering loyalty I have, but to you and my own. Those that have earned my respect also have my loyalty. But cats have to earn it, they don't get it just because they hold rank." She heard a squeak on the wind and looked around, still attuned to the sounds of danger to her kits even though they were safely in the nursery. It turned out to be a mouse nearby.
"That is what I have to offer." And she knew she was still very young by the standards of the clan, but she didn't want to be treated like a youngster. She'd been through too much to have to claw her way back to adult status in the eyes of this group of cats.
Moonfeather was critical, standoffish and ... a little stubborn. The more Lionstar listened, the more he realized he might've once again been blinded by his own optimism. Sometimes how he perceived others, and how they truly were, or what they were truly capable of, did not always match up perfectly.
Trying not to lose his temper, Lionstar exhaled, and sat down to keep the conversation civil. "There are exceptions to every rule. And Gorsetail is a perfectly fine cat, as is Bluejay. Both of them have been apprentices of mine." Lionstar paused, going over every part of the code she was picking at. "'Defend your Clan' means exactly what you're talking about. Clan means 'family' to most of us, so even if a Clanmate is doing something stupid or gotten themselves into trouble by their own accord, we still protect one another. They get punished later, of course, but none of us are eager to see anyone in TreeClan die. We protect our kits, elders, queens and hurt cats without exception."
Ah, now here was the trouble. Many of the warriors had tried to tell her the Code, but it wasn't enough to just recite it by heart. If she didn't know the specifics, or why these rules were in place, how could she respect them? Though it wasn't just the rules that failed to garner Moonfeather's respect. Most of the Clan seemed to fall into this category also.
"As for the leader's word being infallible," Lionstar forced a smile. "It depends strongly on the situation. If I told any warrior to jump out of the tallest tree, knowing it would get them badly wouldn't, they wouldn't do so. My warriors are not mindless, however even when we disagree on how things should be handled - they trust me enough to lead with honor and morality, just as I trust them to believe I have their best interests at heart. This code cannot work without trust and respect being its foundation."
It was time for complete honesty, now. "I want you to be a part of the Clan, Moonfeather. However, trust is very important. You have already been here for four or five moons now, but I know you've made only a few friends, most inside the nursery." Lionstar's tail-tip twitched in contemplation. "You have good reason for it, but I'm wondering... Are you so convinced you won't like the rest of us, or our ways, that you've already hardened your heart to Clan life? You don't owe us anything, Moonfeather, but an effort to get to know these cats, especially Gorsetail, would be appreciated. They are good, decent warriors." If she could never learn to trust the rest of TreeClan, she was never fully going to feel at home here.
Take it to the world, gonna sing it like an anthem
"I like Bluejay, she's sweet." She offered, noticing immediately the tension in the tom and not wanting to make him any angrier, though she didn't understand what she'd said. He'd asked her a question, wasn't she supposed to answer it truthfully? Or did the cats here not like it when you were honest? And the apprentice talk...well..."How would I even know that, Lionstar? If saying something about it insults you on their behalf how am I to know they belonged to you once? That they were your apprentices? Silentsong doesn't speak and its never come up in conversation with Mockingbird. I am sorry I upset you." Her ears laid back and she dipped her head. This felt very similiar to when she disappointed her father, and it wasn't something she enjoyed.
"No one ever told me that, it was always just 'these are the rules of a warrior. Follow them or you'll never fit in.'" The rules here were different. If someone in a group did something that jeopardized that group, why exactly did they get to stay? She wasn't going to ask that, because she did get what he was trying to say. The rules didn't always apply, it depended on the situation. "So if they are being a mousebrain, deal with the situation and then bat their ears and tell them so?" Was she even understanding correctly?
"No one bothered to explain if that rule was just the leader of the clan I'm in, or to all leaders." Because, again, she just didn't know. "I would assume just you, but...I trust you, I believe you would never do something to harm me and my kittens." She still had her ears back. "Those four or five moons I have stayed mostly in the nursery. But I did try and prove I was useful. Aspenkit is mine, though he came from one of your queens. Does that not say I want to belong? I'm trying, Lionstar, I just don't understand." Why was she suddenly upset?
She had been orphaned young, made a mother young, lost so much at such a young age. Had that hardened her heart? Absolutely. Did that mean she didn't want to fit in? Not at all. "Why are you mad? I owe you everything, we would have starved or frozen if not for you. I don't know what to believe or who to listen to anymore because everyone is telling me these things and few of them are listening to my questions. I want to stay with my kits." She scooted a little and butted her head to his shoulder, feeling a sting in her eyes. "Please don't send me away. I'm sorry I'm difficult. I'm sorry I haven't tried harder. I'll do better I promise."
She did not want to leave her babies. And this sounded like he was sending her away. He said he didn't want to, but it was like her one comment had turned him against her.
Lionstar's face softened. You've upset her, you overgrown fox. In his overprotective haste to defend his apprentices and Clanmates, Lionstar had failed to see the obvious - that Moonfeather had been told a flood of information, but none of it had made any sense. She was an intelligent young she-cat. She could be difficult, yes, but he had to consider everything from her perspective. She had been thrown, almost literally, into a world that was so far unlike her own.
Feeling her rest her head against his shoulder, like a kit trying to assuage an upset parent, Lionstar felt any last shred of tension ease away. He laid his tail over Moonfeather's back, forcing a low purr to clear the air, the sound becoming more natural with each breath. "I owe you an apology too, Moonfeather. I'm many moons older than you, so I have seen all but a pawful grow from kits and apprentices into warriors and queens and healers I'm proud to say are part of TreeClan. TreeClan is my family, you'll have to forgive me for..." Lionstar's ears went sideways, his expression sheepish as he found the right words. "Getting a little defensive when my family is criticized. You're right, you have done well with Aspenkit, you were there in TreeClan's time of need and we'll always owe you a debt for that."
He had been too harsh with her. Great StarClan, I was preparing to send her away. Lionstar almost shook his head at himself, but didn't want her to interpret the gesture as negative towards her or her future. "I won't send you away. You've already gotten a good grasp of what my explanations of the Code meant. That, and your promise to try harder is more than enough for me to be convinced that you will. I am going to have the apprentice ceremony for all of the kits in the nursery," Lionstar smiled, this time with gentility and the patience he should've had earlier. "I would also like to officially welcome you to TreeClan. Don't worry, you won't be called Moonpaw, but a few of us will help you get settled in. Silentsong will be returning to warrior duties tonight also. If this feels like too much, tell me. But if you are willing to try... Then so are we."
Take it to the world, gonna sing it like an anthem