4. Storytelling Bandit
Little One looked around the corner and saw Bandit laying in the cat bed next to the fireplace. Bandit was still fighting the infection from his fight with Momma Cat. Little One felt responsible for Bandit's poor health. If it had not been for him Bandit and Momma would not have fought and Bandit would not be laying there in the cat bed. Little One summoned his courage and headed towards Bandit's bed. He had not gotten to within five feet of Bandit, when Bandit stirred.
"No further. Little One." Bandit rolled over in his bed and cast his golden eyes on Little One. "Your mom does not want me filling your head with stories."
"I'm not here for stories." Little One steeled his voice. "I don't want you to get into anymore trouble with Momma or the Twolegs. Momma says they almost cast you out."
"After the fight," Bandit replied. "The Twolegs were worried that I had not tamed down."
"They are afraid you are still one of the Free." Little One said thoughtfully.
"We are not to speak of that." Bandit stated.
"I know. I promised Momma too. But that does not change who you are."
"No It doesn't." Bandit agreed. "But maybe I have to change who I am."
"I hope not." Little One said as he stepped into the cat bed next to Bandit.
He snuggled next to Bandit so that his eyes were at the same level as Bandit’s. A little furry paw stretched out and touched Bandit on the shoulder. Bandit flinched as Little One touched the same spot where Momma Cat's claw had bitten deep.
"I want you to show me how to be as strong as you." Little One asked. "I want to be able to take care of my Momma and my sisters."
"Little One." Bandit replied. "As much as I admire your wanting to protect your Momma and your sisters, it can never ever be about protecting others. There is only one cat that you can ever worry about and that is you."
"Because that is the way it is." Bandit sounded almost sad at his own convictions. "For both the Free and the Bound."
"It doesn't have to be." Little One said.
“Yes, Little One, it does.” Bandit replied, he was still too tired to argue with the inquisitive and questioning kitten. “We are by nature solitary creatures. The Free, by choice, only gather together for one reason. The Bound gather together because they are forced by the Twolegs to do so. This is especially harsh for the Bound. I am going to get in so much trouble for telling you this.”
“I won’t tell Mom. “ Little One stated, “Besides I getting big now and I don’t get scared as much.”
“It’s harsher for the Bound. They adopt the Twolegs as one of their own. But some of the Twolegs still treat the Bound like the Free treat a mouse. They are plaything until it is time to dispose of it. The Bound are then doubly betrayed because it is a betrayal of both their own nature and their freely given trust. Do you understand Little One? The Free sense this about the Twolegs and that is why they prefer to live alone.”
“Do you like being alone, Bandit?” Little One asked, “Or do you like living here in the house?”
“It is much warmer than the junkyard. And the food is easier to find.” Bandit chuckled, “For one thing you don’t have a dumb dog chasing all the mice and squirrels away.”
“Did you have any friends in the Junkyard?”
“Not really. I was the Next Tom of the junkyard. I had to keep a pretty low profile otherwise the current Tom would chase me out. When the Twolegs found me, I had just been reprimanded by the Tom for getting to close to one of the females.”
“Getting too close to one of the females?” Little One’s face scrunched up in confusion.
“Oh no.” Bandit stopped the conversation. “If telling you about the Free ends me up in the Vet’s for a week, telling you about that will put me in the shelter for sure.”
“Oh.” Little One did not want Bandit to get into anymore trouble. “Are there any stories that you can tell me that won’t get you into trouble?”
“I could tell you about my ancestor, Blackpatch Sharpclaw.” Bandit replied.
“What a neat name.” Little One replied, “Blackpatch Sharpclaw. Was he tough? Was he strong?”
“Do you want to hear the story or not?”
Bandit laid his head down on his forepaws and briefly closed his eyes. He drew deep from his memory the stories his own mother had told him. It was the way of the Free to remember those who came before them. Every Free Cat could, with a little effort, tell stories of family members that went back hundreds of years. Many Twolegs comment that when they look into the eyes of a cat they feel they are seeing a very old soul. It is not an old soul they see, but the presence of memories that have lasted longer than most Twolegs have been alive.
Bandit opened his eyes and softly began telling Little One the story of his great-great-great-great grandfather…
Longfur Fastpaw breathed slowly as the last of her kittens came into the world and the Life of the Free. Six little bodies laid damp and tiny on the den floor. She mourned briefly for the tiny little body that was not stirring. She tentatively licked her five remaining kittens clean and nudged them towards her swollen teats. The first was a little solid black male. You are named Blackpatch, Longfur decided. The next was an orange calico male, which she named Blazefur. The next was a female of solid grey, which she named Haze. Another black female blindly wiggled around her siblings. You are to be called Nightpaw, Longfur declared. The last was a tiny little female who was solid black except for a white spot around her left eye. You are Whitepatch, Longfur said. Having named and cleaned her kittens as was the custom amongst the Free, Longfur laid back and waited for her kittens to start nursing.
She was very tired from giving birth. She sniffed the air of the den. The scent of the Shadow was still faintly about all her kittens. The Shadow around her kittens could deepen or lighten. It would be days and weeks before she would know whether any of them would have to follow their stillborn brother down the Darkening Road.
The kittens in Longfur’s den snuggled and nursed for several weeks without seeing or knowing about the outside world. Longfur had finally managed to leave the den to hunt and re-nourish herself. The kittens climbed awkwardly around the den, each step was tentative and thoughtfully placed. Of the kittens, Blackpatch was the most coordinated and active. He was already playfully stalking his littermates. His smallest sister, Whitepatch, was his favourite victim. She, unfortunately, was not growing as fast as her brothers and sisters.
“Come on, Whitepatch.” Blackpatch encouraged his little sister. “You try and wrestle me now.”
“I can’t.” Whitepatch complained. “When’s mom coming home? I’m hungry.”
“She fed us this morning. Whitepatch” Blackpatch replied.
“I didn’t get very much.” Whitepatch stated. “Haze pushed me away before I could finish.”
“Did she?” Blackpatch was furious. “You stay here and wait for mom.”
Blackpatch found Haze curled up next to Blazefur. He grabbed her ear as tightly as he could with his little milk teeth.
“Blackpatch!” Haze cried out. “That hurts.”
“Whitepatch says you pushed her off before she was done eating.”
“I was still hungry.” Haze snapped back. “Besides Nightpaw pushed me off. And before you go and get mad at her, guess who pushed Nightpaw off.”
Blackpatch tried to remember the morning’s feeding. He looked at Whitepatch and was suddenly crestfallen. He had still been hungry when the teat he had been suckling on had dried up. It had been him who pushed Nightpaw off her teat. He had tried to blame Haze for Whitepatch’s hunger, but it had been him who had started the pushing. He apologized silently to his sister, Whitepatch.
“…He would make sure she got more to eat at their next feeding.” Bandit finished off his story of the birth of Blackpatch.
“That can’t be the end.” Little One protested. “That’s not a full story. It’s only part of a story.”
“That is all I have the energy to tell you today.” Bandit replied. “Now go and bother your sisters. I will tell you the rest another day. And if you want to learn about protecting those you care for, ask your mother. She sure took me down a peg or two.”