11. The Free Cats' Creed
Little One deeply missed his sister, Alyssa. He had not only lost a playmate but also a confidant. His other sister, Eppy, never stepped into the chasm that Alyssa had left in Little One's life. The nose prints on the front window has been cleaned away by the Female Twolegs. It seemed to Little One that if he did not think about Alyssa everyday, she would completely disappear from his world. Little One heard the clacking of the keyboard in the den, and he ran from the front window to where he knew he would find the Male Twolegs.
The Male Twolegs was indeed sitting at the desk in the den and typing away on the keyboard. Little One hopped onto his lap and then placed his little paws onto the keyboard as he tried to see what was on the computer screen. He was quickly moved by the Male as a collection of V's, G's and B's showed up unmercilessly on the computer screen. Little One was not dumped onto the floor but placed on the desk surface to the right of the monitor. There were some bright red pictures that confused Little One. He scented the lingering smell of worry and fear that seemed to follow the Male Twolegs. Little One hoped that the Male would find the pictures of birds and squirrels that Little One found so fascinating. A loving scratch behind Little One's left ear lightened both the Twolegs and Little One's mood. As Little One purred, the Female Twolegs entered the den and walked to the Male's side. Her left hand found the Male's shoulder and her right found Little One's right ear. Little One's internal motor went into overdrive under the attention of both of the Twolegs. The Female stopped scratching Little One's ear. She stooped over and kissed the Male Twolegs gently on the cheek. Little One looked at the monitor and the pictures. He then looked at the Female Twolegs. The Scent of Sorrow had fallen over her again, but Little One could not scent the reason.
Little One did not see Eppy as she entered the den. She obviously had hoped to catch the Male Twolegs alone so that she could get some much needed and deserved attention. She saw Little One sitting on top on the desk getting attention from both the Male and Female Twolegs. She secretly fumed as she watched Little One. She could not understand why the Twolegs gave him more attention than they gave her. She turned and walked away from the den. Eppy did not acknowledge Bandit as she passed him in the hallway.
Bandit looked into the den and saw Little One sitting with the Male and Female Twolegs. He turned his head and looked in the direction Eppy had left. His nose twitched at the acrid scent she trailed behind her. Bandit felt the jealously Eppy left behind in her scent. He lowered his head as the all too familiar dynamics of the Free showed its natural course in the house. He started to move out of the doorway of the den when he was spotted by Little One.
"Bandit." Little One exclaimed as he leapt from the desk to the floor.
The Male and Female Twolegs gasped as their kitten dropped five times his own height to the floor. Little One did not hesitate or stumble as he ran out of the den in pursuit of his friend Bandit.
"Bandit." Little One gasped as he caught up to his mentor. "When are you going to resume my lessons?"
"I thought you might want a bit of time." Bandit paused. "To get over Alyssa's departure."
"I do miss her lots." Little One replied, "But I still want to learn."
“If you feel up to it.” Bandit stated.
“So what is it today.” Little One asked excitedly. “Are you going to teach me how to fight better? Or how to jump higher?”
“Not everything has to do with fighting and jumping, Little One.” Bandit said. “Let’s go sit on the bed.”
Bandit lead Little One to the Twolegs’ bedroom. Little One clawed his way up again and he patiently waited for Bandit to join him. They curled up on the pillows at the head of the bed, not touching, but close enough that Bandit did not have to raise his voice very loud. Bandit remembered back to the first day Blackpatch and his family left the den...
Longfur regarded her four kittens as they prowled around the den. They had all grown so much in their first eight weeks. The kittens were now play-hunting the food that Longfur was bringing back to the den. Longfur noted with pride how well Blackpatch and his sisters, Haze and Nigthpaw had taken to stalking the mostly dead mice and birds she brought back. She was a little concerned that Blazefur was not taking to hunting as well as he should. Longfur knew that the next few weeks would mark all of them for the rest of their lives amongst the Free.
“Kittens.” Longfur said. “Today you are to see the outside world for the first time.”
“We’re going Outside?” Blackpatch was excited. “Out of the den?”
“Why?” Blazefur pouted. “The den is comfortable and warm.”
Haze and Nightpaw did not say anything. They looked at each other and realized that they were torn between the excitement Blackpatch felt and the trepidation that Blazefur was showing.
“You can’t live in the den forever.” Longfur stated to her kittens. “You are almost at the age when you will need to go and find your own Path in the World. This is just the first step in finding that Path. Now follow me.”
Longfur lead the four kittens out of the den. They all had to stop and blink their eyes. The light was much brighter here in the World than it was in their den. Each one stopped at the threshold of the den and the rest of the World. There were a multitude of smells that they had never experienced before. Blackpatch’s nose was twitching feverishly. His siblings’ noses were doing the same. The excitement over these new smells evaporated any fear that the kittens had. They slowly left the opening of the den one by one. They were quickly warned by Longfur to stay close.
“Not too far, Kittens.” Longfur commanded protectively. “We will go a little further each day, but for now you are not to leave the woodpile.”
The kittens agreed quickly. For as exciting as the Outside was, they were not ready to head out on their own. Blackpatch made an effort to scramble up the nearest piece of wood. The wood suddenly shifted beneath his weight, and Blackpatch was tossed to the ground. Haze and Nightpaw laughed at their brother’s misfortune. Blazefur had watched where Blackpatch had gone and found a safer route up the loosely strewn wood. Longfur’s doubts about Blazefur disappeared. Blazefur was not as adventurous or bold as his siblings, but he regarded the world about him better than they did. Blackpatch followed the path Blazefur had found up the side of the woodpile. As they sat atop the woodpile, they looked at the horizon and thought the World was huge and overwhelming. It was too much for Blazefur, who quickly scrambled down and ducked back into the den. Haze and Nightpaw were spooked by Blazefur’s sudden return to the den, and they unthinkingly followed him into the den. Longfur watched as three of her four kittens bolted into their den. She looked up Blackpatch. He was acting like he owned the woodpile.
“What have we here?” A deep rumbling voice sounded from across the woodpile.
Longfur spun around to face the source of the voice. It was the Current Tom, Darkstripe Onetooth. His presence was not unexpected since the woodpile was his territory, but it was unwelcome. Longfur knew why he was here.
“Blackpatch!” She ordered. “Get back into the den!”
Blackpatch would have protested, but the fear and urgency in his mother’s voice warned him that there was danger nearby. He quickly and ungainly dropped to the forest floor and disappeared into the den.
Darkstripe leaped to the forest floor after Blackpatch. He was intercepted by a bristling and agitated Longfur.
“These kittens are not of my blood.” Darkstripe accused Longfur. “They have no place on my woodpile.”
‘They are not going anywhere, Darkstripe.” Longfur moved to block Darkstripe’s advance to the den opening. “Leave now!”
“You can’t watch them always, Longfur.” Darkstripe threatened. “And I will not tolerate this insult.”
Longfur hissed and fiercely swatted at Darkstripe’s face. He was taken off balance by Longfur’s attack.
“Leave Darkstripe.” Longfur warned. “Or this will not go well for one of us.”
Darkstripe was not in the mood to fight with a protective mother cat. He backed away from the den opening.
“You have been warned, Lonfur.” He growled as he slinked away.
“And so have you.” Longfur hissed back.
She watched him leave and only when she was certain that he was gone did she follow her kittens into her den. Today was supposed to be an awakening for the kittens. Now it would be the start of the first of many lessons her kittens would have to learn.
Bandit paused in his story.
“What was the lesson?” Little One asked. “Did she teach Blackpatch how to cuff Darkstripe so hard he would never come back?”
“No Little One.” Bandit shook his head. “What she taught her kittens that night is the governing creed of all Free cats.”
Little One was enthralled by Bandit’s story. He was going to learn one of the secrets of the Free.
“When in danger, you run. When you cannot run, you hide. When you cannot hide, you fight.” Bandit recalled solemnly. ”And when you fight, you fight to the end or until the Shadow falls.”
“Repeat it back to me, Little One.” Bandit instructed.
“When in danger, you run. When you cannot run, you hide. When you cannot hide, you fight. And When you fight, you fight to the end or until the Shadow falls.” Little One repeated.
“I want you to think about that.” Bandit said as he rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. “Now I need a nap. Telling you all these stories is tuckering me out.”
Little One closed his eyes and tried to go to sleep as well. His thoughts were churning and he kept repeating the Free Cats’ Creed over and over again in his mind. To a Twolegs Nofur, it would have sounded like Little One was gurbling in his sleep.