2. Bandit Warned
The sun illuminated every corner of the living room and shone warmly on Bandit's thick shiny black fur. He laid on his back with his paws in the air and his tail flicking back and forth. He might complain to his Bound housemates about not being able to explore the world outside the windows, but he was learning to enjoy the slow and easy pace of the house. He realized that his stomache had not grumbled emptily in many months. The male Twoleg Nofur, that had pulled him from the broken down dryer in the junkyard, was even competent at reaching the itchy scar behind his left ear, or at least what was left of his left ear. No matter how comfortable Bandit felt about his current surroundings, he still did not count himself as one of the Bound. As he had clearly declared to Momma's kitten, Little One, he was still one of the Free and would always be. He immensely enjoyed the comforts that these Bound were born into, but he felt that they should only be enjoyed as a short term situation. He knew of too many Bound that suddenly found themselves amongst the Free. Scared and untrained, these cats were unprepared for the harsh life of the Free. Bandit could only remember four Bound that managed to become one of the Free. As for the others, he had callously walked past their cold, still bodies.
A quick stretch and a leisurely roll lead Bandit to scan his favourite spot in the living room. The wide ledge of the windows gave him a view of the forest grove across from the house. Bandit had patrolled a similar grove to this one near the junkyard. Strangely, he did not feel the need to patrol this grove. He had changed shortly after coming into the Twoleg Nofur's house. Bandit did not remember when it had happened, but he did know that he had awoken one day to find that everything had changed for him. Bandit heard the patter of feet on the floor. He turned to see Momma striding intently towards him. Deep inside, he heard the call to run and to flee. There was danger in Momma's approach.
"I warned you, Bandit" Momma growled as she leapt up and pulled Bandit from the ledge.
They exploded into a hissing, growling, rolling ball of fur and unsheathed claws. The fight lasted only seconds. When it did, Momma stood over Bandit; his previously torn left ear was held firmly in her clenched jaw.
"He asked." Bandit tried to pull away, but he could not. His ear was trapped.
"And I asked you not to tell the kittens your stories of the Darkening Road." Momma growled, as she bit further into Bandit's ear. "Stories of Ware and Caution are fine. I told you that when the kittens were born. But I told you to keep your tales of the Darkening Road to yourself. Those tales are for the Free only. My kittens are of the Bound, and I do not want them hearing your stories."
"But many of the Bound suddenly find themselves as one of the Free." Bandit flinched as Momma began to draw blood with her claws entrenched in his chest and side.
"These kittens will never become one of the Free." Momma released her grip.
"You can try to promise yourself that Momma Cat. But once they leave to find their own path, you will have no control whether they find themselves amongst the Free or the Bound." Bandit slithered from under Momma's fierce hold. "You know I tell the truth."
Momma took in Bandit's words and reluctantly accepted what she was hearing.
"Little One is not stupid." Bandit said as he reassured himself with a quick grooming. "If he was one of the Free, he would have been Hunted by now. He has it within him to become a great Tom. That is if the current Tom would permit him to live that long."
"I only want to protect them."
"The time of your protection is drawing to a close, Momma." Bandit stated. "Even I can smell it on you and on the kittens. Their time as kittens is ending, and either they will know enough to survive or they will perish."
"That is not their world, Bandit." Momma countered, "The kittens are not in the same danger as they would be if they were Free."
"Tell me, Momma." Bandit replied harshly, "Did Miss Rabbles intend to be left behind when her Twolegs moved? Did she intend to spend several Dark Colds amongst the Free willingly? Did she intend to watch her kittens die by the claws and teeth of the tom DarkPaw?"
"Those are things you are not to talk about." Momma leapt on top of Bandit and caught him off guard. "This is your last warning, Bandit. Leave my kittens alone or I will give you a matching set of ears."
"I will not seek out your kittens, Momma Cat." Bandit submitted. "But know this. If any of them grow into adults with us, I will tell them what they need to know about the Free."
Bandit twisted himself out of Momma's stranglehold. He quickly moved to the far side of the room. He could still see her, but now there was a chair between them. Bandit gave her a knowing snort before he turned towards the kitchen. The sound of the can opener had suddenly eliminated his desire for confrontation with Momma Cat.
Momma Cat watched Bandit slink away to the kitchen. The call of the can opener had also tempered her anger towards Bandit. She would follow shortly. She did not want Bandit to think she had forgotten about or forgiven him. In her heart, his words rang truly and harshly. She felt a pang of regret as the realization that she would not be able to protect her kittens forever settled in and took hold. She had hoped for more for her last litter; that she would be able to raise them without worrying what their future held. Momma Cat sat and waited thoughtfully in the living room. She did not stir until she heard the female Twolegs Nofur call her name.