Leaves brushed Jaykit's pelt like falling snow. More crackled underpaw, stiff with frost and so deep that he struggled with every step. An icy wind pierced his fur --- still nursery soft --- and made him shiver.
"Wait for me!" he wailed. He could hear his mother's voice ahead, her warm body always a few steps out of reach.
"You'll never catch it!"
A high-pitched mew sliced into his dream, and Jaykit woke with a start. He pricked his ears, listening to the familiar sounds of the bramble nursery. His sister and brother scrabbling in play. Ferncloud lapping her dozing kits. There was no snow now; he was in the camp, safe and warm. He could smell his mother's nest, empty but still fresh with her scent.
"Oof!" He let out a gasp of surprise as his sister, Hollykit, landed heavily on top of him. "Watch out!"
"You're awake at last!" She rolled off him and pushed her hind paws into his flank. With a leap, she twisted away and grasped for something just out of reach.
Mouse! Jaykit could smell it. His brother and sister must be playing catch with fresh-kill newly brought into camp. He sprang to his paws and gave a quick stretch that sent a shiver through his small body.
"Catch this, Jaykit!" Hollykit mewed. The mouse whistled past his ear.
"Slow slug!" she teased as he turned too late to grab it.
"I've got it!" Lionkit called. He pounced on the fresh-kill, his paws thudding on the nursery's packed earth floor.
Jaykit wasn't going to let his brother steal the prize from him so easily. He might be the smallest in the litter, but he was fast. He leaped toward Lionkit, knocking him out of the way and stretching his forepaw to reach for the mouse.
He landed in a clumsy skid and rolled over, feeling a jolt of alarm as he realized it wasn't moss underneath him, but the squirming warmth of Ferncloud's two tiny kits. Ferncloud gave him a shove, pushing him away with her hind paws.
Jaykit gasped. "Have I hurt them?"
"Of course not," Ferncloud snapped. "You're too small to squash a flea!" Foxkit and Icekit mewled as she tucked them closer into her belly. "But you three are getting too rough for the nursery!"
"Sorry, Ferncloud," Hollykit mewed.
"Sorry," Jaykit echoed, apologetic even though Ferncloud's comment on his size had stung him. At least the queen's anger would not last. She would easily forgive kits she had suckled --- when Squirrelflight's milk had not come, it was Ferncloud who had fed Jaykit, Hollykit, and Lionkit in the moons before Foxkit and Icekit were born.
"It's about time Firestar made you apprentices and moved you to the apprentice den," Ferncloud meowed.
"If only." Lionkit sighed.
"It won't be long," Hollykit pointed out. "We're almost six moons old."
Jaykit felt the familiar surge of excitement as he imagined becoming an apprentice warrior. He couldn't wait to begin his training. But without even seeing Ferncloud's face, he could sense the flicker of doubt that prickled through the queen's pelt and knew that she was looking at him with pity in her eyes. His fur bristled with frustration --- he was just as ready to become an apprentice as Hollykit and Lionkit!
Ferncloud answered Hollykit, unaware that Jaykit had sensed her moment of unease. "Well, you're not six moons yet! And until you are, you can do your playing outside!" she ordered.
"Yes, Ferncloud," Lionkit replied meekly.
"Come on, Jaykit," Hollykit called. "Bring the mouse with you." The branches of the bramble bush rustled as she slid out through the nursery entrance.
Jaykit picked up the mouse delicately in his teeth. It was newly killed and soft, and he didn't want to make it bleed --- they could have a good, clean game with it yet. With Lionkit close behind him, he scrabbled out after his sister. The barbs of the entrance tunnel clawed satisfyingly at his fur, sharp enough to tug at his pelt but not so sharp that they hurt.
Outside, the air smelled crisp and frosty. Firestar was sharing tongues with Sandstorm below Highledge. Dustpelt sat with them.
"We should be thinking about expanding the warriors' den," the dark tabby advised his leader. "It's crowded already, and Daisy and Sorreltail's kits won't be apprentices forever."
Nor will we! thought Jaykit.
Brightheart and Cloudtail were grooming each other in a pool of sunlight on the other side of the clearing. Jaykit could hear the steady lapping of their tongues like water dripping from a rain-soaked leaf. Like all the ThunderClan cats, their pelts were leaf-bare thick, but the muscles beneath had grown lean with scarce prey and hard hunting.
Hunger was not the only hardship leaf-bare had brought. Molepaw, one of Sorreltail's kits, had died of a cough that had not responded to Leafpool's herbs, and Rainwhisker had been killed during a storm, struck by a falling branch.
Brightheart paused from her washing. "How are you today, Jaykit?"
Jaykit placed the mouse between his paws, safe from Hollykit's grasp. "I'm fine, of course," he meowed. Why did Brightheart have to make such a fuss over him? He'd only been sleeping in the nursery, not out raiding ShadowClan territory! It was like she was always keeping her one good eye on him. Eager to prove he was just as strong as his brother and sister, Jaykit flung the mouse high over Hollykit's head.
As Lionkit thundered past him and grappled with Hollykit to be the first to catch it, Squirrelflight's voice sounded from the side of the nursery. "You should show more respect for your prey!" Their mother was busy pressing leaves into gaps in the prickly walls that surrounded the queens' den.
Daisy was helping her. "Kits will be kits," the white she-cat purred indulgently.
Jaykit's nostrils flared at Daisy's strange scent. It was different from the Clanborn cats', and some of the warriors still referred to her as a kittypet because she had once lived in the horseplace and eaten Twoleg food. Daisy wasn't a warrior, because she showed no sign that she ever wished to leave the nursery, but her kits Mousepaw, Hazelpaw, and Berrypaw were apprentices, and it seemed to Jaykit that they were as Clanborn as any of his Clanmates.
Excerpted from WARRIORS: POWER OF THREE #1: THE SIGHT © Copyright 2012 by Erin Hunter. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins. All rights reserved.
Warriors: Power of Three #1: The Sight
(Warriors: Power of Three #1)
- hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: HarperCollins
- ISBN-10: 0060892013
- ISBN-13: 9780060892012