"Let all cats old enough to catch their own prey join here beneath the Highledge
for a Clan meeting."
Squirrelflight woke with a start as the ThunderClan leader's yowl rang out across the stone hollow. Cloudtail was already pushing his way out through the thorny branches that screened the warriors' den. His mate, Brightheart, uncurled herself from their mossy nest and followed him.
"What does Firestar want now?" Dustpelt muttered, pulling himself stiffly to his paws and shaking scraps of moss from his fur. With an irritated flick of his ears, he thrust his way into the open after his Clanmates.
Stretching her jaws in a yawn, Squirrelflight sat up and gave herself a quick grooming. Dustpelt's temper was even shorter than usual this morning; Squirrelflight could see from his awkward movements that the wound he'd received in the battle against Mudclaw was still painful. Most of the ThunderClan cats still bore the rebels' clawmarks; Squirrelflight's side stung from a wound of her own, and she drew her tongue over it in rapid, soothing strokes.
Mudclaw had been deputy of WindClan until the Clans arrived in their new territory around the lake. The previous leader, Tallstar, had appointed Onewhisker to succeed him instead just moments before he died; furious, Mudclaw had led a rebellion against Onewhisker before he had the chance to receive his nine lives from StarClan. And Hawkfrost of RiverClan had helped him. Squirrelflight felt a surge of anger as she remembered how Brambleclaw still insisted on trusting his half brother, even after he had seen that Hawkfrost was up to his ears in Mudclaw's treachery.
Thank StarClan, Squirrelflight thought, that ThunderClan had discovered the plot in time, and had joined the battle against Mudclaw and his supporters. StarClan had proved who the true leader was when lightning struck a tree that fell on Mudclaw and killed him.
Giving a last lick to her dark ginger fur, Squirrelflight slid through the branches and padded into the clearing, shivering in the cold air. The pale sun of leaf-bare was just showing above the trees around the stone hollow where ThunderClan had settled at the end of their long journey. Wind rattled in the bare branches, but down here all was still. The air smelled crisp, and frost still edged the grass and bushes with white. Yet Squirrelflight could pick up a faint hint of growing things that told her newleaf could not be far away.
Digging her claws into the earth, she stretched luxuriously. Her father, Firestar, was seated on the Highledge outside his den, about halfway up the cliff. His flame-colored pelt gleamed in the slanting rays of sun, and his green eyes shone proudly as his gaze swept across his Clan. Squirrelflight guessed he wouldn't look so confident if he needed to warn them about more trouble.
The cats gathered in the clearing below him. Mousefur and Goldenflower emerged one after the other from the elders' den; Goldenflower was guiding blind Longtail behind her, the tip of her tail resting on his shoulder.
"Hi." Squirrelflight's sister Leafpool padded up and touched noses with her. "How are those scratches? Do you want some more marigold?"
"No, I'll be fine, thanks." Leafpool and her mentor, Cinderpelt, the ThunderClan medicine cat, had been busy ever since the battle, finding the right herbs and treating the cats' wounds. "There are plenty of cats who need it more than I do," Squirrelflight added.
Leafpool sniffed Squirrelflight's scratches and gave a nod of satisfaction. "You're right. They're healing well."
An excited squeal came from the nursery as Birchkit pelted out, tumbled over his own paws, and picked himself up in a scramble of light brown fur to take a place beside his father, Dustpelt. His mother, Ferncloud, padded after him and sat next to him, turning her head to smooth his ruffled fur.
Twilight, Copyright © 2006 by Working Partners Limited. All Rights Reserved. HarperCollins Publishers
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