“-don’t care if he is the deputy, I’ll lead what patrol I want to!” Even before she opened her eyes, Nightcloud could recognize the rebellious sound of her son Breezepelt’s voice. The black she-cat opened her eyes to see Breezepelt conversing with the young warriors Oatclaw and Slightfoot.
Gorsetail was standing nearby, her ears flattened disapprovingly. Her pale blue eyes slid to Nightcloud, as if she expected her to discipline her son. Nightcloud ignored Gorsetail. He’s a full-grown warrior; what does she expect me to do? If he doesn’t respect his father now he never will...and with good reason. Nevertheless, Nightcloud knew enough that it was a bad idea to bad-mouth your Clan deputy although Oatclaw and Slightfoot were young enough that they were still very impressionable.
The black she-cat began to stretch her hind legs. ...I just can’t bring myself to care. Nightcloud realized. She looked around the camp, at her clanmates--Leaftail and Larkwing happily chatting, Emberfoot and Smokepaw training--and realized that she felt nothing. Nightcloud hadn’t felt happy in moons but only now did she realize that she also felt numb, as if nothing mattered to her. The worst part, Nightcloud realized, was that she didn’t even care about the complete lack of happiness in her life.
The only reason she got out of her nest most days was because of her apprentice, and kin, Brindlepaw. The mottled brown she-cat was recovering from a cough in Kestrelflight’s den, so Nightcloud had been free to patrol or hunt as she pleased--for the most part. Training her apprentice was really the only thing Nightcloud looked forward to most days; teaching Brindlepaw gave her some semblance of purpose.
Ever since it had been revealed, seasons ago, that Crowfeather fathered Hollyleaf, Jayfeather and Lionblaze with Leafpool, he had cut off as much contact with Nightcloud as he possibly could. Nightcloud reflected that it must have been around then when her life became draining. Crowfeather had denounced Leafpool and their kits but that was when Nightcloud realized that he had only taken her as a mate to make it seem like he was completely reabsorbed into WindClan and truly loyal. He had never really cared about her or their son. Both Crowfeather and Breezepelt seemed to be doing fine--Breezepelt had fathered kits now--but Nightcloud couldn’t stop reliving how Crowfeather had rejected them both.
That night, after a late hunting patrol with Sedgewhisker and Featherpelt, Nightcloud lay down in her nest, feeling drained. The hunting patrol had done well, bringing back plenty of prey in a short time but the WindClan she-cat still found herself feeling exhausted and drained. At least I’ll sleep easier . Nightcloud thought, closing her eyes and drifting off. When she opened her eyes, Nightcloud was met with the sight of a large cave. Jagged rocks loomed threateningly from the cave roof and similar jagged fangs sprouted from the floor.
Have I seen this before? I can’t remember. Nightcloud’s head spun as she looked around the cave until she spotted a silvery she-cat, her pelt speckled with stars. The she-cat’s sky-blue eyes twinkled as her plumed, fluffy tail swished through the air.
“Nightcloud.” She spoke softly.
“Who are you?” Nightcloud asked, padding closer. She let her gaze slide from the she-cat’s eyes to the stars twinkling softly in the silver fur.
“My name is Feathertail. I went on the Great Journey.” Feathertail answered.
“Feathertail?” Memories of the long trek through snow-covered mountains flowed through Nightcloud’s mind. She remembered how a cat from each Clan had been chosen but couldn’t recall Feathertail. If they had met at a Gathering in the old forest, Nightcloud couldn’t remember; she would have still been a ‘paw most likely.
“It’s fine if you don’t remember me.” Feathertail dipped her head. “I just give you some guidance.”
“What guidance?” Nightcloud asked.
“It’s about...Crowfeather.” Feathertail meowed awkwardly. “I know him when he was just an apprentice many moons ago, and he has been through a great deal.”
Nightcloud flattened her ears warily. Can’t I even sleep anymore without having to think about that rabbit-heart? Feathertail noticed Nightcloud’s tension and gently rested her plumed tail on the black she-cat’s shoulder.
“I want to remind you that there’s more to life than him.” She said quietly. “He doesn’t need to be your purpose; you have many cats and Clanmates who love you. You have an apprentice who thinks the world of you.”
That’s true . Nightcloud warmly remembered Brindlepaw; the young apprentice always listened to Nightcloud and had never disrespected her.
“Please remember that.” Feathertail told Nightcloud. “You don’t need Crowfeather, you have your kin and your Clan all around you and although they may not show it, they worry about you. Come.” Feathertail beckoned Nightcloud to a small puddle of water.
“Uh…” Nightcloud blinked at the silver she-cat, confused. Feathertail’s whiskers twitched in amusement.
“Look into the pool, dear one.” She said gently. Still skeptical, Nightcloud peered into the water. The puddle shimmered to show Sedgewhisker talking to Emberfoot.
“How’s Nightcloud?” Emberfoot asked Sedgewhisker. The pale brown tabby shrugged her shoulders.
“She did well on the hunting patrol but she’s still quiet.”
“At least she’s resting.” Emberfoot commented. “She deserves it.”
“Is Brindlepaw ready to go back to apprentice duties yet?” Sedgewhisker asked. “That should cheer Nightcloud up, I know how much she cares about Brindlepaw.” Nightcloud stepped away from the pool, unable to watch anymore as she shivered with emotion.
“I-I didn’t know that they really cared.” She murmured.
“That’s what being part of a Clan truly is.” Feathertail reminded her gently.
“I mean-” Nightcloud stammered, struggling to find the words. “-I kind of knew they must care out of obligation but I didn’t think they…” She trailed off.
“I know.” Feathertail said, her blue eyes warmly meeting Nightcloud’s amber ones. “You don’t need to worry, just know you’re surrounded by Clanmates who care about you.”
“What about Crowfeather?” Nightcloud dared to ask. Feathertail said nothing, although her blue eyes brimmed with emotion. The silver she-cat seemed to be at a loss for words, for once, and Nightcloud shook her head. “It’s all right.” The WindClan warrior reassured Feathertail. “I haven’t known what to expect in awhile; this way I know.” Feathertail nodded and padded close enough to Nightcloud so that she could rest her chin on the black she-cat’s head.
“Just remember, Nightcloud; you are loved by those who matter.”