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.Ratha went to the spring and lapped the upwelling water.It was cold and clear, and she dipped her chin in and drank until her teeth ached.Once her thirst was slaked, she let the water flow over her tongue, from one side of her jaw to the other, cooling and rinsing her mouth until the last taste of sickness was gone.She waded downstream and crouched in the shallows, letting the bubbling current ruffle her fur backwards.With chattering teeth she leaped out of the brook, wriggled on the grass and shook herself dry, sending a small shower in her companion’s direction.He sneezed and trotted uphill beyond range.There he sat, on the slope above the spring, something unreadable in his eyes.Ratha turned her tail to him and walked away.“Where do you go now, clan cat?” His voice came from behind her.She stopped, lowered her tail and looked back at him.It was nearly sunset and the slanting red light set fire to his coat as he glanced over his shoulder at the sinking sun.Ratha caught herself thinking that he was very beautiful and immediately squelched the idea.“To hunt, raider.My belly is full now and I am strong.”“What do you know of hunting?” he asked scornfully.“You’ve never hunted anything except grasshoppers and wayward herdbeasts.”“I know how to stalk and pounce.I know how to wait until the prey has left its hole and then fill the hole with dirt.I almost got that shrew.”“No matter how good you were at stalking and pouncing, and no matter how clever you were, you would never have caught that shrew.And you won’t catch any other animals either,” he said.Ratha dug her foreclaws into the ground.He was still waiting, still wearing that maddening grin that showed his broken fang.She wanted to knock out the other one.“All right, raider,” she said, taking a breath, “tell me why I won’t catch anything.”“You don’t know your prey.That striped shrew.What do you know about it?” he asked.“I know what it smells like.I know what its prints look like.I know where it hides and what it eats.Isn’t that enough?”“You didn’t know the one thing that might have saved you from eating mud instead of shrew.That shrew has many holes and they are all connected.”Ratha eyed him suspiciously.“What would a shrew want with so many holes? It can’t sleep in more than one at a time.I would only want one.Everyone at home has only a single den.Some have to share.”The stranger sighed.“You are thinking like the clan herder you are.To catch a shrew, you must think as the shrew does.”Ratha wrinkled her nose.“Shrews can’t think, can they? Not as we do.”“Oh yes, they can.They can be quite clever, as you will learn.”“But they don’t have names.or clans either,” Ratha spluttered.“Must all who are clever have names and clans?” he asked, looking at her intently.Ratha felt uncomfortable under his stare.“No,” she said at last.“You have neither clan nor name, but you are quite clever.And that shrew was also clever.”“Not all animals have tunnels,” he said, continuing.“Many hide in other ways.What you know now may let you hunt marsh shrews, but you’ll get pretty sick of them.” Ratha flicked her tail irritably as he paused.“There’s a lot you need to know,” he said and added, as if to himself, “I almost think I should teach you.”“You?” Ratha backed away, her tail fluffed.“I’d rather go back to the clan than have you as a teacher!”He stared at her intently.His eyes held hers.He walked up to her and thrust his muzzle into her face.She tried to break the intensity of his stare, but could not and sat down nervously on her tail.“You can’t go back to them, clan cat,” he said.She sensed, as she looked past her reflection into the yellow depths of his eyes, that he knew much more about her than one of the Un-Named should know.“You can’t go back,” he said again, softly.“And you can’t live here without my help.No other among the Un-Named will aid you.” He withdrew his face and she pulled her tail out from underneath herself and glared at him defiantly.“I can find another clan.They’ll take me in.”“There are no clans among our kind.”Ratha started to spit back a reply, but she knew deep inside that he spoke truth.However far she might wander, she would never find another herding community such as the one she had left.It had never been a real hope and it died as soon as it arose.“Why? Why will you do this for me?” she demanded, knowing that she had no choice but to take his help if he offered to give it.“Because of what I am, I suppose.”“You?” Ratha’s spirit came back.“You are a raider and a bone-chewer!”He ducked his head and grinned ruefully.“I am indeed, clan cat.But you may find I am something more.”“Hah! If you are the only one of all the other bone-chewers who will help me, why did I meet you instead of one of the others?”“You didn’t find me,” he said, yawning.“I found you.”“Found me?” Ratha’s jaw dropped.“You were looking for me? Why would an Un-Named bone-chewer be looking for me?”“Perhaps to teach you some manners, young one,” he snapped, giving her an irritated cuff.Ratha jumped away and shook her head.Her eyes narrowed.“I don’t think you are an Un-Named One.You are far too clever.You remind me of someone in the clan, although I can’t remember who.” Ratha felt the fur rise on her nape.“Did Meoran send you to find me and kill me?”“If he had, the marsh birds would be picking at your dirty pelt.No, clan cat.I bear no name and I obey no one.” He grinned again.“Except my stomach.”“That I can believe,” she said sourly, letting her prickling fur soften.He must be telling the truth, she thought.Meoran would never have anyone like him in the clan.“Time to hunt, clan cat,” he said, turning his face toward her.“We’ll start with marsh-shrews.Later I’ll teach you how to catch bush-tails and diggers.Are you ready?”“Yes.” she said, and her voice trailed off.“Mmm?” He crooked his tail.“What do I call you?”“Don’t call me anything.I don’t have a name.”“I have to call you something if I’m going to talk to you.If you can call me ‘clan cat,’ I should be able to call you something,” she said stubbornly.He flicked an ear.“Very well.”She hesitated.“What do you want me to call you?”“You want the name.You choose it.”“Arrr, it isn’t really a name,” Ratha haid doubtfully.“Only the clan can give someone a real name, such as mine.”He looked irritated [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]