When Leafpool arrived back at camp, she went directly to her den. Flicking her tail angrily, she flopped down onto her nest. Thoughts ran through her mind like prey. She had tried to tell Crowfeather about the kits, although the meeting hadn't gone quite as she'd expected. If he doesn’t want to listen to me, then fine, she thought. I have more important things to worry about. My Clanmates have barely begun to trust me after I ran away, and if they find out about these kits, they’ll probably drive me out of the Clan. She shook her head miserably, and closed her eyes.
She had just begun to doze off when she heard a rustling outside her den. She got to her paws and walked into the front of the cave where she kept her supplies. Her sister Squirrelflight was sitting near the entrance to the cave, toying with a piece of moss. "What's going on?" Leafpool mewed, twitching her ears in curiosity.
Squirrelflight looked up. "Leafpool! I... I didn't see you there." she mewed. Leafpool felt her pelt prickle with worry. It’s not like Squirrelflight to be so quiet and distracted. Is there something wrong? Seeing the worried look on her sister’s face, Squirrelflight continued. "Don't worry, I'm fine. I just... I just wanted to tell you something."
Leafpool purred in relief. "I'm glad you're OK," she mewed. "What did you want to tell me?"
Squirrelflight looked at her sister for a moment. "I'm expecting kits!" she blurted out.
Leafpool blinked in surprise. Mousebrain! she scolded herself. She should have noticed that Squirrelflight was expecting, but she had been too caught up in thinking about her own kits. She touched her tail against Squirrelflight's flank. "That’s wonderful!” she mewed. “Congratulations! Have you told Brambleclaw yet?"
Squirrelflight purred happily. "No, not yet. I wanted to tell you first.” Her green eyes shone with pride and excitement. “I'm so happy! I just hope I can be a good mother."
Leafpool nodded. "You'll be a wonderful mother, Squirrelflight. No kit could ask for better."
Squirrelflight shuffled her paws in embarrassment at Leafpool's praise. "I'll go and tell Brambleclaw right now," she mewed. She darted out of the medicine den, knocking over a pile of herbs in the process. "Sorry!” she called over her shoulder. “I'll come back and fix them later!"
Leafpool twitched her whiskers in amusement. "Don't worry about it!" she called back as she went to work straightening the herbs. That’s great news for me as well, she thought. I can ask Squirrelflight to take my kits, and raise them as her own.
But, no, that wouldn’t work. Leafpool would kit long before her sister, and the two litters would be too far apart in age to pass for siblings. “Why does this have to be so hard?” she meowed to herself as she flopped down into her nest.
A few days later was the half-moon. Leafpool would have to journey to the Moonpool with the rest of the medicine cats. This was another cause for worry. The others were bound to notice that she was expecting kits. Her scent had changed, and there was no way to hide it from a trained medicine cat. She decided that she would have to find something to disguise her scent. She knew that there was a patch of chervil growing along the path she normally took to the Moonpool. If she rolled in it before meeting the others, it might disguise her scent enough to prevent one of the other medicine cats from discovering her secret.
At sunhigh, Leafpool left the camp to attend the meeting at the Moonpool. As she had planned earlier, she went to the place where the chervil grew, and rolled in the sweet-smelling plant. She just hoped it would be enough.
She met with the other medicine cats near ThunderClan's border with WindClan. Littlecloud, ShadowClan's medicine cat, noticed her chervil scent almost immediately. "What happened to you?” the small tabby tom asked.
Leafpool tried to sound casual. "I tripped on my way here, and rolled into a clump of chervil plants. I didn't want to be late, so I didn't take the time to wash the scent off."
Littlecloud looked at her suspiciously for a heartbeat, and then purred in amusement. "Well, I suppose there could have been worse-smelling things to roll into." Leafpool nodded, twitching her tail tip in relief. Littlecloud seemed to have believed her story, and none of the others had said anything.
The five medicine cats made their way to the Moonpool, gossiping as they went. Leafpool didn't pay much attention to the conversations, but she did manage to catch a few tidbits. WindClan had been having some trouble with bellyache, because the younger cats were stuffing themselves with more prey than they needed. ShadowClan didn't have much to report, and neither did RiverClan.
When they reached the little pool where they met with StarClan, Mothwing, the RiverClan medicine cat, stayed back. The pretty golden tabby told her apprentice, Willowpaw, to go ahead without her, and then called to Leafpool. "Leafpool! I need to talk to you."
Leafpool twitched her ears curiously. What could Mothwing want? She turned and padded over to her friend. "What's wrong?" Leafpool mewed.
Mothwing leaned in close, and whispered in Leafpool's ear. "You're hiding something, aren't you?"
Leafpool stared at her friend with wide eyes. “I… What do you mean? Of course I’m not hiding anything.” She mewed, her voice cracking.
Mothwing looked at her, her eyes narrowed. "You smell different. And I don’t mean the chervil. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were expecting kits…”
Leafpool’s mouth dropped open. How had Mothwing figured it out, when none of the other medicine cats had? She looked down at her paws. She knew that Mothwing had seen her reaction, and there was no way she could continue denying her secret now. "I..." she stammered, and tried again. "You’re right… I am expecting kits. How did you know?"
Mothwing stared at her friend for a moment, and then mewed softly, “There’s chervil growing outside our nursery. I’ve gotten used to the smell, and can tell when an expecting queen’s scent changes.” She paused for breath, and then continued softly, “Leafpool, medicine cats are forbidden…”
Leafpool interrupted her friend with a sharp hiss. "Do you think I don't know that? I know it's against the warrior code! But there's nothing I can do about it, not now." She glared at Mothwing, her fur bristling with fear. "You're not going to tell the others, are you?" she snapped.
Mothwing looked back at her, her eyes flashing with hurt, and Leafpool immediately regretted her sharp tone. "Of course not!” Mothwing mewed. “You've kept my secret, about not believing in StarClan. Why wouldn't I return the favor by keeping a secret for you?"
Leafpool breathed a sigh of relief. It felt good to tell another cat, and to know that her secret would be safe. She twitched her ears to show Mothwing that she was grateful. "We should get a move on,” she mewed. “The others are waiting for us."
A moon had passed since Leafpool had told Mothwing about her kits, and it was getting harder and harder to hide her pregnancy from her Clanmates. Leafpool knew it wouldn't be long now until they were born; she could feel them moving around in her swollen belly. She had taken to staying in her den as much as she could, only venturing out to take freshkill from the pile or to make dirt.
She had started to notice that the other cats seemed to be watching her, and she was sure they were starting to suspect something was up. One night, as she made her way to the freshkill pile to take her dinner, she overheard Brambleclaw talking to Rainwhisker. “Does Leafpool look a little on the plump side to you?” the huge tom meowed.
Leafpool’s heart began to pound. Had Brambleclaw figured out the real reason for her size? She stayed by the prey pile a bit longer than she normally did, hoping to catch the rest of the conversation between the two toms. To her relief, Rainwhisker replied, "Well, the prey has been running well lately. Everyone's been eating their fill." Brambleclaw seemed to take this as a good explanation, because he nodded and continued chatting.
Relieved that Brambleclaw hadn't guessed her secret, Leafpool returned to her den. Now that she was getting nearer to kitting, she began to worry again about what to do with her kits. She had considered giving them to her friend Sorreltail, who was in the nursery with her own kits, but Sorreltail's litter was already weaned, and she didn't want to ask the young tortoiseshell she-cat to take on more kits.
But it looked as if Sorreltail was the only choice. Another problem would be explaining where the kits had come from. Leafpool had decided that she would claim to have found them abandoned in the forest. She couldn't see any other option...
A few more days passed, and Leafpool knew that her kits would be born any day now. She decided it would be best if she left the camp for a while, until the kits were born. There were no cats that needed constant care at the moment, and Brightheart, who had helped out in the medicine den on numerous occasions, was capable enough to take over Leafpool's duties for a few days. The young medicine cat exited her den, and called across the hollow to Brightheart. "Brightheart? Can I speak to you for a moment?"
Brightheart got up and padded over to the medicine den. "What's the matter?" the ginger-and-white she-cat asked, fixing her good eye on Leafpool.
Leafpool hesitated for a few heartbeats, and then replied, "Do you think you could take over my medicine cat duties for a few days?”
Brightheart blinked in surprise and tipped her head curiously. "Why? Are you going somewhere?"
Leafpool hadn't been prepared for the question. "I... Yes. I have to go away for a few days," she replied, trying to sound sure of herself.
Brightheart’s good eye flashed with concern. "Is something wrong?" the ginger-and-white cat asked.
Leafpool was ready with an answer this time. "No, no. Nothing serious, anyway. I had a dream last night that I didn’t fully understand, so I’m going to go to the Moonpool and see if StarClan can help me understand it. I don't know for sure when I'll be back" she meowed.
A hint of suspicion flashed across Brightheart’s face, but a few heartbeats later, she nodded. “Of course. I’d be glad to help you out,” she mewed, and then padded back toward the warriors’ den.
Leafpool knew that the clan would be in good paws while she was away. Brightheart knew the herbs and treatments almost as well as she did. Now the only thing to do before setting out was to tell Firestar that she would be gone for a while. She padded slowly toward his den on the Highledge.
"Firestar?" she mewed, poking her head into her father's den. Firestar was inside, sharing a meal with Leafpool's mother Sandstorm. He looked up at the sound of his daughter's voice, and asked her inside. She entered the den, and jumped right into telling him that she was leaving for a few days. "I shouldn't be gone long. Brightheart has agreed to take over my duties until I return," she finished.
Firestar stared at her, and, after what seemed like a moon, mewed his reply. "I'm not sure I like this, Leafpool. It wasn't so long ago that you abandoned your Clan to be with that WindClan tom. But I suppose I have to trust you, especially if it involves interpreting a sign from StarClan. You may go."
Leafpool dipped her head. "Thank you, Firestar. You can trust me, I promise. I will be back as soon as I can." She turned and left her parents to their meal.
She walked and walked, until she was too exhausted to go any further. She wasn’t sure exactly where she was, but she knew she must be somewhere near the Moonpool. She was certainly well beyond ThunderClan’s territory. The further from home, the better, she thought. I can’t risk any of my Clanmates finding me.
Finally, she spotted a dead, rotting tree with a hollow in the trunk, just low enough for a cat to jump into. That would be a perfect place to hide while she kitted. She climbed inside the hollow, and began to make a nest.
Leafpool woke the next morning with horrible pains in her belly. The kits were coming! It was all she could do to resist crying out in pain, but she knew that if she did, she was likely to be found by some sort of predator. She couldn't put herself, and her kits, at risk. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, a tiny, wet bundle of gray tabby fur was lying next to her on the moss she had gathered.
Leafpool licked the tiny kit to get its blood flowing, and when it started to move, she nudged it close to her belly so it could nurse. She purred happily as the tiny kit latched onto her and began to feed, kneading its tiny paws through her fur. But it wasn't over yet. No sooner had the gray kit begun to feed, than another powerful ripple of pain shot through Leafpool's belly. Another kit was on the way.
Panting with exhaustion, Leafpool closed her eyes. The pain was almost unbearable, but soon there was another kit lying on the moss. This one was as tiny as the first, but its fur was black, a few shades darker than Crowfeather’s. Leafpool licked the black kit, and nudged it close to its sibling to nurse. She sniffed the kits again, and determined that the gray tabby was a tom, and the black was a she-cat. Leafpool purred with pride for her son and daughter, but at the same time, she knew that she would never get the chance to mother these tiny kits. They would never even know that she was their mother. She curled her body around the two kits and drifted off into sleep.
“Leafpool? Leafpool! Where are you?”
Leafpool jolted awake at the sound of someone calling her name. She crouched down into her makeshift nest, her pelt bristling with fear. Had one of her Clanmates followed her here, even after she had taken so many precautions? What would they do when they found her? Then, with a flash of relief, she recognized the voice. It was Squirrelflight. Her sister must have come looking for her.
Leafpool poked her head out of the hole in the tree. It had snowed during the night, and a thick layer of sparkling white flakes covered the ground. Squirrelflight was standing several foxlengths from the dead tree, looking around and calling her sister's name. "I'm up here, Squirrelflight,” Leafpool called.
Squirrelflight spun around, startled by the sound. When she saw her sister, she twitched her whiskers in curiosity. "What are you doing up there?" she meowed, padding over to the rotted tree and putting her front paws on it so that she was at eye-level with Leafpool. She looked into the hole, and gasped in surprise. "Kits!" she mewed. "Where did they come from?"
Leafpool opened her mouth to tell her sister the story she had planned, that she had found the kits abandoned, but she stopped before she could get the words out. She couldn't see any point in hiding her secret from Squirrelflight, not now that her sister had seen the kits nursing. "They're... They're mine," she mewed, trying as hard as she could to keep the pride she felt for the two little kits out of her voice.
Squirrelflight stared back at her sister, her mouth hanging open in disbelief. "They're your kits?” she mewed after a few heartbeats. “Why didn't you tell me you were expecting?" Her tone was a mixture of happiness and hurt.
Leafpool felt horrible about hurting her sister's feelings, but she couldn't fix it now. "I'm sorry, Squirrelflight,” she mewed softly. “I... I wanted to tell you. I really, really did. I just... didn't think I could."
Squirrelflight let out a purr to let Leafpool know that there were no hard feelings between them, and then jumped into the hollow to examine the kits. "They're beautiful!" she mewed softly. Leafpool looked at her paws. “Yes…” she whispered, struggling again to keep the pride out of her voice.
"Squirrelflight?" she mewed a few heartbeats later, asking the question that had been on her mind since her sister had found her. "Why did you follow me here, if you didn't know about the kits and what I was doing?"
Squirrelflight looked at her sister. "I kept having strange dreams,” she replied. “Dreams where I was surrounded by rotted wood and was in horrible pain. The only times I've ever had dreams like that were when you were in trouble. Remember when those Twolegs trapped you? I kept dreaming about where you were, even though I'd never been there before. I thought this dream might be something like that, so I thought I should come looking..." Suddenly, Squirrelflight's voice trailed off and she cried out in pain.
Leafpool leapt to her feet. "Squirrelflight? What's wrong?" she yowled. Squirrelflight looked up at her sister, her green eyes flashing in terror. "I... I think my kits are coming!” she panted. “It's too soon, isn't it?"
Leafpool gasped in horror. Squirrelflight was right; it was too soon for her kits to come. Leafpool told her sister to lie still, and went to find any herbs that might help. Not far from the dead tree, she found a clump of feverfew that didn't seem to have been damaged by the newly fallen snow. Feverfew wasn't the herb she would have normally used, but it was better than nothing.
She bit off as many leaves as she could, and climbed back up into the tree. Squirrelflight was lying on the moss bed next to Leafpool's two kits. She looked a bit better than she had when Leafpool had left the tree, but it was clear that she was still in pain. She was panting heavily, and her flank was heaving. Leafpool dropped the feverfew leaves in front of her sister. "Squirrelflight, you've got to eat these,” Leafpool mewed, trying to keep her voice level. “They'll help."
Squirrelflight was in too much pain to argue. She chewed up the leaves and swallowed them. Then she looked at Leafpool and made a face. "Those tasted horrible!" she mewed.
Leafpool let out a mrow of laughter. "I see you're feeling better, if you're making faces and complaining about the herbs!"
Squirrelflight blinked back at her, looking amused, then her expression changed. She looked as if she was in pain again, and she let out a screech. Within the next few heartbeats, a tiny kit, much smaller than either of Leafpool's, was lying on the mossy floor of the nest Leafpool had built.
Leafpool nudged the tiny bundle of fur, and began to lick it. Once she'd gotten it clean, she could see that the kit was a tom, with a handsome golden tabby pelt. She nudged the little kit closer to Squirrelflight, who purred happily at the sight of her son. But her happiness didn’t last long; soon another spasm of pain rippled through her body. The second kit took much longer to arrive then the first had, and when Leafpool nudged it, it didn't respond. Squirrelflight's second kit had been born dead.
Grief washed over Leafpool as she looked down at the tiny, lifeless body. Squirrelflight watched, expecting her sister to push the new arrival closer so it could nurse. Within a heartbeat, her expression changed from happy to worried. "Is there something wrong with the kit?" she asked.
Leafpool looked up and met her sister's bright green eyes. “I’m so sorry, Squirrelflight. This one didn't make it."
Squirrelflight scrambled to her paws. "What? No! You... You must have made a mistake! Please, Leafpool. Check again."
Leafpool did as she was asked, but there was no changing it. The tiny kit was gone. Leafpool tried to comfort her sister. "It's not your fault, Squirrelflight. It's really not..." but it was no good. Squirrelflight wouldn't listen.
Two days had passed since Leafpool’s kits had been born. Squirrelflight's second kit, a dark ginger she-kit who looked like a miniature version of her mother, had been buried at the base of the dead tree, where there was only a light dusting of snow. Squirrelflight was still upset over the loss of her daughter, but she put all her energy into caring for her remaining kit, who she had named Lionkit, for his golden fur.
Leafpool had decided that she would ask her sister to take on her kits. Squirrelflight was an excellent mother, and Leafpool knew that she could trust her sister to keep the true origins of the two kits a secret. Leafpool turned to her sister. "Squirrelflight, I have something to ask-", she began, but Squirrelflight cut her off. "You want me to take your kits, don't you?" she asked, twitching her ears.
Leafpool blinked. Had it been that obvious what she was thinking? "Yes,” she mewed softly. “I wouldn't ask at all, but I can't take care of..." Squirrelflight interrupted her again. "Of course I'll take them. You don't need to explain anything to me, Leafpool. We're sisters, and this is what sisters do for each other."
Leafpool purred with relief, and rubbed her cheek against Squirrelflight's. "Thank you so much. They'll be lucky to have you as a mother." She pushed her kits toward Squirrelflight, and they immediately latched onto the ginger she-cat’s belly and began to nurse, kneading at her fur with their tiny paws. “You’ll have to feed them from now on,” Leafpool explained. “They need time to adapt your scent before we can return to camp, otherwise our Clanmates will know the truth.”
A few days later, Leafpool was satisfied that her kits carried Squirrelflight’s scent enough to be passed as Lionkit’s littermates. “We should bring them home,” Leafpool mewed to her sister. “I’m sure everyone’s beginning to worry about us.” Squirrelflight nodded, and Leafpool started to leap out of the tree. Squirrelflight called to her. “Leafpool, wait.”
As Leafpool turned around, Squirrelflight went on. “Would you like to name them? They’re your kits, you should have the honor.”
Leafpool halted and turned around. Squirrelflight had gotten up, and the three tiny kits were staring around the tree hollow with their newly opened eyes. As her gaze traveled over her kits, the perfect names came into Leafpool’s mind. “The tom is Jaykit,” she meowed. “Because of his eyes. They’re the same color as a jay feather. And the she-kit is Hollykit. Her eyes are the color of holly leaves.”
Squirrelflight padded up to her sister, purring. “Those are great names.” She glanced at the three kits. “Jaykit, Hollykit, and Lionkit. Let’s get you three home so your Clanmates can meet you.”
Leafpool purred and bumped her head against her sister’s shoulder. “I know you’ll take good care of them,” she mewed, and then she leapt down from the tree. She would need something large enough for all three kits to lie on while she and Squirrelflight brought them home. Finally, she found a large piece of thick tree bark that could be dragged through the snow.
She climbed back into the tree. “I found some tree bark we can use to drag the kits back home.” She bent down, picked up Lionkit by the scruff of the neck, and deposited him gently on the smooth side of the bark. Squirrelflight followed with Jaykit, and Leafpool leapt back to the tree to fetch Hollykit.
The two sisters took turns dragging the kits, one pulling on the bark while the other walked behind, watching and comforting the kits. Every so often, one of the kits would slide off into the snow, and whichever sister was following would waste no time in picking the kit up and placing it back safely with the others.
Finally, after what seemed like a moon of walking, they arrived back at the ThunderClan camp around sunhigh. Brambleclaw, who had been choosing his afternoon meal from the freshkill pile, bounded toward them as soon as he spotted Squirrelflight and Leafpool.
“There you two are!” he meowed. “You had us all worried sick! No medicine cat and a queen missing? We sent out patrols, but we couldn’t find your scent anywhe-.” The dark tabby tom broke off when he saw the three kits, and then, with a look of pride spreading across his face, turned to his mate. "You kitted?" he mewed quietly.
Squirrelflight nodded, and purred with pride. “Yes. They're a week old. We would have brought them home sooner, but Leafpool said that because they were born early it would be better to wait until the kits and I were a little stronger before traveling. I went ahead and named them, I hope you don't mind. The gray one is Jaykit, the golden is Lionkit, and the black is Hollykit.”
Brambleclaw pressed his muzzle against Squirrelflight’s, purring happily, and bent down to examine the kits. "They're beautiful, Squirrelflight. And the names are perfect."
Leafpool nudged her sister. "We'd better get them into the nursery where it's warm."
Squirrelflight nodded, picked up Jaykit, and carried him toward the nursery. Brambleclaw carried Lionkit, and Leafpool took Hollykit. Soon, the three kits were all settled into Squirrelflight's nest, and had begun to feed. Leafpool decided to leave Squirrelflight and Brambleclaw alone to talk, and, after telling Squirrelflight she would return soon with some borage leaves to help with milk production, returned to her den.
She knew it would be hard, never being able to tell Hollykit and Jaykit that she was their mother, but the situation really couldn't have worked out any better. Leafpool would be able to involve herself with the kits without her Clanmates becoming suspicious, and she knew that Squirrelflight would take good care of them. Suddenly realizing how exhausted she was, Leafpool settled herself into her nest, and drifted off to sleep.
A moon had passed since Leafpool and Squirrelflight had returned. Jaykit, Hollykit, and Lionkit had begun to venture out of the nursery, under the watchful eyes of Squirrelflight and Ferncloud. The gentle gray queen had become something of an adoptive mother to the kits since Squirrelflight’s milk had stopped coming in. Lionkit, who had been so much smaller than Leafpool's kits when he was born, was now almost double their size.
The three kits had found a ball of moss, and were batting it back and forth between them. Hollykit picked it up in her teeth, and, swinging her head around, sent it flying toward Jaykit. The little gray tabby looked as if he were trying to figure out where the ball had gone, when it landed on his face and broke apart. Hollykit found this very amusing, but Jaykit didn’t. The gray tabby kit swiped his paw at his sister, and mewed "That wasn't fair, Hollykit! You knew I wasn't ready!"
Leafpool, who had been watching the kits’ game with amusement, was worried by the way Jaykit hadn't seemed to notice the moss ball coming toward him. He had been looking directly at Hollykit when she had tossed it, and should have had no problem catching it. She got up and padded toward the group of kits. "Jaykit," she mewed, nudging her son away from the others. "I'd like to talk to you for a moment."
Jaykit turned toward her, his blue eyes flashing. "What do you want?" he mewed. Leafpool stared back at him, and realized that he was not meeting her eyes, but seemed to be looking at something behind her. She opened her mouth to speak. "Jaykit, I was watching you play with your sister and brother. Didn't you see that moss ball coming toward you?"
The little kit stared at her, still not meeting her eyes. "Of course I did! I just wasn't ready to catch it, that's all!"
Leafpool was sure he wasn't telling her the truth. "Jaykit, watch me," she mewed, sitting perfectly still. "What am I doing right now?" Jaykit narrowed his eyes, and after a few heartbeats replied, "Twitching your tail..." The little gray tom didn't sound sure of himself, and now Leafpool knew why. Her son was blind.