A Beautiful Friendship — Snippet 12
Climbs Quickly lay on his back outside his nest, belly fur turned to the sun, and did his best to convince the rest of the clan he was asleep. He knew he wasn’t fooling anyone who cared to taste his mind-glow, but good manners required them to pretend he was.
Which was just as well, for blissful as it was, the comfort of the drowsy sunlight was far too little to distract him from the monumental changes in his life. Facing his clan leaders and admitting he’d let one of the two-legs actually see him — and even worse, see him in the very process of raiding their plant place — had been just as unpleasant as he’d feared it would.
People seldom physically attacked other People. Oh, there were squabbles enough, and occasional serious fights — usually, though not always, limited to younger scouts or hunters. And there were even rarer situations in which entire clans found themselves feuding with one another, or fighting for control of their ranges. No one was particularly proud of such situations, but the ability to hear one another’s thoughts and taste one another’s emotions didn’t necessarily make other People any easier to live with or fill a clan’s range with prey when it was needed. A clan’s leaders normally intervened before anything serious could happen within a clan, though, and it was rare indeed for one member of a clan to deliberately attack another unless there was something fundamentally wrong with the attacker.
Climbs Quickly himself could remember one occasion on which High Crag Clan had been forced to drive out one of its scouts, a rogue who had attacked other People. The exile had crossed into Bright Water’s range, killing prey not just to live but for the sheer joy of killing, and raided Bright Water’s storage places. He’d even attacked and seriously injured a Bright Water scout while attempting to steal a mother’s kittens . . . for purposes Climbs Quickly preferred not to consider too deeply. In the end, the clan’s scouts and hunters had been forced to hunt him down and kill him, a grim necessity none had welcomed.
So Climbs Quickly hadn’t expected any of the Bright Water leaders to actually assault him, and they hadn’t. But they had left him feeling as if they’d skinned him and hung his hide up to dry. It wasn’t even the things they’d said so much as the way they’d said them.
Climbs Quickly’s ears flicked, and he squirmed, trying to catch the sun more fully, as he recalled his time before Bright Water’s leaders. Sings Truly had been present as the clan’s second singer and the obvious heir to the first singer’s position when Song Spinner died or surrendered her authority. But even Sings Truly had been shocked by his clumsiness. She hadn’t scolded him the way Broken Tooth or Short Tail had, yet tasting his sister’s wordless reproach had been harder for Climbs Quickly to bear than all of Broken Tooth’s cutting irony.
He’d tried to explain, as clearly and undefensively as possible, that he’d never meant to let the two-leg see him, and he’d suggested the possibility that somehow the two-leg had known he was there in the plant place even before seeing him, since it hadn’t been surprised to see him when he emerged from it. Some things about its reaction had been surprised, but there’d been far more excitement, almost delight. Indeed, he was virtually certain the two-leg’s surprise had been from seeing who (and what) he truly was, not because the two-leg hadn’t already known that someone was in the plant place.
Unfortunately his suspicion rested on things he’d tasted in two-leg’s mind-glow, and although none of the others actually said so, he knew they found it difficult to believe a two-leg’s mind-glow could tell one of the People so much. He even knew why they thought that way, for no other scout had ever come close enough to — or concentrated hard enough upon — a two-leg to realize how wonderfully, dreadfully powerful that mind-glow truly was.
<I believe that you believe the two-leg had some way of knowing you were there,> Short Tail had told him judiciously, his mind-voice grave, <yet I fail to see how it could have. You saw none of the strange lights or tool things the two-legs have used to detect other scouts, after all.>
<True,> Climbs Quickly had replied as honestly as possible. <Yet the two-legs are very clever. I saw none of the tool things I knew to look for, but does that prove the two-legs have no tool things we have not yet learned of?>
<You hunt for ground runners in the upper branches, little brother,> Broken Tooth had put in sternly. <You allowed the two-leg not simply to see you but to see you raiding its range! I do not doubt you tasted its mind-glow, but neither do I doubt that you tasted within that mind-glow that which was most important for you to taste.>
Much as Broken Tooth’s charge had angered Climbs Quickly, he’d been unable to counter it effectively. After all, the feelings of the mind-glow were always easier to misinterpret, even among the People, than thoughts which were formed into deliberate communication. So perhaps it was only reasonable for Broken Tooth, who’d never tasted a two-leg mind-glow, to assume it would be even more difficult to interpret those of a totally different creature. Climbs Quickly knew — didn’t think; knew — that the two-leg’s mind-glow had been so strong, so vibrant, that he literally could not have read its excitement and eagerness wrongly. Yet he could hardly blame the clan’s leaders for failing to accept that he’d interpreted those emotions accurately when they themselves had no experience at all with two-leg mind-glows. Nor could he fail to understand why they found it so difficult to accept the possibility that he could possibly have grasped, however imperfectly, what the two-leg was actually thinking.
Everyone knew there were messages within any mind-glow’s feelings, yet even the strongest of those messages were only hints, suggestions that were frustratingly difficult to follow even at the best of times. It was as if meanings . . . leaked over into them like stream water trickling through the gaps in a thick, natural dam of fallen leaves. They got through, but without the clarity of deliberately formed thoughts, and it normally took turnings for one person to learn to read those leaks from another person with anything like reliability. As far as Climbs Quickly knew, no one had ever been able to read those scraps of meaning the very first time they met another person. No wonder they found his report so hard to accept!