Ratha’s Creature (The First Book of The Named)

Ratha’s Creature (The First Book of The Named) by Clare Bell Read Free Book Online

Book: Ratha’s Creature (The First Book of The Named) by Clare Bell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Clare Bell
    Outside, Ratha heard running and yowling. Thakur’s voice rose above the others. “Fessran, get your dapplebacks off the beach! They’re walking all over the dens!” The dappleback’s muzzle disappeared, and the foot vanished with a last spray of dirt.
    She crawled out of her burrow and shook her head, her ears flapping. The sand felt warm and gritty on her pads as she blinked in the morning sunlight. Birds made a cheerful racket overhead and the river sang with them as it ran past the beach. She nosed her back and licked her coat. Her tongue scraped coarse matted fur. She dug with her fangs at filth caked in her undercoat, moving her tongue quickly to avoid the sour tang of old dirt. She drew back her lips fastidiously and tried to use only the points of her fangs, but she couldn’t help tasting herself and wished that someone had dragged her out of the den and given her a bath.
    She attacked the hair mats until they yielded and her tongue probed deeper into her fur, feeling the arch of each rib beneath her skin. She paused in her grooming, took a breath and coughed. Her chest still ached a little, deep inside. She decided to leave the rest of the grooming task until later. She ambled down the narrow beach, feeling the loose sand grow firm beneath her paws as she approached the water’s edge. She stood there, listening to the wavelets lapping, and watching fish dart through the shadows on the bottom.
    Ratha squinted across the river to the opposite shore. Most of the trees were still standing, although shorn of their leaves and needles. The ground beneath them lay bare and ashy, stripped of brush and forest litter. At first, the scene across the river looked bare and desolate, but as Ratha stared harder, she saw that it was not. New patches of pale green showed amid the fire-scarred trunks.
    Ratha’s whiskers twitched. How long, she wondered, had she lain in the burrow dug for her in the sand? Long enough for her to stink like an unwashed litterling. Long enough for the burning thing to pass and new foliage to show. The thought frightened her and she shivered despite the sun’s warmth on her back. Her stomach felt hollow and there was grit between her teeth. She peered at her rippled reflection and saw that she looked as thin and bedraggled as she felt. Her tongue ached at the thought of more grooming. She yawned and stretched: stiffly, cautiously. She crouched, curling her tail around her feet, letting the sound of the river lull her.
    Her eyes were almost closed when she heard pads grinding on sand behind her.
    “So this is the cub,” said a heavy voice, not Thakur’s.
    Ratha turned, squinting against the glare.
    “Come here, Ratha, and give proper greeting to our clan leader,” Thakur called.
    She spun around, sliding in the loose sand. She gulped, blinked and stared at Thakur’s companion. What had she done, she wondered frantically, that she was being singled out for Meoran’s attention? He never spoke to any of those low in the clan unless they had displeased him or broken clan law. Her heart beat fast. Is it because I heard the clanless one speak? Did Thakur tell Meoran what happened that night?
    Thakur stamped silently on the sand, warning Ratha not to delay. She loped clumsily up the beach, halted and walked up to Meoran. She lifted her chin and bared her throat to him as she stood in his shadow. Meoran lowered his heavy head and nosed her at the vulnerable point beneath her ruff, where the pulse lay just under the skin. She stood still, knowing that if he wished, he could take her life, without need or explanation. Even those high in the clan bared their throats to him, and there were whispers among the clan folk that his teeth had been bloodied in what was supposed to be only a gesture. Ratha remembered others saying that old Baire had never abused this ritual right.
    Ratha felt her ears starting to flatten and pricked them forward until the ear muscles ached.
    “May you eat of the haunch

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