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 Page B

Book: Ratha’s Creature (The First Book of The Named) by Clare Bell Read Free Book Online
Authors: Clare Bell
snapped, gulped and waited eagerly for another. When Thakur had fed her twice, he nosed the rest of the crayfish toward Ratha.
    “I thought I’d better feed you up if you’re going to swim tomorrow,” he said, choosing another multi-legged morsel from the pile. It tried to scuttle away from him but he seized it by the tail and dragged it back. The flailing legs and antennae threw sand grains. This one was smaller and Thakur didn’t even bother to peel the shell off. He took the crayfish into his mouth, crunched it and sorted out bits of meat and shell with his tongue.
    Ratha spat out a shell and eyed Thakur. “Why is Meoran so impatient to return to clan ground?”
    “I don’t know, yearling. Perhaps he dislikes the thought of any other animal in his den.”
    “Or the Un-Named Ones on clan territory.”
    Thakur drew back his whiskers. “I doubt it. He thinks so little of them that ground squirrels in his den would bother him more. Even the recent raids haven’t taught him that they are more dangerous than he thinks.”
    “You know a lot about the clanless ones, don’t you, Thakur?” Ratha said cautiously. She watched his eyes. Thakur lowered his muzzle, ostensibly searching for another crayfish.
    “Yes, yearling, I do.”
    “Why don’t you tell Meoran what you know?”
    “He would listen to me as well as he did today. Yearling, don’t ask me any more.”
    Ratha bit down on a stubborn carapace and felt it bend in her mouth.
    “Forget about the Un-Named, Ratha. The Red Tongue has driven them far away. They won’t come back for a while.”
    There was silence, broken only by the sound of the river flowing and Thakur’s crunching shells.
    “I know why you don’t want to go back,” Ratha teased.
    Thakur stared at her, eyes narrowed, whiskers back. “You do?”
    “You’re so fond of these river-crawlers you can’t give them up.”
    Thakur relaxed. His sigh of relief puzzled Ratha, his odor told her she wouldn’t get an answer if she asked him why.
    “You are clever, yearling. I see I can’t fool you. Yes, I have grown fond of the river-crawlers and I’ll take some with me on the way back.”
    Ratha watched him as he ate. His odor, his eyes and everything else about him told her that the reason he didn’t want to return to clan ground had nothing to do with river-crawlers.
     
    * * *
     
    Ratha trotted over the beach, her pads obliterating for a moment the maze of tracks in the sand. She stepped in a pile of dung and hopped on three legs, shaking her foot in disgust, while the dapplebacks covered her tracks with sharp-edged toe prints. The beach wasn’t big enough for this many animals at once, she thought, wiping her pad clean in a patch of scrubby dune grass.
    The three-horned deer stood together in a tight bunch eyeing the clan herders. The stags pawed and thrust their spikes into the sand, their musky scent sharp with ill temper. Herdfolk rushed at them, singly and together, trying to shy the males away and split the herd in half. Ratha, knowing she was still too weak for this task, watched as Thakur and Fessran sparred with two big males guarding the center of the herd. Skillfully the two herders drew the stags aside and Meoran led a drive into the center of the herd. The mass of animals shuddered and then broke apart. Herders on both sides of the split kept the milling animals separated.
    Ratha jumped up. Her task was to join with the other herdfolk in driving the dapplebacks, cud-chewers and other animals between the three-horns.
    “Keep the deer on the outside!”
    Ratha glanced back and saw Meoran yowling orders down the beach. Herdfolk snarled and nipped at the deer, driving them into the river. Over the backs and heads of the little horses, Ratha saw the deer plunging and tossing their heads, throwing spray from hooves and antlers. The sound of the river was lost in the clamor of splashing and bawling. The water boiled and darkened with mud, churned up from the bottom. Ratha saw flashes

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