BroadPaw dumped the no-hair onto the pile of furs that served his brother as a bed, then departed. He had no intention of hanging around while his brother nursed the thing back to health. TwitchEar looked down at the creature lying in a sprawl on his bed, his curiosity getting the better of him. He crouched down next to the bed and reached out to lightly touch the creature’s face, the pads on his fingertips tracing over the bare skin in amazement. No wonder they were called no-hairs! His eyes moved down over the creature’s body, taking in the ragged, filthy garment that it was wearing. He supposed he understood why these things wore protective hides; that bare skin looked awfully vulnerable.
His curiosity growing even more, he reached out and extended a claw. Catching it in the material that the strange covering was made of, he used the claw to slit the fabric all the way down to where it stopped at mid-thigh. It tore easily, and he pulled back the edges to stare at the creature’s body with intense curiosity. More pale, naked skin met his eyes; no fur anywhere. That belly looked extremely vulnerable. His eyes reached the no-hair’s groin, and he blinked when he saw the signs that this thing was not an ’it’ but a ’he’. And here was some more hair, harsher and more curly than the hair atop of its…HIS head.
TwitchEar came back to himself when the loud noise of someone calling to someone else outside of his tent made him jump and realize that he’d been staring in fascination at the no-hair for some time now. He roused himself and grabbed a fur covering to drape over the poor naked thing, covering up all of that sad, pathetic bare skin. He realized that the creature might be cold with no fur to protect it, even on a warm summer’s day like this. Then he bustled away to grab a gourd of water hanging from the tent pole and brought it back, crouching down next to the bed once more.
He pulled out the cork and sprinkled some droplets on water onto his fingertip pads, then reached out and ran them over the no-hair’s lips. The creature didn’t respond, which worried him. Maybe it was sick or injured? Perhaps the healer could take a look at it? Not that she’d know anything about these creatures, but still…
The no-hair’s head moved a little, and it moaned softly. Excited, TwitchEar applied more water to his fingertip pads and stroked the creature’s lips once again. This time the lips moved in response to the moisture, and the mouth opened. TwitchEar got distracted for a moment by the little lump that the no-hair had in the middle of his face in place of a muzzle, before he recalled himself and carefully began to pour a small stream of water into the no-hair’s parted lips. He was pleased when the creature swallowed, and spent some time making sure that the no-hair swallowed a good portion of the water in the gourd.
Finally he decided that the no-hair had had enough. He replaced the gourd on the tent pole, then crouched back down by the bed to start a vigil over his new…well…pet? BroadPaw had called it so, but TwitchEar didn’t think that the creature would make a good pet. In spite of their oddities, these no-hairs seemed to be an intelligent species. He couldn’t keep a member of another intelligent species as a pet. It would be wrong.
He noticed a strange collar of some kind around his no-hair’s neck. Leaning forward, he stared at it. The collar was attached to a length of leather, like a lead line of some kind. He frowned. What was that for? He began to examine the collar, but it was attached with some kind of metal buckles. His people didn’t have much familiarity with metal; their weapons were of stone or wood. Finally he decided that the collar would have to stay on for now, though he did use a sharpened stone knife to saw through the long lead line and toss it away. He didn’t know what the concept of a ‘leash’ was, but he did understand what it might be for in a vague way. And it deeply offended him; who would do such a thing to this poor creature? It made no sense.
There was a sudden sound at the tent flap, and he turned his head to see Chief Redmane’s large form appear there. TwitchEar felt his heart skin. Would the chief tell him to get rid of the no-hair? He rose to his feet and turned to face RedMane, feeling like a disobedient kitten under that cool, thoughtful green stare. “TwitchEar,” the chief rumbled. “Elder LashTail tells me that you found something out in the grass.”
“Yes, Chief,” he replied, his shoulders hunching. “A no-hair that was in a bad way. BroadPaw wanted me to leave it where I found it, but…” he trailed off, then continued desperately. “I just couldn’t!”
RedMane studied his face. “And you’re willing to look after the creature yourself?” he asked.
TwitchEar nodded eagerly. “Yes! I’ll hunt for him and everything, I promise!”
“Him?” the chief repeated, glancing at the bed and its covered occupant.
“Yes. It’s definitely a male,” TwitchEar said.
“Well, I don’t see that it will do any harm for you to keep the creature for now, TwitchEar,” RedMane told him, sounding faintly amused. “But once he’s well again, you should think about returning him to his own people.”
TwitchEar nodded. “I will. I just didn’t want to leave him out there to die and be eaten by something.”
“That’s because you’re a kind creature,” RedMane told him, making him duck his head a little. “I can’t punish such kindness. He’s all yours for now, TwitchEar. I expect you to take good care of him while he’s here.”
“I will, Chief,” he promised, lifting his chin in a decided way.
RedMane chuckled and shook the feature that he’d been named for. “Very well. Good luck with your no-hair, TwitchEar,” the chief slid out of the tent, leaving him to let out a long, relieved breath. He’d been worried that RedMane would order him to dump the no-hair out onto the grass again.
He turned back toward his bed and the unconscious no-hair. Deciding that the creature would probably be hungry when it awoke, he bustled away to a string of dried meat hanging from the tent pole. Carrying it over to the little fire pit in the middle of the tent, he crouched down and stirred up the banked coals. Pilling a few sticks on it, he suspended a clay pot over the fire and filled it with water. He knew that dried meat might be too tough for the creature’s small teeth, so he was determined to make some meat broth for the no-hair.
It took awhile for the water in the pot to boil, and he patiently waited until it was ready before cutting up the dried meat into pieces and throwing it into the water. His nostrils twitched as the scent from the pot took him back to his kittenhood. Whenever he’d gotten sick, his mother would make him meat broth to soothe his stomach. He sighed. He missed her still; she’d been gored in a hunt a few years ago, and had died of her wounds. BroadPaw had looked after him for the last few years until he’d become an adult, the two brothers growing closer in their loneliness.
He deftly unhooked the pot and pulled it off of the fire, setting it aside to cool a bit. He heard a low moan, and turned to see that the no-hair was thrashing on his bed. Worried, he went over and crouched down next to the bed again. “It’s all right,” he said aloud, knowing that the creature wouldn’t understand his words but hoping that his soothing tone would help. He reached out to touch one cheek, and the creature cried out and trembled. It was clearly terrified.
TwitchEar didn’t know what to do. One flailing hand struck out and hit him in the chest, startling him. But then the no-hair stilled, mumbling something in his strange language. Then, to his surprise, the hand began a petting motion across his chest, stroking over his pelt. TwitchEar’s eyes went a bit lidded as the fingers began to scritch right over his breastbone, in an area where he hadn’t known was sensitive. It felt wonderful. A low sound rumbled out of his chest, as he began to purr involuntarily.
The no-hair murmured at the sound, and his lips lifted in a small movement that TwitchEar wasn’t quite sure of but thought might be a happy expression. He decided that he didn’t mind making the no-hair happy in this way, as the scratching fingers felt wonderful. He scooted a bit closer, and the sounds of his purring filling the little tent.
He was having the best dream. In it, he was sitting in a chair near the kitchen widow, petting the silver tomcat perched on the sill. The beast was rumbling happily, the sound of his purring filling the kitchen. Contented, he stroked the breastbone where he knew that the tom liked best to be scratched. The beast butted him affectionately with his broad head, making him smile.
He heard a voice calling his name, and turned his head to see his mother enter the kitchen. “Ah, there you are, Beythan,” she remarked, bustling over to check what was cooking in the pot suspended in the fireplace. The lovely odors of cooking meat and vegetables rose to his nostrils. “Wasting the day away again, I see,” she teased.
“Well, Mother, someone had to pet Tom,” he replied with as much dignity as he could muster. “He deserves a reward for how well he does his job, don’t you think? When’s the last time that you saw a mouse or rat around here?”
“You have me there, my son,” she replied in amusement. “Very well. But I expect you to go and help your father out in the stables later on.”
“I will, Mother,” he said, and she smiled at him.
“Good. I’ll leave you and Tom alone, then,” she said with a wink, bustling back out of the kitchen. He grinned, looking at the contented cat perched on the sill.
“Who’s a good kitty, hmm?” he crooned, lightly chucking the happy tom under his chin. “Yes, you are. Best hunter ever.”
The cat rubbed his furry cheek against Beythan’s hand, and he smiled. This was the best dream ever…
He came awake suddenly, his eyes flying open. He wasn’t sure what woke him, but the dream was replaced with reality. An unknown reality, as he had no idea where he was. Not in his parents’ kitchen, that was for sure! He could see a tent pole overhead, and the stretched hides of a tent all around him. And…an enormous beast was crouched right next to him! His fingers were touching a furry chest, and the cat beast was staring at him out of a pair of interested gold eyes. Beythan did the only thing that his tortured, abused mind and body would allow him to do in this situation - he screamed and fainted dead away.
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