The Shifting World Part 6
Dapple studied the considerable number of meer before him, almost too many to count. Seasons had passed since anyone last saw Bringer, but with the cobra’s disappearance First Family’s problems didn’t go away. The dry season was lingering this year, the wet season should have started three moons ago. Instead, the desert was desolate and barren. To make matters worse, with the limited food supply the clawbeast, rainbirds, and greatwings had started hunting meer as prey. To Dapple it felt like nowhere was safe anymore.
“Silence!” Nova’s voice crackled from the base of a dead tree near the main burrow entrance. “Let our meeting begin.”
Immediately a clamor of meer rushed to be heard, shouting from their spots, or standing to shout. “There’s nowhere left to forage-”
“Mighty was taken by a greatwing yestermorning-”
“I can’t lose another pup-”
“What are you going to do about this?”
Nova sighed so softly that only Dapple, who crouched beside her, could hear it. He gave her a sideways glance and pity stirred in his throat. Her bones were stark against her fur, her pelt hung as if it were being pulled off her muscles, and her dark eyes were dim and tired. She was doing her best, he knew, but she couldn’t do anything to prevent this drought.
“Quiet, please, quiet!” Nova started again and the meer fell silent. A hard breeze pressed against Dapple’s fur as his heart quickened and his paws prickled. He knew what Nova was going to say.
“I’ll tell you what I’m going to do about this.” Nova said, her tone becoming stronger with each word. “I’m calling a vote.”
“A vote on what?” A meer in the back yelled.
Nova dipped her head to Dapple, and the young healer stepped forward. He tried to swallow his nerves as he faced the crowd. He wished that his old mentor, Galaxy, was there in the crowd but no one had seen him since before Bringer’s vanishing. A small shape in the thick of the crowd caught his eye and nodded. Dapple’s chest swelled with gratitude toward his litterbrother, Patch, and he lifted his chin. “I propose that we leave this place.” He said and then continued before the unsettled murmuring of the large gang could overwhelm him. “I will take whoever is willing and follow the Still Star to a new home.”
Chatter flooded the burrow area and Nova was forced to call for silence again. Dapple’s pelt stood on end as doubt flooded him. Was this plan of his actually a promising idea? Nova shifted so that her pelt was brushing his. Dapple breathed a sigh of relief, at least his leader believed in him. “I think Dapple’s idea makes sense.” She announced, which caused some of the protesters to clamp their jaws. “There is not enough food here to support all of us. If there are less mouths to feed, then the rest of us may be able to survive until the wet season arrives. Those who agree, please stand.”
There were a few harsh whispers, then Patch stood, resolute and determined. Then the meer beside Patch stood and the meer behind him. Eventually there were more meer standing than sitting. When the movement ceased Nova raised her tail for a halt. “It is decided. In two moon-falls one of our trusted healers, Dapple, will lead any volunteers to a new home in a different part of the desert.” Nova’s voice dipped with sadness on the last words, and it was Dapple’s turn to press against her side in a show of support. He knew this would be hard on everyone, but it had to be done. There weren’t enough resources here for everyone anymore, the family was too big.
“Anyone who is interested gather beneath the dead tree, the rest of you can start the morning chores.” Nova’s tone was firm. For a moment no one moved, then the crowd began to break up, most heading to the burrow. Dapple’s heart dropped. So many meer voted for him, yet did so little actually trust him that they were willing to risk starving here then leaving?
A cool voice interrupted his thoughts. “You can start anytime now.” Dapple’s head snapped up. It was Patch, and he was leading a group of a dozen meer towards him.
Dapple grinned despite his rumbling belly. “Alright, then, let’s start with…”