Glade steadied her young daughter with her snout, dark nose slipped under her foreleg to keep her from tumbling over. Victory was still top-heavy, her flattish head too big for her little body. She blinked warm orange eyes at her mother before continuing up the heartmound with resolve. “Careful, Victory. Watch your paws.” Glade winced as sand cascaded around Victory’s small, blunt claws as she tried to find a hold to pull herself up.
Another meer was waiting for them on top of the mound of soil, haloed by the rising sun, and long snout shadowed at a severe angle as she watched them. She leaned down and grasped Victory’s scruff in her jaws, placing her gently at her paws. Glade scrambled up the last step and sat beside the meer, uttering a grateful sigh. “Thank you, Slate. Victory just had to admire the view from up here.”
Slate just hummed in response while Victory hoisted her head up, rising to balance on her hindlegs and using her tail as a third limb. She wobbled- sentry position was a very newly acquired skill for the three-turn-old pup- and Glade bit her tongue, worry washing over her. The heartmound wasn’t that high for her but would her tiny pup get hurt if she fell? Glade glanced at Slate. Victory was part of Glade’s first litter of pups, and possibly her only litter. Slate had given Glade and her mate, Misery, special permission to have pups, since Slate’s mate had left the gang, she hadn’t been able to bare anymore of her own. Glade figured that with Slate’s experience she would have insight into parenting, but she found that the dominant female of the Zeros was staring out into the distance, dark gaze far away.
Glade scooched closer to Victory and wrapped her dark tipped, bark-brown tail around the pup. “Hold steady.” She murmured. Victory frowned in concentration, whiskers rigid, and Glade chuckled at how hard she was trying to get the stance right. She buried her nose in her daughter’s shoulder fur and breathed in her milky scent. “You’re doing great, little thistle.”
Victory churred with delight and the noise jolted Slate from her reverie. Below the heartmound a large male meer with dark stripes stumbled past, eyes weeping and red, half healed over by pink scar tissue. His golden pelt was matted, and ticks clung to his cheeks. Pity swelled in Glade’s throat. Before Glade could stop her, Victory dropped to all fours, crouched, and sprang. She landed half on the male’s shoulder, claws scrabbling, and teeth hooking into his ear. The male thrashed with a muffled shriek.
Glade leapt from the heartmound and snatched Victory by the scruff, she yanked the pup from her groupmate and dropped her in the sand. “Victory!” She exclaimed. “What are you doing? You know King is blind.”
The male blinked painfully as Victory shrugged, peering up at her mother with an innocent expression. “He’s going to die anyway. He can’t see!”
King flinched while Glade gaped. For a moment she was too stunned to rebuke her pup. Victory grew bord, spotted the broad figure of her father through the throng of sunbathing meer about them and scampered to join him. Glade faced King, shame at her pup’s behavior tingling under her fur. “I’m so sorry, King.”
King sniffed in her direction, and she tried not to flinch at the sight of his oozing and withered eyes. “It’s alright. Just playing, I’m sure.” He muttered as he nibbled his shoulder. Then he trotted off with his tail and nose high.
Slate jumped down to join her but when Glade glanced at her friend and leader, she saw that Slate was staring after Victory. A chill crawled through Glade’s pelt like an unwelcome flea. She resisted the urge to itch and instead studied Slate’s expression. Her muzzle was set, canine teeth peeking from below her top lip, and eyes narrowed. Her dark gaze was bright with… pride? Was Slate impressed with Victory’s attack- whether it be playful or not- on a blind meer?
She reminded herself that Slate hadn’t been the same since her daughters Lily and Queen had fled the Zeros to start a family of their own. Really, she had begun changing when Glory abandoned her to raise her litter without a dominant male by her side. Maybe she should cut Slate a break and just ask her what she thought about Victory’s antics.
Glade’s jaws parted but just as she was about to question Slate the dominant female rounded on her. “Well,” she said, sounding more chipper than she had seemed on the heartmound, “lets get to work. We’ve many chores to finish before we can forage.”
Then she trotted away, and Glade was left to watch her daughter, who waved her tail enthusiastically as she spoke to her father. A lump formed in her throat, and she gulped it down. A disturbing thought slipped through her outward calm.
Being a mother is harder than I thought… am I raising Victory right?
Only time will tell. Shaking off her worries Glade hurried to join her family, hoping that whatever fierce streak that Slate had seen in Victory would vanish before her fears would be realized.