Authors: Erin Hunter
Special thanks to Cherith Baldry
Toklo padded through the trees at
the edge of the forest, with Lusa, Kallik, and Yakone a little way behind him. On one side of them the trees crowded closely together, while on the other the sheer wall of the Sky Ridge stretched up to the cloudless blue sky. The trees were in full leaf, but the shade gave only a little relief from the scorching sun. Toklo let out a grunt of discomfort, longing for the cool of evening and the chance to rest.
Each pawstep he took was more difficult than the one before, not only because of the heat and exhaustion, but also because each one took him farther from his own territory. Toklo could still feel the aches and cuts from his punishing battle with his father, Chogan, the old bear who had once driven him away with his mother Oka and his brother Tobi. In his mind he could still hear Chogan's threatening roars, smell the hot reek of blood, and feel fierce satisfaction as his claws slashed through his father's pelt. It was from Chogan that he had won his territory.
Chogan had better enjoy the rest of his time there,
Toklo thought grimly.
Because it won't last long. He knows he only gets to stay for now because I promised to go with Lusa to Great Bear Lake.
Toklo felt strength and power flow through his body at the memory of his victory, but at the same time there were doubts in his mind.
Am I really old enough to have my own territory? Am I ready to be on my own?
Toklo worried, too, that while he was away another strong brown bear might come and drive out Chogan from the territory he had just claimed.
mine. He let out a soft growl.
Every pawstep of that ground holds memories for me, and I'll fight for it again if I have to.
For a few moments Toklo concentrated on finding a clear path among the rocks strewn over the ground, and listened to the chatter of his friends behind him. Kallik and Lusa were discussing the journey to Great Bear Lake and telling Yakone how so many bears traveled there for the Longest Day Gathering.
of bears!” Lusa exclaimed. “More bears than there are stars in the sky!”
Toklo let out a snort of amusement at the little black bear's excitement, but his thoughts soon drifted back to his territory. It felt strange to be leaving his brother Tobi's grave site behind, when he had only just found it. He pictured the small mound of earth beneath the overhanging rock with the berry bushes clustering around it, and his pawsteps grew heavier still. Suddenly it felt like he was tearing himself away from his brother. But he trusted the brown she-bear, Aiyanna, to look
after the burial mound until he returned.
And I will returnâto her. .Â .Â .
Feeling a curious pang pierce his chest, Toklo stopped and turned his head toward the Sky Ridge.
Is all this hesitation because of Aiyanna?
He shook his head impatiently.
No, that can't be it. It's just my grief for Tobi and worry about my territory, that's all.
“Toklo, are you okay?” Lusa scrambled over the rocky ground, her pelt brushing by arching fronds of fern, until she caught up with him. “Are you
you want to keep traveling? The whole point of our journey now is to find homes for ourselves,” she continued when Toklo didn't reply at once. “I know how hard it must be for you to leave the home you've just found.” She butted his shoulder gently with her muzzle. “I'll understand if you think your part is over.”
Toklo turned to look at Kallik and Yakone making their way toward him. They had left the Melting Sea to help him and Lusa find their homes, when they could have stayed with Kallik's brother Taqqiq and the other white bears.
I'm not the only one to leave something important behind,
he thought, his resolve strengthening.
Because this matters more. All four of us should be together when we reach the end of our journey.
Grief prickled deep in his belly as he recalled how Ujurak had died on Star Island, protecting them from an avalanche.
We should be five. .Â .Â .
From the corner of his eye Toklo spotted a frosty glint of light, as if a star had awoken beyond the branches of the forest trees. When he turned his head it was gone, but comfort flowed over him like a warm tide.
We are still five. Ujurak is watching over us.
“Thanks, Lusa, but I'm fine,” Toklo said, touching her head with his muzzle. “We all need to reach the end of our journey before it's over, and that hasn't happened yet. I made you all a promise, and I'm keeping it.”
“Great spirits, it's hot!” Kallik gasped, when she and Yakone had struggled up to join Toklo and Lusa. “I can't wait for burn-sky to end.”
“By then we'll be back on the Endless Ice,” Yakone reminded her as he gave her ear a friendly nuzzle. “We'll have our own home there. No more earth beneath our paws!”
The white male's words reminded Toklo once again of the sacrifice Yakone and Kallik were making by staying so long among forests and mountains. He noticed that Yakone was limping again, a few trickles of blood oozing from his injured paw.
It starts to heal, and then he stubs his toes on a rock, or trips over a branch, and it opens up again,
He needs time to rest, but it's time we don't have. Not if we're going to reach the lake by the Longest Day.
“Great Bear Lake, here we come!” he announced.
Lusa gave an excited little bounce. “I hope I meet Miki and the
other black bears at the lake,” she said to Toklo. “They taught me so much about living as a wild bear. I know they'll let me stay with them.”
“Let's hope they're at the gathering again,” Toklo responded to Lusa as they padded through the trees. “We rescued Miki from those spirit-cursed white bears, so his family owes you something. And I'll stay with you until we find them, or some other black bears you can live with.”
Lusa blinked up at him affectionately. “Thanks, Toklo.” She turned and stared up in dismay at a rocky shelf that blocked their path a few bearlengths ahead. A steep, tumbled slope stretched way above her head, with trailing plants and spindly bushes growing from the cracks. A fallen tree was wedged diagonally across the shelf, and the bears would have to push their way through its branches before they could even start the difficult climb up the rock.
“Great spirits, how are we going to get up there?” Kallik asked tiredly.
Toklo stopped for a moment, considering. The forest around them was silent except for the piping of a single distant bird. The sun shone warm on his fur; the air was still and stifling, without even the whisper of a breeze.
Kallik and Yakone must find the heat even harder to cope with than I do,
Lusa had trekked along the bottom of the shelf, looking for a path. “Come over here!” she called. “It's easier once we get past that tree.”
Following her, Toklo saw that she was right. Farther into the forest the rock wall was lower, the stones broken up with more vegetation in the gaps.
“Get on my back,” he said to Lusa. “I'll boost you up the side of the cliff.”
He could feel Lusa's claws digging into his fur as she scrambled up, then took a leap from his back and clung to the rock face. Earth and small stones showered down on Toklo as she
climbed; a moment later he could see her bright face gazing down at him from the middle of a clump of ferns.
“There are plenty of pawholds,” she told the others. “The climb isn't too bad.”
Toklo wasn't sure about that. Kallik and Yakone weren't such agile climbers, especially now when they were tired. “What do you think?” he asked the two white bears as they plodded up to him.
“We don't seem to have much choice,” Kallik replied. “We have to go this way. If we head farther into the forest, we'll be traveling in the wrong direction, and we don't know how far these rocks stretch.” She gave Yakone a doubtful look. “Will you be okay?”