“Moon-Singer,” I said as we put away our spears for the day. “What can you tell me about Shining-Tooth?”
Moon-Singer raised an eyebrow. “She’s your aunt,” he said. “Iron-Will and Crow-Feather’s mother. Why?”
“She doesn’t live here anymore. But Crow-Feather said my father and her were very close, and that she was Master of Debate. What happened?”
Moon-Singer sat down on the varnished wood floor. “Where did you hear about this?” he asked, frowning.
I sat down across from him. “Crow-Feather mentioned Shining-Tooth during breakfast… mentioned how close she was with my dad. Then Black-Wind seemed to be implying that she was kicked out of the ætt.”
“She was,” Moon-Singer said.
Moon-Singer looked as though he wasn’t sure if he ought to continue. “It’s complicated.”
“Well, everyone in the ætt already knows but me,” I said a little irritably, “And she was my aunt.”
“Shining-Tooth was a very conservative therian,” Moon-Singer replied. “She was Silver-Dancer’s foil, in a way.”
“I thought my dad always played by the rules,” I replied. “That was what Boar said.”
“He almost always did,” Moon-Singer replied. “But that doesn’t mean that he liked the rules–that he didn’t look for opportunities to bend them. Often, the person who kept Silver-Dancer on the straight and narrow was his sister. If he wanted to let a Vandal into the ætt with open arms, she would advocate killing them. If Silver-Dancer wanted to stage a rescue for a captured therian, she’d convince him that the lives that might be lost during the rescue wouldn’t be worth mounting the attempt. She always pushed the novice Therians hard when Silver-Dancer wanted to give them a break–she thought it was better to work them hard in training than risk them being soft and dying in battle. I hated her more than I hate Iron-Will, but she was a shrewd woman. She knew when battles could be won and how to win them–and she knew how to convince your father she was right.”
“Then why was she kicked out?”
Moon-Singer sighed. “She never trusted former Vandals. Once a Vandal, always a Vandal–that was what she always said. And she felt strongly about…” Moon-Singer frowned. “For Vandals who join the ætt, the rule is, they aren’t allowed to have husbands or families.”
“What?! Why not?!” I said, horrified.
“The concern is that someone as close as a wife or a child is bound to trust a former Vandal implicitly–something we’re not supposed to ever do. The idea is…. it’s never completely safe to trust a Vandal, and there’s always a chance they’re a spy. By keeping them from having children or wives, it keeps them from having someone close enough to them that they’d tell them valuable intelligence.”
“That’s ridiculous on the face of it. Clever-Hooves is leader of the ætt–she must know more secrets about the ætt’s plan than anyone else.”
“Well, Clever-Hooves is unusual,” Moon-Singer replied. “Even that being the case–I suspect the rule is intended more as punishment for therians who chose the wrong side than because of any genuine concern for safety.”
I frowned disapprovingly. But it wasn’t like there was a lot that I could do about it. “So she was kicked out for taking a hostile attitude toward Vandals? If that’s the case, why are Iron-Will and Crow-Feather still here?”
“Oh, no. That’s just the lead up to this story.” Moon-Singer replied. “The reason she was kicked out concerned a Vandal couple that came to the ætt. Gore-Maw and Throat-Slicer, they were called–a werewolf and a and a wenfox, they were the terror of Twin-Hooves for three years running, players in the most damaging raid this ætt has ever seen. We had to rebuild many cabins that year.”
I hadn’t even considered the idea of Twin-Hooves being attacked. Before now, I thought of all the bad things as being out there, and in here, it was safe. Thanks to Moon-Singer, that illusion was now shattered.
“Then Gore-Maw and Throat-Slicer came to us with their baby son and begged for us to accept them into the ætt. They threw themselves on our mercy and said they would follow a patron faithfully for the rest of their days.”
“But Shining-Tooth didn’t trust them.”
“Ha, hell no. She wanted to kill them the minute they stepped into the ætt. Shining-tooth was was still going strong as Master of Debate, and her opinion was a valuable one. But by then, Clever-Hooves was ætt chieftain–and once she was in power, most of the council of Masters had an even more inclusionary stance toward Vandals than Silver-Dancer did. They were allowed to stay at the ætt, and after a year or two, Clever-Hooves formally allowed them to join and take on patrons and new names.”
“I get the feeling things went horribly wrong.”
“Very horribly wrong. For a few years, everything was fine. But then Gore-Maw showed his true colors. He was a spy–and his act had had the whole ætt fooled, except for Shining-Tooth and her family. We chased after him and managed to kill Gore-Maw before he could tell the Vandals any of what he’d learned about Twin-Hooves.
“But his wife–her name was Fox-Fire now–she swore she didn’t know Gore-Maw had planned to betray the ætt, and that to the best of her knowledge, their defection had been genuine. After a lot of augury and a lot of spying, the ætt decided she was telling the truth, and that she and her son could stay with Twin-Hooves.
“Shining-Tooth wouldn’t have it. She threatened to take it to the high council of heroes, and when they wouldn’t overrule the ruling of the council of masters, she took justice into her own hands. She challenged Wound-Mender to a duel, and the loser would have to leave the ætt forever. Fox-Fire didn’t have to accept the duel–she could have gone to me to resolve the conflict peaceably. But she thought that nothing less than a duel would satisfy Shining-Tooth’s rage, so she agreed.”
“It was to the death… And she lost?”
“No–Fox-Fire won the duel. Duels are never to the death among Heroes, Brian. What do you think we were, savages?” Moon-Singer asked, staring at me pointedly. I avoided eye contact. I wasn’t too sure I didn’t think they were savages. “Shining-Tooth was enraged that the former vandal had won against her, one of the greatest therians of our generation. Fox-Fire turned her back to accept congratulations from her family and friends. That was when Shining-Tooth struck.”
“My god… she murdered her?”
“Everyone was shocked. Shining-Tooth was always a stickler for the rules, not a renegade acting out of passion. She was an old and respected member of the community, so she was simply asked to retire and leave the ætt. She went to live at Icy-Gale. The part that makes me sick is that I just know that once she got to that conservative ætt, everyone secretly congratulated her on doing ‘the right thing.’
“I worry about her son, too. He’s got a grudge now on that whole family–his mother died right before his eyes. I’m sure it’s because of him that Black-Wind had a thing or two to say about Shining-Tooth to Crow-Feather. Blue-Flame is Black-Wind’s best friend.”
“No wonder he got so angry,” I said. If I was Black-Wind, I’m not even sure I could stand to hang around the same ætt where my best friend’s mom was murdered in cold blood. “The whole thing sounds really, really messed up.”
“Which is why I hope this doesn’t travel past this room,” Moon-Singer replied. “I was this close to telling you none of it. But everyone else in the ætt knows. It only seems fair for you to know too… especially if you want to stay pack leader during missions.”
“Stay pack leader?” I said. “I didn’t know I had ever been elected pack leader.” It was a lot of responsibility. A lot of responsibility I wasn’t sure I wanted when I was already such… such a fish out of water.
“I was talking to Path-Maker about your mission,” he said. “You really took charge from what I hear. Way to go, son of Silver-Dancer.”
“Ugh,” I said. “I love my dad, but… please don’t call me that.” To be honest, I was still pretty mixed up even about whether I loved him. Moon-Singer’s approval meant a lot more to me then than my father did by a long shot.
Moon-Singer laughed. “Sorry. Don’t worry. Soon you’ll have a reputation quite your own.”