Ratha's Courage

Ratha's Courage

by Clare Bell

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Overview

Ratha's Courage by Clare Bell

"Screeching in pain and terror, the rogues backed off, but they didn't flee like the Un-Named raiders did. Something seemed to force them back into the fray, making them ignore their fright and their agony to attack again. The flame-bearers' attack faltered as eyes met eyes and the enemy's ability to withstand the Red Tongue was passed quickly among the Named. Firekeepers ... Above the commotion, Ratha heard an agonizing shriek, so raw that she didn't recognize the voice. She whirled, thinking one of the Named had been mortally struck. Instead she saw Bira, not in the battle but on the edge. Her ears were back, her mouth was open, but the sound from her throat wasn't a battle cry but a horrified scream. "They're killing the cubs!" Bira paused only long enough to gather breath and shriek again, even louder. "They're attacking the nursery! They're killing the cubs!" 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497614710
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Series: Named , #5
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 487,641
File size: 716 KB

About the Author

Born in England in 1952, Clare Bell immigrated to the United States in 1957. She worked in oceanography, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering before she wrote her first book, Ratha’s Creature (Atheneum‑Argo Margaret K. McElderry, 1983), about a prehistoric wildcat who tames fire. She continued to write fantasy and science fiction for children and adults. She says, “I am still fascinated by prehistoric animals and big cats, as showcased in the five Ratha novels. . . . My stories show sociological themes, exploring how culture changes through technology, even one as crude as fire. The central theme of my fiction is evolution, a result of my being influenced early by the works of C. S. Lewis, Olaf Stapledon, and Arthur C. Clarke.”

Bell has multiple science degrees and works in technical areas in addition to writing fiction. She built and designed electric vehicles, and worked in Norway on the Ford Think EV. She also raced EVs in the Arizona Public Service Company–sponsored Solar and Electrics competitions. Her electric Porsche 914, race number 13, was a top-placing competitor. She helped lead the Women’s Electric Racing and Educational Team (WE’RE‑IT), with the Porsche and a converted Rabbit (number 6) Hop‑Along. After moving to the hills west of Patterson, California, Bell and her husband, Chuck Piper, installed their own solar, waterwheel, and wind systems.

After writing the most recent novel in the Ratha series, Bell launched an exciting new project: working with young artists on a Ratha’s Creature graphic novel. To learn more, please visit www.facebook.com/rathaseries.

Born in England in 1952, Clare Bell immigrated to the United States in 1957. She worked in oceanography, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering before she wrote her first book, Ratha’s Creature (Atheneum-Argo Margaret K. McElderry, 1983), about a prehistoric wildcat who tames fire. She continued to write fantasy and science fiction for children and adults. She says, “I am still fascinated by prehistoric animals and big cats, as showcased in the five Ratha novels. . . . My stories show sociological themes, exploring how culture changes through technology, even one as crude as fire. The central theme of my fiction is evolution, a result of my being influenced early by the works of C. S. Lewis, Olaf Stapledon, and Arthur C. Clarke.”

Bell has multiple science degrees and works in technical areas in addition to writing fiction. She built and designed electric vehicles, and worked in Norway on the Ford Think EV. She also raced EVs in the Arizona Public Service Company–sponsored Solar and Electrics competitions. Her electric Porsche 914, race number 13, was a top-placing competitor. She helped lead the Women’s Electric Racing and Educational Team (WE’RE-IT), with the Porsche and a converted Rabbit (number 6) Hop-Along. After moving to the hills west of Patterson, California, Bell and her husband, Chuck Piper, installed their own solar, waterwheel, and wind systems.

After writing the most recent novel in the Ratha series, Bell launched an exciting new project: working with young artists on a Ratha’s Creature graphic novel. To learn more, please visit www.facebook.com/rathaseries.

Read an Excerpt

Ratha's Courage

The Named Series: Book Five


By Clare Bell

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 2008 Clare Bell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-1471-0


CHAPTER 1

A shiver of excitement went through Ratha. She began her stalk, belly fur brushing the ground. Grass whispered past her legs as she felt the slow, controlled power of each muscle. Her tailtip tingled with the urge to twitch, but she held it still.

The horse the Named called a striper tossed its head and flapped its tail, eyes widening. Ratha slowed her downwind stalk so that she seemed nearly frozen, yet was still moving. The striper swung its neck around, jerking its head and ears back.

Ratha stilled until the herdbeast settled, then quickened her stalk, easing her weight from one foot to the next, placing each directly ahead of the one behind and moving so smoothly she felt as though she were flowing across and through the grass, a green-eyed river of tawny gold.

Nearing the striper's dancing rear hooves, inhaling its sweat-sharpened scent, Ratha trembled with the impulse to dash, spring, and wrestle her prey to the ground. She took a long slow breath—as the herding teacher, Thakur, had taught her—mastered her urge, and crept around the striper, circling in front of it.

Stripers were new to the Named herds. This horse was dun, with dark brown mane and tail. Ratha turned her head to bring her gaze down along its banded forelegs to the three-toed feet. These feet differed from those of the smaller dappleback horses that the clan had long tended. The striper's center toe, sheathed in a single hoof, was larger, the side toes farther off the ground. That hoof had far more power than the dappleback's feet. Ratha had dodged it many times, and other herders had been sent sprawling.

The striper grunted and whinnied, its nostrils flaring with her smell. From her crouch, Ratha lifted her chin and stared up at the horse, trying to catch and hold its gaze. As if sensing her purpose, the striper reared, its forefeet cutting the air, its tail whisking its flanks. She froze again, waited.

When the striper dropped down, she pounced on its stare with her own. Again it evaded her, closing its eyes and ducking its head, showing her only its bristling mane.

She knew the stripers were smarter than the dapplebacks; by now her stare would have a dappleback helplessly imprisoned.

Thakur had warned her that the stripers were clever, that the larger head held a more alert and cunning mind. Suppressing her frustrated growl, Ratha made several rasping snarls that were almost barks.

The sounds had the effect she wanted. The striper's ears swiveled, the head came up, the eyes opened. Again her eyes sought the striper's gaze, and this time she captured it. The animal stiffened, as if about to fight, but snort and stamp as it would, the striper couldn't break Ratha's stare. It stilled to near immobility, only its hide shivering.

Ratha felt triumph strengthen her heartbeat and deepen her breathing. She was so close; she could reach out and tap one of the horse's forelegs with a front paw.

Again came the rush of desire that threatened to propel her up onto the horse's shoulders, driving her teeth into its neck. In her imagination, she was already atop the striper, feeling the stiff upright mane bristle into the corners of her mouth. Part of her already felt the velvet-furred skin resist, stretch, and then tear through beneath the points of her fangs, her neck muscles pulling and twisting in just the right way so that her fangs would slip between the neck bones and skillfully separate them while the prey's blood flowed in pulses over her tongue....

Outwardly Ratha shuddered, yet kept her eyes fixed on those of the horse while inwardly she swiped the feelings aside. No, such a fevered attack was not the way of the Named. She had fought this internal battle many times before, when she trained as a cub under Thakur, and later when she began her duties as a herder. Even when she culled herdbeasts, she would not let instinct run wild.

Ratha used her frustration and desire, pouring them out savagely through her eyes. The horse was now as still as if it were already in her killing embrace. The muscles and tendons atop her forelegs quivered with the need to drive her claws out and deep into flesh.

She lifted out of her crouch, rearing up on her hind paws to lay one foreleg almost gently over the horse's shoulders and up along the back of its neck. In spite of her care, the beast started, but before it could begin its escape flurry, Ratha slapped the other forepaw around the underside of its neck.

Now Ratha used her claws, but only enough to maintain her hold as she pushed backward with her hind feet to unbalance the striper and pull it over. She was so close to the horse now that she couldn't hold its gaze, but she no longer needed to. It was falling into the daze that doomed prey often assumed.

Instead of digging into the striper's nape with claws and teeth, Ratha used the pressure and friction of her pads combined with her weight and her experience in knowing exactly how and where to push in order to topple the beast.

As if in a trance, the striper sank to its knees. Ratha climbed farther onto it, using her weight to press the horse down onto its belly. She draped herself across the animal, one forepaw keeping the horse's forelegs, with their dangerous hooves, at a distance. She wrapped the other forepaw around the top of the horse's head, twisting it up so that the throat lay exposed.

Feeling the striper's heartbeat thudding through its ribs and into her own body, Ratha bent her head, jaws starting to open. The heart's beat was strong in the creature's neck, visibly jolting the skin over the great vessels and releasing a deep temptation in Ratha to bite deeply and hard.

Instead she opened her mouth to its full gape and set her teeth in position for the instinctive throat bite. With the horse's sweat-smell hot in her nose, she squeezed her eyes shut with the effort not to bite, feeling the jaw-closing muscles beneath her eyes and on the sides of her forehead tremble with the strain.

The onlookers, Thakur and the young cubs learning herding from him, had grown quiet, as if they sensed the conflict within her.

Slowly, deliberately, she pulled her head up, feeling the skin of her muzzle slide back over her teeth as her mouth closed. She swallowed the saliva that had flooded her mouth, staying atop the striper while the youngsters shrilled their praise and Thakur added his deeper note. Their cries sounded strangely muted to her, as if they were distant or her ears muffled.

She wanted to speak to them, saying, this is how you take down a striper, but a feeling stronger than just her heartbeat thudding in her chest held back her voice.

Something Ratha didn't understand made her give the horse's neck a gentle lick before she slipped her paws out from under its neck, lifted herself off its body, and quickly backed away. The striper lifted its head, then lurched to its feet. Before the horse took a step, Thakur and some older cubs surrounded it.

As Ratha watched them return the striper to its herd, she shook her pelt hard, as if she needed to shed it in preparation for resuming the mantle of Named clan leader. Today, she reminded herself, her role was more humble: guest herding instructor.

She struggled to rid herself of the confusion between ancient hunter and Named herder. Perhaps the feeling was stronger today because her leadership duties had taken her away from herding. Intense practice had brought back her skills, but not complete control of her instincts.

The cubs and their teacher were returning. Ratha lifted her head, now hearing individual voices instead of a general clamor.

"The males may be able to take down stripers, but I'll never be able to do that," said a discouraged little female voice.

"That is why I asked Ratha to show you the technique," Ratha heard Thakur say. He trotted toward her, his step springy, his whiskers fanning with pride. Scent and sight told Ratha that he had groomed himself especially well this morning. The metallic copper highlights in his fur shimmered in the sun. He had lost the leg feathering of his winter coat, and his slender limbs were clean, his body taut and spare.

His scent had a musky undertone, reminding Ratha that the Named mating season was not far away. She wanted to rub herself luxuriously alongside him and flop her tail across his back. Instead, she contented herself with an affectionate head-rub and turned to the discouraged youngster, finding her voice at last.

"Little one," she said to the cub, "it is true that the culling takedown is harder for female herders, especially with the stripers. We don't have as much weight or muscle as the males."

"Then how will I do it?"

Gently, Ratha explained how she depended on precision and balance instead of sheer force to bring a beast down.

"But you are special, clan leader," said the cub. "You aren't just a female, you're—"

"As a herder, I am no different than any of you," Ratha said, looking the cub in the eyes. "I had to struggle with takedowns when I was your age, even with the dapplebacks. And a three-horn stag chased me up a tree once."

"No, really?" the cub asked, wide-eyed, and others joined with her, wrinkling their noses in disbelief that a mere herdbeast could terrorize the Tamer of the Red Tongue, the Giver of the New Law, their clan leader.

"Yes, really. Ask Thakur."

The cubs clustered around their teacher, who answered, then shooed them all away, telling them to go practice stare-downs with three-horn fawns until he called them.

Ratha watched them bumble and scramble away, wondering if they knew she got dung between her pads and muck on her coat, just like everyone else.

"Let them worship you a bit," Thakur said softly. "It helps them, especially the little females."

"They are doing well this season," Ratha mused. "It is hard to believe that it hasn't been that long since Meoran forbade any female cubs to train as herders."

"Except a certain one," Thakur answered.

Because you fought for me. You defied him to train me. You stood by me when I overthrew his tyranny.

"I can answer the rest of the cubs' questions. Go take a nap on the sunning rock, yearling," he said, using his old name for her.

She had a new name for him, but one that she dared not use. Beloved.

Or, perhaps it wasn't so new.

"May you eat of the haunch and sleep in the driest den, clan leader," he said formally, and returned to the cubs.

She looked after him, letting her whiskers droop slightly in a silent sigh, then decided to take his advice.

* * *

Ratha awoke from her nap, stretched out on the sunning rock in the middle of the meadow. She felt the late spring breeze ruffle her tawny-gold fur backward from tail tip to nape. Warmth grew on her fur, and the scent of drying sandstone mingled with the freshness of new grass.

Yawning until her tongue quivered, Ratha extended her front legs over the edge. The breeze tickled the spur whiskers at the back of her front paws, teased the hairs inside her ears and the silky velvet at their edges. It played with the longer fur on her ear tips, tugging at her nose and eyebrow whiskers.

Swiveling her head to turn her gaze, she saw that morning was still chasing dew-sparks from the grass.

She sat up, licked a forepaw with a raspy tongue, and rubbed her face. She scrubbed her nose and behind her ears in circles, and tongued down her short ruff and creamy chest fur.

In the distance Ratha heard the muffled sound of hoof beats on grass, mixed with cub squeals. She turned her head into the wind, cocking her ears. She raised her nose whiskers, opening her mouth slightly to capture scents. Odor turned to taste in a sensitive place at the roof of her mouth when she touched it with her tongue.

Smell and flavor combined with sound, telling Ratha that Thakur was still in the meadow with his group of half-grown cubs. Now they were working with three-horn deer instead of stripers.

Ratha knew that long ago her kind had been hunters, but they had learned to tame and herd the three-horn deer, dappleback horses, and other beasts they once stalked. Because they had to know one another well in order to cooperate, they needed and valued names. They also grew to value the light in a cub's eyes that meant that the young one would be able to think clearly and speak well.

Lifting her head, Ratha narrowed green eyes against the sunlight. Looking down, she saw paw prints on the damp soil below.

She knew that the sunning rock stood not only at the center of the surrounding meadow, but also at the center of clan life. The Named used it as a meeting ground and a seat of honor for their leader.

In the midst of all the prints lay a clear area where stones encircled a still-smoldering pile of ash. It was a nest of the Red Tongue, the fire-creature she had brought to her people.

She grimaced as she remembered how the clan had kept her up late last night with their arguing and yowling in the firelight. She had let all have their say. Though still young, she knew by experience that a good clan leader should listen rather than speak.

Gathering her hindquarters beneath her, Ratha raised herself on her forepaws. A front claw snagged on the sandstone. Her tail tip flicked with annoyance. With her tongue, she explored her paw and found a not-quite-shed outer layer of the claw. Using the small sharp incisor teeth between her fangs, she nibbled it off.

Sandstone grit scraped beneath her pads as she pushed her front paws out, bowed her back, and indulged in a good long stretch. She enjoyed the feel of her body: her long powerful hind legs that launched her into a swift charge at a herdbeast; her slim but muscular forelegs that could wrap around the animal's neck and pull it down. Her neck and shoulders drove the force of her bite, but her forequarters were flexible enough so that she could lick most of her back.

Her longer hind legs raised her hindquarters slightly above her forequarters so that her back sloped gently down from hips to shoulders. When Ratha galloped, she could feel the arch and bow of her spine, giving her strides additional length.

She thought about the herding teacher, and his place in the clan. Shifting from hunters to herders helped the Named, but others had taken advantage of the change. Raiders of Ratha's own kind, but lacking the self-aware gift of the Named, attacked the herds. The Un-Named ones far outnumbered the clan and could devastate the herd, driving the Named to starvation. Clan cubs had to be well trained in the ways the Named used to defend and protect their animals.

While thinking about Thakur again, she caught the distant flash of morning sun on his copper coat.

Ratha watched the shapes moving against the sky and trees at the meadow's edge. She saw spotted cub-students cut in and out of the small teaching herd of three-horn deer as Thakur dashed alongside, yowling instructions. Other cubs practiced stare-downs with the young deer.

One youngster instantly became a ball of fluff as an aggressive half-grown buck broke the cub's stare and charged. A whiff and taste of cub fear-scent made Ratha tense, but Thakur had already plunged in and headed the buck off. She watched, tail flicking, as he confronted it with bared claws and teeth. For an instant it challenged him with its forked nose-horn and pronged antlers, then backed off.

At least he didn't have to kill the animal, Ratha thought, again remembering the day when a three-horn stag had nearly gotten the best of her. Thakur had not let that deer live with its dangerous knowledge that it could defy its Named keepers. It had swiftly become clan meat.

From a closer part of the meadow screened off by brush came another ruckus, accompanied by strange smells and puffs of dust. Ratha couldn't see the source, but brassy bellows and yearling cub-cries told her that the older herding students were practicing their skills on a leathery-skinned baby beast with legs like young trees.

She remembered when she had first seen one of these creatures. At first she had the odd thought that they were built backward, for the tail on their rumps was far less impressive than the one that curled down from their faces and waved about in front of their tusks.

This "face-tail" trunk was as impressive as it looked, as several of the Named had learned by being suddenly plucked from the ground and hurled into a thornbush. It had earned the beasts their name.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Ratha's Courage by Clare Bell. Copyright © 2008 Clare Bell. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Ratha's Courage 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put any of these books down. The description of the characters and their environment made me feel like I was there, and by the end of the first book, they felt like old friends.
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TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
After a thirteen-year hiatus, Clare Bell returns with RATHA'S COURAGE, the fifth book in THE NAMED series. The story is about a clan of prehistoric cats that are working toward making a civilization. Ratha, the clan leader, knows the gift of fire and decides to share it with another, different civilization of the "face-tails", which is a clan of mammoth and mastodon hunting cats. But her courage to reach out to another group might bring the downfall of her own clan. Bell writes an interesting story that takes the reader into another world where cats rule and try to become more civilized. The reader goes through the story with Ratha, facing every challenge along with her. This book is an excellent addition to THE NAMED series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago