In this adventurous series by a PEN Award–winnning author, Ratha belongs to the Named, a clan of intelligent prehistoric cats who roam a primal landscape and battle for their lives against the savage enemies that stalk the territory.
Ratha’s Creature: Young Ratha is a herder, not a hunter. But when she’s exiled from her clan after mastering the power of fire, she must survive the unforgiving wild with only her blazing “creature” to aid her.
Clan Ground: Ratha’s ability to control fire could help her clan grow stronger and even dominant—or wreak havoc from within. Now, she must choose the correct path to prosperity, or the Named will surely be doomed.
Ratha and Thistle-Chaser: When Ratha clashes with a cat who guards an ocean and its creatures, the two discover a common bond—and unite against a demonic enemy.
Ratha’s Challenge: The Named encounter another tribe, and Ratha is torn between friendship and conquest. But her daughter may hold the solution—if she and Ratha can overcome their dark past.
Ratha’s Courage: When Ratha’s clan shares the power of fire with another tribe, a disastrous blaze ignites a clash between them, and it’s up to Ratha to end the carnage.
About the Author
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 leaped over a fern thicket and dug her paws into the spongy ground as she dodged sharp horns. One prong sifted through her fur and she skittered away from the beast. She turned and stood her ground with hunched shoulders and twitching tail. Her quarry advanced. A two-pronged horn on the stag's nose joined the crown of points on the head and it lowered the entire array, charging at Ratha. She launched herself at the deer, both front paws spread. She landed on her rear paws and bounced sideways as the multi-horn pivoted heavily, trying to catch her on its spikes and pin her to the ground.
Each time the horns came near her, Ratha jumped sideways, forcing the stag to turn in a tight circle, unable to build up any speed or momentum. After several such circles, the beast's knees were trembling and Ratha smelled the sweat that was darkening the coarse, gray-tipped coat. At last the animal stopped and lifted its head. Wary brown eyes studied Ratha from behind the forked nose horn as she planted all four feet in the mossy soil beneath the trees, still but tensed, ready to spring if the deer lunged again.
The beast danced uneasily on its slender legs, sweating and snorting, turning one eye and then the other on Ratha. She knew that it had no experience with those of the clan. Most meat-eaters the three-horn encountered would tuck their tails between their legs when that fierce spiked crown turned their way. The fanged ones would run, not bounce around in circles. The stag's eyes were angry and the beast lowered its crown and pawed the soil, but the rage in its eyes was dulled by fear.
Ratha fixed her eyes on those of the deer. Slowly, deliberately, she walked toward it. Still tossing its head, the stag backed away from her. Ratha felt the intensity of her stare as she watched the beast retreat, and a feeling of triumph began to grow as she placed one paw after another on the multi-horn's reversed tracks and smelled the creature's bewilderment. She moved from one side to the other, blocking any attempts it might make to get past her. At last, she told herself, she had mastered the skill. At last the weeks of practice would yield results. Thakur's whiskers would bristle with pride.
A dragonfly buzzed across Ratha's nose, its iridescence stealing her attention from her quarry. The stag bellowed. Ratha jerked her head around, but she had barely time to realize she had lost control before the beast was on top of her, striking out with sharp hooves and goring the dirt with its horns.
Ratha fled, tucking her tail and squalling. The stag chased her and they ran a frantic race through the trees. Ratha glanced back as her paws slipped and skidded on pine needles and saw the points just behind her tail.
"Up a tree, yearling!" a voice yowled on her left, and with one bound, Ratha was halfway up a young pine, beyond reach of the tossing horns. She climbed higher, showering her opponent with bark and stinging wood ants. "Thakur!" she wailed.
A copper-brown head appeared through a clump of curled ferns. Thakur looked up at Ratha and down at the stag. He gathered himself and sprang onto the animal's back. He flung his powerful forelegs around the three-horn's neck and dug his rear claws into its back as it plunged and screamed. As Ratha watched from above, he twisted his head sideways and drove his fangs into the stag's nape behind the head. Ratha saw his jaw muscles bunch in his cheeks and temples as blood streamed down the stag's neck, and she heard the sound of teeth grinding on bone. His jaws strained and closed. The stag toppled over, its neck broken.
Thakur paced around his prey as it kicked and twitched. Then he stopped, his sides still heaving, and looked up at Ratha.
"Are you any better at climbing down from trees than you are at stalking three-horns?" Ratha felt her hackles rising. "Yarrr! That buzz-fly flew in front of my nose! Didn't you see?" She turned herself around and started to back down the tree.
"The last time, you were startled by a mud-croaker. If you can't keep your mind on what you are doing, yearling, go back to Fessran and her dapplebacks."
The cub dropped the rest of the way and landed beside him. She turned her head and nosed along her back. That prong had come close to her skin.
"Never mind a few tufts of fur," Thakur said crossly.
"I don't mind losing cub fur." Ratha smoothed her coat, now turning fawn but still faintly spotted. She lifted her head and stared defiantly at Thakur. "I was close, wasn't I? If I hadn't looked away, he would have been on his way to the herd."
"Yes, you were close," Thakur admitted. "Your stare is good; I see you have worked on it. Now you must learn to let nothing distract you. Once you have the animal's eye, don't lose it. Make them fear you and make that fear paralyze them until they cannot disobey you." He looked at the fallen stag, lying still in a patch of sunlight. His whiskers twitched with what Ratha knew was annoyance. "I didn't want to kill that one. He would have given the does many strong young."
"Why did you kill him? The clan has meat."
"It wasn't for meat." Thakur stared at Ratha and she noticed a slight acrid tang in his smell, telling her he was irritated. "Nor was it to spare you. I could have chased him to the herd. He broke your stare, Ratha. He learned that he did not need to fear you and that you feared him. Beasts that know that kill herders."
"Why must we have three-horns in the herd?" Ratha grumbled. "They're hard to manage. They fight among themselves and bully the other animals."
"They are larger and yield more meat. They have more young. And," Thakur added, "they are harder for the raiders to kill and drag away."
Ratha trotted over and sniffed the stag, filling her nose with its musky aroma. Her belly growled. She felt a firm paw pushing her away. "No, yearling. Meoran will be displeased enough that I killed the beast. He will be further angered if any fangs touch it before his."
Ratha helped Thakur drag the carcass out of the sun and brushed away the flies. Her belly rumbled again. Thakur heard it and grinned at her. "Patience, yearling. You'll eat tonight."
"If Meoran and the others leave anything but hide and bones," Ratha complained. "There is never enough meat at the clan kill, and I have to wait until those even younger than I have filled their bellies."
"How do you know they are younger?" Thakur said as Ratha took one last hungry look at the kill. "Cherfan's spots are no darker than yours."
"Arr. Cherfan ate before I did last night and I know his litter came after mine, Thakur Torn-Claw. I am older, yet he eats first."
Thakur soothed her. "Your spots are just taking a long time to fade. You are too impatient, yearling. Two seasons ago, I ate last and often went hungry. It was hard for me then and I know it is hard for you now, but it will change."
Ratha twitched one ear. "Shall I try the three-horn again? Maybe a doe would be easier than a stag."
Thakur squinted up through the trees. "The sun is starting to fall. By the time we find one, Yaran will be looking for you."
Her whiskers went back. "Arr, the old roarer. Hasn't he enough cubs to look after that he must worry about me?" She snorted, thinking about her lairfather. Yaran had a harsh, gravelly voice and no inhibitions about speaking his mind. She knew that had his brother Meoran not been the firstborn, Yaran would have been clan leader and, she admitted, perhaps a better one than Meoran. He was kind to her in his rough way, but he would stand no nonsense from cubs.
"We have time left for some practice, Ratha," Thakur said, regaining her attention. "I noticed that your spring was too high and that midair twist needs improving."
He started her practicing dodges, turns and springs. After watching and commenting on her technique, he assumed the part of a wayward herdbeast while Ratha used her training to capture him and force him to the herd.
As Thakur watched the lithe muscled form darting and turning in front of him, he remembered how hard he had argued with her lair-father about training her in the art of herding.
"She is quick, she is strong, she can outsmart most of the cubs born before her," he'd told Yaran as the two stood together in almost the same place as he was now, watching Yaran's small daughter chase a young dappleback. "Look how she runs that little animal and has no fear of it. Not to train her, Yaran, would be a waste and the clan can't waste ability like hers."
"True, three-year-old," Yaran rumbled, swishing his gray tail. "She is strong and she is strong of mind. It is already difficult to make her obey, and I fear that training her as you suggest would make her less tractable than she is now. And less easy for me to find her a mate."
Thakur remembered arguing until his tongue was tired and then going to old Baire, who was then leader, taking Ratha along. Baire saw the cub's talent and overruled Yaran. Thakur was allowed to teach her his skill. He and Yaran exchanged few words these days, but that loss was small in comparison to Ratha's gain.
The cub sprinted back and forth in the grass, the afternoon sun turning her fawn coat to gold. Soon her spots would be gone and she would no longer be a cub. Her spirit challenged him and sometimes frustrated him, but he never tried to break it as he knew Yaran had. And, although he would scarcely admit it to himself, in the back of his mind was the hope that when she grew old enough for a mate, she might take him, even though his family and age placed him low in comparison to the clan status of other males Yaran might choose for her.
Thakur raised his chin and scratched at a flea behind his ear. "Despite what I say sometimes, yearling, I have no regrets about choosing you to train. You are good, Ratha, in spite of your mistakes. When I have finished training you, you will be the best herder in the clan." He paused. "I don't often praise you, yearling. Perhaps I should." He routed the flea and lay down again. "Here is something that will please you more than words. I want you to stand guard with me and the other herders tonight."
Ratha sat up, her whiskers quivering. "Can I? Will Meoran let me? He needs the best herders of the clan."
"I told him that you are good enough. Meoran may think little of me in other ways, but when I speak about herding, he listens. Do you want to come?"
Ratha swallowed. "Will there be fighting?"
"If there is, you will keep out of it. Do you want to come with me tonight?"
"Good." Thakur got up and stretched, spreading his pads against the ground. "Help me drag this kill to the dens and I will see that you get enough to eat this evening. The clan cannot let those who guard the herds against the Un-Named grow weak from hunger."
"Will the raid come tonight?" Ratha asked, pacing alongside her teacher.
"Meoran thinks it will. He has scouts watching the Un-Named."
"I've seen them a few times. They hide behind trees or crouch in the shadows. They watch us just as we watch them." Ratha trotted to match Thakur's longer stride. "I've often wondered who they are and why they are without names."
"Perhaps you will learn tonight, yearling," he answered.
They reached the stag's carcass. Thakur pushed one stiff foreleg aside and seized the neck while Ratha grabbed the rear leg by the hock. Together they lifted the kill and carried it away through the trees.
Ratha followed the white spot bobbing in the darkness ahead of her. She smelled resin, heard needles rustle and ducked beneath a branch that overhung the trail. She had seen the moon through the trees as she left her den, but here the dense forest hid its light. The white spot grew smaller and Thakur's footsteps fainter. She hurried to catch up. She didn't need to follow Thakur's tail tip; she could guide herself well enough at night even though she was used to living by day. But the white spot drew her on and she followed without thinking, as she had followed the white of her mother's tail through the tall grass of the meadow. Ratha remembered the one time she had dared to disobey. Panic had tightened her belly and sent her scampering back to Narir. She was beyond her cubhood now, but the night to her was a very large and awesome creature and the flickering spot ahead promised protection.
She followed, looking about as she ran, and wondered at how her vision changed at night. She had run night trails before, but they were short paths from one den to another, short enough that the thoughts filling her head as her feet trod the path never let her notice what she was seeing. Now the trail was longer and she was beginning to shed her cub-thoughts with her spotted fur. Now, as if it knew she was using her mind with her eyes, night crept out of its murky den and showed itself to her. The crystal light of the moon cut through the trees and gave every knobbled root, scaled patch of bark or curled fern a harsh presence, a clarity that was too sharp. She looked at night-lit trees and stones and felt she could cut her paw pads on their edges.
Ratha smelled mossy stone and damp fur. She heard Thakur's pads slap on mud as he paced the streambank. He hunched himself, a compact shadow against the moonlit stream, and leaped across. On the other side she saw him wave his tail.
"Cross, yearling," he said. "You have jumped it before."
She crouched on a flat stone at the water's edge, trying to judge the distance to the other shore. The beating in her throat made her thirsty and she lowered her muzzle to drink. In the faint light she saw her own face. Her eyes, green in daylight, were now swallowed up in black. She had seen her own reflection many times before and, when young, had drenched herself trying to swat it. Ratha looked at her night face, the broad nose, small fangs and strange expanded eyes. She turned away from it and jumped over the stream.
Thakur's tail was flicking back and forth and he smelled uneasy. There was another smell in his scent, one Ratha didn't know. She trotted toward him, shaking the mud from her paws.
"Hurry, yearling. The others have gone ahead and I don't want them to wait for us." His eyes reflected moonlight as he turned once more to the trail.
He set a faster pace than before. Ratha had to gallop to keep up and she felt the weight of her dinner drag at her belly as she ran. She lifted her head, gulping the coolness of the night air to soothe the pulsing in her throat. Smells of the meadow were mixed with the smells of the forest, telling her they would soon be there. The forest began to open. A few stars and then the half-disk of the moon appeared through the canopy.
A branch cracked. The sound was close and sharp, making Ratha start. Thakur, ahead, glanced back but didn't slow down. The trail ran up a small rise and veered around at the crest. Here the canopy opened and the moon lit the trail. The light silvered Thakur's coat as he galloped around the curve toward the hollow beyond. Ratha panted up the grade after him, wishing her legs were longer and she had eaten less. As she approached the top, there was a dry scratchy sound. Bark fell from a tree trunk. She looked toward a gnarled oak near the top of the rise. One of its large lower branches paralleled the trail for some distance, making it a short alternate route. As Thakur disappeared over the crest of the little hill, a form dropped from the oak's branches and ran along the lower limb. For an instant the stranger paused, crouched, one forepaw lifted, staring back at Ratha. Then he was gone.
She leaped off the trail, cutting through the brush. Tucking her tail between her legs, she fled down into the hollow.
Thakur was nowhere to be seen and Ratha stopped, when she regained the trail, her heart pounding. "Ssss, yearling," came a voice close by. "Here." Thakur lifted his head from a clump of ferns. "Has Narir taught you no better trail-running than that? I thought a shambleclaw was coming through the bushes."
"I saw him, Thakur," Ratha interrupted, her whiskers quivering with excitement.
"What did you see?"
"The Un-Named One. He was there on the branch after you passed. He looked back at me."
"Yarrr. The Un-Named never allow themselves to be seen. You saw some clan litterling who imagines himself to be a night hunter." Thakur snorted.
Ratha's jaw dropped in dismay, then her ears flattened. "No. I saw him. He was there on the branch as if he wanted me to see him. And I have seen him before."
"When?" Thakur asked.
"Many clan kills ago. I had a fight with Cherfan and he chased me into a thicket at the end of the meadow. He was in there asleep and I ran right over him. He snarled at me."
Thakur left the ferns and came to her. His steps were quick, his eyes sudden and intense. Ratha smelled the same odor about him she had noticed before.
"Did you tell anyone else?"
"Only Cherfan," Ratha said hesitantly, "and he never listens to me."
"Why didn't you tell me?" His voice had a harshness to it Ratha seldom heard, even when he was scolding her during training.
Excerpted from "The Named"
Copyright © 2010 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.
Table of Contents
Ratha and Thistle-Chaser,