The full moon hung low in the dark sky, silhouetting Queen as she sat upon the Hill. Topside at the Hill Burrow was the whole Alphas family. Pride stood close to the Hill’s base and stared up at his mate, their youngest daughter Brightlight, by his side. The little three moon old pup was shaking with excitement. Grace sat with Ruff, Stripe, and Daisy of Queen’s first litter. Just behind them were Tumble, Spot, and Violet, they were six moons old. They were harassing each other and making a fuss. They were Queen’s fourth litter.
“Settle!” Mist, Noble’s grown daughter, hissed from behind them. Casting annoyed glances back at her, the three littermates sat down and stilled themselves. Noble nodded approvingly as he wove his way over to Mist. To the back of the crowd sat Hawk and Scarlet, they were Queen’s third litter. They had always been close, and Sorrel watched as they whispered to each other. Near them, Poppy was busy grooming her four grown pups. Crow, Wildcat, Weed, and Shimmer protested and kept ducking her tongue.
“You are all being ridiculous!” Poppy said as Crow dodged her for the second time. “Brightlight could choose any of you to be her guardian. You should look the part, not like a gaggle of squirrels returning from a game of Seek. Honestly.” Poppy huffed in frustration and Wildcat couldn’t help a pup-like chuckle. Poppy cut him a severe look and he quieted with a guilty glance at Crow, who shrugged. Sorrel felt a pang of loneliness. She had no littermates. She was of Queen’s second litter. There had been two pups, but Sorrel’s brother had died a brief time after they were born. She couldn’t even remember him.
Sorrel crouched at the very back of the group. She had little enthusiasm for the ceremony ahead. She was happy for her youngest sister, but she was sure that she, herself, would not be chosen as her guardian. It wouldn’t be the first time that she had been forgotten. Who was she anyway? She had no littermates to bond with. No siblings close in age to go on adventures together or get into mischief. It was just her, on her own, as always. She wasn’t anything special. Not like her brothers and sisters. Ruff was strong. Stripe was quick. Daisy was stubborn. Hawk was brave. Scarlet was clever. Violet was determined. Spot was kind. Tumble was funny. And Sorrel… was always there. That was it. Even Poppy’s pups contributed more than she did. Shimmer was attentive, Crow was adventurous, Wildcat was wily, and Weed was steadfast.
She did feel a connection with Brightlight, though. Brightlight was the only pup of Queen’s fifth litter. She had no littermates. Sorrel wondered if that ever made her lonely. If she ever needed another meer to talk to who understood. Maybe Brightlight would choose her then…? Sorrel shoved the thought away. That was unlikely, she knew. Why would Brightlight want her when there were so many other, more qualified meer, ready to be her guardian? So, it was better for Sorrel not to get her hopes up.
“It’s time we begin.” Queen announced from the top of the Hill. The family fell silent, and Sorrel cast her sulky green gaze to her mother. “Since The Way Way Back meer of two moons old have chosen their guardians. We will not break this tradition tonight, with our youngest daughter. Brightlight,” Queen’s pale umber eyes glowed, “step forward and present yourself to the family.”
Sorrel straightened so that she could see as Brightlight turned to face her family. “I am Brightlight.” The tiny meer proclaimed in a shaky voice, as tradition demanded. Her pelt was spiked with nerves. “I present myself to you, the Alphas family, my family. I want to learn the Ways of my ancestors. I want to tread in their wise paw steps. I wish for one of you to train me.” Brightlight glanced up at her mother as she finished speaking the time hallowed words, spoken by every two-moon-old pup at their guardian ceremony.
Queen took over, her intense stare moving from one meer to the next. “Alphas,” She asked, her voice ringing loud and clear. “Do you accept Brightlight as one of your own?”
There was a clamor of barks as every meer responded with a joyful “Yes!”
“Then you may choose your guardian, Brightlight.”
Brightlight scanned the crowd with eyes like amber moons. Her small face was still with thought as her gaze traveled over each meer. She could not choose a meer who already had an understudy, so Daisy, Scarlet, and Stripe were not an option. Her eyes lingered on Hawk. A smart choice, Sorrel mused to herself. But then Brightlight’s eyes flickered, her gaze landing on Sorrel. Sorrel struggled to quell the wild hope rising in her throat. What if Brightlight selected her after all? She wanted so badly to be a guardian. To contribute to the family. Would she get her chance tonight?
Brightlight craned her neck to look up at her mother. “I choose…” She started, then hesitated. Sorrel held her breath and was ready to turn away completely when Brightlight continued. “I choose Sorrel.”
All eyes were trained on Sorrel now. Shocked, Sorrel met her mother’s gaze. Queen gave a slight nod. Her eyes shone with pride, and not just for Brightlight. She was proud of both of her daughters, Sorrel realized. Pride was beaming at her in the same way. Almost of their own accord, her paws led her through the crowd and to Brightlight’s side.
“Sorrel, do you accept the responsibility to teach Brightlight the ways of meerkind and watch over her as she learns, until she is two full seasons old?”
Sorrel nodded. “I do.” She said, her throat hoarse and dry. Was this really happening?
“Then we, the Alphas family, bestow our trust in you to pass on your loyalty and dignity to Brightlight.” Queen smiled. “Now, you must take your oaths under the bright moon.”
Sorrel and Brightlight moved to face each other. Brightlight’s face was eager and open as Sorrel leaned forward to touch her forehead with her snout. “I swear on my blood, and the blood of The Before Us, that I will train you with all the knowledge that I have and protect you until you are two full seasons old. You have my word as a meer. I will be your guardian from this night on.” Sorrel’s words were quiet, barely a whisper. Even though they were the same words spoken at every Choosing Ceremony, they were meant for Brightlight to hear, and Brightlight alone. This was the most private and intimate part of the tradition, meant to forge the bond of guardian and understudy.
“I swear on my blood and the blood of The Before Us,” Brightlight responded as she had practiced, “that I will train with all my effort and listen to your wisdom until I am two seasons of age. You have my word as a meer.”
They finished the ceremony by speaking together. “I accept your oath.”
The action sealed, they drew back from each other, and both were immediately swallowed in the crowd. Receiving congratulations and compliments from their family. “Wise choice!” Noble laughed as he gave Brightlight’s ear a fond nibble. And Wildcat rubbed his cheek to Sorrel’s.
“It’s about time you got an understudy!” He joked and chuckled. Queen had jumped down from the Hill and stood with Pride. They wore matching expressions of happiness as they watched their daughters bask in the attention.
Sorrel’s pelt was warm despite the chill of the desert night. She had never been so content. Later that night, when the moon was high in the sky and the rest of the family was filing into the burrow, Brightlight found Sorrel. “I hope it’s alright that I chose you…” She said with her expression full of doubt.
Sorrel gave her a sincere blink. “It is more than alright, it’s an honor.”