The next morning, Tornfoot ducks into the nursery to find Whiteblaze purring over three hungry, healthy kits. They're adorable. Whiteblaze catches her watching and flicks her tail to beckon her over, clearly exhausted but content.
"What are their names?" Tornfoot asks, quietly so as not to disturb the kits from their breakfast.
Whiteblaze nods at each of them in turn. "Grasskit, Softkit, and Loudkit." She gives Loudkit a lick on the head; he breaks off suckling to mewl at her. It is, true to his name, a piercing sound.
"I guess that answers my next question," Tornfoot says, amused. "How are you doing? I wanted to ask you something, but I can come back later if you're tired."
Whiteblaze yawns, but says, "I won't be any less tired for the next two moons. What do you want to know?"
Tornfoot hesitates. "I was wondering - I know this isn't your first litter - how do you prepare your kits to be apprentices? Is there any advice you give them, or any way you give them any training?"
Whiteblaze looks surprised. "Well, honestly, no, not really. I just let them do what comes naturally. They usually sort out any roughhousing between each other, or a couple cuffs does the trick. By their second moon they're usually so eager to be apprentices they'll half-train themselves. Why do you ask? Are you going to have a litter next season?"
"Something like that," Tornfoot sighs.
"Well, I'm not sure how much help I can be," Whiteblaze says apologetically. "Feel free to ask me if you have any more questions, though, and I can do my best."
Tornfoot thanks her and leaves her to her squirming kits, blinking as she emerges into the bright midmorning sun. Well, that was basically useless. It occurs to Tornfoot that she doesn't actually know how old the doglet is. Maybe he's only a moon old or something; that would explain a lot.
As much as she wishes she had a plan, she doesn't, and time won't stop for her to come up with one. She heads out of camp to find her charge. Maybe he ran away, she thinks, just for a moment, and then feels horrible. It's not his fault.