The Longest Day
Page 1 of 24
Special thanks to Kate Cary
Chapter One: Lusa
Chapter Two: Toklo
Chapter Three: Kallik
Chapter Four: Lusa
Chapter Five: Lusa
Chapter Six: Lusa
Chapter Seven: Toklo
Chapter Eight: Kallik
Chapter Nine: Lusa
Chapter Ten: Toklo
Chapter Eleven: Kallik
Chapter Twelve: Lusa
Chapter Thirteen: Toklo
Chapter Fourteen: Kallik
Chapter Fifteen: Lusa
Chapter Sixteen: Toklo
Chapter Seventeen: Kallik
Chapter Eighteen: Lusa
Chapter Nineteen: Toklo
Chapter Twenty: Kallik
Chapter Twenty-One: Lusa
Chapter Twenty-Two: Toklo
Chapter Twenty-Three: Kallik
Chapter Twenty-Four: Lusa
Chapter Twenty-Five: Toklo
Chapter Twenty-Six: Kallik
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Lusa
About the Author
Books by Erin Hunter
About the Publisher
Sunshine scorched Lusa’s back. Hot wind whisked around her paws. From up on the hilltop, she could see across the top of the pines, and beyond them, at the foot of the slope, the lake glittered like stars.
Great Bear Lake. Lusa had forgotten how big it was. It stretched all the way to the horizon, reaching long, shimmering paws into wooded valleys on either side.
“Look at all those bears!” Yakone’s gasp snapped Lusa from her thoughts. Beside her, the white bear was staring at the shore, where a group of brown bears moved across the stones. They look so small from here! Lusa thought. Farther along, white bears lay at the water’s edge, clearly limp in the heat.
The bears were gathering for the Longest Day. There aren’t as many as last year. Then Lusa realized that they must be among the first arrivals for the gathering. We’re early!
On the far shore, a white bear plunged into the water. Nearer, a brown bear lounged on a rock. Lusa’s heart quickened. Where are the black bears? She strained to see along the shore. They must be among the trees. Excitement tingled in her paws. Would Miki be there? Chula? Or any of the other black bears she’d met here a suncircle ago?
It was hard to believe that so many moons had passed since they were here. Lusa glanced at Toklo and Kallik. They’d grown. So have I! And that wasn’t the only thing that had changed. Last time, Ujurak had been with them. Grief tugged at Lusa’s heart. Was he watching them now?
Of course he’s still with us. She knew his spirit traveled with them. And now we have Yakone, too. She glanced fondly at the broad-shouldered white bear. He was standing close to Kallik, his eyes wide.
“Why aren’t they fighting?” Yakone’s gaze flicked to Toklo. “I thought brown bears didn’t like sharing territory, especially not with white bears.”
“The white bears, brown bears, and black bears keep to their own parts of the shore,” Toklo explained.
“There is peace between everyone during the Longest Day gathering,” Kallik explained. “We come to honor our spirits.”
Not always! Lusa scowled, remembering last time they were here. Kallik’s brother, Taqqiq, and his friends had tried to take over the black bears’ territory. “Let’s hope that there’s nothing to fight over this time,” she muttered.
“Come on!” Toklo began to head down the slope.
Lusa stiffened. “Wait!”
“What’s wrong?” Kallik must have heard the alarm in Lusa’s bark.
“We can’t just go down there!” Lusa blinked at Toklo. Didn’t he want to say good-bye before he joined his own kind?
Toklo misunderstood. “You’re right. I guess it would look strange for a brown bear, a black bear, and two white bears to arrive together.”
“We should go down separately,” Kallik agreed.
“Do you think they’d really mind?” Yakone was watching the groups on the shore.
Lusa struck the ground with her forepaw. “That’s not what I meant!” She remembered last night with a pang; the berries Yakone had brought her as they shared prey one last time. She could still taste the juice on her tongue. Our final meal together. Didn’t this moment mean anything to them? They had journeyed farther than any other bears at the lake. They had protected one another over forest, mountain, and ice. “Is this the end of our friendship?” she whispered, looking from Toklo to Kallik and Yakone.
Kallik’s eyes widened. “Of course not!”
“We’ll see each other before we leave the lake.” Toklo padded over and rested his muzzle on top of Lusa’s head. “We’ll always be friends.”
Yakone gazed at her gently. “We came here for you, Lusa,” he reminded her. “So you could meet other black bears and find a real home.”
“Like I’ve found mine.” Toklo had already staked out his territory in the mountains where he had been born. He would return there after the Longest Day was over.
“And we know where we’ll find ours.” Kallik glanced affectionately at Yakone. The two white bears would be traveling together to Yakone’s island on the Endless Ice.
Lusa’s eyes felt hot.
Kallik touched her nose to Lusa’s ear. “We can’t keep traveling forever, little one.”
Kallik’s right. This was why they’d come. Lusa looked down at the shore, imagining the black bears waiting in the trees. She remembered the deep longing she’d felt in the cave on Star Island all those moons ago as she stared at the picture of herself marked on the cave wall; the longing to go home—not to the Bear Bowl, but to a place where she would truly belong, with trees and sunlight and berries and grubs, and other black bears.
She pushed away her sadness. She’d already proved she could live beyond the Bear Bowl. This was her chance to have a life like a real black bear, among bears who knew what it was like to find the juiciest root and relish the taste of leaftime berries. Yakone and Kallik could feast on seal fat. Toklo could chase deer through the forest. They all had so much to look forward to.
Lusa lifted her snout, forcing her eyes to brighten. “Then what are we waiting for?” Breaking into a run, she slipped past Toklo and plunged down the grassy slope.
As she reached the pines, cool shadows swallowed her.
Kallik’s call sounded behind her. “Good luck, Lusa!”
Lusa ran on. Where are the black bears? The sharp scent of sap filled her nose. Pine needles crunched beneath her paws. As the slope steepened, she veered sideways, racing along it, her ears pricked. She remembered from last time where the black bears made their temporary home for the Longest Day. If she followed the woods around the shore, tracing the curve of the lake, she would find them at the point where pines gave way to birch, spruce, and rowan.
She quickened her pace. Through the trees, she could hear the rippling of the lake against the shore. Heavy paws crunched on pebbles. Bears muttered gruffly to one another. She must be skirting the brown bears’ gathering place. Toklo would be on his way there now. She glanced up at the trees, searching for black pelts among the branches. As the pines thinned and pale birch bark showed among the dark trunks, Lusa’s heart leaped. This was the place!
Sun dappled the forest floor. The scent of freshly dug earth washed her muzzle. She hurried past a patch of uprooted ferns. A black bear had been foraging here recently. She could smell his scent. She scanned the forest ahead, happiness surging in her chest as she spotted black pelts moving between the trunks. Cr
aning her neck, she saw bears clinging to branches overhead. A furry black face stared down at her, gnawing on a pawful of leaves.
Lusa slowed to clamber over a tangle of tree roots that crossed her path. A bramble bush swished beside her, and she turned to see a black bear peering curiously at her over the top. Two more bears were digging at the base of a spruce, scooping out pawfuls of wriggling grubs.
Lusa halted and gazed around. Brilliant shards of sunlight sliced through the branches. Black bears moved through them, their pelts gleaming. Lusa gasped. It was strange to be surrounded by bears her own size. She’d been a cub last time she was here, and she’d spent so long traveling with bears so much bigger than her. Suddenly she felt like a giant!
“Dustu!” A happy grunt sounded through the trees. A female bear scrambled down the slope, her gaze fixed on a grizzled black male who was ambling across a clearing.
The male bear looked up. He narrowed his eyes as though trying to see into the shadow. “Dena? Is that you?”
“Yes!” Dena chuffed as Dustu hurried to greet her. “How was your journey?”
“Long.” Dustu shook one hindpaw, then another as though shaking away stiffness. His pelt glowed red in the dappled sunlight, betraying his age. Lusa wondered how many times he’d made this trip to the lake. He must know every bear here. “Is Leotie with you?”
Dena nodded. “She’s picking berries. Have you seen Chula yet?”
Lusa tilted her head to listen. Chula had been here with her brother Ossi and their mother last suncircle. “Excuse me, did you say Chula?” She hurried forward. “Is she coming?”
Dustu and Dena stared at her.
“Do you know her?” Dena asked.
“I met her at the last gathering.” Lusa stopped in front of them, her gaze flicking beyond them as she searched for familiar faces.
Dustu tipped his head. “I remember you,” he grunted, his face softening. “You’re the one who saved Miki from the white bears.”
A young male bear crossed the clearing toward them. “Lusa?” he called. “You came! Welcome!”
Lusa frowned. The bear’s face was familiar. His name came to her in a rush. “Pokkoli!” He was a friend of Miki. “How are you?”
“How’s Miki?” Lusa asked. “Is he here?”
“Not yet. But he’ll be here soon.” Pokkoli swung his snout toward a group of black bears foraging farther up the slope. “Come and join us.” He bounded toward them.
“It’s nice seeing you again!” Lusa called to Dustu and Dena as she hurried after Pokkoli.
Ossi! She recognized the young male bear from the distinctive patch of white fur on his chest. He was sitting on the ground, chewing a fern root. Pokkoli had stopped to scratch his hindquarters against a tree. Two other bears were nibbling cloudberries from a bush while a female dozed in the sunshine.
Lusa suddenly felt shy. Would she remember how to act like a black bear? Would they notice she was different?
“Lusa!” Ossi scrambled to his paws. “It’s good to see you again!” He was much taller and his voice was deeper than it had been last suncircle. He strode toward Lusa and butted her shoulder affectionately.
She staggered, surprised by his strength.
He huffed with amusement. “You’ve grown.”
“So have you!” Lusa looked into his wide, open face. Happiness shone in his eyes.
“Isn’t it great to be back?” Ossi stretched, rolling his shoulders.
“Is Chula with you?” Lusa couldn’t see Ossi’s sister among the others. “And your mother?”
“My mother stayed at home this year,” Ossi told her. “Chula’s traveling with Sheena and her cubs. They were planning to meet up with Miki. I came ahead with Pokkoli.”
Pokkoli swallowed a berry and grimaced at the sharpness. “So, Lusa, what have you been doing since last leaftime?”
“Just traveling,” Lusa told him.
Ossi looked surprised. “Alone?”
“With some friends.” Lusa shifted her paws.
“Are they here?” Pokkoli looked around.
“Not exactly,” Lusa mumbled.
“They’re with the brown bears and the white bears.” Lusa peered through the trees. She could just make out the lake sparkling between the trunks.
“What are they doing there?” Pokkoli grunted.
“They’re with their own kind.”
“Their own kind?”
“Kallik and Yakone are white bears, and Toklo’s a brown bear.”
“You’ve been traveling with white bears?” Suspicion clouded Pokkoli’s gaze.
“And a grizzly?” Ossi’s frown deepened.
Lusa’s fur prickled. She changed the subject. “Is Hashi here?” Hashi was the gruff old male who had seemed to be in charge of the black bears last time.
“Not yet.” Pokkoli was still staring at Lusa.
Ossi scratched his flank with a large paw. “He’s too ancient to walk fast.”
“He might have met up with Chula and the others,” Pokkoli suggested.
“If he’s traveling with Chula, he’ll never get here,” Ossi chuffed. “Chula has to stop for food so often, she’s slower than a two-legged coyote.”
Pokkoli sat down. “And if Hashi stops to inspect every tree for a bear spirit, they won’t be here until cold-earth.”
“Poor Hashi. He’s worried his ancestors might say something important when he’s not listening,” Ossi joked.
Lusa crept toward the cloudberry bush. Her belly was rumbling with hunger. She was relieved that Ossi and Pokkoli had stopped asking her about Kallik and the others. “Is it okay to share these?” she asked two bears who were reaching between the branches, plucking the swollen red berries.
“Help yourself.” One of the foraging bears nodded toward the far side of the bush. His jaws were sticky with berry juice. “There’s plenty over there.”
Lusa sat down and tugged a berry from the bush with her teeth. The juice bathed her tongue, as sweet as honey. “Do you want some?” she asked Ossi.
Ossi shook his head. “No, thanks. I’ve just had a heap of fern roots.”
When she was full, Lusa sat back on her haunches. The berries had made her thirsty. She stood up and headed through the forest toward the lake.
“Where are you going?” Ossi called.
“To get a drink.”
“Watch where you go!” Ossi hurried after her with Pokkoli at his heels. They steered her onto a trail of trampled ferns. “You don’t want to cross into the brown bears’ territory.”
Lusa sniffed. “They won’t hurt us.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Pokkoli nosed past Ossi. “The brown bears are even grouchier than usual this year.”
“Why?” Lusa walked out of the trees and hopped down a sandy ledge onto the pebbled beach. She glanced toward where the brown bears were gathered, beyond a rocky outcrop that jutted into the lake.
Ossi jumped down after her. “Oogrook’s not here this time.”
“Oogrook’s their leader,” Pokkoli explained as they reached the water’s edge. “He settles arguments and makes them behave.”
Lusa scanned the brown bears, her heart lifting as she spotted Toklo among them. He was as big as the others now, no longer a cub. “But Oogrook will arrive soon, won’t he? Just like Hashi.” She swished through the shallows and leaned down to drink. The water was cold on her tongue.
“No, he’s dead.” Ossi waded in beside her.
“Dead?” Lusa jerked up her head, her muzzle dripping.
“He was old.” Ossi shrugged and took a drink.
Pokkoli hung back at the water’s edge, his gaze on the brown bears. “The brown bears will have to decide who their new leader will be.”
Ossi’s ears twitched. “Brown bears can never decide anything without fighting. You’d best stay away from them until it’s been settled,” he grunted.
Lusa tried to catch Toklo’s eye. Did he
know about Oogrook’s death yet? But he hadn’t noticed her. Please, Arcturus, watch over him. They’d seen too many fights on their journey. Don’t let him walk into another.
Toklo broke from the trees and stopped at the edge of the shore. He could see Pawprint Island shimmering in the middle of the lake. The ancient story, repeated by every generation of bears, rang in his mind. Arcturus strode across this lake, and where he set his paw, an island sprang up. Fish thronged around it and he ate his fill before he journeyed on.
Pride swelled in Toklo’s chest. Did I really swim that far? He’d only been a cub at the last gathering, and yet the other bears had chosen him to make the journey. Fish had been scarce and the bears had decided that one bear’s swim to the island would be an offering of respect to Arcturus.
Toklo remembered the spirits of Oka and Tobi swimming beside him, his mother and brother boosting him up against the currents and urging him on as exhaustion dragged at his fur. As he’d swum back from the island, Toklo had caught a huge salmon and carried it to the others. They’d greeted him enthusiastically, knowing the salmon was a sign that their bellies would be full once more.
The breeze lifted Toklo’s fur, and he felt strangely peaceful. I belong here as much as I belong in my own territory. I will come to the gathering every suncircle, he silently promised Arcturus.
He headed toward the gathering of brown bears. They seemed agitated. A single bear lounged on a cluster of rocks, but the others moved as they talked, shifting restlessly from paw to paw.
Curiosity sparked beneath Toklo’s pelt. Had something happened? He quickened his pace. Will they remember me?
“Toklo!” A sturdy, coarse-furred bear nosed his way from the crowd. “You came!”
Toklo broke into a run, pebbles swishing beneath his paws. As he reached the bear at the edge of the group, he chuffed happily. “Shesh! It’s good to see you!”
Shesh wrinkled his graying snout. “You smell like you’ve traveled far. Is that mountain scent in your fur?”
“Yes. And forest scent and sea scent and river scent,” Toklo told him proudly. He examined Shesh. No new scars marked his pelt, and he was fatter than last burn-sky. “You look like you’ve had a good season.”