Mellowix takes a look at Ashfur and Hollyleaf, their differences, and their similarities.
Around the fandom, there may be phrases like “If Ashfur goes to the Dark Forest, so does Hollyleaf”. However, I don’t think this logic is completely sound. It’s not like Hawkfrost and Ashfur, who were they were accomplices for the same crime, yet one got away scott-free while the other didn’t. Despite the fact that Hollyleaf and Ashfur’s crime sprees being connected, they are different and should be treated as such. If they were put through the justice system in real life, they’d have separate trials and separate sentences, because ultimately they did entirely different things. Which this article will break down in detail:
He did in reaction to Squirrelflight simply wanting to remain friends and getting creepily obsessed with her. He started a situation when there wasn’t one. Nothing needed to change. He could have continued to be Squirrelflight’s friend, he didn’t lose anything. He still had his home, friends and family. He could’ve got help from literally anyone, even rival cats at Gatherings if he wanted to. His anger didn’t need to be secret, it was entirely self-inflicted.
His murders didn’t even target those directly involved, it’s against innocent cats that had nothing to do with it. His first attempted murder was on his Clan leader, strangling him with a metal wire to lose all his nine lives. That’s one of the most tortuous murder method possible. Secondly, he worked with a well-known Riverclan troublemaker, tricking his own apprentice as scapegoat, Birchpaw and tried to frame Blackstar. By involving rival Clan cats, it could have started wars with Riverclan, Shadowclan or both.
After literal years, Ashfur violently attacked his other apprentice, causing deep wounds. Then tried to burn three cats alive, including said apprentice and blind Medicine cat, while keeping their injured ‘mother’ prisoner to watch. Like Firestar, he uses another horrific murder method of burning his victims alive.
When he decides to tell the secret, he didn’t care he could destabilise Thunderclan in front of the gathering. He was warned 4 separate times not to, even if it was directly after a four Clan battle. Even giving Jayfeather a second death threat for warning him. He stated it was intention to get Squirrelflight exiled, so he was purposefully going to make the reaction worse . He did nothing to redeem himself. He also felt no regret for his actions, even in Starclan, looking at Jayfeather with ‘burning eyes’ clearly still bitter.
Her crimes were in reaction to other cats’ crimes. She wouldn’t have done it if she didn’t start out as an innocent victim being unwillingly dragged into other cats’ dangerous messes. Everything happened to her in less than a month, a very short time span, literal life and death situations at certain points. Multiple life-changing reveals happening one after the other relentlessly: Ashfur revealed as her family’s mass murderer, Squirrelflight pretended to not care if she died momentarily, Squirrelflight reveals she lied about her birth, Brambleclaw was tricked, her birth was an illegal scandal, her aunt/mentor was her mother, Crowfeather disowned her and Sol had returned. Hollyleaf was having a genuine mental breakdown. Unlike Ashfur, who had no external forces pressuring him into his crimes, a self-inflicted extremely petty motive and literal years to stop himself.
She murdered the cat; who’d literally tried to burn her and littermates in a fire while their ‘mother’ watched a few days previously. That same cat admitted he worked with a Riverclan cat to murder their grandfather and was planning on ruining her entire kin’s lives, despite being warned 4 times, once by Hollyleaf herself. Ashfur even threatened to snap Jayfeather’s neck during his conversation. He was a mass murderer and blackmailer at large. There was no reason he couldn’t kill another victim – Hollyleaf shouldn’t need to sit and wait for that to happen. Exposing his crimes would have acted as his trigger to another killing. The killing rule for the Warrior Code says there’s two exceptions, which can both apply to Ashfur: Self-defence and Outside of the code. I don’t consider it much different from Hawkfrost’s or Darkstripe’s deaths.
When she revealed the secret, it was under a different context. Ashfur solely knew about Squirrelflight wasn’t the mother of the three, therefore wasn’t a concern of the other Clans, so has no business leaking it at a Gathering. It was his intention to get Squirrelflight exiled, so he’d purposefully make it worse. However, Hollyleaf did no such thing – She solely told the secret, but never intentionally made the public reaction worse.
The context had changed by the time Hollyeaf had told it. She uncovered a whole Medicine cat and Half-Clan scandal – It involved Windclan, so they had the right know at the Gathering, Specially since Crowfeather had a Windclan son and mate he was lying to. Weeks before then, Crowfeather had been informed of his Thunderclan kits, but immediately denied it and disowned them. If he was unwilling to confess his guilt, someone else had to expose him. Then, Leafpool held authority as a Medicine cat, yet she was lying to all the Clans – They couldn’t trust her not to abuse her power.
Unlike, Ashfur, Leafpool’s attampted murder couldn’t be considered self-defence. However, it still needs to be acknowledged that Leafpool is not innocent and Hollyleaf is directly her victim, lying to her about her own birth. That needs to give her leeway in some way. A detail that is rarely addressed in the fandom, is the fact Hollyleaf and Jayfeather had a shuffle when she tried escaping from the den. I wouldn’t call this a full-blown “attack”. By that point, she’d given into panic and Jayfeather was blocking her path, not moving when Hollyleaf called him to: She shoved him away, both flailing as they collapsed on the floor before she immediately jumped away.
Then if we just compare the methods of Ashfur and Hollyleaf of murders, you’ll see a large difference. Ashfur’s were torturous like slow strangling and burning alive, even forcing others to watch. While Hollyleaf always kept hers private and quick; Ashfur was a single bite, she could’ve chosen to extend his suffering, but didn’t. Then deathberries are literally used by Medicine cats to save patients a slow death. There’s finally the simple facts: Ashfur had two more victims than Hollyleaf, and all of them were disconnected from the situation he was “avenging”.
Some claim Hollyleaf ran away, but I call it self-exile. She didn’t choose to do it in the first place: She was too panicked to make a proper choice, but she never got the chance to calm down since the tunnel collapsed on her. She had no control of that. She needed time to physically and mentally recover, and by the time she was healthy, it was too late, her clanmates already assumed she was dead.
She was having a dangerous breakdown, literally causing her to hurt those around her. Would it really be a good idea for her to stay in Thunderclan, where her stress could cause her to lash out again? It would’ve been selfish to stay in Thunderclan, knowing she was capable of killing again. She needed to isolate herself for her own and others safety. That’s how it works in real life, dangerous people are either locked up either in prison or mental hospitals.
If her Clanmates discovered what she’d done, Firestar would’ve exiled her. Yes, from a purely moral standpoint, standing trial would’ve been the most honourable action. Though I’d argue self-exile is a close second on the moral basis. Though additionally, there’s the practical side: If Hollyleaf returned, making her family go through an emotional reunion, to immediately reveal she’s a killer and get exiled again – It would be pointless and rather insensitive to her family. Because of this, I think self-exile is the best option. For sake of keeping down emotional pain and safety, quietly sneaking away was probably the better option.
Either way, she would have ended up leaving anyway. Thunderclan never especially ‘needed’ her anyway, she was an average warrior. She wasn’t a part of a prophecy, a leader, mother of young kits, etc. she didn’t have any specific responsibilities that couldn’t be done by almost anyone else in the Clan. She thought she could better serve her Clan as a silent guardian, rather than troublemaking Hollyleaf.
Hollyleaf feels incredibly guilty about his actions, recognising what she did was wrong, thinking she didn’t deserve her place in Thunderclan . She redeemed herself by: Saving two apprentices, leading four cats safely out of the tunnels, being a surrogate mother to a fox cub, gathering herbs, and preparing Thunderclan for Windclan’s tunnel attack. After she saved Ivypool and Dovewing, she was about to return to the tunnels, despite already being in self-exile for 18 moons. Hollyleaf was prepared to be self-exile even longer, then a whole generation became adults. Lionblaze was the one who forced her to return.
When Hollyleaf’s clanmates started to suspect her involvement with Ashfur’s death, she was in the process of confessing everything She’d already explained Ashfur’s crimes and taken responsibility for his death. However, Brambleclaw forced his cover-up onto her, as he interrupted Hollyleaf’s sentence, hiding some details for her, risking his reputation/position to protect her. He was willing to do that, even after discovering she wasn’t his biological daughter. She doesn’t mortally approve of his actions, but she still allows it to honour his sacrifice.
There’s less to defend about Hollyleaf not confessing her attempted poisoning of Leafpool; as that’s objectively wrong, Leafpool wasn’t an active murderer like Ashfur. However, at the same time, her mother greeted her warmly on her daughter’s return. Leafpool despite being the victim, had no intention of reporting what had happened – So Hollyleaf was most likely respecting her mother’s wishes and redeeming herself another way, then immediately being officially exiled.
Hollyleaf then spares Sol’s life despite everything he did, showing she learnt from her past. Then bore no ill-will towards Dovewing “replacing her” and sacrificed herself to save Ivypool, someone she hardly knew. Finally, she forgave Leafpool for what she did to her.
A lot of Hollyleaf’s situation was forced upon her: She didn’t choose to be in a Half-Clan scandal. She didn’t choose to be lied to. She didn’t choose to be under threat from a mass murderer. She didn’t choose to be disowned by her birth father. She didn’t choose to have everyone assumed she’d died in an accident. She didn’t choose to be taken prisoner by Lionblaze. She didn’t choose for Brambleclaw to interrupt her mid-confessional and cover details for her.