Whitewhiskers remembers the long, winding life of Graystripe.
Whitewhiskers, your (probably) eldest elder here, with some thoughts on Graystripe.
I recently finished The Broken Code, in which Graystripe died from battle wounds received in the fight against Ashfur in the Dark Forest. If I had been present at his vigil, this is what I would have said: Graystripe was a fundamentally good cat. He made some mistakes—who among us has not?—but he never acted from malice or from a desire for self gratification or power. On the contrary, he often risked his life or his freedom to help others. Hate was not a part of his character.
Like many cats before or since, he got involved in a forbidden, cross-clan romance, with tragic results. His mate, Silverstream of RiverClan, died bearing their kits. He allowed his kits to be raised in their mother’s clan, rather than have ThunderClan fight a battle to keep them. He then suffered from a period of divided loyalty, going to live in RiverClan with his motherless kits. Some have condemned him for disloyalty to his birth clan, but what would you have done in his place? Ultimately, he was unable or unwilling to fight against his birth clan or his best friend, Fireheart, in the endless battles over Sunning Rocks, and he returned to ThunderClan.
Back in ThunderClan, he and Fireheart rescued Graystripe’s kits and Mistyfoot from TigerClan, where they probably would have been murdered for being half-clan. Fireheart became leader after the death of Bluestar and, after his first deputy, Whitestorm, was killed in the battle with BloodClan, he chose Graystripe as his new deputy. Graystripe served as acting leader while Firestar and Sandstorm were away for several moons on their quest to restore SkyClan (see Firestar’s Quest and Graystripe’s Vow, “Then” sections). Graystripe was placed in an awkward position, because only he and Cinderpelt knew where Firestar and Sandstorm had gone and why, and they were not allowed to tell their clanmates, many of whom mistakenly believed that Firestar had returned to his life as a kittypet.
Graystripe didn’t have the full confidence of his clanmates while acting as leader, and he didn’t always have full confidence in himself in that role, either. Nevertheless, he made the right decision in making a deal with Gremlin, a BloodClan queen, and was able to defeat an attack by the resurgent BloodClan, with minimal bloodshed. After Firestar’s return, he resumed his role as deputy. In this capacity, he sacrificed his own freedom to rescue many cats who had been trapped by twolegs—clanmates, cats from other clans, rogues, and stray kittpets alike.
After a period of captivity as a kittypet, he made the journey to find the clans with his new partner, Millie. On his return to the clans, he took on the unobtrusive role of Senior Warrior and did not try to reclaim the position of deputy, which had been given to Brambleclaw in his absence. He fathered a litter of kits with Millie (I am not going to address the controversies about Millie’s treatment of Briarlight after her accident). After the death of Firestar in the great battle, he retired to the Elders’ Den. His career might have ended, honorably, there, but he was destined to rise to prominence once more at the advanced age of 14.
After Millie’s death and during the chaos resulting from the imposter’s reign in ThunderClan, Graystripe, along with several other ThunderClan cats, went for a wander in order to rediscover who he was and what he wanted to do in the remainder of his life. His pawsteps took him to the Tribe of Rushing Water, where he was reunited with his son, Stormfur, and where Stoneteller informed him that he still had an important task to perform in his life. He then went on to the old territories, where he had hoped, in vain as it proved, to reestablish contact with StarClan via the Moonstone.
On arriving at the old RiverClan territory (the only part of the old territories not covered in twoleg dens), he met “WarriorClan,” a group of kittypets who had been told stories about the clans by Smudge and Barley and who spend their days playing at being warriors, returning to their twolegs at night. He spent a day teaching the WarriorClan cats some basic hunting skills and the fundamentals of the code. It was great fun to see the WarriorClan cats fangirl/boying out over Graystripe, a genuine clan warrior.
He next meets Fang, Gremlin’s son, who had been looking for him and, after his failed attempt at communicating with StarClan, agrees to help Fang rescue the kittypets trapped in the house of an old, demented twoleg. This he does, with the help of the WarriorClan cats, again putting his own life at risk to help others. He then joins many of the escaped kittypets to WarriorClan, and appoints a deputy and a medicine cat for them, possibly setting them on the path to becoming something more like a real clan. His experiences on his wander convince him that his proper place in with ThunderClan, and so he returns, transformed (Bristlefrost’s POV):
When he had left ThunderClan he had been an elder who had seemed uncertain about his place in the clan and upset by the damage that the imposter had done. But while he had been away, something had clearly happened to him. He now looked more like a warrior in his prime, and an air of complete authority had settled around him. He’s such a powerful cat! However did I miss that?
Graystripe agrees to be temporary leader of ThunderClan, in the absence of BrambleStar and Squirrelflight. He quickly restores order to the fractious and divided clan. He is clearly the cat for the moment. Then he volunteers to join the patrol that goes to fight Ashfur in the Dark Forest, knowing that the result could be not merely death, with an afterlife in StarClan, but oblivion. Nevertheless, he goes, and he fights for last time beside his best friend, Firestar, against the forces of evil. As we know, Ashfur is destroyed by Bristlefrost, at the cost of her own existence. Graystripe is mortally wounded in the battle, but lives long enough to visit StarClan before returning to his mortal body on earth to die. Here are his words to his friends in StarClan before his death, a fitting epitaph for a great cat:
I’ve had a good life. I’ve had great friends and loyal clanmates. I’ve loved and been loved. And I’ve had kits that I’m proud of. A warrior can’t ask for more than that. I’m just grateful that I had one last chance to protect the clans.
Graystripe, old friend, may you find good hunting, swift running, and shelter when you sleep. May StarClan light your path, always. (And may your rest not be disturbed too often by bickering mates.)