When they stopped again, the man pulled her out of the bag and put her on the ground inside a large dark room. She stretched her legs one after the other, stood on all four paws and looked up. A huge male cat loomed over her. When she gave him a small “meow” of greeting, he hissed down at her. Pepper looked for a place to hide, but all she saw were the strange humans laughing, their square white teeth showing. She didn’t know where to turn, so she fuzzed out her gray and white fur, arched her back and made her stand.
The tom was brown striped like her father’s friend Toady, but this cat was all lean hard muscle. After a few minutes examining her, the cat leaned his head down, and allowed Pepper to wash his head. This was no easy task, since his head was the size of her whole body. But while she was grooming him, the stern tom explained things to Pepper.
At least Pepper could understand the cat. They spoke the common language of all felines. Cats use scent and sound, body language and posturing to communicate.
“My name is Otter,” the cat said.
Pepper laughed and rolled on her back, kicking her tiny paws in the air. “An otter is a huge brown weasel that swims through the water like a snake.”
The tom towered over her and hissed, growling low in his throat. “I know that. An otter is also a great hunter, a stealthy fighter, and a guardian of the river. The great Chief Powhatan gave me this name after I survived my huskanaw ceremony. A silly female such as yourself could never earn such honor.”
“What is your name?” Otter asked.
When she told him her name, the tom said, “I’ve never heard of it. What kind of an animal is a pepper?”
“It’s not an animal. It’s something the humans put on their food; it makes you sneeze.” Pepper had never thought much about her name, or what it meant, but now that she was trying to explain, it sounded a little silly.
“And you laughed at my name? Why would someone want a plant that makes you sneeze?”
“It makes the food last longer.” Pepper tried to puff out her small chest. She didn’t want this tom laughing at her. “It’s the reason the white men came to this land, looking for more of the pepper, from India.”
“Well if it brought the English to this country, then it does worse things than make you sneeze. I wouldn’t like to have such a name.”
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