Swanwings' Medicine Horse Ceremony
Swanhoof shivered with cold as she pressed closer to Mosswings. She was in the medicine den, trying to get some sleep. It was the height of leafbare; the ground was coated with snow.
Swanhoof couldn't sleep because her new sister, Fishfoal, had been born earlier that day. She was a beautiful white filly but Swanhoof was worried that she would freeze to death. Wetpelt had already died of the cold. It was unusual for mares to have foals during leafbare, and Swanhoof was scared of what it would do to her mother if Fishfoal died.
Swanhoof saw a trickle of light seeping into the cave and decided she might as well get up. She walked out of the den, her breath making a mist in front of her. Most of the warriors were still asleep, huddled together in the middle of the camp for warmth. She spotted Mudpelt pressed against Mistyfur and felt a surge of happiness for him. It was good that he had found a mate. She knew she could never have a mate since she was a medicine horse, but she felt happy without one and knew StarHerd's plan for her lay elsewhere.
Swanhoof suddenly remembered Fishfoal, and she wondered if the filly had survived the night. She quickly trotted over to the nursery and was relieved to see Fishfoal lying curled up on the ground with Silverstream lying next to her.
"It's good to lie beside her; you want to keep her as warm as possible. And when she wakes up give her some milk right away, it will help to warm her up as well," Swanhoof advised.
"All right," Silverstream replied, blinking gratefully at her.
Swanhoof nodded a good-bye and walked out of the cave into the brisk morning air. She walked back to the medicine den and woke Mosswings. Today was the half-moon, but she was worried Mosswings might not be able to make it all the way to MoonTree and back. Mosswings was getting very old, and it was freezing. To top it all off, Mosswings had developed a cough.
"Do you want to go to MoonTree, Mosswings?" Swanhoof asked.
"I must go to meet with StarHerd," Mosswings wheezed.
Swanhoof nodded, but she was worried about her mentor. Swanhoof looked at Mosswings standing on trembling legs and decided they had better leave right then, even though the meeting was at moonhigh.
"Let's go then, Mosswings," Swanhoof neighed.
Mosswings shook herself, and then walked out behind Swanhoof.
The moon was rising above the mountains by the time Swanhoof and Mosswings got to MoonTree. They had had to walk the whole way and make frequent stops. Swanhoof could see that the other medicine horses were already there.
Cherrywings trotted over and touched noses with her. Branchwings had died not long after Cherrywings had been given her name, leaving Cherrywings as the sole medicine horse of TreeHerd.
Swanhoof nodded to Sunwings and Snowwings, who had recently gotten an apprentice, Craghoof, a dark grey mare.
Mosswings stumbled over to the stump and climbed falteringly on top of it.
"Swanhoof," she rasped. "You have learned the ways of StarHerd. It is time you became a full medicine horse. I now name you Swanwings."
Swanwings felt a jolt of surprise and joy go through her. She was now a full medicine horse! Cherrywings excitedly bounded over and pressed her muzzle against Swanwings' fur.
"Congratulations, Swanwings," she neighed.
Sunwings neighed his congratulations, and even gruff old Snowwings nodded at her.
Mosswings stumbled down from the stump and touched muzzles with Swanwings.
"Thank you," Swanwings whickered.
"You've earned it," Mosswings replied.
The medicine horses stood around MoonTree and touched their noses to the sparkling stump. Swanwings opened her eyes to find herself in the same meadow she always met with StarHerd, with the stars above her twinkling brightly. Then, she saw to her surprise that the stars were coming closer and closer. They fell down until she could see they were actually horses, glowing silver, which ran down from the sky and surrounded her, all calling out her new name.
She saw Branchwings, Darkpool, Wetpelt, Silverpool, and Riverwings. Riverwings stepped forward.
"Congratulations, Swanwings. StarHerd accepts you as a full medicine horse," he neighed.
Swanwings felt herself begin to fade until she was in front of a river, with a boulder on a high cliff above her. Suddenly, with a rumble, the boulder fell with a great splash into the river, making a big disturbance in the water.
The scene faded and she opened her eyes to find she was standing in front of the MoonTree. The other medicine horses were stirring around her.
As she flew home, she couldn't help but think about the sign. She felt sure that the river represented WaterHerd, but what did the boulder represent? And if the river represented WaterHerd, did that mean her Herd would be destroyed?