Mudpelt blinked his eyes open. He was tired and sore. Where am I? he wondered, looking around. He suddenly realized he was in the medicine den. He looked over to see Rippletail sleeping, but at least she was standing. He also saw Mosswings sleeping, standing in a corner. Mudpelt felt a pang of pity for her. She was a respected medicine horse but old age had forced her to stay in her den most of the time.
Mudpelt pushed himself to his feet, and then winced. He had many wounds on his body that had only just begun to heal.
Swanwings came into the den with a mouth full of herbs.
"You're awake," she mumbled through the herbs.
She set them down and then walked over.
"Your wounds are healing well," she noted as she looked him up and down. "I think it's time you and Rippletail went back to the warrior's den."
Her eyes softened. "I'm really glad you're better."
"Thanks," he rasped, his voice sounding strange from being unused.
"If your wounds start hurting come tell me and I can give you some poppy seeds," Swanwings neighed briskly, a medicine horse once more.
Mudpelt nodded and walked out of the den. It was sunhigh in the end of Newleaf, and most horses were mutual grooming in the center of the camp or resting in the shade.
Mudpelt saw Toadnose and Mistyfur were resting together in the shade of a tree. As he made his way across the camp towards them, Mistyfur let out a joyous whinny. She trotted across the camp and rubbed her nose in his fur.
"Oh, Mudpelt! You're awake at last," she whinnied.
Toadnose came up and looked him over.
"You still look pretty scarred up. Are you feeling better?" he asked.
"I'm doing better but Swanwings says I can't overexert myself," Mudpelt replied.
Toadnose nodded. "Welcome back."
"Yes, welcome back," Mistyfur whickered.
Mistyfur looked at Toadnose, then at Mudpelt, then at the ground. Mudpelt was about to ask her what was wrong when she looked apologetically at Toadnose.
"I'm sorry, but I need to talk to Mudpelt alone," she neighed.
Toadnose nodded good-naturedly. "Okay."
He trotted away.
Mistyfur looked at Mudpelt.
"Come on," she whinnied.
She looked very serious, and Mudpelt wondered what was wrong. She trotted away from the camp and Mudpelt followed, wincing at his wounds as the ground sloped sharply. When they were a few tail lengths away from the camp, Mistyfur stopped and faced Mudpelt.
"What is it?" he asked.
Mistyfur looked straight into his eyes. "I'm pregnant."
Mudpelt stood staring, shocked. I'm going to be a father, he thought wonderingly. Can I do this?
"Oh, Mistyfur," he breathed. "That's wonderful!"
The worry in her eyes immediately turned to delight.
"You really think so?" she queried.
"Of course," Mudpelt replied, touching his nose to hers. "You'll be a great mother."
Inside, he was more scared than he had ever been.
"Do you mind if I take a walk, Mistyfur?" he asked, trying to conceal the worry in his voice.
"Of course not," she neighed happily. "I'm going to tell Splashstream."
Mudpelt turned and walked away. He could barely keep himself from galloping away. He forced himself to stay at a walk until he was out of sight of the camp. Then he started galloping, trying to force all of his worries out of his mind.
How can I be a father? I don't think I can do this, Mudpelt thought worriedly. He slowed to a walk. He looked up and to his surprise saw he was near the SwiftHerd border. He didn't know why he had come here, but he welcomed the wind on his fur.
He sniffed the wind and turned around.
"What are you doing here?" Toadnose asked.
Mudpelt remembered Toadnose had been assigned on a gathering patrol.
"I had to think about some things," he replied. "Mistyfur's pregnant."
Toadnose's eyes widened. "Wow. Congratulations."
"I just can't imagine myself as a father," Mudpelt found himself confiding in his friend.
"I think you'd be a great father. You're kind, even though you're tough on the outside," Toadnose replied. "You don't have to be soft to be a good father."
Mudpelt took a deep breath and realized that Toadnose was right. "Thanks, Toadnose."
"Sure thing," he replied nonchalantly. "I've got to go now."
Toadnose turned and trotted off. Mudpelt cantered back to the camp, ready now to face Mistyfur. He may not be a perfect father, but he knew he'd do the best he could. Now he couldn't wait for a foal of his own.