Striker's New Friend
Swanwings tore another leaf off of the alder. Swanwings remembered with a pang of Mosswings telling her how alder leaves reduced swelling and prevented infection. She thought with a sigh of everything that had changed since Mosswings had died. Goosehoof was now Goosefeather; he had been made a warrior. Waterpearl, his mentor, was very proud. Fishfoal was now Fishhoof; she had been made an apprentice. Her mentor was Frogleg. Splashstream had had a colt, Nightfoal, with Toadnose only a day ago. And only a few suns before that Mossfoal had become Mosshoof. Her mentor was Streammane, who had also been Mistyfur's mentor. Shellpelt had died of old age and Turtlefur had moved to the elder's den.
Swanwings pricked her ears. She thought she heard a very faint whinny. Then she heard it again, a whinny. Whoever it was they were clearly in pain. Swanwings listened again. It was coming from Nofurplace. She didn't like being so close, Nofurs were very unpredictable, but she couldn't ignore a call for help.
Swanwings cautiously trotted toward the fence of Nofurplace, where the Nofurs kept tame horses in pens. She looked over one of the fences and saw a Nofur horse with its front hoof raised and its eyes wide with pain.
Swanwings didn't know what to do. The horse was in pain, but she didn't want to be hurt by the Nofurs. Finally, her medicine horse side won over. She stepped back, looked carefully around for Nofurs, and flew over the fence. The horse, a palomino pony, looked at her with interest, but didn't seem scared as she landed next to him.
The pony smelled like a stallion, but strange. Swanwings remembered with a jolt Mosswings telling her what happened to most Nofur stallions.
He's a gelding, she thought in horror.
She shook her head, focusing on the task at hand.
"I'm Swanwings. Do you want me to look at your leg," she asked.
"I'm Striker," the gelding whinnied. "I accidentally put my foot down a hole."
Swanwings sniffed at the leg. It was swollen, but not too badly. She realized to her relief the herb she needed was where she had left it outside the fence. She quickly flew over the fence and grabbed the alder leaves, then flew back. She carefully chewed up the leaves and nosed them onto Striker's leg. He stood relaxed the whole time.
"Thanks," he whinnied. "That feels a lot better."
He tentatively put some weight on it, and then decided it felt good enough to completely stand on. He immediately started eating.
Swanwings, eyeing Striker's round belly, wasn't surprised the first thing he did was eat.
Swanwings looked up and was startled to see a Nofur coming at her from the direction of the forest. I'm cut off, she thought in horror. The Nofur came at them, waving its arms and yelling.
"Striker! You've got to help me," Swanwings neighed frantically.
"Ok," Striker nodded. He made his way into a lumbering lope. "Follow me."
Swanwings stayed right on his tail, frantically looking back to see the Nofur running behind them. Suddenly, the sun was cut off and she looked up to see she was in a Nofur building. She slid to a stop. I'll be trapped in here, she thought. She whirled around, but the Nofur had already shut her in.
"No," she neighed, her voice echoing off the walls.
"Don't worry," Striker neighed. "This is a good place."
"I don't belong here! My Herd needs me," Swanwings neighed frantically.
Swanwings looked around her enclosure. It had dried grass on the floor, and some water in a Nofur thing. The Nofur had shut her in by closing two walls. On the opposite side, there was an opening big enough to put her head out. She heard steps. The Nofur! It approached their enclosure. Swanwings backed as far as she could into a corner, trembling. The Nofur opened the wall under the opening and led Striker out.
"Bye," Striker neighed cheerfully. The Nofur put Striker into another identical enclosure opposite Swanwings'. Swanwings cautiously put her head through the opening to look around. There were a few other enclosures like hers, with horses in them.
"Let me introduce you to my friends," Striker whinnied. Three other heads looked out of their enclosures. They stared at her.
"Hiya! I'm Cowboy," neighed a thickly built bay gelding.
"I'm Hunter," whinnied a lean, seal bay gelding, leaning his head to the side showing his teeth in a strange sort of leer.
"I'm Katara," an old sorrel mare whinnied reluctantly. "You're not staying long, are you?"
Swanwings shook her head. "I don't know how long I'll be staying. But I need to get out of here and get back to my Herd."
"But there's food here," Striker pointed out.
"I know," Swanwings answered. "But my Herd needs me."
"Then we'll help you escape," Striker decided.
"Oh, goody," neighed Cowboy happily.
The next morning, the Nofur came in to ride Cowboy.
"Don't forget, use all your strength to make sure the Twoleg can't come back for a while," Striker reminded Cowboy.
"This'll be fun," Cowboy whinnied happily.
"What if the Nofur hurts him?" Swanwings asked.
"What's a Nofur?" Cowboy whinnied.
"A Twoleg," Swanwings replied, using the term she had heard Striker use.
"It won't hurt Cowboy," Striker reassured her. "He has such a hard mouth he can't even feel the Twoleg."
A while later, the Nofur came back and let all the horses except Swanwings and Cowboy out in their meadow. The Nofur then led Cowboy away. She knew that Hunter, the most agile of them, would jump the fence and come undo her lock. Hunter wasn't as good at locks, but Striker had given him some helpful hints.
Swanwings heard hoofbeats and saw Hunter trotting down to her enclosure. He went to work, pulling and pushing with his tongue and teeth. After a while, she heard a click and the enclosure opened.
"Thank you," she whinnied, full of joy. I'm free, she thought in wonder.
She galloped out with Hunter, stretching her legs after being cooped up for so long. Hunter jumped back into the enclosure and Swanwings flew into it. Striker was waiting to meet her.
"Good luck," he neighed. "Come visit us sometime, and bring food."
Swanwings wasn't sure if that would happen but she nodded.
"Thank you so much," she whinnied.
Striker and Hunter nodded, while Katara stood a ways away, her ears pinned.
"I've got to go now," Swanwings neighed.
She got a running start, then took off, circling back to see her friends one last time. She flew on a straight course back to camp, relief filling her when she saw the familiar sights.
It was about sunhigh when she got back. She landed in the middle of the camp. Thank StarHerd, I'm back, she thought gratefully.
She looked around the camp, taking it all in; the medicine cave, the nursery cave, the willow tree that was the elder's den, the overhang of dirt and grass that was the apprentice's den, the trampled area where the warriors slept, the overhang under Grasshill where the leader slept.
Suddenly, she was surrounded by horses she knew and loved. Mudpelt, Waterpearl, Silverstream, Mistyfur, Fishhoof, Mosshoof, Reedstar, and more of her Herdmates demanded to know where she had been.
Swanwings felt weak and wobbled, her eyes closing.
"Give her some space."
"She needs to sleep."
She felt Silverstream pres against her and lead her to the medicine den. She closed her eyes and fell instantly asleep.