Mudpelt cautiously peered out through the sparse trees at Nofurplace. He was here on a gathering patrol, but he didn't want to end up like his sister. A whole year had passed, but WaterHerd were still very wary of their Nofur neighbors.
Mudpelt snorted angrily when he thought of the Nofur that had captured his sister. I would have torn that Nofur apart, he thought, pawing in anger. He thought going into a Nofur enclosure to help an injured horse was stupid, but it sounded exactly like something his sister would do. But at least the Nofur horses had helped her escape.
I wouldn't have thought Nofur horses had the bravery to do that, Mudpelt thought with a snort. They're all weak anyway.
He grabbed a huge mouthful of grass and trotted back with it to the camp.
As he deposited his load on the freshly gathered pile, he saw Reedstar coming toward him.
"Mudpelt," Reedstar neighed. "It's time Nightfoal became an apprentice. Would you be his mentor?"
Nightfoal was Splashstream and Toadnose's colt.
"Of course," Mudpelt stuttered, taken off guard. "It would be an honor."
Reedstar nodded. "I know you'll do well with him."
Mudpelt dipped his head. "Thank you, Reedstar."
Reedstar trotted off to the nursery to tell Splashstream the news.
After a while, Reedstar trotted out of the nursery and to the top of Grasshill.
"Let all the members of WaterHerd gather here for a Herd meeting," he neighed.
Mudpelt took a place below Grasshill. Swanwings took her place at the foot of Grasshill along with Rippletail. Splashstream stood next to Toadnose; both parents were looking very proud. Nightfoal had been washed to a gleaming black.
"Nightfoal, come forward," Reedstar neighed.
Nightfoal stepped forward proudly, his chest drawn up and his head high. Mudpelt admired his courage.
"Nightfoal, you have reached the age of one year. It is time you became an apprentice."
Reedstar looked at Mudpelt. "Mudpelt, come forward."
Mudpelt stepped through the crowd until he was next to Nightfoal.
"Mudpelt, you are brave and loyal. May you pass these qualities on to Nightfoal as his mentor. Nightfoal, I now name you Nighthoof by the will of StarHerd."
Mudpelt touched noses with Nighthoof, seeing the determination in his eyes.
The Herd moved in to congratulate Nighthoof, calling him by his new name and touching his fur.
Toadnose came up to Mudpelt. "I know you'll be a great mentor."
"Thanks," Mudpelt replied.
Mudpelt waited until the congratulations had died down before walking over to Nighthoof.
"You'd better go find a good spot in the apprentice's den. We start first thing tomorrow," Mudpelt told him.
Nighthoof nodded eagerly. He raced off toward the apprentice's den.
The next morning, Mudpelt was eating from the freshly gathered pile when Nighthoof came out of the apprentice's den.
"What are we doing today?" Nighthoof eagerly asked.
"You eat while I ask Rippletail," Mudpelt replied.
Nighthoof nodded and Mudpelt trotted over to Rippletail.
"I want you and Nighthoof to patrol the SwiftHerd border with Fishleap and Goosefeather," Rippletail ordered.
Fishleap had recently been made a warrior and Mosshoof would soon follow.
As the patrol set out Mudpelt noticed Fishleap's pricked ears and high head and tail. She had always been full of energy, and being a warrior hadn't made her any more mature. As if to prove his point, Fishleap gave a little buck, making Mudpelt roll his eyes.
They came to the Great River and stopped. Nighthoof's eyes widened at the huge mass of rushing water.
"This is the Great River," Mudpelt explained. "It's bigger and faster than the River near the camp."
Mudpelt pointed to the left with his nose. "That way is the Lake."
"Come on," Fishleap cut in, prancing with impatience. "SwiftHerd could have invaded by now!"
Mudpelt rolled his eyes and led the patrol into the water.
"It's not as deep around the Island," Mudpelt neighed back to Nighthoof.
Mudpelt could see Goosefeather eyeing Fishleap as she trotted into the water, snorting when it splashed her pelt. Mudpelt couldn't see how the sensible, calm Goosefeather could have feelings for the excitable young warrior but he was happy for them. No matter how annoying Fishleap was, she was his sister.
Nighthoof slowly waded across the Great River, looking proud of himself. They reached the Island, and then crossed the Great River again.
When they were all across Mudpelt signaled with his head and the patrol cantered on to the SwiftHerd border. They walked along the length of the border, renewing their scent marks and checking for SwiftHerd scent across the border.
"This is SwiftHerd," he told Nighthoof. "They live on the moor and are very fast. They are all light brown, to better blend in and escape from the wolves that hunt them."
When they had gone the entire length of the border they headed back to camp, crossing the Great River again. Mudpelt felt honored and proud to finally have an apprentice of his own. They trotted back into camp.
"Get some rest," he told Nighthoof. "You'll have to clean the elders' den tomorrow."
Nighthoof grimaced. "Why can't I learn to fight?"
"You'll learn to fight after you've learned how to take care of the elders," Mudpelt retorted.
Nighthoof tossed his head, showing the temper of his mother, and retreated into the apprentices' den.