Swanwings was sleeping soundly when suddenly she woke up. She didn't know why she had awakened, everything was silent. She had the strangest feeling that she should go outside.
Swanwings sniffed the air, and froze. She faintly smelled Mosswings' scent! But Mosswings was dead. Swanwings looked around.
"Mosswings? Are you here?" she whispered.
She felt a slight touch against her side, but no horse was there. Was Mosswings trying to tell her something? Swanwings decided to go outside and look around. After all, being a medicine horse meant following your instincts.
Swanwings poked her head outside of the cave and looked around. All was silent; the moon was barely a sliver overhead. The warriors were packed in their usual huddle. She sniffed the air, but smelled nothing out of the ordinary. She paused to listen carefully, and heard something. It was a faint splashing, coming from the River near Fourstones.
Swanwings quietly walked over to the Riverbank and heard it more clearly. Something was trying to swim across the River. Splashstream, who was on watch, walked over to her and looked at her questioningly.
"Why are you out here?" she whispered.
Swanwings motioned for her to listen, and Splashstream paused. The splashing was getting louder now, and it sounded big. Splashstream and Swanwings both stared into the night, trying to see what it was.
Swanwings finally saw the thing, a huge dark mass, trying to swim across the River and not doing very well. With a splash it came onto the bank a bit farther down from Swanwings and Splashstream. It was a horse, dark and dripping wet. Splashstream was in front of it in a heartbeat, her ears pinned and her teeth bared.
"What are you doing here?" Splashstream demanded furiously.
The horse sputtered. "I…I'm Fernpelt from TreeHerd. I'm here for Swanwings."
Swanwings walked forward. "What do you want?"
Fernpelt was a dark bay mare who looked unaccustomed to being wet. "Cherrywings sent me. She needs your help. There's a sickness in TreeHerd."
Swanwings hesitated. She wanted to help, but she would have to go into enemy territory.
"I'll have to tell Reedstar," she decided.
Swanwings silently trotted to the hollowed out cave under Grasshill.
"Reedstar," she whispered.
Reedstar looked up in alarm. "What? What is it?"
"There's sickness in TreeHerd. Cherrywings needs me. Can I go?"
Reedstar was silent for a few heartbeats.
"All right," he finally said. "But be careful."
Swanwings started nodded and trotted back to Fernpelt.
"I can go," she silently whinnied.
"Great," Fernpelt neighed, relief showing in her eyes.
Swanwings started to flap her wings, but then turned back to Splashstream.
"Can you help her cross the river? She's tired, I don't know if she can make it."
Splashstream pinned her ears, clearly unhappy with the idea, but reluctantly nodded.
Leaving them to figure it out, Swanwings leaped into the air and flew over the river. The cool night air whooshed by under her wings. She had to be careful though because she couldn't see as well at night. She carefully landed on the opposite bank, only tripping over one tree root.
Swanwings listened for Fernpelt and heard a loud splashing in the river.
That must be Fernpelt, Swanwings thought. No WaterHerd horse would make that much noise.
Fernpelt stepped dripping out of the water, supported by Splashstream.
"Thanks, Splashstream," Swanwings neighed. "I'll take it from here."
Splashstream nodded and slid silently back into the water.
Swanwings and Fernpelt made their way to Fourstones. Fourstones was neutral territory for all the Herds, and Swanwings could see Fernpelt visibly relax when they got there.
"Follow me," Fernpelt whinnied.
Swanwings nodded. They were going into territory she'd never been in before, and she wasn't too excited. There were too many trees for her liking. Her wings kept getting caught on the branches. In WaterHerd, they had fewer trees scattered around. Fernpelt blended in perfectly with the shadows so Swanwings had to concentrate on keep her in sight. Swanwings knew she stood out; her pelt was bright white after all. She hoped no bears would see her.
Fernpelt led her to a clearing. The warriors slept in a huddle off to the side just as they did in WaterHerd. She saw Cherrywings talking to Rowanstar, the leader of TreeHerd. Cherrywings looked up when Swanwings walked in and her eyes brightened in delight.
"Swanwings," she whickered softly so she wouldn't wake the warriors. "I'm so glad you came!"
Swanwings looked with warmth at her friend. "What happened?"
Cherrywings motioned with her head for Swanwings to follow as she made her way to a huge pine tree.
"This is my den," Cherrywings explained.
Swanwings could see how the dirt under the tree roots had been hollowed out in many places to store herbs. She also saw with dismay all the horses under its branches. Only the strongest could stand, and those only barely.
Cherrywings nudged Swanwings with her nose.
"That," she neighed, pointing to a pile of what Swanwings had at first assumed were herbs, "is what caused this."
Swanwings lowered her head and sniffed at the pile. They were old, yellow leaves. They were oak leaves but they smelled strange.
"Nofurs came to the forest," Cherrywings explained. "They poisoned some trees and many horses ate their leaves before they knew."
Swanwings snorted in surprise. Why would Nofurs do that?
"I've started treating them, but there are too many for me to treat them all quickly and they could die if I leave them too long. On top of that I'm running out of herbs," Cherrywings neighed frantically.
Swanwings pressed her muzzle against her friend's. "Don't worry, I'm here now. Just tell me what to do."
Cherrywings blinked at her gratefully. "The apprentice needs to be treated first. He's the weakest. Pinehoof is the dark bay apprentice. Could you treat him while I go gather more herbs?"
"Of course," Swanwings answered.
Cherrywings nodded and melted into the shadows of the forest.
Swanwings turned to Pinehoof. He was lying down and hardly breathing. Swanwings looked for the herbs. She found them in a hollow and chewed it up. She nudged Pinehoof gently to wake him up. He looked at her with too glossy eyes.
"Eat these," Swanwings ordered, laying the herbs down in front of his nose.
Pinehoof weakly struggled to pick them up, then chewed them up and swallowed. He lay stretched out on his side again, panting from the effort.
"Good job," Swanwings whickered. "You can go back to sleep now."
Cherrywings ducked under the branches with a mouthful of herbs. Swanwings looked at the row of warriors that still had to be helped. She could tell that it would be a long night.
When Cherrywings and Swanwings finally finished administering herbs to all of the horses the sun was peeking over the horizon. Swanwings was exhausted, and she knew her friend felt the same.
Rowanstar ducked under the branches. "How are things going?"
"Better," Cherrywings replied. "They're all standing now, thanks to Swanwings."
Swanwings ducked her head modestly as Rowanstar turned to stare at her.
"TreeHerd thanks you for your help. We are in your debt," he neighed.
"Thank you, Rowanstar," Swanwings replied. "But I must get back to my Herd."
Rowanstar shook his head. "No. You should rest before you travel home. It's a long ways, and you would have to cross the River."
Swanwings debated in her mind whether to go home or not. She really should go home, but she was exhausted.
"All right," she decided. "I'll stay and rest."
"Good," Rowanstar neighed. He nodded to Cherrywings and left.
"You can sleep next to me," Cherrywings offered. "I think we both deserve some rest after last night."
Swanwings wearily nodded and fell asleep.