Swanwings landed in front of MoonTree. She was the first one there, but the other medicine horses weren't too long in coming. Cherrywings whinnied happily when they touched noses.
"I'll never forget how you helped me," Cherrywings neighed.
"It was nothing," Swanwings ducked her head modestly.
Snowwings was getting old, he was coughing and Craghoof was looking worried.
"Rosethorn has just had a winged colt," Sunwings announced. "His name is Cloudfoal."
"I'm sure he'll be a wonderful medicine horse," Swanwings neighed.
She knew Sunwings must be feeling a mix of feelings; pride because he was about to have an apprentice and sadness because his death was drawing near.
Snowwings scrambled to climb on top of the stump.
"Craghoof," he rasped. "You have learned the ways of StarHerd. It is time you became a full medicine horse. I now name you Cragwings."
Cragwings' eyes shone with pride as she helped her mentor down from the stump. They touched noses.
The rest of the medicine horses congratulated Cragwings, which she accepted with a nod of her head.
The medicine horses gathered around the MoonTree and touched their noses to it. Swanwings felt the blackness seeping into her. She opened her eyes to find herself in the familiar meadow. Mosswings trotted out of the trees and greeted her.
"You did the right thing, helping TreeHerd," Mosswings neighed.
Swanwings felt relieved. She had worried it was disloyal to her Herd to help TreeHerd.
"Good," she whinnied. "Thank you."
Swanwings was disappointed to feel as though she was being pulled away from Mosswings. She closed her eyes and let the blackness pull her. When she opened her eyes, she was back by the MoonTree.
Swanwings said her goodbyes and flew off toward the WaterHerd camp. The moon was setting as Swanwings landed outside her den and wearily made her way inside.
The next morning, Swanwings woke to the sounds of birds chirping. She walked outside her den, taking in the warmth of the sun. She picked some grass from the freshly gathered pile and ate. She walked back inside her den and took a quick inventory of her herbs. She was almost out of burdock root, which grew best near the StoneHerd border. She decided to gather some.
She looked around the camp and saw Nighthoof eating.
"Nighthoof, will you ask Mudpelt if you can help me gather herbs today?" Swanwings asked.
Nighthoof looked unenthusiastic about the idea, but he nodded and walked over to where Mudpelt was standing with Mistyfur. He trotted back to Swanwings.
"He says I can go," he replied.
"Good," Swanwings neighed. "We can go now then."
They trotted away from the camp at a steady pace.
"Where are we going?" Nighthoof asked.
"To the StoneHerd border. I'll need a strong warrior to protect me if StoneHerd attacks," Swanwings neighed.
"I'll fight off any StoneHerd warrior who tries to hurt you," Nighthoof neighed, showing his teeth.
Swanwings stopped where the River dwindled down into a tiny Stream, where the ground was marshier and burdock root grew better. Nighthoof stood on watch, intently staring into the trees across the stream. Swanwings picked the plant until she had a nice sized pile.
"I think this is enough," she neighed. "We can go now."
"Wait," Nighthoof neighed, sniffing the air.
Swanwings also sniffed the air, and to her horror detected a StoneHerd horse. She saw a dark grey shape coming closer through the trees. Nighthoof saw it too and splashed across the Stream toward it.
"Nighthoof, come back!" Swanwings whinnied desperately.
The horse emerged from the trees and she saw to her relief it was Cragwings.
"Stay away!" Nighthoof neighed fiercely.
Cragwings pinned her ears, then looked at the pile at Swanwings' hooves. Her eyes widened in accusation.
"You've been stealing our herbs," Cragwings neighed furiously.
"What?" Swanwings asked confusedly. "Of course not."
"It's none of your business! Stay away!" Nighthoof neighed angrily.
"Icestar will hear of this," Cragwings whinnied and started galloping back into her own territory.
"Stop!" Swanwings neighed, but Cragwings ignored her.
Swanwings splashed across the stream, brushed past a surprised Nighthoof, and galloped after Cragwings. Maybe if I chase her, she'll stop to confront me and then I can explain, she thought desperately. Cragwings knew her own territory well, as she clambered over rocks and dodged trees. Swanwings was having trouble keeping her in sight.
Cragwings finally reached a relatively open stretch. Swanwings spread her wings and flapped above Cragwings. She dived, and knocked Cragwings off her feet. They rolled around in a flurry of hooves, until they managed to scramble to their feet.
"What are you doing?" Cragwings asked, looking confused and angry.
"I didn't steal your herbs," Swanwings panted. "The apprentice is young; he crossed the stream to protect me. Those herbs were from my territory. Medicine horses don't lie."
Cragwings stared at her for a few heartbeats. "Fine. I'll believe you this time. But if I ever find you on my territory again, I'll tell Icestar."
"Thank you," Swanwings neighed.
"And I'll escort you off my territory," Cragwings neighed stubbornly.
The whole way back Cragwings kept shooting suspicious glances at Swanwings. Swanwings barely restrained from rolling her eyes. We're both medicine horses, for StarHerd's sake, she thought in frustration.
They finally arrived at the border, where Swanwings saw Nighthoof pacing across the Stream. When Nighthoof saw her, he let out a whinny.
"Make sure the apprentice stays off our territory in the future," Cragwings neighed threateningly, then turned and disappeared into the trees.
Swanwings turned to Nighthoof, her tail swishing in irritation. "You should know by now not to go onto another Herd's territory! You could have caused a war between our Herds!"
Nighthoof pinned his ears. "I was trying to protect you!"
"I know, but you have to be more careful," Swanwings neighed, struggling to keep her tone even. "I'll be talking to Mudpelt about this."
Nighthoof snorted. "Fine."
Swanwings knew her brother would be fair to the apprentice. "He needs to know."
They trotted back to camp in silence. Swanwings led Nighthoof up to Mudpelt.
"What happened?" Mudpelt asked, seeing the look in Swanwings' eyes.
Swanwings explained what had happened, watching as Mudpelt's eyes grew narrower and his ears laid back.
"How could you do something so stupid?" he asked furiously when she finished.
Swanwings turned to take the burdock root back to her den. Nighthoof needed to understand the severity of what she had done.