"For the Gathering tonight, I will take Mistyfur, Mudpelt, Nighthoof, Frogleg, Toadnose, Fishleap, and Mosstail," Ripplestar neighed.
The chosen horses walked toward Ripplestar. Mudpelt knew that Mistyfur was excited to show the other Herds that she was the new deputy. Mudpelt trotted next to her into the River. Mudpelt swan strongly across, loving the feel of the water on his fur. As they galloped the rest of the way to Fourstones, Mudpelt fell in beside Toadnose. The two friends said nothing, but just galloped side by side.
They were the last Herd to get to the Gathering, so they hurried to find a spot. Mudpelt felt a flash of pride to see Mistyfur trot up to take her place with the other deputies below where the leaders stood. Swanwings trotted over to where the medicine horses gathered. When Ripplestar stood with the other leaders, there was a murmur of surprise from the other Herds.
"Let the Gathering begin," Icestar neighed.
"Where is Reedstar?" Rowanstar asked.
Ripplestar stepped forward. "Reedstar was with a patrol that was patrolling the SwiftHerd border. They were attacked by wolves. Luckily, a SwiftHerd patrol helped to see them off, but Reedstar died. I have received my name from StarHerd."
"It is a shame that Reedstar was killed. All of the Herds will honor him," Rowanstar put in.
Blossomstar nodded in agreement, though Icestar just stared coldly.
Icestar stepped forward. "Snowwings has died. Cragwings has replaced him."
There was a murmur of shock from the gathered Herds. It was always sad when a medicine horse died.
Blossomstar stepped forward. "We have not seen the wolves we helped WaterHerd to drive off for a few moons. We think they may have gone for good."
Mudpelt knew this was very good news for both of their Herds. They had enough trouble with lone wolves without a wolf pack roaming their lands.
"We want to thank Swanwings for her help in curing our horses from a disease," Rowanstar began. "Nofurs poisoned some of our trees."
Mudpelt felt a surge of pride for his sister. The gathered horses murmured angrily about Nofurs' stupidity.
"By the will of StarHerd, this Gathering is over," neighed Rowanstar.
The horses began dividing up into their Herds, whinnying goodbye to friends or finishing up conversations.
"Hey," Mistyfur neighed from behind Mudpelt.
"So how was your first Gathering as our deputy?" Mudpelt asked, turning.
"I was so nervous. And Blizzardtail didn't help, he kept shooting me looks as if I wasn't welcome," Mistyfur whinnied, snorting.
"You know StoneHerd," Mudpelt reassured her.
"Hey, you two! We're leaving, come on," Frogleg neighed.
"Coming," Mistyfur called.
They trotted over to where the Herd was gathered.
"Have you seen Mosstail?" Ripplestar asked irritably. "We need to leave."
"I haven't seen her," Mudpelt responded and Mistyfur shook her head.
Mudpelt turned to scan the mass of horses for her. He spotted some bushes rustling, and then Mosstail emerged. She trotted quickly over to the WaterHerd horses.
"I'm sorry, I had to make dirt," she quickly neighed.
Ripplestar snorted, then turned and signaled for the Herd to leave. Mudpelt followed, brushing Mosstail as he turned to leave. He stiffened. He could be sure he could smell strong TreeHerd scent on her. He told himself that she could have been sitting next to a TreeHerd warrior, but a small voice told him that she would have had to have been touching him for a long time to get that much scent on her.
He came to to see he had almost hit a tree; he swerved around it and forgot about Mosstail.
The next day Mudpelt listened as Mistyfur assigned patrols.
"Mistyfur, could I be on gathering patrol today?" Mosstail asked.
Mistyfur paused. "You've asked for that patrol for the past few days, Mosstail."
"Please, Mistyfur," Mosstail pleaded. "I really like it."
"Well, all right, but tomorrow you need to do something else," Mistyfur consented.
"Thanks, Mistyfur," Mosstail neighed, her eyes shining with pleasure.
Mudpelt didn't see why Mosstail liked a gathering patrol that much; it was boring to just pick grass.
"Mudpelt will go with you," Mistyfur finished.
Mosstail immediately looked downcast. Mudpelt wondered why Mistyfur had put him on patrol with Mosstail. He looked questioningly at her and she walked a ways away, gesturing for him to follow.
"I want to know why Mosstail wants to go on that patrol every day," Mistyfur whinnied. "I know there's something bothering her."
"All right," Mudpelt agreed.
He walked over to Mosstail. "Ready to go?"
She nodded, looking reluctant.
"Where should we go?" he asked.
"I've found some really good grass by the border with Fourstones, that's why I go there every day," she neighed as if she were defending herself.
"All right," Mudpelt replied.
They cantered to the border in silence; Mosstail looked as though she were in deep thought.
She suddenly stopped. Mudpelt slowed and turned around to face her.
"You know," she neighed. "There really isn't any point in you coming with me. Why don't you go back to the River and gather some River weeds?"
Why are you trying to get rid of me? Mudpelt silently asked.
"All right," he neighed and turned as if to go back.
He trotted a ways off, looking behind him until Mosstail turned and started going towards Fourstones. He switched directions and followed her. She went to the Fourstones border and stopped. Mudpelt snapped a twig and flinched. Mosstail whirled around.
"What are you doing? Are you following me?" she asked, her eyes wide and her ears pinned.
She galloped back toward WaterHerd territory without waiting for an answer. Mudpelt sighed, but stepped forward a few paces. He looked carefully at Fourstones, but it seemed deserted. He turned and started cantering back to camp, knowing that he would have a lot of explaining to do.