Spiderweb's New Home
"Our Mosstail did that?" Mudpelt asked again.
"Yes," Mistyfur nodded. "What could be wrong with her?"
"I have no idea," Mudpelt answered.
He was shocked to learn that his daughter had behaved so rudely to her mother.
"Could you talk to her?" Mistyfur queried.
"Of course," Mudpelt answered. "And I'm sure it's nothing."
Mudpelt found Mosstail talking to Fishleap.
"Can I talk to you Mosstail?" he asked.
Fishleap sighed dramatically. "Fine, I can take a hint. I'm not wanted here."
Mudpelt snorted. Leave it to Fishleap to make a joke. Fishleap walked away and Mosstail turned to Mudpelt. She looked uncomfortable.
"What is it?" she asked bluntly.
"Mistyfur and I are worried about you," Mudpelt neighed. "You can always tell us what's bothering you."
Mosstail looked as if she wanted to tell Mudpelt, but something was holding her back. Mudpelt felt a pang to see such hurt in his daughter's eyes.
Then Mosstail's gaze hardened again. "Nothing's wrong. Stop prying."
Mudpelt jerked his head back as if he had been kicked. Mosstail trotted to the River and swam to the other side. Mudpelt could barely see her as she ran towards Fourstones, and then disappeared.
Mistyfur trotted up to him. "I guess that didn't go so well."
"No," Mudpelt admitted. "I don't know what to do."
"I'm sure she'll come around," Mistyfur reassured him.
"I hope so," Mudpelt neighed, looking off at where his daughter had disappeared. He saw a shadow pass in Mistyfur's eyes.
"I hope so too," she whinnied.
The next morning, Mosstail had still not returned. Mudpelt was pacing the Riverbank, looking in the direction she had vanished last night. Mistyfur was with him, not pacing but scanning the far bank for any sign of Mosstail.
"If she's not back by sunhigh I'm sending a patrol after her," Mistyfur neighed worriedly.
Mudpelt froze and pricked his ears. He thought he saw movement far off. It was two horses. The horses ran closer, and Mudpelt finally saw them clearly. It was Mosstail! But she was with a very dark bay horse. He exchanged a glance with Mistyfur and saw that she was as puzzled as he was. The bay hesitated before the River, and then splashed in. He swam in the deeper middle with the help of Mosstail. When they walked out of the River, Mistyfur and Mudpelt both ran to Mosstail.
"We were so worried," Mistyfur whickered.
"We're glad you're safe," Mudpelt added.
They all pressed their muzzles together, then Mosstail stepped back to stand beside the bay. Mudpelt could see he was a stallion. Mudpelt sniffed the air. Under the scent of the River was the scent of TreeHerd!
Mistyfur stepped forward. "What is a horse from TreeHerd doing here, Mosstail?"
"This is Spiderweb," Mosstail answered. "He wants to join WaterHerd because, well, he's my mate."
Mudpelt froze in shock. Mosstail had taken a mate from another Herd? That was against the Warrior Code. Mudpelt pinned his ears and stepped toward Spiderweb. It was his fault that Mosstail had done this!
Mosstail quickly stepped between them.
Spiderweb spoke over her back. "We're in love. We want to be together, and the only way to do that is if I join WaterHerd."
Mistyfur, who had been standing frozen in shock, finally came to. She blinked her eyes slowly at first, and then shook her head.
"It's up to Ripplestar to decide whether you can join WaterHerd or not," she put in. "I'll go find her."
Mistyfur trotted off to Ripplestar's den underneath the Grasshill. Mudpelt never took his eyes off Spiderweb. He burned with rage at this horse, stinking of TreeHerd, who thought he could steal his daughter!
Ripplestar trotted over with Mistyfur. "So you want to join WaterHerd, Spiderweb?"
Spiderweb nodded his head vigorously. "Yes."
Ripplestar just stared at him for a few heartbeats, thinking. "I don't know if I can trust you. So I won't truly make you a member of WaterHerd until you prove that you can be a WaterHerd warrior. Mudpelt can show you our ways and if you learn them well I will make you a member of WaterHerd."
Spiderweb nodded. "Thank you. I'll prove that I can be a true WaterHerd warrior."
"We'll see," Ripplestar neighed. She turned and walked toward the Grasshill.
Mudpelt trotted up to her. "Ripplestar, wait. Why did you choose me to teach him our ways? I don't trust a hair on his pelt."
"Mistyfur is too busy with her deputy duties and Mosstail wouldn't be tough enough on him. I need to know whether I can trust him, and I know you won't hesitate to tell me the truth," Ripplestar replied.
Mudpelt had to admit her reasons made sense, but he didn't want to spend all his time with an untrustworthy TreeHerd warrior. He felt like he would be teaching the enemy their secrets.
Ripplestar had climbed to the top of Grasshill. "Let all the horses of WaterHerd gather here for a Herd meeting."
The horses came out of their dens and gathered beneath the hill. Mudpelt took a place beside Toadnose, while Mosstail and Spiderweb took a place near the back. Many of the WaterHerd horses shot curious glances at the new horse.
"Spiderweb of TreeHerd has asked to join WaterHerd," Ripplestar began.
The Herd instantly neighed their protests and questions.
Ripplestar stomped a hoof for silence and continued. "Mosstail has taken him as her mate, and he wishes to join her Herd."
The horses were silent, staring at Mosstail. She hung her head, but Spiderweb stared them in the eye.
"I have agreed to let him learn our ways from Mudpelt. When Mudpelt says he is ready and trustworthy, I will let him become a full member of WaterHerd," Ripplestar neighed.
Toadnose looked at Mudpelt in surprise. "You volunteered for this?"
Mudpelt shook his head. "No. Ripplestar ordered me to."
Ripplestar walked down from the Grasshill and the Herd broke up, many shooting angry glances at Mosstail and Spiderweb.
Mudpelt walked up to Spiderweb and shot him a cold look. "Let's get started."
Mudpelt showed him the camp first. Nighthoof was in the apprentices' den. Mudpelt could see Nighthoof didn't trust Spiderweb either. Swanwings was in her den sorting herbs, and she kindly greeted the TreeHerd warrior. Fishleap greeted them from inside the nursery, her belly huge with foal. Mudpelt greeted the elders, who turned away from Spiderweb. Ripplestar had left her den, but Mudpelt showed Spiderweb where she stood on top of it for Herd meetings.
After Mudpelt finished showing Spiderweb the camp, he took Nighthoof and Spiderweb to the River for training. He tried to teach Spiderweb the basics of swimming while teaching Nighthoof complex battle moves in the water. He grudgingly respected Spiderweb's willingness to learn. Mudpelt could tell he was going against everything he was told by swimming, but he pushed himself and did whatever Mudpelt asked him to.
The next day Mudpelt took Spiderweb on a tour of the territory. He gave Nighthoof to Goosefeather to watch on a gathering patrol. Mudpelt felt very reluctant to show Spiderweb the Island. After all, if TreeHerd wanted to invade it would be the perfect way in so they wouldn't get their hooves wet.
Mudpelt watched Spiderweb closely as they crossed the Island, but Spiderweb didn't look traitorous. I guess this will be the test to see if he is truly loyal, Mudpelt thought.
After they had rested from their journey around the territory, Mudpelt took Nighthoof and Spiderweb to the training place. Spiderweb had to unlearn all of his TreeHerd training; stealth wouldn't work here where there was less cover. After a few days, Spiderweb was learning WaterHerd moves more quickly and could swim very well.
Mudpelt walked slowly back to the camp after a training session. Spiderweb and Nighthoof had gone ahead. Spiderweb, it seemed, would be a loyal WaterHerd horse. Mudpelt felt that Spiderweb was ready, but what if he was wrong? Ripplestar trusted him to know if Spiderweb was a loyal horse.
Mudpelt walked into Ripplestar's den. She looked up at him.
"Well?" she asked.
"Spiderweb seems like a good horse. He is willing to learn. I don't think that he will betray us," Mudpelt reluctantly neighed.
"Then it is time," Ripplestar whinnied. She walked out of her den and mounted Grasshill.
"Let all the horses of WaterHerd gather here beneath the Grasshill for a Herd meeting," Ripplestar called.
Ripplestar's neigh called out all of the horses of the Herd who gathered beneath the Grasshill. Mistyfur and Swanwings took their usual places beneath the Grasshill.
"Spiderweb, come forward," Ripplestar neighed.
Spiderweb looked nervous, but Mosstail nuzzled him reassuringly. Many members of the Herd snorted or pinned their ears when he came forward.
Frogleg neighed out. "TreeHerd trash! You don't belong here! You'll never be one of us!"
Many members of the Herd murmured their approval.
Mudpelt saw Mosstail start to step towards Frogleg, but before she could he neighed, "I trust Spiderweb."
The whole Herd went silent, staring at him. Mudpelt knew what they were thinking, that he would be that last horse to support a TreeHerd horse.
"He has proved himself to me," he continued. "And Mistyfur and Ripplestar agree with me."
Ripplestar looked around the now silent Herd before continuing. "Spiderweb, you have proven your loyalty and determination. I now name you Beaversplash by the will of StarHerd. You are now a full warrior of WaterHerd."
Ripplestar walked down and touched muzzles with Beaversplash. As soon as she stepped back, Mosstail was at his side, chanting his name. Mudpelt also neighed his name, and some of his Herdmates joined in as well.
Mudpelt could see trouble for Beaversplash and Mosstail in the near future, but he was glad that Mosstail was happy. But, looking at Splashstream and Frogleg neighing furiously together, he wondered if their love would be enough