Swanwings basked in the warm glow of the sun in the grassy field, with a gentle stream gurgling behind her. Mosswings emerged from the thick trees growing around the meadow and walked up to her.
"The Herd is anxious about Beaversplash being accepted into WaterHerd. Was it the right thing to do?" Swanwings anxiously asked her former mentor.
"Don't worry," Mosswings replied. "Ripplestar did the right thing in the eyes of StarHerd."
Mosswings suddenly began fading. "Swanwings! Swanwings! Swanwings!"
"Mosswings!" Swanwings neighed, opening her eyes.
"Swanwings! Wake up!" Mudpelt neighed again.
Swanwings stretched. "Sorry, Mudpelt."
"It's fine," Mudpelt replied. "It's almost time to go to the Gathering."
"Oh, thanks, Mudpelt. I'm coming," Swanwings sleepily yawned.
Mudpelt nodded and walked out of the den. Swanwings followed him, blinking her eyes to clear them. It would be an interesting Gathering tonight. Beaversplash hadn't told TreeHerd he was leaving, so they probably thought he was dead.
Ripplestar, Mistyfur, Mudpelt, Mosstail, Beaversplash, Splashstream, and Silverstream were all gathered near the Riverbank. Swanwings joined them and Ripplestar gave the signal to go. The patrol splashed into the River, swimming strongly when they got to the deeper middle. Swanwings could have flown, but instead preferred to feel the cool river flow over her.
They cantered the rest of the way to Fourstones. They were the second ones there, only SwiftHerd were in the clearing already. Swanwings found Sunwings and talked to him. He told her that Cloudfoal was doing very well and growing up fast.
TreeHerd came next, and Swanwings searched for Beaversplash. What would he do when he saw his old Herdmates? She saw him next to Mosstail. He was on the edge of the clearing, standing with his head low as if hoping no horse would see him.
Swanwings also noticed Rowanstar had to be helped by Birchfall, his deputy, to walk up the Highhill. Rowanstar was getting very old.
Cherrywings trotted over to Swanwings. "Hey!"
The two friends greeted each other. Cherrywings started chattering, but Swanwings was only half listening. She was anxious for the Gathering to begin.
StoneHerd came in and Cragwings trotted up to the group of medicine horses. Sunwings greeted her, but Cragwings never really joined in the medicine horses' talks.
Ripplestar stepped forward when Icestar had taken his place with the other leaders on the hill. "Welcome, horses of all Herds. Let the Gathering begin."
Blossomstar stepped forward. "One of our elders has died. Also, a winged horse, Cloudfoal, has been born."
Rowanstar was the next to step forward. "One of our horses, Spiderweb, has gone missing. He was last seen heading towards Fourstones, but as we have not seen him for several days we assumed he was killed."
Ripplestar stepped forward next to Rowanstar. "Spiderweb is not dead."
The TreeHerd horses were silent, all staring up at Ripplestar. Beaversplash reluctantly stepped forward out of the crowd and made his way to below the Highhill. The TreeHerd horses immediately started murmuring to one another.
Rowanstar's eyes widened in surprise when he saw Beaversplash. "Spiderweb. Where have you been?"
"My name is Beaversplash now. I have joined WaterHerd so that I could be with the horse I love, Mosstail," Beaversplash replied, staring steadily up at his former leader.
Mosstail came up and pressed herself against Beaversplash. All of the Herds started whispering this time, incredulous that this was happening.
Rowanstar looked stunned for a few heartbeats, then he pinned his ears and turned to Ripplestar.
"So now you steal my horses from me?" he demanded.
Swanwings felt a stab of sympathy for Rowanstar and felt Cherrywings wince beside her. From what Cherrywings had told her, it sounded as though Rowanstar's old age had muddled his thinking.
Ripplestar pinned her ears in shock. "Never!"
Many of the WaterHerd horses, including Mudpelt, whinnied and pawed the ground in outrage.
Rowanstar bared his teeth at Ripplestar. "I will not let you take my warriors!"
Rowanstar galloped down from the Highhill and gathered his warriors to him. Swanwings noticed Birchfall frantically neighing something to Rowanstar, but he brushed him off.
"I've got to go," Cherrywings whinnied apologetically.
She trotted off to go join TreeHerd.
Swanwings looked back up at the leaders. Ripplestar was still looking shocked and a bit angry. Blossomstar looked concerned. Icestar looked very smug, as if he enjoyed seeing TreeHerd like this. Swanwings flicked her tail angrily. She didn't understand how StoneHerd could be so cruel and aloof.
Blossomstar stepped forward. "This Gathering is over by the will of StarHerd."
The horses broke up. Swanwings heard one SwiftHerd apprentice excitedly whinny, "That was amazing! Are all Gatherings as exciting as that?"
Swanwings nickered in amusement, but stopped when she thought of Cherrywings. She was worried about her friend. After all, both their Herds would suffer if Rowanstar went to battle against WaterHerd. Swanwings could only hope it wouldn't come to that.