Swanwings chanted with the other WaterHerd horses, "Whitehoof! Whitehoof! Whitehoof!"
Whitehoof had just been made into an apprentice. Fishleap was so proud of her colt and had so much restrained energy from being in the nursery she nearly reared up. Goosefeather looked like he would burst with pride for his colt as well.
Swanwings was happy that Whitehoof's mentor was Toadnose. Mudpelt spoke highly of him, and they were best friends. Swanwings didn't see how Toadnose could be mated with Splashstream, who was known for her short temper and sharp tongue. Still, Splashstream was more at peace around Toadnose.
Swanwings made her way through the crowd to congratulated Whitehoof, who looked up at her with awe and stammered a thank-you. She headed toward her den, exhausted after a long day. The leaves were just starting to color, it was nearly Leaffall.
She turned to see Mudpelt trotting up to her with Mosstail right behind him.
"Mosstail's pregnant," Mudpelt announced proudly.
"That's great! You'll be a great broodmare," Swanwings whinnied. "And Splashstream is just a little further along than you. You two can be denmates."
Mosstail's expression turned to shock and Swanwings and Mudpelt nickered.
"Don't worry, she's not that bad," Mudpelt comforted her.
"There's Beaversplash! I've got to tell him," Mosstail neighed before trotting up to him.
Mudpelt turned to Swanwings. "Look after Mosstail and her foal."
Swanwings nodded. "Of course I will."
She stepped into her den, curled up her wings, and fell asleep.
She dreamed of Waterpearl looking down on her from the sky, his expression warm. He became brighter and brighter until he was a star.
Swanwings woke up early; the sun was just coming up. She left her den to eat some grass and Riverweeds off the freshly gathered pile. She saw Toadnose and Whitehoof go to train for the first time, Whitehoof barely suppressing his excitement. Fishleap made her way through the stirring warriors and practically begged Mistyfur to let her go on the SwiftHerd patrol. Mistyfur agreed and Fishleap led the patrol away at a gallop.
Swanwings took an inventory of her herbs and found she was low on a few. She flew to the Lake, where herbs that needed moist ground grew well. She collected herbs until sunhigh, and then dove into the Lake to cool herself off. She loved the feel of flying through the water; her wings were used the same way they were when she flew in the air.
She burst out of the water flying, and flew in circles to dry herself off. She landed in the shade of a lone pine tree and without meaning to fell asleep.
Swanwings woke up suddenly to a neigh cut off and a splash. She looked at the lake and saw a brown colt neighing frantically on a high dirt bank overlooking the Lake. Swanwings looked into the water and saw a brown filly struggling frantically to keep her head up in the Lake. Swanwings flew toward the Lake and dived in. The filly looked like a yearling, she was probably an apprentice. Swanwings grabbed the crest of her neck with her teeth and dragged her up to the surface, then towed her to the opposite side of the Lake, where there was a more gradual bank.
The filly stood, shivering on the pebbles, water dripping off her thin fur. Swanwings was glad she had just collected the herb for shock and trotted over to grab it from her pile. When she returned, the brown colt had run to the filly's side.
Swanwings gave the filly the herbs. "Eat these. They'll make you feel better."
"I'm Breezehoof," the brown colt neighed. "And this is Dawnhoof."
"Thank you for rescuing me," gasped Dawnhoof.
Swanwings knew from their color and lean bodies they were SwiftHerd apprentices.
"Why were you in the Lake, on WaterHerd territory?" Swanwings asked.
Dawnhoof looked down, embarrassed, but Breezehoof proudly neighed, "We were having an adventure. We wanted to go into WaterHerd territory. We came to this lake and were standing on the edge. I thought it would be funny if I nudged Dawnhoof and scared her, but I pushed her too hard and she fell in."
Swanwings was appalled these apprentices would do that, but they looked very young.
"It's not safe for two apprentices to be out on their own. You could have drowned, or wolves could have gotten you," Swanwings neighed.
Dawnhoof ducked her head. "We're sorry."
Breezehoof looked like he was about to protest, but Swanwings cut him off.
"I'll escort you home," she whinnied.
Swanwings didn't know the direction, so she let the apprentices lead. They seemed to get over their shock quickly, whinnying to each other and showing off moves to Swanwings.
When they finally reached the camp the sun had set. Swanwings thought it looked the same as the rest of the plains, but it was trampled down to dirt. The apprentices, exhausted from their journey, started to perk up when they saw their camp. The horse on watch ran into the camp, and then came back with Blossomstar, Sunwings, and two mares. The apprentices ran to their mothers, who scolded them.
Blossomstar walked up to Swanwings. "What were you doing with our apprentices?"
Swanwings recounted the whole story. When she finished, Sunwings shook his head.
"They could have been killed," he whinnied.
Blossomstar nodded. "SwiftHerd thanks you for what you did today, Swanwings. They were young and had not been taught. Now, I am sure you are exhausted and it's late. Please stay with us tonight. I will have a patrol escort you home tomorrow."
Swanwings hesitated. She knew her Herd would worry, but she was exhausted and there were wolves around.
"Thank you, Blossomstar. I accept," Swanwings neighed.
Blossomstar nodded and walked away.
"You can sleep with me," Sunwings whinnied.
Swanwings followed him into the camp, where the only den was under an overhang of dirt where a broodmare and her foal slept. The rest of the horses slept outside. Sunwings led her to a spot on the inside of the group of sleeping horses, and she slept.
When Swanwings woke up, at first she was disoriented. The horses around her were moving. She opened her eyes to see the light brown SwiftHerd horses surrounding her. Her white pelt stood out like snow on dirt.
Sunwings nodded a good morning to her as Blossomstar came over with three warriors.
"They will escort you to the border," Blossomstar ordered. "Once again, thank you."
Dawnhoof and Breezehoof said their thank-you and goodbyes as well.
A light brown, but with a bluish tint, mare came up to her. "I'm Bluebell."
The brown stallion was Tumbleweed and the red-tinged brown mare was Petalfur. They cantered with her to the border. She envied them their long legs, which let them almost fly over the ground. She, however, could actually fly. She parted from the patrol at the border and flew to the tree where she had left her herbs. She gathered them up and flew to the WaterHerd camp.
Swanwings landed to a flurry of questions. Mudpelt was furious and Silverstream worried. Swanwings recounted her story to a large crowd of her Herdmates. She told them how SwiftHerd had no dens to snorts of surprise.
Swanwings was just glad to be home, smelling the familiar watery smell of her Herd and knowing this was where she belonged.