Mudpelt was in the camp, pacing to keep warm when Ripplestar gathered the Herd with her neigh.
"Let all the members of WaterHerd gather underneath the Grasshill for a Herd meeting," she neighed.
Mudpelt looked at the nursery and thought proudly of her daughter's filly, Lakefoal. She was a dark grey just like Mosstail. Splashstream had also had a filly, Marshfoal. She was a dark brown like Toadnose. Marshfoal had been born only a few suns before Lakefoal.
The snow crunched under the Herd's hooves as they gathered around Grasshill.
"This has been a harsh Leafbare. The worst I've ever known. Minnowmane has already died of starvation and cold. Lakefoal and Marshfoal shiver, but their mothers can barely give them any milk to warm them. We need food. TreeHerd wronged us, when we were invaded for no reason. Their forest protects their grass from the heavy snows. They have too much grass, while our foals are starving. We must take some of their grass for our own!" Ripplestar neighed angrily, stomping her hoof.
There was silence. Mudpelt felt shocked. It was true they were starving, but it was against the warrior code to steal another Herd's grass.
Toadnose stepped forward. "We'd do it for the foals!"
Mudpelt nodded. He would do anything for his daughter's foal. Many of the horses whinnied their support, though a few exchanged dubious glances.
Swanwings shook her head. "I don't think StarHerd would approve of stealing."
"Have you had a sign?" Ripplestar asked.
Swanwings reluctantly shook her head. "No."
"Then they must approve," Ripplestar neighed. "They don't want our foals to die!"
The Herd whinnied their support.
"Mistyfur, take Mudpelt, Nightriver, Toadnose, and Fishleap into TreeHerd territory. Try not to be seen, but if you are seen fight!" Ripplestar neighed.
Mistyfur nodded and gathered the patrol. Mudpelt exchanged a glance with Mistyfur and saw uncertainty in her eyes. He was sure that this was the right thing to do. They needed the grass, and they would fight for it.
Mistyfur turned and signaled for the patrol to leave. The horses were very careful in crossing the River, which, though it was still running, was freezing cold. If they got totally wet, they could die. They crossed the River at a shallower part, but Mudpelt's lower leg still got wet.
They galloped to keep the circulation in their legs flowing, and headed toward Fourstones. Mudpelt would have thought they were going to a Herdmeet, but the dark and focused expressions of his Herdmates made that unlikely.
They stopped at the Fourstones border with TreeHerd territory. They all looked warily into the trees, trying to see in the dark shadows. Finally, Mistyfur jerked her head forward and cautiously crept into the trees. Mudpelt followed, the rest of the patrol behind him. Mistyfur gave a signal and the horses started tearing up grass to take back to the Herd.
Mistyfur stood on watch, looking into the trees for any sign of TreeHerd. But Mistyfur wasn't the only one who was tense, the rest of the patrol had one ear back and their muscles tense, ready to race away if need be. Fishleap jumped when a bird flew out of a bush she was next to.
They had just collected enough grass when Mudpelt felt his fur prickling. He lifted his head, but couldn't see anything. A brown shape suddenly hurtled out of the trees towards him. A TreeHerd warrior! He looked back to see two others burst out of the trees, but then a hoof struck him on the head and he turned back to the fight.
Mudpelt saw this was a dark bay mare. She was smaller than him, but this was her territory and she used it to her advantage. She ducked around branches and kept her footing on the pine needles that littered the ground. Mudpelt was having trouble, but he had gotten in a couple of good kicks. He tried to rear but hit his head on a branch, showering snow and pine needles onto his head and temporarily blinding him.
When he had cleared his eyes, he saw Mistyfur was fighting the mare, one of the TreeHerd horses had already fled. The TreeHerd mare kept using her territory to her advantage but her tricks didn't work as well on two horses. Finally, Mudpelt came down hard on her shoulder. She whinnied in pain and ran back into the forest.
Mudpelt turned to see the other three WaterHerd horses had already driven off the other TreeHerd warrior.
"Get some grass and hurry," Mistyfur warned. "They'll be back with more warriors soon."
The grass they had already collected had been trampled in the fight. They all picked faster than ever, and even thought they didn't have as much as they could carry Mistyfur gave the signal to leave.
The patrol agreed all too willingly, getting out of the forest as fast as they could even though they could only trot because of the thick trees. When they got to Fourstones, they took a breath of fresh air. Fourstones was sacred ground; no horse could fight on it.
Mistyfur led the patrol back into their territory. Mudpelt looked back, but he couldn't see any TreeHerd warriors in the dark trees. They crossed the River at its shallowest spot, but it still felt like thousands of icicles stabbing his legs.
They walked into the camp and were welcomed back by neighs and whinnies of congratulations. There was no freshly gathered pile in Leafbare since the snow covered the ground so the patrol took the grass to the elders and the broodmares.
Mudpelt took his to Mosstail. He saw the thanks in her eyes as she ate it, knowing she would be able to make more milk for her filly with it. He saw Toadnose giving his to Splashstream as he left the warm cave.
Swanwings gave the patrol stinging nettle to warm them since they had gone through the River. Mudpelt stood between Mistyfur and Toadnose, and though the wind was blowing he felt the warmth of the herbs and his friends and fell asleep.