Mudpelt woke up in the cold right before the sun came up. He carefully backed out of the horses still sleeping around him. He stood in the middle of the camp, and found himself staring at where Beaversplash had disappeared. He glanced around, but the camp was deserted. The horse on watch must have gone to make dirt.
He made up his mind, and started quickly walking after Beaversplash. He had to find out if he was all right. He tried to muffle his hoofbeats so no horse would hear him. When he was far enough away from the camp, he paused and sniffed the ground. Beaversplash's scent was stale, but he could still smell it. He followed the scent trail as it headed toward SwiftHerd territory. When he reached the border, he stopped. He couldn't cross into SwiftHerd territory, no matter how much he wanted to.
Mudpelt sighed and started cantering back to camp. He had to get back before Ripplestar noticed he was gone. The sun had risen by the time he got back to camp. All of the warriors were awake. Mistyfur walked up to him.
"Where were you?" she asked. "I was worried."
Mudpelt glanced around to make sure no horse was listening. "I went to look for Beaversplash."
Mistyfur's eyes widened. "Did you find him?"
Mudpelt shook his head. "His trail led to SwiftHerd territory. He must have gone past their territory to look for shelter."
"May StarHerd bring him back safely, for our daughter's sake as well as the Herd's," Mistyfur neighed.
Mudpelt nodded, but before he could say anything Ripplestar gave a loud neigh.
"I will be assigning the patrols today," she neighed. "Frogleg, you will lead a patrol along the SwiftHerd border. Mudpelt and Goosefeather will go with you. Nightriver, you will lead a patrol along the StoneHerd border. Fishleap and Mistyfur will go with you."
Mudpelt exchanged an angry glance with Mistyfur. By having Nightriver and Frogleg lead the patrols, she had assured that no horse that saw Beaversplash would let him leave unharmed. He reluctantly left her side and walked over to Frogleg and Goosefeather.
"Let's go," Frogleg ordered.
They cantered off towards the SwiftHerd border. Frogleg kept up a steady stream of jeers and taunts about Beaversplash the whole time. Mudpelt wanted to give him a good kick in the head to bring him to his senses, but he was thinking about other things. Beaversplash's scent had come this way. What if he came back? If Frogleg saw him, he would order them to attack. Then what would he do? Should I be loyal to my leader or to my daughter's mate? he wondered worriedly.
They were just crossing the Island when Mudpelt saw a horse on the SwiftHerd border. It was still far away, and he looked hard. There was definitely a horse. And it wasn't moving. It must be Beaversplash, Mudpelt realized. He quickly looked around. Frogleg and Goosefeather hadn't seen him yet.
"Frogleg, look," he neighed, whirling around to face the direction of the camp.
Frogleg turned to look where Mudpelt was. "What is it? I don't see anything."
"It's back towards that little clump of trees," Mudpelt neighed. "I thought I saw something there."
Frogleg looked for a few heartbeats. "I still don't see anything. I think you imagined it. It wouldn't be the first time you imagined things, Mudpelt."
Frogleg turned around toward the SwiftHerd border again. Mudpelt turned too, praying that Beaversplash had gone. He looked up and saw him still standing there. His heart dropped. Frogleg saw him too, and froze for a few heartbeats. Then he carefully sniffed the ground.
"Beaversplash's scent! That must be Beaversplash," he neighed triumphantly.
He looked at Mudpelt, whose face gave it away.
"He's on our border! Attack!" Frogleg neighed.
He galloped away, and Mudpelt had no choice but to follow. Goosefeather ran next to him, looking unhappy. The horse didn't move, even when Frogleg ran straight at him. Why isn't he running? Mudpelt thought in confusion. As they got closer, Mudpelt started to notice the horse was too skinny to be Beaversplash. And it was lighter. It wasn't Beaversplash after all!
Frogleg didn't notice this until he was closer to the horse; he skidded to a stop only a hoof's length away from it. Mudpelt and Goosefeather trotted after him. When Mudpelt stopped, he realized the horse was Blossomstar, and down the hill below her were Rabbitpelt, Brackentail, and Gorsefur. They trotted up to stand on either side of their leader when Frogleg ran at her.
"What is the meaning of this?" Blossomstar asked angrily. "First you send a warrior into our territory, and then you try to attack me?"
Frogleg looked awkward. "We didn't…we weren't…we made a mistake."
"Indeed you did," Blossomstar neighed coldly. "Why do you want to attack SwiftHerd?"
"We don't. We thought you were another horse," Frogleg whinnied. "Have you seen him? He's a dark bay stallion."
"You mean the one you sent to spy on us?" Blossomstar asked.
"No," Frogleg answered. "He was banished from our territory for one week. If you see him, feel free to drive him off."
Blossomstar looked thoughtful, and then turned around to neigh with Rabbitpelt.
"Rabbitpelt says that it was a dark bay stallion he saw," Blossomstar whinnied. "But what did he do?"
Frogleg opened his mouth to answer, but Mudpelt shouldered him.
"That's WaterHerd's business," Mudpelt answered.
Blossomstar stared at him for a couple of heartbeats, then whirled around and raced back into her territory, followed by her warriors.
Frogleg glared angrily at Mudpelt. "I'm in charge of this patrol, in case you forgot."
"I just didn't want you to tell SwiftHerd all of our problems," Mudpelt replied calmly.
Frogleg snorted, and signaled with his tail for them to move off. Mudpelt was grateful that Beaversplash hadn't been caught, but what if SwiftHerd found him? They might do him more damage than just drive him off. Mudpelt shook his head worriedly and followed Frogleg back to camp.