A/N: Thank you, Horsey Cat for the review. I posted the families of WaterHerd in the first chapter, right after the Allegiances part. And thank you everyone for reading and reviewing!
Mudpelt was leading a patrol to the SwiftHerd border. Toadnose had been able to drag himself away from the nursery, and he took Whitehoof. Fishleap was also on the patrol, looking proudly at Whitehoof as he easily kept up with the galloping horses.
The patrol arrived at the place where the Great River met SwiftHerd territory and started trotting down the border, stopping every so often to renew the scent marks.
They had reached about halfway when they heard hooves and stopped. A patrol of SwiftHerd horses were galloping toward them. They stopped at the border, and a brown stallion stepped forward.
"What are you doing so close to the border?" he asked, sounding inquisitive rather than hostile.
"We were just renewing the scent marks," Mudpelt replied.
Mudpelt saw a long-legged brown stallion pin his ears at them, but an apprentice and a pink-tinged brown mare looked satisfied with his answer.
Mudpelt had just turned away when he heard a loud buzzing noise. The SwiftHerd and WaterHerd horses all pricked their ears and turned toward WaterHerd territory. Mudpelt saw to his surprise a shiny silver bird was making the noise and coming toward them.
Mudpelt felt a jolt of fear shoot through him as the buzzing became louder and louder and the bird started emitting loud bangs.
"This way!" the SwiftHerd stallion neighed, running toward the SwiftHerd camp.
Mudpelt had no choice but to follow him, and he beckoned with his head for the patrol to follow. The two Herds raced away from the bird, galloping as fast as they could. The SwiftHerd horses were a ways in front of the WaterHerd horses since they were faster.
The bird had gotten too close, it was just behind them. The SwiftHerd horses tried to veer toward their camp, but the bird swerved over and kept them going straight. The horses had no choice but to run where the bird made them, but their ears were back in fear. Whitehoof was starting to tire, he lugged behind but Fishleap stayed next to him, silently encouraging him.
Mudpelt smelled it when they crossed SwiftHerd's border. He knew MoonTree was out here somewhere, but he didn't know exactly where. After what felt like a moon of running, they entered a valley with steep sides. Soon Mudpelt saw a strange Nofur thing made of trees lying down. The SwiftHerd horses in front of him had no choice but to go into it since it covered the whole trail.
Mudpelt followed the SwiftHerd horses into it and was surprised to come to a stop. There were trees blocking their way. He turned to go out the way he came but a Nofur pushed the logs and they were trapped!
Mudpelt tried to control his panic and walked over to his Herdmates. Toadnose had his head drooped and was panting. Whitehoof was shaking with exhaustion. Even Fishleap didn't have her head as high as she usually did.
Mudpelt noticed the SwiftHerd horses were better off than they were. They were used to running fast and far. The SwiftHerd horses walked over.
"I'm Tumbleweed," the lead stallion neighed. "The mare is Petalfur, and her apprentice is Sagehoof. The long-legged stallion is Runningwind."
The horses nodded at Mudpelt when they were named except Runningwind, who pinned his ears at him, and Sagehoof, who looked wide-eyed with terror.
"I'm Mudpelt," Mudpelt whinnied. "The brown stallion is Toadnose, and his apprentice is Whitehoof. The mare is Fishleap."
Mudpelt felt strange being next to so many SwiftHerd horses; they smelled like sagebrush and gorse. It tickled his nose. He preferred the soothing smell of water that was on the WaterHerd horses.
"What do you think the Nofurs will do with us?" Tumbleweed asked.
Mudpelt looked at the Nofurs walking outside the enclosure. "I don't know."
Suddenly, they heard the buzzing noise again. All of the horses flattened their ears and backed against the trees. The bird came back for us, Mudpelt thought in horror.
They saw the bird, but they also saw a horse running in front of it and coming towards them. The Nofurs made a gap in the trees and the horse ran through. Then the Nofurs quickly closed the gap again. The bird flew over and past them.
Mudpelt looked curiously at the newcomer. It was a brown appaloosa mare. She seemed uneasy with so many horses around her; she backed into a corner and stayed there.
Mudpelt motioned for the WaterHerd horses to stay and walked up to her. Tumbleweed followed him. The mare pinned her ears as they approached.
"I'm Mudpelt of WaterHerd," Mudpelt neighed.
"And I'm Tumbleweed of SwiftHerd," Tumbleweed whinnied. "We just want to talk to you."
The mare relaxed some. "I'm Arrya. I get caught every year, but they always let me go."
"Wait," Mudpelt neighed. "What are we doing here?"
"The Nofurs capture some horses every year and take them to a place where other Nofurs buy them. If a Nofur doesn't want you, they bring you back here," Arrya explained.
Mudpelt and Tumbleweed exchanged a glance.
"What is 'buy'?" Tumbleweed asked.
"The Nofurs each take one horse to their home. So the horses are all split up," Arrya whinnied.
Mudpelt felt a jolt of fear. They would be separated?
"We have to escape," Mudpelt neighed to Tumbleweed.
Tumbleweed nodded and turned to Arrya. "Can you help us?"
Arrya nodded. "I suppose so. But the Nofurs would be really nice to you"
"We can't be separated. We have to get back to our Herds," Mudpelt explained.
"Ok, fine," Arrya neighed.
Mudpelt and Tumbleweed turned back to the Herd horses. Fishleap and Petalfur were talking, while Whitehoof and Sagehoof showed off battle moves. Toadnose and Runningwind were also talking.
"This is Arrya," Tumbleweed announced.
"She can help us escape," Mudpelt added.
Arrya stepped forward and nodded to the horses. She slowly walked around the pen, sniffing some trees and pushing some with her nose. She came back to them after she had gone around the whole enclosure.
"I found a weak spot. When the Nofurs go to sleep, we can take turns pushing it. If it gets big enough, we can escape," she explained.
Tumbleweed volunteered to go first. Mudpelt would be second, but at least he would get a little sleep first. He was exhausted. It grew dark and the Nofurs disappeared into flapping, hanging pelts. Arrya gave the signal to start, and Tumbleweed began pushing the tree with his nose.
Mudpelt and the other horses gathered together and went to sleep. Mudpelt realized he could barely distinguish the SwiftHerd scents from the WaterHerd scents. He put the thought from his mind as he fell asleep.