Mudpelt felt a nose jab his side. He opened his eyes to see Fishleap standing in front of him.
"It's time to go," she whispered.
The other horses were stirring. Arrya had told them they had to leave before sunrise, when the Nofurs woke up. Mudpelt could see the gap in the logs where they could escape. He was surprised to see how big it was. When he had pushed it, he had not seen much progress. Then again, he was only the second horse to take his turn.
The sun was just peeking over the valley when they left at a trot. It was the fastest pace they could manage after yesterday's exhausting run. Arrya led them to a safe place where they could rest.
They trotted into dense woods and up a rocky hill. Then, they emerged into a dewy meadow. It was beautiful, and he knew the SwiftHerd horses felt better in the open. Mudpelt ate as much green grass as he wanted, and then slept.
The horses continued their journey at sunhigh. After a while, they heard the metal bird buzzing overhead.
Oh, StarHerd, no, Mudpelt thought in horror. The horses all shifted and stamped their hooves. Sagehoof's eyes were wide with terror.
"Quick, this way," Arrya neighed.
She galloped to a swathe of pine trees. The horses followed her. Suddenly, the bird appeared in the sky above. Mudpelt turned to see that Petalfur was frozen in horror out in the open, looking up at the bird. Mudpelt knew there was only a matter of time until she was seen, so he galloped out behind her and pushed her into the trees.
The horses froze. The bird seemed to go a bit lower as if it saw them, but then it went on. Mudpelt let out a sigh of relief. Petalfur looked shocked still. Fishleap was comforting her.
"Th…Thank you, Mudpelt. Thank you so much," Petalfur stammered out.
Mudpelt nodded awkwardly. He hadn't really thought about it, he had just done it.
When the buzzing died away, the horses started off again. The sun was setting when Runningwind gave a whinny of delight. He had just crested a hill and was looking into the distance.
"It's the edge of SwiftHerd territory!" he neighed excitedly.
"We'd better rest here for the night. This high we can see predators coming easier," Tumbleweed neighed.
The horses nodded and started eating.
Runningwind volunteered for the first watch. Mudpelt noticed Petalfur and Fishleap telling Arrya all about the Herds. She looked interested. Maybe she'll join WaterHerd, Mudpelt thought.
Mudpelt saw Runningwind and Toadnose neighing together. He also saw Whitehoof and Sagehoof eating side by side.
Tumbleweed came up to Mudpelt. "It feels very strange to be away from my Herd."
"Yes. I miss it too," Mudpelt replied.
He thought of Mistyfur, Swanwings, Mosstail, and Silverstream. He also thought of the water. The cool, relaxing water. He missed it so much. Mudpelt fell asleep with the sound of the River in his ears.
Mudpelt woke up just as the sun was rising. He felt excited, home was not far away. He could tell the other horses felt that way also by the look in their eyes. Sagehoof and Whitehoof were prancing in excitement.
Mudpelt took the lead as they trotted down the hill. They trotted for a while, until with a neigh of excitement Runningwind started galloping. Tumbleweed passed him and took the lead, cantering towards the SwiftHerd border. He stopped and walked over the border. Mudpelt realized awkwardly that SwiftHerd smelled normal to him now.
Tumbleweed turned to the horses. "This is where we separate. We need to get back to our camp, and I'm sure you need to as well. Arrya, would you like to go with us or the WaterHerd horses? Or would you like to leave?"
"Well, if you would let me, I'd like to join SwiftHerd," Arrya replied shyly.
Petalfur looked pleased and Fishleap looked downcast.
"I'll miss you, Arrya," Fishleap neighed sadly.
"Don't worry, you'll be happy in SwiftHerd," Petalfur whinnied.
"Thanks, Petalfur," Arrya replied. "And I'll miss you, too, Fishleap."
Sagehoof and Whitehoof turned to each other, their eyes full of sadness. Toadnose and Runningwind awkwardly neighed a good-bye. Arrya, Fishleap, and Petalfur all whinnied heartbroken good-byes.
Tumbleweed came up to Mudpelt. "It was good journeying with you."
"You too," Mudpelt replied.
In spite of their brief exchange, Mudpelt liked Tumbleweed. He thought he was a good leader.
The WaterHerd horses whinnied last good-byes as the SwiftHerd horses galloped toward their camp. When they had disappeared from sight, Mudpelt turned to his Herdmates.
"Let's go home," he whinnied happily.
Fishleap tossed her head, Whitehoof pranced, and Toadnose nodded. Mudpelt turned and galloped toward the border. The scents of home hit his nose as soon as they crossed the border. He could hear the steady pounding of the Great River, and smell the Lake. As they crossed the Great River to get to the Island, Mudpelt reveled in the cool comfort of the water against his legs.
He felt as if he flew across the remaining territory. The sun was directly overhead when the patrol ran into the camp and stopped in the middle of the clearing, blowing hard.
Mudpelt felt a thrill of joy to be home. Then, he looked toward the Grasshill and saw to his surprise that the Herd was having a meeting. Ripplestar looked shocked as she stood on Grasshill and stared down at them.
"You're supposed to be dead!" Ripplestar neighed.