Swanwings cantered along with the patrol on their way to SwiftHerd territory. Ripplestar had brought Mistyfur, Nightriver, Goosefeather, and Beaversplash on a battle patrol to take back Mudpelt and the rest of the missing patrol. Swanwings was going to help convince SwiftHerd that keeping hostages was wrong by StarHerd.
Ripplestar didn't even pause at the border; she just cantered across it straight toward the SwiftHerd camp. Swanwings wondered if she would even talk with Blossomstar, or if she would just attack. She prayed to StarHerd that Ripplestar would use her good judgment in this.
Swanwings saw a brown horse just outside the camp look at them, and then run into the camp. Ripplestar slowed to a trot. Blossomstar ran out of the camp towards them, followed by Sunwings, Cloudhoof, Rabbitpelt, and four of her warriors. The two Herds stopped a tail's length from each other.
"What do you want, Ripplestar?" Blossomstar asked.
Ripplestar pinned her ears. "To know why you kidnapped our warriors. This is clearly…"
"We don't have your warriors," Blossomstar interrupted her.
"It's true, we don't," Sunwings put in.
Ripplestar looked put off. "Then why did their scents meet with yours and then go off into your territory?"
"We found those scents as well. Both of the patrols' scents mix, and then go out of our territory," Blossomstar explained.
Ripplestar was silent for a few heartbeats, looking confused.
"Maybe the bird made them run away," Mistyfur suggested.
"Maybe," Blossomstar neighed.
Ripplestar regained her composure and nodded.
"We're sorry for the… misunderstanding," Ripplestar neighed.
She turned and signaled for her warriors to leave. They cantered back to the camp in silence. The sun was disappearing behind StoneHerd's territory. When they arrived at the camp, Ripplestar turned to face the patrol.
"What Mistyfur said must be true. If they are not back tomorrow, I think we must accept that they are never coming back," she neighed.
She turned and walked into her den. Swanwings slowly turned and walked into her own den. Not coming back? She offered up a prayer to StarHerd for their safety, and then she fell asleep.
Swanwings woke up to Ripplestar's neigh calling the Herd together. The sun was directly overhead. She walked out of her den to join the Herd.
"We are here today to honor four members of WaterHerd," Ripplestar began. "Mudpelt, Fishleap, Toadnose, and Whitehoof. They were great and brave horses, but even they could not fight the silver bird that StarHerd warned us about. May StarHerd accept their souls with honor."
The whole Herd bowed their heads. Silverstream was shaking her head and neighing softly. Ottertail was comforting her. Beaversplash comforted Mosstail, who rubbed her head against Lakefoal. Nightriver comforted Splashstream, who stamped the ground. Marshfoal stood behind her. Mistyfur, sitting close to Swanwings in the deputy's spot, was slowly shaking her head from side to side. Goosefeather just looked drained, his head hung low as Streammane rubbed her nose against his neck.
Swanwings just felt strangely hollow. Her brother and sister were dead. She closed her eyes and tried to picture them in StarHerd. Maybe they would visit her dreams, like Waterpearl did sometimes.
She swiveled her ears to hear neighs of surprise from the Herd.
"You're supposed to be dead!" she heard Ripplestar neigh and opened her eyes. The patrol! They were back! They looked confused at what Ripplestar had neighed. Silverstream was the first to reach Mudpelt and Fishleap. Goosefeather ran up to Fishleap and Whitehoof. Splashstream and Nightriver trotted up to Toadnose, with Marshfoal following. Mosstail left Lakefoal with Beaversplash and ran to Mudpelt. Swanwings and Mistyfur both pushed their way through the gathered horses and trotted up to Mudpelt.
Swanwings looked at the horses in front of her and thanked StarHerd for their safe return. Too many hearts would have been broken without them. She pressed her nose against Mudpelt, and then Fishleap. She didn't even care where they had been, she was just happy they were back.
Ripplestar walked up to the patrol. "We need to talk."
She signaled for them to follow her, and then walked out of the camp towards Dirtplace. They reluctantly pulled themselves away from their loved ones and followed Ripplestar. Swanwings watched them go. Where had they been? How could they still be alive? She had so many thoughts swirling around in her head. She knew that wherever they had been StarHerd had been with them, and brought them back safely to their home.