Swanwings tucked her wings in for a neat landing. She heard whinnies of welcome from all the gathered horses. She was at MoonTree, and it was the half moon tonight. Frogleg had moved to the elders' den and Whitehoof had been made into Whitewater. Fishleap was heavily pregnant and Mistyfur had had a healthy colt, Wavefoal. Ripplestar had named Mudpelt deputy in Mistyfur's place, until Wavefoal was an apprentice. Swanwings was very happy for him, and she could see Mudpelt was proud of himself.
Cherrywings greeted Swanwings warmly.
"Welcome," Sunwings greeted her politely.
"Thank you," she replied.
Sunwings was getting older; his muzzle was streaked with grey hairs. She saw Cloudhoof, his apprentice, looking ready to burst with excitement.
"How's Sagetail?" Swanwings asked, remembering her brother telling her of meeting her.
Sunwings hesitated. "Some horses are wondering whether a loner should have been allowed to join our Herd."
"We're hoping for a sign from StarHerd tonight," Cloudhoof put in.
Sunwings glanced sharply at him. "You shouldn't share all of our problems with the other Herds," he rebuked Cloudhoof softly.
Cragwings snorted. "I can't believe a SwiftHerd horse would care about sharing all of their secrets."
Swanwings winced. Medicine horses were supposed to be above Herd conflicts, but that was rarely the case. Sunwings, usually very easygoing, glared at Cragwings.
"Well, it's moonhigh," Cherrywings cut in, stepping between them. "We should share with StarHerd now."
Cragwings and Sunwings reluctantly took their places around the glittering stump. Cloudhoof was staring wide-eyed at his mentor.
Swanwings pressed her nose against the stump and closed her eyes. She waited until she could feel the warm sun on her back, and then opened her eyes. She was in her usual clearing. She waited for Mosswings to come out of the forest, but she never did. Swanwings walked cautiously toward the spot where Mosswings usually came out, pricking her ears. She heard a faint neighing coming from within the trees. She took a deep breath and walked into the forest. She was immediately plunged into near darkness.
"Mosswings!" she called, suddenly afraid.
She whirled around to go back to the clearing, but it was no longer three. She stood there, shaking. Calm down, she told herself. The neighs must be from StarHerd horses, and they'll take you back. She took a deep breath and followed the sounds. She pricked her ears, and heard a conversation taking place.
"He's a stranger. He can't be trusted," a deep-voiced stallion neighed.
"But we don't know…" a mare neighed.
Swanwings felt a huge burst of relief. It was Mosswings!
She trotted forward to see Mosswings, a huge grey stallion, and a stocky chestnut mare in conversation.
"Mosswings!" Swanwings neighed.
Mosswings looked up in surprise. "Swanwings?"
"What is she doing here?" the stallion asked, glaring at her.
"I was waiting for you, but then you didn't come and I thought I could hear you…" Swanwings began.
"Swanwings," Mosswings cut her off. "Follow me. You shouldn't be here."
She followed Mosswings through the dark forest in silence. When they reached the clearing Mosswings turned to face her.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here, but we had urgent matters to discuss. I sent Riverwings to talk to you, but you must have missed him," Mosswings neighed.
"That's all right. I'm sorry I left," Swanwings replied, feeling ashamed that she hadn't waited.
"There is a stranger coming to the forest," Mosswings neighed.
Swanwings suddenly felt as though she were being sucked away. The clearing started to fade around her.
"He…" Mosswings began, but was cut off as blackness gathered around Swanwings.
She opened her eyes to see the other medicine horses standing around her.
"Are you all right?" Cherrywings asked. "You were asleep for so long, and we didn't want to wake you but we all need to get home."
"That's all right," Swanwings neighed, but she wished they had let her be for just a few more seconds.
What had Mosswings wanted to say about the stranger? She neighed goodbye and flew below the starry sky. As she neared the SwiftHerd border she saw a lone horse standing exactly on the border. She landed behind him. He turned to face her, and she saw that he was a light brown and white pinto with blue eyes so light they were almost grey.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I am Helos," he replied calmly. "I am waiting to be escorted into SwiftHerd territory."
"Well, their camp is that way," Swanwings pointed with her nose. "And it's the middle of the night. I don't think any SwiftHerd warriors will come here."
Helos looked unfazed. "Then I'll have to wait until morning."
Swanwings remembered the StarHerd horses debating about the stranger. This had to be him, but should she invite him back to camp or not?
"I have to get back to my camp," Swanwings neighed. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye," Helos replied.
He watched her intently as she flew into the air and made her way back to camp. She hoped she had made the right decision, but she felt bad. She tried to shake off the feeling of his eyes on her as she flew home.