Mudpelt ran towards the Herdmeet, feeling more excited with every stride. This was the first Herdmeet where he would be deputy! For the first time as they entered Fourstones, Mudpelt followed Ripplestar as she wove through the horses towards the hill where the leaders stood. On the way, Mudpelt spotted Sagetail standing by herself. StoneHerd still hadn't arrived, so he stopped to talk to her.
"Sagetail!" he neighed warmly. "How are you?"
"Not great," she neighed. "Blossomstar's dead. She got sick, and since she was older she couldn't fight it off. Sunwings did all he could."
"That's awful," Mudpelt neighed, shocked.
"And ever since Rabbitstar became leader the horses are even more hostile towards me," Sagetail neighed, looking down.
"Sagetail, I'm sorry," Mudpelt neighed.
Sagetail looked directly at Mudpelt. "I know you're a good horse, Mudpelt. And I don't care what the others say now."
Mudpelt saw a strange glint in her eyes. He wanted to talk to her more, but he saw StoneHerd arrive.
"I've got to go," he neighed.
He walked toward the Highhill, and stood in his place below Ripplestar. He felt as if the whole world was his as he looked out over the gathered horses. He noticed Tumbleweed stand in the deputy's spot for SwiftHerd, and wanted to congratulate him but was cut off as Birchstar called the Herdmeet to begin.
"I'll start," Rabbitstar neighed. "Blossomstar is dead. I have received my name from StarHerd. Tumbleweed is my deputy."
"This is a terrible tragedy," Birchstar neighed.
"How did she die?" Ripplestar asked sadly.
"That is SwiftHerd's business!" Rabbitstar snapped.
Ripplestar stepped back. She looked surprised, but she quickly recovered.
"I have named Mudpelt as my deputy in Mistyfur's place, as she has had a colt," Ripplestar neighed.
"In TreeHerd…" Birchstar began, but broke off as a horse walked into Fourstones from SwiftHerd territory and began walking toward the leaders.
The horses whickered among themselves as the horse passed them. As it drew closer, Mudpelt saw that it was Helos.
"How dare he interrupt a Herdmeet!" Birchstar neighed.
"You know him?" Ripplestar asked.
"Yes, he observed our ways," Birchstar replied.
"He did that to us," Rabbitstar put in.
"And us," Ripplestar added.
They all looked at Icestar expectantly.
"And us as well," he neighed reluctantly.
"Leaders," Helos neighed. "I am the leader of a SunHerd, a Herd that is very large."
As he said this, horses appeared at the edge of Fourstones, totally surrounding it with other horses behind them.
"We have long looked for a place to settle down," Helos continued. "And then, what luck when a mare told me all about a place where four Herds lived. If I could get you to leave, we could finally find a home."
The horses were silent with shock. Mudpelt watched in dismay as Sagetail walked up to join him.
"Traitor!" Rabbitstar neighed furiously.
"Sagetail, don't do this!" Tumbleweed pleaded.
Sagetail looked sadly at him, but then looked away.
"We will give you until tomorrow at moonhigh to leave," Helos neighed. "If you don't leave, we will kill you."
He turned and walked away, followed by Sagetail. When he reached the SwiftHerd border, his horses turned and followed him. Mudpelt felt angry at the arrogance of Helos. How dare he think he could take over WaterHerd?
"This Herdmeet is over," Ripplestar quickly neighed.
Fourstones quickly turned into chaos as the horses tried to get back to their camps as quickly as possible. Ripplestar silently led them at a gallop back to the camp. They swam through the River and trotted into the camp.
"Let all the horses of WaterHerd gather underneath the Grasshill for a Herd meeting!" Ripplestar neighed impatiently as she climbed Grasshill.
The horses that hadn't been to the Herdmeet gathered there, looking up at her questioningly. Ripplestar quickly told them what had happened.
"We're doomed," neighed Frogleg, glaring around at the other horses as if they were contradicting him.
"Don't worry," Ripplestar neighed. "We won't give up. We will fight for our home and for our lives!"
The horses whinnied and stomped.
"Mudpelt and Toadnose take watch," Ripplestar ordered before disappearing into her den.
Mudpelt and Toadnose stood silently as the other horses slept and the moon rose.
"Mudpelt," a horse whickered softly.
Mudpelt pricked up his ears and saw Sagetail cautiously walking towards him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked angrily.
It was Sagetail's fault this had happened.
"I need to talk to you, Toadnose, Fishleap, and Whitehoof," Sagetail neighed. "Please."
Mudpelt shook his head, but walked towards the nursery to get Fishleap.
"Toadnose, get Whitewater," he neighed over his shoulder.
He touched Fishleap's shoulder in the nursery, silently gesturing for her to follow him. He led her to where Sagetail stood. All four WaterHerd horses stared at Sagetail.
"I have come to offer you sanctuary," Sagetail neighed. "You were so nice to me on our journey together. Come with me to SunHerd, and you won't be forced to leave or be killed. We will treat you like one of us, unlike what SwiftHerd did for me. I already offered it to the SwiftHerd members that went with us, but they refused. So what do you say?"
Mudpelt glanced around and saw that the firm resolve he felt was shared by the others.
"We can't do that, Sagetail. We are WaterHerd, and we will die WaterHerd," Mudpelt neighed.
Sagetail stepped back, looking hurt.
"Fine," she neighed, and disappeared into the night.
Mudpelt looked around at the horses around him, and knew that WaterHerd would stand together tomorrow no matter what.