Mudpelt whinnied one last goodbye to Mistyfur and Wavefoal and backed out of the nursery. Ripplestar was gathering the warriors and apprentices near Grasshill. All around him horses were saying goodbyes or expressing their love before the battle.
"You're not going to let the apprentices fight, right?" Whitewater asked Ripplestar.
"We need every horse we can get," Ripplestar replied.
"But they're not ready! You can't do this!" Whitewater neighed furiously.
Ripplestar flicked her ears back in surprise, and signaled Mudpelt to come over.
"Whitewater, stop!" Mudpelt neighed, pushing in front of him.
Whitewater seemed to deflate. "I'm sorry; I'm just worried about them."
"That's understandable, but next time try to control yourself," Ripplestar neighed coolly.
Whitewater nodded meekly and walked away.
"Ripplestar," Ottertail neighed. "We'll fight for you."
Silverstream and Frogleg nodded.
Ripplestar hesitated, but then shook her head. "The Herd needs you here. If we don't come back, you'll need to lead the broodmares and Swanwings to safety."
Ottertail nodded solemnly. "We'll make sure they're safe, Ripplestar."
The elders walked to a corner of the camp. Silverstream whinnied goodbye to Mudpelt and he returned it. Then Swanwings rushed up to him.
"Oh, Mudpelt! Be careful!" she neighed.
"I'll be fine," he replied, gently nudging her.
"May StarHerd watch over you," she neighed solemnly.
Mudpelt walked away from her and stood next to Ripplestar.
"You are all brave warriors," she neighed, looking over them. "Let your heart stay true to WaterHerd. Let's go."
She trotted away with her warriors following her. Mudpelt looked back to see the elders, the broodmares, and Swanwings watching them silently. He trotted behind Ripplestar as they crossed the Island. When they reached the border, Ripplestar didn't even pause. It felt strange to be on a different Herd's territory, but he shrugged it off.
Ripplestar led them into the SwiftHerd camp, where SwiftHerd horses watched them warily.
"You are the only ones to show up," Rabbitstar snapped.
"The others will come," Ripplestar responded. "Give them time."
Rabbitstar snorted and walked to a group of SwiftHerd warriors to confer with them. Mudpelt heard the sound of hoofbeats and looked up to see Birchstar leading his TreeHerd warriors.
"You came," Ripplestar neighed warmly.
"Of course," Birchstar replied.
Then more hoofbeats pounded across the grass. Icestar led his StoneHerd warriors to a halt next to Rabbitstar.
"Icestar! You came!" Rabbitstar neighed, trying to hide his surprise.
"You didn't think we would come?" Icestar neighed, pinning his ears.
"I…well… it's moonhigh. We'd better go," Rabbitstar snapped turning away.
The leaders gathered their horses and as one they trotted towards where SunHerd had made camp. They stopped at the place that Rabbitstar had told them was a good place for a battle and waited.
Mudpelt looked around at his Herdmates around him. Mosstail and Beaversplash were behind him, pressed on either side of Lakehoof. Splashstream and Toadnose stood side by side. Whitewater and Marshhoof looked adoringly at each other. Goosefeather stood by himself, looking nervous.
Then, at once SunHerd horses appeared, trotting towards the SwiftHerd camp. They stopped when they saw the four Herds together. A lone horse broke away and trotted toward them. Helos, Mudpelt thought angrily.
"Have you decided to leave?" Helos asked, his pale eyes glinting in the moonlight.
"Never," Ripplestar neighed.
"This is our home," Birchstar put in.
"Then you have chosen to die," Helos neighed, surveying them coldly. "It was a good trick to join together, but it won't help you."
He turned and calmly trotted back to his warriors. Mudpelt looked at them. There were so many. How could they defeat them?"
He heard loud neighing and whinnying come from SunHerd as they started galloping towards them. The Herds remained silent, waiting grimly for SunHerd to attack. Mudpelt saw Lakehoof shrink into Mosstail, and then they attacked.
Mudpelt dodged the first horse as it leaped toward him. He reared up at the second, a dark brown mare. She was fierce, but not trained in battle. Mudpelt easily dodged her attacks, snaking his neck in to bite her.
He reared up at her, but before he could strike a huge weight barreled in to his stomach, knocking him of his feet. He smashed into the ground, wincing at the pain in his leg. He looked up to see a huge grey stallion standing over him. Icestar came up behind the stallion and kicked out at him. The stallion turned to face his new opponent, giving Mudpelt the opportunity to scramble up.
Mudpelt caught Icestar's eye and nodded to him. The grey stallion reared up at Icestar. Mudpelt started toward them, but two small and wiry stallions came at him from both sides. He was forced to concentrate on keeping two horses away from him, and his injured leg made him wince every time he put weight on it.
Mudpelt saw Icestar fall under the stallion. He leaped toward him, but the two stallions blocked him. The grey stallion reared up and came down again and again on Icestar. Mudpelt screamed in anger and pushed past the two stallions towards the grey stallion. He knocked into him, making him fall. He saw the grey stallion underneath him, looking scared, next to Icestar's body. He could have killed him, but only the Warrior Code held him back. A warrior doesn't need to kill to win. Instead, he came down on his leg, crippling him so he couldn't fight anymore.
Mudpelt turned away and quickly scanned the battle. The amount of horses still fighting were dwindling. It looked like SunHerd was losing. The few SunHerd horses that were left were chased off by a patrol of SwiftHerd horses.
Mudpelt didn't see Helos or Sagetail. He wasn't surprised they had fled when things started looking bad. Mudpelt thanked StarHerd for letting them win. He shuddered as he looked at all the bodies lying on the grass, and asked that all the Herd horses go to StarHerd. They deserved it, especially Icestar.