Ripplestar can't be dead, Swanwings thought as she frantically trotted toward her. She put her ear by Ripplestar's nose, hoping to hear breath. There was none, and more than that she seemed empty. Swanwings raised her head and glanced around at her Herdmates around her.
"She's dead," she neighed mournfully.
Whinnies of grief broke out across the camp. Swanwings forced herself to walk toward Nightriver. She knew he needed her more than Ripplestar did. She was glad to hear him breathing normally, but he had a huge bruise on his haunches and his back leg was stiff.
Swanwings nudged Nightriver. He blinked at her.
"Can you get up?" she asked.
He struggled to his hooves. He limped behind her into her den, where she treated his wounds.
By the end of the day, she had treated almost every horse for injuries. Ripplestar had been buried, and every horse was exhausted. Swanwings was tired as well, but she knew what she had to do couldn't wait. She walked up to Mudpelt and Mistyfur, who were walking towards where the warriors slept.
"Mistyfur," Swanwings neighed. "It is time to go to the MoonTree."
"Can't it wait until morning?" Mudpelt asked. "You're both exhausted."
"No, Mudpelt," Mistyfur replied. "I'm ready now."
Swanwings led Mistyfur to MoonTree. It took longer than Swanwings was used to since she wasn't flying and the fastest pace they could manage was a walk. The moon was bright and helped them see where they were going.
Swanwings stopped in front of the MoonTree. Mistyfur's eyes widened when she saw it, and she cautiously stepped toward it. It sparkled in the moon's light. Swanwings nodded encouragingly to her and touched her nose to the stump. She felt herself being drawn away. She opened her eyes and saw Mistyfur standing next to her in her usual meadow.
"It's beautiful," Mistyfur neighed, her eyes wide with wonder.
Swanwings looked up to see thousands of stars spiral closer and closer, growing until they formed the starlit shapes of horses. Swanwings picked out the familiar faces of Mosswings, Riverwings, Reedstar, Ripplestar, Waterpearl, and others. Ripplestar walked up to Mistyfur, gazing at her kindly.
"You were always a great deputy, Mistyfur. The Herd needs your wisdom and courage now. Lead them well. I now name you Mistystar!" Ripplestar neighed.
The name was neighed by all the StarHerd horses. Ripplestar stepped back, and the StarHerd horses spiraled back up into Silverpelt. Swanwings felt the familiar cold sensation dragging her back.
She opened her eyes to see Mistyfur-no, Mistystar—blinking back at her. Mistystar's eyes sparkled.
"We'd better go back," Swanwings neighed.
Mistystar nodded and walked by her side.
"How do you feel?" Swanwings asked.
"I feel more complete…inside," Mistystar tried to explain.
"I understand," Swanwings assured her. "That's how I felt when I became a medicine horse apprentice."
They walked in silence the rest of the way back to the camp. Mosstail stood guard.
"How did it go?" Mosstail asked excitedly.
"I'm Mistystar now," Mistystar answered proudly.
"Congratulations!" Mosstail rubbed noses with her happily.
Mistystar, looking more confident now, climbed the Grasshill.
"Let all of the members of WaterHerd gather here for a Herd meeting!" she neighed loudly.
The sleeping Herd quickly awoke, blearily walking to below the Grasshill. Swanwings took her spot, noting that there was no deputy to stand near her.
"StarHerd has given me my name," Mistystar neighed proudly.
The Herd whinnied in delight and called out "Mistystar!" Mudpelt neighed the loudest, his neigh ringing through the camp.
"And my new deputy will be Whitewater," Mistystar finished.
There were many startled snorts.
"He is too young!" Splashstream neighed angrily.
"He doesn't have enough experience," Nightriver added.
Whitewater looked shocked and confused. Marshmane glared at her brother and mother from his side. Many horses looked confused, but didn't want to contradict Mistystar. Whitewater took a deep breath and hardened his resolve. He walked up to Mistystar and dipped his head to her.
"I will try my best to be a worthy deputy," he neighed determinedly.
He took the deputy's spot and stared out over the Herd. Swanwings knew Whitewater would have to earn his claim of deputyship. With StarHerd's help she hoped the Herd would see that he was the right choice.