Swanwings woke up and yawned. Whitewater was sleeping more peacefully now that she had given him herbs. She walked out of her den into the early morning sunlight.
Mudpelt walked over to her. "Did Mistystar come to see you last night?"
"No," Swanwings replied. "Why?"
"She said her head hurt," Mudpelt neighed. "I told her to go see you, but I think she said she needed to go for a walk."
"The fresh air must have revived her," Swanwings neighed.
Mudpelt nodded and walkd away. Swanwings went back into her den to organize herbs. By the time she finished, it was after sunhigh. She walked out of her den to see Mudpelt neighing frantically with Mosstail. Mudpelt walked up to her.
"No horse has seen her," he neighed, his eyes wide.
Swanwings was surprised. Usually Mudpelt never got panicked like this.
"Who?" she asked.
"Mistystar," Mudpelt replied. "I'm going to send out search patrols for her."
Swanwings watched him walk away and shook her head. She prayed to StarHerd that Mistystar would show up.
It had been seven days, and there was still no sign of Mistystar. Swanwings watched Nightriver send out a gathering patrol and shook her head. She didn't know why StarHerd had chosen the ambitious stallion to be deputy, but they must know more than she did.
To her surprise, Swanwings saw Splashstream climbing Grasshill. The Herd gathered there, curious about what she had to say.
"I know we are all grieving for Mistystar. She was a great leader and my closest friend when we were apprentices. But I think we have to accept she is not coming back. We don't want the other Herds to think that we are leaderless and vulnerable, especially StoneHerd! It is time for Nightriver to become leader. I think that Whitewater's poisoning was a sign that StarHerd wanted Nightriver to be deputy. And if Mistystar is coming back, StarHerd can just refuse to give him his name," Splashstream neighed, glaring at the other horses.
The Herd nodded and whinnied their support. Swanwings also nodded. This made sense.
"They're giving up too soon!" Mudpelt snapped from beside her.
"StarHerd will know what to do," Swanwings assured him.
"I will go to MoonTree now, if Swanwings will accompany me," Nightriver neighed.
Swanwings nodded and led him out of the camp. Horses neighed good-luck or whinnied happily. They spent the journey in silence. When they got to the MoonTree, Nightriver's eyes widened.
Swanwings touched her nose to the stump. When she opened her eyes, she saw to her surprise that Nightriver wasn't beside her in her usual meadow. Instead, Mosswings stood in front of her.
"Splashstream poisoned Whitewater," Mosswings neighed. "She made Mistystar eat poison hemlock and whickered Nightriver's name to her when she was hallucinating. Then Splashstream bit Mistystar's throat and left her for dead. Nightriver and Splashstream conspired to think of these things because Nightriver wanted to be the leader, but they knew if Nightriver did these things he would be suspected."
Swanwings was speechless with horror. She felt herself being drawn away.
But she was cut off as Swanwings was pulled away. She opened her eyes to see Nightriver standing next to her, his ears pinned and his eyes hard and cold.
"If you tell any horse, I will kill Wavehoof. I know you won't want your brother's colt to be harmed. And it would be so easy to get him alone since I'm his mentor," Nightriver neighed coldly.
Swanwings nodded meekly. "I won't."
Nightriver nodded and headed back to the camp. Swanwings followed him, full of despair. When they arrived back at camp, the sun was setting. The Herd all looked up expectantly as Nightriver walked back into the camp.
"StarHerd gave me my name," Nightriver neighed. "I am Nightstar now."
The Herd whinnied or neighed his name. Splashstream and Toadnose rubbed noses with him.
Swanwings shook her head angrily. How could they welcome him like that?
She spotted Mudpelt coming toward her and quickly ducked into her den, motioning for him to follow. He looked utterly hopeless.
"So StarHerd knows she's dead," Mudpelt sighed.
Swanwings felt a pang of sorrow for him. She told him what StarHerd had told her, and what Nightriver had threatened.
Mudpelt pricked his ears. "I would never let him hurt Wavehoof."
"Then you can't let him know I told you this," Swanwings urged him. "Keep looking depressed."
Mudpelt nickered bitterly. "That shouldn't be hard. But what are we going to do about Nightriver?"
"Nothing for now, except pray to StarHerd," Swanwings answered. "Because if they can't help us, no horse can."
One moon later, Swanwings woke up to see that Whitewater was awake, and blinked at her as she walked in. She sent a silent prayer of thanks to StarHerd. She hadn't been sure if he would make it.
"Whitewater!" Swanwings neighed joyfully. "It's great to see you awake. You should be better soon. I'm sure Marshmane, Fishleap, and Goosefeather will be very happy. Marshmane has been visiting you at least once a day, until I kick her out."
Whitewater seemed to gain strength from the mention of Marshmane's name. He scrambled to his feet and stood there trembling like a newborn foal.
"So, Whitewater, do you remember what happened?" Swanwings asked.
He closed his eyes, trying to remember
"No," he sighed. "It's like something's blocking my memory of that entire day. I can't even remember why I was in the forest by myself."
Swanwings nodded. "It's probably the poison hemlock."
She was disappointed that Whitewater couldn't remember who had poisoned him. If he told the Herd about Splashstream, then Nightriver wouldn't kill Wavehoof. Then again, there were horses Whitewater cared about that Nightriver could kill. Swanwings shook her head. It was probably better this way.
"You should try walking outside a little," Swanwings suggested. "It will help you gain your strength, and fresh air always helps."
Whitewater nodded and followed Swanwings outside. He breathed in the fresh air, looking peaceful. Marshmane saw him first, and cantered up to him, whinnying with delight. They rubbed noses lovingly. Fishleap and Goosefeather trotted up to him, greeting him warmly.
"Whitewater!" Nightriver neighed when he saw him. "It is truly a blessing from StarHerd that you have recovered. I would be honored if, when you are fully recovered, you would be my deputy."
Whitewater looked surprised, but he nodded. "Of course."
Swanwings shook her head. Now he had won over the horses that thought Whitewater should have been leader. What would they do now?