Mudpelt walked with the other horses to the Herdmeet. Whitewater was fully cured now. The air wasn't as cold, and the River was deep and fast-flowing. Newleaf had come at last.
They were the last Herd to arrive, and as they settled down Rabbitstar stepped forward to begin the Herdmeet. Mudpelt noticed that Birchstar wasn't there, but another horse had taken his place.
Nightriver stepped forward first. "I am sorry to say that Mistystar is dead. She appointed me her deputy when Whitewater was poisoned, but disappeared soon after. StarHerd gave me my name and after Whitewater recovered I named him my deputy."
Rabbitstar stepped forward next. "We saw some wolves on our territory, but they left after a few days."
The TreeHerd mare stepped forward. "Birchstar was killed by a bear. But before he died, he named me as his deputy. StarHerd has given me my name, and I have named Owltree as my deputy."
Hawkstar, no, Hawktalon, Mudpelt told himself, stepped forward last. "Blizzardstar was killed."
Mudpelt braced himself for Hawktalon to tell the Herds that WaterHerd had killed him.
"It was tragic, but StarHerd gave me my name. I have named Sleettail as my deputy," he neighed.
Mudpelt sighed in relief.
"I have an announcement to make," Hawktalon neighed. "All of the leaders have thought long and hard about the way of the Herds. What do we gain by fighting each other when by doing so we weaken ourselves to the true threats that come from outside; such as predators, Nofurs, and loners like SunHerd? We should live in peace and cooperation. That's why we have decided that we should all join together and become one Herd: MoonHerd. I will be the high leader, and your leaders will rule under me. They have already agreed to this plan."
The other three leaders dipped their heads to him. Some of the Herd members, mostly StoneHerd, whinnied their support. Others looked at each other in doubt and confusion.
"I will make my camp with my most loyal warriors here at Fourstones," Hawktalon continued. "If you have any problems that cannot be solved within your Herd, come and see me and the council and we will do our best to help you. This Herdmeet is over."
Mudpelt felt hot with anger. Mistystar never would have stood for this. He wanted to kick the smug look off of Hawktalon's face. He joined his Herd as they trotted home. He slept little that night, as he thought in anger of what had happened.
The next morning Nightriver assigned four gathering patrols.
"What's the fourth one for?" Whitewater asked.
"It's for Hawkstar and the council," Nightriver answered. "They have better things to do than look for food all day."
Mudpelt, to his great annoyance, was assigned to lead this patrol. He chose Mosstail and Lakenose to go with him. Since the River wasn't as cold, he added some riverweeds to the pile of grass.
The horses each took a large mouthful and swam across the River toward Fourstones. He saw Hawktalon standing surrounded by what must be "the council": Bushtail and Beechpelt from TreeHerd, Rosethorn and Brackentail from SwiftHerd, Wolfpelt and Bouldermane from StoneHerd, and Splashstream and Toadnose from WaterHerd. Splashstream must have manipulated her mate for him to be here, because Mudpelt knew Toadnose would never have done this on his own.
Mudpelt and the others put their grass in a pile. Hawktalon nodded at them and they turned to leave. He saw a patrol of SwiftHerd horses also bringing grass, but he turned away.
He arrived back in camp fuming. This wasn't right! This was against the Warrior Code, and everything he had ever known. He hoped that StarHerd would do something soon, because Hawktalon had to be stopped.