Mudhoof trembled with excitement. I hope I'll be chosen to go to the Herdmeet, he thought eagerly. The Herdmeet was where all four Herds met at Fourstones to share news.
Reedstar started listing off names of those chosen to go; "Silverstream, Ottertail, Mudhoof, Frogleg, Splashhoof, Mistyfur, and Waterpearl will come. The rest of you will guard the camp."
Mudhoof noticed Toadhoof pawing the ground and looking mutinous, but Minnowmane, his mentor, whinnied, "You should not be ashamed to defend the camp. We must be ready for any attack."
The horses that overheard the buckskin stallion nodded in agreement. Mudhoof looked up to see Swanhoof coming up to him.
"Are you ready?" she asked, her eyes gleaming with excitement.
He nodded, drawing himself up.
Reedstar looked the chosen horses over, then signaled with his head and they started trotting up the slope. To get to the Herdmeet, they had to go parallel with the Great River, away from Nofurplace. Mudhoof thought with trepidation of the river they would have to swim through to get to the Herdmeet. He had had only one swimming lesson, and he didn't want to appear weak in front of the other warriors. It wasn't as deep or fast as the Great River, but it didn't have the Island for easier crossing. Mudhoof looked at his sister, for once wishing for her wings.
When the group came to the River, Reedstar signaled for a stop.
"I will go first to see how deep it is," he neighed.
Reedstar stepped into the rushing water, carefully placing his hooves on the rocks.
Mudhoof sighed in relief when Reedstar made it across without swimming. The other horses started crossing, whinnying and joking with each other as if they did this every day.
"See you on the other side," Swanhoof neighed, lifting her wings and flying to the opposite bank.
Mudhoof looked down at the rushing water and gritted his teeth. He stepped carefully in, hoping not to slip. The water swirled around his legs as he walked to the other side. He jumped up onto the opposite bank, letting out a breath of relief. It hadn't been so bad after all.
After they had all crossed, Reedstar signaled for them to move off again. They trotted along a path worn by many hooves. Mudhoof saw ahead a wide, grassy meadow, with four huge boulders at each of its corners. He looked past his Herdmates and saw there were horses already there! Reedstar led the way as they trotted into the clearing, with the other Herd staring at them. Then, the two Herds began to mingle, horses finding old acquaintances or friends.
Swanhoof whinnied to him, "I've got to go meet with the other medicine horses. Good luck!"
Mudhoof watched her go, and then turned to see Ottertail trot up to him.
"The other Herd here now is TreeHerd. It is good to meet with horses from other Herds because you need to learn their weaknesses and strengths. But make sure you don't give anything away at the same time," she neighed.
Mudhoof nodded. He understood how important it was to learn other Herds' weaknesses. He looked at the TreeHerd horses. They were small, and, to Mudhoof's surprise, were all dark browns and blacks. Mudhoof was used to WaterHerd's diversity in colors.
"Ottertail, why are the TreeHerd all almost the same color?" Mudhoof asked.
"A very good observation," Ottertail nodded. "They are all colored to blend in with the shadows of the trees where they live to hide from predators."
Mudhoof heard the pounding of hooves and looked up to see a group of horses trotting into the clearing. They were small like TreeHerd, but very lean. They were also all brown or light brown.
"That's SwiftHerd," Ottertail whinnied as they dispersed among the other Herds.
Mudhoof nodded. They must be light brown to blend in with the tall, dry grass in their territory.
"But why are WaterHerd horses multicolored?" Mudhoof asked.
"We don't need to blend in because we can swim, and escape in the water if predators come," Ottertail answered.
Only a few heartbeats later, another Herd trotted into the clearing. Mudhoof's eyes widened in surprise as he looked at them. They're huge, he thought, looking at their rippling muscle. They were all grays, and their eyes glinted coldly in the moonlight.
Mudhoof remembered the crags of their territory and knew they must be grey to blend in with the rocks.
"That's StoneHerd," Ottertail neighed.
Mudhoof could see from her slightly pinned ears that she didn't trust them one whisker-length. As soon as the horse at the front of StoneHerd, a light grey stallion, entered the clearing he pushed his way through the throng of horses until he was on top of a slight hill, almost like Grasshill back at the WaterHerd camp.
"That's Icestar on the Highhill, where the leaders speak during the Herdmeet," Ottertail whinnied.
Icestar let out a loud neigh that quieted the horses. Reedstar and the other two leaders pushed their way through the crowd, and joined Icestar on the Highhill.
Ottertail softly whickered in his ear, "The light brown dapple mare is Blossomstar of SwiftHerd and the dark chestnut stallion is Rowanstar of TreeHerd."
Mudhoof looked up as Blossomstar stepped forward. "SwiftHerd is enjoying a bountiful Greenleaf. We have a new warrior, Bluebell."
Mudhoof looked up to see the horses around a lean, light brown mare congratulating her.
Rowanstar stepped forward next. "TreeHerd had a family of foxes move into our territory, but we drove them out."
There was a murmur of appreciation from the gathered horses.
Reedstar stepped forward. "WaterHerd is pleased to announce that it has a new warrior, Mistyfur."
Mudhoof whinnied loudly to congratulate her; she looked down at the ground shyly as horses from all the Herds congratulated her.
"We also have two new apprentices, Swanhoof and Mudhoof," Reedstar continued.
Mudhoof looked up to see the horses around him neighing their congratulations.
Icestar stepped forward, looking over the gathered horses coldly. "We have a new warrior, Hawktalon."
Mudhoof looked over to see a powerfully built dark grey stallion nodding in response to the murmured congratulations of the horses around him.
"Also," Icestar neighed. "We had a cougar come out of the higher mountains into our territory."
There were murmurs of apprehension; cougars could be a threat to all of the Herds.
"Luckily, our warriors drove it out of our territory," Icestar continued.
There were whickers of relief.
"Into WaterHerd's territory," Icestar neighed with a cold glance at Reedstar.
Instantly, WaterHerd horses started neighing insults at Icestar, pawing and rearing where they stood.
Ottertail pinned her ears and turned to Mudhoof. "And we've left the camp almost totally unguarded!"
Reedstar glared at Icestar with unguarded hate, his teeth bared and his ears pinned. Icestar just stared back, looking smug.
Reedstar flipped his head. "This Herdmeet is over!"
He trotted down the Highhill, the WaterHerd horses quickly trotting to his side. They galloped away from Fourstones as fast as they could.
Mudhoof's head spun. His first Herdmeet had turned into a nightmare. He wished he could have kicked the smug look off of Icestar's face and admired Reedstar's control.
The horses didn't take the time to cross the river carefully this time, instead galloping through it.
Swanhoof caught up to him when they were across the river, her eyes wide with fear. They didn't speak, but galloped on, desperate to know their Herd's fate.