Tabby approached the counter at Brightblade’s antique shop. “Um, excuse me Mr. Brightblade; little Faline knocked this off the shelf and it broke.”
Brightblade took the intricately carved box and examined it. “Hm, it looks like just a little bit of the trim fell off. I should be able to get it back on. It’s no big deal.”
“Then I won’t have to pay for it?”
“Oh good. I just came in here to kill some time. I didn’t want to buy anything.”
Brightblade set the box under the counter. “Right. Just try not to break anything else.”
“I didn’t break it! Faline did!”
* * *
After the store closed for the day, Brightblade took the box into the back room to re-attach the trim. As he was about to set the loose piece in place, a booming voice rattled the shop.
“Hey Little-Blade! You in there?”
Brightblade almost dropped the delicate antique. He set down the box and stood up, shaking his head. “What is that loudmouth doing here?” He went to the front door of the shop and found a large bison with his face pressed against the glass, peering into the dark building. A grin spread across the bison’s face when he saw Brightblade approaching. Brightblade couldn’t help smiling also. He unlatched the door and quickly stepped aside as the massive bison almost toppled into the shop.
Regaining his footing, the bison slapped Brightblade on the shoulder. “Long time no see Little-Blade! It’s good to see you again!”
“Yeah, Bullhorn, it has been awhile.”
“Hey! My name is Sitting Bull, not Bullhorn. You should know that by now!”
“Yeah, and my name is Brightblade, not Little-Blade.”
Sitting Bull laughed. “Brightblade is a man’s name, Little-Blade. You’ll have to earn it. When I heard about you and that Warrior’s Horn quest, I thought maybe you’d be ready, but then I find you running this antique store… man, you’ve let me down.”
“What’s wrong with running an antique store, and where did you hear about the Warrior’s Horn? That’s not really general knowledge.”
“The Horn? There’s been this black bird hangin’ round the Sweat Lodge going on about the great Brightblade Warpony and his heroic quest that saved all Ponyland.”
Brightblade nodded. “That would be Breeks.”
“I never got his name. But anyway, a hero should be doing something better than peddling hand-me-downs! You’re a disgrace to heros!”
“Well, Bullhorn, I’ve never heard anything about you saving Ponyland. I may be ‘peddling hand-me-downs’, but I’m still one up on you.”
“There’s more than one way to be a man! I’ve got a wife and three kids! How about you? You probably don’t even have a steady girlfriend!”
“As a matter of fact, I do have a steady girlfriend.”
“Well, Little-Blade, you’ve taken a step in the right direction. Once you make that filly your wife, then you’ll be ready for Brightblade!”
“Great, now you’re starting to sound like her. She already has her nephew calling me uncle.”
“What? Then why haven’t you married her already? Any man that’s got a girl like that and doesn’t marry her barely deserves Little-Blade.”
“Hey now! Watch it. You are a guest in my shop. Don’t go insulting me!”
“Calm down, Little-Blade! I’m just funnin’ with you. Say, why don’t we get a drink and catch up on old times?”
“Sure, sounds like fun. I’ve got some stuff I’ve got to put away in the back; then we can go over to the SSSS.”
“‘Wha!? The Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe? Is that where all the heroes in Dream Valley hang out?”
“Actually, yes. In fact, everyone in Dream Valley hangs out there.”
Sitting Bull followed Brightblade into the back room where the small wooden box sat on the work bench. When Sitting Bull saw it, his eyes went wide. “Little-Blade, I’ll give you twenty jangles for that box!”
“Uh, the price is only ten.”
“Fine then, make it thirty!”
“You don’t seem to get the point of haggling, Bullhorn.”
“Yeah, whatever. Fifty jangles is my final offer!”
“Alright, I’ll take your money. Would you mind if I re-attach the trim before you take possession?”
“That won’t be necessary, Little-Blade. I know the guy who made it.”
“You’re kidding! This thing must be close to one hundred years old!”
“Yeah. Grandfather has been around for a while.”
“Your grandfather made this?”
“No, an old beaver that everybody calls Grandfather. It’s like his name.”
“Whatever. Here you go.” Brightblade handed his old friend the antique box. “That will be fifty jangles.”
“Right, well, I don’t have the money on me. Why don’t you come along tomorrow when I show it to Grandfather. We’ll stop by my place along the way and pick up the money.”
“Um, okay. I’ll have to call Medley and ask her to watch the shop tomorrow.”
* * *
A short time later, the two friends sat at the SSSS reminiscing about their childhood. “And remember that time we were playing cowboys and Indians and you almost hanged yourself? Ha, that was a hoot!”
“Hey, Brightblade!” Their conversation was cut short by the arrival of Medley. “Who’s your new friend?”
“Oh, hi Medley. He’s not a new friend; Sitting Bull and I grew up together. Sitting Bull, this is my girlfriend, Medley.”
“So you’re who’s tryin’ to get this guy to settle down, eh? Well, I wish you luck.”
Medley giggled. “Why, thank you, Mr. Sitting Bull. He’s being very stubborn, though. Maybe you could help me soften him up?”
“Well, I’ve been working on him. Tomorrow he’s going to meet my wife and once he sees how happy the two of us are together, I’m sure he won’t be able to propose fast enough!”
“Hey, Medley, would you mind watching the shop tomorrow while Sitting Bull and I take care of some business?”
“Sure, no problem. And Sitting Bull, make sure he picks out a nice ring. See you later!”
“Bullhorn, did you have to encourage her like that?”
“You weren’t doing anything, Little-Blade. I was just doing you a favor. Speaking of favors, mind if I crash at your place tonight? If I walked all the way home I wouldn’t get there until midnight and since we’ll be headed that way anyway on our way to Grandfather’s…”
* * *
The next morning the two friends set out together. By noon they had arrived at Sitting Bull’s home, a large building with a sign reading “The Sweat Lodge”. Brightblade stared in amazement. “When you mentioned the ‘Sweat Lodge’ yesterday I thought you were talking about a traditional Native Pony sauna, but this is a gymnasium!”
“Yeah, a bison’s gotta make a living. There’s a lot of money in personal fitness. Come on, I actually live out back.”
The large bison led his friend around the gymnasium. Behind the large building was a modest home. Two little boy bison ran around in the front lawn. “Hey kids, Daddy’s home!” the boisterous bison called out. The two youngsters came running.
“Daddy, Daddy! What did you bring us?” asked the younger of the two.
Sitting Bull grinned and put his forehooves behind his back. “I know I’ve got something for you here somewhere.” He pulled his hooves out from behind his back and handed each of his sons a candy bar. “Now don’t let your mother see you eating those.”
The younger son took his candy and ran off. The elder son looked at Brightblade for awhile and said, “So this is Brightblade, the great warrior? He looks more like a Little-Blade to me.” And with that, he too ran off while Sitting Bull laughed heartily.
“Come on, buddy, I’ve got to introduce you to Running Water and little Bubbling Brook.” As they approached the front door, it swung open. Standing in the doorway was Sitting Bull’s wife, holding their little daughter in her arms. “Honey, I’m home!” Sitting Bull bellowed.
“I can see that. Just like I saw you give the boys candy right before dinner.”
“They’re growing boys; they need the energy. And this is my old buddy, Little-Blade.”
“My name’s Brightblade. And I’m glad to meet you, Running Water.”
“Likewise. Why don’t you two come in and sit down. Dinner will be ready in a few minutes.”
* * *
After dinner, and a long-winded explanation of why he needed fifty jangles to pay for Grandfather’s box (Brightblade didn’t volunteer any information on how Sitting Bull argued the price up from ten), Sitting Bull and Brightblade set out for Grandfather’s remote home. They went up into the wooded hills and came to a vast lake in a shallow valley. “Grandfather’s lodge is about halfway around the lake,” Sitting Bull explained. The lodge was actually on an island accessed by a rickety old wooden bridge. Across the bridge was a humble lodge built in the traditional way. Sitting Bull pushed aside the colorful blanket hanging in the doorway, rattling a set of wind chimes in the process. “Grandfather! You home? It’s me, Sitting Bull.”
“Come in, Sitting Bull,” came a squeaky old voice from the shadowy interior of the lodge. “And the Warpony, also.”
Brightblade and Sitting Bull had to duck their heads to get through the doorway. The lodge was lit by a single oil lamp made from a gourd hanging from the rafters, along with numerous bags, trinkets, and foodstuffs. A large colorful blanket was laid out on the floor. Sitting on the edge of the blanket across from the doorway was a little gray beaver. The two visitors sat down on the blanket.
“Grandfather, I found this on my trip to Dream Valley. I was hoping you could fix the broken trim.” Sitting Bull set the box on the blanket.
Grandfather reached out and lifted the lid. “Where it the talisman that was in the box?”
Sitting Bull looked at Brightblade, who shrugged. “That box was empty when I bought the antique store. And I don’t remember any talismans.”
The old beaver shook his head. “This is not good. The evil spirit that I imprisoned in that box is free again and he will remain free until the talisman is returned.”
“Evil spirit?” Sitting Bull was dumbfounded.
“Wendigo,” said Grandfather. “Years ago I bound him to the talisman and sealed it, and him, into this box. Now the seal has been broken and the talisman lost.” He pointed a long bony finger at Brightblade. “You must recover the talisman and bring it to me so that I can re-seal it.”
“What! Why me?”
“You have the Warrior’s Horn. With it, you will be able to subdue Wendigo.” Grandfather took up a gnarled stick and lifted a pouch from its rafter peg. He rummaged through the pouch and produced a scroll which he unrolled on the blanket before him. On the scroll was a drawing of a three-legged pony and a crude map. “That is the talisman, and this map shows where I found his lair when I defeated him so long ago. He may have returned to his old lair,” the ancient beaver explained.
“All right, but it’ll take a while. I’ll have to go all the way back to Dream Valley to get the Horn.”
“We should go back to my place for the night and head for Dream Valley first thing in the morning, Little-Blade.”
“Thanks, Bullhorn. Don’t worry, Grandfather. We will get the talisman back!”
* * *
The two friends arrived at Brightblade’s antique shop about an hour before noon the next day. “Hey, Brightblade! How was your trip?” Medley greeted them.
“Very interesting, and not entirely in a good way,” the Warpony replied.
“I’ll fill you in on the details later. Right now I need the Warrior’s Horn.”
“What! What would you need that for!?”
“Just some evil spirit that needs puttin’ down,” replied Sitting Bull. “Nothin’ to worry yourself about.”
Brightblade called Sitting Bull into the back room, “Hey Bullhorn, come here and give me a hand.”
“Yeah, Little-Blade, I’m comin’.”
“Wait a minute! What are you talking about?” Medley called after the bison.
“Can’t talk now, we’ve got guy stuff to take care of.”
Moments later, in the back room, Brightblade handed Sitting Bull a large leatherbound ledger. “What’s this for?” the bison asked.
“The old mare who owned this place before me kept meticulous records. I want you to see if you can find any reference to the talisman while I get the Horn.”
“This book is huge! How do you expect me to find anything in there?”
“Just give it a look. If you do find something, it might give us a clue that will help find Wendigo.”
“Yeah, okay. Just hurry up with that horn. I can’t wait to finally see it.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t be long.” Brightblade went down into the basement. It was too damp down here to store any valuable antiques, but the Warrior’s Horn was not affected by the dampness. Brightblade made his way to the far corner of the room where a large safe sat. He turned the knob, right, then left, then right again. The heavy door swung open. Inside the safe was a box. Brightblade lifted the box out and set it on the floor. He opened the box and pushed aside the paper wrapping that concealed the gleaming steel of the Warrior’s Horn. Closing the box and the safe, Brightblade returned upstairs. “I’ve got it. Did you find anything, Bullhorn?”
“Yeah Little-Blade. At least I think I did. This one entry is written in red ink. ‘Hand Carved Figurine: SOLD - 3 jangles’. The date is fifty years ago.”
“Fifty years? Wendigo has been loose for that long? You’d think he would have caused some trouble that we would have heard of since then.”
“Maybe. But these spirits can be strange that way. They hate being imprisoned but they don’t mind waiting. He could be waiting for Grandfather to die so he can’t imprison him again. Or maybe he’s building his strength. Whatever the case, we can’t underestimate him.”
“Right. Let’s have a look at Grandfather’s map, and see where he’s supposed to be.”
“See where who’s supposed to be?” Medley asked.
“Aren’t you supposed to be watching the shop?”
“I closed it for the day. What kind of girlfriend would I be if I didn’t worry about my boyfriend? Especially when he’s talking about hunting evil spirits?”
“Dang, Little-Blade, if you don’t marry her soon, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
“Medley, we are hunting an evil spirit named Wendigo. He was imprisoned by a shaman a long time ago and fifty years ago he escaped. All we have to go on is an old map showing where the shaman caught him last time. That’s what’s going on. As long as I have the Warrior’s Horn, I shouldn’t have any trouble dealing with Wendigo. The problem may be finding him. If you want to help, while Bullhorn and I are checking out his old lair, you can go to the library and look up the newspapers from fifty years ago and see if anything unusual happened. It could turn out to be our only lead to find him.”
“Wow. You talk about this stuff like it’s an everyday thing. I’m kind of overwhelmed.”
Brightblade shrugged. “Well, I’ve had some experience with this sort of thing. What’s your excuse, Bullhorn?”
“I was brought up on stories about evil spirits like Wendigo, most of them coming from Grandfather himself. I guess I just took it for granted that that sort of stuff was real, even though I had never seen any of it myself.”
Medley was confused. “That’s the second time you’ve mentioned Grandfather. Who is he?”
“He is the shaman who imprisoned Wendigo; and once we find Wendigo, he is gong to have to imprison him again.”
“He’s still alive? If Wendigo just escaped fifty years ago then he must have been imprisoned longer ago then that, Grandfather must be…”
“Yeah, he’s really old. Now, Little-Blade and I really need to be going.”
“Oh, right. Well, I should get to the library then. See you two in a day or two?”
Brightblade nodded. “Yeah. And Medley, I…”
Sitting Bull grabbed Brightblade by the shoulders and dragged him from the antique store. “Come on, we’ve got a Wendigo to catch; this is no time to get emotional.”
“Bullhorn, I will never understand you. You get on my case for not marrying her and when I try to tell her something important, you cut me off!”
“There is a time for romance and there is a time for action. Now is the time for action! Now can I see the Horn, please? You’re not going to keep it boxed up all the way to the lair, are you?”
“I’m not going to wear the horn around Dream Valley. Once we’re out of town I’ll put it on.”
“Great, then let’s pick up the pace!” The large bison grabbed the pony and ran full tilt to the edge of town. Sitting Bull finally stopped in a grassy field just outside of Dream Valley. “Okay, let’s see it.” he panted.
“Alright.” Brightblade pulled the gleaming helm from its box. The whorled horn reflected the sunlight in all directions. The Warpony set the mystic relic upon his head. The horn began to glow faintly.
Sitting Bull was mesmerized. “Ooo! Does it always do that?”
“K’haar!” The calm of the day was shattered by the call of a raven. “The Warrior’s Horn only glows when there is evil about! Is that not so, Warpony?”
“Breeks, my old fried! I haven’t seen you in a while.”
“So, the loudmouth bird really is a friend of yours. What was his name again, Beek? Beeks?”
“His name is Breeks, Bullhorn. And he is a friend of mine, and a great warrior.”
“Kaw! That is true, Warpony. So, why have you set out on another glorious quest without asking my aid? You’d not even have the horn if it weren’t for me. How can you hope to subdue Wendigo without me?”
“How do you know about Wendigo?” Sitting Bull asked.
“Grandfather told me. He asked me to help you.”
“What! How do you know Grandfather?”
“K’raw! He is a wise beaver. He sought me out some time ago and has enlisted my services on several occasions.”
“Oh, so you’re the one he’s had delivering his medicinal herbs to the infirm.”
“Breeks, Bullhorn, cut it out. We’ve got a job to do.”
The trio set out, the light from the Warrior’s Horn guiding them toward the point marked on Grandfather’s map. They followed a river through an ancient wood toward its source. High on a hillside the river flowed out of the mouth of a cave. But the horn guided them further, over the crest of the hill and down the other side. There they found a damp depression full of brush and brambles. In the center of the depression was a dome shaped structure woven out of branches.
“What do we do, Little-Blade? Just rush in or go in cautious-like?”
“K’raaa, that’s what I’m here for!” Breeks flew off over the brush toward the dome. Brightblade Warpony stood ready. Through the Warrior’s Horn he could sense the darkness in the center of the depression. The raven circled the dome several times and finally landed on the uppermost member of the structure. He poked his head down through the tightly twisted branches.
“Be ready, Sitting Bull,” Brightblade cautioned his friend.
“Yeah, I’m with ya on that.”
Suddenly Breeks pulled his head from the woven dome and took to the air. “Kaaa! Here he comes!”
A low, rumbling growl came from the dome. The structure began to sway as a massive beast forced its way out of the dense branches. It was humanoid, covered in shaggy brown hair. Its fingers were tipped with razor claws and jagged fangs framed its gaping maw. It tore through the brush toward the Warpony and bison as if it were tearing through paper. The Horn glowed brighter as the beast drew nearer, but it did not slow. Brightblade stood his ground as Wendigo came close enough to lash out at the pony. Its claws rended the air but entirely missed Brightblade, who had leapt out of the way. As Wendigo attacked the Warpony, Sitting Bull charged, head-butting it on the knee. Wendigo cried out in pain; and while he was distracted, Brightblade charged. Wendigo raised his claws for another attack, but before he could strike, the Warrior’s Horn flashed brightly. The beast was thrown to the ground and as he lay amidst the shredded brush, he began to fade away.
Brightblade, Sitting Bull, and Breeks approached the fallen beast carefully. To their surprise, they found laying amidst the destruction not a hairy beast, but a young pony. She was white with bright blue main and tail. On her rump was the symbol of a campfire. “Who do you suppose she is?” Sitting Bull asked.
Brightblade pointed to the talisman bound about her neck with a rawhide thong. “She’s the one who bought the talisman fifty years ago.” With a quick flick of the Warrior’s Horn, Brightblade cut the thong and the talisman fell to the ground.
The young pony began to stir. She slowly sat up and looked at the warriors standing over her (including the one perched on the bison’s horn). “Who…who are y’all?”
“We’re friends,” said Brightblade as he held out his forehoof to help her up. “I am Brightblade, and these are Sitting Bull and Breeks.”
Sitting Bull bowed his head. “We’re just some good folk coming to the aid of a damsel in distress. By the way, what’s your name?”
“Oh, I’m…I…I can’t remember!” She began to sob.
“Hey now, don’t cry!” Brightblade put his forelegs around her to comfort her. “Once we get back to Dream Valley, we’ll find out who you are. But right now we have to get you to Grandfather.” He led the young pony out of the depression. “Sitting Bull, grab the talisman.”
“What! You want me to touch it? That thing’s cursed!”
Breeks flew down and picked it up in his beak. “Kaaa! What was it he called you? Bullhorn? Seems a fitting name.”
“Why, you little feather-duster! You’re not riding out of here on my horn. No sir!”
Breeks flew up to Brightblade and perched on the Warrior’s Horn. The triumphant heros and the young damsel headed west, guided by the Horn toward Grandfather’s lodge. It was midnight by the time they arrived.
Inside they found Grandfather waiting for them. In front of him sat a brazier and the box. Brightblade and Sitting Bull sat down across the brazier from Grandfather, and the young pony sat between them. Breeks hopped from the Horn to the ground next to the old beaver. He bowed and presented him with the talisman. “Put it in the box,” Grandfather instructed. Breeks dropped the talisman into the box and flew up and perched in the rafters. Grandfather took a pawful of powder from a pouch and threw it onto the hot coals in the brazier. A puff of smoke rose from the coals and filled the room. Grandfather began to chant.
“What’s goin’ on? I’m scared!” The young pony began to fidget nervously.
Brightblade tried to comfort her. “Calm down. It’ll all be over shortly.”
“No! I’ve got to get out of here!” She tried to get up but Brightblade restrained her. “Let go of me!” the white pony growled in an unnatural voice.
“Sitting Bull! Help me hold her down!” The two warriors held the tormented pony as she writhed in agony. Breeks joined Grandfather in his chanting as Wendigo struggled to maintain his hold on his victim. Finally, Grandfather threw another pawful onto the coals and with another burst of smoke, everything was calm. The aged beaver reached out and gently closed the lid to the box. The young pony passed out.
Grandfather bowed. “It is done.”
* * *
The warriors and Wendigo’s victim spent the night at Grandfather’s. The next morning they set out bright and early for Dream Valley. Medley awaited them at the antique store when they arrived that afternoon. “Brightblade! You made it back!”
“Yeah, Medley. Everything’s fine now. Well, just about.”
“Oh? And who are your new friends?”
“The bird is Breeks; remember, I’ve told you about him. The girl is a bit of a problem. We figure she was possessed by Wendigo fifty years ago. She doesn’t remember who she is, though.”
“I think I can help you with that. When I was looking for strange news from fifty years ago, I found a story about a disappearance. A sixteen-year-old girl named Marshmallow.”
The young pony stepped forward. “Marshmallow? Is that my name?”
“It could be. And for the time being it’s as good a name as any. Don’t you think, Brightblade?”
“Sure. Marshmallow is a fine name. Eh, Bullhorn, why don’t you and Breeks take Marshmallow down to the SSSS and get her something to eat?”
“All right, Little-Blade, but aren’t you coming?”
“Yeah, Brightblade, aren’t we going?” Medley complained.
Brightblade smiled. “We’ll catch up. I’ve got something important to take care of that I need your help with.”
Sitting Bull nodded. “Oh, I get it. Come on, Marshmallow. Brightblade and Medley need to take care of this.” The bison led young Marshmallow out of the shop with Breeks riding on his horn.
“So, Brightblade, what’s this important business you need my help with so much?”
Brightblade walked around to the back of the counter. “Well, Sitting Bull was bugging me all the way home, and by halfway he even had Marshmallow in on it.” He bent over and opened the small safe under the counter. “I guess there’s no time like the present, even though I hadn’t planned on it happening this way.” He took a small package from the safe. “Uh, I was waiting till I was sure I was ready for this.”
“Oh, would you just get on with it and propose already!”
“All right, Medley, will you marry me?” Brightblade handed her the package from the safe.
“Yes, Brightblade, I would love to marry you.”
“You haven’t even looked at the ring yet.”
“I don’t need to. As long as it comes from you, I’m sure it’ll be perfect.” Medley opened the ring box and her eyes went wide with amazement. “It’s gorgeous! How did you ever afford such a ring?”
“Well, actually, it was in the shop when I bought it. I found it mixed in with a bunch of costume jewelry back when we were cleaning the place up for the grand re-opening. It was then that I decided to ask you to marry me but the time just never seemed right.”
Medley gave Brightblade a kiss. “I’m glad you finally did ask. If you took too much longer I might have given up on you.”
“I really owe Sitting Bull a big thank you. Speaking of which, shall we join the party at the SSSS?”
“Sounds like fun, but are you going to wear that out in public?”
“Wha?” Brightblade had completely forgotten that he was wearing the Warrior’s Horn.