The snow lay thick over Friendship Gardens. Clever Clover, who was unemployed, as usual for this time of year, was actually taking the time to clean his house. It had become almost a weekly ritual for him since New Year's. Minoko, who abhorred chores as much as she adored Clever Clover, made sure she was out of the house on cleaning day in case she might be asked to help. Belle Star was eager to help, but Clever Clover preferred to do most of the work himself.
"Belle Star, could you give me a hoof over here?"
"Uh huh! What do you need?"
"I want to move the couch a little. If you could grab the other end and lift on three. One, two, three. Okay, now bring it a little this way..."
As the two ponies moved the couch, a small black box fell to the floor and landed next to Belle Star's hoof. "Huh? What's that?"
Clever Clover dropped his end of the couch, dove toward the box, and scooped it up. "Uh, it's nothing."
"Oh. Can I set down my end of the couch now?"
"Yeah. That's fine."
Belle Star dropped the couch and sat down. Clever Clover stood up and brushed himself off.
"Well. It's just about time for hockey practice. Minoko is going to meet me down at the rink. Would you like to come along?"
"Of course! I am your bodyguard, after all."
* * *
So Belle Star and Clever Clover went down to the ice rink. The team was already there. Minoko was giving them a pep talk, but we can't print it here because it contained foul language. Clever Clover had Belle Star take the team onto the ice while he gave Minoko a stern lecture.
After practice, Clever Clover, Belle Star, and Minoko went to a restaurant to meet Morning Glory for lunch. Clever Clover had been arranging for Morning Glory and Minoko to spend more time together in hopes that they could learn to get along with each other. They hadn't made much progress yet.
"So, Clever Clover, what do you have planned for this afternoon?" Morning Glory asked while they waited for the bill.
Clever Clover shrugged. "Nothing in particular. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I've got the afternoon off. I was hoping we could spend some time together."
Minoko arched her eyebrow. "Oh? Your boss sending you away so he can get some work done?"
"This is just a slow season. After Valentine's Day, business drops off until Easter. There just isn't much call for St. Patrick's flowers."
"I guess we could hang out together. Say, have you been out to the Moonbow Falls? It's really pretty this time of year."
"That's an awfully long walk, especially in the snow."
"It's worth it. Besides, it's a great day for snowshoeing. And I've got enough snowshoes for all of us."
"All of us? I was hoping it would just be you and me!"
"Belle Star's my bodyguard, and I doubt Minoko would stand for being left behind."
"Besides," said Belle Star, "the more the merrier!"
Morning Glory hung her head. "Right. Well, I guess a group outing is better than nothing."
"I was planning to take a nap this afternoon, but a nice stroll in the country could promise to be fun."
After Clever Clover payed the bill, as he was the only one with any money, they all went to his place to gear up for the walk. Clever Clover had more than enough snowshoes to go around, though he couldn't say why he had so many. Before long they were on their way to Moonbow Falls. The path to the falls led across some rolling meadows and down into a lightly wooded valley. A small stream flowed through the valley, though it was frozen now. When they reached a fairly level spot, Belle Star took a running start and tried to slide across the ice, but one of her snowshoes caught a rock protruding through the ice near the edge of stream and she went tumbling head over heels. Minoko burst into laughter while Clever Clover offered his fallen friend a hoof up.
"Are you okay, Belle Star?"
"Uh huh. But I'm supposed to be your bodyguard. It seems like you're the one that's always coming to my rescue."
Clever Clover shrugged. "I'm just being a gentleman."
Morning Glory had been watching with some amusement when an idea came to her. She took a step forward, making sure to wedge one of her snowshoes under a root hidden beneath the snow. She stumbled forward, falling to the ground. "Oh, Clever Clover, could you give me a hoof here?"
Before Clever Clover could answer, Minoko bonked her on the head. "You faker! You did that on purpose!"
Morning Glory shot to her hooves. "What!? How dare you accuse me of falling down on purpose! You're the dishonest one!"
"Hey! Just because I'm a pirate doesn't mean that I'm dishonest! Clever Clover, are you going to let her spread lies about me like that?"
"I really don't think we should waste time arguing right now if we want to get to the falls and back before dark. Come on, we're just over halfway there." Clever Clover headed off down the frozen stream with Belle Star following close behind. Morning Glory and Minoko brought up the rear, glaring at each other.
Before long the party reached a river, frozen as solid as the small stream. The river ran through a broad valley with steep, wooded hills on both sides. "Wow!" said Belle Star. "This would be a perfect place to go ice skating!"
"But the ice rink in Friendship Garden is so much more convenient," pointed out Morning Glory.
"Oh, I guess you're right. But next time we come this way we'll have to remember our skates."
Minoko used her magic to transform her snowshoes into ice skates and took off across the frozen river. "For once I have to agree with Belle Star. This is a great place to skate!"
Belle Star clapped her forehooves together. "Oh! Oh! Could you make my snowshoes into skates!"
Minoko skated to a stop right in front of the tan pony. "Sorry, I can only transform something that I'm touching."
"Oh, that looks like so much fun."
"Maybe we could come out here this weekend to do some skating," suggested Clever Clover. "The Moonbow Falls are just a little ways upstream. We should be there before long."
Clever Clover, Belle Star, and Morning Glory trudged along through the snow on the riverbank while Minoko skated up and down the icy river. A light snow had started to fall.
The snow was starting to become moderately heavy by the time the group reached the next small stream that flowed through a deep rocky valley into the river. "The falls are just up there a ways." Clever Clover led the way up the stream.
Morning Glory wrapped her scarf over her face as the wind picked up. "Clever Clover, I'm starting to worry. This snowstorm is starting to get bad."
"I see that. But we can't turn back now; it's too far. There's a place just ahead where we can get some shelter and wait out the storm." Clever Clover had to lift his voice to be heard over the wind. The snow was so heavy that he could barely see his hoof in front of his face. "Hold hooves so we won't be separated!"
The party pressed on through the storm, Clever Clover leading them from memory since he couldn't see where they were going. But before they had gone far, he took a bad step and went tumbling down a steep slope, losing his grip on Belle Star's hoof. Once he got back on his hooves, he looked around, but it did no good.
"Belle Star! Morning Glory! Minoko!" he called out to his friends, but to no avail. The howling wind drowned out his cries.
The purple pony began to climb blindly up the hillside. He couldn't see where he was going, but he did know that he had fallen down, so up seemed the logical direction to go. He called out to his friends as he climbed. He struggled against the howling winds of the blizzard and gradually made his way up the slope. Eventually, the ground leveled off a bit; hopefully this meant he had reached the narrow path he had been leading the others along. But even if it were, he didn't know if he was ahead of where he had stumbled or behind. The snow was falling so heavily that even if he had just walked past this spot a minute ago, all signs of his passing would be obliterated.
Clever Clover began to consider his options. He couldn't just sit tight and wait out the storm; he had to find his friends and get them to safety. He knew the cave he had been headed toward was to his left, and there was a fifty percent chance that the others were between him and the cave, as long as they had not moved since he lost contact with them. But if he went on to the cave and didn't find anyone along the way, he'd have to come all the way back to look for them.
He turned to his right and began feeling his way along the narrow path. He knew the path had been ascending when he had fallen, so if he followed it back to where it began its ascent, he'd be sure to cover all the area where the others might be. Then he could turn back to the cave.
It was hard to tell where the path was going with all the snow, but he managed to stay with it. As the path was starting to level out he bumped into something, or rather someone! "Who's there!" the purple pony cried out.
"Clever Clover! Is that you?" replied Morning Glory's voice.
"Yeah! Do you know where Minoko and Belle Star are?"
"No! I don't know what happened, but I lost track of them!"
"Come with me! We're not far from a cave! Once you're safe, I'll look for the others!"
Clever Clover took Morning Glory by the hoof and led her carefully along the trail back toward the cave. "Hopefully," he thought to himself, "we'll run into the others on the way."
Not long after he had met up with Morning Glory, Clever Clover saw a red glow through the blowing snow. "That must be Minoko!" He hastened his pace and before long Minoko's figure, glowing energy horn upon her brow, took form in the swirling snow.
"Clever Clover! I'm so glad you're all right! I was so worried when you fell!"
"Me, too! I've found Morning Glory; do you know what happened to Belle Star?"
"She fell down after you! I let go of Morning Glory to try and grab the two of you, but I just ended up getting myself lost!"
Morning Glory tugged on Clever Clover's foreleg. "My hooves are starting to feel numb!"
"Let's get to the cave fast so you two can warm up! Then I'll find Belle Star!"
It didn't take the threesome long to reach the cave, but it was about ten feet above the path and the climb was difficult in the wind and snow. Once they were in the shelter of the cave, Minoko summoned one of her energy balls which hung in the middle of the chamber, bathing it in a warm, red light.
"Oh, that's much better," said Morning Glory as she warmed her forehooves before the luminous orb.
Clever Clover turned to Minoko. "Can that energy ball of yours continue without your being here?"
"I'm afraid not. I can only maintain it within fifty feet or so. Otherwise I'd offer to help find Belle Star."
Morning Glory hung her head. "I wish I could help you. I'm just not much of an outdoorspony. If it wasn't for me, then both of you could be out looking for her."
"Actually, if it weren't for you, we wouldn't be here to begin with," Minoko mumbled, too softly for Morning Glory to hear.
Clever Clover, however, did hear her and shot her an angry glance. "Actually, I prefer it this way. I know the lay of the land; if Minoko went out, she'd just get lost and I'd have to find her again. You two stay here until the storm passes. If I'm not back by then, and it's still light, head back to Friendship Gardens. But don't try to make the trip after dark."
The two mares nodded.
Clever Clover set out into the storm again to find Belle Star. Minoko had said she had fallen right after he had, but he didn't know exactly where he had fallen anymore. But even if he did, Belle Star hadn't been there when he was. Maybe she didn't fall all the way down the slope as he had. He followed the path back to where it leveled out again, in case she had climbed back up, but she wasn't anywhere along the path. He returned to where he guessed he had fallen and carefully began to climb down the slope, zig_zagging back and forth to cover the most area. There was no sign of Belle Star by the time he had reached the bottom.
His next move was to search the valley floor, but he had no idea which direction to go again. The path to the cave had started out on the valley floor. He decided to work upstream and then back down, toward the foot of the path, and then on up to the cave. Before long, his snowshoe struck something buried in the snow. He dug furiously through the snow and found one of Belle Star's snowshoes. From the looks of the bindings, it had broken off, probably in the fall. But at least Clever Clover knew he was on the right track. He pushed onward, calling out to his lost friend.
Even though the blowing snow blotted out the sky, Clever Clover could tell the sun was almost set. It was beginning to look like he would not find Belle Star, because once the sun set, the temperature would plummet, and Clever Clover would be forced to return to the cave until morning.
Just as he was about to turn back, however, a strange noise met his ear. The sound of steel striking stone. He rushed toward the sound, as much as he could through the deep snow and blowing wind. The sound was coming from a hollow in the base of a steep cliff face. The cliff offered some shelter from the wind, allowing Clever Clover to see as well as hear where the sound was coming from. As he neared the cliff, he could clearly see the form of Belle Star seated in the hollow, striking a stone against the back of her sword.
"Belle Star!" Clever Clover cried out as he rushed toward her.
Belle Star looked up from her labors, dropped the sword, and jumped to her hooves. "Oh! Clever Clover! There you are!"
Clever Clover ran up to Belle Star and threw his forelegs around her. "Belle Star, I'm so glad that you're all right!"
Belle Star sobbed and pulled away.
"What's wrong, Belle Star?"
"You had to rescue me again. I can't keep being your bodyguard if you always have to rescue me."
"Belle Star, I don't want you to be my bodyguard."
"Oh! The snow's ended!"
"Wha? Oh, I guess it has. But the sun's almost set and...would you look at that!"
The two ponies, stumbling around in the snow, had inadvertently reached their destination, Moonbow Falls. The frozen falls, like columns of ice cascading down the cliff face, caught the last rays of the setting sun and danced with living light.
Belle Star gazed upon the falls with wide eyes. "It's so beautiful!"
"Yeah," was all Clever Clover could say for a moment. Then he turned to Belle Star and took her hooves in his. "Belle Star, as I was saying, I don't want you to be my bodyguard, but I do want you to be a part of my life, forever. I hadn't planned to do this here or now, but at the moment I can't think of a better place or time."
Belle Star was confused as Clever Clover dropped onto a knee and gazed into her pale blue eyes. "Belle Star, will you marry me?"
"Ah, I don't know what to say! I never thought of you and me, but..." She started to giggle like a schoolgirl and tears welled up in her eyes.
"Is that a 'yes' or 'no'?"
Belle Star blushed deep red. "Oh! Are you really going to make me say it?"
"Yeah! How else am I going to know the answer?"
"Then...YES! Oh! I can't believe I'm getting married!"
Clever Clover stood up, took Belle Star in his forelegs, and kissed her as the last rays of the setting sun faded away. After the kiss, they stood for a moment looking into each other's eyes.
"I can't wait to tell Morning Glory and Minoko! They'll be so happy for me!"
"Ah, yeah. But first, you should have this." Clever Clover took out the small black box that he had just recovered that morning. "It must have been destiny," he said as he opened the box and took out the ring.
"It's gorgeous!" said Belle Star as she offered Clever Clover her hoof. He slipped the ring on and a shudder ran through her body.
"Are you all right?"
"The ring...it's really cold..."
Clever Clover slipped the ring back off. "Right. I guess that can wait. Now, Morning Glory and Minoko are probably getting worried by now, so we should get moving."
The two ponies headed off for the cave, unaware of the shadowy figure that watched them from atop the falls. "An interesting development," the figure whispered, and then disappeared, leaving no trace in the new fallen snow that anyone had just been there.
"Ah, Belle Star," Clever Clover said. "It may be better not to tell Minoko and Morning Glory about our engagement right away."