From This Day Forward
written by Sugarberry
The early morning light was just a vague shadowiness when Wigwam suddenly opened his eyes. There had been a sound, a familiar sound, yet one that had been buried in his subconscious. The stallion listened intently; had he been dreaming?
There it came again-- a low mumbling tone, a whining accompanied by a brisk scratching. Jumping from his bed and rushing to the front entrance, Wigwam gained control of his excitement before opening the door so as not to frighten the one who was on the other side.
"Manitou!" he uttered upon catching sight of the grey wolf sitting on the front porch, nearly invisible in the equally grey dawn. "What is it, boy?"
The wolf, his yellow eyes staring at Wigwam, thumped his tail on the wooden boards as if to acknowledge the greeting. These two had been close companions until Manitou had come to the rescue of a wounded she-wolf and had taken it upon himself to protect and nurse her with the help of Dreamcatcher who lived at the edge of the Dark Forest.
"Where's Halona and the rest of the gang?" Wigwam asked, peering beyond the wolf into the steadily breaking dawn. An answering grunt focused his attention on the she-wolf at the bottom of the steps, her litter frolicking around her in carefree abandon.
Wigwam smiled in absolute contentment at this unexpected reunion with Manitou and his family. He went out and sat on the top step; Manitou sat beside him, and the two, along with Halona, looked upon the pups in joint admiration. The four pouncing youngsters, slightly darker in coloration than either of their parents, were entirely carefree under the watchful eyes of Manitou and Halona.
As he sat enjoying the quiet camaraderie of the wolves, Wigwam remembered something that Fetish, Dreamcatcher's Native Pony friend, had anticipated: the possibility of Manitou and his mate moving the pack to a more isolated home now that it was time for the pups to learn to hunt. Wigwam put the question to Manitou. "Are you moving on, ole' boy?"
As if in answer, Manitou stood up. The wolf licked Wigwam's face and wagged his tail enthusiastically; Halona stood, too, and the four pups stopped their play to look on in expectation.
Wigwam set his hoof gently on Manitou's shoulder. "Take care, Manitou. You and Holana will do a great job raising your family." He walked the group for a short distance until the wolves stopped and turned their faces to him for a final farewell. "We'll see you again," Wigwam whispered as the furry beasts cut into the open meadow and set a path for the Dark Forest. They would stop only briefly at Dreamcatcher's tepee before venturing more deeply into the heart of the woods and beyond.
Watching until there was no more sign of the wolves, Wigwam walked slowly back to his porch and sat down again on the steps. His mind was reliving his first encounter with Manitou and the dream that had preceded it, a dream that ushered in the appearance of Manitou and the inescapable bonding of the two of them into a kindred sort of relationship. With the arrival of Halona and the birth of the pups, the wolves would once again roam the Dark Forest and environs as they had in the past-- as they had in the dream.
"And what about the brown mare?" Wigwam wondered. "She came to me in the dream with food and water." Wigwam sat up in hopeful understanding. "Manitou is ready to return to the wild just as Hubert had foreseen when Halona first appeared. The predicted cycle is complete! What, then, is to prevent Chocolate Chip from coming back to me now?"
The stallion tossed back his mane and took in the splendid June morning with the birds singing exuberantly in the trees with their predawn refrain. It was the birds that brought him to his senses-- "Today is Sugarberry and Van's wedding day!" At that precise moment, the sun broke over the eastern horizon, bathing him in its golden rays.
* * *
Later that morning, the sunbeam found Sugarberry and her mother out in the garden clipping flowers for the wedding brunch. "It's a day of flowers," commented Strawberry Shortcake, thinking of the bridal bouquet, the headpieces, the boutonnieres, the altar bouquets, the table arrangements. She looked at her daughter surrounded now by the cosmos, delphiniums, cleome, and phlox in her own patch of flowers; Sugarberry's face was radiant with anticipation of the day's events.
The slamming of the back door caused both ponies to look toward the house; Strawberry Baskets was coming to join them. "Good morning, Dad," Sugarberry grinned. "How are the food preparations coming?"
"By the smells in the kitchen, I think your aunts have everything under control." He hugged his wife and daughter. "This is going to be a grand day!"
"I'd better go see if Cherry Delight and Peach Cobbler need any help," said Strawberry Shortcake. "You help Sugarberry with the rest of the flowers." She handed her husband the basket and left father and daughter alone in the mild June morning.
A pair of goldfinches nesting in a nearby elm tree serenaded the two ponies from the safety of the white wicket fence that backed the flowers, taking time from their hectic schedule of feeding the brood that had recently hatched, while a robin searched for breakfast in the cultivated vegetable garden; a chickadee searched for seeds under the birdfeeder, calling out its "chick-a-dee-dee-dee" at various intervals.
Sugarberry added some daisies to the basket, and Strawberry Baskets watched as she searched out the freshest, fullest blossoms. Many thoughts crowded through his memory of this, his youngest daughter. Always shy, she had clung to him many times in her early years. Even in her high school experience, she had fallen back on his guidance and gentle nudges to face up to those tumultuous times. Yet when he and Strawberry Shortcake had made the decision to move and begin a new business in Berryville (where their oldest daughter, Gooseberry, had settled with her husband) Sugarberry-- just graduated from high school-- had opted to remain alone in Dream Valley. She had done well on her own and had now come to the next big milestone in her life-- marriage to the stallion who had entered her world at the country retreat, Birdsong.
As if on a parallel journey of thought, Sugarberry said, "Birdsong would have been beautiful this time of year, if not for the storm."
"Don't let Birdsong's problems worry you."
"Lilac made me promise I would not let their misfortune interfere with my wedding day."
"You're satisfied with putting your honeymoon on hold until Birdsong is ready for business again?"
"The main thing is that Vanguard and I are getting married. We'll just have the visit to Birdsong to look forward to." She grinned. "And we'd better get back to the house before we miss the entire day!"
There were so many things Strawberry Baskets wanted to say to his daughter before the hustle and bustle of the upcoming event engulfed them, but the only words that were spoken said it all. "Never forget how much love the two of you have for each other at this moment, Sugarberry; never let it grow old."
"You and Mom have been good teachers," Sugarberry smiled. "But if I ever forget, don't hesitate to set me straight."
* * *
The kitchen was alive with activity; Chocolate Chip and Raspberry had joined the preparations, and Wishbone and Driftwood were testing samples of the food while two of Strawberry Shortcake's sisters fussed with wonderfully aromatic food dishes. Driftwood, Raspberry's fiancé, grinned at Sugarberry as she came in with her dad. "Any last minute apprehensions?" he asked. "I could always deliver a message to Van if you've changed your mind." This stallion had made it a point to torment Sugarberry since the those long-ago days when he had known her as Raspberry's little sister.
"Don't you have a wedding dinner to see to over at the church dining hall?" Sugarberry attempted to look stern.
"I have delegated authority to all the right ponies; I have nothing to worry about... at the moment."
"I should be heading over to Van's place," Wishbone realized after a glance at the clock. "His mom is fixing some sort of spread over there for us guys. See you girls later." He gave his sister an affectionate hug.
"Don't forget that Mom and Dad and Lollipop are at the motel."
"As if they'd have time for me," Wishbone sneered. "Although maybe Dad would appreciate getting away from all Mom and Lollipop's make-up and finery and fuss." He winked as he made a quick escape from the room, headed for the front of the house.
A babble of voices outside the back door caught everyone's attention; Gooseberry, Grapevine, and their three foals had spent the night with Hubert and Agatha; the entire household was coming to join in the pre-wedding festivities. At the same time, Wishbone came back from the front door in the company of Icon and Chiffon.
"Good morning, everyone. I'm just here to drop off Chiffon," Vanguard's younger brother said.
"Does this mean Van is still serious about marrying Sugarberry?" asked Driftwood.
Chiffon, a graceful pale green mare, smiled. "My cousin can't wait to get to the church and finalize this commitment."
"Maybe I should go and start seeing about dinner preparations."
As Wishbone made a second attempt to leave the house, this time in the company of Icon and Driftwood, he met Tabby and Thomas at the door. "Hi, Tabby! Hi, Thomas! Come on in!"
"How's Sug holding up?" queried Tabby.
"More to the point, how is Tabby holding up?" replied Sugarberry as she came across the room to greet her friends. "She's been resting like she's supposed to, hasn't she Thomas?"
Tabby rolled her eyes. "The baby isn't due for another month; I'm fine, the baby's fine, everything is fine."
Thomas agreed with his wife. "Tabby wouldn't miss being in your wedding for anything, Sugarberry, and the baby is perfectly content to bide his..."
"...her..." Tabby interjected.
"...time until July," Thomas finished.
"All the same, you better come and sit down, Tabitha," Agatha fussed. "This will be a long day for you."
"Yes, mother." Tabby allowed her mother to escort her to a waiting chair. "What smells so good? I'm starved."
"The food is set out in the dining room," Sugarberry directed all the guests. "It's buffet style so make yourselves at home." She turned to the group of stallions who were preparing once again to move on to Vanguard's apartment, with the addition now of Thomas. "Don't be late for the wedding!" she admonished as they were going out the door.
* * *
The crowd had thinned out. Strawberry Baskets and Hubert had gone with Grapevine and the unwilling foals back to Hubert and Agatha's house to settle Baby Gooseberry down for a nap and to allow some quiet time for Huckleberry and Wineberry. All three were excited to be in the wedding party, and it was no easy task for the three stallions to convince them to spend some time away from the excitement. Huckleberry was the most forlorn of all; he insisted that as ringbearer, he should be with the stallions on this special day. "Vanguard said it was a very important job," he had insisted, but his father had held firm that the colt needed to rest in preparation for the big afternoon ahead.
At Sugarberry's house, the bride and her attendants were immersed in the myriad details of make-up and hair styling with the help of Fifi, Strawberry Shortcake, and Agatha. In the midst of it, Chiffon handed Sugarberry a note from Vanguard which captured everyone's attention. "Read it out loud!" begged Chocolate Chip.
"He probably wouldn't want it broadcast to everyone," Gooseberry surmised.
"If he didn't, he wouldn't have sent it over with Chiffon," observed Tabby. "Let's hear it."
"Just everyone be quiet and give Sugarberry a chance to read it," ordered Strawberry Shortcake.
Sugarberry had already opened the envelope and had the note in hoof. "Sugarberry, my love," it began, "from this day forward, all my dreams are fulfilled in you... you are all that my heart desires. Love, Vanguard. P.S. Will you marry me... today?"
"What did it say?" asked Raspberry, sneaking a peak over her sister's shoulder. "'Sugarberry, my love..." she read before Chocolate Chip confiscated it from Sugarberry's hoof and proceeded to read the note out loud.
"How sweet!" said Tabby.
"I didn't know that Vanguard could be so romantic," Chiffon stated.
"I need to call him," Sugarberry decided, abandoning Fifi's work on her mane to cross the room to the telephone. The call was answered on the first ring, and it was Vanguard himself. "Yes!" she affirmed. "I'll meet you at the altar in two hours!"
"Sugarberry, this day is going unbearably slowly."
"Thanks for taking the time to write that wonderfully romantic note."
"That's what love can do to a guy."
"I look forward to many more." She caught sight of Fifi's frowning face. "Fifi says if I'm going to be at the church on time, I've got to hang-up. I'll see you soon!"
"Not soon enough!"
As Sugarberry settled herself under Fifi's expert styling once more, Agatha asked, "You haven't had any Guido-type stallions in your past, have you, Sugarberry?"
"If you mean are any stallions going to interrupt the ceremony-- no!" answered Strawberry Shortcake for her daughter.
"Did Guido really expect you to desert Thomas, Tabby?" asked Chiffon.
"He expected his jangles to impress me," Tabby grinned.
"You should have heard Tabby cut Guido down to size and sing Thomas' praises," added Sugarberry. "It was great!"
"Quarterback doesn't have any false hopes, does he?" asked Gooseberry. "He was awfully interested in Sugarberry at one time."
"He has Merry Moments now, and they have been hinting at a wedding in the future themselves."
"And let's not forget Raspberry and Driftwood's marriage in the autumn," reminded Strawberry Shortcake.
"Berryville gets a brand-new restaurant out of that deal," Gooseberry added.
"Who will manage the Estate Manor?" worried Agatha. "It is the best place to dine in Dream Valley."
"Whisk is going to be in charge, but Driftwood will make sure that the quality remains the same... or better."
"Chocolate Chip, how is Prime doing in New Pony?"
"Very well, obviously," the young mare answered. "He called at the last minute to tell me he wouldn't be coming back for the wedding as he had promised."
"It would be a long trip, and he only left a short time ago," Strawberry Shortcake pointed out.
"He said that something came up that he had to attend to, but he wasn't willing to give me any particulars."
"Well, it's his tough luck," Fifi commented. "You look beautiful."
"You all do," Agatha agreed as she fussed with Tabby's red mane. Fifi had attached artificial braids of hair of contrasting color into each of the ponies' manes, working them into their real hair to appear quite natural, yet adding a bit of pizzazz.
"Where are your cats, Sugarberry?" Chiffon asked. "You have two of them, right?"
"Yes. Fluff's at the top of the stairs wondering when you are all going to leave so he can relax, and Raptor is probably in the kitchen with Aunt Cherry Delight and Aunt Peach Cobbler helping them to clean-up."
"Are any of Vanguard's friends from Vulcanopolis coming to the wedding?" asked Gooseberry.
"Tiffany and Guido, of course, and Clare and Giorgio are coming along with Hydrangea and Pacificus," Sugarberry replied. She grew thoughtful. "Can you imagine that a year ago, Vanguard was over there and Giorgio was here? And Hydrangea was working at the Café Carousel, not knowing that she was Giorgio's sister?" She grew quiet as she pondered the sequence of events that had disclosed the fact of Hydrangea's adoption and led to her discovery of her birth parents. "But, anyway, Giorgio, Sr., and Enrica are coming with them."
"I'm surprised at that," Agatha commented. "Enrica never appeared in public much; being in a wheelchair, she preferred to stay in her home."
"Since her husband and son are on better terms and she has been reunited with her daughter, she is more eager to get out," Sugarberry explained. "Clare asked if they could bring her to the wedding because she was curious to see where Hydrangea had been living and where Giorgio had been an exchange teacher. It became sort of a family vacation for all of them."
"It's time to put on those necklaces Sugarberry gave us," said Raspberry, holding up a glittering golden chain with entwined hearts dangling from it.
"Jewelry!" scoffed Tabby. "I'll never see the sense of it."
"You wear your wedding ring, and that's jewelry," teased Chocolate Chip.
"That's different!" Tabby touched the band wonderingly. "It means something."
"Tabby's getting sentimental," Gooseberry observed.
"That's what pregnancy does to a mare," Agatha stated. Then she giggled. "And to Hubert, too. He missed Tabitha's birth, you remember, so he's really looking forward to this first grandfoal."
"Granddaughter," Tabby corrected.
Chiffon, being a newcomer to Dream Valley affairs, asked Agatha, "Your husband wasn't home when Tabby was born?"
By the time that story had been told, the mares were all ready for the finishing touch. "There's no wind to batter the blossoms today, so I had the headpieces delivered here while your bouquets will be waiting at the church," Fifi said, holding up on of the flowery circles. "We can get these fixed in place much more easily here before we leave." Soon she had each of the attendants crowned with her floral adornment.
A knock on the door brought a new face to the scene: Strawberry Basket's sister, Blueberry Baskets, a real estate agent in New Pony. She brought with her an effervescent enthusiasm that nearly smothered the entire gathering. "Strawberry Shortcake," she purred, giving her sister-in-law a hug before embracing Sugarberry. "What a gorgeous day for a wedding! And Raspberry, you'll have me flying out again soon, won't you? Where's that family of yours, Gooseberry?" She paused for a breath. "Agatha, you're looking great, and what's this? Tabby's expecting a foal? My, my! Who would have thought... I can't wait to meet your husband, dear." Her gaze settled on Chiffon. "Who is this, Sugarberry?"
"Aunt Blueberry Baskets, this is Chiffon, Vanguard's cousin. She and Vanguard grew up together in Woodlawn."
"How nice to meet you, Chiffon. And this lovely filly?"
"A dear friend; Chocolate Chip rooms here while she's attending Pony Pride University."
Blueberry Baskets stared at Chocolate Chip closely. "Pony Pride... where did I hear about Pony Pride just recently?" The mare stood lost in thought for a moment, giving the group a chance to gather their own thoughts. Blueberry Baskets was not finished, however. "I remember now; there was a nice young stallion next to me at the theater the other evening, and we fell into a conversation; he told me he had just transferred from Pony Pride."
"Prime?" Chocolate Chip breathed. "You saw Prime?"
"That was his name; I knew the young mare he was with... Frilly Hearts. Her father is one of the instructors at New Pony University and a good friend of mine; he obviously has taken this Prime under his tutelage."
Chocolate Chip shot a glowering glance at Sugarberry. "Frilly Hearts," she muttered under her breath.
Fifi had watched the entrance of Blueberry Baskets with a disapproving frown and now spoke up. "It's high time that we left for the church, girls."
"Fifi!" Blueberry Baskets said the name as if she had just now noticed the presence of the hairdresser. "Still coiffing the mares of Dream Valley with your quaint styles, are you?"
"No one has been complaining," Fifi replied.
"You should see the hair styles in New Pony," breezed Blueberry Baskets, tossing her own highly-styled hair. "You would be amazed at the artistic ability that is used there."
The arrival of Strawberry Baskets with Wineberry and Baby Gooseberry averted any further friction between the two mares. "Huckleberry finally convinced Grapevine to take him over to Vanguard's place; he promised he wouldn't be any trouble," Strawberry Baskets explained to Gooseberry before welcoming his sister.
Agatha wisely suggested that Strawberry Baskets take Blueberry Baskets into the kitchen to allow for some catching-up on family affairs while Fifi was gathering her supplies to move the wedding preparations to the church. The wedding party set off with a sigh of relief to leave behind the talkative aunt and to make it one step closer to the highlight of the day.
* * *
"Fr. Isaac and the guys are finally in position," Fifi hissed. She had just re-adjusted Baby Gooseberry's floral headpiece for the umpteenth time and would be relieved to finally send the tot down the aisle. "But not yet!" she cried, grabbing the toddler who was determined to be the first one to promenade.
Chocolate Chip, her brown tresses accented with pink braids and corresponding pink flowers in her headpiece and trailing throughout her mane, began the entrance processional to join her brother, Wishbone, at the front of the church. Wishbone met her with a wink, and the two walked to the foot of the altar and parted to take their respective places at either side.
Chiffon followed with a smattering of purple braids and flowers in her yellow hair; she was received by Wigwam. Next went Raspberry with her dark blue hair adorned with red flowers and braids, joining with Icon; then the yellow-braided Gooseberry walked up the aisle to pair with Vanguard's oldest brother, Stillwater.
Tabby, as matron of honor, was the last of the attendants; Fifi adjusted the position of a blue braid and nodded to Tabby to begin. The unicorn seemed to hesitate, then, looking forward to where her husband awaited her, she progressed up the aisle.
"She was daydreaming about her own wedding last summer, I'll bet," Sugarberry whispered to her dad as she saw Tabby waver for that brief second.
Nudging Wineberry and Baby Gooseberry forward, Fifi sent the two flower girls on their way. Wineberry held the basket of petals with one hoof and clutched one of her sisters hooves in the other while Baby Gooseberry gaily tossed fragrant petals in reckless abandon. Huckleberry proudly followed with the carefully guarded rings.
It was only now as she and Strawberry Baskets stepped into center position that Sugarberry could see Vanguard as he waited for her. Her heart skipped a beat as their eyes met. This was the moment! She felt her dad squeeze her foreleg, and they set off on this most memorable walk.
Sugarberry's propensity for worrying was suspended for the day; never in her life had she been so positively sure of her direction and of her goal. Never had she been so confident that the choice she had made was the correct one. Now, walking up the aisle beside her father, she was so completely happy that she glowed.
The focus of her attention was the country blue stallion with seagreen hair who waited for her in assured expectation. For him, too, this was the moment of wonder. He beheld his beloved as the center of his universe, yet he had never seen her as beautiful as she was now. It wasn't only the white flowers and braids in her red hair or the filmy white veil crowned with pearls and lace or the calla lily bouquet she carried, but the aura of encompassing love that radiated from her. From this day forward... my wife, Vanguard thought to himself.
As Strawberry Baskets presented Sugarberry to Vanguard, the beaming father kissed his daughter gently and relinquished her hoof to the groom. Vanguard accepted his charge, and he and his bride looked at one another in such total communion that in that instant their souls touched. The smile Sugarberry gave Vanguard would always be the light of his life, and now he returned it in kind. Together they proceeded to their spot before the altar where Fr. Isaac awaited them. The priest welcomed them and their guests and began the Mass.
The prayers and readings had never meant as much to either Sugarberry or Vanguard as they did now kneeling side-by-side before God and the community to begin a new life together. Fr. Isaac's homily impressed upon all present the hopes and responsibilities that this formal exchange of vows would encompass.
When the priest called them forward for their exchange of vows, the bride and groom were ready. Tabby and Thomas, as matron of honor and best man, took their places to witness the exchange. Fr. Isaac addressed them appropriately, ending with the question: "Vanguard and Sugarberry, have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?"
Both responded promptly. "I have."
"Will you love and honor each other as stallion and wife for the rest of your lives?"
"I will," they echoed their commitment.
"Will you accept foals..."
As the words were spoken, there was a pain-filled moan as Tabby slumped to the floor; Thomas, as if he had been keeping a close eye on her, was at her side instantly. "Tabby... what's wrong?"
"A pain," Tabby gasped. "A really bad pain." She looked up self-consciously as she realized her predicament; the pain was gone now, so why was she creating this fuss at Sugarberry's wedding? But Thomas was profoundly concerned; and Dr. Toby, who had come forth from the wedding guests as soon as Tabby showed distress, was obviously worried as well.
Tabby, for her part, was sure that things would be okay and was determined to get the ceremony back on track. However, as she struggled to rise, she was overcome by another contraction; she abandoned herself to the pain. "Thomas," she groaned, holding his hoof tightly.
Agatha, Hubert, and Elaine had joined the worried circle around Tabby. Sugarberry was next to her friend and brushed the hair from Tabby's forehead. Thomas was impassioned. "We've got to get her to the hospital!"
"There's no time," Toby determined. "Fr. Isaac," he said, looking up at the black pony, "we're going to need to borrow a room in your rectory."
Fr. Isaac was used to the unexpected, and now he simply set aside the prayer book he had in his hooves and led the way for the stallions who were supporting Tabby; her parents and Elaine accompanied them, and Snuzzle came forth to help with the impending birth.
The solemnity of the occasion was ruffled with the sounds of worried voices of the guests; Vanguard had gathered Sugarberry to him as she watched helplessly as Tabby had been taken away. "She'll be all right," he whispered to his bride. "Thomas will make sure of that."
Having escorted the involved ponies to the spare room in the attached rectory, Fr. Isaac returned to the wedding in progress. "Tabby's doing fine and is in capable hooves," he informed the waiting congregation. Then he looked at the bride and groom in front of him. "What would you suggest we do from here?"
"I think we should say a prayer for Tabby and the baby," Sugarberry said, looking at Vanguard for his input, who nodded his approval.
Fr. Isaac led them in a prayer that rejoiced in the miracle of life; he had no sooner finished when Hubert appeared through the doorway that led to the rectory. The look on his face was impossible to read, but the message he had to deliver was soon announced. "It's a girl!" he stated as he broke out in a grin. "It's a tiny little girl, and she and Tabby are both fine!"
The announcement was met with spontaneous applause as the wedding guests reacted to the good news. Vanguard hugged Sugarberry, and Sugarberry had to wipe the tears from her eyes. Tabby and Thomas had a baby girl! All this had been set in motion at their wedding last August; this was where the blessing of the married couple led.
Fr. Isaac waited for the guests to quiet down before he once again turned everyone's thoughts to the business at hoof. Gooseberry and Stillwater were commissioned to stand in as witnesses in Tabby and Thomas' place. Then he continued the ceremony: "Sugarberry, Vanguard, with what has transpired here this morning, you know full well what you are getting yourselves into when I ask this question of you." He smiled at each of them before asking, "Will you accept foals lovingly from God?"
"I will," responded Vanguard.
"I will," Sugarberry concurred.
"Since it is your intention to enter into marriage, join your right hooves, and declare your consent."
Vanguard and Sugarberry joined hooves, each experiencing the solemnity of the moment to such a degree that for them, they were the only two ponies on the face on the earth. Vanguard looked into Sugarberry's eyes as he said, "I, Vanguard, take you, Sugarberry, to be my wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."
Sugarberry repeated the vow, holding Vanguard's gaze in the depths of her heart. "I, Sugarberry, take you, Vanguard, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life."
"You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, ponies must not divide."
The response of the gathered ponies was a proper, "Amen!"
This was Huckleberry's time to shine, and he fulfilled his duty admirably; he came forward with the rings, presenting them to Fr. Isaac for his blessing. The colt watched his aunt and new uncle closely to make sure that they carried through with the proper exchange of rings.
Vanguard took his wedding ring for Sugarberry and placed it on her foreleg with the words, "Sugarberry, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity."
He watched as Sugarberry did the same with her ring for him. "Vanguard, take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity." She slipped the band over his foreleg and looked up at him with radiant eyes that attested to the sincerity of her pledge.
When Fr. Isaac said, "Vanguard, you may now kiss your bride!" the groom responded promptly after which Fr. Isaac introduced the new couple and they made the return walk down the aisle together as husband and wife.
* * *
The joyousness of the occasion was shared with family and friends as Vanguard and Sugarberry received the congratulations and best wishes of their guests, including Sugarberry's grandparents, Warren and Laurel, and Red Rocket and Strawberries and Cream, followed by Vanguard's, Dynasty and Golden Charm, along with Rembrandt and Windflower.
"This is my aunt, Apricot Turnover," Sugarberry introduced Vanguard to a family member he had not yet met. "She's a dentist in Hilton."
"It's so nice to meet you, Vanguard," the mare said. And to Sugarberry: "I think you've made a delightful choice!"
Vanguard was further inspected by Cherry Delight and her husband, Saffron; Peach Cobbler and Lone Flute; and Strawberry Shortcake's only brother, Mulberry Pie along with his wife Radiant Rose. Strawberry Baskets' family included his sister, Blueberry Baskets; and two brothers, Melon Baskets married to Lilliput; and Blackberry Baskets and his wife, Sweet Pea.
Sugarberry met her fair share of scrutiny by Vanguard's side of the family: Floral Breeze's only sibling, Velvet and her husband, Charger, the parents of Chiffon; and Whirlpool's brothers: Eddy with his wife, Iris; Current and Gypsy Heart; and Swirl, married to Cornsilk.
Countless cousins came through the line with their mates and their children. Sugarberry's mind was a whirlwind of names: Ruffles, Stormy, Daydream, Aladin, Marmalade, Bramble, Ruby... the list was endless. She knew she could never keep them all straight. It was always a relief to see a familiar face.
"Hydrangea! How does Dream Valley look to you after being away all these months?" Sugarberry asked as the two mares greeted one another. The grey unicorn at Hydrangea's side could be none other than Pacificus, Sugarberry realized. She had never met the stallion, but she knew he had befriended Vanguard in Vulcanopolis. "It is so nice to meet you, Pacificus," she said.
"The pleasure is all mine," Pacificus responded with a smile. "I understand now why Vanguard was so homesick while he was in Vulcanopolis."
Hydrangea was excited to introduce her newfound parents to the newly-weds. "Van and Sugarberry, this is Enrica, my mother," she said with pride.
"This has been a wonderful experience for me," stated Enrica. "This is my first visit to Ponyland, and I am finding it to be a very friendly town." She smiled at the bride and groom. "My best wishes to both of you, and I must thank you again for including my husband and me in your personal celebration." She reached out for her husband's hoof and looked up at him with a sparkle in her eyes.
For a split second, Sugarberry went back in time-- back to her first meeting with Giorgio last summer and even further back to a confrontation between her own parents when she was just a foal, a confrontation caused by a picture of this stallion with Strawberry Shortcake. The unknowns and the misconceptions from both those encounters were clear now and of no further consequence, yet the meeting of Giorgio, Sr., reignited old memories.
Furthermore, Sugarberry knew that Giorgio and his father were almost exactly alike, except for the lock of white hair in Giorgio, Sr.'s, otherwise dark blue hair. Knowing and seeing, however, were two different things. She found herself staring at the older Giorgio as her thoughts and visual images churned within her until she felt Vanguard's gentle touch on her hoof. She watched as the two stallions shook hooves, and by the time they were through exchanging civilities, she was in control of her emotions again and could extend her own hoof to Giorgio, Sr., with no reserve. "I've looked forward to meeting you," she said with a smile.
"And I to meet you," he returned her smile and held her hoof. "After I had become acquainted with your parents, I often wondered what their expected foal would look like. You are as beautiful as I always imagined you to be."
Sugarberry blushed under his scrutinizing gaze but managed to respond. "Your daughter is a beauty herself."
"My daughter," he repeated. "I still find that to be a magnificent-sounding phrase." He turned then to take in Giorgio behind him in the receiving line. "And my son, too."
Sugarberry's eyes were drawn to the dark green stallion; this was the first time she had seen him since his hurried departure last November. She could still hear the last words he had said to her: Please don't hate me.
Now he spoke to her again, but in a much more lighthearted tone. "My dear Sugarberry, it's wonderful to see you!" He took her hoof and kissed it gallantly and, like his father, retained possession of it.
"Giorgio." Sugarberry was vaguely aware that they were being closely watched by Enrica and Giorgio, Sr., to see how this friendship that had been tested by adversity would fare. Wigwam, too, had turned his attention to this encounter between the two ponies; he had not approved of Giorgio's friendship with Sugarberry while Vanguard was in Vulcanopolis. Interestingly, Clare was not concerned; she was hugging Vanguard in a cheerful reunion.
Sugarberry had not known what her feelings would be on her first encounter with this stallion who had rattled her equilibrium by his presence in Dream Valley a year ago. She had detested him and valued him within the course of their acquaintance which had ended so abruptly. Now as he stood before her, his eyes twinkling, Sugarberry could only remember the good times. She grinned. "It's good to see you back."
"You don't hate me then?"
"Far from it; I have only happy memories of your time in Dream Valley. Remember the day we spent at the toy museum?"
His eyes twinkling, Giorgio did recall that day. "We were a couple of foals again for those hours."
"I knew I had no reason to doubt you after that day."
Giorgio looked at her a moment before giving her a brief but significant hug. "Thanks, Sugarberry," he whispered.
Lemon Treats and Poeticus were next in line, accompanied by Grammattica who also taught at Pony Pride. "Charming ceremony!" Lemon Treats attested. "And Tabby has a foal; have you heard yet what the baby looks like?"
"Not a word," replied Sugarberry. "But I hope to get a peak at her before too long."
Wigwam was still nearby, and Sugarberry took a moment to call him over. "Would you check on how Tabby and Thomas are doing and find out if Vanguard and I could visit them after the wedding pictures are taken?"
"Sure thing," he replied and left immediately to fulfill his errand. He was soon back, however, with Elaine at his side.
"How's Tabby by now?" Sugarberry asked.
"She's fine; she and Thomas are still reveling in the beauty of their daughter."
"Hubert's proud announcement of the birth didn't disclose any of the pertinent details, Elaine. What color is she?"
"She's pink, like her mother, but with light pink hair."
"And a unicorn?" asked Vanguard.
"Yes, a unicorn! Tabby and Thomas couldn't be happier! You'll have to take some time to check in on them when you can."
Lemon Treats had lingered to listen in on the news. "What are they going to name her?"
"They've chosen the name, Faline."
"ARR!" There was no doubt who the next pony in line was. "What kind of name is that bein'?!"
"Barnacle! So glad you could get away from Calimadad Island!"
"ARR! I be thinkin' there are gettin' ta be too many of these weddings! Seems the only time I ever get back ta Dream Valley is ta see somebody else get hitched."
"So when are you getting married, Barnacle?"
"ARR! Marriage isn't a thing for a pirate to be thinkin' about."
"So you haven't yet met anyone you'd consider for a wife?"
"ARR!" Barnacle said, his eyes suddenly taking on a distant look. "There was this one mermaid once who tried to wreck my ship and drag me and my crew to a watery grave." He sighed longingly and continued. "I look for her every time I go out to sea, but I have yet to find her again."
"Umm... are you sure that would be the healthiest relationship, Barnacle?" asked Sugarberry with an amused look on her face.
"ARR!" Barnacle said, suddenly snapping back to reality. "Oh... good luck to you two." And the pirate wandered off, returning to his own private thoughts.
Clever Clover, Spike, and Friendly came through as a group. "Great wedding so far," Clever Clover stated. "Of course, the food will determine whether or not it makes the record books."
"Driftwood assures us that his culinary expertise will guarantee an excellent meal."
"All I care about is if the food is good," Spike commented.
"Yeah! Yeah!" Friendly concurred.
"And Tabby's having her baby during the ceremony was a nice touch," Clever Clover smirked. "The foal is obviously just like her mother-- strong-willed with a mind of her own."
"Best wishes, Sugarberry. Congratulations, Vanguard." Dreamcatcher offered her felicitations followed by Fetish.
"Thanks. We haven't seen much of you two since you came back from your weekend with the announcement that you had gotten married."
"You're simple little peasant ceremonies are so... unpretentious." Tiffany stifled a yawn.
"Van, it's great to see you settling down with such a lovely bride," offered Guido with more civility than his royal fiancee.
Towards the end of the line was a pony that caused Sugarberry to cringe, but she masked her feelings and retained her gracious smile. "Gauntlet, how nice of you to come."
This particular stallion, although a friend of Vanguard's through Pony Pride University, was not one of Sugarberry's favorite ponies. An art teacher, Gauntlet had acquired possession of a young cat which had escaped his home and ended up living on the birds which frequented Sugarberry's birdfeeder. After capturing the kitten and housing it until its owner could be found, Sugarberry had become hopelessly attached to him and suffered when Gauntlet claimed his charge. The kitten's return to his former home was short, however, when he was accidentally poisoned on some of the artist's painting supplies. The ensuing crisis of recovery for the kitten had endeared him to Sugarberry; she was only too happy to adopt him when Gauntlet decided that he no longer wanted to be bothered with the feline. However, she still blamed Gauntlet for endangering the kitten's life in the first place.
It was with a sigh of relief that Sugarberry turned to Vanguard when the last guest had been welcomed, but there was to be no moment to themselves. Strawberry Shortcake reminded the couple that Merry Moments was waiting to take the formal wedding portraits while the guests were gathering in the church hall where Driftwood and company were preparing the dinner.
As the wedding party gathered for the pictures, Sugarberry noticed that although Wigwam was conversing with Chiffon and Stillwater, his gaze was most often centered on Chocolate Chip who was carefully avoiding any direct contact with the orange stallion. The filly seemed to be enjoying herself, yet she never let her guard down where Wigwam was concerned. The stallion had condescended to wait until Chocolate Chip could forgive him for what she considered a breach of faith, but Sugarberry could not help wondering how long his patience would hold out. There would be a fair number of eligible mares at the reception; would one of them possibly catch his eye?
* * *
When the photos were deemed finished by Merry Moments, Sugarberry and Vanguard commandeered her and slipped away from the group to search out Tabby, Thomas, and their new foal. They found Agatha and Hubert hovering outside the bedroom that had become the birthing room. "Toby is trying to convince Tabitha that she should spend some time in the hospital, but Tabitha is adamant that she's going home," Agatha explained with a worried expression.
"I think we know who will win this battle," Vanguard grinned.
Toby came out of the room shaking his head. "Home it is," he acquiesced.
"May we go in to see them?" Sugarberry asked the doctor.
Just realizing what events he had missed, Toby smiled. "Hey, congratulations, you two. I'm assuming, of course, that the ceremony went off without any further dilemmas."
Thomas, hearing the voices, came out to greet them as well. "Congratulations! Sorry we missed it!"
"Please! Can we see the baby?" Sugarberry begged.
"Of course!" Thomas returned to Tabby's side as Sugarberry and Vanguard followed him into the room where Tabby was comfortably settled. In her forelegs nestled the small pink unicorn that had dared to interrupt the wedding with her untimely arrival.
Tabby's look of pride was dazzling. "Look, Sug. Isn't she wonderful?" The new mother lifted the foal into Sugarberry's waiting forelegs.
"Oh, Tabby, she's beautiful!"
"You say that about every foal you see, Sug... but this time you're right," Tabby grinned.
The little pink pony suddenly opened her eyes for a moment and seemed to look directly at Sugarberry, then yawned before closing her eyes once again. "She's perfect!" Sugarberry cooed, gently touching the tiny hooves.
"Congratulations are certainly in order for the two of you," Vanguard noted. "This one is a sweetheart."
"We think so," Thomas grinned.
"We hear that you're going straight home from here, Tabby."
"I want to get Faline home to the mansion as soon as possible; lying around here is boring."
"Would you mind if Merry Moments got a family portrait of you three? You are still part of our wedding, and I'd like to have your presence noted."
The new parents willingly complied, and Merry Moments secured some special shots of the happy family. Then it was necessary for the bride and groom to make their farewell and return to the site of the continuing wedding celebration. Driftwood's menu was well received and although Sugarberry was too excited to eat more than a couple bites of each item she was able to compliment the chef. "It wasn't half bad, Driftwood," she said to him later.
"I slaved in the kitchen for hours, and that's the best you can say?" he glowered at her, but his eyes sparkled.
"Could you make sure that a variety of food gets sent over to Tabby and Thomas' house? They aren't going to want to take the time for cooking today. And hold off on that until you can include some of the cake."
"With lots of frosting," added Vanguard.
"Just wait until you taste your very traditional vanilla cake," Driftwood winked. He had found Sugarberry's choice to be too mundane for his liking, but he had bowed to her judgment.
"Your reputation is on the line," Sugarberry shot back. "It better be good."
"It looks good," commented Vanguard, admiring the ornate confection that was covered in a cascade of sugary strawberry blossoms.
"What you see isn't always what you get," Driftwood winked as he disappeared into the confines of the kitchen.
"I'm scared," winced Sugarberry. "The cake is his gift to us, but somehow I have a bad feeling..."
"You're not to worry," Vanguard grinned. "I'll take the first bite."
The wedding couple mingled with their guests until the time for the dance was upon them, and they took their place center stage whereupon Vanguard led his bride in the first romantic strains of the music. "You and me, husband and wife, from this day forward," he said softly.
"Husband and wife," she said slowly, wondering at the reality of it, and smiled. "You and me, from this day forward." They glided to the music in perfect harmony of rhythm and spirit. When Strawberry Baskets took his turn at the dance, Sugarberry curiously stated, "I noticed you and Mom in deep conversation with Giorgio and Enrica; I take it that there are no past rivalries to contend with."
"The administrator of Vulcanopolis is an intriguing character; I can deal with that."
Soon it was time for Vanguard to dance with his mother, Floral Breeze, and Sugarberry with her father-in-law, Whirlpool, and the festivities continued. It was some time later when Vanguard noted with some concern, "Icon hasn't been around for awhile; I wonder what he's up to?"
"He was dancing with Chocolate Chip earlier." Sugarberry looked around the room. "Gooseberry and Grapevine are missing, too."
They were approached by Clare and Giorgio, and as a new song was starting, Clare led Vanguard away to dance and Giorgio quizzically looked at Sugarberry. "May I have this dance?" Sugarberry smiled and offered her hoof, and the two joined the other couples on the dance floor.
"I'm very happy for you and Clare announcing your engagement."
"She's good for me, and I hope I'll be good for her."
"She appears to be quite satisfied. I would imagine your wedding plans are in full swing."
Giorgio grinned. "Can you imagine the fuss involved with this double wedding involving my parents, Clare's and Pacificus', as well as Hydrangea's adoptive parents? There is never a dull moment."
"You and your father have come a long way since... last fall."
"The changes in my life, Sugarberry, have been tremendous. Not only have my father and I reconciled, but Mother is so entirely happy; and having a sister like Hydrangea has been a very real blessing. And Clare... well, Clare is everything I could have hoped to find."
"You will be very happy together."
The music came to an end, and the next dance was taken by Merry Moments and Quarterback. As Quarterback swept Sugarberry away, she remembered a time when he had been a seemingly possible match for her; but the arrival of Vanguard in her life had quickly dispelled any notions to that effect. She was happy that Merry Moments had fitted the pursuits and personality of Quarterback so perfectly.
As the dance ended, Quarterback said, "It's obvious how happy you are to be Van's wife; I wish you all the best in life."
"That's awfully sweet of you, Quarterback. Thanks."
"But I'll still always wonder what it could have been like," he grinned. Sugarberry only punched him in the shoulder.
Merry Moments, who had been a guest at Birdsong at the same time that Sugarberry and Vanguard had been there, was reminiscing with Vanguard. "Remember how the three of us sat in the gazebo at Birdsong and visited? Who at that time would have thought things would turn out as they did?"
"I had hopes," Vanguard said, looking at his wife as she came toward him. "Dreams do come true." Sugarberry had not heard the words he said, but the look in her eyes as they met his mirrored the absolute contentment of their oneness of spirit.
Merry Moments commented on their compatibility. "Seeing the two of you so happy makes me believe that wedded bliss is attainable." She shot a glance at Quarterback who remained silent.
"Just remember not to give up hope," Vanguard admonished with a grin.
Quarterback, as he and Merry Moments headed for the dance floor, turned and-- never satisfied until he had gotten the last word-- remarked, "You know what they say, Van: 'A stallion is incomplete until he's married; then he's finished.'" This time it was Merry Moments who punched him.