“But don’t you see?” wheedled Bittersweet as she and Wigwam sat on a shelf of rock overlooking the valley near the site of the Native Pony cave. Below them, Teepee, Clever Clover, Buttercrunch, and a number of Pony Pride students were carefully unearthing several areas of the Native Pony village. A soft, spring-fresh breeze played through the mare’s mane, curling tendrils around her unicorn horn.
Watching the fluttering of tangerine hair over mocha coloring, Wigwam was lost temporarily to the beauty of the mare beside him. She was wearing a scent that was as light and sweet as the first flowers of spring that were beginning to peep out on the warm southern slopes of the hillside. Her periwinkle blue eyes echoed the canopy of sky overhead. She’s a fetching little thing, his father would say if he saw her. She’s a vixen, his mother would probably counter.
“Wigwam? Wigwam! You can’t just avoid answering me!” Sparks flew from the periwinkle eyes as the mare assumed that the stallion’s silence was due to his disagreement of her argument rather than to the silent adoration he was actually offering. “As a business pony, you’ve got to agree with me!”
“Wh... what did you say?” queried the stallion as his mind endeavored to recall the exact point of conversation they had been engaged in before he had been caught in his mental flight.
Looking at him with such a look of disbelief on her face that Wigwam could only chuckle, Bittersweet ranted. “I was discussing the future of Native Dreams. You, obviously, have no interest in promoting the shop.” The unicorn got to her hooves and started down the hill to where the other ponies were working.
Wigwam watched her depart, her fluid motion nothing short of mesmerizing. He grinned at the angry flicks of her tail that spoke volumes as to what her mood was. The mare had been pestering him for weeks to consider lending a helping hoof to her sister’s Native Pony craft shop which existed as a kiosk business at the mall. Bittersweet, ready and willing to put her business degree to work, envisioned an expansion of Dreamcatcher’s modest enterprise; she knew the size, the design, and the location of the prospective building that would best house a new format of Native Dreams that would allow the space to expand inventory and thereby increase sales; all she needed was a financial backer for the project. That was where Wigwam came into her plans.
Although Dreamcatcher’s shop was solvent, there were not enough funds available to warrant the construction of the type of building that Bittersweet was imagining. Therefore, Bittersweet was trying to drum up Wigwam’s support for her venture, seeing a location near the casino as a logical setting to open a Native Pony outlet for the varied crafts of the talented artisans.
Sighing, Wigwam got to his hooves and followed the path of the unicorn. When he caught up to her, he tried to make up for his lapse of concentration on the hill. “I fail to understand your reasoning for putting a shop near the casino after what the city has announced as its plans for the land east of it.”
“If you had listened,” said Bittersweet, “I explained all that. Once the city has its new art center up and running, it will draw in the same sort of clientele that will be interested in Native Dreams.” The mare stopped to face the stallion. “It will bring a whole new set of customers... over and above the ponies who already count on the shop to supply the kind of unique items we provide from our outlet at the mall.”
“But won’t the art center draw customers away from the craft shop?”
“It’s true that the Native Pony crafts are art in themselves, but the two facilities will complement one another. The art displays at the center will be constantly changing, bringing a wide variety of creativeness before the public while our shop would be offering the best of the Native Pony culture on a regular basis.” Bittersweet reached out her foreleg to touch Wigwam’s. “Please think about it... and promise that you won’t mention it to Dreamcatcher or anyone else until we have a plan worked out.”
Wigwam cringed. “Until we have a plan worked out? I think it’s your plan all the way.”
“But it’s a good one... right?”
Unable to resist the pleading eyes that held him in their power, Wigwam relented. “Bring me some facts and figures, and I’ll consider it.”
“Oh! You’re the greatest, Wigwam!” With that said, Bittersweet kissed Wigwam’s cheek and gave him a hug.
Teepee, approaching them with a trowel in hoof, growled, “I thought you two were going to come out to help, not stand around... talkin’.”
“You’re always such a bear, Teepee.” Bittersweet waved her hoof through the air. “Of course, we’re here to help.” She smiled at him so sweetly as she walked past him that Teepee could only smile in return. Both stallions stood gazing after her as she went to Buttercrunch for instructions on where she could best help.
“She’s so pretty,” stated Teepee to his brother.
“Yeah,” agreed Wigwam. “I’ve noticed.”
“She kissed you.”
Putting a hoof to his cheek, Wigwam murmured, “I noticed that, too.” He went off in Clever Clover’s direction to assist with the screening of buckets of dirt.
Teepee’s attention stayed riveted on Bittersweet. He silently raked himself over the coals for being attracted to the same mares that appealed to Wigwam, first Chocolate Chip, now Bittersweet. There was enough potential in Dream Valley that there should be no need for the two of them to concentrate on the same ponies. What really irked him was that Chocolate Chip had intimated that her heart was still tied to Wigwam, and Wigwam had admitted the same was true for him. Then why did Wigwam cultivate this deepening friendship with Bittersweet? And what did they have to talk about that had them so often cloistered in conversation, anyway?
Teepee had several regrets. First of all, having been dismissed by Chocolate Chip, he had allowed all his time to be taken up with his work for the Native Pony site; having discovered that his CeeCee and Wigwam’s Chocolate Chip were one and the same mare, he had decided to become more familiar with the current population of Dream Valley before he made any further attempts to garner another mare’s interest.
That plan had one serious drawback, however. By the time he realized that Bittersweet was as personable a mare as he could hope to find- and beautiful to boot- she had already set her snare for Wigwam. Having thought that Wigwam’s obsession with Chocolate Chip would prevent him from falling for Bittersweet’s wiles, Teepee had not been concerned... at first. Now, however, it appeared that Wigwam’s feelings for the studious chocolate-colored earth pony were being set aside in favor of the industrious unicorn.
The other thing that ate at his mind like a dog worrying a bone was the fact that he had been gruff toward Bittersweet when she had first wormed her way into the affairs of the Native Pony site. After all, it was his job to make the decisions and oversee the management of the site; but Bittersweet’s bubbling personality made it impossible for her to withhold any thoughts or ideas of her own and to impart all kinds of unwanted advice... even though she at times came up with some novel insights that could lighten even the most mundane discussion. Teepee had to grin as he remembered some of her twisted ideas which she delivered with a toss of her head as if daring him to contradict her.
Yet the fact remained that Teepee had never been comfortable around mares who tended to express opinions when none were sought. Why couldn’t Bittersweet be more practical like her sister, Dreamcatcher? That mare did her thinking silently and only expressed an idea that was already well defined and practical.
Bittersweet had been correct in calling him a bear. It was not by design, yet he always seemed to growl at her when in truth he would much rather... Teepee shook his head. That kiss the unicorn had given Wigwam irked him to no end. What was left for him if the mare had decided to settle her claim on his brother?
Realizing that he was absently pounding the metal trowel into his hoof rather painfully, Teepee sighed and went back to work.
* * *
It was several weeks later that the two stallions made their way out of Dream Valley to attend a family dinner. The April air was mild, offering a pleasing aura of spring that put the ponies in a congenial mood as they walked to the gently rolling farmland where their parents, Calumet and Beaded Braid, lived.
“It will be great to see Whispering Birch again,” commented Teepee. “She was just a filly when I took off on my travels.”
“I rarely see her myself,” noted Wigwam. “Our baby sister is quite content living in Southfork.”
“I never made it to that area of Ponyland,” Teepee confessed.
“Whispering Birch claims it’s the perfect spot to live.”
“So how did Whispie determine that? She always had her head stuck in a book.”
“Which the two of us could have done more of,” chuckled Wigwam. “Her research not only brings benefits to ponies, it also has made her quite comfortably situated.”
“Well, as to that, she hasn’t become too highbrow for us, has she?”
“Good. I’m looking forward to a laid-back family get-together.”
* * *
“Why didn’t Mom tell us that she’d invited the entire neighborhood?” grumbled Teepee as he and Wigwam returned to Dream Valley after spending a long afternoon and evening visiting with ponies that even Wigwam had lost track of. “Her intentions were so obvious.”
Laughing, Wigwam noted, “Mom’s never been known to be discreet. And you have to admit that you and Wild Rose were quite a pair at one time.”
“You only lucked out because White Dove got herself engaged a week ago,” Teepee countered.
Still chuckling, Wigwam managed to say, “Mom may have hit it right with Whispering Birch, however. She and Singing Arrow seemed to fall right back into the carefree friendship they shared when we were all growing up.”
Calumet and Beaded Braid had been neighbors and best friends with Snowsnake and Water Spirit since Calumet had moved his family into the area when Wigwam had been five years old. Their closest neighbors, who had taken the new family under their guidance, had been blessed with two daughters at comparative ages to Wigwam and Teepee and a son only a year older than Whispering Birch. This had afforded a convenient batch of playmates for both families, and the ensuing years had been filled with the entwining of their lives through the innocent days of youth as they ran wild over the wooded hillsides and labored beside their parents in the fields, only to part when they each in turn reached the age to decide on their own destiny. Every one of them had opted to make their way off the farm except for Singing Arrow who still farmed in conjunction with his parents’ acreage to this day.
“Our little sister isn’t one to defer her dreams to a commoner,” Teepee stated.
“What did you think of Wild Rose after all these years?”
“I’m sure she found the same is true about you.”
“She’s going to stay with her folks for a week before heading back to Hayton.”
Curiously, Wigwam asked, “Are you going to see her again?”
Teepee grinned. “Mom mentioned the theater production that’s coming up and suggested that Wild Rose might enjoy attending with me for old time’s sake. Wild Rose was courteous enough to agree.”
“Bittersweet and I are going to the Friday night performance.”
“Yeah. Us too. Maybe we could double up.”
Wigwam frowned. “The problem with that is I promised Bittersweet a late supper at the Estate Manor afterwards.”
“Hey, I’m good for half the tab!”
“It’s just that Bittersweet and I need some time to discuss... some things... privately.” Wigwam grew pensive.
Sending a sideways glance at his brother, Teepee’s heart dropped. Had things moved so quicky that Wigwam and Bittersweet were already willing to commit themselves to a future together? Claiming Bittersweet as a sister-in-law was not what Teepee wanted, yet he knew that he would never stand in the way of his brother in such a matter. It hurt, but he would not interfere.
* * *
The performance at The Tableau on Friday night was well attended; Wigwam and Bittersweet had the chance to converse with Teepee and Wild Rose at the intermission; after the mares’ introduction, Bittersweet found Wild Rose’s sweet disposition and pleasant smile somehow unnerving. She also looked with disfavor on the single-minded manner in which Teepee hovered about the cream colored pony, anticipating her every need.
Additionally, Bittersweet was dismayed to learn that Wild Rose had grown up in almost daily contact with Teepee and his siblings, and that Teepee and Wild Rose had reveled in an ardent romance during their high school days, ending only when Teepee had graduated and struck out on his own to explore the opportunities of Ponyland. An unwarranted jealousy toward the mare fired in Bittersweet’s veins, and she was unable to enjoy the remainder of the evening at the theater.
It was with a certain amount of relief that Bittersweet accompanied Wigwam to the Estate Manor where a table had been reserved for them in a quiet corner where they could talk uninterruptedly and without being overheard. Since their conversation at the pony site, Bittersweet had garnered all the information she could ferret out concerning the pros and cons of establishing an enlarged Native Pony crafts shop in Dream Valley to present to Wigwam for his perusal, and tonight she would find out his decision on the matter. It was with a certain amount of nervousness that she sat down at the table.
By the time the main course was served, Bittersweet had fretted with her napkin so much that the pristine smooth cloth had been reduced to a veritable wrinkled rag. Wigwam obviously was not going to open discussion on her projected business venture until they would be guaranteed a stretch of time without a waiter’s hovering service to interfere. When they were finally left to themselves to enjoy their meal, Bittersweet could not bring herself to take a bite of the delectable dishes before her. She looked at Wigwam and croaked, “Well?”
“The food is delicious,” the stallion said. “Try some.”
“Forget the food! What have you decided about Pony Dreams?”
With a provocative smile, Wigwam took a sip of his wine before answering. “I haven’t decided anything.”
“Then why...” Bittersweet began to wail, but Wigwam interrupted her.
“We’re here to discuss the facts and figures you gave me; I’m in no position to make a decision yet.” With a glance at her untouched plate, he added, “Your food’s getting cold. Eat.”
Taking a small bite, Bittersweet forced herself to savor the culinary delight. Finding the flavor to be excellent, she allowed herself to be comforted by the food for a few minutes before she approached the problem at hoof. She answered all of Wigwam’s questions intelligently and explained succinctly any points that he wanted clarified.
“There’s every reason to believe that Native Dreams would be a successful venture even if it left the support of the mall. The statistics prove that there is a demand for the kind of presence that such a specialty shop would elicit,” Bittersweet ended.
“So the numbers would seem to indicate,” agreed Wigwam. “However, there’s one problem all your information failed to address, and it’s crucial to the outcome.”
“What’s that?” queried a dismayed Bittersweet. To her knowledge, she had covered every aspect of the business proposition she was attempting to sell to Wigwam.
“Dreamcatcher doesn’t approve of me, which makes it unlikely...”
“That’s not true! She has never indicated to me by word or action that she has anything against you.”
“I’ll rephrase my concern. Your sister doesn’t approve of the casino; I cannot imagine her endorsing a plan that would put her shop not only in the physical proximity of the casino but also under the casino’s financial umbrella.”
“Once I convince her that it’s the best way to guarantee the growth and the profits of Native Dreams, she’ll have to amend her notions accordingly.”
Raising a questioning eyebrow, Wigwam expressed his doubt. “Dreamcatcher is not the kind who would sacrifice her convictions simply to accrue more jangles.”
“She also understands that the limited space at her kiosk severely restricts her choice of merchandise to display; she’s constantly lamenting the items she has to forego. Yet she and Fetish alone don’t have the capital to strike out on their own.”
The stallion was not easy to persuade. “She’s your sister, so you should know best; but from what I’ve learned of Dreamcatcher, I’d say that she’d consider any help from me as paramount to selling her soul to the devil.”
For the first time since they sat down at the table, Bittersweet’s eyes sparkled with the hope of success. “Well then. I guess it’s up to me to play the part of Daniel Webster.”
Wigwam eyed her doubtfully. “You have your work cut out for you. In the meantime, there are a few more aspects of this venture that I need to check into before I make a final decision.”
Only temporarily subdued by that last hint of uncertainty as to whether or not he would fully embrace her plan for the future of Native Dreams, Bittersweet smiled happily.
* * *
“So, Wild Rose, how does it feel to be back home?” Teepee asked of his companion as he walked her home after the theater and a pleasant couple of hours at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.
“Well, the town hasn’t changed that much... but so many new faces! And old classmates that we ran into with their photos of kids and pets and homes!” The mare giggled. “I’m still not ready to settle down... probably never will be.”
“That means you’re happy with your life in Hayton?”
“I’m very content, which doesn’t mean that I’m in a rut. My job is onerous in its responsibilities; but, Teepee, I revel in the power! And as an added bonus, it takes me all over Ponyland and beyond. Yes, I’m very happy.”
Teepee grinned. “Who would have thought that the little filly who loved climbing trees would end up climbing the corporate ladder?”
“We had fun, didn’t we?” Wild Rose returned the stallion’s grin. “Running free as we did went a long way to prepare me for my career. We had to assess information and make spur of the moment decisions daily just to stay ahead of our siblings.”
“Remember when Wigwam and White Dove stumbled over that nest of goslings and the mother goose came after them with wings spread wide, honking those horrible sounds?”
“And when Whispering Birch climbed up in a tree only to be threatened by an irate squirrel? She was literally trapped on that skinny little branch. I can still hear that squirrel’s chattering voice scolding her, and that bushy tail punctuating the entire tirade like an exclamation point!”
Laughing, Teepee shook his head. “If our parents had known just how many close calls- with disaster looming- that we experienced, they wouldn’t have looked so beneficently on our neighborly friendship.”
The two ponies walked in silence through the mild spring evening for several minutes before Wild Rose asked, “Why did you decide to return to Dream Valley, Teepee? I thought the nomadic life suited you.”
“It did, but not anymore. Unlike you, I’m ready to settle down with a like-minded mare and start a family.”
“Anyone in mind?” queried Wild Rose, looking sideways at the stallion through the falling darkness.
“There are several possibilities,” hedged Teepee.
“I can name one,” Wild Rose teased.
Teepee glanced at the mare with misgivings. Surely there was no future for the two of them! “You were my first love, but we both know that ended a long time ago.”
“And rightly so,” agreed Wild Rose. “We went from being best friends to an infatuated twosome; but fortunately for both of us, we realized in time that friends is what we were meant to be. But I read something in your eyes tonight when you looked at Bittersweet that spoke of deep feelings; I was confused, however, by the fact that she was in your brother’s escort.”
“He met her first.”
“Oh,” was all Wild Rose could say.
* * *
On this sun-filled Saturday near the end of April, the secluded valley and hillside that harbored the Native Pony site being excavated under the auspices of the historical society held a day of discovery for anyone interested in learning more about the fascinating past of those early inhabitants of Ponyland, the Native Ponies. Stoneware, tools, jewelry, and weapons indigenous to the period were on display; demonstrations of flint-knapping and stone-carving were under way, period games were being played, and native foodstuffs were being offered. Tours of the cave ran every half hour and the preliminary finds from the village were on display.
The highlight of the day was to be the erection of an authentic Native Pony teepee donated by Fetish and Dreamcatcher to serve not only as a visual demonstration for those interested but also to remain on the site as a shelter for the ponies who were involved with the excavating of the area to determine the extent of the use of this valley as a stopping-place for the Native Ponies.
The turnout for the event was impressive considering the distance of the site from Dream Valley. The interest in the Native Pony culture was apparent in the enthusiasm everyone showed to participate in the hooves-on activities and to partake of the buffet-style food offerings. Sugarberry, Vanguard, and Banderol were three of those present, just now emerging from the cool interior of the cave in the hillside.
“I get goosebumps just being here,” breathed Sugarberry as she looked out over the hillside. “It’s as if... as if...” The strawberry-patterned mare closed her eyes as elusive memories danced at the edge of her consciousness. She sighed deeply as those memories flitted away, leaving only a deep tingling sensation that spoke of pain and anguish. “It’s as if there’s a reality here that I can’t quite penetrate.”
Vanguard seemed to be faring no better than his wife as he stood engulfed by some forgotten past. He shook his head and shivered. “I know what you mean. I experience such a feeling of... loss... when I’m here.” His gaze held Sugarberry’s as he felt a frisson of terror at the thought of losing her; he drew her close to verify that she was safe and sound and kissed her tenderly.
Banderol chose this moment in time to register his complaint on being ignored, and his cry brought both of his parents out of their reverie. “Come on, sweetheart,” cooed Sugarberry, appropriating the foal from Vanguard’s forelegs. “Let’s go find Calla.”
If one had been given, the prize for the group that had traveled the furthest to attend the day’s activities would have gone to the ponies from Vulcanopolis. Enrica, who had lost her chance to visit the Native Pony site several years earlier when she and her family had been called back suddenly to their own city across the ocean, had convinced her busy husband that this would be an excellent opportunity for her to broaden her knowledge of the ponies who so fascinated her since receiving Wigwam’s hoof-signed copy of Native Pony Tales as a gift from Sugarberry. Along with Enrica and Giorgio, Sr., was their son, Giorgio; his wife, Clare; and their little daughter, Calla, who had been born the previous November in Dream Valley while her family had been in town for a benefit fashion show. The tiny filly was half a day younger than Banderol.
Spotting the orchid mare and her deep green husband at a pont down the hill near the spot where the teepee would be assembled, Sugarberry and Vanguard set off in that direction, exchanging greetings with other friends who were also visiting the site. By the time they reached the ponies from Vulcanopolis, Banderol had fallen asleep; but as Calla was involved in that same occupation, Sugarberry and Clare found a sheltered spot where they could spread a blanket and nestle the two sleepyheads for a comfortable nap.
“Is your Mother enjoying herself?” queried Sugarberry of Giorgio as that stallion and Vanguard came to sit with their wives.
“Dreamcatcher has her weaving a mat even as we speak,” Giorgio grinned. “She’s having the time of her life.”
“I noticed your dad chipping an arrow point,” remarked Vanguard.
Clare giggled. “I’ve never seen him quite that rustic before.” Giorgio’s father had been a university professor in the past and was now a politician in Vulcanopolis, neither career allowing him much time to enjoy more crude pastimes. “I can just imagine the stories he’ll have to tell when he gets back home. He’ll have everyone believing that he subsisted on roots and dried berries while fighting off rabid skunks and hungry bears.”
“This has been a fantastic experience,” Giorgio observed. “Whoever set it up was a master at planning.”
“Domino, the head of the historical society, did the paper layout; countless others followed through on the groundwork- Wigwam, Teepee, Clever Clover, Dreamcatcher, Fetish- you get the picture,” Sugarberry revealed.
“Who’s the unicorn with Wigwam?” asked a curious Clare.
All heads turned to follow Clare’s gaze. “That’s Dreamcatcher’s sister, Bittersweet. She’s new to Dream Valley; she graduated from college and came to help at Native Dreams,” supplied Sugarberry.
“Ahh... sisters; I thought there was something familiar about her.” Clare watched Wigwam and Bittersweet for a moment longer, then asked, “Where’s Chocolate Chip?”
Vanguard and Sugarberry shared a glance before Vanguard answered. “She’ll be here soon; she had to work this morning.”
“Chocolate Chip will be graduating soon, won’t she?” probed Giorgio.
“In three weeks. She’s already accepted a job in New Pony.”
“New Pony!” echoed Clare in surprise. “How are she and Wigwam going to handle that?”
Sugarberry only shook her head, leaving Vanguard to answer the question.
“Chocolate Chip refused Wigwam’s proposal.”
“No!” Clare exclaimed, her gaze going back to where Wigwam and Bittersweet were deep in conversation. “I can’t believe it.”
* * *
Taking a breather from his duties, Teepee also watched his brother and Bittersweet. The stallion had noted that since their supper at the Estate Manor, the two ponies had seemed closer than ever. Bittersweet had taken on a new sparkle since that evening, and she and Wigwam were often caught in deliberations that ended promptly when they were interrupted. Although neither had said anything to hint at an understanding between them, it seemed obvious to Teepee that Wigwam and Bittersweet had begun to make plans for a future together.
Standing as he was with his jaws clenched and his eyes hooded, Teepee was joined by Wild Rose and her brother, Singing Arrow.
“Some of your plans go awry?” Wild Rose asked. Then noting at whom the stallion was glaring, she amended her assessment. “You find the scenario a bitter-sweet pill to swallow.”
“Never in my entire life have I so longed to gift my brother with...” Teepee grated quietly, his clenched hoof revealing his intent.
Glancing at her own brother, Wild Rose conveyed with a sweep of her eyes her desire for a moment alone with Teepee; Singing Arrow promptly made himself scarce.
“Why her, Teepee? There certainly are enough mares in Dream Valley to go around.”
“Wasn’t it you that always said Wigwam and I were made from the same mold?” the stallion countered gruffly.
“Use your head!” the mare admonished. Flinging her hoof in a panoramic gesture, she drew Teepee’s attention to the valley filled with ponies. “Surely there is someone else to take your fancy!”
Almost against his will, Teepee followed the direction of Wild Rose’s waggling hoof, bringing to his sight the arrival of Chocolate Chip as she approached Sugarberry and her friends and was met with hugs and delighted words of welcome. His search stopped there as he remembered their midnight encounter in the park; the idiocy of his attraction to two mares that were more interested in Wigwam than him caused the stallion to groan.
Wild Rose followed the distressed gaze of Teepee to the chocolate brown pony, then her eyes were drawn further to where Wigwam stood. That stallion, too, was intently staring at the same brown mare. Wild Rose’s eyes opened wide as the full import of her discovery hit her. “Teepee! What kind of tangled web have you and your brother managed to weave?”
“A hopeless one,” Teepee confessed. “Neither of them gave a second glance to me.”
Always cool whether in the boardroom or when commiserating with a friend, Wild Rose made her determination. “Then put them both out of your mind and turn your attention elsewhere.”
Her words were no sooner spoken when Buttercrunch appeared; she cast a sassy look in Wild Rose’s direction, then concentrated on Teepee. “I’m on my way to the food tables... care to join me?”
Teepee turned to include Wild Rose in the invitation. “What do you say?”
“You two go on; I’ve got to hunt up Singing Arrow.”
Wild Rose did not allow the stallion to finish. “Go on!” she admonished with a wink. “We’ll catch up to you later.”
Feeling as if he had just lost all control of his life, Teepee contemplated stalking off, leaving all his problems behind and never looking back; but his sense of duty came to his rescue and he simply smiled at Wild Rose, albeit with a threat of revenge glinting in his eyes, and nodded his acceptance of her suggestion. He then offered Buttercrunch his foreleg as if escorting her to a formal banquet, and the two of them set off for the luncheon.
Teepee only cringed slightly when he heard Wild Rose’s giggle lilt up behind him.
* * *
Finding herself alone at the fringe of the crowd watching the framework of the teepee going into place, Chocolate Chip took advantage of the opportunity to melt away from the conversation and activities that she suddenly found suffocating. She had truly wanted to be in the midst of the ponies on this day, seeing it as a good opportunity to make contact, maybe for the last time, with many of her friends and acquaintances before she cut her ties with Dream Valley and its inhabitants; but now, being here, she felt somehow like she did not belong, that she had already passed over a line from which there was no return. Her future lay in New Pony now.
She climbed up the hillside to a tumbled depository of hefty rocks that had at one time broken off the rough outcroppings of granite and found a suitable stone on which to sit from which she could watch the activity below her without being fully involved. For once she was grateful for her drab coloring so that she would blend in with the dreary-hued rocks about her and remain sequestered in her desired solitude.
The scene before her was a kaleidoscope of bright ponies gathered around the emerging shape of the teepee, now being covered in its protective skins. Chocolate Chip, listening to the babble of voices drifting up to her position on the hillside, allowed herself to relax and view the proceedings as an uninterested spectator, separating herself from the emotional upheaval that was involved in breaking with all that was familiar to her as represented by her friends on the valley floor below.
She saw Ages, Frilly Flower, Digger, Gene, Spring Song, and Rocky with whom she had shared classes at Pony Pride; Roland, Poeticus, Memoria, Gauntlet, and Vanguard who had taught some of those classes; Sugarberry and Tabby who had been her first friends in Dream Valley; Wishbone, her brother, and her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Garnet; Dreamcatcher, Lemon Treats, and Brandon, ponies she saw at the mall during her working hours; Teepee, distant and aloof as he lived out his promise not to acknowledge their brief friendship; and Wigwam...
Her eyes searched the scene before her intently, but she could not locate the orange body of the one pony who had the power to scatter her well-laid plans and turn them to dust. There were times when she wished with all her heart that he would come to her and demand that she give up her lofty ideals that centered on New Pony and marry him instead, yet she knew that she would always then wonder if she could have accomplished her dreams apart from him. This, she knew, would only lead to unhappiness and resentment for both of them. She knew he would not try to influence her at this stage of the game for he had bowed to her desire to make a life for herself. Even though he did not approve of her notions, he would not stop her.
Suddenly aware of eyes watching her, Chocolate Chip turned swiftly around to find the wolf, Manitou, and his mate, Halona, watching her with intelligent yellow eyes as they sat camouflaged amidst the rocks not more than ten feet away. She was not concerned by their nearness for they had occasionally accompanied her and Wigwam on a loitering walk through the countryside.
Speaking softly, Chocolate Chip extended her greetings. “Hello there, Manitou, Halona. Are you enjoying the party?” The two wolves only stared at her, but Chocolate Chip caught the brief wag of Manitou’s tail and smiled. “I welcome your company.”
“And how about mine?” a voice behind her asked, and Chocolate Chip whirled around to find Wigwam within a pace of her.
“Can you be as quiet and undemanding as Manitou?” the mare asked.
“If that’s what you want,” Wigwam agreed. “May I sit down?”
The rock on which Chocolate Chip was sitting had room for two, barely. She sidled over, however, making way for the stallion to sit next to her. He made himself comfortable, if that is possible on a rock, and maintained his silence as he had promised. Keenly aware of the nearness of him, Chocolate Chip could not help looking his way, only to find that he was watching her closely. As her eyes met his and held his gaze for long seconds, she was nearly undone by the look she saw in his eyes, a look that told her that one word from her would be all it would take to make him the happiest stallion in Ponyland. For a moment, she though of uttering it; but her rational self held firm. She broke off the look between them and returned her attention to the field once more, holding her peace.
“I’ll never forget how beautiful you are; but while I have the chance, I want to store up more memories just to be on the safe side,” Wigwam softly said.
“I’ll never forget you, either,” Chocolate Chip murmured without looking at the stallion, knowing that she would not be strong enough to avoid throwing herself into his forelegs if she was caught in that gaze once more.
And so the mare and the stallion sat, side by side, both miserable but stoic- one determined to break free of nagging self-doubts and one compelled to honor that effort.
* * *
Wigwam, frustrated and unhappy after Chocolate Chip had abandoned him to return to Dream Valley early with several of her friends from campus, attempted to get his mind off his personal troubles by participating in an archery contest which was holding the attention of a large group of ponies; by imagining the target to represent his dissatisfaction, he was able to outdo all the other contestants. The prize meant nothing to him, but he did find after the contest that he could look upon the world again with a little less discontent than he had before he participated.
Fetish, itching to have a chance in the archery contest but currently tied down with the care of Tamarack, convinced Wigwam to take over the care of the foal temporarily. As he stood at the edge of the assembly conversing in baby talk with the nearly year-old colt, Dreamcatcher materialized beside him.
“My husband abdicated his responsibility to you, I see,” she said, smiling only when her son turned his head to grin at her.
“Fetish felt the need to prove that he’s at least as good an archer as I am,” Wigwam stated. “If he wins this round, we’ll go up against one another.” He eyed the mare doubtfully; the two had never enjoyed a harmonious friendship, although they had learned to respect one another in spite of their differences of opinion.
“I’ll have to stick around to see the outcome.” After a moment’s silence, the unicorn added, “I saw Chocolate Chip earlier; I was hoping to get a chance to talk with her.”
“She left with some of the Pony Pride groupies.”
“I’m surprised she showed up at all... with the way she’s been so immersed in work and studies.”
“I think she realizes it may be harder to break her ties here with all her friends than she had originally calculated,” Wigwam ground out.
“She is determined, however, to make this move.”
“Yes, she is.”
“You’re okay with her leaving?” Dreamcatcher asked. She had become aware that Bittersweet had been singing this stallion’s praises with increasing regularity as of late.
“It’s not what I want, but I have to respect her decision. She knows I’ll be here waiting if she ever decides to change her course.”
The mare turned to the stallion then with a nod of approval. “It’s the only way. To win her, you have to set her free.”
Wigwam stared at Dreamcatcher, remembering in that instant that her unicorn magic involved glimpses of the future. “This will work out?”
The unicorn shrugged slightly. “I cannot truly say, but...”
“But what?” prompted the stallion as Dreamcatcher stood in thought.
“It’s only a feeling, really. Chocolate Chip’s dreams and her realities are destined to collide; she’ll know her heart then.”
In answer, Dreamcatcher almost imperceptibly shook her head. “I can’t say with any certainty.” She stopped and gazed at him intently. “But I will advise you to remain patient.”
Wigwam sighed. “Isn’t that what I’ve been doing... forever?”
* * *
Having been defeated by Fetish in the final match with bows and arrows, Wigwam submitted with good-nature to the twitting and teasing of his friends. When Teepee- beaming over his good fortune in having located Bittersweet unattended and in gaining her company- approached his brother with a barbed share of banter, Wigwam extracted himself from the situation by whispering something to Bittersweet which caused her to smile smashingly at him and then pull him away from the crush to a place where they could talk privately. Neither pony noticed the aggravated frown that crossed Teepee’s face as he lost the companionship of the unicorn.
“Are you serious?” bubbled Bittersweet when they were out of hearing range of the others. “You’ve made up your mind?”
“Find out a night when Dreamcatcher and Fetish are free to meet with us, and we’ll broach the subject of a new Native Dreams with them.”
The mocha unicorn was so excited that she squealed and hugged Wigwam enthusiastically, throwing them both off balance. Wigwam chivalrously put his forelegs around the mare to save her from falling, laughing over her zealous response to his decision to go ahead with her proposed business venture for Native Dreams.
Their shared levity, however, was looked upon askance by a number of curious spectators whose attention they had drawn, among them Teepee, Dreamcatcher, and Sugarberry. Could it be, they all wondered, that Wigwam’s heart had already been lost to another even before Chocolate Chip had left for New Pony?
Sugarberry remembered with stunning clarity the account of Wigwam’s dream quest. He had envisioned a brown mare; and upon meeting Chocolate Chip, he had found her the answer to that dream. But now in his forelegs he held a mocha-colored unicorn that seemed not to displease him. Chocolate and coffee- they were both brown, were they not? Sugarberry shook her head sadly; had Chocolate Chip been the wrong choice all along?