My Little Pony Monthly Issue 50 (May 1, 2001)

My Little Pony Monthly
Established June 1997
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Issue 50
May 2001

Index of this issue–

1. Descent into Death Valley (by Berry Brite)

2. The Cave (by Sugarberry)

3. Once Upon Near Future: A Fable from Cerian (by Moon Lightning )

4. Storm in the Heartland (by Sugarberry)


Editor’s note:

I would like to invite all of you who haven’t done so already to participate in Tickle’s ( new 2001 “50 Most Beautiful Ponies” contest. There is still time to nominate your favorite ponies into the contest; but hurry, as the deadline is May 15. This is bound to be a great event in the pony community, so please consider joining in on the fun. For all the details on the contest and how to nominate your favorites, go to the following URL:

And if you have any questions, please e-mail Tickle at


The winner of last month’s contest is Berry Brite (; she correctly located five discrepancies in the April Fool’s story published last month and will receive as her prize a music CD of all the My Little Pony songs from the television series and the specials. Congratulations, Berry Brite!


A real charming classic, to be passed on through the generations! ~ The New York Times

* * * * * * !!! ~ Wall Street Journal

Builds up great suspense, only to crush it! Perfect! ~ President George W. Bush

What phony comments it got! ~ Berry Brite

Descent into Death Valley
by Berry Brite (

“Clever Clover, can we go back now?” Berry Bright asked as she stood against the screaming wind. The wind made her eyes water; plus, it was very cold.

Clever Clover looked back at his friend. “C’mon, Berry Bright! We’re almost there!” he yelled.

She shivered and shook her head. “I’m not budging one inch,” she stated firmly. Like I could move, she thought. My joints are frozen stiff. “Please?” Berry Bright looked at Clever Clover imploringly. The wind whipped her golden mane around her face. It seemed to pierce her skin and go through her entire body, causing her to shiver violently.

“Here,” said Clever Clover. He opened up his backpack and took out a thermos of hot cocoa. He poured some into a mug and handed it to Berry Bright. She hurriedly drank the now lukewarm beverage, but she was so cold it felt hot.

“Thank you,” she said weakly.

He took the cup and replaced it in his pack. “Now can we go on?” he asked. Berry Bright nodded. The two walked into the shrieking wind that lashed across the plateau.

* * *
Morning Glory walked up to a small cottage. She looked around the whole street before entering. She groaned and flopped on the couch inside. Morning Glory immediately noted that neither of her two roommates were home. “Sundance? Berry Bright? Anyone home?!” She shrugged and forced herself off the couch to look around the house for notes saying where either of the missing ponies were. Ah-ha! Luck. Next to the phone she saw a note that read:

Morning Glory or Berry Bright:

I have gone to the Pretty Parlor to meet Sweet Berry and Light Heart. Be back around 5:00. –Sundance

So now Morning Glory knew where one of her roommates was, but where Berry Bright was she had no clue. Oh, she’ll probably be home sooner or later, she thought. She trudged up the stairs, worn out from her twelve hour work shift at Pony-Mart.

* * *
“Look!” yelled Clever Clover. Berry Bright glanced to where he was pointing. Up ahead was a vast crevice in the earth’s crust with no signs of life anywhere. “C’mon! Let’s go get a closer look at it,” he suggested.

“No way!” whispered Berry Bright. “No way.”

“Why, are you afraid?”



Berry Bright looked at the immense fracture ahead with an inexplicable fear. “I just am,” she murmured. “I just am.”

Clever Clover sighed. He seemed to be deep in thought for a moment. “I’ll hold your hoof,” he grinned.

Berry Bright laughed. Clever Clover’s beseeching grin seemed to brighten the whole creation. “All, right, but don’t you let it go!” she giggled.

“Oh, I won’t!”

The two proceeded towards the deep fissure, hoof in hoof. Berry Bright immediately wished she had not consented to go. She shook a little bit, but Clever Clover was so exited he seemed oblivious to her anxiety. The next thing she knew was that she was standing on the edge, peering down into the depths of the abyss. She shivered with pure fear. Clever Clover felt her quaking and wished he hadn’t pressured her so much to come with him. He put his forelegs around her and hugged her.

“It’s okay, Berry Bright. We’re going back now.”

“Thank you,” she whispered. As they turned, a gigantic gust of wind threw them both over. Clever Clover fell over the edge of the crevice. “No!” screamed Berry Bright. She grabbed for him and just barely caught his backpack. She pulled as hard as she could, but the strap on the pack snapped; Clever Clover went careening down the steep valley.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!” he screamed.

“Clever Clover!” Berry Bright shrieked. “No!!” He fell so far that she couldn’t even see him anymore. Tears streamed from her eyes. Her face had gone ashen from horror. As scared as she was, she decided to make a futile rescue attempt. She opened Clever Clover’s backpack and pulled out his climbing equipment. She began to make the descent into the foreboding fissure– Death Valley.

She drove the security pole into the ground, fastened the utility belt around her waist, tied the rope to the belt and pole, and adjusted everything, just like Clever Clover had taught her. Berry Bright peered down into the menacing depths and began to lower herself down. She seemed to gain no more than a single inch for every ten minutes she struggled against the cold and altitude. The only sound was the thumping of her heart that filled her head and the pressure in her ears that caused them to ring. Occasionally, the rocks beneath her would crumble and fall. She would lose her grip, and dangle by her waist until she could scramble back to the rock wall. Three hours had passed and the sky was turning a fiery orange-pink, which meant only one thing: dusk. Apprehension gripped her very being.

* * *
Now, to give an idea on how deep this crevice is, I’ll let you in on a little secret. In the three hours it took for Berry Bright to gain twenty yards, Clever Clover had not yet reached the bottom.

* * *
Poof. A soft impact released a cloud of dust. Clever Clover opened his eyes, wondering at his mild collision, not nearly what he presumed his gruesome end would be. He immediately rose to his hooves and looked up. The sky was a barely perceivable crimson line. He could see nothing; the sun’s light could not even begin to reach the depth he was at. He was not calm in the least. There was something wrong about this place; he understood the alarm Berry Bright had felt. Something was wrong.

“What happened? How did I survive?” he mused aloud.

“Because the high one prefers his prey to be alive,” responded an eerie voice. A gruesome looking black hand (remember, now, that Clever Clover can not see a thing) reached out of the sand and pulled Clever Clover in. As he went down, he saw two glittering eyes that emitted a ghostly light. Sand filled his mouth and he went under.

* * *
Morning Glory paced anxiously. “Where could she be?” she nervously blabbed.

“Will you quit pacing?!” yelled Sundance, who was thoroughly annoyed with Morning Glory’s panic attack.

“She’s been gone all day!”


“So she coulda been eaten by a snarling vicious buck deer!”

“Uh, Morning Glory?”


“What exactly is a snarling vicious buck deer?”

“No idea.”

The rest of the evening passed in this fashion– Morning Glory would freak out, and then calm down, and then freak out again. Sundance was none too pleased.

“Fine!!! If I call the girls and ask if they’ve seen her, will you shut up?!”

“Yes! Yes! Anything!”

Sheesh, thought Sundance. “And sit down before you have a stroke!” she added before picking up the phone.

* * *
Berry Bright was still clambering down the side of the gap. Rocks crumbled, and everything was getting more and more eerie in the pale light of the moon. She paused for a minute, and her heart was thumping loudly. She glanced to her right. Two eyes glimmered.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!” her scream pierced the air. The eyes flew back, and then approached and landed on Berry Bright’s nose.

“Hello,” said a voice that twinkled.

“Who are you?!” screamed Berry Bright. “What do you want with me?!”

“I am Celeste,” said the voice. “I have been condemned to dwell in this forsaken crevice.”

“Why? And what are you?” inquired Berry Bright, now aware that this creature had no intent of hurting her.

“I am a dryad.”

“And that is?”

“A sort of fairy-like creature that lives in the water,” said Celeste. “The river that I dwell in formed this canyon. I tried to bring light and joy to this land, in which I succeeded. Flowers and other fairies lived here, including several nymphs and other dryads. Even sea ponies.”

“What happened to them?”

“A new creature came, one that terrified my very soul. It killed everything! Nothing is left but me!”

“Why didn’t it kill you?”

“It turned me into its servant; or if I didn’t serve him– because I don’t– I could never see the sun again. What brings you here, anyway?”

“My friend, Clever Clover, fell down here.”

“Really? He probably didn’t survive the fall.”

“Maybe a dead stick or ledge caught him.”

“Unlikely,” said the dryad. “But possible.”

“I have to find him! I have to!!” screamed Berry Bright.

“Okay, I’ll help you,” said Celeste. But she didn’t seem convinced that Clever Clover’s rescue was a wise thing. Berry Bright continued to scale down the cliff with her new friend drifting alongside her.

* * *
“Sorry, Morning Glory, they say they haven’t seen her,” reported Sundance, hanging up the phone.

“But where could she be?!” cried Morning Glory.

“They did say that they saw her early this morning...”

“Where?! Where?!”

“...she was leaving town with Clever Clover. He had all his sports equipment on. Poor Berry Bright. He takes her everywhere whether she wants to go or not. But they usually are back by now. Maybe they got lost.”

“Or eaten by a snarling vicious buck dee–“

“Morning Glory, quit panicking. We’ll go look for them. You beat everything!” Sundance moaned. “Everything.”

The two ponies got a flashlight, watch, rope (“Well, you never know what might happen with those two,” Sundance had said. “Knowing how accident-prone Berry Bright is, we just might need it.”), and a whistle. “Come on, let’s go!” shouted Morning Glory.

“Alright already! Sheesh,” groaned Sundance.

* * *
Clever Clover opened his eyes. There was a faint source of light emitted from a dying torch on the wall. Above him was a ceiling of fine sand, just like the walls that surrounded him. He felt dizzied, and noticed a slit in his wrist, and beneath it was a basin to catch his blood that was being drained from him. In came a tall, cloaked, and dismal figure. It seemed to delight in the malice that was taking place.

“Who are you?” said Clever Clover hoarsely.

“We are who we are. You will accept it,” it said grimly. It raised the basin into its grimy claws, and then touched Clever Clover’s wound. The gash immediately healed. “Wait here. And I wouldn’t stand up if I were you.” The strange thing turned to leave the room. Leaping up on his feet to try to get out, Clever Clover only collapsed due to lack of blood.

“Help! Help! Someone!” the pony screamed.

“And silence!” shouted the specter as he again began to leave.

Clever Clover sat, completely befuddled. “What are you doing with that?”

“Silence!” shrieked the phantom. He turned and walked through the wall, because there was no door.

“Help! Help! Help me!!!” Clever Clover yelled again, despite the ghost’s warning.

Another ghastly figure entered. “Ah, company,” it said in a grim voice. “We have been expecting you.”

* * *
Her heart beating hard, Berry Bright struggled down the cliff. She searched for a rock to grab hold of. She spied a long protruding spike of rock and reached for it.

“No! Don’t!” screamed Celeste. “It’s a–”

“AAAAAAAAAH!” screeched Berry Bright as a blade came from the rock and severed the tether line. She sailed down toward the bottom. “Help!” her wail lingered in the air next to Celeste.

“–trap!” The dryad hovered, not knowing what to do, when she heard faint voices.

“Look! It’s a spike thing! And a limp line on it! Something bad happened! I know it! And did you hear that scream? “

“Yeah, I did. You may be right, Morning Glory.”

“Hello? Anyone down there?”

“Yes!” screamed Celeste. “The pony fell!!”

“Who is this?” yelled Morning Glory.

“I was helping her!” The dryad sailed up to the top of the fissure, or as far a she was permitted. “I’m coming up. Wait!” It was about an hour before Celeste made her appearance. “She fell. She was trying to save her friend; he also fell.”

“I knew it! I knew it!” shouted Morning Glory triumphantly.

“We have to save them!” Sundance said emphatically.

“But how are we to get down there?” pondered Morning Glory.

“The same way she did– scale down the cliff,” instructed Celeste. “But it’s not easy. It’s an extremely deep gorge; and even I, not restricted by gravity, took a long time to reach the top.”

Morning Glory and Sundance exchanged a glance, their minds forming the same idea. “You’re, uh, not restricted by gravity, huh?”

“Uh, n-o-o-o...”

“I have an idea...”

“Oh, no! No! N-O no! No way! Not two mares! No! I couldn’t have done it with her; I can’t do it with both of you. No!”

“Come on, we have to. At least try,” implored Morning Glory. “Please?”

Celeste groaned. She knew what had to be done. After all, she had taken a liking to this pony, Berry Bright, who had immense strength over her fears when it really counted. “I’ll hate myself for it later, but I’ll help you.”

“Yes! Thank you... uh–”



“Come on.” The dryad gracefully swelled like a stream overflowing with water, and she glistened in the moonlight that passed through the translucent waters she was made of.

“Can’t you come up any closer?” Morning Glory asked.

“No. I’m bound in this valley for eternity. I’m afraid you’ll need to jump, ” responded Celeste.

“You’re made of water! We’ll go right through you!” exclaimed Sundance.

“No, you won’t,” said the dryad. “Jump!”

The two mares looked at each other. Morning Glory was skeptical about jumping onto a floating piece of water, especially one that was alive. Sundance, no longer concerned about a potential danger, leapt onto the back of the dryad. Morning Glory hesitated, but finally thrust herself off the edge and onto the back of Celeste, who sank rapidly into the depths of the valley.

“I thought you said gravity didn’t effect you,” commented Morning Glory.

“Well, it’s still faster on the way down than the way up,” replied Celeste.


* * *
Clever Clover sat, now chained to the ground, with the black-robed creatures surrounding him. “We have another!” one of them shouted.

“Bring her in!” said one that was obviously in control of the place. In came Berry Bright.

“Berry Bright!” gasped Clever Clover.

“Help me!” shouted Berry Bright.

“I would, but I’m kind of chained to the floor!” yelled Clever Clover. Soon Berry Bright was also restricted in chains on the floor next to Clever Clover.

After what seemed like an eternity, a strange ghost entered. He was wearing a purple robe and a black crown. A black cowl hooded his face and his voice was eerie. “I have waited years for this! Now, after hundreds of eons, we’ll all have what we want...”

Berry Bright and Clever Clover glanced at each other.

“...a barbecue!!”

The specters danced gaily about the room. “Yeah!” they shouted. “I’ll bring the chips!” “I’ll bring the Coke!” “I’ll fire up the grill!” “Should I fill up the swimming pool?” “Do we want ranch or onion chip dip?” “Do you like it well done or rare?” “Don’t forget the cheese!”

Now, anyone else would have marveled at this, but not when you’re the entrée. Tears glistened on Berry Bright’s cheeks and she silently cried.

“Berry Bright?” asked Clever Clover. “Are you...”

The nearest specter picked up the ponies and carried them off into a large underground chamber that had a vent of lava pouring out from the wall. “Hoo, sure is hot today,” said a specter. All the others simultaneously agreed.

“Good golly, this is more terrifying than I thought,” mumbled Berry Bright. “No wonder Celeste was scared.”

Suddenly, the roof of the cavern rumbled and water dripped through the ceiling.

“Evacuate!” shouted the lead ghost. The specters vanished, leaving the two ponies alone. A huge stream of water came through. “AAAAAAAAAH!” shouted Berry Bright and Clever Clover. They remained on the bottom, and just as they took their last breaths, the water came rushing over them.

* * *
“This is my kingdom! Leave it at once!” shouted the lead specter.

“Never. It was once my kingdom, and I have come to reclaim it!” exclaimed Celeste, who had caused the river swell. “Release my friends, and leave! I have grown in my strength; you will find me hard to stop!”

“Hah!” laughed the wraith.

Celeste closed her eyes, and a fountain of stars appeared around the ghost. They swirled faster and faster, and a shower of water fell around him. He slowly disintegrated.

“They... are in the... other... room,” he said before he shriveled away.

“Come on!” said Sundance and Morning Glory. They dove into the water which filled the adjacent chamber. Sundance spied them on the bottom and signaled to Morning Glory to resurface.

“Celeste!” she gasped. “Celeste! They’re down there!” screamed Morning Glory.

The dryad touched the surface of the water and melted into it. After several seconds, which seemed like hours to the anxious mares, Berry Bright and Clever Clover emerged, unscathed. They took a deep gasp of breath.

“Hurry! The chamber is flooding!” shouted Sundance, for the room was filling with water. Celeste, who had increased tremendously in size, gathered them all, and erupted through the ground. Her power greatly increasing, the desolate fissure had life restored, and the moonlight again reached it. Celeste rapidly rose to the top, and set down the ponies on the ground where the wind still whistled sharply. Berry Bright had just regained consciousness. “What happened?” she asked. “Celeste?”

“Thank you. Your strength strengthened me. I have restored life to my home, and we have destroyed the specter. By the way, his name was Gorge Before Man.”

“That would explain his desire to have a cookout,” said Clever Clover.

“I wonder if it reduced the fat?” questioned Berry Bright. “Not that I had any fat to reduce. It was Clever Clover who would need it most.”


“Goodbye!” said Celeste. “I hope to see you again some time!” She vanished back into the valley.

“Bye!” they chimed in unison.

“I’m going home!” said Morning Glory. That sounded like a good idea, and the rest followed suit. Upon their return to Friendship Gardens, Morning Glory and Sundance immediately entered their cottage. Berry Bright and Clever Clover stood out in front of the door.

“Berry Bright, I want to thank you for coming with me today. Can’t say it was fun, but thanks anyway.”

“Oh, you’re welcome, Clever Clover. But don’t expect me to come on any more hare-brained trips.”

“Oh, sure! Well, goodnight, Berry Bright.” He gently kissed her before he left for home. Berry Bright lingered outside her cottage, feeling strangely happy despite how hectic the day had been.

~*~*~*~~~THE END!!!!~~~*~*~*~

The Cave
by Sugarberry (

The river sliced through the springtime splendor of the valley, working its way between the foothills. The water was undoubtedly cold; but the air was mild, and the sunshine was warm. The grass was an emerald green, saturated with life after spending the winter under its blanket of snow; in scattered patches, the greenery was broken by the hues of wildflowers in white, pink, blue, and yellow.

Sugarberry was ecstatic. “This is a gorgeous day for our excursion, isn’t it?” she bubbled. “It was beautiful last year, too, when Wigwam brought a group of us out here.” She flashed Vanguard a smile that let him know that his presence this year made the journey much more delightful.

In addition to Vanguard and Sugarberry, there were two other ponies on this trek. The mare, an orange unicorn with a dreamcatcher symbol, was a relative newcomer to Dream Valley; the stallion at her side was even more recently transplanted to the area. This pale green stallion was Fetish, Dreamcatcher’s friend who had followed her to her new location. Today’s outing was an opportunity for Sugarberry and Vanguard to become better acquainted with their new friends, as well as to visit Wigwam’s prize discovery from last June-- a Native Pony cave with simple yet powerful drawings done years and years ago by some unknown artisan.

“It was after this point that everyone began finding artifacts,” Sugarberry announced with an aside to Vanguard. “Except me.”

“Artifacts should not be arbitrarily removed from their location,” Dreamcatcher stated. She was a very proper Native Pony, living in a tepee in the Dark Forest and following the ways of her ancestors.

“The majority of them were catalogued and are stored at Pony Pride for study until Dream Valley deems fit to build a museum.” Sugarberry wisely refrained from mentioning the arrow point she had at home as a memento of that trip last spring.

“Digger and Ages are pressing Queen Serena to make a decision,” Vanguard added.

“You’ve had experience in museum work, haven’t you, Fetish?” asked Sugarberry.

“I helped to clean artifacts and verify their authenticity at a Native Pony museum back in our home town,” the stallion responded. “I’d be interested in getting involved with plans for a museum here. Who should I talk to?”

“You’ll meet Ages and Digger at the site today. Memoria, the head of the History Department at Pony Pride, is acting as their advisor in this project; and there are several prominent citizens who are backing them up,” Vanguard said.

“There’s the rock cliff ahead. That’s where we go up,” interjected Sugarberry.

“Not up the face of the cliff, I hope,” Fetish said. “I didn’t bring a rope.”

When the four ponies reached the granite slab, Sugarberry led the others to a point where the rock wall nearly met the river. Carefully maneuvering around the seemingly impassible barricade, the ponies encountered a rough natural stairway that had at some long ago time broken away from the main thrusting rock form.

Once at the top, the ponies were rewarded with a spectacular view of the valley which they had just left behind, with the river sparkling in the sunlight. Sugarberry, her fear of heights no better even with Vanguard at her side, held back as the other three walked to the edge of the drop-off.

“This is great!” Fetish enthused. “I’d like to camp out up here some time.”

Sugarberry shivered, and Vanguard returned to her side. “Come over here and we’ll sit on these rocks.” He guided her to a safe location while Fetish and Dreamcatcher continued to gaze over the landscape. “Smile,” he said to his soon-to-be bride. “You’re safe here.”

The mare smiled, but admitted her real concern. “Last year up here I thought about how far away you were and how long you’d be gone. I didn’t want to be separated from you.”

“And it will never happen again, if I’ve got anything to say about it.”

“Enough sitting around!” Fetish called. “Where is this cave I’ve heard so much about?”

“It’s not far now; just around this hill.”

The scenery changed as they rounded the hill; giant boulders dotted the landscape where they had lodged after releasing their hold on the craggy hilltops that reared their barren heads above the trees. The striking feature, however, was the twisting vein of obsidian that ran like a black snake up the hillside and ended at the cave entrance where Clever Clover and Wigwam now stood.

“Hi, guys!” Sugarberry called out, waving her hoof in greeting.

The two stallions responded, and four more came from the cave: Rocky, the copper-colored geology major; Ages, the azure-blue history buff; Digger, the hazelnut-brown paleontologist; and Gene, the light pecan-colored biology major. As the visitors neared the workers, Clever Clover teased, “We were just commenting on how we were sure that Sugarberry would end up getting you all lost.”

“She was an excellent guide,” Fetish responded.

Wigwam said nothing but looked beyond them as if expecting someone else to make an appearance. He caught Sugarberry’s eye, and she shook her head. “She had to work.” Sugarberry had asked the chocolate brown filly to join them on their journey, but Chocolate Chip had pleaded too much to do, even though Prime had recently moved on to New Pony to continue his studies there. Her previous interest in Wigwam was still on hold.

Vanguard introduced Fetish to the crew who had been hard at work at the site throughout the previous weeks. Clever Clover explained how the cave had been opened up a year ago when heavy rains had caused a landslide which had exposed the underground cavern; the unstable conditions had created a near catastrophe when Wigwam and his group of interested explorers had narrowly escaped a second landslide that occurred while they were inspecting the paintings on the cave walls. This second landslide had sealed off the entrance to the cave until this spring when Clever Clover arranged to have official excavations begun.

As Clever Clover educated the others about the project, Wigwam moved to Sugarberry’s side. “Come and see what Digger uncovered.” He led her to a spot just inside the cave entrance and pointed to a pile of arrow points.

Sugarberry gasped. “That’s where Baby Noddins was counting her finds when you rescued her! Those are the artifacts she was so disappointed to have lost!”

“And they were buried under tons of dirt,” Wigwam stated. “Sometimes I wonder...”

“Guardian angels,” Sugarberry said softly. “They really do watch over us.”

After a moment of reflective silence, Wigwam said, “I thought maybe you’d like to work on removing Baby Noddins’ cache. Clever Clover is a stickler on going by the book, so make sure you do it right.”

They returned to the rest of the group where Clever Clover was finishing up an explanation of the wall paintings. “So as you can see, the earliest pictures were done without symbols on the ponies whereas at this point,” the purple stallion directed their attention to a particular drawing on the wall, “they suddenly were put into use. That leads us to believe that the earliest ponies did not have the distinctive rump patterns of today’s ponies.”

Dreamcatcher peered closely at the unpretentious drawings in muted shades of brown, red, orange, and yellow; it was easy to see how deeply affected she was by this encounter with the past.

Fetish remarked on how fortunate they were that the landslide had not completely collapsed the cave walls. Clever Clover steered his gaze to the natural domed stone ceiling that arched over this chamber of rock; the strength of the stone was instrumental in protecting the grotto.

Ages propounded the theory that there had originally been a tunnel at the back of the cave that led deeper into the hill which might have been the only access to the cave when it was actively in use. The landslide had broken through the one weak spot on the outside wall.

Soon everyone was busy helping to clear the remaining dirt away from the entrance, and Sugarberry bagged and labeled all of the points that had been so hurriedly left behind last year. By this time, the sun was high in the sky; it was lunchtime.

Rocky, Ages, Digger, and Gene, however, with the enthusiasm of youth, scoffed at the picnic lunch that Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher had engineered. “We’ve set out fishing lines in the river just like the Native Ponies did,” Ages enlightened them.

“Yeah, and now we have to go check on our catch,” said Rocky.

“We’ll cook you up some fresh fish when we get back,” declared a cocky Gene.

“But just in case, don’t eat everything,” said Digger, hungrily looking over the assortment of foodstuffs being laid out on a picnic cloth.

The mares and stallions watched the college ponies bound off down the trail and then sat down to eat. “What are their chances of catching any fish?” asked Vanguard.

“Catching them isn’t the problem,” Clever Clover snickered. “Cleaning them is where they’ll wimp out.”

“I can do that for them,” Dreamcatcher volunteered.

“You’ll never see the fish,” Wigwam stated. “They’ll release them rather than harm them.” For a moment, tension hung on the air as the old animosity between Wigwam and Dreamcatcher flared up. They were both Native Ponies, but they had opposing ideas on how to best honor their heritage.

Fetish smoothed over the rough spot. “Your deviled eggs are great, Sugarberry. And who made this potato salad? It’s tastier than some I’ve eaten.”

“I got that ready-made at Oakley’s Market,” Vanguard admitted. “I don’t do a lot of kitchen work.”

“And that’s okay with Sugarberry?” asked Fetish roguishly. “Once you’re married, she should make you share the kitchen duties.”

“I’ll wash the dishes,” Vanguard compromised with a grin flashed at his fiancee.

“How are Manitou and his mate faring?” asked Clever Clover.

Wigwam opened his mouth to respond, but Dreamcatcher beat him to it. “Manitou and Halona are fine. They have a litter of four pups who are growing into fat little dynamos.”

“They’ll wear their baby fat off soon enough,” commented Fetish. “Once their parents start teaching them how to hunt, they’ll get into shape.”

“They must be awfully cute,” crooned Sugarberry. “What are you going to name them?” She directed this to Wigwam.

The stallion tossed his head. “Ask Dreamcatcher.”

“The two males will be Yuma and Palladin, meaning ‘son of a chief’ and ‘fighter’, respectively. The two females will be Magena-- because the litter was born at the time of the incoming moon-- and Winona, first-born daughter. I can’t be sure on that one, but Halona doesn’t seem to mind.”

“You put a lot of thought into those names,” said Clever Clover. “Of what significance is the mother’s name, Halona?”

“It means ‘fortunate’,” replied Fetish.

“I named her that because she was fortunate that Manitou found her when he did, and we were able to nurse her back to health.”

Wigwam stood up and walked a short distance away from the group. The rest finished eating, and Sugarberry called him back to have a chocolate cupcake. Wigwam returned and accepted the pastry, but he called Clever Clover’s attention to a peculiar cloud in the sky. “Have you ever seen such a cloud as that?”

Everyone looked up into the bright, blue canopy; off to the west an intensely black cumulus cloud was just becoming visible over the hilltops, the only blemish in the otherwise perfect sky. “Weird,” commented Clever Clover.

Bright flashes of light randomly lit up the menacing cloud as it approached with amazing speed. Dreamcatcher and Sugarberry hurriedly picked up the picnic supplies by which time the cloud was nearly overhead. “It’s going to rain!” shouted Fetish unnecessarily as the first giant drops began to pelt them.

The ponies quickly escaped into the confines of the cave. “I hope the fisherponies can find a place of shelter,” observed Sugarberry as they all watched the torrent of rain which came down fast and furiously.

“It’ll be over soon,” Vanguard commented. “That cloud was really moving.”

Suddenly, at the mouth of the cave, a jagged streak of lightning struck; several more hit simultaneously down the slope of the hill. The boom of the thunder was deafening. After the brilliant flashes, the ponies’ world seemed pitch black. When they could see again, they stood in wide-eyed wonder.

* * *
The first thing that became apparent to the ponies was that the cave was now lit with torches that leaned from holders carved into the cave walls rather than with battery-operated lanterns. Sugarberry looked at Vanguard who was standing next to her and found a rather fearsome-looking stallion with slashes of red war paint on his cheeks; Vanguard in turn saw a strawberry-patterned mare with braids fastened with turquoise beads and turkey feathers. Their mouths dropped open as they turned to stare around them.

Fetish, Wigwam, and Clever Clover now had the ominous markings of war paint, too; only Dreamcatcher had not changed as she had come adorned with braids and native trappings. All was silence as they gaped at one another and pondered the circumstances.

“The door to the outside is gone,” Fetish observed calmly.

“Look at the paintings!” Wigwam breathed. All eyes swivelled to check out the walls of the cave. The paintings seemed to be much clearer, much fresher than they had before lunch; the colors were vibrant instead of faded; they were almost alive.

Still trying to find some rhyme or reason to their predicament, the group heard hoofsteps coming their way from the rear of the cave. Looking in that direction, they now saw the opening to a passageway; and in that instant, a Native Pony appeared in the entrance, a spear clutched in one of his hooves.

“Can you help us?” asked Fetish. “We’ve somehow or other gotten ourselves into a sticky situation.”

The Native Pony did not respond; he stared at them with cold, dark eyes. A rustle in the tunnel behind him soon revealed a retinue of more Native Ponies, each carrying a sharp, pointy weapon. They proceeded into the cave, effectively surrounding the Dream Valley ponies.

“We’re dreaming,” Sugarberry voiced quietly, reaching for Vanguard’s hoof for consolation.

He gave her hoof a quick squeeze before being prodded forward by the business end of a spear. “I wish we were,” was all he said.

The ponies were ushered into the passageway which was not as well lighted as the cavern they had been in; Sugarberry had the impression that there were further openings into other rock-hewn rooms, but they were herded swiftly down the expanse of tunnel until they finally reached daylight. As they burst forth from the belly of the hill, their momentum was stopped by a solid wall of pony bodies that encircled them.

The Native Ponies stood in silent curiosity over these intruders into their realm. No one spoke or moved until a pony of obvious authority was allowed to move through the ranks and approach the Dream Vallians. “What is your purpose here?” he asked.

Fetish spoke up. “We’re lost.”

“Lost in our sacred temple?” the pony chief asked. “Strangers are not allowed there.”

“It was by no fault of ours...” began Dreamcatcher, but she was silenced by a Native Pony brave near her.

The chief looked at her for a moment, then returned his attention to Fetish. “Explain your purpose.”

Clever Clover attempted a response. “We come from a great distance. We were searching for your temple, but we did not know that it was off limits.”

The chief considered these words. “You are wearing war paint for such an undertaking?”

“It’s not war paint,” Wigwam said, rubbing a hoof over his face.

“Explain your appearance so soon after our scouts telling us of the presence of six of our enemies in the area.”

“Coincidence,” spat Fetish. “Would we bring two of our squaws along on a war party?”

Imperceptibly motioning to the braves with their weapons at the ready, the chief made his decision. “We will hold you until our scouts can verify... or refute... your story.”

The braves came forward and separated Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher from the stallions. “No!” shouted Sugarberry, struggling to remain by Vanguard. But the brave closest to her brusquely grabbed her foreleg and pulled her away. “Vanguard!” she cried. The stallions all bolted to regain the two mares, but the spear bearers knew their job only too well; there was no question as to the outcome. After a valiant struggle, but weaponless, Clever Clover and Fetish were overpowered while Vanguard and Wigwam had blood running from the wounds in their sides. Sugarberry saw the red rivulets and screamed with utter anguish as she and Dreamcatcher were propelled away from the cluster of ponies. “Van-guard!” Her cry echoed off the granite hills in one piteous wail.

* * *
“Shackle them,” the chief commanded, and the four stallions were quickly tied with ropes around a back leg and connected to each other to effectively limit their movements. When they were sufficiently secured, the chief gave his orders. “Set them to work.”

The stallions were none too gently guided to an area higher up the hill where work was in progress to carve out another tunnel entrance into the rocky mass. They were given chisels of stone to work with and instructed to begin their task. “Where are your own workmen?” asked Fetish, scowling at the tool in his hoof.

“Preparing for war,” stated the lone brave who was left to guard them. He moved off to a judicious distance of a spear’s throw away.

“It’s one against four,” muttered Wigwam as the four stallions buckled down to their appointed duty.

“And one well-placed spear will effectively bring us all down from the shear dead-weight, if you get my meaning,” added Fetish.

“We can chisel our way through this rope,” observed Clever Clover.

“If our guard ever takes his eyes off of us,” countered Vanguard, grimacing as the wound in his side rebelled against his moving.

“How did we get into this mess?” wondered Wigwam out loud. “Clever Clover, you’re the archeologist here. What went wrong?”

“It must have been the lightning bolt.”

“Can you be more specific?”


“I was afraid of that.”

* * *
The two mares were taken away and turned over to the control of the Native Pony mares of the village that occupied a level depression between two of the surrounding hills. After a terse conference among the Native Ponies, Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher were taken to a gently sloping hillside where numerous mares were preparing the soil for planting. They were given trowels with which to overturn the matted soil and assigned an area to cultivate.

The mare who seemed to be in charge of them began to work herself, so Dreamcatcher and Sugarberry were free to talk. “What happened to the stallions?” Sugarberry asked of her companion.

Dreamcatcher was slow in answering. “It depends on how far back in time we’ve come.”

Sugarberry stared at the mare. “Back in time?” she gasped. “You can’t be serious.”

“You forget that I’m a unicorn, and I have a magical power.”

“You can... see... into the future.”

“And my vision did predict a confrontation with the past, although I failed to read it correctly.”

“You knew this was going to happen?”

Dreamcatcher smiled patiently at Sugarberry. “I knew that I would encounter the Native Pony culture up-close and personal, but I assumed it would be through the artifacts and wall paintings at the cave. I never suspected such a dramatic rendezvous.”

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Sugarberry asked accusingly.

“I am making the most of the situation, Sugarberry, but I am not about to spend the rest of my life digging holes in the ground.” She held up the trowel and grimaced.

“You think we can rectify the situation?” Sugarberry asked hopefully.

“Tonight, let me sleep on it,” Dreamcatcher smiled. “I get my best visions when I’m asleep.”

“In the meantime, we’d better pray.”


* * *
The four stallions worked in silence but were aware of their captor every moment, waiting for any opportunity that might give them the edge. The Native Pony proved uncompromising in his duty, however, and never lowered his guard. The stallions continued with their monotonous exercise with no chance for a break. The sun was setting behind the hills before the guard indicated that they were to stop. Dusk came down quickly. He prodded them back down the hill in the direction of a cluster of trees that camouflaged a village of tepees that stood ghostlike in the failing light except for the flickering fires.

“Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher must be in one of these,” whispered Vanguard to his companions as they were escorted between the dwellings.

“Stay sharp so we can isolate which one,” Wigwam responded.

It was Clever Clover who first saw them. “There they are, to your right.” A line of mares was just coming in from work in the fields, and Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher were in their midst. Vanguard groaned as he saw how tired and defeated Sugarberry looked. Dreamcatcher was apparently up to the job at hoof; she showed no sign of flagging. For one brief moment, Sugarberry looked up to catch sight of Vanguard and the others; for an instant a look of joy came over her face, but she was immediately shoved through an open door of a tepee decorated with painted deer dancing over the skins. Dreamcatcher followed.

“They’re holding them together. That’s a point in our favor,” Fetish commented as the stallions were jostled in their shackles to sit with their backs up against a tree trunk. Bowls of a mush-like substance were thrown on the ground at their hooves.

“It could use some sugar,” Wigwam mused after tasting the concoction.

“And some spices,” Clever Clover agreed.

“Eat up for the hunger that’s coming, as Grandma used to say,” Vanguard added.

“I could use a glass of water,” Fetish ventured.

“How’s the gash in your side?” Clever Clover asked collectively of the two wounded stallions.

“Not bad, considering,” Vanguard admitted. “Those points were highly sharpened.”

“Easy in, easy out,” Wigwam clarified. “Fortunately, they didn’t go too deeply.”

Vanguard looked at his blistered and raw hooves. “My hooves hurt worse than my side; teaching mathematics doesn’t prepare one for manual labor of this type,” he observed.

“With what we accomplished today, I’d say we have only another ninety-nine years of work on this project,” quipped Fetish.

Mealtime was obviously over as the brave who had guarded them during the afternoon nudged them to their hooves. A young colt preceded them to a small brook that coursed down the side of the hill, and the stallions were allowed to drink their fill. They were then shown to their accommodations for the night: They were effectively fettered around their dining-tree trunk, and they bedded down on the hard ground.

* * *
“I’ve been thinking,” Clever Clover softly said into the dark and silent night. A slight shifting of bodies let him know that the others were listening. “Why did the lightning strike where it did?”

“Isn’t that the question we’ve all been pondering?” asked Vanguard.

“What I mean is, lightning-strikes happen all the time, and I’ve never known of one to transport ponies back in time, if that is indeed what has happened here. Why did this one do the impossible?”

“The spirits of the Native Ponies are angry with us for messing around with their sacred cave,” volunteered Fetish.

“Any other ideas?”

“Some kind of time warp,” suggested Wigwam.

Vanguard suddenly jumped. “What’s wrong?” hissed Fetish.

“Ants,” Vanguard replied, swatting at his side. “They keep crawling around on the wound.”

“Is that what that is?” asked Wigwam. “I wondered what that weird sensation was.” He brushed his hoof over his own lesion.

“Back to my thesis,” Clever Clover said. “What if the obsidian has something to do with our fate?”

“Why do you ask?”

“The vein of obsidian runs up the side of the hill and ends at the spot where the cave opens up.”

Opened up, you mean. It’s closed on that side now.”

“That’s a good point.” Clever Clover fell silent as he contemplated that new wrinkle in his plan.

“Talk to us.”

“My original theory was that the obsidian somehow directed the force of the lightning up the hill, intensifying it, and we were caught in its confluence. Therefore, if it were to happen again, we would have to be back at that same point to take advantage of that surge of power.”

“Back in the cave?”

“That’s what I thought; but when you mentioned that in this earlier time, the wall of the cave is intact, maybe the results wouldn’t be the same.”

Everyone was speechless as each contemplated this information.

“We’d have to be on the outside of the hill at the top of the obsidian.”

“Unless the spirits of the ancient ones are also involved, in which case maybe we have to be inside the cave anyway.”

“We’ll have only one chance to find out.”

“That doesn’t leave any room for error.”

A hush settled once more.

“This all depends on the cloud, of course,” Clever Clover finally vocalized.

“The cloud, the lightning, and the obsidian,” Fetish recited.

“And us being in the right place at the right time.”

“And Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher, too.”

Another pause passed by interminably.

“We’d better get some sleep.”

“Some prayers might be appropriate, too.”


* * *
Morning came early to the Native Pony village. Vanguard, Clever Clover, Wigwam, and Fetish were goaded awake, but by the handle end of the spear instead of the blade. “Count your blessings,” whispered Vanguard.

They were allowed their porridge and a drink from the stream before they were herded off to their toil. They had been able to catch a glimpse of Dreamcatcher and Sugarberry being led off in a westerly direction, and they all marked that information for later use. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the day became uncomfortably hot; but the guard allowed no time for a break or a drink of water. Nor did he break his constant surveillance.

It was a surprise, therefore, when at mid-morning another brave came hurrying to the guard with what appeared to be urgent news. The guard remained at his post after the messenger had left, but his mind was on other things. He cast frequent glances down the path that led to the village.

“Something’s up,” Fetish confided to his friends.

“Now’s our chance to chisel this hemp rather than the rock,” Clever Clover suggested. The four stallions covertly hacked at the rope tying them together, keeping a sharp eye on the guard so that they were hitting stone when he looked their way. But he increasingly watched the village with more concern than he had for his prisoners.

“What’s bothering him?” Wigwam queried under his breath.

“They were gearing for war,” Fetish answered. “I’d say the die is cast.”

“What about the mares?” Vanguard nearly panicked. “Would they be left out in the fields?”

“I doubt it,” said Clever Clover with a quick glance at the guard to make sure he had not heard the rise in voices. “They’d probably be moved to the village.”

“Let’s hope they will be in the same tepee as last night.”

Working as feverishly as they dared, the stallions were close to their goal when a spine-tingling shriek was heard at a fair distance from their position. All four raised their heads to stare off in the direction from which the unearthly sound came. The guard, too, was attentive to the scream.

The world seemed to have become completely devoid of sound in the aftermath of that one violent yell, but it was a pregnant silence. In one horrifying moment, the hillsides became alive with the sounds of battle. The guard abandoned his post without so much as a backward glance; his place was with the warriors now.

In no time, Vanguard and Wigwam had the rope between them severed, and they worked furiously to un-loop the ties over their hind legs. Soon, Fetish and Clever Clover broke the bond between them and were able to unravel their hind legs from the encompassing fetters. By then, Vanguard was on his way down the path toward the village.

“Wait up!” Fetish warned. “We have to have a plan!”

“I plan to get to that tepee and rescue the girls,” Vanguard called over his shoulder.

“Works for me.” Wigwam followed in his hoofsteps.

“Let’s go!” Clever Clover concurred.

“We need a plan!” Fetish muttered to himself as he joined the hunt.

* * *
Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher had been busy in the field since sunrise and were more than ready for a rest when their supervisor, as they had come to call her, beckoned for them to follow her.

“I could go for a soda right now,” Sugarberry fretted as they trotted after the Native Pony mare. The entire field of workers seemed to be headed back to the village, and no one seemed happy to be given the day off.

“Sugarberry,” Dreamcatcher said quietly, “we are going to face some danger in the next few hours, and I want you to be prepared. You will have to be very, very brave.”

Sugarberry’s blood ran cold; she felt like all the support had drained out of her system, leaving her with rubber for legs. Yet she forced herself to keep going, one hoof ahead of the other, following the lead pony. She did not ask Dreamcatcher for any details; knowing might be worse than wondering. She could only put her trust in Dreamcatcher’s knowledge and let her lead the way. Vanguard, Wigwam, Clever Clover, and Fetish... surely they were safe and would come for the mares when they could.

The Native Pony who watched over Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher sat in stony silence as the time dragged by in the stifling interior of the tepee, the focus of her unblinking eyes somewhere outside of this place yet her senses fully alert. When a blood-curdling whoop sounded somewhere on the outskirts of the village, Sugarberry was sure her own heart had stopped beating. She looked at Dreamcatcher who seemed suddenly enlivened as if every nerve was on the watch. The Native Pony who watched them did not respond with anything more than a sigh.

Aware of Dreamcatcher’s aura of expectation, Sugarberry was apprehensively awaiting the unknown. The heat within the enclosure was quelling enough on its own-- the fear and the worry only added to the oppressive stuffiness; sweat was running down her body in rivulets. In the distance, muffled sounds could be heard; but nothing seemed to be happening in the confines of the village itself. When a noise outside the tepee flap was heard, Dreamcatcher placed a hoof on Sugarberry’s foreleg; Sugarberry felt her companion’s muscles tense as if preparing for sudden flight and looked expectantly toward the deerskin door.

Within a heartbeat, Vanguard burst into the tepee, followed by Fetish. Both mares were on their hooves. The Native Pony stayed where she was and offered no resistance as if the loss of the two prisoners under her care was no longer a matter of any importance. Only for a moment did her gaze shift to them from the private visions she beheld. Dreamcatcher saw the glance. “Your warriors will return,” she stated simply, and the Native Pony went back to her musings.

Having Vanguard back at her side was like a revival of life for Sugarberry; finding Clever Clover and Wigwam standing guard outside the tepee made her joy complete-- the group was together again, and for now, that was the answer to her prayers. What lay ahead would have to be endured one step at a time.

The late morning sun burned down on the village; there was no one in sight at the campfires, there were no foals running and playing in the open spaces between the tepees, there were no voices calling out the news of the day. Only in the area beyond the village to the south were there sounds of tumult; Sugarberry became aware of them as she and the others beat a hasty retreat between the homes of the settlement, steering their way to the north side of the hill that contained the snaking ribbon of obsidian.

“We’ve determined our best bet is to return to the closest point of our confiscation,” Clever Clover informed the mares. “It’s nearly twenty-four hours since our unfortunate experience with the cloud.”

“Won’t we need the presence of the cloud to produce the lightning strike again?” asked Dreamcatcher.

“Look west,” said Fetish.

They had just cleared the spattering of trees that covered this side of the hill, and both mares looked to the west as instructed. There, coming across the otherwise clear sky, was the same apparition they had seen the day before: a black, menacing cloud, intermittently highlighted with flashes of light. “It’s moving faster than we are!” moaned Sugarberry.

“We can make it!” urged Wigwam. They had reached the lower extreme of the rift of obsidian and now had only to follow it to its highest point. Vanguard pulled Sugarberry along with him as they followed their compatriots up the hillside. Sugarberry kept her eyes on the ground, concentrating on keeping a steady tread at the fastest pace she could go. She remembered Dreamcatcher’s words and vowed that she would remain brave no matter what happened.

The shadow of the cloud had plunged them into an eerie dusk-like environment by the time the ponies reached their destination. Gathering in a cluster, they could do nothing else but wait as the cloud boiled above them. The staccato drum of raindrops filled the air, and Sugarberry looked at Vanguard as he stood next to her at the edge of the group. In that instant, she caught sight of a movement as a hidden Native Pony warrior unfolded himself from the shadowy contour of the hill, his spear raised and at the ready.

Realizing that Vanguard was the intended target, Sugarberry did the only thing she could. She leaped between the course of the spear and her country blue stallion, taking the brunt of the thrust in her chest. Seeing the play of events as if in slow motion, Vanguard could do no more than to catch the limp body of his love as she collapsed into his forelegs, her blood spilling over them both. “My God... no!” he cried. In that instant, the lightning blasted the obsidian with its power; there was a blinding flash followed by utter darkness.

* * *
As the ponies recovered from the burst of energy, Clever Clover spoke up. “That was a little too close for comfort.”

“I’ve never heard a strike that close... it was awesome,” said Fetish.

Wigwam smirked. “Van... Sug... the lights go out for a second, and this is what we get?”

Sugarberry and Vanguard pulled apart from a kiss as the battery-powered lanterns flickered back on. “She jumped into my forelegs when the lightning struck; what was I supposed to do?” Vanguard winked.

Dreamcatcher giggled. “That was one electrifying kiss!”

The intensity of the storm passed by as quickly as it had begun. The rain came to an end and the voices of the fisherponies could be heard coming back to the cave.

“Where are the fish?” asked Clever Clover as the four young stallions came into sight.

The quartet exchanged glances. “We had a good catch, but just as we started up that funky stairway, the lighting exploded and Ages dropped the whole mess; they fell back into the river,” explained Digger.

“We lost ‘em all,” verified Gene.

“And that lightning,” began Rocky, “was awesome. We thought we’d get back to find the cave closed in again.”

“Umm... did you guys have any food left?” asked Digger.

In turning to retrieve the picnic baskets, Sugarberry’s mane brushed against Ages. “What’s this?” he asked, pulling a cluster of feathers from a tangle of her hair. Several turquoise beads were threaded over the quill tips.

“Never saw it before,” Sugarberry shrugged. “Is it yours, Dreamcatcher?”

“No, I never had one with turquoise beads.”

Clever Clover took the decoration. “The beads look authentic,” he murmured, “and in very good condition. But the turkey feathers can’t be old; they’d have disintegrated. Who’s trying to pull a fast one?” He eyed the college ponies critically, but they all denied any knowledge of the item in question.

“Memoria was up here yesterday, and I think she had some beads in her hair,” said Wigwam, rubbing a hoof over his side.

That action caused Vanguard to involuntarily scratch at his side as well. “There are ants in here.” He knocked several to the floor.

Sugarberry lifted a hoof to her chest. “Ugh. They’re big and creepy.” She brushed wildly.

“They’re only ants!” Fetish grinned. “Properly prepared, they’re actually...”

“Enough said,” interrupted Wigwam. “We’ve still got work to do.”

Ages, eating leftovers as he studied the wall of paintings, remarked, “I still say there’s a tunnel coming into this back wall. See where the stallion is rearing? Then there’s a gap before the other stallion that’s challenging him. Can’t you picture a tunnel entrance right between them?”

The ponies stared at the spot indicated, and in one voice Wigwam, Sugarberry, Vanguard, Clever Clover, Dreamcatcher, and Fetish said, “Yes, I can.” They looked at one another and laughed.

Clever Clover summed up their feelings. “Somehow, it just seems right!”


Once Upon Near Future
A Fable from Cerian
by Moon Lightning (

There once were two ponies. They were very pretty and seemed to shine like the stars and the sun. Both these ponies were princesses who ruled over the Little Ponies on the distant planet of Cerian, cousins of the ponies in Dream Valley.

One day, a terrible argument broke out between them, and the two friends did not want to be with each other any longer. One, the dark blue Midnight Star, felt that ponies should live forever in the hearts of many. She believed in the dreams and hope. The other, the light-colored Dawn, believed in reality.

After years of fighting they soon began to long for one another, but pride kept them at bay. Their anger and sadness was so great that it carried them up to the sky. There, forever, they would chase each other in vain, yet pride would forever be their keeper.

It is said that one would be born anew out of the blue moon and, like a flash of lightning, would be carried down among her people. She would step out of the shell of the moon and rise as queen of the ponies of the West Valley. Another, carried by the falling stars of heaven, would rule the Ocean Valley. And henceforth Moon Lightning and Morning Light would rise anew.


Storm in the Heartland
by Sugarberry (

“Congratulations!” A cheerful group of ponies surrounded the green stallion, his mortarboard and tassel jauntily crowning his head. “You’ve graduated, finally!”

Buck grinned with pride and happiness. “Can you believe it?” He hugged his mom and dad and even gave a perfunctory hug to Columbine. Licorice and Tramples shook their brother’s hoof, accompanying the formality with a fair share of banter.

“Willy!” Buck yelled as his buddy came up to the group with a pretty young mare at his side. “Who’d have thought you’d make it to this day!” he teased his best friend from his college years.

“I had to work harder at it is all,” Willy grinned.

“Honeybee, you’ll have to meet my family.” Buck proceeded to introduce the waitress from Bubbling Springs to the assembled ponies, ending with, “...and this is my friend from way back in kindergarten, Columbine.”

The celebration continued on the grounds of Binks University until Buck and his family with Columbine in their company made their departure, stopping first for a special dinner at one of Binksville’s finest restaurants. Then began the long journey home to Birdsong.

“What do you plan on doing before you start teaching in the fall, Buck?” Columbine asked. “Are you going to help your folks at Birdsong?”

“As much as I can. But I’ll be helping to set up the museum that will be opening in July; that will take most of my time.” Having gone through thirteen years of school together in their home town before Buck’s departure to the university, the mare and the stallion had been close friends; yet Buck denied to anyone who questioned him that their relationship was any more than that.

Columbine had other ideas. She had even approached Buck’s mother about a job at the popular bed-and-breakfast establishment of Birdsong that Lilac and Trendy operated along with their extensive acreage, and Lilac had been delighted to take on such an enthusiastic and capable helper. So now, after his years away at college, Buck was returning to a situation that would keep him and Columbine together just as it had since kindergarten.

The walk home proved to Buck that Columbine had infiltrated his family’s life to a striking degree. Tramples and Licorice were as comfortable with her as if she was their sister, and Lilac and Trendy included her in all their plans quite naturally. Buck foresaw some problems on the horizon but put any dissension behind him for the time being. On this day, his graduation day, he was not going to let anything get him down.

* * *
Springtime at Birdsong was always beautiful, and Buck reveled in the splendor not only of nature’s pallet of color and form, but also in the sheer freedom that he felt in launching a new phase of his life. In the fall he would be teaching classes at the same high school that he had once attended as a student; he looked forward to the start of his career. In the meantime, his days were spent doing field work and chores at Birdsong and in unpacking and organizing museum pieces at Riverside’s newly endowed Window on the Past.

“I never get to see Buck even with him being back home,” Columbine had complained to Lilac as the two of them were preparing lunch for a full house of guests. The balmy weather had brought an influx of vacationers after the bitter cold winter.

“He likes to keep busy,” Lilac had responded to Columbine’s grievance. She had to tread a fine line to respect Buck’s reserve and yet humor this young mare who had become a valuable asset to the bed-and-breakfast enterprise. “And he’s enjoying being out of school; he’ll settle down after a while.”

The only time that their workday schedules overlapped was the supper hour, and then Columbine was busy in the kitchen or serving in the dining room. The Birdsong stallions ate their supper separately from the guests in an alcove off the kitchen area and were out for chores while Lilac and Columbine ate their own hurried meal and slaved over the dishes. As Buck, Trendy, and Licorice usually dawdled over the barn work (they found it an excellent time to talk amongst themselves), Columbine was gone home before they were finished for they day.

Mondays were the exception. The museum curator, Whirlybird, had declared Monday to be her day off, and no work was allowed without her cautious supervision. This news was music to Columbine’s ears; she would have one day out of the week in which to spend some time with Buck. She was disappointed, however, when she arrived for work on Monday morning to find that he was already helping in the fields.

Before lunch, Columbine had made her daily trip to the mailbox; and in her dedicated way, she sorted through the envelopes, grouping them by recipient’s name. One letter addressed to Buck caught her attention; it had no return address, but the hoofwriting had a definite feminine flourish to it that caused her to feel a twinge of jealousy. Entering Birdsong through the front door, she was surprised to meet Buck coming through from the back of the house.


“Hi, Columbine.”

“Are you in for lunch?”

“Yes, and Mom said the window in the sitting room was stuck again.”

Columbine remembered the mail in her hoof. “You have a letter.” She handed him the piece of correspondence and watched his face as he looked at the hoofwriting.

Buck accepted the letter in all innocence; but on seeing the fancy makeup of the address scribed so freely, he had the odd feeling that he should recognize it. He stared at it trying to remember; suddenly it hit him. Back in Binksville, he had seen this hoofwriting at the museum often enough; one of the volunteers had this very unique style of writing-- the volunteer who had deceived him into laying bare his heart only to have in brazenly crushed... Garnet. He was so lost in thought that he was visibly startled when he realized that Columbine was still standing there, scrutinizing him.

“Is it important?” she asked, sensing some of the feelings running through Buck and fearing competition.

With eyes that looked not so much at her as through her, Buck replied, “No... not important.” But he took the letter with him and disappeared to his room, setting off a bevy of speculation on Columbine’s part.

* * *
Closing the door behind him, Buck sat at his desk, Garnet the only thing on his mind. He could see the dark red filly with her soft curls and her violet eyes as clearly as if he had shared lunch with her only yesterday. She had chattered with him and shared her sandwich and made him feel somehow special. But then the image changed, and he saw again the cold, calculating glare from her eyes as she duped him into taking the fall for her own misdemeanor. It was like she was two different ponies; which one had written this letter?

It was several minutes before Buck dared to open it. “Dear Buck,” it began. “You will have graduated, and I wanted to congratulate you. I never have stayed in one place long enough to get an education; I’m envious of you because of your diploma as well as for that beautiful home you told me about, Birdsong.

“I’m sorry for what I did to you at the museum, but I was sure you wouldn’t be blamed for long. Maybe someday my path will cross with yours again. I’d like to see your Birdsong. When that day comes, I hope we’ll still be friends. Yours truly, Garnet.”

Would she dare to come here? Buck asked himself. She was still wanted in connection with the theft that had occurred back at the Binksville Museum. She couldn’t just waltz in and expect to be welcomed, not with what she had done hanging over them.

Buck remembered that he was supposed to be fixing the window, and he placed the letter in a desk drawer; he returned to the parlor and was just finishing up when Columbine came looking for him. “Lunch is on, Buck.”

“Okay. I’m done here.” He demonstrated how well the window now opened.

“Great! And just smell those lilacs!” She walked to the window and breathed deeply of the purple flowers that were blooming in profusion.

“They’ve always been Mom’s favorites.”

“I should think so,” Columbine glibly replied. “Her name isn’t Lilac for nothing!”

“So one should be able to assume that your favorite flower is a columbine, and yet you always say that sunflowers are.”

“Sunflowers are such happy flowers!” They were nearing the kitchen where lunch was being served. “Your mom let me plant a row of them along the barn; they should be sprouting any day now.”

“If the cats didn’t dig them out already.”

“What are you blaming the cats for now?” asked Tramples, already at the table.

“Buck thinks they’ll dig out my sunflower seeds. They won’t, will they?”

“Not all of them, anyway,” grinned Licorice. Columbine shot him a pouty look before returning to the dining room to check on the guests.

“Are we going to the movie tonight or tomorrow night?” asked Tramples.

“Tonight would probably work out better; we’ll be working in the back field tomorrow and won’t get finished as quickly.”

“Tonight it is then,” Licorice settled the question.

Overhearing their conversation, Lilac took Buck aside as the stallions finished up and prepared to head back to work. “You should invite Columbine to go to the movie with you, Buck. You haven’t spent any time with her since you got home.”

“You’re right, of course, Mother. Will you ask her for me?” he grinned. “You heard Dad say we weren’t to dawdle.”

“You can spare a minute to speak with Columbine,” Lilac clucked. “Your Dad always says I’m the boss around here anyway.”

“Yes, Mother.”

Buck waited for Columbine to make another appearance in the kitchen and surprised her with his invitation. Her face lit up and she readily accepted. As Buck hurried to catch up to his father and brothers, he could not help but think about Columbine’s comment on happy sunflowers and the similarity of her constantly cheerful disposition to those favorite blossoms. An unbidden thought quickly followed: Garnet, on the other hoof, reminded him of a rich, red rose, deeply mysterious.

* * *
“Did you enjoy the movie?” Lilac asked her assistant the next morning when she arrived for work.

“It was okay.” She stood looking somewhat forlorn.

“Is there a problem, Columbine?”

“I was just wondering... have you noticed that Buck seems preoccupied?”

“No, I can’t say that I have. Why do you ask?”

Columbine shrugged her shoulders. “He seems distant, like there’s something on his mind; that’s all.”

* * *
The field work was nearing completion by the end of the week, and Tramples was busy finishing up a section of planting in an outlying patch far from the homestead late in the day. He had covered the last seeds, and stood to survey his work with a satisfied grunt of satisfaction when a motion in the adjoining pasture caught his eye. He looked in disbelief at what he saw.

The filly from the next farm over was scurrying across the grassy plot of meadow, her light pink body distinctly visible against the green grass, her yellow mane curling softly around her face. Tramples had secretly admired this vision of loveliness from afar when he had been in school, but he was too shy to even consider that she would ever look at him, let alone talk with him, so he had never made an effort to get to know her better. During this past year since his graduation from high school, he had rarely seen her; it struck him that she would be graduating this year and going off to college.

Years ago, when they had been foals, Lilac had occasionally invited the family over for Sunday dinner; Hollyhock had been a skinny little thing with a splattering of freckles and eyes too big for her face and a wrinkly nose. They had played hide-and-go-seek and tag and sought out the new kittens in the haymow. But for some reason, the two families had drifted apart as the foals had grown older. And in growing older, Tramples had grown more timid where fillies were concerned, especially around the neighbor who had grown to be a very lovely young mare.

Now, however, this particular filly was coming in his direction; Tramples walked to the fence to meet her. She was carrying a note pad and a pencil, and Tramples noticed that she looked rather distraught. “Tramples! Am I glad to see you!” she gasped as if she had been hurrying for some distance.

“What’s wrong?”

“I was sketching back in the woods,” her hoof waved to the trees behind her, “when I heard something moving in the bushes. I was so scared that I took off running and would be running yet if I hadn’t seen you over here. I don’t know what it was.” She looked behind her as if expecting to see some horrid creature in pursuit.

“There’s nothing in the woods that would hurt you,” Tramples said. He had spent his life studying all sorts of animals and found all of them endearing.

“But it sounded so big and mean!” Hollyhock asserted, then looked sheepish. “You’re right. I was just letting my imagination run away with me.”

“The woods can be awfully quiet when you’re there alone,” Tramples comforted her. “Whatever was in the woods wouldn’t have gone crashing through the underbrush unless it was spooked, so it was probably frightened when it spotted you.”

“Do you think so?” questioned Hollyhock, her dread beginning to melt away. “I didn’t mean to wander so far from home; but the flowers are so wonderful that I kept going just a little further to see what was over the next rise or behind the next tree that I ended up all the way over here on your dad’s land.”

“You said you were drawing.”

“Yes. I like to sketch the flowers in their natural setting.” She showed him the incomplete draft on the pad she carried.

Tramples looked at the drawing and recognized a bunch of violets with a moss-covered rock for a backdrop. “That’s really pretty.”

“Thanks. I like nothing better than to sit in nature and record all the beautiful hidden things.” She stopped and blushed, as if she was sharing thoughts too secret.

“I like to watch the animals,” confided Tramples, “but I can’t draw them.”

“Maybe you never tried,” Hollyhock smiled, but then frowned deeply. “I must have left my pencil case back by the violets; I left in such a hurry.” She looked back the way she had come with a return of apprehension in her eyes.

“I could walk back with you,” Tramples offered, clambering over the fence to prove his sincerity.

“Would you, Tramples? I wouldn’t expect you to help me out, but all my drawing equipment is in that box, and I’d be lost without it.”

“No problem. I was done with my work here anyway. Just show me where you entered the woods.”

The two ponies had backtracked to the place where Hollyhock had been sketching and recovered the latched wooden box that held her treasures. “Could you wait a minute while I put the finishing touches on my drawing?”

“Sure.” While Hollyhock worked on the picture, Tramples explored through the bushes in the area. He grinned when he came across what he had expected to find and very quietly went back to Hollyhock.

“I’m finished,” she said, a trace of anxiety slipping away as she saw him return.

“I found what frightened you.”

“What was it?” She stepped back as if expecting a wild boar to come bursting through the greenery.

“A hen turkey on her nest. If you’re very quiet, you can see her through the branches.”

The two went to a point where Tramples held back some dogwood branches, and Hollyhock peered through the leaves to see, after some effort, the brown mottled body of the mother bird. They withdrew as quietly has they had come.

“If she was keeping her nest secret, why did she make such a racket?”

“I imagine she was coming back to the nest when she spotted you and made the ruckus to attract you away from it, making it safe for her to return.”

“Well, she certainly succeeded.” Hollyhock was able to smile more easily knowing for sure what had frightened her earlier. “Now I only feel foolish.”

“There’s no reason to.” Tramples looked at the vision before him and suddenly lost all the courage that had been supporting him. “I... I guess I should get back.”

“I was hoping you’d walk me part way home, at least,” Hollyhock confessed. “I’m not sure of the best route to get back. I sort of meandered my way here.”

“I can do that.” The words rushed out, and now it was Tramples’ turn to blush. “I’ll take you to the hill that overlooks your place.”

As the two walked together, Hollyhock talked about her search for flowers; when she mentioned her desire to find a yellow lady’s-slipper to draw as a surprise for her mother and explained that her mom had not seen one of these flowers since she was a filly herself, Tramples was pleased to tell her that he knew where one grew. “It’s on the far side of Birdsong, on a hillside covered with trees.”

“Could you show me?”

“Sure. How about tomorrow?” Tramples said the words before he realized what he was doing.

“That would be perfect! I’m always out sketching on Sunday afternoon, so Mom won’t be suspicious.”

“Okay. So do you want to come by about one o’clock?”

“I’ll have to help Mom with the dishes, so let’s say one-thirty.”

They had reached the top of the hill that overlooked the valley that encompassed Hollyhock’s home. Tramples saw her safely on her way for the short distance still to go and watched her until she was safely on the front porch; from there, she turned to look back, and finding Tramples still standing there, waved in his direction before entering the house.

Tramples ran the distance home in sheer exuberance. He found his brothers by the barn and could not contain his good news. “I didn’t take her home by the most direct route,” he confided. “I was afraid I’d never have another chance to talk to her.”

* * *
Hollyhock’s visit mushroomed into a family affair; as soon as the brothers were in for supper and Lilac heard of Tramples chance encounter and the planned meeting for the next day, she began some planning of her own. “We haven’t had Shamrock and Bonanza over since you boys were foals. Once we got busy with the bed and breakfast, we didn’t take the time to stay in touch. Of course, Shamrock was busy with those twins-- they were a hoof-full. But they’re older now.” Lilac stood pondering the situation. “I’ll call Shamrock as soon as dishes are done to invite them over for a Sunday dinner; all our guests are going in to Riverside tomorrow, so we’ll be free.”

Columbine came through with an empty platter and coffee pot. “Everyone says the food was excellent, Lilac. I’ll refill the coffee; everyone wants dessert.”

As Lilac scuttled off to help Columbine, the stallions could hear the conversation continue. “... six of them-- they have the four children, you know. And Columbine, why don’t you join us even if it is your day off.”

“I’d be glad to help.”

“Not to help, dear. You’d be company, too.”

Columbine looked across the room where Buck sat; he was busy talking to Licorice about some computer game, but he caught her glance and smiled. So did he hear that I’m coming as a guest tomorrow and is pleased? But she had no time to wonder as Lilac handed her the tray laden with hefty wedges of peach pie; Columbine took her load to the dining room and dispensed the food with a happy face.

* * *
Dinner went well, and in the aftermath, the adults made themselves comfortable in the sitting room while the younger ponies took off for the great outdoors. Tramples and Hollyhock headed straight for the elusive flower that Hollyhock wanted to sketch for her mother, and the rest trooped along in the manner of bothersome shadows. Besides Buck and Columbine and Licorice there was a colt about Licorice’s age, Tie Dye, and the two younger twins, Calypso and Cameo.

The group followed the downhill path toward the river until Tramples veered off into the trees and led them to a sheltered glade where the lady’s-slipper grew. “These are in the orchid family and are very rare,” Hollyhock instructed the others. “The Native Ponies called it the moccasin flower because of its shape.” She looked at the yellow blossom as if in the presence of the sublime.

Calypso and Cameo were not inclined to look at a flower for too long, so all except Hollyhock and Tramples (she to draw the flower in its natural setting, he to “protect you from any renegade turkeys in the area”) doubled back to the path and continued on to the river. The temperatures had been abnormally warm for this early in the season, and the ponies were drawn to the water like flies to honey.

Licorice, Tie Dye, and Calypso were soon in the deepest part of the river while Buck stayed closer to shore with Columbine and Cameo who were satisfied with merely wading at the water’s edge. Silver minnows darted around their legs, crawdads scuttled backwards to the shelter of rocks, and tadpoles moved their fat, black bodies with their long tails. Bank swallows flew in their swift arcs capturing insects for lunch.

As the two girls got off on their own topic of conversation, Buck retreated to the river bank and lounged on the soft grass and allowed his thoughts to wander under the influence of the mellowing sunshine. He was only partially aware of Licorice, Calypso, and Tie Dye moving closer to the shoreline to harass the girls, dousing them with sheets of water. Ganging up on Columbine with their splashing, they had forced her out in the deeper water; they were all enjoying the sport until, suddenly, Columbine took a step backward and disappeared under the surface of the water.

Before Licorice or Tie Dye could react, Buck was off the bank and to the spot where Columbine had submerged; and as she came spluttering to the surface, he supported her and guided her to the river’s edge. The unexpected dousing had taken her breath and her vision away, and it was awhile before she could talk again. “You two are going to get it for this!” she spat as she regained control, pulling herself away from the stallion with an angry jerk. Looking up, however, she saw who it was who had rescued her, and lowered her eyes in dismay.

“We’re sorry,” Licorice spoke for the three jesters. “We didn’t know there was a drop-off there.”

“That’s a good reason not to torment someone in the water,” Buck advised. “Are you okay, Columbine?”

“Yes,” she stated in an abbreviated manner not like herself at all, feeling terrible that she had upbraided the one stallion she craved the affection of. She brushed the wet hair off her face and sat sulking.

“Don’t worry, Columbine. I’ll tell Mom and Dad what they did, and they’ll be in big trouble!” Cameo assured her.

“No, that’s not necessary,” Columbine quickly stated. “No harm was done.”

“She’ll dry out soon enough,” Tie Dye observed. “The sun is still hot.” He and Calypso and Licorice moved back to the deeper water, and Cameo, with a pat of Columbine’s hoof, set herself the task of catching a minnow. Buck sat down again farther up the bank.

“I’m sorry for being short with you after you’d pulled me out,” Columbine said, turning her head briefly to see if Buck was watching her. But she found that he was staring off into space, seeing something completely out of her scope.

“No problem,” was all he said.

* * *
The following day was Monday again. All the guests had checked out after breakfast and Columbine had spent the morning stripping beds, cleaning bathrooms, and vacuuming bedrooms. She had just entered one of the turreted bedrooms, carrying a foreleg full of clean bedding, when she caught sight of Buck from the turret windows; he was weeding and cultivating the flower beds in the front lawn, and Columbine stopped her chores just to stand and watch.

We’ve gone through kindergarten, grade school, and high school together, plus four years of separation while he was in college, she mused, and I still don’t know what his feelings for me are, if he has any feelings for me. As she continued to feel sorry for herself, another pony entered the picture from Columbine’s viewpoint from the second floor of Birdsong.

Coming through the front gate was a pony Columbine had never seen before; she knew that no guests were expected today, so she wondered what business this rather gorgeous filly had in mind. Buck’s back was to the gate, so he had not seen the new arrival; but the mare went straight to him and obviously said something that Columbine couldn’t hear even through the open window for Buck twirled around and “seemed pleasantly surprised” noted Columbine to Lilac later.

Columbine stepped back deeper into the room so as not to be caught eavesdropping, but she could not bring herself to abdicate her position totally. She continued to watch the scenario play out below her.

* * *
Buck was busy in the flowerbeds, one of the chores that his mother insisted not be neglected even when other work might seem more urgent. “One of the first things the guests see are our flowers,” she loved to say, “and first impressions are often the most important.” So with his usual conscientiousness, Buck was making sure that no fault could be found with the plots he was responsible for. It was a shock, therefore, when his concentration was broken by the sound of a feminine voice behind him. “Hi, Buck.”

Turning swiftly, he found an unexpected sight. He could not contain the smile that spread across his face as he stood to face her. “Garnet!”

“Aren’t you going to welcome me to Birdsong?”

By this time, Buck had regained his composure, and he remembered the circumstances of their last meeting. The smile faded and he asked, “What became of the jewelry from the museum?”

“Well, just my luck, my buyer wasn’t pleased with the lot when I showed it to him; he said I’d misrepresented its worth. So I took it back to Sundial, and you know him. Once he had the stuff back, he dropped all the charges against me.”

Buck could imagine that happening as the museum curator had been at the beck and call of Garnet from the first moment he had met her. If Buck had been honest, he could have said the same about himself. For now, he simply accepted Garnet’s word and invited her into the house. “It must be getting close to lunchtime. Can you stay?”

“I’d be delighted!”

* * *
Columbine abandoned her idea of finishing the bedroom before lunch, and reported to Lilac in the kitchen well ahead of Buck and Garnet. The two could be heard talking and laughing long before they came through from the front of the house to the kitchen where Lilac was preparing a salad and Columbine was setting the table. After introducing his mother to Garnet, he included Columbine with a cool, “This is Columbine; she’s a big help to Mom here at Birdsong.”

It wasn’t long before Trendy, Licorice, and Tramples were in for the midday meal, and everyone sat around the kitchen table in an informal family setting although Columbine kept her place as “help”. She had no appetite under the present conditions, so she made herself useful in serving and tidying kitchen counters that had no need of cleaning. She cleared the table and served the ice cream and cookies, poured coffee and milk, and kept a close eye on Buck.

Buck, in turn, kept a close eye on Garnet. She was even prettier than he remembered her to be, but of course he remembered their last confrontation when her face had been cold and ruthless and her attitude one of complete contempt. Now she was at her best: warm and friendly, soft-spoken and thoughtful. She responded to Lilac and Trendy’s questions with all the right answers and included Licorice and Tramples and Buck in her talk of happenings around Ponyland. The entire family was impressed with this creature who reigned over their table like a visiting princess.

All except Columbine. She kept a gracious smile on her face, but her heart was on fire with jealousy and an unexplainable wariness that clouded her judgement. The only thing she knew for sure is that she would be very glad when Garnet’s visit came to an end.

* * *
The dishes were done. Buck and Garnet, of course, had disappeared immediately after lunch; Buck had promised her a full tour of the house. “No one would expect a princess to wash dishes,” muttered Columbine under her breath as she put the plates away in the cupboard.

“What was that, Columbine?” Lilac asked.

“I was just reminding myself of the work I have to finish in the red rose bedroom,” Columbine covered.

“It won’t be long and we’ll be getting that one ready for a special couple that met here at Birdsong; they’ll be spending their honeymoon with us.”

“How romantic,” Columbine said, adding to herself, How come there’s no romance in this house where I’m involved? She was becoming irritable.

“Yes. Vanguard and Sugarberry were both here to enjoy our tranquil atmosphere and ended up in the middle of that awful flood we had a couple of years back.”

“And they fell in love through that?”

“Sometimes you see the best in a pony through adversity,” Lilac philosophized.

Columbine went grumbling back to her work.

* * *
Buck was showing Garnet the view from the red rose bedroom turret windows when Columbine clattered in. “Oh!” she said upon finding the two there.

“Are you looking for something?” Buck asked, a look of displeasure on his face.

“The bed needs making up, but I can come back later.” Columbine put her emphasis on the “later” and shot a catty glance at Garnet.

“No, you can continue.” Buck sounded like the master directing the servant.

When they were gone from the room, Columbine dropped a little curtsy and stuck out her tongue.

* * *
By the time Columbine had finished with all the upstairs rooms and reported to Lilac who was dusting the parlor, she had put her spite under wraps. “Is Garnet gone?” she asked innocently.

“She and Buck went into town; Garnet’s going to spend the night, so Buck wanted to show her a good time in Riverside. They’ll be dining at The Wharf.”

“That’s nice,” Columbine said, but did not mean it.

“And Columbine,” Lilac continued, “I’ve been wanting to clean out the attic for years now, but never get any farther than the first pile of boxes. We’re only going to have one guest for the middle of this week, so I thought it would be a good time to tackle it again. I know it’s not part of your job, but I was wondering if you would be willing to help me.”

The days had been hot and the attic would be stifling, but Columbine wanted to drown her sorrows in work-- hard work that would take her mind off her own problems-- so she said, “Yes.”

* * *
“Timber called today,” Columbine’s mother told her when she got home.

“What did he want?” Timber was an acquaintance from her time spent working at the local farm supply store.

“He didn’t confide in me, dear. He wanted to talk to you.”

“So is he going to call back?”

“Yes. He said he would.” Dust Bunny had no sooner spoken the words when the phone rang.

“Hello.” Columbine tried to sound cheerful, but fell flat.

“Tough day?”

“You could say that. Mom said you called earlier.”

“I got a bonus from some extra hours I put in, so I thought I’d put it to good use. How about you and me eating at that ritzy joint down by the river tonight?”

“The Wharf?” Columbine could not believe her good luck. She had been scheming on the way home how she could manage to sneak into the place just to spy on Buck and Garnet. And now the opportunity had been presented to her on a silver platter with no need for subterfuge. “I’d love it!” Columbine squealed and ignored the duplicity that was not entirely fair to Timber and his hard-earned jangles; but she managed to squelch her conscience.

* * *
Timber and Columbine were seated before she caught sight of Buck and Garnet at a table across the room; she had mixed feelings as to whether or not she would have preferred sitting at a table directly next to theirs; but the place was crowded, and there would have been no choice in the matter anyway. Timber had been talking nonstop since he had picked Columbine up, so she felt no need to contribute to the conversation with anything profound. She nodded at the right times, smiled winningly at other times, and kept one eye on Buck at all times. Timber did not seem to notice any problem.

If Columbine had hoped to provoke some jealousy in Buck, she was to be sadly thwarted. Buck’s attention never strayed from the dark red filly at his side. Garnet herself never seemed to look far from her escort, but Columbine imagined that every move she made was somehow directed at Columbine in an effort to confound her: the gentle touch to Buck’s hoof, the toast of their drink, the sound of Garnet’s laughter all seared her with an almost physical pain. And yet Columbine continued to respond to Timber’s never-ending talk so that he, at least, got his money’s worth from this extravagant meal. And Buck was none the wiser.

* * *
For the first time since she had begun working for Lilac at Birdsong, Columbine showed up late for work. She had left home in plenty of time, but the humid weather had dulled her energy, and she had loitered on the path while feeling sorry for herself, dropping pebbles into a little stream that gurgled its way down the hillside. She was soon to be twenty-three years old, and what had she done with her life? “Nothing!” she shouted at the blameless brook. For the first time since she had begun working for Lilac, she entered Birdsong without a smile on her face.

Breakfast was in progress, so Columbine quietly went upstairs to check on the one room that would be receiving a guest today; on the way she snippily stuck her head in the room that Garnet had stayed in and found the bedding in disarray and the accompanying bath in a similar state of confusion. She left everything a mess so I’d have to waste time cleaning up after her, she hissed. She closed the door on the clutter and continued to her original destination. Seeing that the vase on the desk of the soon to be occupied room was devoid of flowers, she sulked back outside to cut a bouquet. She was at the side garden around the corner of the house when she heard voices out front, and looking up, she saw Buck and Garnet walking down the path to the gate.

The two stopped by a peony bush, its rich, red blossoms hanging heavy in lush extravagance. Buck picked one of the beauties and offered it to Garnet with a kiss. Columbine dropped her gaze as if she had been struck; when she looked again the two were gone down the path away from Birdsong.

“Columbine!” Lilac’s voice rang out from the back porch. “I was worried about you; I didn’t know you had arrived.”

“Just getting flowers for the daffodil room,” Columbine answered, and dropped her head to her task before Lilac could see the tears wash her cheeks.

* * *
When chores were done and Birdsong was settled for the night, Buck put a call through to his friend, Willy, who was working with the restoration of a Victorian mansion in Bubbling Springs. “How’s Honeybee?” asked Buck, knowing that the waitress at the local ice cream parlor had been a major draw for determining Willy’s place of employment.

“She’s great! And before you say another word, Honeybee and I are engaged.”

“You’re what?”

“We’re going to get married this fall.”

“Wow! I’m impressed. Congratulations!”

“And how is your life going?”

“You’ll never guess who visited Birdsong.”

“Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace have been talking about it.”

“That wasn’t a guess, but I’ll tell you anyway... Garnet!’

“Garnet? Did you notify the Binksville police?”

“I didn’t have to; she told me that she’d turned the jewelry back over to Sundial.”

Willy was silent for a few moments. “When was she there?”

“She came yesterday and left this morning. I walked her in to our new museum in Riverside, and she left from there on her way to the Flatlands. Why do you ask?”

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Buck, but I was in Binksville this morning for supplies and I stopped at the museum to talk to Sundial; he was still harping on the loss of the jewelry and the fact that the police hadn’t recovered any of it yet.”

Now it was Buck’s turn to be silent. “She lied to me.”

“I’m afraid so, buddy.”

“I was so happy to see her, I never doubted her for a second... wishful thinking on my part.”

“You might want to notify Chief Bastion about her whereabouts; it might give them a lead.”

“I suppose your right. I guess I should have known that she couldn’t be honest, but she seemed so sincere.”

“Not to mention she’s awfully pretty.”

“Yeah... that too. But I’m glad to hear your good news, Willy. Give my best wishes to Honeybee until I can do it myself.”

After Buck hung up the receiver, he looked back over Garnet’s visit and tried to recall every word she said. How much was truth and how much had just been a story? He realized that he had no way of knowing where her reality began or ended; she was an actress who played whatever part was necessary to get what she wanted. And what had she wanted from him this time? “ Probably a place to hide out for a night,” he whispered, and hated himself for being so gullible. He stalked out of the house to find a quiet place to think.

There was not much relief in the dusky night. The air was still hot and humid and no breeze was present to offer any cooling comfort. Buck paced around the lawn until one of the barn cats found him and tangled himself around the stallion’s legs. Buck gave up the fight and dropped to the ground, petting the cat’s soft fur.

Garnet had lied. That was the one fact that was obvious. Buck realized that he could never trust her again. He envied Willy; from the time that Willy and Honeybee had met, they had known theirs to be a special friendship and now, after only a few months, they were preparing to commit for life. And then there was Columbine; it was only now that Buck saw value in the stability of their relationship.

Thinking of Columbine’s up-beat outlook on life finally brought a smile to his face. He jumped up to check on the sunflowers she had planted by the barn; even in the lowering light, he could see that the seeds had sprouted and were sending forth the sturdy leaves of growth. They would grow tall and blossom forth with their “happy faces” as Columbine saw them. It was then that Buck recalled the last time he had seen Columbine’s face. Are you looking for something? he had asked aloofly. You can continue. There had been no happiness visible then.

* * *
Wednesday brought more of the same heat and humidity that hung like a suffocating veil over the land. Lilac complained to Trendy about the weather. “It’s way too hot to work in the attic, so we’re losing this slow time to get that job done. And Buck and Columbine sulk around like they’ve lost their best friends, but neither one will talk to me. Thank goodness our one and only guest is here just to avoid interruptions in his work; Challenger has plenty of privacy to get lots done.”

“There’s lightning to the west,” Trendy commented.

“Let’s hope it breaks this hot spell,” Lilac declared.

* * *
The savagery of the wind buffeted Birdsong, and rain tore at the western wall like pellets of iron. Lightning flashed so near that the thunder’s intensity nearly stopped Lilac’s breathing. “Trendy!” she whispered. “Are you awake?” She shook her husband’s shoulder.

“Yes, dear,” he groggily answered, rolling over and sitting up. “Quite a storm, isn’t it?”

“I don’t like it,” Lilac fretted. “It’s too intense.”

Trendy sat listening to the roar of sound and suddenly jumped out of bed, pulling Lilac after him. “We’ve got to get to the basement! Wake up the boys while I get Challenger.”

They ran their separate ways; Lilac found that the boys were already on their way down from the upper floor, soon followed by Trendy and Challenger. The ponies scampered for the basement stairs and plunged down them to the specially reinforced room for such emergencies just as pandemonium broke loose and the dreadful sound of wooden timbers shattering rent the air.

Lilac’s petrified scream was lost on the thunderous reverberations that shook the very foundations of Birdsong. The family and Challenger huddled in the protected shelter, waiting in expectant dread for the storm to be done with them and go on its destructive way. Finally, as quickly as it had begun, silence settled over the interrupted tranquility of Birdsong. A soft sob from Lilac marked the storm’s demise.

“The power’s out.” Tramples was the first to speak.

Trendy fumbled to open a metal case that held provisions for such urgent situations, pulling out several flashlights. “Let’s see what we’ll find.” They set off to view the aftermath of the storm, anxious to see the results, yet frightened of the possibilities.

Coming up to the main floor, the ponies found no visible damage. “We heard the wood shattering,” Lilac’s voice quavered. “What happened?”

“Let’s check upstairs.”

Buck was shining one of the lights out the window. “There’s something laying in the yard; I’d say they are sections of the roof.”

The others clustered around him and directed more beams across the lawn. “It looks like a junk yard,” Lilac whispered.

* * *
The first streaks of dawn showed the family the extent of the damage. The entire roof of Birdsong was gone, lying now in heaps of debris or scattered across the landscape. “You won’t have to worry about cleaning out the attic,” Trendy had told his wife, but Lilac was not amused.

The southwest corner of the house was the hardest hit, so beyond the roof devastation, the upstairs turret room on that corner was in the worst shape. “The red rose bedroom,” mourned Lilac. “That’s the room Vanguard and Sugarberry booked for their honeymoon.” The windstorm (no one wanted to call it a tornado) had broken out the turret windows as well as removed some of the ceiling, so the room had also gotten a fair share of rain damage. Lilac was heartbroken over the destruction, but Trendy reminded her that the house could be fixed. No one had been hurt, and that, he ended, “...was the main thing.”

Daylight also brought friends and neighbors who were willing to pitch in to begin the job of clean-up. Challenger had been able to use his cell phone to contact the electric company, so the crew was on the scene at first light. Telephone service was restored by mid-morning. Bonanza and Tie Dye and Hollyhock had come across the back way to offer their services. “Shamrock and the twins have a few branches and boards to clean up, but we’d heard you might need some help here, and Shamrock sent us on over,” Bonanza explained.

Creampuff and Jingle and their family from the valley came as well. “You were quick to offer us a place to stay when the flood took over our home; the least we can do is return the favor,” Creampuff said as she hugged Lilac. And that turned out to be the general consensus as more and more neighbors showed up. Everyone was willing to help out a friend in need.

Licorice, Tramples, and Buck had followed the path of destruction in a reverse course of the storm itself. They found that the twister had moved up the wooded hillside ravishing the trees; but fortunately the funnel had lifted as it neared Birdsong-- not enough to avoid it completely, but at least to spare it even more severe damage.

When the brothers returned from their explorations, Trendy set them to work clearing out a path to the barn after which they fed and watered the animals. All the cats were found to be safely harbored in the barn as well. “Even Diddle was a little bewildered by the wild night, but he came out of hiding once he smelled food,” Tramples told Hollyhock as the two of them set to work clearing roofing and branches from the yard.

Buck pulled torn shingles off the row of sunflowers that Columbine was so proud of and found that the seedlings, although bent to the ground, were not broken. “They’re resilient, like Columbine,” he said to the barn cat as it came to investigate what he was doing.

“Who wants to tell Mom that all her rosebushes were crushed?” asked Licorice of his brothers.

“She already knows,” Buck said softly. They had congregated once more with the pack of neighbors who were digging in to the general clean-up. Trendy was heard to apologize to Challenger about the interruption in his peace and quiet.

“I couldn’t work anyway,” Challenger admitted. “I’m used to noise and bustle; I couldn’t concentrate in all that silence.” He had been pulling fallen branches into a heap at the side of the yard.

“We’ll refund your jangles, of course,” Trendy told him.

“I wouldn’t think of it,” said Challenger. “I’ve had a little experience with construction, and I think you could use a little help here.”

“But your vacation!”

“I’ve learned that I don’t enjoy sitting around doing paperwork. This is a hooves-on situation that I can really get into.” So saying, he went back to his self-appointed duty.

Buck’s emotions had been kept in check simply because of the unending amount of work keeping him busy; but as he stood to stretch his back muscles, he heard his name called and was hugged to Columbine as she came on the scene. “Oh, Buck,” she cried. “I was so afraid you’d been hurt when I heard about...” Her voice broke and she buried her face in his shoulder.

Buck did not have a choice but to reciprocate the hug; he felt Columbine’s warm tears against his body, and tears of his own came unbidden. He lowered his head to hide his face in her mane.

When Columbine pulled away, she expressed her worries. “I didn’t know anything had happened until this morning when Mom was listening to the news on the radio. They said Birdsong was the hardest hit.” She stopped to fight back her anguish.

“Everyone’s okay,” Buck assured her. Everyone except Birdsong, he thought to himself as he and Columbine looked up at the ravished roofline of the house. Both turret roofs were gone as well as the roof over the main house; the roof covering the original servant’s quarters where the family’s private rooms were now located had lost all but the rafters.

Columbine saw the gash in the turret that encompassed the red rose room, and gasped. “The bedroom must be a mess! And your mother’s stuff in the attic... where is everything?”

Buck waved a foreleg. “All across the county.”

“I’ve got to go see her,” Columbine said and left Buck to locate Lilac.

The work continued. The ponies who had some experience in building assessed the damage and calculated a list of materials necessary to bring the house back into shape. The mood was at first subdued, yet the durability of the ponies was evident in the talking and laughter that soon enveloped the workers. Challenger proved to be an able overseer who was also not afraid of hard work, and he had everyone assigned to constructive endeavors.

Buck saw little of Columbine throughout the day, but whenever he caught a glimpse of her she was busy hauling branches or splintered lumber. When Lilac, Creampuff, and Shamrock along with other neighbors set out a lunch for the ponies, Columbine was helping them. While the crew sat and rested after eating, Columbine was packing leftovers back to the house; Buck noted that she would help his mother with the dishes. Yet he later saw that she was back in the troops doing manual labor.

Night was falling before everyone, having made the most of the daylight hours, called it quits. Tarps were in place over the exposed sections of the roof in case more rain presented itself during the night. Buck had not noticed Columbine among the workers as they dissembled and assumed that she had finally reached her limit. He was surprised, therefore, to see Tramples, Licorice, and Columbine coming from the barn through the dusky evening. “I thought you’d gone home,” he said to her rather grumpily, knowing she had worked as hard as any of them all day long.

Tramples came to her defense. “She wanted to help us with chores. She’s great with the animals.” He shot her a grin of appreciation.

“Come in to eat!” Lilac called from the back door to family and friends. “You’ll all drop in your tracks the way you’ve been going at it.” She came down the steps to where Columbine and the brothers stood. “You look exhausted, dear,” she said to the young mare. “You’d better come sit down.”

Columbine smiled a pale smile. “I’m fine.” With that said, she swayed slightly on her hooves, closed her eyes, and collapsed.

Buck caught her up into his forelegs and growled, “Serves her right for pushing herself all day; she served the food, but I’ll bet she didn’t eat any herself.” For all his bluntness, Lilac was quick to note the look of concern on his face.

“Bring her around to the front so you don’t have to carry her through the crowded kitchen,” she directed her son. “Put her on the sofa. I’ll get some cold water.”

“Columbine, wake up!” Buck commanded as he knelt at her limp side. He patted her cheek and brushed the hair off her forehead, but to no avail. They eyes remained closed. It was not until Lilac returned with a cold washcloth and laid it across her forehead that the filly responded.

“Wh... where am I?” she stuttered, staring with bleary eyes about her. “What happened?”

If her consciousness realized the hovering body near hers was Buck or not, she soon was to find out. “You fainted because you drove yourself too hard today, you silly goose!” the stallion scolded, relief at her revival rushing over him but surfacing as anger.

Columbine, now fully aware of her surroundings, looked thoroughly defeated at the harsh words from the one she idolized. Tears sprang from her eyes and ran unencumbered down her cheeks. Seeing her tears and knowing he had provoked them proved too much for Buck. He stood up and turned away. “Mom, you take over,” he said as he brushed past Lilac and went back out into the night to sort out his feelings.

Stalking across the tattered lawn, the stallion worked off his emotions by throwing more branches in a heap at the edge of the yard until his aggrieved muscles screamed for mercy; he then threw himself down at the base of a bent and battered but still upright maple tree and dropped his head onto crossed forelegs. It was there his father found him.

“Need someone to talk to?” he asked, sitting next to his son. Buck shot him a glance, but said nothing. “Your mother put Columbine to bed here for tonight. The poor girl was exhausted.”

The last part of Trendy’s news set Buck off again. “Why did Columbine work so hard, Dad? She slaved right along with us all day; and then while we ate, she helped Mom serve food. When I thought she’d finally gone home to rest, she turns up helping in the barn until she’s done herself in. Why?”

“She’s come to care a lot about Birdsong, Buck. She really feels an affinity towards the place, just like we all do.”

“Thanks for not saying it’s because she cares a lot about me.”

Trendy thought for awhile before answering. “You know that’s part of it, Buck. She’s always seen you as her best friend.”

Buck stood and began pacing. “She’s always been there, Dad, since that first day of kindergarten... always underhoof, always right there. I don’t know where I stand where she’s concerned. I’ve never felt myself in love with her, even though we’ve been paired up for every dance and party that took place. It was just the thing to do, and-- I guess-- she expected it.”

“So you honestly don’t love her, Buck?”

“I don’t know, Dad. When she collapsed tonight because of Birdsong, I felt... I felt... I don’t know. I hated seeing her so spent, so drained, when she’s usually so lively. I wanted to protect her, Dad, but is that love?” He stopped for a minute and added in a subdued voice, “Earlier this week, I would have told you that I was in love with Garnet; but that was only a fantasy on my part. I don’t even know who Garnet is.”

“Sometimes love grows slowly, Buck, so that a pony can’t recognize it for what it is. You and Columbine have always taken each other for granted; when one needed something, the other one was always there. That might be the most important thing about any relationship... to be there no matter what.”

Buck looked at his dad and grimaced. “I called her a silly goose and made her cry after all she’d done today.”

“So tomorrow apologize and tell her how much you appreciated her help, if you really mean it,” Trendy said, then added with a grin. “Maybe you’ll want to tell her more than that.”

Buck was finally able to smile in return. “Thanks, Dad.” He gave his father a brief hug. “I suppose we’d better go in or Mom will worry.”

“Good point, son.”

* * *
“I put her in the little room next to the master bedroom,” Lilac informed Buck after he was cleaned-up and fed. “I gave her some soup, but she fell asleep before she could finish it.”

“Could I look in on her?” Buck asked. “I feel like a jerk for making her cry.”

“She’ll be asleep; but come, so you know she’s okay.” His mother led him to the small bedroom which in its day had served as a nursery for the three brothers. Lilac had converted it to a very feminine guest room with curtains and bedding of violets among roses with lace trim and all the accessories to make it “gaudily Victorian” as her sons liked to tease her.

Lilac stood back as Buck gazed down at Columbine curled up sound asleep, one foreleg hanging over the edge of the bed like a tired foal. He knelt beside the bed and took her hoof in his and brushed a stray lock off her face. He knew that she had always given him nothing but her best-- her friendship and off-beat look at life, her playful smile, her total support. And what had he given her in return?

Seeing the rivulets where tears had washed down her work-stained face, Buck’s heart was shot through with remorse once again. “I’m sorry,” he whispered as he looked upon the visage now in peaceful slumber. He kissed the hoof he held and set it gently on the bed. The young mare stirred slightly, and a smile turned up the corners of her mouth as her dream crossed with reality.

Buck stood up and walked to where his mother waited. “Will she hate me for what I said to her tonight, Mom?”

Lilac shook her head and chuckled. “Stallions!”

* * *
When the house was quiet and engulfed in darkness, Lilac took one more look at Columbine before retiring for the night. Trendy was standing at the window in silence. “How long will it take to get everything back to normal?” she sighed.

“It’s going to take some time,” Trendy hedged.

“Sugarberry and Vanguard’s wedding is so soon...”

“Lilac, there is no way we can have this place ready by then.”

“But with all the help, surely things will go smoothly.”

“The neighbors can’t ignore their own lives. Most of them will help until we get the roof closed in; then we’ll be on our own.”

“If we could just get the red rose room done...”

“The ceiling was soaked with rain; there may be hidden damage that we aren’t even aware of yet.”

Lilac hated to admit defeat but had no choice. “I’ll have to call Sugarberry then.”

“Yes, and the sooner the better so she and Vanguard can make other plans.” Trendy sat down next to his wife, and she leaned into his strong shoulder.

“And what about Buck and Columbine?”

Trendy took his wife’s hoof in his. “Don’t worry about the two of them. I’d be willing to bet that we’ll be having our own wedding within the year.”

* * *
Buck and his brothers came downstairs more quietly than they had ever done before, Lilac noted. Yesterday they had been driven to accomplish as much as possible in an attempt to return Birdsong to normal as soon as possible. This morning, with muscles strained and hopes considerably modified, they were in no hurry to face the job ahead of them. But breakfast could be dallied over only so long, and the stallions were soon busy with the business of cleaning up that which needed replacement.

Buck lingered long enough to ask his mother about Columbine. “She’s still asleep, and nothing is better for her. Don’t worry; she’ll be fine,” the mare answered.

Hugging his mother, Buck whispered a “Thanks, Mom” in her ear before rejoining the others.

Lilac cleaned up the kitchen and organized supplies for lunch when the helpful neighbors would again be on hand to lend their support and their strength before she checked on Columbine once more. The sleepy mare heard the click of the opening door and attempted to sit up, but her muscles rebelled at the effort and she slumped back down into the covers.

“Oh, Lilac, I hurt!” she groaned, but a smile lit her face as she prattled on. “I had the most wonderful dream last night; Buck wasn’t mad at me anymore.” She closed her eyes to visualize the scenario. When she looked at Lilac again, she shared the illusion. “He kissed my hoof,” she said in an awed voice and cradled the so honored hoof as if to cherish the memory when she noticed the dirty condition of not only that hoof but it mate as well. “Oh my gosh, Lilac! You let me crawl into your clean bed when I was this filthy?” She ignored the pain as she swung her legs out of bed and stood upright.

Lilac laughed. “Take it slowly, girl. You were nearly dead on your hooves when you fell asleep. I wasn’t about to wake you to wash-up.”

Columbine frowned at her image in the lace-edged mirror and rubbed a hoof over the tearstains. Her mane was frazzled, she had smudges across her face, and smears running down her forelegs. “Luckily the mirror only showed her a limited picture,” Lilac later confided to Trendy, for Columbine’s entire body had accumulated a layer of dirt and grime during her hard labor yesterday.

Columbine was distressed enough by what she could see. “No wonder he had no time for me,” she murmured.

Whether Lilac heard or not, she did not respond. She did, however, direct the mare to use the bathroom adjoining the master bedroom and to take all the time she wanted. “The warm water will feel good on your aches and pains; I’ve laid out fresh towels and shampoo for you.”

“I’m keeping you from your work, Lilac; I’ll hurry and help you as soon as I can.” Columbine rushed for the door, but turned back suddenly. “Buck doesn’t hate me, does he?”

She could only wonder why Lilac laughed and responded merely with, “Mares!”

* * *
A groomed and fed Columbine ventured out into the morning sunshine to observe the progress of the ponies busily working to restore Birdsong. Covering the grounds once, she saw no sign of Buck, but finally happened upon Licorice who directed her to the top of the house. “He’s ripping out damaged wood,” he stated, pointing skyward.

Columbine’s gaze moved upward to the most damaged section of the house, and wondered again at the power of the storm that had lifted the roof off like a section of a child’s toy. And she whispered again a prayer of thanksgiving that the twisting funnel had been near the end of its path of destruction and had lifted clear of the main support of the house.

Going upstairs, the mare was soon aware of the work in progress as busy ponies carried out their duties with energy and a fair amount of friendly conversation when the noise level allowed. She finally located Buck near the outside edge of the red rose turret, ripping nails out of the wood that needed replacement. He was concentrating on his work and did not see the mare watching him with suppressed interest.

Columbine wanted to pick her way through the exposed beams to offer her help, but feared his annoyance at her appearance. The memory of the kiss pulled her in one direction, but the ring of the words spoken in anger echoed across the chasm between them. She turned to backtrack to the kitchen and the food preparation already taking place.

She had not gone far when she heard her name called and turned back to see Buck hurrying to catch up to her. “How are you feeling?” he asked as he reached her.

“I’m a little sore, but otherwise fine.” She rubbed her forelegs.

“I’m glad,” he said, then clarified, “that you’re fine, not that your muscles are sore.” He grinned at her in so winsome a manner that her heart skipped a beat, after which the two ponies stared at one another as if they were strangers. When Buck spoke again, it was to apologize. “I’m sorry I was so gruff with you last night. You had done so much to help out, and I had no right to yell at you.”

“That’s okay. I am a silly goose, anyway. Everybody knows that.” She cocked her head off to the side and rolled her eyes for effect.

“So you remembered my exact words, huh?”

“I’ll remember them forever,” she taunted. “I’ll always think of myself as your silly goose.”

“As long as you’re mine,” he responded gravely, “and no one elses.” His fervent gaze reached her soul.

The conversation was interrupted as Buck’s help was needed in lifting some heavy pieces of lumber. He left Columbine standing as if mesmerized, her wide eyes staring at him in astonishment. When he next got the opportunity to look her way, she had vanished. “What did I say wrong this time?” he worried.

* * *
There was no further time for Buck and Columbine to talk during the rest of that day, but after supper Buck excused himself from the evening chores so that he could walk her home. The stroll along the country paths in the waning light was taken companionably but with few words. Both were sorting out feelings that had been growing for years; it proved to be a complicated web.

Upon arriving at Columbine’s home, the stallion found his voice. “Columbine, I...”

“Yes, Buck?” she asked expectantly, her eyes searching his.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” A impudent grin meaning to antagonize accompanied that line.

The grin did succeed in infuriating Columbine so that she blurted out, “What did you mean this morning?”

“This morning? Why? What did I say?”

“In the remains of the attic this morning, you...”

“In the attic?” Buck stood in contemplation. “I think it was something to the effect that it was good to see you looking so rested.”

Columbine was further provoked. “You said, ‘As long as you’re mine’. What did you mean by mine?”

“You’ve been like my shadow since kindergarten, Columbine.”

“Oh, Buck!” She turned to go inside; she couldn’t take any more of this torment.

Buck relented and caught her foreleg. “I’ve been teasing you, Columbine.” She turned back to hear the rest. “This storm has taught me something-- namely, how much you mean to me. I’ve taken your friendship for granted. Now I realize that I couldn’t get along without you.”

Columbine wanted to believe those words with all her heart and soul, but she was unsure as to his sincerity. Was he just trying to placate her? Or was he still goading her? “Is this your idea of a joke?”

“No, it’s not a joke. I’m sorry if I upset you.” The look on his face belied that statement; he was enjoying her discomfort too much.

“Two apologies in one day?”

“I love you, Columbine. How can I prove that to you?”

She glared at him. How long had she waited to hear those words? But not like this, not knowing if he was taunting her. She finally responded with a challenge. “Kiss me like you mean it.”

Buck returned her steady gaze for a long moment before he delivered the requested kiss. “Convinced?” he asked softly.

Columbine, catching her breath, smiled demurely. “Not quite... but I’ll give you another chance.”

Buck willingly complied.


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