My Little Pony Monthly Issue 74 (May 1, 2003)

My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
Established June 1997
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Issue 74
May 2003


1. Contest!

2. Survey!

3. The Crystal Princess Part IV (by Berry Brite)

4. The Best Day of Her Life! (by Melody)

5. Rockdogs: Part 1 (by Tabby)

6. A New Wind a Blowin’ Part 3 (by Sugarberry)

7. “And memories, he knew...” (by Starre)

8. Of Weddings and Babies (by Tabby)

9. Moonlite by Moon Part Three (by Emily)

10. An Unexpected Visit (by Clever Clover)

11. Fate’s Finale (by Sugarberry)



Happy news! We got eleven whole entries for last month’s contest! Let’s hear it for ‘em!

Baby Jedi (

Bow-Tie (

Dawn (

Jaye (

Lil Whiskers (

Melody (

Pika-Chan (

Sugarberry (

Tayba (

Violet Star Shine (

The first male pony for the ‘97 line was none other than our very own Cleve Clove (or, if you prefer, Clever Clover).

Now for this month’s contest question!

Who is the intelligent pony from the cartoon series?

Tell me the answer by e-mailing or entering through the form at


Well, we had one entry for last month’s survey... but that’s better than zero, right?

Pika-Chan ( says...

Personally, my favorite fanfics so far have been the ones I read each month about Tabby, Sugarberry, and their families and friends. Partly because they’re ponies I know and love, but also because it puts those characters in new situations and new places (like Vulcanopolis) where they meet new ponies, and brings them all together like a very large extended family! It’s like my own monthly soap- and I don’t even like soaps!

Thank you, Pika-Chan, for your response! Now, everyone else, let’s see if you can come up with something this time! Hmm... let me think... okay, here’s one (okay, it’s a bit lame, but...):

How do you display your pony collection?

That URL is:

The Crystal Princess
Part IV
by Berry Brite (

Synopsis: The young ponies Silvershod, Firesong, and Golden Glitz have met up with their parents and are continuing on with their quest.

For days and days the little troop trudged on across the barren, windy plains. Mountain Soul pushed on, desperate to save the Crystal Princess. Behind him, his wife Spindrift, daughter Golden Glitz, brother-in-law Springstrength, niece Firesong, and the orphan boy Silvershod plodded along. It had been nearly two weeks since the young ponies had joined their parents. Night would fall, morning would come, and still they pushed on through the bitter winds and snow.

One night, Mountain Soul stayed awake keeping the watch. Springstrength and his daughter Firesong huddled together against the wind. Silvershod slept by himself near the dying fire, and Golden Glitz lay by her father’s hooves. Spindrift sat by the fire opposite Mountain Soul.

“Spindrift,” whispered Mountain Soul gently, “take some sleep. You’ll have need of it for tomorrow’s march.” His wife did not look up. She shivered in the wind, and poked at the fire with a stick.

“I can’t sleep, Mountain Soul,” she replied. “Look at our daughter. There are times– times when she looks like she did after the wolf bit her. I don’t think she’s well.”

“Golden Glitz is fine, Spindrift. You needn’t worry for her. She’s strong and well-protected. Yes, it would be better if she hadn’t come, but I think all should go well.”

“You’ve changed, Mountain,” said Spindrift, ice-like tears forming in the corners of her eyes. “How grim and sullen you’ve grown!”

“I was never lively to begin with,” replied the stallion, glancing down at the snow.

“But you were never like this. I haven’t seen you smile at anything for the last four weeks.”

Mountain Soul looked grimly back at her. “There is nothing to laugh at.”

“You’ve become obsessed, Mountain. You think of nothing but this great quest of yours. You hardly eat or sleep anymore, and you seldom speak to anyone. Just yesterday, Golden Glitz said she loved you. You acted as though you didn’t hear!”

“She did?” Mountain Soul started slightly.

“Have you heard anything that’s been said, at all?”

“I’m sorry, I have had so much to think about as of late…”

“That you haven’t thought of me, or of your daughter? I understand the necessity of success, Mountain Soul. I understand how important it is. But now, it seems I can’t remember the last time you told either me or Golden Glitz that you loved us.”

Mountain Soul did not answer. He stared at the fire now, and dark thoughts and worries seized his mind. Worries about the quest, about the land. He had heard Spindrift; but it seemed petty, even silly, that he should consider such a thing when so much was at stake.

“Did you hear me at all? Oh, Mountain Soul,” she said softly. “Please, tell me that you love me.”

Mountain Soul was again silent, and he did not hear Spindrift’s quiet weeping as she fell into sleep.

* * *
The days continued to pass. Miles and miles of plains were behind them.

“Father,” said Firesong, “listen!” Everybody paused and was silent.

Springstrength listened hard, but shook his head.

“Water!” cried Spindrift. The company of ponies ran over the ashen plain.

“Stop!” yelled Silvershod. He reached out and grabbed Golden Glitz’s mane.


The ponies stared on in absolute astonishment. Everything was so white, reflecting the pale sky so intensely, that only Silvershod had seen the immense ravine in front of them. There were seven waterfalls gushing into the valley. The rivers below were frozen over, except where the rushing water poured into them. Faint rainbows shimmered in the mist. “Oh, my,” was all that Springstrength could say. Golden Glitz turned and looked into Silvershod’s face.

“Thank you,” she said. “You can let go now.”

“Oh, sorry,” chuckled Silvershod. Golden Glitz blushed red.

“We have to get down there,” said Mountain Soul. He began to search around the edge of the ravine.

“What about there?” said Silvershod. He walked over to Mountain Soul and pointed to a part of the cliff that had many ledges and bluffs. “We have rope, right?”

“Yes,” said Mountain Soul. He smiled for the first time in weeks. “That will work.”

Spindrift smiled, looking with teary eyes at her husband. “How silly I am,” she muttered, taking a deep breath. “He’s still the same Mountain Soul.”

The group began to prepare themselves for the trip down. They tied the rope around a rock and began scaling down the wall. Mountain Soul remained at the top, making sure the rope didn’t snap. After the others had reached the first promontory, he began to climb down the rope himself. When he reached the others, Springstrength not-so-gently pointed out that the rope was still attached to the cliff. Mountain Soul grimaced and looked up. That was the least of their worries. A piercing shriek wailed through the air, and a griffin swarmed at the little group of ponies.

“Look out!” cried Mountain Soul. He took out his bow and arrow, but the creature’s wing clipped the promontory and knocked it out of his hooves. Golden Glitz yelped. She’d lost her balance and went careening over the edge.

To be continued...

P.S. I’m beginning to wonder if this story is getting kind of lame– place your votes, that is, if you want to. You can email me at or by forwarding things through Tabby or however we use that feedback thingy. If you email me directly, be sure to include “Regarding MLP Monthly Story” in the subject line, or it may get accidentally deleted. Vote:

a) Whoa, this story is pitiful.

b) Oh, my gosh! It’s like, SOOO awesome, like, dude! Keep writing it!

c) Take a grammar class, then we’ll consider accepting you back into the MLP Monthly loop.

d) I don’t have email, but I enjoy voting! ~.^

e) Well, um, I’m not sure if my vote agrees with these, so I’ll give you my opinion:

Thanks! Hope you’re enjoying the story; sorry about the grammar, but my brain is rather frazzled as of late.

***Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed her story!***


Chapter #9:
The Best Day of Her Life!
by Melody (

Bright Eyes opened her eyes groggily. It was Saturday at last. She had insisted on going to school for the rest of the week and was glad it was the weekend at last. In fact, she really hadn’t felt well at all. Today, though, she had had a good long sleep and was feeling much better until…

“Bright Eyes!” called Classy. Bright Eyes buried her head in her pillow. “Your friends are here,” he continued.

At this, Bright Eyes sat bolt upright, leapt out of bed, brushed her mane, and raced down the stairs, panting. “Hey, Bright Eyes! Today we’re going to the movies, the fun fair, the Ice Cream Shoppe for lunch, and we’ll have a play in the snow! Want to come?” said Patch. Melody crossed her hooves behind her back.

Bright Eyes thought that if she went with all six of her friends, she would have the most brilliant time ever! But there was weekend homework to do, plus she had to take care of Amber and design a poster about deforestation. Much as she wanted to go with her friends, Bright Eyes shook her head.

“Too bad, because you’re coming with us!” cried Clover, pulling Bright Eyes out the door, leaving her just enough time to put on her coat and grab some jangles.

Classy grinned at the startled expression on his daughter’s face. “Homework can wait ‘till tomorrow. I’ll take care of Amber,” he called down the street. He knew Bright Eyes could do with a long day off.

The girls skipped down the street together to the movie theatre. Bright Eyes struggled but knew she was fighting a losing battle, so she settled down. After a few minutes, they reached the theatre. Bright Eyes couldn’t keep quiet. “Oh wow! We have to see Rainbow Wishes Two!” she cried. The little ponies paid for their tickets and filed into the movie theatre. The gang shared popcorn and settled into their seats.

After the movie, the group set off to go to the fun fair. By now, Bright Eyes had gotten into the spirit of things. “That movie was the BEST! My favourite part was when Rainbow and Clasp were sharing a tropical punch at sunset on the desert island,” she told the others excitedly.

They walked under the arch and into the fun fair. “Hey guys. Check this out!” called Patch, zooming off to a huge spinning ride. Only Patch and Bright Eyes were game enough to go on. The bright lights began flashing and the ride began. It spun quickly and Bright Eyes gripped the handle until her hooves were wet. But she found she enjoyed the ride and let the wind rush past her face and play with her mane.

After that ride, it was time for something a little less thrilling. “How about the merry-go-round?” suggested Sweetheart. The others had to agree, so they hopped onto the pastel coloured animals on twirly gold poles and the merry music started. The animals bobbed up and down and Bright Eyes hummed to the tune, enjoying the rhythm of the ride.

When the music stopped, the girls ran over to play a game. Bright Eyes popped five balls into a clown’s mouth and won a big soft white unicorn toy. Clover clapped. “Hooray for Bright Eyes!” she laughed. Bright Eyes beamed and led the others to the Ferris Wheel. But the numbers were uneven and Bright Eyes was by herself until the last pony got on beside her– Lancer!

Both ponies secretly could not believe their luck. Lancer blushed. Nervously, Bright Eyes said, “Hi.” The Ferris Wheel took them up and up and up! Lancer and Bright Eyes gasped at the magnificent view of Ponyland they had.

Lancer took this opportunity. “Bright Eyes? I have something to tell you,” he said quietly. Bright Eyes was startled. “I really like you, but do you like me?” he stammered.

Bright Eyes was instantly relieved. “Of course! It’s weird because that’s what I’ve been wanting to ask you,” she said, smiling shyly. Lancer returned the smile. They chatted as the ride went on. Bright Eyes met her friends at the bottom. “Hey guys. Do you mind if Lancer and I go on one last ride before lunch?” she asked.

Melody grinned and gave Bright Eyes and Lancer a little push. “Go on. Have some fun!” she laughed. They did. The couple boarded a swan boat and sat down together as the swan swam down the quiet lake. All around them, palm trees towered over them and pink lights flashed brightly. Love hearts were painted over the walls and a soft, slow song played in the background. The swan emerged from the Tunnel of Love, and Bright Eyes and Lancer waved goodbye.

In a dream, Bright Eyes ran back to her friends, who were waiting for her. “Having fun?” asked Bon Bon.

Bright Eyes nodded. “Fun? You bet! In fact, it’s just like I’m in the Rainbow Wishes Two.”

***Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed her story!*** ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Bigfoot Hunter
Rockdogs: Part 1
by Tabby (

“Shoot me! Shoot me!” the bright yellow mare giggled wildly as she struck various poses in front of the video camera her friend, Asta, was holding. A mountain peak soared in the background of the dry plateau the would-be model pranced around on.

“I’m shooting! Calm down!” the peach-colored unicorn retorted from behind the viewfinder.

“Mitzi! Asta! I thought I told you to get that footage ready to mail to the studio!” a reprimanding voice came from a nearby parked vehicle. It was the voice of Haiku, who for all practical purposes was the manager of their little entourage. She sat in the front seat, scribbling out more reminders for the coming days.

“Yeah,” Asta said, lowering the camera, “enough fooling around, Mitzi.”

“Ooooh!” Mitzi was undoubtably about to voice a protest when another figure came on the scene. “Hey, Psyche! Hi!”

The sky-blue pegasus raised a suspicious eyebrow as she surveyed the scene. “What are you guys doing with my camera?” As the technical-minded of the crew, Psyche was the only one able to release the full potential of the video camera and didn’t fully trust anyone else handling it.

Asta lowered her gaze and relinquished the camera to Psyche. “Mitzi talked me into it.”

“I was modeling,” Mitzi embellished on Asta’s explanation. “Hey, let’s play back the tape!” Enthusiastically, she jammed her hoof down across the row of buttons. Psyche only rolled her eyes at her friend’s impulsiveness while the camera proceeded to make strange whirring noises.

“Oh my gosh, I think I just pressed the tape destruction button!” Mitzi gasped, wide-eyed.

“Mitzi, there is no tape destruction button,” Asta said rationally.

“Well, then how do you explain it going crazy like this?” Mitzi pointed out with a superior air.

“You pressed rewind and fast forward simultaneously and it ate the tape,” Psyche explained, extracting the cassette and mangled film.

“Ohhh! Cool!” Mitzi marveled at the fete she had accomplished.

Meanwhile Haiku was muttering something along the lines of having to do everything herself after she had thrown down her notepad and was putting together the package herself. Psyche appeased Mitzi by restoring the tape as best she could and allowing her to watch the somewhat-damaged modeling video on the tiny built-in screen.

“Hey, girls, I thought we were here to be filming me!” A stallion appeared over the rise, grinning good-naturedly.

Cazador!” came the shriek of four simultaneous voices as the girls all dropped their respective tasks and ran to greet their hero.

Cazador took all their adoration in stride. He threw his forelegs around them all and laughed out loud at what a great life he had.

Cazador had, for some time, been a bigfoot hunter wannabe. He had finally run one to ground in the Dark Forest last year; the dedicated hunter wasn’t able to capture the specimen as he had hoped, but he did get a lot of great footage of Tiny the Bigfoot. After some difficulties the two had arranged a truce; Cazador gave up his pursuit of Tiny, but the footage did give him instant fame in the entertainment community. Now he was the Bigfoot Hunter, with his own TV show and adoring fans, not to mention his four intensely loyal groupies who followed him everywhere and took care of all his needs! Yes, life was good.

“Well, anyway,” he said briskly, taking charge of the situation. “I’ve located the pack of rockdogs. They’ve congregated just a little ways down that ravine over there. Shall we go?”

“Yay!” the girls cheered, gathering up their supplies. “Everybody in the car!” Haiku said authoritatively, jumping into the driver’s seat. Soon they were off.

“We’ll stop here and walk the rest of the way,” Cazador decided and Haiku screeched to a halt. “I’m not sure how easily they startle.”

“What are rockdogs, anyway?” Mitzi wanted to know. “I’ve never seen one before.”

“Oh, Mitzi, don’t you remember anything?” Psyche chided. “Cazador briefed us on them before. They’re– ”

“Well, Mitzi,” Cazador broke-in, never giving up an opportunity to show off his superior knowledge, “rockdogs are from the canine family with bodies covered in a thick layer of a concreted mass of stony material. They resemble a bulldog but are much larger, nearly three times the size of a pony! In addition– ”

“Look! There they are!” Asta exclaimed, pointing ahead. A pack of about ten rockdogs were lounging around in the afternoon sun. Some were lolling on their backs, others napping in more dignified positions. None of them appeared to suspect the presence of intruders in their midst.

“All right!” Cazador ran ahead. “Start rolling film, Psyche!”

“Ready!” Psyche shouted back.

Cazador assumed a confident pose in front of the pack and started speaking to the camera. “We’re here in the barren wasteland at the base of the Purple Mountains. This area is riddled with legends; but with creatures as fantastic as the rockdogs in residence, who can wonder at this! Rockdogs used to be quite common; but in recent times they’ve been pushed back, and this is one of their few remaining outposts.” He advanced closer to one of the rockdogs and started patting it on the head. “Legend holds that the rockdogs were created by some mountain spirit dude long ago. The ancestor of all of today’s rockdogs is held in myth to be a certain Crunch the rockdog, the first one created by this mountain guy. Of course this is all just fanciful thinking, but it makes a good story, anyway!”

The rockdog he had his hoof on opened an eye and began growling deeply as he realized there was an intruder. “You can tell this one here is the leader of the pack,” Cazador went on, blissfully unaware of any danger, “due to his larger size. As leader, the others defer to his judgement, and also allow him larger portions of the kills they make. Just look at his strong, thick hide! But remember, folks, if you anger them, these guys can turn you into stone! So you really don’t want to go after any rock dogs unless you know what you’re doing!”

The leader of the pack proceeded to stand up and barked a warning behind him to the others. They were instantly at the alert and began advancing on Cazador.

“Great, Cazador! Just keep going!” Psyche cheered him on.

“Ah... right. So anyway, the hides of the rockdogs are composed of thick deposits of igneous rock. Since stone isn’t much of a fashion statement yet, they’re not in any danger of being hunted for their skins... heh... heh...”

Cazador started to look visibly nervous as the dogs came closer. At a menacingly growl from the leader, the nearest rockdog snarled and made a move to leap upon the Bigfoot Hunter. This was too much for even Cazador. He ran away, screaming. “Ahhhhhh!!! Somebody save me!!!” The rockdogs obligingly gave chase.

“Cazador! Your sword!” Asta shouted as he made no move to defend himself.

“Oh... right!” Cazador suddenly turned around to face the rampant rockdogs and pulled out, as if from nowhere, a really cool sword! At seeing the steel drawn in their faces, the rockdogs looked at each other as if determining if it was worth risking themselves on a guy with a sword.

“Hah-hah! You’re chicken, aren’t you!” Cazador gloated, seeing their indecision. The girls took the momentary opening to move in closer to ensure they had clear footage. But before either side could make another move, suddenly the ground beneath them started shaking and a deep, rumbly voice came from, it seemed, inside the mountain.

“Who disturbs my rockdogs?!” the voice demanded in an angered tone. All the ponies looked around in alarm. Who was it?

“Hmm... interesting,” Cazador said, nonplused. “What do you suppose it is, girls?”

They all shook their heads, except for Mitzi, who shrieked, “It’s the mountain spirit dude!”

“There must be some explanation for all this,” Asta said tentatively. “The voice... the ground shaking... let’s check it out!”

“First we should take care of the rockdogs,” Haiku pointed out. “They’re still aggressing Cazador.”

“Ah... ah... eek!” Mitzi shrieked as, taking a step backwards into what looked to be a cave opening, she hovered in midair for a moment and then disappeared.

“Mitzi!” Haiku peered over the edge of the lowered hollow Mitzi had fallen into. “Are you okay?”

“”Yeah... but my hair’s all dusty!” Mitzi shouted back up in dismay.

“You’re only a few yards down, Mitzi! You don’t have to shout so loud!” Haiku shouted back. “Here, take my hoof.”

“But there’s rockdogs out there!”

“Don’t worry, girls! I’ll get us out of here!” Cazador, who was separated from the girls by the pack of rockdogs, swung his sword around and the rockdogs obligingly stepped out of his way.

“You idiots!” Suddenly the same mysterious voice from before came back, accompanied by much ground shaking. “Didn’t I tell you to get out of here?”

“Who are you, anyway?” Asta demanded.

Letting out a frustrated growl of sorts, the voice caused an even heavier shaking of the ground. The ground beneath Mitzi suddenly gave way, and she and Haiku, who lost her balance on the ledge, went plummeting downwards into an even deeper hole. The remaining three stared in horror as their two teammates disappeared from view.

To be continued...

***Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed her story!***


A New Wind a Blowin’
Part 3
by Sugarberry (

“So... it’s settled, then?” Wigwam stretched out his hoof to Dreamcatcher, and the pale orange unicorn hesitated only for a fraction of a second before meeting his clasp.

“I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that you don’t regret your decision,” she smiled.

“With you and Bittersweet running the show, I count on a huge return for my initial investment,” said Wigwam, his twinkling gaze coming to rest on the mocha mare at her sister’s side.

Bittersweet, the driving force behind today’s special meeting between Wigwam, Dreamcatcher, Fetish, and herself, felt a frisson of trepidation course through her body as the finality of the negotiations hit her. She was the one who had hounded Wigwam into embracing her scheme for a new establishment in Dream Valley to be built in the shadow of Wigwam’s Casino and to be occupied by Dreamcatcher’s business, Native Dreams. Her reasoning behind her plan was to allow the Native Pony crafts that made up Native Dreams’ inventory to have a more accommodating home than at the limited kiosk at the mall, thereby increasing sales and profits for Dreamcatcher and her family– and, by default, for herself.

Wigwam had studied her proposal and had found it to be a sound business venture for his already flourishing casino complex, especially with the new art center going in adjacent to his property. Patrons of the arts would appreciate the outlet for Native Pony expertise as well as enjoy the opportunity to try their luck at the various games at the casino. It was a win-win situation.

But, all of a sudden, Bittersweet had butterflies in her stomach.

“You’re quite sure you’re comfortable with this, Wigwam?” she asked anxiously, studying the stallion’s face for any sign of doubt.

Wigwam only laughed. “Getting cold hooves at this late date, Bittersweet? That’s one thing I never expected.”

“What if Native Dreams fails?”

Winking at Fetish before responding to the distraught mare, Wigwam responded in his most masterful voice. “It won’t fail, Bittersweet. I have complete confidence in both you and Dreamcatcher to make this venture a success. I wouldn’t have put my jangles on the line if I didn’t believe in it. Now smile!”

Looking to her sister for support, Bittersweet did smile, although tremulously. “We will succeed... won’t we, sis?”

“I have every intention of doing so. And that means that both of us have to get started right now in lining up merchandise to fill those shelves that we’ll be renting from Wigwam. Fetish and I will be meeting with Red Fox this afternoon while you relieve Dyani at the mall.”

Fetish swung Tamarack up into his forelegs from where the foal played; then, leading the group out of the teepee that graced a natural clearing near the edge of the Dark Forest, he extended an invitation to Wigwam. “We’ll be celebrating Tamarack’s first birthday on Sunday; you’re welcome to join us.”

“Yes, Wigwam; please do.” Dreamcatcher’s invitation joined her husband’s. “If the weather is nice, it’ll be outdoors here; if not, we’ll hold it in the cabin.” She nodded her head toward the rustic log cabin that had been raised last fall to accommodate the family and provide amenities throughout the harsh winter. The family, however, still spent a majority of its time outdoors, especially now that the weather was once again favorable.

“How about it, Tamarack?” asked Wigwam of the little colt; in answer, the foal leaned toward the stallion, his forelegs outstretched. Wigwam laughed as he swung the foal out of his father’s care and high into the air. Tamarack squealed in delight. “And what would a little fledgling like you want for a gift?”

“There’s one of Manitou and Halona’s pups he’s partial to,” Fetish suggested.

“That’s out of my hooves,” said Wigwam, meeting Dreamcatcher’s gaze. Dreamcatcher and Wigwam had crossed swords over the wolves in the past, and Wigwam had no desire to rattle their newfound partnership. “Manitou and Halona will have to decide what they think is best.”

An intelligent and handsome wolf, Manitou had first come to Wigwam as a pup at the conclusion of Wigwam’s dream quest, aligning himself to the stallion as a constant shadow, only to find himself drawn away from his pony companion when a she-wolf, Halona, had appeared in the Dark Forest, wounded and alone and in need of a mate. The Dark Forest now had a veritable pack of wolves that lived free and wild, yet in harmony with the little ponies. It was from this year’s litter that Tamarack had found his boon companion.

“The cub is proving to be a great pal for Tamarack,” explained Dreamcatcher, “as my son is often without the company of other pony playmates.”

“He needs a sibling,” suggested Wigwam.

“We’re working on that,” grinned Fetish.

* * *
Eight days after Tamarack’s natal day, the friends came together once again to celebrate another birthday, this time in Sugarberry’s back yard in honor of Vanguard. A bounty of spring flowers framed the lawn in vibrant color, making a perfect backdrop for the festivities. A tent also lent its brilliantly tinted canopy to the open area of the lawn in case the threatening showers fell. The party was well-attended with local ponies as well as Sugarberry’s and Vanguard’s parents, those couples having stayed over from their Mother’s Day visit to Dream Valley.

“The tent will stay up for the week,” explained Sugarberry, “as Chocolate Chip’s graduation party will be held here, too.” She looked fondly at the chocolate brown mare who had shared her home while attending Pony Pride University and now was ready to take her place in a demanding position at New Pony.

Wigwam, one of the first to arrive as he knew that Chocolate Chip would not skip out of the party for Vanguard and Sugarberry’s sake, beamed at the young mare. “And a well-deserved party that will be, too; you’ve worked hard to earn that diploma, Chocolate Chip, while Vanguard did nothing special to merit this party. If anyone should be acclaimed today, it should be Floral Breeze; she’s the one who suffered the birth pains.”

“I’d be the first to turn the party over to Mom,” Vanguard agreed, looking around the back yard, “if I knew where she was.”

“She took Banderol in the house for a nap; Dreamcatcher’s settling Tamarack down, too.” Sugarberry looked at Vanguard. “But as far as this party goes, it’s my way of showing the world how special you are to me, my darling husband.”

“And you’re going to enjoy it whether you like it or not!” Wigwam chortled, earning himself a dark expression from Sugarberry but a grin from Chocolate Chip. He turned to his companion and invited her to accompany him to where the foals were playing games on the grass. “If we gang up on the smaller ones, we’re sure to win a prize.”

Chocolate Chip rolled her eyes and grimaced, but set off with the stallion in the direction from which the happy shouts of the children were coming.

“The party’s worth it just to see the two of them together,” Sugarberry whispered to her husband, her gaze following their progress across the yard and noting that Wigwam had succeeded in making Chocolate Chip laugh, a sound that was not heard with any frequency as of late.

“I haven’t seen Wigwam this happy in ages,” Vanguard agreed. “And I am enjoying the party, my love; I appreciate all the effort you put into it.” He brushed her cheek lightly with a kiss.

“Van, Van, Van,” admonished Wishbone, shaking his head and his hoof as he and Garnet came to join them. “You’re not being a very good role model for some of the impressionable youngsters around here.” To prove his point, he turned to Garnet and kissed her.

“It’s my birthday; I have rights,” Vanguard countered. “You, on the other hoof, have none.”

“That’s what I keep telling him, too,” laughed Garnet.

“The closer it gets to our wedding, the feistier she gets,” Wishbone mockingly confided. “Will I be hen-pecked or what?” The adoring look he gave his bride-to-be denied any fear on his part.

“How many days is it now?” queried Sugarberry.

“Not nearly enough,” sighed Garnet. “There’s still so much to do.”

“Way too many,” contradicted Wishbone. “It can’t get here quickly enough for me.”

Tabby and Thomas joined the group, overhearing the last of the conversation.

“What are you going to do when both Chocolate Chip and Wishbone are out of your house?” Tabby questioned. “You’ll have, like, two spare rooms.”

“I’m going to miss them both terribly.” Sugarberry was already misty-eyed thinking of it.

“Don’t feel bad, Sugarberry,” Wishbone consoled. “Garnet and I’ll still come often to eat... like Tabby and Thomas.” He chortled.

“I’ll have you know that my wife is becoming quite an able cook ,” Thomas countered, “due to her interest in the Iron Chef shows.”

“Yes,” agreed Tabby. “I’ve learned that I’m, like, totally unqualified to use salt. And I cook meat way too long.” She giggled. “No, it’s only Clever Clover that pays attention to that stuff. But Chairman Kaga’s outfits are sooooo cool, aren’t they?”

“Overkill, I’d say,” Vanguard stated.

Tabby could only stare openmouthed in horror and shock at this blasphemous comment.

“Chocolate Chip will be too far away to come back for meals,” complained Sugarberry.

“Just as long as she comes back for our wedding,” Garnet stated. “She is the maid-of-honor, after all.”

* * *
Chocolate Chip observed the pitcher, Nugget, as the colt waited for his little sister, Cara, to receive some advice from Wigwam on how to hold the bat. A smile curled her lips as Cara swung the bat and hit Wigwam in the leg, causing the stallion to drop to the ground as if he had been mortally wounded, only to grab Cara in a bear hug when she leaned over him, near tears at having hurt him. He tickled her until the little filly was laughing too hard to hold the bat, then wrapped his forelegs around her to guide her; Nugget threw the ball, Cara and Wigwam swung, and the ball dropped lifelessly to the ground.

“We’ll hit the next one,” Wigwam promised Cara. “We’ve got the feel for it now.”

Watching as the duo successfully hit a ground ball past Nugget and ran to first base, Wigwam carrying Cara, Chocolate Chip sighed. He was so good with foals, he should have a house full of them, she thought. As she had turned down his offer of marriage, she found herself wondering who would come along to capture his heart in the future. And, as always when her thoughts followed this path, she felt strangely numb inside at the idea that some other mare would someday claim his heart. I will always love him, her own heart cried out. But it was only a matter of days now before she would pack her bags and leave the town that had become her home... leave the town and all the ponies who had made up her world for the past four years.

As exciting as it was to think ahead to her new responsibilities waiting for her in New Pony, Chocolate Chip knew that the leave-taking was going to prove very difficult. So many things that she would be doing this week were for the last time, and it wrenched her heart to contemplate life without all the familiar haunts and friends and activities in Dream Valley; the only consolation was that she would soon be settling into her new surroundings and meeting new ponies, setting the stage for another series of wonderful memories.

Chocolate Chip’s attention was suddenly caught by the approach of Bittersweet, the mocha unicorn who seemed to be forever dominating Wigwam’s time– not that it mattered, Chocolate Chip assured herself– but Bittersweet was forward to the point of annoyance. Even now, her eyes were following Wigwam’s movements like a hawk. Did Bittersweet suspect that Wigwam was waiting for Chocolate Chip to leave town before he would commit himself to her? If Chocolate Chip had been a cat, her claws would have come out now.

Completely unaware of the path Chocolate Chip’s thoughts were taking, Bittersweet turned her gaze from Wigwam to the mare and smiled.

“I just heard Sugarberry mention that you’ll be graduating next Saturday; I hadn’t realized how fast the time was flying. You’ll be out of here in no time.”

“One day at a time, Bittersweet; I’ve got six days yet.”

“They’ll be gone before you know it! I just graduated in December, and the last several weeks on campus are nothing but a blur to me.” Her attention was averted as the shouting of the foals brought attention to Wigwam and Cara’s successful return to home base. “Excuse me, but I have something I must ask of Wigwam. We’ll talk later.”

“Not if I can help it,” Chocolate Chip muttered under her breath as she waved her hoof at the departing unicorn, then turned away as Bittersweet drew Wigwam from the foals. She could not abide to watch the proprietorial way in which Bittersweet claimed the stallion’s attention... or the accommodating manner in which Wigwam allowed it.

It’s all for the best. Chocolate Chip sighed. He won’t even notice when I’m gone. And that’s what I want... isn’t it?

* * *
“Where is your brother?” Bittersweet hissed at Wigwam when she had maneuvered him away from the crowd. “He was supposed to be here!”

“Hmm... I know he planned on coming; but, now that you mention it, I haven’t seen him.”

“I haven’t had a chance to tell him about the plans for Native Dreams. Or have you told him?”

“I don’t see much of Teepee these days,” Wigwam admitted. “He seems to have turned into a hermit since the weekend promo out at the site.”

“You’re telling me!” Bittersweet rolled her eyes. “He’s been sleeping-over there since Fetish and friends put up that teepee.”

“And how would you know that?” queried an interested Wigwam.

“I don’t know for sure, but I do know that he hasn’t been taking any calls at home, and Dreamcatcher said he bought some mats and blankets from her to put down in the teepee, plus cooking pots and other stuff.”

“Well, when I see him, I’ll tell him you’re looking for him.”

“Don’t bother!” Bittersweet tossed her mane. “He’s probably forgotten I exist!” She turned and stalked off in the direction of the tent.

Wigwam shook his head, but wasted no time in worrying about the mare, not Bittersweet anyway. He looked to where Chocolate Chip had last been standing and found that she was nowhere in sight. For a sickening moment, he thought she might have left the party; but a hurried scan of the area found her talking with Clever Clover, Friendly, and Spike. Wigwam promptly gained her side, although he kept a wary eye on Minoko who was with Clever Clover; he always got the impression from that mare that she was up to no good.

Chocolate Chip, too, seemed nervous in the company of the black and red pony whose volatile temper often set off conflagrations– both vocal and physical– and gladly allowed him to escort her to the refreshment table for a glass of lemonade before finding a place to sit and talk.

The warm look in the stallion’s eyes ruffled Chocolate Chip’s composure; she had hoped they could get through this afternoon without touching on their personal commitment to one another– or lack of commitment, as the case was since Chocolate Chip’s refusal of his marriage proposal last Christmas; but Wigwam could not let the opportunity pass without at least reminding the mare of his feelings.

“Remember, Chocolate Chip, that my offer still stands; at any time you’re ready to take me as your husband, just say the word. The engagement ring is yours for the taking... I’d rather it was on your foreleg when you left for New Pony.” The hopeful look on the stallion’s face caused Chocolate Chip a moment of doubt in her well-laid plans, but she forced her emotions under control.

“Wigwam, you know my reasons for not accepting your proposal. Nothing has changed. In one week, I’ll be on my way to start a new life of my own choosing. Please understand that it’s very important for me to do this on my own.”

“And that’s exactly why I’m having a hard time accepting your decision; I don’t want to see you go off by yourself this way. New Pony isn’t like Dream Valley. You don’t know what you’ll be facing, and who’ll you turn to if something goes wrong?”

Chocolate Chip gave the stallion a condescending smile. “You forget that I do have some friends; I already consider Fabia and Tarn at my new place of employment as such. And don’t forget that Prime is still in New Pony; and Sugarberry’s Aunt Blueberry Baskets is aware of my pending arrival... as are Fern’s folks. It’s not like I’ll be abandoned, and I’m not completely without discernment.”

“I don’t mean to imply that you won’t be able to handle things. It’s just that I can’t help but worry about you.”

“Now you sound like Sugarberry,” laughed Chocolate Chip, reaching out to touch Wigwam’s face as if to wipe his frown away.

Wigwam captured her hoof in his and kissed it. “I’ve never fully understood her penchant for fretting until this moment,” he whispered. “It’s in direct correlation to how much she loves.”

“Oh, Wigwam, please don’t make this any harder than it already is.” She pulled her hoof from his grasp and rubbed a telltale teardrop from her cheek.

“It can’t get any harder,” Wigwam retaliated gruffly, then immediately regretted his words as Chocolate Chip quickly stood up to leave him. His next words restrained her precipitate flight, however. “I’m sorry, Chocolate Chip. I promise not to say another word on the subject.”

“Not ever?” she smiled, though her eyes were moist with unshed tears.

“Not unless you broach it,” he assured her, returning her smile with a weak one of his own. He had the impression that he was burning some very essential bridges behind him.

“Okay, then. Let’s try our hooves at the volleyball net. I see Wishbone and Garnet are already there.”

The stallion had no choice but to follow.

* * *
Wednesday evening found Sugarberry and Vanguard at the Royal Paradise in the company of Princess Tiffany and a number of other ponies who were parents, prospective parents, or interested parties in the birth of Tiffany’s brainchild: the production of a monthly newsletter for new parents to aid them in caring for their offspring.

As the founder and main force behind this enterprise, Princess Tiffany had garnered the expertise of the Dream Valley Hospital– and financial input and technical advice from the Fairfax/Monk Publishing House– to assemble the latest facts on foal development, care and feeding, appropriate playthings, medical facts, and any other information that new parents might have need of to provide their children with the best care they could give. With the first issue now off the presses, Princess Tiffany wanted the advice of actual parents who could give her feedback on the benefit– or downfalls– of her pet project.

“I like the way the newsletters will come at the appropriate age for each new foal born at the hospital,” Snuzzle offered when Tiffany asked for comments. “The parents will have easy access to just the information of which they are in current need.”

“And everything is written so concisely,” added Lemon Treats. “I don’t have to waste time scouring any number of magazines to get the facts I need.”

“I would suggest stressing the fact, however, that not all foals will develop at quite the same rate, so some leeway should be given to allow for individual timetables,” Toby offered.

“I appreciate the information on discipline,” grimaced May Apple as her little colt scuttled across the floor to pull Tamarack’s soft green mane.

“Any information on a foal’s behavior is beneficial to a new parent,” admitted Vanguard.

“How not to spoil them is what I’d liked to know,” confessed the tender-hearted Poeticus.

“And, like... well, I don’t take anyone’s advice to begin with,” Tabby, who was at this meeting mainly to see if “the new Tiffany” was for real, interjected. “But will two-year-olds and stuff be covered?” Faline was fast approaching the advanced age of two.

Bluebonnet, the mother of six, agreed that the toddler years brought many new challenges, and commended Princess Tiffany on the insight that had gone into the project so far.

Gratified with the input on the newsletter’s first appearance, Princess Tiffany was exhilarated and primed to implement the suggestions which would further enhance the project. After discussing a forthcoming rummage sale to earn monies for the disbursement of newborn gift baskets, Tiffany directed her guests to the refreshments that the Bushwoolies had generously prepared.

“Bluebonnet,” Tiffany restrained the motherly mare, “Sugarberry suggested that you would be a good choice to write an article for each of the newsletters on the practical experiences of raising foals, as you have a surfeit of experience in that area.”

The blue mare’s expression took on a hunted look. “Me? Write an article?”

“Yes; nothing professional, mind you. What I’m looking for is some practical, down-to-earth advice or amusing incidents that would correspond to each monthly newsletter, something that would set the new parents at ease and give them something to relate to.”

“But... but I’ve never written for an audience before.”

“Well, give it some thought, Bluebonnet,” smiled Tiffany. Then, coming up with a brainstorm, she added, “Talk to Sugarberry; maybe she’d be willing to aid you in the writing... at least until you become more comfortable with the task.” The princess patted Bluebonnet’s foreleg and left her to contemplate the proposed plan.

“You look stranded,” teased Firethorn, coming to his wife’s rescue.

“The princess asked me to write for the newsletter.”

“She couldn’t have asked a more knowledgeable pony,” Firethorn grinned.

“But the most I’ve written in years are letters to relatives,” complained Bluebonnet. “Who’d be interested in my thoughts and experiences?”

“As to the first part of your objection,” Firethorn pointed out, “you give helpful advice to the children on their school reports all the time. And there can be no doubt that your insight into motherhood would be interesting and educational... I’ve seen that journal you keep of every little thing that any of the foals every do.”

“That’s for me... not for the world-at-large.”

“Well, maybe now’s the time to go public,” Firethorn teased.

Bluebonnet grew thoughtful. Maybe Firethorn was right. Maybe she could do it.

* * *
“Vanguard,” Sugarberry quizzed her husband as they walked home after Princess Tiffany’s meeting, “what are the chances of Chocolate Chip coming to the realization that her place is right here in Dream Valley before she takes off for New Pony next Monday?”

Shifting the sleeping Banderol in his forelegs, Vanguard frowned. “You’re not still harboring hopes that she’ll marry Wigwam without trying her wings first, are you?”

“Of course I am!” Sugarberry retorted more adamantly than was normal for her. “I think she’s making a horrible mistake.”

“If it is a mistake, she’ll have to learn that for herself,” Vanguard pointed out.

“But she’s going to hurt both of them.”

“I hurt you when I left for Vulcanopolis, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong choice.”

“No,” Sugarberry grudgingly admitted. “But...”

“Chocolate Chip has to face some hurdles on her own, Sugarberry. Just because she’s leaving Dream Valley now doesn’t mean that she can’t return some day; but it has to be her choice.”

“My mind understands that, but my heart clings to the hope that she won’t leave for New Pony on Monday,” the mare sighed.

“She won’t change her mind at this late date. She’s committed to start work next week. She’ll be gone on Monday.”

In a manner of speaking, both ponies were correct.

* * *
Vanguard and Sugarberry had no sooner walked in the door of their house when they realized that something was not quite right. An inordinate amount of lights were on for the lateness of the hour, and a babble of voices and the click of hooves from upstairs bore witness to the fact that some agitation had crept into the normally serene household. Sugarberry looked at her husband in alarm and snuggled Banderol to her as if she could prevent whatever the upset was from the foal at least.

Before they reached the foot of the stairs, the hoofsteps and voices rounded the corner and began their descent. In the lead came Chocolate Chip, her face flushed, her eyes bright. Behind her came Garnet, excited yet dismayed at the same time. At the rear was Wishbone, his face set in a mulish fashion.

“Sugarberry! Vanguard! You’ll never guess! Fabia called from Worth Hydroshed Firkins and asked if I could revamp my plans; she wants me to report to work on Friday, so I’ll have to leave on Thursday after my last exam,” the chocolate brown mare explained.

Taking several seconds to assess the information, Sugarberry stood frozen, then, concentrating on the one fact she had some control over, wailed, “What about your party on the weekend?”

“I’ve thought of that, Sugarberry, but I can’t let my new employer down. It seems that one of the ponies quit unexpectedly, and Fabia is in desperate need of my help. She offered me a bonus if I could make it in time to help her finish up a project that needs to be completed.”

“You’ll miss your graduation ceremony,” Vanguard argued. “Is this bonus worth it?”

“I’ll admit that I was dismayed at first; but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. This way, I won’t have to face all the emotional goodbyes.” Her eyes avoided Sugarberry’s at all cost.

“She does have a point, Sugarberry,” Garnet defended her friend. “She’ll graduate regardless of whether or not she accepts the diploma on Saturday.”

“But Mom and Dad won’t even have a chance to see her before she leaves for New Pony,” Wishbone disputed.

“As if that matters,” spat Chocolate Chip. “When have they ever cared in the past?”

“That’s not fair,” Wishbone rebuked his sister. “They’ve come a long way in the last few years at settling things with you.”

“Well, maybe it was too little, too late,” Chocolate Chip returned. “And besides, Mom will be impressed that Worth Hydroshed Firkins needs me so badly; she’ll have something to brag about to all her friends.”

“How will you find the time to tie up all the loose ends... your job at the bookstore, for one thing?”

“Friendly will understand if I can’t make it the last few days I was scheduled. And I’m already nearly packed. Garnet will take care of some of the stuff that I won’t be able to handle and the rest of it will just have to fall by the wayside.” The young mare grinned. “Sugarberry! I’ve made it! Worth Hydroshed Firkins needs me, and I’m not going to let them down!” She hugged the mare so vivaciously that Banderol woke up whimpering.

“Oh, Bandy!” Chocolate Chip took the startled colt from his mother’s forelegs. “Little sweetheart, don’t cry.” She kissed the foal’s puckered face and rubbed her nose against his. “Come on, precious. Be happy for your big sister.”

She quickly sat down in a nearby chair and buried her face against the now satisfied foal and hid the tears that had come unbidden to her eyes. It hit her hard in this moment that she was leaving the happiest haven she had ever known, the one place where she had been treated like a beloved daughter and not like a rejected misfit. All of a sudden, her resolve turned to jelly, and she could not restrain the tears.

Dropping to her side, Sugarberry put her forelegs around the mare’s shoulders. “Chocolate Chip, everything’s going to be okay.” She looked up at her husband to draw strength from him, then continued. “Your life is in New Pony now, and you’re going to be a great asset to Worth Hydroshed Firkins. They’d better appreciate you! And as to the party, we can call everyone and cancel it. Don’t worry about that. I’m sad to be losing those last days with you, but that’s selfish on my part. You’ve got to do what you deem is best.”

Chocolate Chip raised her head and sniffed. Garnet slipped her a handkerchief while retrieving Banderol. “I’ll put him to bed,” she whispered to Sugarberry and Vanguard, allowing them a chance to talk with Chocolate Chip unencumbered. Wishbone despondently followed the red mare.

Vanguard pulled up a chair and took one of Chocolate Chip’s hooves in his. “Are you sure this is the right decision, to run off without a chance to glory in your graduation with high honors?”

“Yes, I’m sure. But I didn’t know it was going to hurt so badly.”

Vanguard remembered Sugarberry’s words, But she’s going to hurt both of them, and doubted for a moment that Chocolate Chip’s decision had been wise. But the mare went on.

“I’m tired, that’s all.” She sniffed again, gathering her resolve around her like armor. She offered a teary smile. “I’ve been rushing around like crazy every since Fabia called; now I’m feeling the results. I think right now I just want to get some sleep.”

Vanguard helped the mare to her hooves and hugged her to him. “Try not to think about this anymore tonight; in the morning, if you’ve decided to stay through graduation, you can call Fabia back and tell her.”

“I won’t change my mind,” Chocolate Chip sniffed. “I really do want to get started as soon as I can.” She pulled away from Vanguard and gave Sugarberry a hug. “I’m sorry I’ve become such a burden to you at the end.”

“Nonsense,” Sugarberry admonished. “You’ve never been a burden to us. And whatever you decide, you have our support.”

“Thanks, you two. You’ve been the dearest friends a mare could ever have.” She kissed them both, then ran up the stairs before the tears could engulf her again.

* * *
“We should call Wigwam,” Sugarberry fretted when she and Vanguard were alone.

“For what purpose? He can’t come over and talk to Chocolate Chip when she’s hopefully fast asleep, and he’d only lose his own night’s sleep brooding if he knew her current plan.”

“You’re right, of course. But he’s going to be devastated.”

“She was leaving anyway; it’s only a few days sooner.”

“But, Vanguard, it kills his hopes that much sooner.” She buried her face against Vanguard’s shoulder, d remembering the desolation she had felt when Vanguard had left for Vulcanopolis. She understood exactly what Wigwam would suffer.

* * *
Both Sugarberry and Garnet called Wigwam the next morning with no success; all they could do was leave messages at both his home and work giving him the time of Chocolate Chip’s hastily arranged flight out of Dream Valley.

Chocolate Chip’s enthusiasm had blossomed by the time she had finished her exam; she excitedly finished all her last minute preparations for her trip with Sugarberry, Garnet, and Fern hovering around her to run errands and offer advice. Wishbone, trying not to let his disappointment in his sister’s decision show, hefted the laden suitcases to the front porch, a somber testimonial of the pending departure. Shirking his duties at Pony Pride for an hour, Vanguard arrived home in time to accompany the others to the airport, as much to support Sugarberry as to say one final goodbye to Chocolate Chip.

When it came time for Chocolate Chip to board the plane, a final round of hugs were made, accompanied by forced smiles and all the appropriate words. Sugarberry was the last to have her say.

“Oh, my girl, you’ve been such a blessing in our lives! We’ll miss you something fierce, so make sure you write often.”

“We can chat on-line, Sugarberry, just as if I’m right there,” Chocolate Chip reassured the mare. “I could never forget all your kindnesses to me.” For a moment, the young mare almost lost her composure, but she smiled bravely. “Give Banderol a kiss for me every day.”

The chocolate brown mare turned to walk away, then remembered something. “I still have my house key.” She rummaged in her backpack, but Vanguard stopped her.

“Keep it,” the stallion directed. “It will be a reminder that if you ever need a place for whatever reason, you still have a home here.”

With only a nod of her head as she knew that any words she tried to vocalize would open the dikes that held her tears, Chocolate Chip turned away and began her journey alone.

* * *
Unable to stifle her own silent tears, Sugarberry waved dolefully as the plane lifted off the field, the mare leaning into Vanguard’s steading strength. Fern, Garnet, and Wishbone, already having put the sorrow of parting behind them and now willing to celebrate the fun and freedom Chocolate Chip would have in her new life in New Pony, put more exuberance into their final farewell so that no one heard the approach of a pony behind them until a voice forlornly said, “She’s gone.”

Turning as one, the ponies looked back to see Wigwam dejectedly centering his gaze on the disappearing airplane.

“We tried to reach you,” Sugarberry offered, setting a hoof on his foreleg to convey her empathy.

“The contractor for Native Dreams called late last night to invite me to accompany him to Hayton to look over some construction projects there that would have some bearing on what we’ll be doing at the casino. We left before sunrise. I just got back and listened to my messages.” The stallion’s gaze did not waver from that point in the sky where the plane was now only a dark dot. “I get back, and she’s gone.”

“She asked me to tell you she’s sorry that she couldn’t say goodbye herself; she said she’ll write as soon as she can,” Sugarberry offered while brushing her own tears away.

Wigwam rubbed his hoof across his face as if he was having trouble comprehending the situation. “She’s gone, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.” Finally becoming aware of the troubled faces peering at him, Wigwam shrugged and attempted to shake off his depression. “Well, Garnet, I guess we still have a casino to run.” He made a brave attempt to smile which broke through the melancholy that had settled over the group at seeing the sad stallion, and the hushed tableau came to life with a mixed assortment of comments and motions all endeavoring to avert Wigwam’s thoughts from centering on his loss of Chocolate Chip.

The stallion responded as best he could to the well-meaning efforts of his friends as their momentum carried him back to his responsibilities at the casino, but he was able to sneak in one longing glance to the blue sky in the east, the same sun-warmed wind that was caressing his cheek also impelling a wispy white cloud across the azure expanse.

“I love you, Chocolate Chip,” he murmured. “Never forget that.”

He then picked up the shattered pieces of his heart and tried to fit them back where they belonged, only to find that the emptiness could not be filled.

* * *
The canopy in Sugarberry and Vanguard’s backyard was once more filled with guests on the day of Chocolate Chip’s graduation, even though the mare herself was absent. Her parents, Twilight Jewel and Drifter, had agreed with Sugarberry to go ahead with the open house– which they were co-hosting– as it would provide them a chance to become more familiar with some of the ponies in Dream Valley who would also be in attendance at their son’s wedding later in the summer. It was also a chance for them to help Garnet and Wishbone with some of the wedding planning.

Another out-of-town guest at the party was Chocolate Chip and Wishbone’s younger sister, Lollipop. The vivacious and extremely pretty filly was herself anticipating graduation from high school in several weeks time and was thoroughly enjoying the company of a number of Pony Pride students who had come to partake of the festivities that revolved around a mare that was miles and miles away.

Across the lawn at the rose arbor, Sugarberry was with Drifter’s parents– and, therefore, the grandparents of Chocolate Chip, Wishbone, and Lollipop– who had also traveled to Dream Valley for the party; Sugarberry was showing off her flowers that were adding their glorious color to the lovely day. Elsewhere, Tabby and Thomas were chatting with Agatha and Hubert while Faline sat on the grass, using a blanket to play peek-a-boo with Banderol who found the pink baby unicorn to be great fun, gauging by the happy squeals he was making.

Judging the celebration of Chocolate Chip’s graduation without her in attendance to be an unconscionable act, Wigwam had tried to refuse to attend Sugarberry’s party that weekend. With Chocolate Chip in New Pony, having left without so much as a goodby, Wigwam’s spirits were at an all-time low; and even though he had striven to put his feelings aside, he could not disregard the fact that the mare that he loved was out of his reach. Sugarberry had convinced him that socializing with friends would help him to shake off his doldrums Now, however, as he mingled with the revelers, he found himself searching the crowd for the chocolate brown mare as if she would somehow materialize before his yearning eyes.

In an effort to get Wigwam’s mind off his troubles, Garnet pulled him into a discussion along with Vanguard, Lemon Treats, and Brandon which did succeed in reducing the bleakness of his attitude, at least temporarily.

Wishbone, Petal, and Caravel had set up the boom box and invited the younger ponies to dance under the trees which seemed to please the college crowd. Lollipop was soon surrounded by young stallions vying for her notice.

“That filly...” Twilight Jewel shook her head as if finding her daughter’s behavior annoying, but she beamed proudly. “She always seems to be the center of attention.”

“She’s very attractive,” acknowledged Agatha as she took a seat nearby, “and she has an agreeable personality. What are her plans after high school?”

“She’ll be taking some courses at the vocational school while helping us at the restaurant. Her dad and I are very pleased with her decision to learn all she can about food service.”

“And very proud, too, of Chocolate Chip, I should think. That young lady worked hard to graduate with such high standing, and to get employment with such a prestigious company as Worth Hydroshed Firkins is quite an achievement.”

“Yes, she’s done quite well for herself,” agreed Twilight Jewel, vibrant with her deep purple shading and pink hair, “... even though she has such a commonplace appearance. I always feared that she would find it difficult to compete with all the more fetching ponies.”

Agatha nodded. “I understand your concern that more shallow ponies would overlook her talents just because of her coloration. Nevertheless, she has shown herself to be a truly talented mare and quite committed to any job she takes on, not to mention that she is original in her beauty.”

“It’s very sweet of you to say so, Agatha, but anyone can see that a girl like Lollipop will have a much easier time making her way in the world simply because of her looks and her winning manners. Chocolate Chip is so... unpretentious.”

Wigwam, having overheard his beloved’s name, had turned an inquisitive ear to Twilight Jewel’s conversation with Agatha, and he scowled as he listened to Twilight Jewel’s demeaning remarks about her oldest daughter. If she had been looking at the stallion and read the anger forming there, she would not have continued in her current vein; however, she was on a topic with which she was very familiar– that of finding fault with her chocolate brown daughter– and her words flowed easily.

Agatha, much more astute than Twilight Jewel, settled back to watch the fireworks while Sugarberry, noticing with some apprehension the current state of Wigwam’s mood, moved closer to listen in on the ongoing conversation.

“I’ve done my fair share of worrying about Chocolate Chip since the day she was born, realizing from the first moment I laid eyes on her that she would be a special problem... nothing but brown from head to foot, mind you,” continued Twilight Jewel.

“The problem was not with your daughter,” Wigwam said in a deceptively calm voice laced with a touch of steel.

Twilight Jewel was at a loss, her expression one of open confusion. “I don’t see how you can say that, Wigwam. From day one, she was a sore trial to me.”

Sugarberry opened her mouth to intervene, but Wigwam was quicker. “The only trial involved, ma’am, was the one in which you pronounced your daughter guilty and convicted before you saw the evidence of what a particularly intelligent and loving pony she was.”

“Anyone could see...”

Anyone could see what opportunities would exist for such a unique foal... if her mother had not judged her on such preconceived notions of what makes a pony... a pony.” (Wigwam had wanted to say “a very desirable and enchanting pony”, but settled for the entirely uncontroversial “a pony”.) “It takes more than the window-dressing and fluff that make up someone like... like Lollipop... to be truly beautiful. And Chocolate Chip has what it takes. If she had been assured of that from the time she was born, she would not now be in New Pony in an attempt to prove herself and win your esteem.”

Wigwam and Twilight Jewel stared at one another– Wigwam a study in steaming disgust and the mare one of considerable consternation– before Wigwam turned and stalked away across the grassy lawn. Sugarberry made a movement as if to follow him, but Vanguard effectively stifled that endeavor with a hoof placed severely on her foreleg. “Let him cool down a bit,” he advised the stricken mare as she turned her questioning gaze upon him. Seeing that her husband meant what he said, she turned her attention to the still shocked Twilight Jewel.

Although Sugarberry knew Wigwam was correct in what he had said, she was dismayed that Twilight Jewel had been set upon in such a public manner and while under Sugarberry’s hospitality. “Wigwam’s been under a lot of stress lately, what with Chocolate Chip leaving and a new building project beginning at the casino,” she offered in an attempt to placate Twilight Jewel.

Twilight Jewel snorted. “If that’s his true nature, I can see why Chocolate Chip turned him down.” The mare than began a new conversation with Agatha, completely unperturbed by the dressing down she had received from Wigwam, for she had missed its focus.

“What just happened?” queried a very curious Garnet and Wishbone of Vanguard as they arrived late on the scene after witnessing only from a distance the tense confrontation and the angry stallion.

“Wigwam resented some remarks your mother made concerning Chocolate Chip,” Vanguard hedged.

“Mom was at her best, I suppose,” Wishbone grimaced.

“I don’t know her well enough to determine her best,” stated Vanguard, “but she did say enough to bring down Wigwam’s wrath on her.”

“I hope he realizes it did no good,” muttered Wishbone. “You can’t change a tiger’s stripes.”

“No, I suppose not,” agreed Vanguard. “But I think it may have helped vent some of Wigwam’s angst so he can get on with his life.” The three looked to where the stallion stood, isolated at the far side of the rock garden, and hoped that the assessment was true.

* * *
As a matter of fact, the encounter had made another bystander want to vent some of her angst. A fiery-haired unicorn could be seen stalking towards Wigwam soon after his blow-out with Twilight Jewel.

Wigwam was staring down at the ground when Tabby came to stand before him, hooves on her hips and glaring at him like an avenging fury. “Wigwam,” she seethed, “I’ve had enough of this. It’s about time to face up to some certain truths.”

Wigwam groaned inwardly. He was not in the mood for sparring with Tabby, especially after his recent encounter with Chocolate Chip’s mother. “Tabby,” he said quietly, “can’t this w–”

“No,” Tabby snapped. “I’ve had enough of your stupid whining and moping. Have you thought about how you look, Wigwam?”

“If you’re talking about what I just told Twilight Jewel,” Wigwam said angrily, “I won’t take back any of it. It was all true. If she had been a better mother, Chocolate Chip would still be here with me.”

“That’s exactly the attitude I’m talking about!” Tabby glared at him. “It’s selfish of you to expect her to fall at your hooves and instantly vow to become your wife.... if she wants to see more of the world, why should you stop her? She’s being stifled here, you know.” Tabby was definitely warming to her subject. “Look at all the friendship and love she’s had here. Maybe she wants a break from it all, did you think of that? But no, you’re only thinking about your own happiness. If you truly love her, maybe you should think about her happiness for a change!”

“Why should she block out her friends?” Wigwam argued. “I tell you, she’s trying to prove herself to her mother! That’s all this is about.”

“You’re wrong, Wigwam! This has nothing to do with her parents! It’s bad enough that you’re moping around like this, but to take it out on other parties is simply in bad taste! Who’s to say she wouldn’t have done this even if she’d been smothered with love from the beginning? If you ask me, she would have wanted to get out that much sooner,” Tabby said volatilely. “You’re so possessive of her she didn’t have the chance to associate with anyone outside of the immediate circle! Distancing herself from you was the only way to see more of the world, don’t you think? How else would she have a chance? If she married you and settled down right away, she’d be under your constant surveillance. Maybe she doesn’t want that right away! And your attitude didn’t help at all. If you’d been more understanding, perhaps she would have come back to you eventually. But the way you’re selfishly carrying on, I wouldn’t blame her a bit if she never wanted to see you again!”

Wigwam could only stare at her open-mouthed. To receive one of Tabby’s set-downs usually left one speechless.

Tabby glared down at him condescendingly. “Think about it, Wigwam. It’s for your own good.” And then she turned on her heel and strolled away.

Sugarberry was eyeing her warily, so Tabby headed in that direction. “Hi, Sug,” she said cheerfully.

“Tabby! What did you say to him?” Sugarberry cried out in agitation.

“Just a couple of home truths,” Tabby shrugged.

“Well, he doesn’t look too happy...”

“No, but he needed to be told.”

Sugarberry looked doubtfully to where the stallion stood . Would Tabby’s home truths– and Sugarberry was certain that they were quite brazenly phrased– help raise Wigwam up out of the doldrums in which he found himself? She could only hope.

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“And memories, he knew, were not glass treasures to be kept locked within a box. They were bright ribbons to be hung in the wind.”
by Starre (

Author’s Note: Kudos to Tabby for correctly guessing the quote! As it was two months ago, I’ll refresh your memory. The poem was “Along the Road” by Robert Hamilton:

I walked a mile with Pleasure,

She chattered all the way;

But left me none the wiser,

For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow

And ne’er a word said she;

But, oh, the things I learned from her

When Sorrow walked with me!

And I used the second half for my title. I am terribly sorry for leaving you clueless to Ella’s ventures in April– time slipped away. Hmmm, no, I believe “ran away” would be a better way of putting it. Or possibly sprinting. Anyhow, this month’s quote is quite contemporary compared to what I usually use... in fact, it’s from a fantasy book! Still, they’re fairly widely read, so I shan’t provide any more clues.

Our favorite dusky mare was sitting curled up comfortably in her window seat. A few papers covered in her untidy scrawl were scattered across the floor; and on this pleasant Saturday morning in May, Ella was completely lost to Dream Valley, sailing on the wings of the sunrise. The dear, quaint scent of lilacs drifted up to Ella’s open window and the morning was delightfully cool. Nopony else in Dream Valley was out and about yet, and the only sound was that of birds hopping about and conversing on the joys of a fresh spring day.

“That’s it!” she breathed and then took up her pen and paper again and scribbled furiously for the next ten minutes– when she was interrupted by a plaintive mew from outside her door. Mechanically, she got up and opened the door to let Amadeus, the white Persian with bright blue eyes, into the tower room and strode back to her window seat. Amadeus sat on her old steamer trunk gazing up at her reproachfully. What manner of pony was this to simply ignore him?

Well, if he were to be ignored, he would see just how much damage he could cause before being put out! Being the wise cat he was– all cats have some inherent wisdom, you know– decided that the place to strike would be the desk.

Up went the cat. Now, let’s see... a few teeth marks to that atrocious porcelain rabbit would do the trick. But, it didn’t quite. What on that piece of paper could be more interesting than him? Amadeus, the most cattish of cats in the old section of Dream Valley? Indeed, the idea of being completely overlooked! Well, then. Let’s just see what, oh... a quick flick of the tail combined with a gentle nudge of the paw could do to the candelabra!


At this, Ella glanced up, scowling. “You dreadful beastie, you! I thought cats had manners! Knocking down my candelabra, indeed!”

And out went Amadeus, quite miffed and nursing a wounded sense of dignity. The nerve of that pony, calling him a “dreadful beastie”! Humph.

Picking up the candelabra and placing it back onto her desk, Ella sighed. The spell had been broken and the world wasn’t quite a fairyland anymore. One simply couldn’t build castles in the air after “dreadful beastie”-ing the household cat and stooping to such an un-romantic task as picking up a candelabra and snapped candles off the floor.

Taking up the little frog pitcher, she sloshed some water into the lily pad bowl and proceeded to wash away weariness. Then, she tripped lightly down through Evermoor to the dining room where Louise and Lady Charlotte were sipping their tea over the morning newspaper.

The characteristic silence fell over the mahogany table– none of the three mares were inclined to be very sociable at breakfast– broken only by the rustle of newspaper and intermittent clanging of silverware against their plates.

Just then, three resounding knocks forced their way into Evermoor’s dusty entrance hall; and Louise stood up to get the door.

“Delivery for a Miss Fay?” some stallion said.

“Yes, she lives here...” And Louise came back into the dining room moments later toting a rather large cardboard box. “Package from your father, it appears,” Louise said and dropped the box onto the table, causing the plates to rattle precariously near to falling over the edge.

“A package? I wonder what he could have found...”

Lady Charlotte and Louise shrugged, and then continued on with the morning as usual. “I’ll be doing some spring cleaning today. Never either of you mind my shuffling about,” Louise said cheerfully. Nothing pleased her more than to take a dusty, dirty house and clean it up.

“And I’ll be going down to see about some new draperies for the parlor. The ones we have are far too faded and worn out to season another year...” Lady Charlotte drifted off into thought.

Ella sighed blissfully. These dear old mares! Draperies and house-keeping were the only troubles to mar their quaint little world.

“And I suppose I’ll drag this box up to the tower room to see what in Ponyland they’ve turned up now!” The three mares grinned. So many packages filtered in for “Miss Fay” from her father that it was getting to be quite a joke. Last package, they had surmised the majority of the Fay estate must have found its way over to Evermoor by now, and certainly there couldn’t be much left!

And so the day began– Lady Charlotte to town, Louise to her beloved house cleaning, and Ella to the quaint old tower room.

To Be Continued

Author’s Note: Yes, I know I’m a terrible, awful cheater ;) You see, the next few stories are going to be about the objects in the box and explain some memories attached to them. A series of flashbacks. So, you’ll get a glimpse of Ella’s childhood! And yes, this chapter is sinfully short and hardly worthy of the title “chapter”. Speaking of titles, as this is going to be a continued story, the title quote will remain the same until I’ve finished it up. You’ll have a couple months to guess this quote: e-mail me at

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Of Weddings and Babies
by Tabby (

Well, Sugarberry would have gotten on my case if I hadn’t at least made a mention of two certain events. So, I threw together a little story. Not much happens, but at least it’ll keep y’all up to date, if you care about these characters or anything.

“Oh, wedding cake! I’m so happy!” Tabby squealed. “Look at all the lovely frosting! I love weddings!”

“Yes, I’m sure you never would have married me had it not been for the cake,” Thomas said, eyes sparkling.

“There were a few other reasons than that,” Tabby said, swatting him playfully.

The bride and groom– namely, Elaine and Alan– were just cutting the first slices of the scrumptious confection spattered with pale blue frosting roses. Elaine looked resplendent in her simple but tasteful veil with pink flowers twined in her hair, and Alan was beaming with happiness in his stylin’ bowtie.

Anyway, nothing out of the ordinary happened, except that Tabby got a bit tipsy after a few glasses of tea. The partying and dancing and socializing went on and everyone was enjoying themselves immensely, but eventually the bride and groom took their leave amidst a shower of rice.

“They look so happy,” Sugarberry said, wiping a tear from her eye.

“Why is it so traditional to cry at weddings, anyway?” Tabby wanted to know. “I think it’s disconcerting.”

“But it’s just... so... emotional!” Sugarberry sniffled.

Tabby looked at her sideways. “Now, now, Sug. It’s nothing to break up over.” The next moment she suddenly burst into tears herself. “Wahhh! Nearly everyone is married now! What will we do without our matchmaking?”

“Now, now, Tabby,” Sugarberry said, patting her on the shoulder. “It’s not as bad as that...”

“Yes it is!” Soon both mares had collapsed into each other’s forelegs and were sobbing their eyes out.

“Now, now, girls.” Thomas and Vanguard came to console their respective wives. “What’s all the fuss about?”

“Everyone’s married now and, and,” Tabby choked up, “we’re running out of single ponies and there will not be nearly as much fun as before! Just look at what it’s come to! Baby Noddins caught the bouquet!”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Thomas said wryly, stalling his wife’s hoof as she reached to refill her glass. “I think that’s enough for you.”

“Ooh!” Tabby fumed, but didn’t fight the ultimatum. It was not long before they, too, left.

* * *
A few days later, Tabby was cleaning her pet crayfish’s aquarium when Agatha barged in the room. “Tabitha! Did you hear about Tamara?” she asked breathlessly.

“Tamara? No... why?” Tabby set down the siphon.

“Your Aunt Lynette just called me. It seems she had her baby last night.”

“Oh! Well, that’s good news, isn’t it?” Tabby cocked her head, wondering why her mother wasn’t happier about it.

“Two months early, Tabitha!” Agatha said emphatically. Tamara is okay, but... but...”

“Oh!” Tabby gasped. “Not...”

“Oh no, the doctors are keeping him– it was a boy, you know– in stable condition at the moment, but he’s still very weak. He will need to spend a long time under hospital surveillance.”

“Where are they?” Tabby prodded.

“Hayton... Philippe was doing a concert there. I gathered from what Lynette said that he’s taking it really badly and blaming himself for what happened,” Agatha elaborated.

“Surely there’s nothing that could have been done differently!”

“No, but Tamara opted to stay at the hotel during the concert and Philippe didn’t hear that she’d even gone into labor until afterwards.” Agatha shrugged. “I suppose he just feels that he should have been there.”

“I see,” said Tabby pensively. “What’s the kid look like?”

“Lynette said his colors were the opposite of Philippe’s, so aqua with coral hair, but his symbol is a cat,” Agatha described.

“Cute!” Tabby enthused. Agatha suspected she was referring to the symbol, not the foal. “And his name?”

“Hugh Alexander.”

“Well, at least he isn’t Baby Philippe or anything,” Tabby said cheerfully. “I wonder what Faline will think of her new cousin, or whatever he is. What kind of relation is he, anyway? He’d be her cousin were Tammy and I sisters, but we’re only cousins ourselves, soooo...”

“Some things are not meant to be known, Tabitha,” Agatha said sagely, then changed the subject. “Why don’t we find out what Faline thinks? Your father and I are planning a trip to Hayton to see Tamara; Lynette and Corydon are already there.”

“Ooh! Adventure!” said Tabby gleefully.

And henceforth a visit to Hayton was planned.

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Moonlite by Moon
Part Three
by Emily (

An hour or so later, they finally arrived at Cascade’s beautiful waterfall. The baby ponies gasped at the beauty of it and wandered around until they became dizzy.

“Cascade, we’re here!” Beachball exclaimed as she peeked over the waterfall’s edge.

After a few minutes, Cascade slowly came out, sorrow cast upon her face. “Have you made your decision?” asked Pinwheel.

Cascade nodded slowly as she lifted her head and looked into Beachball’s soft purple eyes.

“Are you coming with us?” asked Beachball gently.

Cascade didn’t say a word, then finally answered, “Yes.”

Beachball started to smile a little and nudged Cascade to go back into her room to get her stuff. Cascade turned around and went back into the waterfall house, and Beachball trailed behind slowly. Cascade picked up her suitcases and her things that she would bringing with her. “Are you sure we have to leave this beautiful valley so soon?” Cascade asked.

Beachball nodded and looked down; she, too, picked up a few suitcases. “Oh, I can’t forget Duck Soup!!” Cascade said, and went up to the top of the attic room and opened the window and got little Duck Soup, who was sitting on his cloud.

When Cascade finally got down, Beachball was already prepared to load the stuff up. “Come on, Cascade, let’s go put these in one of the trailers we have with us.” Cascade nodded in response. The two went out of the beloved home and went for the trailers where the draft unicorns* were patiently waiting.

After they had loaded all of Cascade’s things, Beachball winked to the head of the herd and stamped her hoof to get everyone’s attention. The ponies looked towards Beachball, waiting to hear what she was about to say. “We will be starting the long journey over the mountains in just ten minutes,” said Beachball boldly. “I want everyone refreshed with water and filled with food since it will be about five hours before we make it over the mountains, and we can’t stop along the way if we are all to survive.” The herd looked around, whispering to one another, until Beachball continued just a few seconds later. “We will only stop if we have to, and I mean only if we have to.” Beachball raised her hoof and stomped again; this time it echoed in the valley. The ponies pricked their ears and turned all their attention to her again. “So get bloated with food, and pour a lot of water into your stomachs, or you will be starving during the trip. If you think you might really need a drink, then take a backpack from the trailer now, and pack it with some snacks and water, as you might be needing it during the journey.”

Half an hour afterwards the ponies started walking again. Everyone was already tired, and the ground had cracks in it and was very hot. Beachball lifted her head and looked back at the herd behind her. The babies were tripping and breathing hard; she knew this was hard on them, but it would be all worth it when they got to Dream Valley. She sighed and kept walking on, her hooves aching with pain, but she did not complain.

Hours later, the sun set and the sky was deep royal blue with stars and the moon shining over on them; it was easier to travel without the sun up as it was not nearly as hot as it had been that afternoon.

At midnight they were still walking, and everyone was very sleepy. Beachball stopped and turned around; the herd stopped and tried to keep their eyelids open while they waited for her to speak.

Beachball looked around at everyone and said, “We will stop here and rest for the remainder of the night; we will wake in the morning and have ten minutes tops to refresh ourselves.” Baby Heartthrob opened her mouth to speak and Beachball quickly reprimanded, “No whining, please.” Baby Heartthrob looked down at the ground shyly.

*Draft unicorns are unicorns that have hair cut to only a hoofs length; they were given the title “draft unicorns,” because as they have their hair cut so short, they help pull, plant, and do some of the harder work that is difficult for smaller ponies. They are a big advantage to the Little Ponies that are not as heavy and big as the draft unicorns.

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An Unexpected Visit
by Clever Clover (

It was a warm spring day. Clever Clover had gotten some early archaeology work already, but it had been short-lived. Now he found himself with plenty of time which he mostly spent walking about the hills around Friendship Garden. His houseguest, Minoko, would walk with him at first, but she soon grew bored with walking. Belle Star also liked to spend time with Clever Clover, but she had a job that kept her busy.

It was late one afternoon when Clever Clover got home from one of his walks. He paused for a moment on his doorstep and looked at the wall of the house. He couldn’t put his hoof on it, but ever since he had gotten back from his latest trip to the Isle, something had seemed not quite right. But he had better things to do than contemplate walls. Inside he found Minoko and Belle Star in the living room watching TV. Ryo was sleeping on the couch between them, and Pixie slept on Clever Clover’s armchair.

“Hey guys, how was your day?”

Minoko shrugged. “Eh, the usual.”

“My day was awful,” Belle Star sighed. “I spent all morning mopping the market floor and then these two baby ponies with muddy hooves came running through so I had to mop the whole floor over again. Then the baby ponies came running through again and I told them not to run through the market with muddy hooves, then I started mopping again. But the baby ponies went to their mother and told her that I had yelled at them and she complained to my boss and he yelled at me and told me that if I yelled at baby ponies again I’d loose my job. I tried to explain to him that I hadn’t yelled at anyone but he wouldn’t listen.”

“Oh…kay. So, what would you want for supper?”

Belle Star’s face brightened at the mention of supper. “How about stir-fried vegetables? I just love your stir-fried vegetables!”

“Why does she always get to stay for supper?” Minoko whined. “It’s not like she doesn’t have a job. Let her buy her own food.”

“Speaking of jobs, why haven’t you gotten one yet? It would be nice if you could contribute a little bit, you know.”

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Clever Clover set down the zucchini he had been chopping. “I wonder who that could be.”

“Huf, it’s probably Morning Glory inviting herself to supper again. If there’s one pony that annoys me more than Belle Star, it’s Morning Glory.”

“I don’t think so. She said she’d be working late at the flower shop to get ready for Water Lily’s fancy dress ball.”

Clever Clover opened the door and found two ponies in capes and hoods. “Uh, hi. What can I do for you?”

The larger stranger spoke in a familiar voice. “Well, we’ve had you as our guest; how about returning the favor, cousin?” The stranger threw off his hood to reveal himself as King Oak.

“Your Highness! And Gooseberry, too, I presume. Come in, please!”

The royal couple entered Clever Clover’s humble home. “There’s no need for titles and honorifics, cousin. We’re traveling incognito. We needed to get away from the castle and away from all the fuss and bother of royalty.”

“Well you got here just in time . I was just starting supper. I hope you like stir-fried vegetables.” Clever Clover led his guests into the living room. “Oak, Gooseberry, you already know Belle Star, and that is Minoko.”

Belle Star shot to her feet. “Your highnesses! It’s so nice to see you again! Your wedding was so romantic! I hope you’ve been well since then.”

“Oh yes, we’ve been quite well,” replied Gooseberry. “And how have you been?”

“Pretty good, I guess. But I’ve been upset ever since my boss yelled at me earlier today.”

Oak approached Minoko. “So, you are the infamous demon-pirate Minoko? It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. I hope that we can put the past behind us and begin to heal the wounds that have separated our people.”

“Yeah, whatever. You’re blocking the TV.”

* * *
After supper, Clever Clover and his guests sat around the table drinking tea (no, really, this time it really is tea). “It’s nice having the opportunity to talk to you in such an informal setting for a change. I’d really like to be able to meet some of your other friends and neighbors, but I’m afraid that if word got out of a visiting king and queen it would cause quite a commotion. That’s why we’ve had to leave Lady Moonshine in the dark about our visit.”

“Hm, Water Lily is hosting a fancy dress ball tonight. I hadn’t planned on going, but it might be your only chance to get out and mingle without being seen.”

Oak slammed his hoof on the table. “Splendid idea! What do you say, my love?”

Gooseberry nodded. “It sounds positively enchanting.”

“What about you two... Belle Star, Minoko; you feel up to it?”

Belle Star clapped her hooves in excitement. “Oh yes, it sounds like such fun!”

Minoko threw her forelegs around Clever Clover. “Well, if you’re going, I guess I’ll have to go. You can’t let me out of your sight, after all.”

“Uh, yeah, whatever.”

Belle Star stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to my apartment to get my fancy dress!”

“Right. The rest of us will meet you in front of the apartment. Come to think of it, I don’t have any fancy dress. But I think I know something that will do the trick. What about the rest of you?”

Minoko kicked back from the table. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Yes,” said Oak, “we should be able to take care of ourselves.”

* * *
Clever Clover went back to his bedroom closet and got out a large and heavy box. Inside was one of the enchanted armors that had guarded Jack O Lantern’s Isla Soja fortress. Enchantment had ensured him that it was safe to keep and that no black magic remained. The purple prince began to strap on the armor piece by piece. Once he was fully armored, he walked noisily into the living room where Oak, Gooseberry, and Minoko waited in full fancy dress. Oak wore the motley of a fool, Gooseberry wore a glittery mask and fairy wings, and Minoko wore a lop-eared bunny suit, clearly modeled after her pet, Ryo.

At the sight of Clever Clover in his armor, Minoko summoned her energy horn and charged toward him. “You’re not taking me again, Jack O Lantern!”

Clever Clover stumbled awkwardly backwards in the heavy armor. “Hold on, Minoko! It’s me! Clever Clover!”

Minoko held her charge with her horn mere inches from Clever Clover’s face. “Don’t do that! You want to get yourself hurt?”


Oak slapped him on the shoulder. “Splendid fancy dress, cousin. You look positively knightly.”

Minoko, who had regained her composure, struck a pose. “So, Clever Clover, what do you think of my fancy dress? Nice and soft and cuddly. Of course, you’ll have to lose the armor before we get to cuddling.”

“It’s really cute. Now shall we go? Belle Star is probably waiting for us.”

The four ponies strolled through the fading light of evening into Friendship Gardens. It was dusk by the time they got to Belle Star’s apartment. As they approached, they could make out her form in the darkness; but not until they got close could they make out the detail of her fancy dress, a Ryo suit just like Minoko’s!

Minoko grabbed Belle Star. “Hey, you copycat! What do you think you’re doing, dressing up in the same fancy dress as me?”

“Ulp, I’m sorry! I didn’t know you also had a Ryo fancy dress. But I put so much work into it and I don’t have anything else to wear!”

“Calm down, Minoko.”

“Hmph! Mine’s cuter.”

“Let’s go.”

* * *
They arrived at Water Lily’s house shortly. “All right, Minoko, behave yourself in there. We don’t want to make a scene.”

“Why are you picking on me? Besides, without Morning Glory it just wouldn’t be any fun.”

Clever Clover sighed and rang the doorbell. A moment later the door opened. Belle Star jumped in fright. “Ah! A giant toad!”

“Oh brother,” Minoko mumbled.

“Calm down, Belle Star. That’s just Water Lily in her fancy dress.”

“Clever Clover? Is that you?”

“Uh huh. Some friends of mine from the Flatlands showed up and wanted to do something fun while they were in town. I couldn’t think of anything more fun than a fancy dress ball.”

“Oh, I know! I just don’t know what I’d do without fancy dress balls! Come in and enjoy yourselves!”

Inside was a crowd of ponies in all manner of fancy dress. “Oak, dear, when we get back to the Isle we’ll have to think about having a ball. That castle has become so glum lately. We need to lighten the mood a bit.”

“I agree, but remember to call me Jaques.”

“Oh, yes.”

* * *
Minoko was hanging off of Clever Clover as he tried not to attract too much attention in his noisy suit of armor. “You know, Clever Clover, this is a ball; we’re supposed to be dancing.”

“Uh, yeah. We came here to mingle. And I’m not much of a dancer, especially in this suit.”

“Come on, ponies will be suspicious. Besides, we’ll draw attention away from your guests.”

“Well, if you put it that way…”

Minoko dragged Clever Clover onto the dance floor. They made quite the unusual couple, the black knight and the lop eared bunny. And as Minoko had predicted, they attracted quite a bit of attention. In particular, they caught the attention of a pony in a sunflower fancy dress. The sunflower-dressed pony marched onto the dance floor and grabbed Minoko’s big floppy bunny ear. “Humph, I should have known it was you! Taking advantage of my professional obligations to make your move on Clever Clover!”

“Oh, it’s you, Morning Glory. I thought you were working late at the flower shop?”

“I was arranging flowers for the ball! Which means I had to be finished before the ball started! Since I was already here, I decided to stay and enjoy myself. I didn’t think you’d move so fast to steal Clever Clover!”

Minoko looked around the room at the flower garlands and bouquets. “You did all that? That would explain it, though.”

“What is that supposed to mean!?”

Clever Clover tried to calm them. “Hey, come on you two, don’t make a scene.”

“You stay out of this!” the two girls chastised Clever Clover in unison. The armored prince backed away from the arguing ponies, hoping to disappear into the crowd. Once he was sure that the arguing girls were the center of attention, he sought out Oak, Gooseberry, and Belle Star, none of whom had yet taken to the dance floor.

“Hey guys, I’m sorry about the commotion. If I had known Morning Glory was here, I never would have danced with Minoko. Those two just can’t behave themselves.”

Oak laughed. “It’s not your fault. Besides, there are some ponies who wouldn’t consider it a proper ball if there was no scandal to report the next day. I’d wager the guests are enjoying this distraction.”

“I hope you’re right. By the way, what have you been up to, just standing over here?”

“Belle Star has been introducing us to all your neighbors,” said Gooseberry.

“That is why we came to the ball, after all, but it would be a shame to waste the evening without at least one dance. Shall we, my dear?”

“Of course, Jaques. And what about you, Clever Clover? Are you going to let Belle Star go the night without a dance?”

“Uh, I don’t know. After my last dance, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”

The royal ponies pushed Clever Clover and Belle Star onto the dance floor. “Nonsense. Minoko and Morning Glory are too caught up in their argument to even notice. Now, as you king, I insist you finish at least one dance tonight.”

And so the two couples took to the floor, staying as far away from the Minoko and Morning Glory as possible. Clever Clover was relieved that the band was playing a slow song, not that he was particularly fond of slow dancing, but between Belle Star’s reputation for clumsiness and his ungainly armor it could be dangerous to attempt anything too lively.

When the band finished what turned out to be the last dance of the night, the ponies gradually started to leave. Minoko and Morning Glory’s argument had ended in a staring contest, neither wanting to let the other out of her sight so she could make a move on Clever Clover. Clever Clover and Belle Star had managed to finish the dance without incident. “That was fun,” Belle Star said.

“Yeah, it wasn’t bad. We’ll have to try it again some time, without the armor.” Clever Clover was mostly just being polite, but truthfully he had found the dance more enjoyable than he thought he would.

Oak and Gooseberry met up with Clever Clover and Belle Star at the edge of the dance floor. “So, cousin, I trust you enjoyed yourself?”

“Yeah. It wasn’t so bad.”

“Splendid. We’ve decided to have a ball of our own once we get back home. I hope you’ll be able to make it.”

Belle Star clapped her hooves together. “That sounds like fun! I’d love to have a chance to visit the big castle again!”

Gooseberry giggled. “Well, it seems we can be expecting at least Clever Clover and Belle Star; will the rest of your entourage be coming as well?”

“Uh, gee, I’ll need some time to think about this.”

“Oh, I’m so excited, your highnesses. I can hardly wait!” Belle Star rambled as Minoko and Morning Glory approached.

“Who are your friends, Clever Clover, and why did Belle Star call them ‘highnesses?” Morning Glory asked.


Oak bowed. “I am Jaques, the King of Fools, isn’t that right, Clever Clover?”

“Uh, sure.”

“And this is my Fairy Queen, Titania.”

Gooseberry curtsied. “We are friends of Clever Clover’s from the Flatlands.”

“Oh. Your voices sound so familiar. Have you been to Friendship Gardens before?”

“No, this is our first time.”

“Hm, I could have sworn I’ve heard your voices before. But I’ve never been to the Flatlands, except for that one trip to the Isle…”

Clever Clover cut her off. “Well, it’s getting late and we really have to be going. Good night, Morning Glory.”

***Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed his story!***


Fate’s Finale
by Sugarberry (

Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace had made a quick journey to Woodlawn from New Pony once Andrew had explained to his wife their son’s confession concerning his love for Chiffon and the mare’s obstinate refusal to have anything to do with the stallion. Having found Chiffon to be a level-headed and personable pony when she had met her at Christmas, Ribbons n’ Lace was ready and willing to promote a match with Tribute, especially since she had nearly given up her dream of seeing her eldest son properly settled with a home and a family.

Needing an excuse to descend on Tribute’s new territory so unexpectedly, Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace had decided to tell their son that an unanticipated endowment had been received with the stipulation that it be used to further the efforts of the Woodlawn medical expansion, the only stricture being that the monies be delegated immediately. As Ribbons n’ Lace thrived on dispersing funds through her philanthropic organization, Tribute barely raised an eyebrow when his parents were ushered into his office late Friday afternoon with the windfall

“You made good time,” Tribute said, kissing his mother’s cheek and taking his father’s hoof in a firm grasp. “You must have been on the way to the airport when you called.”

“Yes, we made good time,” Andrew replied prudently. “Your mother was anxious to see your new home.”

“You’ll find that my apartment isn’t much to look at, but it’s comfortable; and as I spend most of my time here, it’s quite adequate.”

“We were hoping you could give us a tour of the facilities,” Ribbons n’ Lace smiled. “The benefactor who is behind this particular donation will expect a full report when we arrive back in New Pony.”

“Just who is this almsgiver? Blake would like to kiss the ground he walks on.”

“He would...” began Ribbons n’ Lace at the same moment her husband started to speak.

“She would...”

Ribbons n’ Lace hurriedly corrected the discrepancy. “They’d rather remain anonymous, dear.”

Tribute looked from one to the other, then shrugged his shoulders, curious as to who this paragon was who could fluster even his sophisticated parents. He was not about to hound them for the name, however.

Instead, Tribute set out to occupy his parents’ time while he continued with his work. “I’ll not be free from my desk until later, but let me get in touch with Heart Blossom; if she’s not busy, she can show you around the complex.”

“Heart Blossom?” queried Ribbons n’ Lace warily.

“She’s our very efficient administrator,” Tribute grinned. “She’ll be able to fill you in on the possible disbursement of the endowment. And as she and I were planning on having dinner together this evening, we’ll simply expand our arrangements to include the two of you as well.”

Ribbons n’ Lace sent one quick glance of dismay at her husband, then forced a pleased smile upon her son. “Lovely.”

* * *
Once settled into their motel room later that night, Ribbons n’ Lace sighed heavily, immediately gaining her husband’s attention, her thoughts going over every moment of their dinner with Tribute and Heart Blossom and every nuance of those ponies’ words and actions.

“Something wrong, my love?”

Sighing once again, Ribbons n’ Lace finally spoke. “Tribute and this Heart Blossom seem to be on very close terms.”

Tribute’s mother did not add that she had not found the hospital administrator’s personality to be nearly as pleasing as Chiffon’s. Certainly capable of dealing with the myriad responsibilities at the hospital, the mare did not appear to have the warmth and humor needed to make a comfortable haven of retreat for leisure hours; she would take her work home with her and never relent of her precise, competent manner. Indeed, Ribbons n’ Lace could not picture Heart Blossom as the cozy center for her son’s home at all. And foals? Ribbons n’ Lace shuddered.

“They’re both working to make the Woodlawn Hospital the best medical facility in this part of Ponyland; a shared goal would tend to draw the two of them together.”

“But what about Chiffon?”

“What about Chiffon?” Andrew looked at his wife in puzzlement.

“Did our flight here to help nudge the two of them together come too late?”

Momentarily blank, Andrew finally realized where his wife’s thoughts were headed. He grinned. “Our son is not romantically involved with Heart Blossom, if that’s what your thinking.”

“And how can you be sure of that?”

“Tribute would not have kept his eyes on the doorway all through dinner if he was even remotely interested in Heart Blossom as other than the hospital administrator; I read it that he was hoping that Chiffon would show up there as well, just so he could get a glimpse of her.”

“Do you honestly believe that?” Ribbons n’ Lace asked hopefully.

“Take my word on it, my sweets. I still watch doorways to catch sight of you.”

After all these years of marriage, Ribbons n’ Lace could still blush. “Andrew, you’re a sweetheart.”

* * *
Tribute was surprised on Saturday morning when he arrived at the motel to meet his parents for breakfast to find that his mother did not appear to be her usual cheerful self; she seemed distracted, almost listless, and was paler than normal.

“Are you sure you’re feeling okay, Mother?” he asked solicitously.

“Umm... oh, what, dear?”

Glancing at his father worriedly, Tribute repeated his question.

“Your mother is a bit worn out from the trip is all. She had a hectic week and hasn’t had a chance to recuperate,” Andrew explained. “A little rest is all she needs.”

“Yes, if you two don’t mind if I remain here at the motel while you’re off gallivanting, I’ll be right as rain by this afternoon,” Ribbons n’ Lace assured the stallions.

“Why don’t you rest at my apartment while I take care of my rounds at the hospital?” suggested Tribute. “By then, maybe you’ll feel more like seeing the sights.”

“Yes, dear, rest is what you need,” agreed Andrew, patting his wife’s hoof. “Why don’t you lie down while I join Tribute on his rounds? I’d like to become more familiar with your work here, son,” he added with a fatherly beam at Tribute.

“You two run along, then,” Ribbons n’ Lace said, practically shooing them away from the table. “I could use some time to myself.” She smiled stiffly.

“You’re sure, Mother?” Tribute asked one last time.

“Just go,” Ribbons n’ Lace snapped. “The sooner you two are out of here, the sooner I can take a nap.” She fluttered her hoof to hasten their dismissal.

Defeated, Tribute turned to leave and missed the wink that Andrew gave Ribbons n’ Lace before he, too, marched out the door.

* * *
Impatiently waiting until she was sure that her son and husband were out of sight, Ribbons n’ Lace finished her coffee, then jumped to her hooves and headed for the door. She looked both ways before exiting and– finding the coast clear– took off in the opposite direction on the path her family had followed.

The day was beautiful with a warm sun shining overhead and a blue sky providing a vivid backdrop for the soft green leaves on the trees; bird song filled the air, and the fragrance of springtime flowers wafted gently on the breezes. Ribbons n’ Lace took a deep breath and grinned. It was on just such a day as this that a stallion’s mind would turn to love. Hopefully, it would work the same on a particular mare.

For an instant, Ribbons n’ Lace felt a touch of uncertainty over her and Andrew’s plan. They had never interfered in Toby’s or Tendril’s search for a mate; but Tribute, for all his sophistication, seemed to need help. Ribbons n’ Lace had given up hope on her first-born’s chances to ever find an appropriate spouse until Andrew had informed her that Tribute had admitted a fondness for Chiffon... a fondness that the mare did not seem to reciprocate. That was why it was so necessary for Ribbons n’ Lace and Andrew to help things along if they could.

Setting her hoofsteps in the direction of Chiffon’s house, having ascertained the address from the motel’s phone book, Ribbons n’ Lace enjoyed her solitary walk through Woodlawn. She was charmed by the park that she crossed, stopping for several minutes at the arched stone bridge to watch the gentle flow of the water and to admire the beds of tulips and daffodils that decorated the grassy lawns. Sharing friendly greetings with the other ponies who were out on this fine morning, Ribbons n’ Lace found herself in perfect harmony with this small town atmosphere.

Approaching the address for which she was searching, Ribbons n’ Lace approved of the stately white house with the welcoming front porch and the neat trim of colorful blossoms from the bordering flowerbeds. A lilac bush hugged the east end of the porch, its dark purple blossoms swelling, anxious to release their beauty. An orderly row of peony bushes, not yet in flower, followed the front walk.

Ribbons n’ Lace was just about to step up the front steps when a lavender mare with deep blue hair walked around the corner from the backyard carrying a trowel in one hoof and a bucket in the other. As the mare’s attention was focused on the flowers– or more exactly, on the occasional weed that dared raise its defiant head– Ribbons n’ Lace had a moment to study the pony undetected and determined that this must be Chiffon’s mother as she appeared to be of the same age as Ribbons n’ Lace herself. It was only then that the mare became aware of a visitor and looked up to find a stranger’s eyes on her.

“Good morning,” the lavender pony said, her glance taking in the rather regal pink pony before her.

“Good morning,” smiled Ribbons n’ Lace. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m looking for Chiffon.”

“You’re acquainted with my daughter?”

“Oh. Excuse me for not introducing myself. My name’s Ribbons n’ Lace; I met Chiffon last Christmas in Dream Valley at Sugarberry and Vanguard’s.”

It took only a fraction of a second for Velvet to connect that name with Tribute’s. So this was that nice doctor’s mother! Velvet broke into a welcoming smile. “Ribbons n’ Lace! How nice to meet you! I’m Velvet, Chiffon’s mother.”

The two mares began chattering like two long-lost friends even though they had not set eyes on each other before this meeting. Both had entertained dreams for their offspring, however, and a hope of bringing those dreams to reality dissolved any hesitancy they might have felt in claiming friendship. As it was, they became co-conspirators from the start. By the time the two mares made their way back around the house to face Chiffon, they had reached such a melding of minds that it would have been impossible for Chiffon to ward off their plans.

“Look who’s here, Chiffon,” Velvet trilled as Chiffon, busily grubbing in the flowerbed, lifted her head.

“Ribbons n’ Lace!” Chiffon gasped, getting to her hooves and brushing the dirt from her body. “How nice to see you.”

“It’s nice to see you again, too, Chiffon.” Her gaze dropped to the plot of soil in which Chiffon had been digging. “I’m sorry if I’m interrupting.”

“Not at all. I was just finishing. Do you enjoy flowers?”

“Assuredly. In fact, I’ll have my hooves full once Andrew and I get back home.”

“You’ve come to visit Tribute, I’d imagine.”

“Yes, dear. We’ve been hearing so much about Woodlawn and the improvements at the hospital that we just had to come to see for ourselves.”

“Where are the stallions that you’re out wandering the town by yourself?” asked Velvet.

“Where would you expect to find two doctors?” laughed Ribbons n’ Lace. “Tribute couldn’t wait to introduce his father to his duties. Why, last evening, we even dined with the hospital administrator.” She kept her eye on Chiffon as she made that statement and was pleased to see Chiffon flinch at the news.

“We’d be delighted to have you join us for tea and biscuits,” invited Ribbons n’ Lace. “Can you stay awhile?”

“Thank you. That would be wonderful. I was wondering what I could do for the rest of the morning,” smiled Ribbons n’ Lace. “And Chiffon, you seem to know your flowers; maybe you could tell me why some of my tulips refuse to bloom...”

* * *
It was nearly lunchtime before Ribbons n’ Lace left to meet Tribute and Andrew at the motel, but she was very pleased with her progress this morning. She had met Charger once he returned from the hardware store and found him to be just as agreeable as his wife; she would have no qualms in seeing their offspring united. And as for Chiffon herself, Ribbons n’ Lace had found her to be every bit as charming as she had remembered.

She giggled as she recalled the blush that had suffused Chiffon’s face when Velvet had extended an invitation for Ribbons n’ Lace, Andrew, and Tribute to join them for supper that evening. Ribbons n’ Lace had, of course, accepted the invitation with alacrity; she was looking forward to seeing for herself just what would pass between her son and Chiffon. She had seen signs this morning that indicated that Chiffon did have feelings for the stallion; all that was left to do was to bring those feelings to the surface so that Chiffon would be willing to act on them.

Arriving at the motel, Ribbons n’ Lace found Tribute pacing the lobby floor with Andrew sitting in a chair reading the newspaper. Tribute pounced on his mother the moment she entered the room.

“Where have you been?” he nearly shouted. “We were worried about you running off like that when you weren’t feeling well!”

Andrew lowered the newspaper, his face crinkled with a feeble attempt to glower. “Yes, dear. Where did you get off to?”

“I tried to nap,” Ribbons n’ Lace fluttered, “but I just couldn’t. So I thought some fresh air might be just the thing. I took a long walk around some of Woodlawn’s quieter neighborhoods and feel much better now.”

Tribute stared hard at his mother, sensing something that he could not quite put his hoof on; yet she did look better than she had earlier; there was healthy color in her cheeks now and she seemed to be relieved of her earlier megrims. He smiled.

“I’m happy to hear that. Are you up to lunch at Betty’s Buffet?” he asked.

After happily nibbling on tea cakes and several varieties of cookies half the morning, Ribbons n’ Lace was not overly hungry; but she readily agreed. “Yes. You and your father must be starving. Come, Andrew, let’s go.” She held out her hoof and allowed both of her knights to accompany her from the motel, a pleased grin informing her husband that their plan was moving ahead as contrived.

* * *
Lunch proceeded comfortably, even though Tribute several times questioned his mother’s lack of appetite. Was she hiding the fact that she still did not feel quite up to par? he worried. When he mentioned some activities for the afternoon, he found her rather lackadaisical in her response. It was only when he mentioned eating at Fernwood again this evening that Ribbons n’ Lace perked up.

“Oh! I forgot to tell you! I ran into the loveliest mare this morning while I was out walking, and you’ll never guess who it was!”

Tribute looked at his mother sharply. There was something in her voice that promised a surprise... but good or bad he could not determine.

“As we’ll never guess, why don’t you tell us?” Tribute drawled, glancing at his father and seeing a glimmer of laughter in his eyes.

“Her name’s Velvet; and, imagine, she’s Chiffon’s mother. You remember Chiffon, dear; she was at Sugarberry’s last Christmas?”

“I remember Chiffon, Mother. I’ve met her a number of times around town.” He raised a brow, waiting for more.

“Well, I had an enjoyable visit with Velvet, her husband, and Chiffon; and Velvet asked us to join her family for supper tonight. I hope neither of you mind, but I did accept her invitation.” She looked from one to the other of the stallions with a hopeful expression on her face.

“It sounds good to me,” Andrew spoke up. “A pony can only take so much restaurant food. A tasty, home-cooked meal wouldn’t go amiss, I’m sure. What do you say, son?”

It took Tribute a few moments to collect his thoughts. His voice was harsh when he began to speak. “Number one, Mother, I’d advise you never to take to the stage.” He glared menacingly at her for a moment. “Number two, I would be pleased to dine with Velvet and Charger... and Chiffon.” His cloudy face cleared as a radiant, dimpled smile lit his face; and his voice softened. “And number three, thanks, you two, for trying to help.”

* * *
As her father had disappeared down the basement steps and her mother was putting the finishing touches to a sauce that only she could pull off correctly, it was left to Chiffon to answer the doorbell when it rang. She took a moment to check her appearance in the hallway mirror, practicing a welcoming smile that did not appear too welcoming, then opened the door.

All the proper small talk was conveyed between the ponies as Ribbons n’ Lace, Andrew, and Tribute entered the house– Andrew with a bottle of fine wine and Tribute with a bouquet of flowers.

“For your kitchen work on our behalf,” Tribute said of the flowers as he offered them to Chiffon.

“How beautiful!” Chiffon breathed as she smelled the riotous bouquet which included daisies, tulips, roses, and carnations, among other things. “Thank you. I hope our humble supper will do the flowers justice.” She looked up into Tribute’s eyes.

You do them justice, Chiffon,” he smiled, revealing the dimples that so impressed the mare.

Charger’s arrival to greet his guests interrupted the moment; and Chiffon introduced her father to Andrew, with those two stallions immediately falling into a friendly conversation that took them into the living room where they could sit comfortably. Ribbons n’ Lace had retrieved the wine from her husband’s hooves and set off through the house to find Velvet, leaving Tribute alone with Chiffon.

“I should get these in water,” Chiffon said, then found that she could not convince her muscles to take the necessary action to propel her away from Tribute. She could not take her eyes off the stallion, having him to herself... and so close.

“I could help you,” Tribute offered. Reaching out to touch the flowers, his hoof brushed against Chiffon’s and she felt the familiar tingle race along her skin at his touch. It was the realization of just how vulnerable she was to this stallion that motivated Chiffon to turn toward the kitchen, but just then the doorbell rang once more.

“This will be Blake,” explained Chiffon to Tribute, relieved to have such an innocuous statement to make. She quickly moved to the door and opened it to admit not only Blake but Silver Frost as well.

The two cousins hugged as Silver Frost prattled. “It was so sweet of Aunt Velvet to include us in your dinner party,” she bubbled to Chiffon. Then turning to Tribute, she continued. “We haven’t met, Tribute, but Blake has told me so much about you and your family that I feel I know you already.”

Tribute, casting a questioning eye at Blake, was more fully enlightened by his friend.

“This is Silver Frost, Tribute. She’s a cousin of Chiffon’s, teaches at the high school, and is one of the two prettiest ponies in Woodlawn.” Here Blake’s glance encompassed both Silver Frost and Chiffon.

“It’s nice to meet you, Silver Frost,” Tribute acknowledged. “And just how are you and Chiffon related?”

“My father’s Velvet’s brother.”

“His name happens to be Tribute, too,” Blake added. He then conveyed to Chiffon a box of chocolates. “A token of my appreciation for this invitation,” he grinned.

“How sweet!” Chiffon winked at Blake in accepting the candy. “And that reminds me that these flowers will be craving some sugar water of their own. Silver Frost, why don’t you show Blake and Tribute to the living room while I locate a vase for these blossoms.”

Chiffon made her retreat before Tribute could respond.

* * *
Dinner had been a success... good food, good companionship, good conversation. Now, as the evening dusk fell, Silver Frost and Chiffon were slowly swaying in the porch swing, both mares adorned with a flower from Tribute’s bouquet. Each of the stallions had swiped a rose to present to their favorite mare. Chiffon was still experiencing an occasional shiver as she recalled the sensation of Tribute’s hooves latching the flower in her hair behind her ear. She had tensed at his nearness, but she could not very well forbid him not to place the flower with Blake and her cousin chuckling and giggling. She had breathed a sigh of relief when he had gone to join Blake lounging against the porch railing, however.

Thankful for her cousin’s ability to keep a conversation moving, Chiffon refrained from contributing her own thoughts, content to study Tribute discreetly as Silver Frost led him and Blake over a variety of topics of local interest. She wondered at her earlier opinion of the stallion that had labeled him as arrogant and unbending, for he easily joined in the light chatter that Silver Frost foisted on the two stallions. Whereas Chiffon would have once found his comments on the lives of the local way of life disparaging, she now saw that he had a insight into the individual foibles of ponies as a whole that was enlightening, whether they lived in the city of Grayton or the small town of Woodlawn. And he could find humor in almost any circumstance, although his was of a droll variety rather than the outright preposterous sentiments of both Blake and Silver Frost.

“And what do you think, Chiffon?”

Coming out of her musings, Chiffon realized that the three ponies were looking at her for an opinion on something of which she was completely unaware. “Excuse me, I was wool-gathering.”

“You were what?” asked a bemused Blake.

“Daydreaming,” responded Tribute with a grin, his eyes alight with laughter as if he knew where her thoughts had been centered.

“Castle-building,” retorted Silver Frost, noting with a sly smile that Chiffon had been inordinately interested in Tribute.

“Ahh, our discussion must have bored you, Chiffon,” Blake drawled.

Discomposed by this tormenting banter, Chiffon looked beyond the stallions and was allayed by the sight of two ponies walking by the house; to draw attention from her predicament, she hailed them with a heartfelt greeting and a wave of her hoof to entice them to join the circle on the porch.

The two ponies– another of Chiffon’s cousins, Icon, and his dearest friend, Splotch– quickly responded to the summons and met Chiffon at the top of the porch steps. “Let me guess,” Chiffon said to Icon. “Your mother just served up all your favorite dishes.” Floral Breeze and Whirlpool, Icon’s parents– Floral Breeze being Velvet’s and Tribute’s (Chiffon’s uncle, not the doctor) sister, making Chiffon, Icon, and Silver Frost first cousins– lived only several houses away.

“Actually, it was Dad’s night in the kitchen... his special lasagna,” Icon grinned.

“And he still refuses to give me the recipe,” Splotch complained. “He says it can’t go out of the family.”

“Well, there’s an easy way to solve that problem,” Chiffon smiled at the two.

Splotch sent a speculative glance at Icon, who only laughed. “There may be news in that department one of these days,” he promised.

“You both have met Dr. Tribute and Silver Frost, but have you been introduced to Dr. Blake?” queried Chiffon.

Acknowledging the other ponies on the porch, Icon admitted to a dubious acquaintance with Blake due to their membership on rival teams at the bowling alley; and Splotch and Blake were soon presented.

“We were on our way to Hood’s Place to meet with some of the theater group,” Icon shared, a trace of regret in his voice. He was aware that Chiffon has seemed intrigued by Tribute when the doctor had first come to town and had been disappointed that his cousin had not followed through on her apparent interest. He was curious now to see if anything might yet develop on a personal nature between the two ponies.

Chiffon herself looked rather downcast at Icon’s words, fearful of losing the support of Icon and Splotch; the two would have proved a convenient barrier between her and Tribute if she found herself becoming too drawn to his beguiling personality. Splotch, however, noticing Chiffon’s tribulation, spoke up.

“I don’t think anyone will miss us at the ice cream shop,” the magenta mare noted. “I mean, how often do we get the opportunity to mingle with Woodlawn’s upper echelon?” She sat down on the top step.

“I never realized, Splotch, that you held me in such high regard,” preened Silver Frost, teasingly.

“She doesn’t,” scoffed Icon. “I’ve told her about the time you...”

“Never mind, Icon,” Silver Frost growled as a quick glance at Blake showed him all ears to hear of her embarrassing escapade. Smoothly turning the conversation, she asked, “Has your group decided what play it’s going to perform after the huge success it had with ‘The Merchant of Venice’?”

Successfully drawing Icon’s attention to a subject that he enjoyed, Silver Frost breathed a sigh of relief, although Blake’s laughing eyes assured her that she would not be spared an inquisition later.

Icon sat next to Splotch on the porch steps and Blake moved to sit with Silver Frost in the swing, leaving Chiffon with two choices– to join Tribute who was still leaning against the railing or find an excuse to escape.

“Would anyone care for a soda?” she asked, opting for the latter of the two options.

After determining what each of the ponies wanted to drink, Chiffon set off for the kitchen, only to find Tribute holding the door for her and following her into the house. “I am at your service,” he smiled, briefly touching her foreleg.

“Th... that’s not necessary,” she ineffectually protested, his light touch once more detracting her to no end.

“That may be so, but I refuse to have you wait on us hoof and... hoof; I’ll carry my fair share.”

Reaching the kitchen, the two soon had served up icy glasses of soda, a bowl of snack chips, and a cluster of green grapes, all of which went on a solid serving tray. Chiffon, who had been uncomfortable with being alone with Tribute among such mundane matters as fetching ice cubes and munchies, breathed a sigh of relief when their work was finished and they could return to the company on the front porch.

She was not to be so quickly removed from Tribute’s solitary presence, however. Before she could lift the tray, Tribute leaned over the counter toward her. “Your flower is slipping,” he noted, embedding the stem more securely in her mane, taking his time to make sure it was anchored well. “Perfect,” he said when he was satisfied, his eyes holding her gaze, his smile revealing those dratted dimples that set her pulse racing.

“Perfect,” she heard her voice echo softly... and immediately dropped her gaze and felt a fiery blush spread across her cheeks.

Tribute would have liked to continue this tete-a-tete, but Velvet and Ribbons n’ Lace happened to enter the room at that time, also in search of some refreshments. Both of the mares wished themselves anywhere but in the kitchen when they saw the tender interlude they had interrupted, but Chiffon would not let them escape.

“Icon and Splotch stopped by,” Chiffon explained hurriedly, as if she was a foal caught in some mischievous act.

“Well, Ribbons n’ Lace, you can meet my nephew and his sweetheart. You two go on, we’ll get our own drinks.” Velvet effectively shooed Chiffon and Tribute out of the room.

Although Tribute was unable to finagle any further time alone with Chiffon that evening, he was satisfied that she had not succeeded in entirely eluding his attentions. And when he had leaned close to whisper in her ear on parting that he would call her during the week, hadn’t she smiled and nodded her assent? Yes, life was looking up.

* * *
Several weeks after Ribbons n’ Lace and Andrew’s visit to their oldest son in Woodlawn, another member of the family could be found on his way to that town with his wife at his side. Having just passed through a sudden spring shower, Toby and Fern shared a tender kiss before collapsing the umbrella that had cozily protected them from the brunt of the storm.

“Now, aren’t you glad I remembered the bumbershoot?” queried Fern of her husband.

“Decidedly, yes, as I would be concerned if you had gotten soaked in your condition.”

“You mean if it wasn’t for my condition, you wouldn’t have cared a fig whether I got wet or not?” Fern teased.

Fern’s condition, of course, was that she was with child. As thrilling as that piece of news had been to her and Toby, it had also transported Great-Aunt Maisie into rapturous planning for the advent of a wondrous little newcomer into a family (on Fern’s side) that had experienced far too many tragedies and comparatively few births. The news had also been joyously received by Ribbons n’ Lace and Andrew when they had stopped by Dream Valley on their way back to New Pony. Grandparents twice over from their daughter and her husband’s offspring, now five and two years of age, Ribbons n’ Lace and Andrew looked forward to another infant to snuggle and love.

And Ribbons n’ Lace, in her new role as matchmaker, had discerned an opportunity to increase Tribute’s suit with Chiffon. Ribbons n’ Lace had rightly surmised from her time spent in Chiffon’s company that the mare was too used to her independence to take the chance on giving her heart totally to Tribute... too set in her ways to be open to the possibilities of a life lived in partnership with another. So what better way to entice Chiffon than to expose her to a successful and happy marriage in the form of Toby and Fern with the added incentive of a new foal on the way to bring further joy to the union? Maybe, just maybe, Chiffon would open her eyes to the potential happiness that could be hers and Tribute’s.

Fortunately, Toby and Fern had been planning to visit Tribute in the near future anyway, so they fell into Ribbons n’ Lace’s scheme quite willingly. And except for the rain shower, their journey had been enjoyable.

“I’m a little nervous about playing cupid,” Toby admitted to Fern as they came into Woodlawn.

“I think your brother and Chiffon will have done very well for themselves since your parents’ visit. It’s not as if Tribute doesn’t now how to court a lady.”

Tribute would be the first to doubt Fern’s optimistic statement. He had called Chiffon after his parents departure to invite her to dinner, but she had sweetly refused, giving the deadline for her publication as her reason; she had assured him that when that responsibility was fulfilled, she would be more readily available.

Each succeeding call had met with the same response. Tribute had tried cajoling her, pointing out that she had to eat sometime; and he would be sure to get her home again in good time. Chiffon had said no. He had sent an invitation to her accompanied by a bouquet of flowers, only to receive a polite thank you with the added information that there had been some set-backs in her work due to a failed computer. He had coerced Blake into including him and Chiffon in a trek that Blake and Silver Frost planned to a neighboring town’s spring festival, but Chiffon was by then caught up in the end of the school year tasks that could not be neglected.

Tribute had never in his life come up against such a stubborn female. He would have been totally disillusioned if it were not for the memory of the look in her eyes on the night he and his parents had been guests at Chiffon’s home. There had been no misreading the tenderness in her eyes when they met his; she was wary, but she did respond to him, of that there was no doubt. The only problem now was to convince Chiffon to spend more time with him so that she would find that he was indispensable to her happiness. But how?

Greeting his brother and sister-in-law with enthusiasm, Tribute realized that he was more lonely in Woodlawn than he had been aware. He was busy enough with his responsibilities and the new friends he had made, but there was no family for him to rely on. Having Toby to talk to was a welcomed release; and he perceived now that he had never really gotten to know his sister-in-law, and found Fern to be a delightful and amusing companion.

Tribute cringed when he thought back to the days when he had taunted his brother’s dependence on this mare; now he envied the closeness that Toby and Fern shared and wanted more than anything to have the same kind of relationship with Chiffon. Hearing of the anticipated blessed event in Toby and Fern’s future, Tribute was made more aware than ever that he wanted his life to take a new direction.

It was late when the reunited brothers and Fern said goodnight, and Toby and Fern retired to their reserved room at the motel.

* * *
The following morning found Fern deserted, both stallions having gone off to the medical center. Fern was not disturbed, however, having met several of the Woodlawn inhabitants through Vanguard. She had assured her husband and her brother-in-law that she would have a wonderful time hunting up the ponies of her acquaintance.

Tribute had accepted Fern’s plans with an open mind. He was aware that his parents had stopped in Dream Valley to see Toby and Fern after their visit to him, so he was fairly certain that his problems with Chiffon had been discussed. He was also aware that it was very probable that Fern, like his mother, would do what she could to bring about a meeting with Chiffon to further his cause. And with his zero success rate in that department, Tribute could only hope that Fern would have better luck than he himself.

Being Saturday, Fern’s telephone call found Chiffon at home; Fern, after explaining her abandonment and her desire to visit with Vanguard’s parents, soon found herself on the way to Chiffon’s house.

Having never met Velvet and Charger, Fern spent an enjoyable half hour over coffee learning about Chiffon’s family before she and Chiffon set off for Floral Breeze’s house several doors down the street, with the admonishment, however, from Velvet that she expected the two of them back for lunch. On the way, Fern casually mentioned that Tribute was treating her and Toby to dinner at Fernwood; and would Chiffon like to join the party so that she, Fern, would not have to sit on the sidelines while her husband and brother-in-law dominated the conversation with discussions of medical matters?

This was a wonderful opportunity, Chiffon reasoned, for her to fulfill her promise to Tribute that she would dine with him, while not putting her in the predicament of having to face the stallion alone. She quickly accepted Fern’s invitation, and found that her heart was racing over the simple fact that she would see Tribute tonight. Why, oh why, did this stallion discombobulate her so?

Floral Breeze and Whirlpool made Fern feel right at home; Vanguard’s parents and Chiffon were soon filled in on all the newest accomplishments of Banderol, and Floral Breeze was put in the possession of a sentimental photo of her son and grandson lying nose to nose on the fresh spring grass with the luscious lavender blooms of a lilac bush providing a soft backdrop. “Sugarberry’s quite proud of the picture,” Fern informed them, a soft smile lighting her face. “She loves them both so much.” Fern could not help but anticipate the pleasure of having her and Toby’s foal to snuggle and love.

The morning speeding by, Fern and Chiffon returned to lunch with Velvet and Charger, then set out to visit Vanguard’s two brothers, Fern with personal messages for both of them from Vanguard and Sugarberry. They caught Icon just on his way out to pick up Splotch for an excursion to the nature center; the mares walked with him to Splotch’s apartment where they shared news of import before Fern and Chiffon continued their social calls, their next stop being the new home on the edge of town of Stillwater and Morning Dew.

An architect, Stillwater had designed the dream home that Morning Dew had been fantasizing over for years, and the reality was breathtaking. Fern was notably impressed; and as Sugarberry and Vanguard had not yet seen the edifice, she attempted to remember every detail so that she could convey a spirited report back to Dream Valley. Little Droplet became enamored of Fern during her visit, and the toddler dominated Fern’s lap while the mares and Stillwater conversed.

“We’re to have another little one,” Morning Dew admitted, with a doting glance at her husband. “He or she is due in November.”

“Floral Breeze didn’t say a word,” Chiffon chided.

“Mom has learned that Morning Dew likes to spread the word herself,” grinned Stillwater.

“With Droplet, Stillwater told his parents; and, as she was their first grandfoal, the next day the whole town knew. I never got to tell a soul,” defended Morning Dew. “Everyone told me!”

Chiffon laughed. “You could put an announcement in the paper.”

“One pony at a time, Chiffon. That’s how I intend to spread the news.”

“Does that mean Fern can’t take the good news home to Sugarberry and Vanguard?” Chiffon queried.

“As to that, we just happened to talk to them this morning on the phone, so they’ve been officially notified,” Morning Dew stated, then looked shrewdly at Fern. “And she did mention that she had a friend due at the same time.”

Chiffon turned to Fern in surprise. “You and Toby...”

Fern’s green cheeks turned apple red. “I was going to tell you; it was just hard to get a word in edgewise.”

Stillwater chuckled; Chiffon and Morning Dew did have a reputation for being garrulous when they were together, both ponies sure of themselves and their opinions.

As Chiffon walked with Fern back to the motel, Fern chattered about her and Toby’s life and the added joy of becoming parents and Toby’s support of her continued education and the complications that sometimes arose from being a doctor’s wife. Fern’s pride in her husband’s dedication to his patients was obvious. “But,” she added, “I won’t be surprised if it’s Dr. Neil or Dr. Aurora in the delivery room with me while Toby’s off with some other emergency.”

Parting from Fern with the admonition that the young mare should get some rest while she could, Chiffon returned home, surprised to find how much she was looking forward to tonight’s dinner, and even allowing herself to dream a little of what it might be like to be a doctor’s wife.

* * *
Stunned to have learned from Fern that she and Chiffon had spent the entire day together, Tribute had huffed in displeasure; the mare had not been able to find a half-hour to spend with him. “Of course,” Fern explained, “she sent off her publication yesterday, so that worry is taken care of. And she was perfectly satisfied to join us for dinner,” she added, with a coy look at Tribute.

Now in the elegant setting of Fernwood, Tribute had a hard time taking his eyes off Chiffon’s face as she and Fern prattled on about nursery designs, a topic they had not succeeded in exhausting earlier in the day; both mares were animated and ignored the male half of the dinner party.

Toby grinned at his brother. “I’m afraid you’re not finding the dinner conversation very stimulating.”

Overhearing the remark, Chiffon turned to the stallions, her eyes twinkling. “What theme would you suggest for a foal’s first room?” Her gaze rested on Tribute.

“Something pink for a girl, blue for a boy,” he offered.

“More specific,” Chiffon prodded.

“Something with... stethoscopes.”

Fern and Chiffon giggled. “That might solve your problem, Fern; it’s definitely gender neutral.”

The mares allowed the stallions to take control of the dinner talk which proved to be quite entertaining so that none of the ponies were in any hurry to end the meal; they were all surprised, therefore, by the unexpected advent of dessert as delivered by the chef himself and an assistant.

“Good evening, Dr. Tribute... Chiffon. I’ve been informed by Blackstone that you are joined by your brother and his wife.” The chef nodded to Toby but his gaze rested on Fern with apparent pleasure, causing Toby to frown in disapproval and Tribute to arch a brow over such insolence.

The chef looked vaguely familiar to Toby; but for the life of him, he could not place where he had seen the stallion. It was Chiffon who noticed his confusion and provided the answer.

“Toby, you might remember meeting Biscuit at Sugarberry and Vanguard’s wedding; he’s another of Vanguard’s cousins.”

“I certainly remember you, Toby,” grinned the chef, Biscuit, “but then everyone at the wedding was familiar with the doctor who delivered Tabby’s foal. I also remember that you danced more than one dance with Chiffon that day. But the reason I’m here is that Blackstone overheard that your wife’s name is Fern, and Fernwood couldn’t let the opportunity pass; in honor of such a lovely namesake of the restaurant, I’m presenting you, Fern– and your party, too, of course– with the signature dessert of Fernwood.” A flourish of his hoof brought Biscuit’s assistant to the fore with the tray of luscious chocolate desserts, each delicately etched with the representation of a fern.

“Wh... why, thank you!” smiled Fern, wide-eyed with childish pleasure at such particular notice.

“The pleasure belongs to Fernwood,” Biscuit replied majestically. “It is a rare day when our restaurant is graced with such a stunning example of its very heart.” He bowed then and slipped away back to his kitchen.

“My goodness,” breathed Fern.

“I’ve never known Biscuit to be so gallant,” mused Chiffon.

“Fern, have you ever met Biscuit in the past?” queried a slightly rattled Toby.

“And you Toby... dancing with Chiffon?” Tribute caustically asked, finding the fact that his brother had held the mare in his forelegs slightly disconcerting.

Silence then reigned over the group for several seconds before the whimsicalness of the situation dawned on the four ponies, and they laughed in sudden harmony. Toby laid his hoof over Fern’s, concurring with Biscuit’s judgement that she was the loveliest Fern in Ponyland while Tribute whispered to Chiffon that he felt it was his due to share at least an evening’s worth of dances with her in the near future, leaving both mares with rose-colored cheeks that only endeared them all the more to the stallions.

The dessert was as flavorful as it was pleasing to the eye and was thoroughly enjoyed by the ponies; with a final expression of gratitude to Biscuit, the restaurant’s guests ended their evening, Toby and Fern heading for their motel and Tribute happily left in the sole company of Chiffon. They had traversed only a short ways, however, when they met another couple coming to Fernwood for a late supper.

Chiffon had never formally met Heart Blossom, but she had seen her from a distance and taken a dislike to her simply because she and Tribute were often the object of conversation in the local gossip mill. That Heart Blossom was in the company of a different stallion this evening did nothing to assuage a twinge of envy now that the two mares stood face-to-face.

Sharing a warm greeting, Heart Blossom and Tribute appeared to be on very good terms as far as Chiffon could see. She acknowledged her introduction with a polite smile but was thrown into confusion when the unknown stallion was introduced as Heart Blossom’s fiancé. She looked at Tribute with wonder, expecting to see a stricken look of despair there, but was only further confounded when she heard him say, “It’s nice to meet you, Seascape; Heart Blossom has spoken of you often.”

Listening with only partial attention to the conversation of Seascape’s weekend visit to Woodlawn, Chiffon’s mind tried to sort out the implications of the fact that Tribute and Heart Blossom had obviously not been dating as a love-interest but merely as friends. Finding herself immensely relieved to learn this fact, Chiffon was forced to identify the emotional trauma that afflicted her each time she was close to Tribute. She loved the stallion.

Chiffon found herself considering the possibility that maybe... just maybe... it would be worth sacrificing her independence for a life lived with a stallion who could share the joys and the trials that up until now Chiffon had taken upon herself as her responsibility alone. And if the mere touch of his hoof could evoke such a warm feeling within her, what would it be like to kiss...

Abruptly, Chiffon became conscious that her name had been mentioned. This lack of concentration was happening too often when she was in Tribute’s presence. She forced herself to listen to the words that Heart Blossom was speaking.

“... so I was wondering if you would call my office early next week to set up an appointment for us to discuss it.”

Heart Blossom was waiting for an answer, and Chiffon had no idea what the question had been. Fortunately, Tribute came to her rescue. A provoking hint of laughter in his eyes, he answered for Chiffon. “It might be best to give Chiffon a week or two to finish up with school issues before she commits herself to our project,” he said, seemingly pacifying Heart Blossom’s request.

“I’ll await your convenience, Chiffon.” Shifting her attention to Seascape, she pronounced that she could not wait another minute for dinner, and the ponies made their farewell.

Chiffon immediately questioned Tribute when they began their walk home. “What, pray tell, am I to discuss with Heart Blossom?”

Tribute chuckled. “I hadn’t been aware of how susceptible you were to wool-gathering when we first became acquainted.”

“You have that effect on me,” Chiffon admitted.

“You find my company that dull?”

“No... no, of course not.” Quite the contrary. “There have just been too many demands on my time.”

“But with your workbook sent to the publishers and with school nearly over, I thought you’d be languishing for something to occupy your idle hooves.” And I’d like to be that something.

“I’ve been looking forward to spending more time with my flowers and the garden.” Among other things.

“I hope I didn’t speak out of bounds, then. You see, Heart Blossom mentioned one day that she was in need of a responsible pony to arrange the open house festivities that will accompany the completion of the building program at the hospital and clinic. I suggested your name.”

“So that’s what she wants to talk to me about?”

“Yes. I don’t want you to feel obligated to accept. It will entail a fair amount of work, I know. It’s just that I thought you’d handle the function quite well.”

“In my pertinacious manner, you were undoubtedly thinking.”

A low chuckle met her words, and Chiffon caught the glimmer of both dimples as they passed under a streetlight. Tribute leaned close as he said, “You can be obdurate if I can be arrogant.”

“What a pair we’d make,” giggled Chiffon. She blushed as she realized how brazen that sounded.

“As to that,” Tribute drawled, “I think the pair of us would get along quite well together.”

He immediately regretted saying it, however, as Chiffon seemed to withdraw from him and remained silent. He could think of nothing more to say for fear it would sound utterly inane after making such a personal innuendo and could have kicked himself for isolating the mare when they had seemed to be making progress in building a connection.

Arriving at the house in an uneasy silence, the two ponies were approaching the door– Chiffon disgusted with herself at having found Tribute’s statement too unsettling to respond with even a joking remark, and Tribute foreseeing an abrupt dismissal with Chiffon slipping into the house without so much as a polite goodnight; and how could he stop her when experience had taught him that she would rebel against his touch. The need did not arise, however, as the front door opened from the inside to reveal Icon just making his farewell to his aunt and uncle.

“Finally!” he grinned at Chiffon and Tribute as they stepped into the house. “I’ve been waiting for you two for the last hour... not that I wasn’t well treated,” he added with a fond glance at Velvet, “as your mom let me feast on her fresh peanut butter cookies.”

“So there are none left?” twitted Chiffon.

“Unfair, Chiffon.”

“Yes, dear. He only had four... at last count.” Velvet patted her nephew affectionately.

“And besides,” Icon defended, “I wanted to leave some for our picnic tomorrow.”

“Picnic?” queried Chiffon.

“That’s what I came over for... to see if you and Tribute, along with Toby and Fern, would like to join Blake and Silver Frost and Splotch and myself on a picnic at Westwind.”

Tribute and Chiffon exchanged a questioning glance which obviously contained a positive message as Tribute turned to Icon and said, “Sure thing; we’re in.” He then added, “I should run it by Toby and Fern just to be on the safe side.”

“Call them now,” suggested Charger.

When Tribute’s call had been placed and an affirmative answer received from Toby, the talk turned to what foods to bring, all deciding at the lateness of the hour to take the easy way out and purchase items from the deli department at the grocery store after church in the morning.

“Except for Aunt Velvet’s cookies,” Icon recollected.

With no reason to delay his departure, Tribute left with Icon, disappointed that he had not had a chance to... Well, a kiss would have been nice... if Chiffon had allowed it. Tribute found himself wanting very much to find out if she would.

* * *
The walk to the park known as Westwind proved to be a pleasant experience; the lovely weather was mirrored in the contented faces of the ponies who were sometimes walking in pairs, sometimes grouped randomly, but always chattering. By the number of picnic baskets, it would appear that the outing would encompass more than the eight ponies involved; everyone had made sure that their favorite foods were included and in generous proportions. The grocer was smiling smugly when that particular group left his store.

Blake had brought a kite to provide entertainment, and Splotch had her easel and paints to capture the day on canvas. Icon was wearing his baseball cap while Blake had on a rather worn fedora that gave him a rakish air. Two of the mares, Chiffon and Splotch, had donned wide-brimmed woven hats of their own, Splotch’s decorated with some greenery with a tiny bird’s nest complete with resting robin and Chiffon’s with lavender organdy ribbons and a sprig of lilac. Her delicate lilac-scented cologne fit perfectly with the headgear and the day.

The picnickers seemed in no particular hurry to reach the selected picnic spot, rambling along so as not to miss any of the beautiful vistas available to them or to lose track of any of the conversation going on around them. A plethora of laughter accompanied the group as Icon and Blake kept everyone amused as their boisterous and nonsensical natures ran wild.

Chiffon was thoroughly enjoying herself as the day’s excursion brought back fond memories of many like it as she grew up under the protective guidance of her three cousins, Stillwater, Vanguard, and Icon. The four of them, along with a varied group of other neighborhood fillies and colts, had often ventured into the parkland for a day of frolicsome adventure that had led to many scrapes and misguided decisions, but always a lot of fun.

This time out was special for Chiffon, however, because it was the first time she had been accompanied by a stallion for whom she was feeling a rather tender regard; she found the experience highly exhilarating, especially as Tribute paid her such particular attention. She found it highly satisfactory to contemplate the stallion through the eyes of love rather than the suspicious and aggravated mode that had first dominated their acquaintance. She thoroughly liked what she saw and hoped that Tribute would see in her someone with whom he would be willing to grant admittance to his tidy, snug life.

Not that Chiffon was naive enough to think that there would be no problems in their pending relationship. Both were too used to a life lived independently of any outside complications. Both were set in their ways. Both had rather strong opinions. But, Chiffon mused, glancing at Tribute where he walked beside her, she was finding it very difficult to imagine her life without him now. Whatever difficulties they would have to overcome would be offset by the love they would share.

Chiffon’s pondering was interrupted as Tribute happened to glance in her direction at just that moment and caught the wistful softness of her eyes; his heart thumped heavily, for if he was right, that look mirrored his own reflections of the moment. He grinned at the mare, his dimples flashing their unfair charisma that sent Chiffon’s senses into complete chaos.

“Icon’s idea of a picnic is commendable, but I find myself wishing that it was just the two of us on this venture,” Tribute stated.

Giggling, Chiffon responded. “I highly doubt that we could feasiblely lose six ponies.”

“Ahh... but you’re not taking into account that those six ponies most probably have the same mind-set as we do.”

Feeling her cheeks flush, Chiffon turned her head so that the wide brim of her hat hid her face, but Tribute would have none of that. He lifted the brim and peaked at her face, causing the blush to deepen and spread. Chuckling, he said, “Never hide your blushes, my dear; I find them all too enchanting.”

Chiffon stared at the stallion. My dear... Enchanting... Had Tribute really said those words, or was she growing faint from lack of food and had misunderstood...

“And now what’s with this wide-eyed doe look?” he queried, obviously not finished with disconcerting her. He moved to stand in front of her, impeding her progress along the path. He settled the slightly disheveled hat on her head, then met those eyes that were filled with wonderment again. “It should come as no surprise to you that I find you very... appealing.”

Thinking her heart would never beat again, Chiffon was speechless with emotion. He’s going to kiss me, right here on this public byway...

Whether that was Tribute’s plan was not to be known, however, for the rest of the group, now some ways ahead of Tribute and Chiffon, had realized their comrades were lagging and called back to ascertain what the problem might be. With all eyes on them, Tribute and Chiffon had no choice but to end their private tete-a-tete, Tribute waving a hoof to the others with the statement that they had simply seen something of interest that they needed to further explore.

No one was fooled. Icon snickered, Toby grinned, Blake muttered something under his breath. Fern, Splotch, and Silver Frost exchanged knowing glances, all three pleased to see Chiffon responding so favorably to Tribute’s attentions. Chiffon was embarrassed beyond reasoning, while Tribute was smugly satisfied that, for once, he had completely stunned the mare into complete and total silence.

Even now with the rest of the ponies moving on, Chiffon was unable to take a step, feeling as if she had lost all control of her life and limbs. She wanted to catch up with the others; she felt terribly vulnerable alone with Tribute; yet, she yearned for his touch. She shook her head, hating the indecision which held her in its grasp, then fixed a fiery gaze on Tribute as he stood watching her, a contented smile on his face.

Tribute had watched the play of emotions across the mare’s face, following them only too well. The look of longing followed by dismay, then a see-sawing that ended in an almost angry disavowal of all that had gone before. He had pushed her too hard, too soon. Before she could say anything, he sighed and offered an apology. “I’m sorry if I behaved unconscionably. Will you forgive me?”

This contrite stallion before her was at such odds with the arrogant pony who had first earned her ire at Sugarberry’s Christmas get-together that Chiffon’s mortification dissolved in an instant. “I’m not sure there was anything that needed forgiveness. We are friends now, aren’t we? At least, I hope we are.”

“Friends,” Tribute agreed, although not as wholeheartedly as he might have. He had designs on an entirely different kind of relationship. Of course, wasn’t marriage based on friendship? As he and Chiffon set off to gain their place with the others, Tribute resolved not to rush his fences; as impatient as he was to make her his wife, she would have to be won slowly.

He could handle that.


* * *
The picnic lunch was eaten in a sheltered glade with a small stream providing a bubbling backdrop, a variety of trees edging the perimeter with dappled shade, and a spreading purple lilac in full bloom regaling the senses. It was a perfect setting to lay out the picnic cloth, retrieve the food from the picnic hampers, and settle down to a leisurely meal complete with excellent companions. Ideas were exchanged on a wide range of topics with only minor disagreements occasioned by differences of opinion that were soon set aside. Everyone had plenty to eat, and the surplus would keep several of them in food for another day or two.

The ponies lounged around the picnic site once they were satiated, Velvet’s peanut butter cookies having been the finishing touch. For the moment, all speech had subsided so that the only sound was that of the water gurgling over the stones in the creek bed and the lilting song of a warbler with the sporadic scratching of Splotch’s pencil as she worked to capture the impression of the glade on her drawing pad for later study. Fern’s eyes were closed, her head resting against Toby’s shoulder, his foreleg protectively around her.

Blake was stretched out, staring at the sky where his kite floated lazily, worrying a blade of grass in his mouth. Tribute was admiring the dedication of a colony of ants that were salvaging all the crumbs they could gather. Chiffon, barely able to keep her eyes open after the trek and the meal, dreamily wondered what it would be like if Tribute would encircle her the way Toby nestled his wife.

Of all the ponies, only Icon and Silver Frost seemed fully cognizant of their surroundings, Icon checking his watch as if anticipating something. At a nod of his head, Silver Frost got to her hooves and cleared her throat, garnering everyone’s immediate attention.

“I realize you’re all feeling at peace with the world right now,” she began, “but Icon and I don’t want all those calories you’ve absorbed to clog your system, so we’ve set up a treasure hunt that will necessitate the use of those calories to your advantage.”

“What’s the treasure?” asked Blake from his recumbent position as if only something extraordinary would convince him to move anytime in the near future.

“The thrill of victory. You’ll find a silver chest with four coins, each numbered; the first one to find the treasure will take the number one coin and so on so that we have verification of what order each couple discovers the hiding place.”

“How’s this search going to work?” queried Toby.

“You’ll each get a different clue that will lead you to another clue that will progressively bring you closer to the treasure,” answered Icon. “Silver Frost made up the ones for Splotch and I, and I made up the ones for her and Blake. Chiffon and Tribute will have a third set; and the ones for Toby and Fern, because they’re both new to the area, have been modified with an accompanying map so that they’ll have some idea of what might be involved in figuring out the clues.”

“You’ll have to follow your clues in order, as each one will lead you to the next clue, and eventually to the treasure.”

“Is the treasure buried?” Chiffon wanted to know.

“Um... yes, it is.”

“How did you manage this in such short order? We only heard of this picnic last night,” wondered Fern.

Silver Frost shrugged. “Icon and I were planning something like this for awhile; having Toby and Fern in town seemed like a good time to give it a shot.”

“And we were up with the sun this morning to get everything in place,” added Icon with an exaggerated yawn.

“Do both of you know where the treasure is?”

“Only Icon knows,” Silver Frost grinned. “And he has to promise not to help Splotch with the last clue.”

“I’ll be asleep by then,” Icon intoned, pretending to sway on his hooves.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” asked Blake, finally lifting himself from the ground. “Where’s our first clue?”

Suddenly invigorated, Icon swiftly distributed the appropriate clues to each of the pairs of ponies; he and Splotch put their heads together and were off down the path in seconds.

Toby looked blankly at the clue he had received while Fern studied the map; once they had exchanged papers, Fern giggled. “Come on, Toby! It’s perfectly obvious!”

Blake and Silver Frost both muttered over the clue left to them by Icon. “He made it especially hard on purpose,” Silver Frost ranted.

“The scoundrel...” Blake began, then grinned as enlightenment hit him. “It’s not so hard after all.” He grabbed Silver Frost’s hoof and took off.

Tribute and Chiffon were still bent over their clue; but in all honesty, Tribute was not concentrating on the words inscribed on the paper but on the nearness of the mare at his side: the feel of her mane brushing his skin, the smell of the scent she was wearing, the appearance of a wrinkle across her forehead as she contemplated the message, the pursing of her lips as she considered all the angles. He was still focused on those lips when she looked up, her orchid eyes twinkling.

“I have it!” She jumped to her hooves and beckoned.

Shaking off his own plans, Tribute got to his hooves and followed.

* * *
The enthusiasm that Chiffon radiated in finding the hidden clue prompted Tribute’s interest in the pursuit of the treasure, and he found that the time spent with Chiffon studying the clues, following the leads, and ferreting out the elusive slips of paper was intensely satisfying. Any previous disagreements had been forgotten as the two combined their mental prowess to track down the treasure. The walks between clues afforded plenty of time to discuss Chiffon’s teaching experiences and Tribute’s work at the hospital (and he admitted to Chiffon that the reason he had suggested her name to Heart Blossom for the open-house committee was completely selfish in that he knew it would necessitate her spending more time at the hospital, thereby giving him more opportunities to see her).

By the time they had uncovered the last clue that would lead them directly to the prize, they were in complete charity with one another, having discovered something much more important than any treasure that Icon had buried earlier in the day. Having set any preconceived notions behind them, the two ponies found that they had much more in common than either of them realized; they also found that there was no place in the world they would rather be than right here, in each other’s company, sharing their thoughts, working together for a common goal, and helping each other over any difficulty.

Arriving at the towering pine which they had determined to be the site of the buried treasure, both ponies looked in dismay at the wide expanse of ground beneath the tree littered with a thick cushion of dead needles that showed no recent excavation; after several seconds, their eyes met.

“Could we be wrong?” queried Chiffon. “I was positive it would be here.”

“Let’s study the clue again,” Tribute suggested, holding up the last slip of paper they had found.

“Read it,” instructed Chiffon as she walked slowly around the tree, attempting to determine a discrepancy in the feel of the needles and soil beneath her hooves that might indicate that the area had recently been disturbed.

While the west wind...

“The west wind definitely hits this side of the hill,” Chiffon mumbled.

...caresses the proud feather...

“There’s bound to be a bird in the tree somewhere.” The mare waggled her hoof skyward.

...that adorns the viridian armor...

“You’re sure viridian is green?” she inquired of the stallion.

“Yes; nearly positive; and the tree is green.” Tribute grinned, then continued with the reading of the clue. “...under the arms of the ancient one...

“You can see that this tree is old– look at the size of the trunk! And it was huge when I was a foal, too. It’s always been here.”

...who stands as guardian of Westwind’s populace...

“Westwind is a forest, so its populace is trees; and this tree towers over all the others, so it must be the guardian.” the dun cover...

“Dun is a brownish color.” Chiffon kicked at the pine needles at her hooves.

“That is a discrepancy,” Tribute noted. “The needles are more of a rusted red.”

“It depends on how the light is striking them; in the shade, they’re brown. And besides, the soil beneath the needles is brown, and that’s where the treasure would be buried.”

Both ponies stood lost in thought. The world was very quiet so that the only sound was the whispering of the breeze through the lofty branches overhead. Tribute looked up to admire the natural canopy when it occurred to him that the tree bark itself was also a washed-out shade of brown.”

“‘ the dun cover’ might refer to the tree itself,” he noted.

“It couldn’t be,” Chiffon disagreed. “What’s the last part... something about buried.”

“It reads, ‘ will unearth the object of your quest.’ Does that necessarily mean it’s buried underground? Unearth could simply mean that it is covered somehow.”

“But Silver Frost specifically said it was buried.”

“Think about it, Chiffon. Blake found his raffle tickets buried under the mess on his desk last week; his office hasn’t quite reached the point where all those papers have degenerated to soil... not yet, anyway.” The stallion walked around the tree, taking stock of the rough bark.

“‘ the dun cover, you will unearth the object of your quest,” Chiffon quoted softly as she trailed Tribute.

“In the tree then,” Tribute suggested.

“There are no apparent holes,” Chiffon observed. “At least, not within easy reach. But, look! There’s a feather sticking out of that nest up there! That must be the ‘proud feather’ the clue referred to.”

Tribute stared upward. “Who but Icon would hinge this entire quest on being able to climb the tree,” he grimaced. He took a leap at the lowest branch which was just out of his reach, but the thickness of the branch prevented him from securing his grasp.

“Could you use that rough spot on the side of the tree as a step?” Chiffon wondered.

Studying the knot from which a lower branch had once snapped off, Tribute finally agreed. “It’s worth a try.”

Lifting his hoof and settling it securely on the gnarled growth, Tribute prepared to transfer his weight to it to get a boost up; but when he did so, the burl suddenly detached itself from the trunk of the tree and fell downward, causing Tribute to lose his equilibrium and scrape against the rough bark. Both the burl and the stallion landed with a thump on the needle-covered ground.

“Are you okay?” a worried Chiffon asked, although her lips twitched as though there was laughter bubbling to the surface. Who would ever have expected to find the supercilious Tribute covered in pine needles at the base of a tree which had just thwarted his heroic plans?

“Just a slight abrasion,” the doctor said, getting to his hooves and brushing off the pine needles, wincing slightly as he touched the damage done to his hip.

“There’s a first-aid kit in one of the picnic baskets. We should head back there.”

“Not yet,” said Tribute, his gaze on the tree trunk where the gnarled stump of branch once rested. “That burl just might have been what was hiding our treasure.”

Following his gaze, Chiffon saw what he meant. The tree trunk now had an exposed cavity within easy reach. Both ponies stepped closer to have a better look. From deep within the heart of the tree, they could make out the barest outline of a small, metal chest. Reaching in, Tribute pulled it forth; and upon opening it, found the four coins. Chiffon lifted out the disk prominently displaying the number one after which Tribute nestled the silver box back in the tree trunk cavity.

“I’m surprised no one else has shown up yet,” Tribute commented as he settled the gnarled bole back into the tree.

Taking a survey of the surrounding countryside, Chiffon observed Icon and Splotch just coming through the trees from the east. She giggled. “Icon and Splotch are headed here; Splotch is leading, so I guess it’s safe to assume that Icon didn’t help her out.”

“Blake and Silver Frost are coming from the other direction,” Tribute noted.

“Oh, good! We can heckle them as they try to figure out exactly where the treasure is.” She straightened out some of the disrupted pine needles with her hoof to make sure the successive ponies would not have an advantage.

Tribute, however, glanced at his hip which was now showing signs of irritation. “I’d like to get back to the picnic spot so I could take care of this scrape.” He did not voice the fact that such a move would allow him to spend an additional amount of time with her alone; he had the unsettling impression that the newfound harmony between himself and Chiffon would be somehow shattered once they had rejoined their group.

“Oh, Tribute! You should have spoken up sooner! Of course, we’ve got to take care of you first.”

With no trouble at all, Tribute was able to direct the mare into the cover of the trees, completely bypassing the other couples.

* * *
Having washed and medicated Tribute’s minor wound, Chiffon dropped down onto the grass at the stallion’s side, her hat abandoned in the course of the activity. “It was a wonderful day, even if you ended up getting hurt.”

“A minor inconvenience,” Tribute assured the mare. “This is such a peaceful setting for a picnic; we’ll have to come here often.” Just the two of us.

“Stillwater and Vanguard found this place when they were growing up, so we often came her to play out our fantasies. Knights and maidens of old... Robin Hood was a favorite, too. Sometimes we’d go on a jungle safari... pity the poor little rabbits! We scared a good many of them into their holes back then.” She smiled wistfully at Tribute. “What did you and Toby and your sister pretend?”

“I’m afraid I didn’t go in for that kind of stuff,” Tribute admitted. “But I did play football, as did Toby. Tendril was more into things like My Little People dolls.”

“And I imagine the only reason you liked football was because you could tend to the injuries,” Chiffon teased.

“Mom says that I had my mind set on being a doctor since the day I was born. My father has always been my idol.”

“I’ve noticed that he’s very proud of you.”

“He and Mother care about each of their children very much. And I got the strong impression that...” He paused, seeming hesitant to say what was on his mind.

“That what?” queried Chiffon, her attention fully on the stallion.

“...that they would be perfectly willing to have you as part of the family, too.”


Afraid that the mare was going to put a stop to all his plans, Tribute reached out and took her hoof in his, that action effectively cutting off her words as she gasped and stared at him, her expression unreadable. “You once told me not to touch you.” His gaze dropped to her dainty hoof now in his possession, then returned to search her eyes.

“I said that?” she whispered.

“Yes. Why?” Tribute was looking so deeply into her eyes that Chiffon was mesmerized, caught in something she could not fight any longer... something that she did not want to fight.

“Because of the way...” She stopped, mortified at what she was about to admit.

Tribute moved closer. “Because of the way... What? His voice questioned softly enough, but there was a power behind it that allowed for no temporization.

“B... because of the way... your touch makes me feel,” Chiffon acknowledged in a subdued voice.

“And just how does it make you feel?” he persisted, taking possession now of her other hoof as well.

Chiffon caught her breath. “Like... like... the rest of the world disappears... and you and I are the only two ponies left in the universe.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“It frightens me.”

“Are you frightened now?” He pulled her gently closer.

Chiffon shook her head. No, she was not afraid now.

Her eyes assured Tribute of that fact just before she closed them to receive his kiss.

***Now, just go to for an easy way to tell the author that you enjoyed her story!***


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