Saturday dawned sunny, warm, and moderately breezy, a perfect day to sit at the pond and relax. At least, that was Brietta’s plan; her sketch pad was in hoof. But Kent, Chad, and Todd had other ideas. They could barely wait for Dorian’s arrival and, in the meantime, got underhoof in the kitchen where Anna was preparing the picnic lunch.
“Did anyone dig the worms?” Brietta asked, coming into the room to await Dorian with the colts. Lissy had braided her purple mane and tail, overseen a liberal application of lotion and insect repellent, and pushed a floppy straw hat into her hooves to ward off the penetrating sun.
“They’re waiting in a bucket on the back porch,” Chad said. “Do you want to see them?” He was already to the door in his enthusiasm.
“No... no... I’ll see them soon enough, I’m sure. Anna, what can I help you with?”
“The potato salad’s in the ‘fridge. You can nest the container in some ice to keep it fresh.”
Lena came along to oversee the preparations for the day’s outing. “Have you got plenty of lemonade?” she asked, accepting a hurried hug from Kent as he passed.
“Enough of everything!” Brietta exclaimed, realizing how much food and drink Anna had prepared.
“The boys’ll be hungry,” she said knowledgeably. “The fresh air’ll do that to the young ‘uns.”
“And the older ones, too!” Brietta giggled, tasting some of the tantalizing salad before her.
“He’s here!” Todd called out, creating a stampede as the three colts ran out the door to meet the stallion who had promised them a chance to use his top-of-the-line rod and reel. Brietta trailed behind.
“Here it is, Todd. Have you ever seen such a beauty?” Dorian handed the pole to the colt, but he was looking at Brietta. “Good morning.”
“Hi.” She suddenly felt bashful facing his admiring glance. “The colts have been impatient for your arrival.”
“And what about you?” he asked, his eyes holding hers even while Kent was trying to pull him away to show him his own fishing pole.
Brietta avoided a response. “Where did you disappear to yesterday?”
Dorian looked away. “Someone needed my advice. Chad, bring me that creel you were telling me about.”
While the colts and stallion organized their equipment, Brietta returned to the house and helped Anna organize the food into a picnic hamper which Clarence was going to help carry to the fishing site which was located on the far side of the lake.
Before Brietta could follow Clarence out of the house, Anna called her back. “You forgot your hat.”
“Thanks. Lissy would be disappointed in me if I left that behind.” The maid had been horrified to learn that Brietta had gone berry picking with nothing more than a bandana covering her head and wagged her hoof at her about the harmful effects of too much sunshine. Brietta set the broad-brimmed hat jauntily on her head and went to join the others who had now gotten their gear together for what looked like a major excursion.
“We’re only going...” she began, but Dorian silenced her with a look.
“We are going on an expedition of merit across the land to parley with...”
“...the evil water creatures...” supplied a grinning Chad.
“Yes... them... and win a victory that will ensure food for our loyal subjects...”
“... who rely on us for peace and sustenance...” Todd added.
“... for all time.”
“Me want to get started!” pleaded Kent.
“Onward!” intoned Clarence.
“Finally!” giggled Brietta.
The colts took the lead in the caravan with Todd sharing the load of the picnic hamper with his grandfather, Kent being in charge of the worms, and Chad with the creel and poles. Dorian, retaining possession of his more sophisticated pole and tackle box, fell into step next to Brietta who carried two jugs of lemonade.
“The mighty has fallen,” he commented after a sideways glance at the mare.”
Brietta, missing his point, gave him a questioning look.
“The sedate lawyer looks like a peasant girl... again.”
“You don’t like my hat?” she said sulkily, patting the woven chapeau.
“Who said I don’t like it? You look... quaint.”
“So you don’t like the hat!”
Chad intervened. “I think she looks awfully pretty,” whereupon Brietta, with a toss of her head, laughingly deserted the handsome grey stallion for the promising colt.
Passing the edge of the pond closest to the house, the ponies circled around to the far side where the deepest waters lay. Here, the meadow ended at a steep bank that plunged to the water’s edge, disappearing into the unseen depths. Clarence and Todd set their burden under a shady maple, and Clarence stretched his muscles while the colt bolted to join his brothers and Dorian amidst the poles and paraphernalia.
“This brings back memories,” Clarence said softly to Brietta as the mare stood gazing across the sparkling water.
“Doesn’t it though?” Brietta agreed. “You watched over any number of picnic parties here for Shayla and Sloan and I.”
“Not that you or Shayla ever fished that much; Sloan was the only one interested in that.”
“Shayla and I pretended to be elegant ladies spreading out our picnic lunch on that grand cloth Anna always let us use.”
“And Sloan was your knight back then,” Clarence observed.
Brietta looked to where Dorian was standing, surrounded by the colts, and smiled. “A new day, a new knight,” she quipped.
“On that note,” Clarence grinned, “I’ll leave you to your fishin’... unless you think you’ll need my assistance with the boys.”
“They’ll be no trouble; besides, Anna was expecting your help in the garden, I believe.”
“I’ll be back later to help pack the hamper home, plus all those fish you’ll catch.”
Clarence admonished the colts to be careful near the water and headed back to the house. The boys by this time were ready to cast their lines into the water. Dorian brought a fishing pole to Brietta. “Ready to try your luck?”
“I thought I was here as a spectator.”
“What’s the fun in that? Here, take the pole; it’s baited and ready to go.”
Brietta took the simple cane pole he held out to her and tentatively moved it through the air. “What do I do now?” she queried.
“Avoid snagging a pony,” he said, ducking out of the way of her errant line.
“I suppose I have to get it in the water...”
“You’re a quick learner, Brie,” Dorian scoffed. “Just watch Kent; he knows what he’s doing!”
Kent turned and grinned at the mare; he was sitting near the edge of the bank, his line already dangling in the pond. Like Brietta, the youngster had a cane pole but with the addition of a red and white bobber on the line which floated gaily in the ripples of motion.
“Why don’t I have one of those?” Brietta questioned Dorian while pointing her hoof at the plastic sphere.
Dorian rolled his eyes. “Because you’ll be able to feel the fish when it pulls on your line.”
“I think I’d rather have a bobber like Kent’s.”
“Have it your way,” the stallion said, getting another from his tackle box and snapping it on the line to the amusement of Chad and Todd who were fishing with higher quality gear. “Now, cast it over the water and let the line drop.”
The line swung crazily back and forth before it finally hit the water and the bobber settled on the surface. “Now, wait,” Dorian stated, leaving the mare so that he could cast his fishing line beyond the reach of either Brietta’s or Kent’s poles.
Making herself comfortable in the fresh green grass that was marked with little clusters of wild violets and the bright yellow florets of dandelions, Brietta was fanned by soft breezes as she watched for any movement of the bobber that so far had remained placidly afloat.
Kent’s bobber, however, suddenly took an abrupt dive; and the foal quickly pulled up and back on his pole, bringing up a shiny silvery fish that came flying through the air in Brietta’s direction and dropped off the hook to slap against her side.
“Ugh!” she gasped, wriggling away from the flopping fish which was captured by an enthusiastic Kent and promptly deposited in the bucket prepared for the purpose.
“Come see,” he motioned to Brietta.
Setting her pole on the ground with the line still submerged, Brietta went to congratulate the foal on his catch; Dorian and the other colts came as well to ooh and aah over the specimen. When Brietta returned to her pole, she found that she, too, had a bite and pulled in a catch for herself which Dorian relegated to the pail along with Kent’s.
“Beginner’s luck!” he retorted to Brietta’s comment on landing one before him.
Before long, both Chad and Todd pulled in quite large fish, followed by Dorian’s catch of a bottom-feeding bullhead. Brietta had never seen such an ugly fish.
“It has whiskers!” She jumped back from the brown body in sudden dislike.
“And you don’t want to touch them,” Dorian warned. “They sting and hurt something fierce.” He was careful himself in manipulating the brute. “But the fish has an excellent flavor... lots of meat and not many bones.”
Kent, having struggled to bait his hook, carried his pole to Brietta. “Help me.” He dropped a worm in her hoof which was promptly dropped by the mare.
“Oh, Kent, I couldn’t. Dorian will help you.”
Kent rooted the worm out of the grass and headed for the stallion who shook his head at Brietta. “It doesn’t pay to be squeamish, Brie.” After securing the foal’s bait, Dorian came to Brietta. “How’s your hook doing?”
“Fine,” she said.
“Let me see,” he insisted.
Brietta drew the line out of the water and swung it up to the bank, revealing a clean hook with not a trace of bait left.
“This might explain why you haven’t gotten a bite lately.”
“I didn’t want to bother you.”
“Fat chance I’d ever find you a bother,” he said, fixing the bait deftly and flashing her a warm smile that rivaled the sun before sending her back to the pond’s edge.
As they waited in the calm and quiet surroundings for more action on the lines, Todd asked, “Why don’t girls like worms anyway?”
Brietta shuddered. “If you don’t understand instinctively, there’s no use trying to explain it. And, besides, I’ve known some colts who don’t like worms any better than I do.”
Dorian laughed. “I’ll bet you’ve never given the annelids a chance, Brie.”
“You may have all the annelids for yourself, thank you.”
“Their lives aren’t always easy, either.”
“What do you mean?” Chad interrupted the sparring between the two adults.
“Well, for one thing, moles like to eat earthworms; and they need to eat a lot of them,” began Dorian as he hauled another fish to shore. “The moles are industrious; they carve little storerooms off their underground tunnels in which to hold their victims.”
“They catch worms for future meals?” queried an interested Todd.
“Yeah. Hundreds, even thousands of them when conditions are good.”
“Do they kill ‘em first?” asked Kent, his eyes focused on Dorian as he listened to these morbid facts.
“Well, they do bite the worm’s head end off and twist the worm into a knot and push it into the storeroom, but the earthworms aren’t really dead.”
“Nope. They’re in the process of growing back new heads. So if the mole doesn’t get back to them before that process is complete, he loses his captive.”
“You made that up,” rebutted Brietta
“You doubt me? It’s for real; it was in my biology book back in high school.”
The colts were impressed. “We have moles in our yard at home; I’ll dig some of their tunnels up to find out if they have worms stored,” planned Chad.
“Let me know,” Brietta dared.
As the conversation trickled off to a comfortable silence again, Brietta intently watched the bobber gently rolling in the water which put her in a trance-like stupor. Suddenly, Dorian pulled heavily on his line and said in subdued excitement, “It’s big!”
Chad and Todd, deserting their poles, came to watch what would break the surface as the line was pulled in. As the fish broke the water and came sailing to the land, Kent jumped up from his spot at the edge of the bank, also deserting his pole.
As the foal watched the granddaddy of bullheads struggle in the grass, his own line got a bite and his pole began to be pulled over the rim of the bank. Catching sight of what was happening, Kent ran to grab the pole; but his momentum carried him over the edge as he grasped for it.
Brietta, helpless to stop him, gasped as the foal tumbled down the bank and landed with a splash in the water below.
Dorian, however, had seen the foal disappear over the edge and immediately raced to save the sputtering baby pony as he floundered at the pond’s edge. Sliding down the soft earthen bank, the stallion grabbed the foal’s mane, effectively preventing him from submerging once more, and pulled him up and onto the shore.
It had happened so fast that Brietta had no time to be frightened; but as Dorian brought the soaked foal back up to the grassy embankment, she suddenly began trembling. “Kent, are you okay?” she asked, while the foal coughed and spit up water.
“My pole!” was all he said when he found his voice.
“Duffus!” Chad admonished his brother. “You weren’t supposed to tumble into the pond!”
The foal ignored the taunt and, shaking his mane and tail which showered the other ponies with pond water, wailed again for his pole.
“Here it is,” Todd remarked, fetching the pole from the water, using Brietta’s to snare it. “It’s okay, too, so don’t worry. And look at the size of the fish that’s on it!”
Although not as large as the leviathan Dorian had pulled in, Kent’s fish was a dandy; and pride shone in his eyes. Brietta, concerned over his dousing, borrowed the picnic cloth Anna had packed to dry the foal as best she could. Kent, however, wanted to get back to fishing and shrugged off her care.
“He’ll dry in the sun,” Dorian told the mare. “He’s not that fragile.”
“Thanks for reacting so fast to rescue him,” she said, watching as the stallion turned his attention to the fish he had snared.
“You’d have pulled him out if I hadn’t.”
“I froze,” Brietta admitted. “You responded.”
“Kent fell out of a boat once,” Todd offered. “Dad pulled him in that time.”
“You’d think he’d learn,” Chad remarked.
“Let’s lay out the lunch,” Dorian suggested, rinsing his hooves in a pail of clear water.
Dorian and Brietta walked back to the shady shelter of the willow tree and spread the damp cloth on the greensward. To make her work easier and to give herself a wider field of vision, Brietta removed her floppy hat.
Dorian, noticing her frequent glances to the lake side, offered reassurance. “He won’t go over again.”
“And how would you know that?” she snapped. “He could very easily tumble in a second time!” She set out containers of food in a huff, and Dorian sighed.
“You don’t enjoy fishing.” He said it almost with regret, and Brietta cast a speculative glance at him.
“Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters, if we’re to have a future together.”
Brietta openly stared at him, but the foals had realized they were hungry and came swarming to the picnic site like the ants who were already making a nuisance of themselves; all privacy was gone and Brietta could make no response to Dorian’s curious comment.
The colts ate gustily of their grandmother’s excellent spread, talking fish-talk with Dorian who sat against the tree trunk, seeming to enjoy the endless exchange of prattle by the colts. Brietta, unable to forget Dorian’s words to her, nonetheless went through the motions of serving the lemonade and making sure everyone else had loaded plates before she settled down to eat even though she felt not a bit hungry. But the first bite teased her appetite so that she was soon back in the spirit of the outing and laughing and talking with the others happily.
When sated, Chad and Todd returned to the lake to explore the perimeter before returning to their fishing. Dorian, lounging lazily under the tree, closed his eyes; Kent, his full tummy accentuating his sleepiness, curled up comfortably near the stallion. Brietta cleared the picnic cloth and returned everything back to the hamper.
That finished, she picked up her hat and debated walking after the colts or just relaxing in the shade. She looked at Dorian and the foal, both now so quiet as to verify that they had fallen asleep. Chad and Todd were around the curve of the pond and seemed intent on their excursion; thinking that her presence would only infringe on their carefree jaunt, Brietta picked a spot a respectable distance from the slumbering stallion and sat down to enjoy the balmy day, abandoning the hat once more. The intense quiet was broken only by the chirp of insects and the occasional shout or laughter carrying across the pond from the colts.
Alone with her thoughts, Brietta’s mind drifted back to Dorian’s earlier comment, ...if we’re to have a future together. If they had not been interrupted, where would that have led? They had only known each other since her arrival back at Whitehall, but they had seemed familiarly close since their first meeting. They certainly did not know one another well enough to even think of a future together, but yet...
Brietta’s gaze settled on the sleeping stallion. His light grey color was mottled from the sunlight sifting through the leaves overhead; his violet hair lay in a gentle cascade over his side with some curling around his face. What a friend he had become since her homecoming! She knew that her days were made brighter by his humor and his gallant attention; he had a dauntless spirit that carried those around him along on its waxing tide. She found him easy to love.
Love? She chided herself on even thinking that she was in love with him. Could one fall in love so unexpectedly? Especially, Brietta frowned, when one had been so sure of another love that had soured?
Brietta’s gaze left Dorian as her thoughts circled around to Sloan. She looked across the rippling lake and remembered how close they had once been. Their friendship had been a precious thing- she had thought it would last forever- but it had not been able to withstand long enough for them to make a permanent commitment to each other.
They had taken their friendship for granted until Sloan had left for college and their separation had hurt them both. Maybe for the first time, they had realized how much they meant to each other. The vacations Sloan had spent back in Whitehall became precious points of re-acquaintance and they had easily fallen back into their foalhood roles of best friends.
Sloan’s last year of college had been Brietta’s first; just being at the same campus was comforting, even though their schedules limited the time they could see each other. And Brietta had begun to think ahead to a time when their lives would have a chance to come together permanently.
They had never talked of marriage, but she had assumed as much. And Sloan was a methodical stallion who would expect to have all the pieces in place before he would even consider popping the question. Brietta had assumed, however, that his acceptance into law school and another separation looming ahead would have given him the resolve to propose. But, instead, he had brushed Brietta off in favor of Finella.
Brietta had written him off for his uncharacteristic behavior yet had expected him to come to her and make things right again; but he never came, and her coldness toward him had increased until she had stopped spending vacations at Whitehall just to avoid any unpleasantness on the chance that he, too, would be home at the same time.
But even at that, she had held to the hope that upon her arrival back in Whitehall as a lawyer with her father’s firm, sharing the same offices with Sloan, that he would finally relent and suggest that they return to their earlier camaraderie.
Disappointment had again met her full force when he had accompanied Finella to the event of their first reunion at Whitehall Place. No one, not even Brietta, could deny the significance of that. She had severed all feelings for the stallion and resolved never to look back, not even when Sloan had finally intimated that he was willing to start over.
Coming out of her reverie enough to be aware of motion beside her, Brietta looked up to find Dorian awake and coming her way. The transition from past to present was immediate as those dark blue eyes caught her own; the stallion reached out to touch her cheek and their lips met, and Brietta knew in an elusive way what their future together could be.
That a simple kiss could make her heart beat so frantically amazed Brietta; and if she was reading the stallion’s eyes right, Dorian had experienced the same sensation.
The thudding of the colts’ hooves coming in their direction mimicked the pounding of her heart; it also ended Brietta and Dorian’s seclusion once more, and it woke Kent from his nap.
“Look, a turtle!” Chad called as he and his brother came closer. He lifted up a hoof which held a dark, rigid oval. He turned it over as he reached them, revealing the bright orange underside of the reptile.
“How pretty,” said Brietta, running her hoof over the natural design.
“It’s a painted turtle,” Todd revealed.
“Let me see!” demanded Kent, finding all the action occurring over his head. “Who painted him?”
Chad lowered the turtle to his brother’s level, and the foal was delighted with the unusual animal. “They’re called painted turtles because of their brightly colored pattern.”
“Where’s his head?” Kent finally asked, peering into one of the holes of the shell.
“A mole probably ate it off,” muttered Brietta, with a laughing glance at Dorian.
The stallion narrowed his eyes. “We’ll see who has the last laugh when I produce the textbook that explains a mole’s lifestyle,” he threatened.
When the turtle was set on the ground and given some space, he remained quiet and reclusive; but when sufficient time had passed and his bravery returned, his head came out slowly. When he determined that all was safe, the legs and tail appeared and motion ensued. Moving with a surprising burst of speed, the turtle set off through the grass before stopping and turning his head to stare back sedately at the ponies for a moment or two before continuing his advance to the lake.
Deprived of his entertainment, Kent was ready to return to the object of the day. “Let’s fish!”
Chad and Todd were ready to return to the lake for more sport, too; and they eyed Dorian’s pole jealously. “Would you let us try your reel now?” Todd asked hopefully.
“I said I would, didn’t I?” Dorian grinned at the youngsters. “I’ll be right with you.” Before following them, however, he leaned to pick-up Brietta’s discarded hat from the grass, brush it off, and set it on the mare’s head. “I really do like the hat on you,” he winked and then left after the colts, leaving Brietta and Kent to make their own way to their places by the pond with the cane poles.
Reminding the foal to stay a safe distance from the edge of the bank, Brietta dropped her line in the water and settled down to watch Kent more carefully than before. Neither of them got a bite, and Kent eventually wandered off to watch his brothers with Dorian’s more refined equipment.
Brietta, watching the bobbing red and white ball out on the water, grew sleepy herself as the warm sunshine relaxed her and the sparkling water soothed her. She was aware that the others were occasionally catching something, and that Kent was in Dorian’s company. She soon could not keep her eyes open.
It was peaceful, this in-between state that was not really sleep but was not full consciousness either. The sun’s rays seemed to deaden the senses; even the occasional talk between the other ponies seemed distant and ethereal. The tickle of a grass blade slipped across a back leg so gently that to Brietta’s bleary mind, it could have been someone else’s appendage that was involved.
The tickle continued, however, and Brietta was forced to respond. In slow motion instilled by the sun-induced stupor, she absently brushed a forehoof across the offending irritation; and in a blink of an eye, the mare was on her hooves, producing a scream that echoed across the lake in striking brilliance.
Dorian and the colts came running to Brietta as she ran toward them. “What is it?” Dorian asked, his face wracked with concern precipitated by the horrible scream.
“A snake!” Brietta gasped, putting the stallion between her and the enemy.
Three young voices merrily echoed, “A snake?” and hastened to the spot to catch sight of the creature. Dorian’s voice was filled with laughter. “That horrific scream was because of a snake? I’d of thought you’d have been used to those inhabitants of the area, growing up near the pond as you did.”
“I have never gotten used to their slithering presence,” she muttered, looking at him peevishly as he continued to chuckle. “It was creeping over my leg.” The thought made her shudder.
“You poor dear,” he said unconvincingly. He patted her hoof, but Brietta only frowned at him which succeeded in expanding his grin. “Come on,” he enticed. “Let’s go check it out; I’ll protect you from the monster.” He took her hoof and towed her unwillingly to the top of the bank where the three youngsters were standing.
“He’s on that rock,” Todd pointed to one of the larger stones that littered the base of the exposed slope.
“He’s as afraid of your screeching as you are of him,” Chad observed.
Dorian chuckled some more, but Brietta allowed the stallion to put a protective foreleg around her; she found that with his support and the distance now between her and the snake, she could look upon it with equanimity. The ponies were still standing in a cluster when Clarence’s voice hailed them. The time had come for them to pack up their catch and their equipment and head back to the house.
Walking back around the lake, Brietta listened to the colts’ excited chatter as they told their grandfather about each fish they had caught, accented by Dorian’s occasional clarification or insertion. She found that the hours in the fresh air were taking their toll- she was tired and itchy, dirt-stained and sweaty, and she was fairly certain that she smelled of fish. All this together was fast putting her into a bad mood which Dorian sensitively seemed aware of; maybe he had learned something the day of the raspberry picking. When they got to Whitehall Place, he set his load down and came to her.
“To show what a gentlestallion I am, I won’t hold to my rule that the one who catches a fish has to clean it. Clarence assures me of his assistance in that matter and informs me that Anna plans on fixing our catch for supper, and that I’m invited to share the repast. Do you have any objections?”
“Of course not, as long as I can escape now to clean myself up.” She looked distastefully over her none-too-fresh body.
Dorian lifted the brim of her hat and kissed the tip of her nose. “Just don’t absent yourself too long.”
“Be assured I will not be back before the fish are ready for the pan.”
She was nearly to the door when Dorian called after her, “One cocklebur, dead center.”