Christmas in Dream Valley 2003
written by Sugarberry
A note from Tabby- You will observe that I made no contribution to this year’s Christmas story. So sad! At least, I’m sad. The rest of you probably aren’t. After all, you just have a thirty page story to read instead of forty!! But I was trying to get my part done, really I was. But I blame it on the late Thanksgiving. It lulled me into a false sense of security that I still had plenty of time after the holiday before December arrived. I was quite unpleasantly surprised to find that it was in fact only three days. All three of which I had to work long hours. Goodbye, Christmas story! Well, in any case, Sugarberry didn’t let you down; and I can revamp mine just as easily into a New Year’s story for next month.
“This is super!” exclaimed Cockleburr. “I love having snow for Christmas!” The colt and several of his friends were skimming over the ice at the skating rink, a flooded and iced-over plot in the neighborhood to give the ponies a safe place to enjoy the blast of cold winter weather that had held Dream Valley in its grip for the weeks leading up to the holiday.
“Yeah,” agreed Baby Leaper as he sped past Cockleburr. “Catch me if you can!”
This dare was accepted with alacrity by Cockleburr, and the two colts raced merrily across the ice, headed directly for Baby Noddins, Baby Falling Leaves, and Baby Leafy at the far end of the rink. The three fillies were intent on learning a synchronized dance pattern on skates and were completely oblivious of the colts until the two speeding bodies rushed by them with such force that the three girls were knocked into a tangled heap of manes, tails, and legs.
“Oops!” Leaper grinned as he and Cockleburr swooped back to rescue the threesome. “I thought you saw us comin’.”
“Likely story,” grumbled Noddins, who happened to end up on the bottom of the stack. “Falling Leaves, get your mane out of my mouth!”
“I would if Leafy would get off me so that I could move my head!”
“I’m trying. I’m trying,” groaned Leafy, struggling to disengage her limbs from the melee.
She smiled gratefully at Cockleburr as he offered her a hoof and pulled her upright. Falling Leaves was then able to extricate herself while Noddins remained prostrate on the cold ice.
“I feel like a ton of bricks fell on me,” she complained.
“We’re not that heavy!” countered Falling Leaves. “Here, give me your hoof.” With Falling Leaves pulling and Leaper pushing, they soon had the filly on her hooves as well.
“Brrr!” Noddins shivered. “The ice made me cold.” She glared at Leaper. “And it’s all your fault!”
“Hey! Cockleburr was chasin’ me!”
“The snow is gettin’ thicker,” noted Cockleburr, an expert at avoiding arguments because of his experience with five younger siblings. “Maybe we should all head home.”
“Mom said she’d make hot chocolate for us,” Falling Leaves announced. “Everybody’s invited.”
“Let’s hurry,” muttered Noddins, “before I turn into an ice cube.”
“That I’d like to see,” Leaper smirked.
The group was out of their skates and on the way to Falling Leaves’ house when Leafy groaned.
“What is it?” asked Cockleburr in some concern. “You didn’t hurt yourself when you guys fell down, did you?”
“No. I wish that was all it is. I just remembered that I left Star locked in my bedroom because Mom didn’t want him pestering her when she was wrapping presents. He always
wants to get in the boxes or play in the paper,” Leafy went on to explain, “and makes an awful nuisance of himself. He’ll need to use the litter box by now, so I can’t come to your house, Falling Leaves.”
Seeing the disappointment on his friend’s face, Cockleburr spoke up. “I’ll walk you home, Leafy.” Turning to Falling Leaves, he added, “Thanks for askin’ us over, but my mom could probably use some help with all the kids at home with still so much to get done before Christmas.”
Once Cockleburr and Leafy had turned down their street amidst a medley of holiday greetings, Noddins, Falling Leaves, and Leaper continued on to Falling Leaves’ house, only to meet up with a couple more neighborhood friends, Teddy and Parquet. Those two quickly accepted Falling Leaves invitation to come to her house for hot chocolate; they were nearing the back door when Falling Leaves began to giggle.
“What’s that your holding, Teddy? Your teddy bear?” All the foals stopped to stare.
Teddy rolled his eyes. Would his friends never let him live down that episode? “No. It’s not my teddy bear. It’s not even a bear. It’s a...” He held up the floppy fabric animal and studied it. “... a cat, I think.”
“So you’ve graduated to a kitty-cat?” Leaper taunted, ducking as Teddy took a swing at him.
“I found it. Parquet was there... he’ll tell you.”
“Yeah,” his friend backed him up. “It was just lying in the path covered in snow. Teddy stumbled over it and picked it up when he realized what it was.”
“Some little kid probably dropped it,” Teddy said, frowning. “He might be missing it, too.” Teddy knew how sad it could be to lose a favorite stuffed animal.
“It’s a Puffalump,” Falling Leaves noted. “My baby sister has one, only hers is a dog.”
“Um, guys,” Noddins winced, “my ankle is really starting to hurt where Falling Leaves landed on it. I think I should go straight home after all.”
“Do you need some help?” Parquet asked.
Noddins shivered. “I think I might need someone to lean on,” she admitted. “It’s started to hurt something fierce while we’ve been standing here talking.”
“My house is closest to yours, so I’ll go with you,” volunteered Teddy. He moved to offer his support to the lavender unicorn filly as the snowflakes continued to fall around them. “Merry Christmas!” he called back to the dwindling group of revelers.
“Merry Christmas!” the three chorused in return.
* * *
“The snow is coming down heavier,” observed Sugarberry as she and Vanguard and Banderol neared Woodlawn. “It will be heavenly to get out of the weather.”
“I’m just glad that there are enough ponies traveling today to keep the path readily visible,” replied Vanguard, squinting through the snowflakes to make sure they were headed in the right direction. “Everything looks rather mystical.”
“It’s beautiful,” agreed Sugarberry. “But I’d enjoy it more if we were closer to your parents’ house than we are.”
“It’s not that much farther,” Vanguard assured his wife. “Why don’t I take Banderol again? He must be getting heavy for you.”
“The wetter he gets from the snow, the heavier he seems,” grimaced Sugarberry. She kissed the little foal on the top of his head before handing him over to his father.
Banderol had been little trouble on the trip from Dream Valley to Woodlawn as he had been mesmerized by the snowflakes that had begun gently falling when the family had been only a couple miles out of town; as the morning had progressed, however, the pace of the snowflakes had increased until now they seemed to blanket the countryside under a downy blanket of white. As Vanguard had noted, the path would have been obliterated if not for the number of ponies hurrying to reach their holiday destinations before travel became impossible.
Yawning widely, Banderol nestled his head into his father’s mane, one little foreleg clutched around the stallion’s neck, the other absently tugging at his own ear. Just when Vanguard had thought the little tyke had gone to sleep, Banderol reared back his head and began crying.
“Sweetheart, what’s the matter?” crooned Sugarberry, stopping to massage the foal’s back.
“Key-Key,” the foal, a miniature of his father except for one lock of his mother’s red hair, cried.
“Oh, you want your kitty; Mommy’ll get him for you.” The mare looked up into Vanguard’s eyes hopefully. “Do you remember whose backpack Kitty-Kitty is in?”
“I put the Puffalump in yours as it is almost weightless,” Vanguard grinned.
Slipping her satchel off her shoulders, Sugarberry unfastened the latch and looked inside. “I suppose you stuck in way at the bottom,” she accused, seeing no sign of the purple and white cat.
“No; as a matter of fact, it was the last thing to go in. It should be right on top.”
Digging once more through the items in the backpack, Sugarberry came up empty-hoofed. “Maybe it fell out when you opened it,” suggested Vanguard, searching the powdery ground around his hooves with Sugarberry soon joining him in that activity.
“Key-Key,” Banderol wailed as he watched his parents’ fruitless efforts.
“It couldn’t have buried itself in the snow,” rationalized Vanguard. “It’s too light to even sink in this soft stuff.” He kicked at the mounding snow around them.
“But what else could have happened to it?” worried Sugarberry, casting an anxious eye once more over the immediate area.
Vanguard thought back over the hectic packing they had accomplished earlier in the day. “I put the Puffalump in the backpack while you said goodbye to Fluff and Raptor. Then I answered the phone- a wrong number- and by then you were ready to go... after you latched your backpack.”
“So it has to be in here,” Sugarberry said, rummaging again through her satchel. “Are you sure it’s not in yours?”
“At this point, I’m not sure of anything,” sighed Vanguard as Banderol’s tears grew heavier. He shrugged off his own packback, and Sugarberry gave it a thorough check before admitting defeat.
“Kitty-Kitty’s not here.”
Hearing those fateful words, Banderol struggled to get out of his dad’s forelegs, his crying stopping only when Vanguard set him down on the snowy path. Banderol, without a look at either of his parents, took off down the path leading back to Dream Valley.
“Banderol!” Sugarberry called as she rushed to stymie the foal’s progress. “We can’t go back home to find Kitty-Kitty; we’re almost at Grandma and Grandpa’s.”
The foal gave a credible impression of shrugging his shoulders. “Key-Key.” The look of determination in his eyes was rather convincing as well. He took several more steps on his journey before his father blocked his progress.
“Banderol, just what do you know about Kitty’s absence that you’re not telling us?”
“Key-Key... aw gone,” the forlorn little pony said.
“Kitty-Kitty was supposed to ride in the backpack,” Vanguard said, getting down to the foal’s level. “Why isn’t he there now?”
“Fawl,” the foal said, looking to the powdery ground.
“Sweetie,” Sugarberry groaned, “you didn’t take him out of the backpack, did you?”
The foal shook his head stubbornly in the affirmative. “Key-Key.” He made a hugging motion with his forelegs.
“And where is he now?” Vanguard gently asked.
“Aw gone!” the little colt admitted, his face puckering up as a new batch of tears let loose.
Picking him up and snuggling him close, Vanguard patted Banderol’s back in a useless effort to appease the child and looked at Sugarberry helplessly. “He must have taken the Puffalump out of the backpack when I went to answer the phone. He walked beside us the first mile, so he had to have dropped it way back there.” He waved his hoof in the direction of Dream Valley, sending the snowflakes spiraling in little dance patterns through the air.
“Oh, Bandy,” Sugarberry commiserated. “Kitty-Kitty will be waiting for you when we go home again.” She looked beseechingly at her husband to verify that hope.
“We’ll find him, Banderol. But you’ll have to wait until after we’ve visited your grandparent’s. You can do that, can’t you? Then when we find Kitty-Kitty again, you and he can share all your stories about what happened while you were apart.”
Sniffing back his tears, Banderol heroically nodded his head and once again settled his head on his dad’s shoulder.
* * *
Teddy sat at the kitchen table at Noddins’ house with Noddins, her injured hoof resting on a pillowed chair, and Noddins’ two siblings: her older brother, Harely, and little sister, Bunny. All were having cookies and hot chocolate as Frostflake busied herself readying the house for Christmas Eve company. As the blue mare bustled out of the room, Harely leaned across the table toward Teddy and smirked.
“I never believed those stories about your teddy bear, but it appears they’re true.”
Suddenly conscious that he was still holding onto the squishy, huggable cat, Teddy reddened. “This isn’t mine; I found it over toward Fifth Avenue just lying on the street. Some little foal must have lost it.”
Harely made a grab for the cat and swung it high above Teddy’s head. “I think this is your sleepy-by friend,” the colt chortled.
“It’s not mine!” Teddy reiterated. “But somebody might not sleep tonight without it.”
“Yeah, baby! You!”
Teddy made a desperate reach for the floppy cat, but Harely’s longer forelegs kept him at bay until Frostflake returned to get the broom. “Harely!” she scolded. “Give Teddy his little kitty back.”
“Yes, Mother,” Harely grinned. “Here, Teddy. You and little kitty sleep well tonight... or does kitty stay awake to protect you from all the monsters under your bed?”
“Harely!” Frostflake warned. “You can make yourself useful by sweeping the snow off the front porch and sidewalk.” She handed him the broom. Harely obeyed, but sent Teddy one more sneering glance before he disappeared from the kitchen.
“Let me see the kitty,” said Noddins, stifling a yawn. The warm kitchen, hot chocolate, and the medicine her mother had given her were having a sleepy effect after her vigorous exercise at the skating rink. She accepted the toy from Teddy with a tired smile. “Aww. It’s awfully cute.” She cuddled the kitten as if it were the real thing. “And soft, too.”
“If it is someone’s favorite stuffed animal, there’s going to be a foal crying himself to sleep tonight.” Looking up, Teddy caught a teasing smile forming on Noddins’ face so he added quickly, “I’d guess.”
“Of course, Teddy,” Noddins agreed, then studied the cat some more. “Hey, look, there’s a tiny gold chain around its neck with a...” The filly stopped and looked more closely. “... with a guardian angel charm on it. That’s cool.” She put her head back against the chair and snuggled the floppy cat to her. “I feel so tired.”
“Noddins, you’d better go lie down awhile or you won’t be able to play with your cousins tonight. I’ll help you in a minute. Teddy, it was nice of you to assist Noddins home; I really appreciate that. You and your family have a happy Christmas, now.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Teddy mumbled, getting to his hooves and moving toward the door. He took one last look at Noddins who was hugging the cat to her like a long-lost friend and sighed. He would have to leave the cat with Noddins if it brought her some comfort from the pain she was suffering.
But who, he wondered, was needing comfort over losing the cat?
* * *
“Oh! It feels so good to be in a warm house again!” Sugarberry said sincerely as she dried her snow-dampened mane with a fluffy towel; she, Vanguard, and Banderol were now safely encamped at Vanguard’s parents’ home in Woodlawn. Nearby, Floral Breeze had her little grandson enveloped in a white towel to dry him off as well, while Vanguard and Whirlpool visited near the fireplace.
“Snow always makes Christmas extra special, but twelve inches of the stuff is going too far,” remarked Floral Breeze.
“For information’s sake, the weather pony has changed the forecast to accommodate as much as fifteen inches,” Whirlpool reported.
“I’m glad we left home when we did, or we would have had a difficult time getting here,” Sugarberry said, draping the damp towel over a chair and shaking out her locks. “It was slow going as it was.” She smiled at Banderol who was sitting on Grandma’s lap swathed in the downy towel with only his face showing and hoped the foal would be content without his prized Puffalump companion. So far he had been too caught up in his grandparent’s attention to give any thought to Kitty-Kitty.
A knocking followed by the abrupt opening of the front door could be heard in the entry hall, then a booming voice calling out, “Merry Christmas!” A blast of wet, cold air snaked into the parlor, preceding the arrival of Stillwater, Morning Dew, and their two foals: the bouncy three-year-old, Droplet; and the newborn, Cascade. A flurry of greetings were exchanged from all sides.
Meeting her pearly pink sister-in-law, Sugarberry soon had claimed little Cascade to ooh and ah over the precious family addition, while Droplet scampered to her grandmother’s side to reacquaint herself with Banderol; the little colt was overwhelmed for a moment, leaning back into the safety of Floral Breeze’s protection; but he soon became absorbed in his cousin’s chatter. Once Droplet had introduced the colt to the toy box, the two youngsters settled down together companionably.
“Cascade’s seven weeks old today,” beamed Morning Dew as she and Sugarberry gazed down at the sleeping infant.
“He’s beautiful,” Sugarberry acclaimed. “And so tiny! Has Banderol really grown that much in one year?” She looked across the room where Droplet was organizing a tea party... with Banderol undoing all her efforts as quickly as he could, causing the petite filly to stand over him with her hooves planted against her sides and giving him a no-nonsense lecture on proper play etiquette. The mare laughed. “That reminds me of raking leaves this fall- Licorice was helping, but he ended up playing in the leaves with Banderol and undoing all our work.”
“In another year, Cascade will prove to be a ready accomplice for Banderol. Together, they’ll refute Droplet’s domineering tendencies,” Stillwater grinned, flinching slightly as his daughter wrestled a miniature tea cup out of Banderol’s hoof.
Whirlpool went to give the little colt some support, introducing him to several plastic wildlife figures; and those two were soon comfortably setting up a forest scene- with Droplet abandoning her tea party to help.
“Are those the same animals that we played with as foals?” Vanguard asked of his mother.
“Yes; I saved them all these years. I introduce a few of them at a time to Droplet so she remains interested.” Floral Breeze smiled. “They’re all in good shape, except for one wolf that Icon was especially devoted to; he teethed on it.”
“Speaking of little brother, did he and Splotch get started on their journey in time to beat the storm?” Stillwater asked.
“I can only hope,” Floral Breeze sighed. “It’s a long trip to Happy Hollow; heaven only knows what they’ll get into before they get there.”
“I don’t envy anyone traveling,” Stillwater admitted. “We even thought that you, Sugarberry, wouldn’t have braved the weather this year. As a matter of fact, Morning Dew and I brought everything with us we’d need to spend the night... if that works out for you.” He looked at his mother questioningly.
“Oh, what fun!” Floral Breeze nearly bounced. “It’ll be just like old times. It makes me wish that Icon and his bride-to-be would have chosen to spend Christmas here this year, too. We’d have the whole family together.”
“I was afraid we wouldn’t have been able to get out of the house by morning,” Morning Dew said. “And Droplet was bound and determined to spend as much time with Banderol as possible.”
“I wonder if we’ll even be able to make it to church tonight,” Whirlpool mused, leaving the foals to peak out the window at a blustery landscape. A strong gust of wind blasted the snowflakes against the glass, temporarily blocking all sight. “The storm is getting worse.”
In that moment, the sound of the back door being slammed open by the wind caused everyone to jump; Banderol abandoned Droplet to rush to his father’s side, his eyes wide as saucers. “Santa?” he queried is a quiet voice as Vanguard swept him into his forelegs. But the whoosh of air that rushed through the house from the direction of the kitchen carried with it the sound of squabbling voices, neither of which could have been the kindly Saint Nick.
Floral Breeze looked heavenward. “Oh, dear. It sounds like Splotch and Icon didn’t make it to Happy Hollow after all.” She headed toward the kitchen with everyone else following closely behind.
“If you hadn’t insisted that we stop to visit your friend, we wouldn’t have missed our flight!” Icon growled, facing his fiancee with apparent indignation.
“How was I supposed to know that the snow would slow us down so much?” retaliated the magenta mare, her emerald green eyes sparking in return.
“Children, children,” Whirlpool chastened. “It’s obvious that your plans have gone astray, but this is not the time or the place to assign blame.”
“I’d think you’d both be grateful to be out of that awful weather,” Floral Breeze added, moving to fetch more towels for this newest batch of snow-laden travelers.
“I’m sorry we burst in on you this way,” Splotch contritely responded, yet the look she flashed at Icon was barely civil. “We walked all the way to Coville and missed the plane by fifteen minutes. And by the time the next flight east was supposed to depart, the flight was cancelled. And rather than seeking out a hotel where we could take shelter, Icon insisted that we come back to Woodlawn because he couldn’t think of spending Christmas Eve without his family.” Her eyes narrowed.
Icon accepted a towel from his mother with a brief smile, but immediately turned to face Splotch. “You were so determined to spend hours visiting with a former boyfriend...”
“He was my math tutor,” Splotch hissed.
“Excuse me,” Icon rasped. “You were so determined to spend hours...”
“Half an hour!”
Icon ignored this interruption. “... visiting with a stallion who obviously meant a lot to you...”
“He helped me get a passing grade in algebra... that’s all.”
“That’s all? He couldn’t keep his hooves off of you.”
“We shared a hug! Is there anything wrong with that? We hadn’t seen each other for years!”
“And he held your hoof the entire time we were there,” Icon fumed.
“You are impossible!” Splotch threw the wet towel in Icon’s face, then turned to the door. “I’m going to my apartment; Christmas Eve alone is certainly an improvement over spending it with you!” She opened the inside door and the storm door snapped outward, sending a flurry of snowflakes and bitter cold into the room that literally stopped Splotch in her tracks, giving Icon time to reach around her to pull the door shut once more.
“You, little spitfire, are staying right here.” Then, as if the cold blast of air had cooled his temper, he went on in a calmer voice. “Things didn’t work out the way we planned, but maybe we should just make the best of it instead of trying to get the last word in.” He brushed the latest shower of snowflakes off her mane and grinned. “It is Christmas, after all... peace and good will and all that.”
For several moments, peace hung in the balance as Splotch considered this conciliatory offer; then the dangerous gleam in her eyes changed to a mellow glow. “Oh, Icon, I’m sorry I’ve been in such a beastly mood; but I had so counted on spending Christmas with my family.”
“We’ll get to Happy Hollow as soon as the weather straightens out,” Icon promised. The mare gave him a big hug, and the stallion winked at his own family over her shoulder. “Maybe we should pretend we just arrived and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”
Suddenly very aware of their audience, Splotch pulled back from Icon, her cheeks darkening in a blush. “Merry Christmas, everyone. And I didn’t mean to imply that I’m not happy to be sharing the holiday with you; you’re all my family, too.” Her penitent expression was so sincere that her apology met with nothing but warm words of welcome.
* * *
After getting over his initial shyness of Splotch and Icon, Banderol found the young couple to be highly entertaining as they sat on the floor telling stories, singing carols, and partaking of Grandma’s cut-out sugar cookies and mugs of hot chocolate. The wind still howled outside the windows and the snow continued to fall as an early darkness closed in on the shortening day.
With the approach of evening, Banderol’s eyes began to droop; and he crawled onto Splotch’s lap while she and Icon led the rest of the ponies in a lively bout of caroling. By the time the singing ended, the little colt was sound asleep, his tiny hoof wrapped around a lock of Splotch’s primrose pink hair.
“Banderol was so caught up in the activities around him that he forgot about Kitty-Kitty,” Sugarberry commented to her husband. At the questioning look from the others, she went on to explain. “Banderol rescued his favorite stuffed animal from the backpack before we even left the house, and neither of us noticed. He dropped Kitty-Kitty somewhere along the way and was quite put-out when he realized his friend was gone.”
“Buried in the snow somewhere, I’d imagine,” Stillwater mused.
“Yes. And as he walked only for a short way after we left home, that somewhere is back in Dream Valley,” Vanguard added.
“Was this the Puffalump we gave him?” wondered Floral Breeze.
“Yes, it was. He’s loved it since he first set eyes on it.”
“I know it meant a lot to him,” smiled Floral Breeze. “I’m glad I stocked up on those toys when Ivan’s had their clearance sale of outdated merchandise. I’m giving one to Cascade this Christmas, but his is an elephant rather than a cat.” She looked toward the Christmas tree. “It’s wrapped and waiting.”
“If Banderol needs it for comfort tonight, I’m sure Cascade wouldn’t mind if he made use of it,” offered Morning Dew.
“Thanks,” breathed Sugarberry. “We might have to take you up on that to insure peace on earth this night.”
* * *
“Baby Noddins,” Frostflake reminded her daughter as Archer answered the doorbell, “remember that Baby Curlylocks is feeling down because her dad didn’t make it home for Christmas. Make a special effort to help her cope, would you, dear?” Frostflake had invited the neighboring family to join them for Christmas Eve festivities when she had learned that Canteen had been snowbound while away on a business trip, leaving his wife, Curly Locks, and the three offspring- Baby Curlylocks, Crinkle, and Catkin- alone on this special night.
“I’ll try, Mommy,” Noddins promised, taking a tentative step on her still tender hoof.
“Good girl,” Frostflake said, ruffling her daughter’s mane. “And try not to end up at the bottom of a pile of ponies,” she teased.
Baby Noddins was soon set upon by Crinkle, two years her senior, asking her for information concerning a new filly at school; so between him and the bevy of cousins romping through the house, it was some time before she could concentrate her attention on Baby Curlylocks. Noting that the young pegasus was rather downcast even amidst the party atmosphere prevailing, she invited her friend to escape to her bedroom for a quiet talk.
“Your dad can’t get home tonight, can he?” she asked as Curlylocks stood gazing out the window at the constant stream of snowflakes.
“No. He’s still in Hayton.”
“That’s not so awful far. Once the snow stops and the paths are cleared, he’ll be here in no time.”
“Yeah. But he’s not here for Christmas Eve; even if he can get home tomorrow, it will be late in the day, Mom said.”
Noddins thought about her own father downstairs, and she realized that he took his steady presence for granted. He was always there when she needed him. “I wish your dad was here, too, Curly; he’s probably missing you as much as your missing him.”
“I know,” Curlylocks sniffed as a tear escaped down her cheek.
“I don’t think he’d want you to cry.”
“He talked to each of us kids on the phone after he told Mom he couldn’t get home; he said I was to think of Baby Jesus in the stable, just like he’d be doing, and that would bring us all together.”
“I wonder if it was snowing the night Jesus was born,” wondered Noddins, going to stand next to her friend at the window. “If it was snowing like it is now, I suppose the stable looked pretty cozy to Mary and Joseph.”
“I wouldn’t want Daddy to be out in that cold snow,” admitted Curlylocks. “At least I know he’s safe and warm in his motel.”
“And when he gets home, he’ll want to hear everything you did.” She coughed, adjusting her voice to sound similar to a parental scold. “... and he won’t want to hear that you spent your time cryin’.”
Curlylocks turned and hugged Noddins. “I’ll try, Noddy. But sometimes it just seems so empty without him.”
Looking over Curlylocks’ shoulder, Noddins caught sight of the Puffalump that Teddy had given her lying on the edge of the bed where she had left him after her nap. “I know. You can have this cat that Teddy found and gave to me this afternoon when I hurt my hoof skating. It made me feel better; now it can do the same for you.” She grabbed the floppy animal off the bed and thrust it into Curlylocks’ hoof. “Whenever you start missing your dad, just hug Puffy!”
Looking at the perpetually happy face of the cat, Curlylocks grinned back and crushed the toy to her chest. “Thanks, Noddy.”
* * *
Quietly so as not to disturb her still sleeping husband, Sugarberry eased herself out of bed early Christmas morning and went to the window to check on the conditions outside. The wind had died down, but not before sculpting wave-like drifts of snow over the landscape that made effective barriers to pony traffic. At this hour, no one had yet ventured out to face the task of clearing the snow away, so the view from the window was of an unspoiled expanse of pure whiteness as far as the eye could see. Snowflakes were still falling; but without the wind to drive them, they floated and seemed to grant a peacefulness to the panorama that softened the cold, hard edges of the wind-sculpted drifts.
After soaking up the Christmas-card beauty of the view, Sugarberry turned her attention to the snug, makeshift bed where Banderol slept. Sleeping on his tummy, the profile of his face was a picture of perfect contentment. What happy dream is he entertaining? she wondered.
The foal had enjoyed Christmas Eve spent with his grandparents, aunt and aunt-to-be, uncles, and little cousins; but as bedtime approached, he had begun to feel the loss of his beloved Kitty-Kitty. He had crawled onto his mother’s lap and looked at her so woefully that Sugarberry had been hard pressed not to march straight back to Dream Valley regardless of the raging weather outside. She had settled for hugging her son and sending a beseeching glance at Vanguard to fish Cascade’s gift from under the tree so that Banderol might find comfort in the stand-in Puffalump.
Not to be pacified so easily, Banderol took one look at the blue elephant and buried his face in his mother’s mane, refusing even to acknowledge it. It was only after Banderol could no longer fight sleep that he accepted Cascade’s Puffalump into his forelegs, too tired to notice the deception, only recognizing the feel of the familiar smooth fabric that spoke to him of Kitty-Kitty. He slept with visions of sugar-plums dancing in his head and with one little hoof protectively on the Puffalump. Sugarberry gently brushed a hoof over the foal’s soft mane.
“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” Vanguard whispered in the mare’s ear.
“Merry Christmas,” the mare smiled, turning to slip into her husband’s embrace. “How’d you sleep?”
“Very snugly. My old bed never felt so good as it does with you by my side.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “But how about you? Did I sleep through any of Banderol’s complaints?”
“He slept well, too. I heard him squirming a couple of times, but he only needed his blanket tucked in tighter; and he went right back to sleep.”
“And how goes the blizzard?” asked Vanguard, glancing toward the window.
“The wind is gone, but there’s plenty of snow out there.” They moved to take in the view, only to find that Whirlpool was now up and shoveling a path.
“Oops! I better get down there and help,” Vanguard noted.
“And I should report for kitchen duty,” acknowledged Sugarberry. “You shovelers are going to need a hearty breakfast.”
“And some warming up,” teased Vanguard, enveloping his wife in a bear hug.
* * *
Dream Valley was no less buried in snow than Woodlawn, and ponies across town scurried to clear paths through their neighborhoods and to the point of particular importance on this holy day- church. The weather may have stymied the Christmas Eve community celebration of Christ’s birth, but it would not succeed for a second day in curtailing that profound activity as ponies fought the drifts and the arctic temperatures to make their way to church to adore the newborn Priest, Prophet, and King.
* * *
Curly Locks and her family made it a point to view the delayed living nativity at the park which was held in the late afternoon of Christmas day due to the inhospitable weather on Christmas Eve. Baby Curlylocks’ thoughts were never far from her father, who, she hoped, would join them for at least the waning hours of this special day, although her brothers had made a point of buoying up her spirits throughout the day.
Sixteen-year-old Catkin and fourteen-year-old Crinkle, in the company of several other neighborhood colts and fillies, had enticed their sister to join them in constructing a snow village of forts, igloos, and castles in the backyard after a hearty Christmas dinner. Their efforts had created a magical winter setting that called forth many boisterous scenarios to be acted out by the
young ponies, fully occupying several hours with strenuous exercise that kept worries at bay and resulted in cold, hungry participants who were nonetheless extremely pleased with their efforts.
By the time they had been warmed and refreshed themselves, it had been time to set off for the re-enactment of the first Christmas. Baby Curlylocks hung close to her mother with the Puffalump snuggled close to her side for reassurance and for a little added warmth; she also found that her muscles ached from the exertion of mining snow blocks and tunneling through the drifted snow. Only the sting of the cold air kept her from falling asleep on her hooves.
The representation of the Holy Family in the humble stable at Bethlehem served to reawaken Baby Curlylocks to the joy and peace of the day; as she stood, her eyes riveted to the actions of the characters in the living drama, she felt a soft touch on her shoulder and instinctively knew the cause.
“Daddy!” she cried, twirling around to gaze up at her male parent, her eyes a-twinkle. “You’re back!” The stallion was nearly bowled over as the filly jumped into his forelegs.
“Of course I am, princess,” he said as he regained his balance. “The snow may have slowed me down, but it couldn’t stop me completely.”
“I missed you so much!”
“As I did you,” Canteen said, kissing the top of his daughter’s head, then releasing her enough so that he could draw his wife into the hug. “I missed you all.”
Crinkle and Catkin left a group of their friends to welcome their father, and soon the family was on its way back home with Baby Curlylocks anxious to watch her father open his waiting gifts from under the tree. Her sore muscles forgotten, she bounced between her mother and her father with Puffy jouncing at her side.
“Wait ‘til you see the neat winter village we made in the backyard,” she enthused.
“It’s quite an impressive sight, Dad,” Catkin verified. “This snow is awesome.”
“The voice of youth,” he sighed with a wink at his wife. “I’d be more likely to label it as awful.”
They were nearly home when Curly Locks pointed out their neighbor, Gavel, shoveling his front walk. “Gavel’s still recuperating from that surgery he had,” she exclaimed. “I thought he was supposed to take it easy for awhile yet.”
“He looks like he should be in bed,” Canteen concurred, noting how the stallion had to stop and rest between every shovelful of the heavy, white stuff. He looked back to see Crinkle and Catkin lagging behind, deep in some discussion; when they noticed their father’s penetrating gaze, the two teenagers hurried to catch up.
“What’s up, Dad?” Catkin asked.
Canteen nodded in Gavel’s direction; the stallion had been greeted by Curly Locks and Baby Curlylocks and now stood leaning heavily against the shovel. “You two wouldn’t mind shoveling the walk for Gavel, would you?” he queried. “I can well imagine that Sadie got on her high horse and browbeat him into...” Canteen stopped and looked at his sons guiltily. “Forget I said that. Let’s just find out just how many other chores Gavel has on his agenda; if we all pitch in, we can get them out of the way in no time.”
“No problem,” Crinkle said, already on his way to relieve Gavel of his current chore. Canteen and Catkin followed and arrived in time to hear the stallion explain his dilemma.
“Sadie’s busy in the kitchen; Roy called, saying he’ll be here later and that he’s bringing some friend of his.” Seeing Canteen, Gavel grinned. “I thought you were stuck up in Hayton.”
“Only a temporary delay; but what about you? Aren’t you supposed to be convalescing?”
“Well, now, you know how Sadie is. Once she found out that Roy was bringing some stranger over to the house, she got all riled up and wanted things to look right... which meant she had to start cleaning and fixing food right and left. And then she started noticing how some things needed doin’ outside.” He waved a hoof in Crinkle’s direction as the colt divested the path of its white crystal layer. “‘Shovel the walk,’ she said... and fill the bird feeder, and haul in some wood for the fireplace. Excuse me, but I’ve really got to sit down.”
The stallion was looking rather pale and his hooves trembled as he allowed Canteen to guide him to the front steps and assist him in sitting. “Just got to catch my breath,” Gavel said. “Haven’t quite got my energy back since the surgery.”
“You’re rushing your fences, Gavel. You should have called for someone to come over and take care of these things.”
Some color was beginning to return to the stallion’s cheeks as he admitted, “Sadie thought the exercise would be good for me.”
Canteen looked at his wife over the top of Gavel’s head and rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that sounds like Sadie, all right.” Turning his attention back to Gavel, he suggested that they go in the house to get warmed up while the boys took care of the work. Leaning on Canteen’s foreleg for support, Gavel made it inside with the mare and filly following behind. They had just gotten Gavel comfortably situated on the sofa when an energetic mare came into the room from the direction of the kitchen.
“I thought I heard voices,” she said, flashing a speculative glance at her visitors. “I suppose you’re making Christmas calls.” Her eyes swept across the carpeting. “Hope you all haven’t tracked in a lot of snow. I just finished straightening up.” She leaned over to pick up a scattering of melting snow. “Tsk, tsk. Isn’t that just the way it goes.” She fixed a hard stare on her husband. “Don’t tell me you haven’t finished the walk yet. Roy and his friend’ll be here any time now.” She looked out the window and saw Crinkle and Catkin busily taking care of the errands she had sent her husband out to do. “I suppose those two will be tracking through the living room next.”
“Merry Christmas to you too, Sadie,” Canteen drolly interjected. “The boys are taking care of the walk and the firewood; Gavel isn’t up to heavy work just yet.”
“And I’m supposed to do everything around here?” Sadie retorted. “As if it isn’t bad enough that this storm had to throw a wrench into our plans. Roy couldn’t make it yesterday, and now he calls and says someone will be coming with him because he hasn’t got anyplace else to go. There’s just no end to it, I say. Nothing merry about it at all.”
“Maybe I could help you...” Curly Locks began, but Sadie would have none of that.
“I don’t need any help, missy. In fact, I’ll be gettin’ back to my dinner preparations right now.” She sniffed and turned her back on the rest of the ponies, disappearing into her domain.
Curly Locks smiled at Gavel. “Maybe I could get you something warm to drink.”
“You’re brave enough to go into the lioness’ den?” he teased.
“For you, yes,” the mare replied and went to fulfill her errand.
Baby Curlylocks moved to sit next to Gavel, a look of confusion on her face.
“What is it, little sweetie?” the stallion asked, noticing her close regard.
“Why doesn’t Sadie ever smile?” she asked.
Gavel chuckled while Canteen shook his head in dismay over his daughter’s forward question. “Smiling doesn’t come easy for Sadie, does it?” He sat in thought for awhile as if he had never pondered this particular question before. “Sadie likes to keep busy, so I guess she doesn’t have time to smile,” he finally determined. “It’s not that she’s not happy, mind you. She is... she just doesn’t show it the same way as the rest of us do.”
“Are you happy?” Baby Curlylocks quizzed, obvious doubt in her voice. Canteen groaned and dropped his head onto his hooves, but Gavel’s eyes sparkled
“I fell in love with Sadie many, many years ago; I imagine we’ve both changed over the years since those days. But am I happy? Yes, I think I am. At least, I’m content.”
Baby Curlylocks didn’t seem to be convinced, but her mother arrived with a steaming mug of hot chocolate for Gavel and a sliced apple. “Just what the doctor ordered,” she smiled, setting the food on the coffee table ahead of him.
“None for yourself?” queried the stallion with a lifted brow.
“I risked life and limb for this much,” giggled Curly Locks. “And besides, you should rest after you finish this snack. I’ve made Sadie promise to let you get some sleep before Roy arrives.”
“Always an angel,” Gavel sighed, his eyes twinkling at the mare. “Thanks to all of you for helping me out.”
“Next time, call before you risk your health,” Canteen commanded.
“I would have this time, but I didn’t want to bother you today of all days.”
“You’d never be a bother, Gavel... especially today,” Curly Locks said, kissing the stallion on the cheek. “Now, eat; and then lie down and cover up with this throw. I don’t want to hear that you’re back in the hospital tomorrow.”
Canteen and Curly Locks were on their way out the door when Baby Curlylocks ran back to Gavel. “Here,” she said, shoving the Puffalump into his hooves. “Puffy will always have a smile for you.” She reached up to hug the stallion, then raced to catch up to her parents.
Gavel looked long at the floppy friend he had just inherited, then grinned and followed Curly Locks’ orders to eat and sleep. When Sadie checked on him later, she stared in amazement at the childish plush toy cradled in Gavel’s forelegs. She walked to the creche that rested on the mantel and picked up the swaddled babe, glanced from it to her sleeping husband... and smiled.
* * *
The house of Floral Breeze and Whirlpool in Woodlawn had been a busy terminal of comings and goings throughout Christmas Day as religious, then familial, celebrations took place.
Banderol had abandoned the elephant Puffalump upon awakening, giving his mother a determined, “No Key-Key,” for his reason; but with so many relatives- and especially with Droplet- to entertain him, the toddler colt had no troubled times. Icon and Splotch had even taken the little ones outside to revel in the winter wonderland, bringing them back inside only when their own hooves were numb from the cold.
Floral Breeze and Sugarberry watched from the window as Icon aided Droplet and Splotch guided Banderol in a rather pathetic snowball fight which soon blossomed into a full scale artillery match as the two adult ponies abandoned the foals to concentrate their respective barrages at each other. It was at this point that two cousins, Biscuit and Petal- along with Petal’s good friend, Caravel- showed up and added some real fire-power to the battle. The foals soon became pawns in a hostage situation that thwarted the stallions’ efforts to decimate the mares’ position and ended the hostilities on a laughing note.
“Splotch seems to be enjoying her forced stay in Woodlawn,” Sugarberry noted as the mare gave as good as she got when a minor skirmish was renewed between her and Icon on the snowball battlefield.
“She’s quite adaptable once she lets go of her determination to have her own way,” Floral Breeze revealed. “Thankfully, she and Icon have succeeded in working through the rough spots.”
“That reminds me that Chocolate Chip’s friend in New Pony, Xavier, is from Splotch’s hometown; they went to school together.”
“You know what they say... it’s a small world. You’ll have to remember to ask Splotch about her recollection of Xavier.”
“I intend to; from what I could gather from Chocolate Chip, Xavier remembers a rather outspoken, independent filly... which seems to support the reality. It will be interesting to see if Splotch concurs with Chocolate Chip’s assessment of Xavier.”
“How is Chocolate Chip settling into her return to Dream Valley?”
“Very well,” Sugarberry grinned. “I’ve never seen her so happy... or so satisfied with her life. She has a lot of wedding plans to make, of course, on short notice; but she has everything under control.”
“She and Wigwam are getting married next month?”
“Yep. On January 31.”
“Let’s hope that the weather will be on better behavior for that occasion.”
Sugarberry laughed. “Wigwam is undaunted. He says that nothing will interfere with this wedding.”
“What’s this about a wedding?” a voice asked from behind the mares.
“Velvet!” Floral Breeze rushed forward to hug her sister, regardless of the fact that the two mares had stood outside the church talking earlier. “I didn’t hear the doorbell.”
“Stillwater saw us coming up the walk and admitted us in fine style.” Velvet turned her attention to Sugarberry. “It’s so good to see all of Floral Breeze’s family here for the holiday.”
“She has her hooves full with all of us on the premises,” Sugarberry smiled. “And I imagine your house is rather quiet with Chiffon gone to New Pony with Tribute.”
“It’s a good thing they left early to make a long stay of it,” Velvet shivered. “I hope the weather allows them a good trip home.”
“We were just discussing the weather’s influence on winter activities,” shared Sugarberry. “The wedding you overheard us mention is to be in January.”
“Oh.” Velvet looked relieved. “I was afraid something had come up to complicate the plans for that June extravaganza we’re planning, Floral Breeze.”
“As if we don’t have enough complications,” grinned Velvet’s sister.
Icon and Chiffon were marrying their respective sweethearts at a double ceremony at the start of summer; and although Velvet and Floral Breeze saw eye-to-eye on almost everything, the added influence of Splotch’s parents in Happy Hollow and Tribute’s parents in New Pony did indeed tend to entangle matters.
“From what I’ve been hearing, you could almost make this wedding day a triple ceremony,” Sugarberry teased as the three mares made themselves comfortable in the cozy sitting area.
Both Velvet and Floral Breeze looked skyward as if for divine help. “That possibility has been bandied about, but only to torment us,” Velvet admitted. “Fitting Icon and Chiffon’s cousin into the mix would entail an entire new planning strategy.”
“Fortunately for us, Silver Frost and Blake haven’t committed themselves yet. From all appearances, they’re still dating other ponies upon occasion,” revealed Floral Breeze.
“Although anyone can tell by seeing the two of them together that they think the world and all of one another,” Velvet added thoughtfully, then shook her head as if unable to figure out that puzzle. “Tribute was very pleased to have been with his brother and wife when their foal was born.”
“Well, he was with his brother, at any rate,” giggled Sugarberry. “Fern wasn’t quite so fortunate.”
The birth of Fern and Toby’s first foal on Thanksgiving Day was well into becoming a Dream Valley legend. All of Toby’s family had been invited to spend that holiday in Dream Valley due to the fact that, well, Fern was due. With all the family congregated under one roof, there were three doctors (Toby himself; his brother, Tribute; and their father, Andrew) ready and willing to attend to the mare when the foal decided to come. The situation was well covered, but fate intervened.
With Fern napping after the traditional Thanksgiving feast, Toby and Tribute had accompanied their brother-in-law, Copper, to the park with his two children, Patina and Quill, while Chiffon and Tendril made a visit to Sugarberry at her home. Andrew and Ribbons n’ Lace watched over the sleeping Fern, but when Fern’s Aunt Maisie called from the home of an ailing friend with the news that Crescendo was complaining of some chest pains, Andrew had immediately responded, leaving Fern in Ribbons n’ Lace’s sole care. The mare checked on Fern once more before settling down to finish knitting the booties on which she had been working, only to be brought to her hooves when an agonizing groan sounded from the bedroom, signaling an end to a quiet afternoon.
Ribbons n’ Lace rushed to Fern’s side, found the situation critical, placed a call to Sugarberry to send word to Toby at the park, then called Maisie to alert her to the complication, took one more look at Fern, and called Dr. Aurora who was, thankfully, accessible, and then buckled down to do what she could for her daughter-in-law. By the time Toby and Tribute arrived back on the scene, Dr. Aurora had already assisted Fern in delivering a healthy and entrancing little filly who won her father’s heart in an instant.
“Baby Frond is a little angel,” Sugarberry related. “She has her mother’s sweet disposition.”
“If I remember correctly, Toby missed Banderol’s birth, too,” Floral Breeze grinned.
“Yes, and Vanguard will never let him forget that; Dr. Neil is quite... unorthodox... shall we say.”
As the group from the backyard now entered the house, Velvet could now determine that Dr. Neil’s delivery of Banderol over thirteen months ago had been a well-dealt event as that little foal bounced into the room and scampered to his mother, his cheeks red with the cold and his eyes dancing in sheer delight over his outing.
“You’re as cold as ice,” his mother remonstrated as she scooped the foal into her forelegs.
Icon trailed in, a towel in his hooves and a grin on his face. “Bandy has a mean throwing leg,” he said, draping the foal in the towel, then confiscating him from his mother to move closer to the fireplace’s heat and rubbing some warmth back into the colt’s extremities.
“From what I saw,” Sugarberry taunted, “you were the mean one, pelting Splotch the way you did.”
“She showed no mercy,” defended Icon, shaking more melting snow out of his mane, causing Banderol to giggle. “She and Petal were like Amazons.”
“I’ll verify that with the girls while I warm some cider,” Sugarberry winked as she left the room.
Velvet and Floral Breeze remained to watch Icon administer his care to Banderol. After thoroughly drying the colt, which amounted to more of a tickling bout, Icon stood Banderol in front of him and smoothed out his damp hair. Banderol, in turn, begged for his uncle to hold him, which Icon willingly did, setting himself in the rocking chair and drawing an afghan over the foal.