You Can't Go Home Again
written by Sugarberry

“It looks good,” the stallion said, tossing his head to get the black mane off his face.

Good is an understatement,” replied the deep-lilac mare next to him. “It looks better than it did when we lived here.” She set her backpack down and stretched her aching muscles. “Who would have thought Bubbling Springs was this far from Dream Valley!”

“Yeah. I know what ya mean,” the stallion concurred, dropping his backpack as well. “It’s been awhile since we’ve been in this part of the country.”

Blackcap Lamplight and his wife, Sassy, had made the unplanned journey to the ancestral home after bidding farewell to their daughter, Garnet, following a reunion at her home in Dream Valley. On parting, Garnet was under the impression that her parents were headed to New Pony where they currently made their home. She would not have been pleased to know that they were now in Bubbling Springs where her unsuspecting aunts lived a peaceful life as caretakers for the museum that had once been the Lamplight family home.

Standing at the base of the hill that served as a stage for the lovely Victorian mansion known as Lamplight, Blackcap and Sassy studied the stately structure where they had lived after they were first married and where their first foal had been born. Many years had passed since they had left the area; and they had never returned, except for one brief pass-by of Blackcap’s. Not all the memories of their tenure there were pleasant.

The house was of white clapboards, a fitting home for one of the early influential ponies of the once struggling town of Bubbling Springs. It boasted a large turret off the left-hoof corner, rising a floor above the main body of the house and dominating the architectural design of the dwelling, giving it a castle-like appearance. The wide front porch with square-cut column supports framed the welcoming front door with a full-length oval glass center and was flanked on either side by long narrow accent windows.

A black wrought-iron fence hemmed in the property, outlining the acreage effectively against the snowy background. To their backs, river water was gurgling its way down the meandering stream that snaked past Bubbling Springs, its icy edges giving way to flowing water at the center.

“It looks really nice the way the paint’s not pealing,” Sassy said, a hint of wistfulness in her voice; she and Blackcap had never had the money or the initiative to keep up the property as it deserved.

Blackcap was no longer looking at the house. His gaze was riveted to a cluster of lilac bushes, bare in the winter weather. He was remembering his last days at Lamplight when the tunnel that opened out on the hillside over the river and which had proved an effective cover for his smuggling operation had been discovered by the local police and had led them to press charges against Blackcap for his covert activities.

The spread of lilacs that had screened the tunnel had been cut down at that time, the tunnel was sealed on both the outside entrance and the nearly invisible access in the Lamplight basement and- before court proceedings could convene- Blackcap and Sassy had disappeared.

Now, however, new growth had returned to the hillside to mark the spot of the once secret tunnel as the lilacs had fought against their annihilation and had returned to life like the phoenix. That brought a bit of hope into Blackcap’s thoughts; anything was possible.

“Let’s go up the hill; there’s some kind of sign up there,” he muttered.

“But we can’t be seen... not here,” Sassy pleaded. “There are too many ponies around who could recognize us.” Her words, however, were ignored as Blackcap set his tread away from her, following the line of the fence. Quickly, Sassy scooped up the two backpacks and followed him.

Reaching the gate that fed onto the front walkway, Blackcap scowled, his already surly expression reaching disagreeable proportions. “Lamplight Museum?” he muttered. “What have they gone and done with the place?”

“A museum!” exclaimed Sassy. “What a wonderful idea!”

“This was our home!” exclaimed Blackcap.

Was being the operative word,” Sassy reminded her husband.

Opening the gate, Blackcap was halfway through before Sassy stopped him. “We can’t just walk in there like we’re coming home.”

“Why not? It’s a public museum after all,” Blackcap said sarcastically.

“What if someone we know works there?” worried the mare.

“We have just as much right to go through the house as strangers do.”

“But, Blackcap, the ponies around here aren’t going to be too friendly to us.”

The stallion kept moving, however, and was soon at the front porch; Sassy apprehensively joined him. Both ponies stood staring at the inviting front door, wanting to go inside but dreading any confrontation that might be forced upon them.

“Well, come on,” Blackcap urged, taking his wife’s hoof in his and pulling her with him up the steps to the door. Taking a deep breath, he rang the bell as a small sign near the door bade him to do. The chimes could be heard faintly in the bowels of the structure, and soon the door was opened.

“Good afternoon,” a young silver grey stallion smiled. “Welcome to Lamplight. I’m Willy, the curator.” He gestured for the pair to come in and closed the door behind them. “I imagine you’d like a tour of the house?”

Blackcap, his attention captured by a surfeit of memories of a boyhood in this place, did not answer; he was lost to an earlier time. Sassy, rather overcome herself, found voice to murmur, “Yes... no... I mean, could we just look around on our own?”

Willy hesitated. The dark-haired stallion had a menacing look about him, almost wild-eyed. Willy was sure he had never seen him before, yet something about him seemed familiar.

“We don’t usually...” he began, but the mare smiled at him with violet eyes that seemed to cast a spell on him. He found himself wondering where he had seen eyes like those before and, caught in their appeal, he smiled. “I’m sure that I can make an exception in your case. You can start with the library.” He indicated a room to the left of the main entrance. “I’ll be in my office if you have any questions.”

“Thank you,” Sassy said

“Look, Blackcap, at all the old books,” the mare said on entering the room The plentiful shelves were not nearly as full as they had been in the days of Edwin Lamplight, Blackcap’s father, but the efforts of the museum staff to replace as many of the books as possible was bearing fruit.

Blackcap went down the line of titles. How his father had wanted his son to glory in the wealth of wisdom in these tomes, and how Blackcap had turned his back to them! He did the same now and walked out of the room.

Sassy followed her husband to the parlor that had always been one of her favorite rooms when she had been living here. Her exclamations of pleasure on the decorating were well-founded. Every inch of the house had been lovingly restored to its former grandeur once it had been rescued from demolition by the town of Bubbling Springs after the house had stood empty for too many years and had begun to show the signs of disuse. Period furniture was once again in place, wall coverings were bright and pleasing to the eye, window treatments were refined, pictures were in place...

“Blackcap! Look!”

On the wall hung a walnut-framed portrait of a family of ponies: a distinguished looking group of mother; father; two younger mares, obviously sisters; and one lone stallion not much above the age of eighteen but already with the look of obstinance that still marked Blackcap’s face.

“It’s you and your family!” exclaimed Sassy. She moved up close to the portrait and studied the faces of the ponies pictured there. “This must have been done shortly before... before you lost your parents.”

“That was a long time ago. I don’t remember,” the stallion responded huskily. He turned away from the portrait and walked to the window to gaze out at the view.

Sassy continued her perusal of the furnishings. “Whoever did this decorating really knew what they were doing,” she cooed. “It’s perfect.”

“It looks good enough, I suppose,” Blackcap responded looking around and noting several small pillows on the sofa done in a crazy quilt pattern criss-crossed with intricate, decorative stitches that reminded him of fancy work his older sisters were wont to do when they all lived as family with their parents in this home. He had teased them over this tedious work, but his father had upbraided him in turn. Born ten years after his closest sister, Blackcap had been a sore trial to his parents; they had found the task of raising an unruly colt almost too much for their advancing years.

Sassy noted what had caught his eye and understood his fascination with the work of art portrayed in the neat stitches. “I wonder where Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl are these days?” She was referring to Blackcap’s sisters, the two maidenly mares in the portrait.

“Probably snug in some retirement village plugging away at more of those blasted quilts,” he said, turning to leave the room, moved by memories that were not pleasant... and of his own making. He stalked into the next room, the dining room, elegant in its heavy walnut furniture and ornamental draperies, then continued through the rest of the main floor rooms as if hunted; he chose to access the upper floor by the back stairs.

It was not until he and Sassy reached the largest bedroom on the second floor, the one with the turret, that he came to a standstill and took stock of his surroundings with any show of interest.

Sassy, too, was affected.

“This is where you brought me when we first came back to live here after we’d run off and gotten married,” she reminisced. “It had been your parents bedroom until... until they were gone. Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl hated to see us take over Lamplight. They knew that your father had wanted them to live here.”

“Just as he always wanted everything for them and nothing for me,” Blackcap muttered.

“I didn’t know your parents,” Sassy said softly. “And I didn’t like your sisters; they were so far above me with their polite talk and their fancy ribbons and their perfect manners that I resented them for trying to help me fit in here. The more they tried to mold me into someone they could tolerate, the deeper I dug in my hooves to thwart them. Sometimes, Blackcap, I wish I had tried harder to do as they wished.”

“They’d have never approved of either of us, Sassy.”

“But we all lost Lamplight in the end.”

“All because Thorne betrayed me!” roared Blackcap.

Knowing when to keep silent, Sassy set a reassuring hoof on her husband’s shoulder for a moment, then went to enjoy the view from the second floor windows. The turret was impressive and allowed a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, especially with the house on top of the hill as it was. The river’s course could be easily followed, and the neighborhood beyond the gates of Lamplight studied.

Coming to stand next to his wife, Blackcap surveyed the view, pointing out the homes of colts he used to run with and wondering what had become of them. Sassy laughed at the exploits he told of their pranks and games which always infuriated the proper Edwin and the retiring Cora. Blackcap had constantly been a thorn in his parents’ sides while Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl had been the perfect angels who could do no wrong. That still rankled with the stallion, just as it had when he was growing up and when it came time to make life decisions of his own.

He had found it easier to continue in his wayward pursuits than to attempt to refine his attitudes to meet his father’s expectations. Edwin had never approved of his son’s contrary actions nor had he ever discovered a way to reach his son’s inner needs and desires. Blackcap had proved to be too much to handle for Edwin who was used to being obeyed and respected by his wife and his two daughters; they had never made waves or expected freedom like the later foal who seemed determined to create havoc in whatever he did. Blackcap made his own friends and carved his own path.

“Onyx was born in this room,” Sassy voiced softly. “He’ll be thirty-three this year.”

Their firstborn, Onyx was a deep purple, almost black, stallion with a blood red mane- the color of dried blood, his siblings had teased him- who was presently contentedly employed as a chef in Hayton. He, along with his other brother and two sisters, had not kept in touch with their parents, which was how Blackcap and Sassy had wanted it... until recently when family had begun to seem more important than it once had.

“And Ebony... what age is she coming up on?” queried Blackcap.

“Five years younger than Onyx... twenty-eight.”

“Sable must be in his mid-twenties now, and Garnet... didn’t she say she was twenty now?”

“Yup. Where have the years gone?”

“Yeah. I know what you mean. Being back here really makes the time fall away, doesn’t it?”

“We were just kids ourselves when we were married and came to Lamplight thinking we would rule the world... or at least Bubbling Springs.” She giggled. “We didn’t know anything.”

“I told you, Sassy; it was all because of Thorne.”

“Yes, dear,” the mare patted his hoof. “Let’s go downstairs.” Then she grinned. “Can we leave by the front stairs?”

“Let’s live dangerously,” the stallion responded with a grin of his own.

The curving stairs off the entry were a masterpiece of an earlier day, and Blackcap and Sassy took their time walking down the stairway, their hooves caressing the rich wooden banister and their eyes feasting on the ornately carved spindles. They had almost reached the bottom step when the front door opened, and two mares stepped into the foyer.

Blue Pearl, blue with pearly white hair, and Burgundy Lace, burgundy with an ecru mane, were in the middle of a lively conversation as they looked to see who the visitors were coming down the stairs; their voices fell silent and their eyes lit up with anger as they recognized these ponies from the past.

Blackcap and Sassy only stared.

“How dare you come back here!” Burgundy Lace said accusingly upon finding her voice.

“And what right do you two have to be here?” gruffly returned Blackcap.

“We belong here,” quietly said Blue Pearl, her face pale from the shock of meeting a brother she had not seen for nearly thirty-five years. Seeing him now on the stairway was akin to seeing a ghost.

“No more than I!” Blackcap angrily retorted.

Willy, coming out of his office because of the sound of sparring voices, surveyed the group and asked, “Is there a problem here?”

Turning on Willy, Burgundy Lace accosted him. “How did these two get in here? You were asking for trouble to let them in.”

A confused curator stuttered. “I... I don’t understand.”

Burgundy Lace marched across the entry to the door of the parlor. Pointing to the portrait that claimed a place of honor on the wall, she intoned, “It’s him, the traitor that threw Lamplight away... and his sisters along with it.”

With a dawning of understanding, Willy breathed, “You’re Blackcap then... and Sassy.” No wonder the stallion had looked familiar- this was an older version of the one in the picture. And Sassy... it was those violet eyes that could mesmerize a pony, just as Garnet was able to do.

“And just who are you?” Blackcap barked.

“I’m the curator for Lamplight,” Willy explained once more.

“Well, be that as it may, this was my home before you were born, you young whippersnapper!”

“Maybe we should all just sit down and discuss...” began Sassy.

Burgundy Lace cut her off. “You stay out of this, Sassy. This is between Blue Pearl, Blackcap, and myself.”

Blackcap glared at the two mares, then asked, “How did you get Lamplight back?”

“We didn’t, exactly,” Blue Pearl volunteered. “We were simply invited to assist in the restoration and the upkeep of our old home as a historical site.”

“Who owns it, then?”

“The town does, Blackcap, and legally, too,” Burgundy Lace informed her brother menacingly.

“That doesn’t negate the fact that this place is as much my legacy as it is yours.”

Burgundy Lace spluttered. “You legacy, huh? And what became of Lamplight with you at the helm?”

With a sideways glance at Sassy, Blackcap defended himself. “Do you realize the expenses involved with a place this size?”

“I can give you a jangle by jangle account,” Burgundy Lace threw back at him. She frowned at him a moment, then continued. “You are an abomination, Blackcap Lamplight. How anyone like you could engender an angel like Garnet is beyond my comprehension.”

“How do you know Garnet?” Blackcap growled.

Blue Pearl answered. “She came to us, having learned that she had other kin in this world other than you two.”

“You’ve been turning her against us, haven’t you? No wonder she wanted to get rid of us.”

“You’ve seen Garnet yourselves?” Burgundy Lace boiled. “If I find out that you’ve tried to corrupt her or stand in her way to happiness, I’ll find a way to scourge you, Blackcap!”

“She’s my daughter, for Pete’s sake, Lacey! Why would I want to hurt her?”

“Past history, for one thing.” This was said with a slight lessening of harshness, for the use of her pet name, Lacey, had brought back some memories that were not so unpleasant.

“Even Garnet gave us the benefit of the doubt, for a day or two at least. And Blackcap is your brother,” observed Sassy.

Eyeing Sassy with distaste, Burgundy Lace held back no punches. “You’re no better than he is.”

Rolling her own eyes, Sassy sat down on the stair step, giving up on trying to make amends.

Blackcap, however, was not about to see his wife humiliated. “Don’t bring Sassy into this parley; she’s been a good wife to me, and I won’t stand here and listen to you malign her.”

Blue Pearl seemed to agree. “Garnet does favor her mother.” Then swinging her gaze full force on her brother, she added, “She certainly couldn’t have inherited any of her goodness from you.”

“Now listen here, Miss Holier Than Thou....”

Just then the doorbell rang, indicating that someone was interested in a tour of the museum. Burgundy Lace nodded toward the door that led to her and Blue Pearl’s private rooms. “We’ll continue this discussion among ourselves.”

With a frown at Willy, she led the way out; and Willy scurried to meet the visitors with a composed, if not harried, face.

Once in the mares’ apartment, the ponies stood uncertainly until Blue Pearl, out of force of habit, began to fix tea and arrange cakes for company to eat. Sassy joined in helping Blue Pearl while Burgundy Lace and Blackcap continued to glare at one another across the room.

When Blue Pearl indicated that everyone was to sit down, Blackcap grated a chair away from the table and plopped himself down before the mares had a chance to sit. His glowering countenance gave a seething atmosphere to the otherwise peaceful-looking scene of an afternoon tea party.

“You forged that will that you had your lawyer present to the courts all those years ago, Blackcap. Everyone knows that you did.”

“Then why didn’t anyone prove it?”

“I’ll have to give you credit for that; you made sure there were no loose ends, no loop holes, for anyone to contest. And as it was written later than the one our father left with Blue Pearl and me, the courts had to honor it.”

Blackcap, unable to keep a smug look off his face, smirked. “Is it so hard to believe that Dad wanted me to have Lamplight?”

“Yes!” emphatically chorused Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace. Even Sassy unknowingly nodded her head.

Burgundy Lace was outraged anew. “Father and Mother always planned for us to have Lamplight; they assured us that we would always have a home here. They knew what road you were headed down... make no mistake about that!” The mare shook her hoof at her brother.

“Well, all’s well that ends well,” huffed Blackcap, not wanting to continue that avenue of discussion. “You two have a home here, after all.”

“No thanks to you!”

“Give me a break!” exploded Blackcap. “What’s done is done! And you, Lacey, if you hadn’t been so highfalutin in your younger days, you’d have been married and provided for by that stallion, Pinto, who wanted to marry you. But Dad didn’t approve, so you bowed down and let Pinto get away.”

“How dare you bring that up at a time like this?” raved Burgundy Lace. “Pinto and I would never have been happy together.”

“You seemed happy with him from what I remember,” Blackcap sneered. He had not been adverse to spying on his older sisters’ activities.

“How dare you?” Burgundy Lace said again, at a loss for anything further to say, her face paling to a sickly color.

“Admit it, Lacey. You were head over heals in love with the stallion, yet you let Dad run your life for you. Blue Pearl I wouldn’t have been surprised at, but you, Lacey? You always knew what you wanted, but you buckled under when your very happiness was at stake.”

“My happiness, Blackcap, revolved around Lamplight. You took that away.”

“Maybe I did it for your own good; you and Blue Pearl would never have come out of the cocoon that Lamplight had become for you. Now, can you tell me that you two haven’t lived satisfying lives?”

Burgundy Lace scoffed. “You call scrimping and scraping every jangle satisfying?”

“It’s better than stagnating away from the real world!” Blackcap thundered, quieting his sisters rather effectively. There was a deathly silence that hung heavily upon them.

Suddenly, Blue Pearl giggled. “Remember the time the three of us filched all the eggs from the chicken house and used them to bombard the raccoon that was trying to get them and the hens?” She smiled, thinking back over the years. “We couldn’t do any baking that day.”

“‘What do you three think you’re trying to prove?’ Dad roared when he caught us in the act. He was quick to point out that all we’d accomplished is saving the raccoon from having to raid the nests himself,” Blackcap chuckled.

“And the raccoon just sat waiting for the next egg to be thrown so he could lap it up,” Blue Pearl added.

“I don’t remember being a party to such goings-on,” sniffed Burgundy Lace.

“Oh, cut line, Lacey. You were always the ringleader until I grew up enough to take over the reins. One of your best plots was that deal with the white sheets on the clothesline on Halloween. You convinced old Betsy that they were ghosts, and the poor thing almost quit her job on the spot.”

“And she would have, too,” said Blue Pearl, “if the moon hadn’t come out just then and lit up the yard a bit. She called us a bunch of hooligans and made us go out to fetch in the bedclothes.”

“And you were scared to death,” joined in Burgundy Lace, glancing at her sister. “Blackcap donned a sheet and pretended to be a real ghost; you screamed and screamed until both Mother and Father came running.”

“And I,” Blackcap picked up the story again, “with no way to see, had the misfortune to run smack dab into Dad, who in no uncertain terms told me I was never to pull that kind of stunt again.” He grinned at Blue Pearl, seeing her again as the quiet, gentle older sister who had often backed him against his father’s wrath.

“And I had to sit at Blue Pearl’s bedside all night so that she could sleep; she was sure that some phantasm was waiting in the darkness,” appended Burgundy Lace, who, as the oldest child in the family, had been expected to maintain a certain amount of order and dignity. But Blue Pearl, two years younger, had proven to be temptingly gullible; and the little brother who had enlivened their family some ten years after Blue Pearl’s birth had been the perfect accomplice at anything his big sister had suggested.

“Well, Betsy stayed on as cook anyway,” chuckled Blackcap. “It would have been a disaster if she’d have gone; those apple dumplings she fed us were the best.”

“She would have done anything for us,” said Blue Pearl, growing serious again. “When Mother and Father got sick, she did everything she could to make them comfortable; and when they died, it broke her heart.”

“Nonsense, Blue Pearl,” chastised Burgundy Lace. “She contracted the same illness they did. And it was all for the best, really; she’d have suffered so to leave Lamplight when... when you, Blackcap, had us all turned out.”

The light-hearted talk regressed once more as less pleasant memories washed over the ponies afresh.

“You brought Sassy here,” continued Burgundy Lace, “and sent us off as if we were last winter’s castaways. How could you, Blackcap? How could you?” Her voice became a moan as if the memories were overwhelming her.

Getting to his hooves so suddenly that he sent his chair scritching across the floor, Blackcap had no answer. Instead, he dragged his wife from her chair and puller her across the room to the outside door, picking up their backpacks in the process; he opened the door... and found the exit blocked by Bramble, the Bubbling Spring’s city manager, Convoy, the police chief, and Bobby, his deputy.

“Blackcap Lamplight?” Convoy asked.

“You were a rookie on the force thirty-some years ago,” Blackcap retorted, recognizing the stallion as one of those who had been responsible for uncovering his smuggling operation. “And I believe there is such a thing as a statute of limitations.”

“There are some questions I’d like to ask you, Blackcap,” Convoy said. He looked at the mares watching. “We can do it here, or down at the station.”

“Questions about what?”

“Questions concerning the robbery of a restaurant called The Wharf in Riverside.”

“What the...” Blackcap was saying when Sassy abruptly put a hoof on his foreleg, then with a ragged intake of breath, collapsed onto the floor at Convoy’s and Bramble’s hooves.

Both of those stallions immediately turned their attention to the lifeless form of Sassy; Convoy began to bark orders to those around him for a cold, wet cloth and plenty of fresh air while Bramble went to lend his support to Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace, who both seemed near the same fate as Sassy; and Bobby, being a new recruit, stood looking dumbly on the scene.

Before anyone realized what was happening, Blackcap was on his way down the sidewalk that led from the entrance of his sister’s apartment within Lamplight to a back gate in the fence. His hoof had made contact with the gate when suddenly he was grabbed from behind and taken down by another officer stationed near the bushes in the backyard waiting for just such a contingency.

“Good job!” commented Convoy, coming up to offer his assistance in hoof-cuffing the angry stallion. “And just so you know, Blackcap, your wife made a speedy recovery from her ‘fainting spell’ once she realized that you hadn’t made it to freedom.” To Roper, the officer who had tackled Blackcap, he issued an order. “Take him down to the station.” Turning to Bobby, he added, “And you... bring the mare, too.” Then the police chief stalked off to leave his underlings with the suspects in tow.

* * *

“Bramble, can they do that?” wailed Blue Pearl as her brother and sister-in-law were marched away.

“They’re only going to question them,” Bramble stated, although not too reassuringly.

“What exactly happened in Riverside?” queried Burgundy Lace.

“It seems some nightclub there held a fund-raiser last night and brought in a lot of jangles for a building project at the local high school. The money was put in the vault at the club at 2AM this morning; when the manager came in at nine this morning, the vault was open and empty.”

“But why suspect Blackcap and Sassy? It’s been a long time since they’ve been... active.”

“Is it?” wondered Bramble. “The motel owner said he rented a room to a deep blue stallion with black hair; he had a violet mare with him. They checked out real early this morning.”

“Isn’t that circumstantial evidence or something?” asked Burgundy Lace while Blue Pearl began to weep softly into a hanky.

“They have to follow through on the lead,” rationalized Bramble. “Just because they’re being questioned doesn’t mean they’re guilty.”

Burgundy Lace faced Bramble. “But you think they’re guilty, don’t you?”

“We all know what Blackcap and Sassy are capable of; it doesn’t look good.”

Burgundy Lace slumped in a chair next to her sister. “Will that stallion never learn?”

“Wait and see what Convoy uncovers. Do you two want to go down to the station and wait there?”

Taking one look at Blue Pearl, Burgundy Lace shook her head. “I think I’d better stay here and look after Blue Pearl. Would you check on things and let us know?”

“Sure, Burgundy Lace.” He turned to go, but pivoted back as he reached the door. “Don’t worry about a thing; whatever happens with Blackcap and Sassy, you two are invaluable to us here at Lamplight.”

Allowing a tight smile, Burgundy Lace only nodded.

* * *

In the police chief’s office, Blackcap was offered a glass of water as Convoy leaned against his desk in front of the stallion. Blackcap waved off the water, glaring at Convoy the entire time.

“What have you done with my wife?” he demanded.

“She’s in the office next door, talking to Roper. Don’t worry about her. You have enough explaining to do for yourself.” Picking up a fax off his desk, Convoy continued. “We need some information as to your whereabouts last night, Blackcap. Would you mind telling me where you and Sassy spent the night?”

“Yes, I’d mind.”

“You don’t have a choice in the matter. Save us some time by answering now.”

Blackcap ran a hoof through his mane. “We put up at a motel southwest of here; we wanted to see Lamplight in the daylight.”

“Riverside is southwest of here. Was the motel in Riverside?”

“Could have been... I don’t remember.”

Convoy picked up another paper off his desk. “Does the name, Hoof It Lodge, mean anything to you?”

“Maybe... maybe not.”

“Hoof It Lodge is the motel in Riverside; their desk entry has a record of a Mr. and Mrs. Black registering there late last night and checking out very early this morning. Their description matched you and your wife.”

“How interesting.”

“Did you go to a restaurant in Riverside called The Wharf?”


Convoy made a note on the paper, then asked, “Did Sassy go to The Wharf ?”


Studying the stallion, Convoy next asked, “What time did you and Sassy leave Riverside this morning?”

“I don’t remember saying that we were anywhere near Riverside last night.”

There was a knock at the office door, and Bobby poked his head in. “We’ve been through their backpacks, chief.”


“They’re carrying enough jangles to see themselves through quite a long trip,” the rookie revealed.

“How much?!”

“They each had one thousand jangles.”

“Okay, Bobby, that’s enough.”

When the door was closed and Blackcap and Convoy were alone, Convoy walked behind his desk and sat down. “Do you always travel with that many jangles, Blackcap?”

“Not always.”

“So why now?”

Blackcap was slow in answering. “We had some luck at a casino.”

“You were at Fargo?”


“That’s the only town with a casino in this part of Ponyland.”

“Sassy and I just came from the south, over the Black Mountains.”

“Which casino, Blackcap?”

“Wigwam’s Casino in Dream Valley.”

After jotting down this information, Convoy leaned back and sat chewing on the eraser of his pencil. “It won’t take us long to check on that information. In the meantime, I’ll grant you and Sassy some time together, with a guard on hoof at all times.”

Convoy stood up in dismissal and called for Bobby. When that stallion appeared at the door, he gave him his orders and watched as Blackcap left the office. When the door closed behind them, Convoy got on the phone.

* * *

In his office at Wigwam’s Casino, Wigwam took the call that came in from the Bubbling Springs police. Although he was able to assure Convoy that Blackcap and Sassy Lamplight had indisputably been visitors at the casino and had walked off with an impressive win, he remained seated at his desk pondering the necessity for such a call to be made for several minutes after he had set down the receiver.

His interaction with Garnet as a friend and as a business associate made him conscious of the ties she had to Bubbling Springs. Wigwam, unofficially connected to the Dream Valley Police Department, was also aware of Blackcap and Sassy’s history and their relationship with Garnet. Why the Bubbling Springs authorities were interested in Blackcap and Sassy at this point in time ate at Wigwam’s mind until he could stand it no longer. Leaving a vague message for Garnet, he slipped out to learn what he could from Tawny, Dream Valley’s Chief of Police.

Wigwam found Tawny suitably occupied but not too busy to stop and chat. Once they had covered the weather, local sports, and mutual acquaintances, Wigwam got down to the reason for his visit.

“Tawny, what do you know about any suspicious activity in the Bubbling Springs area?”

“I wondered when you’d get down to the nitty-gritty,” Tawny grinned. He threw a communication across his desk. “Read it.”

“Hmm..a robbery in Riverside with Blackcap and Sassy passing through.” Wigwam shook his head. “It doesn’t look good.” He told Tawny of the call he had received from Convoy.

“Convoy’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’ll take care of things.”

“Are you aware that Blackcap and Sassy were in Dream Valley this past week?”

“Yes. I heard about it after the fact. There’s nothing currently on the books concerning them.”

“Until now.”

“It doesn’t make sense; Blackcap is smart enough not to hang out after pulling something as big as this robbery was.”

“Unless the draw of being back in home territory was too much for him.”

“How’s Garnet taking this?”

“I haven’t said anything yet; I wanted to have my facts straight.”

“The latest information I have is that they’re being held in Bubbling Springs yet. The jangles found on them are going to work against them, but you were able to verify the truth of their story. It will be up to Convoy to prove that Blackcap and Sassy were the two who did break into the vault at the restaurant.”

“How do you read it, Tawny?”

Tawny shrugged. “It’s certainly something Blackcap is capable of.” He tapped his hoof on the desk, thinking. “Yet there’s something now quite right about it; it’s too neat. One thing I’ve learned is that if a case is handed to you on a silver platter, you’d better look for tarnish around the edges.”

“Well, one thing’s for certain. Garnet’s going to want to rush off there as soon as she learns what’s going on.”

“And you’re going to accompany her,” Tawny said with a grin, getting to his hooves. “Good luck.”

* * *

Both prophecies turned out correct. When Wigwam broke the news to Garnet, she sat in total silence for a moment, then asked for several days off. Wigwam soberly granted that request, then announced that he would accompany her.

“No,” Garnet rebuffed him. “I’ve got to handle this on my own.”

“You don’t know what you’ll be facing once you get there. You can back up your parents, but Convoy might be more inclined to listen to me when it comes to police matters.”

“Wishbone can take some days off,” she began, then realized what she was asking. “He’s got some important tests at school tomorrow; I can’t ask him to drop everything.”

“I’d say your biggest problem is to convince him not to come along; but you’re right- he needs to stay here with his classes and his job.” He picked up the phone. “I’ll get some help lined up for Hawkley; you take care of any personal things that you need to square away before we leave. We can be out of here in an hour.”

“Thanks, Wigwam. I’ll feel better knowing I have backup.”

“We’re not going into battle.”

Garnet grimaced. “You don’t know my dad.”

* * *

Setting out was a relief for Garnet as Wishbone had not taken it well when she had informed him that she would not allow him to miss his commitments in Dream Valley to accompany her to Bubbling Springs. He had argued that her family was soon going to be his as well, and it was his right and his responsibility to be with her through whatever lay ahead. She could agree with the thought, but she would not be responsible for jeopardizing his studies or his job and had remained adamant that he stay behind.

The rose-red stallion had remained sulky until they had parted; when he had whispered, “I love you, Garnet,” that simple message had gone a long way to ease her worries that the stallion would have second thoughts about aligning himself with a family of such ill-repute.

The road to the northern country was a long one and took some time, but they eventually arrived at Riverside where Wigwam checked in at the police station to find out if any new developments had occurred while he and Garnet were on the road; there had been none. Wigwam did learn, however, that after the theft had been discovered and reported to the police, the office had received an anonymous phone call alerting them to the fact that two suspicious looking ponies had been seen leaving the local motel very early that morning. It had not taken the police long to determine from the motel owner that those ponies were none other than Blackcap and Sassy Lamplight. With that information, the solution to the case became clear.

From Riverside, the road to Bubbling Springs headed due north. As night was deepening, Garnet placed a quick call to Birdsong, the bed-and-breakfast that lay outside the town of Riverside but in the direction the two were taking; here the countryside was gently rolling unlike the Flatlands they had crossed. She had last visited Birdsong this past summer and had been well-received regardless of some past association with the family that had not been something to be proud of on Garnet’s part.

Buck, the oldest of three Birdsong brothers and the one who had learned the hard way of Garnet’s devious ways- this at a time prior to her arriving at Dream Valley and adopting a more conservative manner of making a living- had been on his honeymoon at that time of her last visit. Garnet was aware that he taught at the Riverside High School for which the fund-raiser had taken place; what he would think of her now when her parents were accused of the theft was a nerve-wracking speculation for Garnet.

The mare was unwilling to talk as she and Wigwam made their way to the Birdsong home, which like Lamplight, was on top of one of the many hills in the area. Their walk there, even in the darkness of night, was not as bleak as it might have been as the snow cover of white reflected the starlight overhead enough to show Wigwam why Vanguard and Sugarberry had such positive memories of this place. The land was a mix of valleys and hills that harbored many natural beauty spots.

Sensing the mare’s hesitation as they finally reached the front door of Birdsong, Wigwam settled a supporting hoof on her foreleg. “Sugarberry assured me that these ponies are your friends, Garnet. Now, forget about the problems we’ll face tomorrow at Bubbling Springs, and put on a happy face.”

Garnet managed a small smile which had disappeared by the time the door opened; but she was pulled into a welcoming hug by Lilac, the mistress of the house. Garnet introduced Wigwam, and Lilac assured them both that they were quite welcome even at this late hour and proceeded to direct them to the kitchen where they could talk while Lilac rounded up a fortifying bedtime snack.

Garnet had no sooner gotten herself settled down at the table when a young stallion walked into the kitchen. His eyes flew immediately to Garnet’s, and the mare got to her hooves to meet him. “I’m sorry for what happened, Buck. I don’t understand it, but I’m sorry.”

“Did you send your parents here because your past experience proved we’re easily duped?” the stallion asked, his eyes angry.

“Is that what you think... that I’m somehow a part of this?”

“All I know is that when anything bad happens, there’s a Lamplight nearby.”

“And I thought you were someone special!”

“If this is how you treat your friends...”

Wigwam got to his hooves, but it was Lilac who cut in.

“Buck Birdsong,” Lilac snapped. “You will not talk to a guest in my house that way! I’d appreciate it if you apologized to Garnet.”

“When the jangles are back in the safe, I’ll apologize,” Buck said, glaring at Garnet. He turned and stalked out of the room, nearly colliding with a pale yellow mare coming in with a jar of home-preserved peaches in her hooves. He barely looked at her as he continued on his way. The mare watched his departure with open-mouthed astonishment.

“I’ve never seen him angry like that,” she said; then becoming conscious of the ponies in the kitchen, she blushed. “I’m sorry. Buck has been upset since the robbery. Garnet, it’s nice to see you again; you remember me, don’t you... Columbine, Buck’s wife now.” Her blush deepened as she remembered the jealousy she had felt when Garnet had made her first visit to Birdsong several years back.

“Of course I remember you, Columbine. And this is Wigwam.”

“Nice to meet you,” Columbine smiled. Then she set the peaches on the counter for Lilac. “If you don’t need me, I’d like to go and talk with Buck.”

“You go ahead, Columbine. If anyone can talk some sense into that boy of mine, it’ll be you.”

When Columbine was gone, Lilac came to Garnet and patted her hoof. “Don’t pay any mind to Buck right now. He likes to think that he can control his world single-hoovedly; and when things go wrong, he takes it personally.”

At that moment, three other stallions came into the kitchen, freshly washed up from chores in the barn: Trendy, Lilac’s husband; Tramples, the middle brother; and Licorice, the youngest son. Wigwam was made known to them and Lilac soon had food before them and conversation flowed as if the confrontation with Buck had never occurred.

But Garnet could not forget it. She had respected the stallion for his high ideals; his kindness and his ability to forgive her for the unconscionable mess she had gotten him into had been part of the reason that she had begun to despise her deceitful way of living. Having then been befriended by the ponies of Dream Valley had solidified her resolve to put that past behind her and begin anew; Wishbone’s love had capped that determination.

Now Buck had turned against her and not because of something she personally had done but because of something her parents were accused of doing. She shuddered to think that they actually might have robbed The Wharf. Well, she would learn the answer to that tomorrow; for tonight, she could only hope that they had not stooped so low. She sighed and turned her attention back to the talk going on around her.

* * *

It was hours later and Birdsong was deep in sleep when Garnet made her way stealthily down the stairs and back to the kitchen. She could not sleep, not with all the worries racing around and around in her mind, and had finally decided that if she was going to be awake she might as well be doing something; so she had come down to raid the cookie jar. Nothing could speak to a troubled mind better than a home-baked chocolate chip cookie.

Turning up the light just enough so that she could make out where everything was located, she crossed to the counter; she had no sooner picked up the lid and reached her hoof into the cookie jar when she heard hoofsteps behind her; twirling around, she found Buck standing in the doorway eyeing her.

“So this is what you do as soon as everyone is asleep,” he drawled, coming to her and taking the lid of the jar out of her hoof.

It was not bright enough in the kitchen to see the stallion’s eyes, but Garnet was sure that the anger that had been visible earlier had only been intensified.

“It’s not a crime; we’re paying guests; but just to be on the up-and-up, I won’t take one.” She turned to leave.

“Not so fast, Garnet,” the stallion’s voice came from behind her. She turned to face him, ready for battle. Buck smiled. “I’m sorry for the way I reacted to you earlier; I said some stupid things that I shouldn’t have.”

“Yes, you did,” Garnet agreed cooly. “But I’ll accept your apology.” She once more prepared to depart.

“Wait, Garnet, please?” Buck asked. “I’m sure you’re down here in the kitchen because you couldn’t sleep, and that’s why I’m here too. How about some warm milk to go with the cookies?”

“I hate warm milk, unless it’s chocolate.”

“Chocolate it is, then. Move the cookie jar to the table while I get the mix out.”

Garnet did as she was told and soon both ponies were sitting with the cookie jar between them and warm, comforting hot chocolate in steaming mugs before them.

“What’s new with you, Garnet? Are you still content in Dream Valley?”

“Very much so.” She held out her foreleg. “I’m engaged to be married this summer.”

Raising an eyebrow, Buck grinned. “Did this stallion have anything to say in the matter?”

“Wishbone loves me... even knowing about my past life and my parents.” She added the last part to taunt Buck.

“Wishbone... Columbine said your escort’s name was Wigwam.”

“It is.” She laughed at his puzzled look. “Wishbone had to stay behind, so Wigwam- he’s my boss- came with me; he’s got some experience in police work, so he might be able to help my parents out.”

“I hope your faith in them is well-founded.”

“I’d bet my life on the fact that they didn’t do this, Buck, but I have no proof. It’s just that after having seen them such a short while ago, I can’t believe they had anything like this in mind.” She went on to explain her parents’ unexpected visit to Dream Valley. “As far as I know, Mom and Dad would never go after that kind of money. They have more subtle ways of getting what they’re after. And, besides, they’d made out quite well at Wigwam’s Casino; there was no need for them to attempt something like this when it was such an obvious risk.”

“You would know better than I,” he said. “Have another cookie.”

“I assume you and Columbine are happily settled?”

A big grin crossed Buck’s face. “We’re expecting this summer.”

“Congratulations! And I take it you’re living here at Birdsong?”

“Because of all the repair work needed after the tornado went through, we didn’t have the opportunity to build our own house; come spring, though, it’ll start going up, back in the woods.”

“And you’re teaching history, I hear.”

Their now friendly banter continued until their mugs were empty and neither could face another cookie.

“You make sure there are no crumbs left on the table so Mom doesn’t suspect that mice invaded her kitchen in the night; I’ll wash the mugs,” Buck said, getting down to the business at hoof. When that chore was done, the two ponies said their goodnights.

“No matter how this all turns out, Garnet, I want you to know that I value your friendship.”

“And I, yours,” Garnet smiled.

The two ponies shared a mutual hug of understanding.

And Columbine walked in the room from the back wing of the house while Wigwam walked in from the main rooms. Both stopped abruptly as they took in the sight before them.

“Buck!” gasped Columbine. “How could you?”

“Sweetheart, you’re the one who convinced me that I was being closed-minded about Garnet,” Buck said, dropping his forelegs from around the red mare. “We’ve talked, and Garnet has forgiven me my lapse of faith in her good intentions. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” admitted Columbine with a pout. “But I didn’t expect your reconciliation to be quite that warm.”

Buck laughed and Garnet giggled.

“We had cookies and hot chocolate. Would either of you like some?” Buck asked.

Columbine’s face brightened. “Hot chocolate sounds good; and maybe an apple.”

As Buck prepared more of the drink, Garnet asked Wigwam. “What got you up in the middle of the night?”

“I heard you go downstairs; when you didn’t return, I got worried.” He looked at Buck. “And this might be a good time to find out your impressions of the robbery. You were at The Wharf the evening of the dinner?”

“Of course he was,” Columbine answered. “He was on the committee who got the fund-raiser going.”

“I’m sure the police have covered this with you, but did you notice anyone there that seemed out of place?”

“I’ve done nothing but try to think of something that would prove useful, but there isn’t anything. The dinner was well-attended- that’s why we had so many jangles to store in the safe. We thought it would be safer to move it in the daytime,” Buck said, grimacing.

“Did you notice anything, Columbine?” Garnet queried, having more faith in a mare’s perception.

“Sorry. I was only there for a short while; the food was spicier than I’m used to; just the smells from the kitchen caused me to feel queasy before the dinner even got underway. Lilac and Trendy brought me home.”

“What were your parents doing in the vicinity, Garnet?” Buck asked.

“I have no idea; the last I heard, they were going to return to New Pony after they left Dream Valley. The next thing I knew, they were in Bubbling Springs.”

“At Lamplight...” mused Buck, well familiar with the family history. “I wonder how Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl reacted to Blackcap’s arrival?”

“I’m afraid to find out,” admitted Garnet with a shaky smile.

“Is there anything we can do to help the situation with your parents?” asked Buck.

“Talk to ponies about that night,” Wigwam suggested. “With the police concentrating of Blackcap and Sassy, they might have missed something important that would lead them in the right direction.”

Garnet flashed Wigwam a grateful smile; he more than anyone had been constant in his belief in Blackcap and Sassy’s innocence; with his connections with the police, he had access to all the questionable activities in which the two ponies had been engaged, but he had never given any indication that he suspected Blackcap and Sassy of the robbery now in question.

“If my parents didn’t take the jangles, then someone else did.”

“And whether that pony was from around here or came in special for the purpose, we don’t know; I’d sure like to know who tipped the cops that Blackcap and Sassy were staying at the motel,” added Wigwam. “But any stranger would be fair game, as would any regular who acted out of character that night.”

“So that’s what we’re looking for... someone out of place for the circumstances?” queried Columbine, taking a bite of her apple as Buck poured the hot chocolate.

“In a nutshell, yes.”

“We’ll keep our eyes and ears open,” promised Buck.

* * *

Upon arrival in Bubbling Springs the next day, Wigwam and Garnet stopped first at Lamplight to talk with Burgundy Rose and Blue Pearl. No further progress had been made on the case as far as they were aware, but both sisters were stressed to the breaking point wondering if their brother had indeed pulled this miserable theft.

“He hasn’t changed a bit, Garnet,” Burgundy Lace ranted. “He came in here like the lord of the manor as if thirty-five years hadn’t gone by, and he seemed to resent that Blue Pearl and I had made our way back home.”

“Dad does tend to be domineering,” Garnet admitted.

“The stallion is touched, that’s what he is,” Burgundy Lace continued. “And it’s all because of that mare he married.”

“That mare is my mother,” Garnet softly reminded her aunt.

“You had no choice in the matter! Sassy was beneath his notice, but she managed to bewitch him and pulled him down to her level. He should have cared more for the Lamplight name than to bestow it on that mare.” Burgundy Lace stopped only when she saw the distress she was causing Garnet. “I’m sorry if that hurts you, Garnet, but that’s the way I feel.”

Blue Pearl came forward protectively and guided Garnet to a corner of the room where they could talk privately while Wigwam soothed Burgundy Lace’s ruffled spirits.

“Your father riled some muddy water for Burgundy Lace while he was here; don’t put too much on what she says now- she’ll see things more clearly when the mud settles.”

“Did you hate my mother, too?”

Taking a deep breath, Blue Pearl sighed. “She was young and she was rough around the edges and she was independent. And she came into the home that Burgundy Lace and I had known all our lives and took control of the day-to-day operations of the house even though she didn’t understand how to manage a household the size of Lamplight. My sister and I tried to guide her, but she only resented our interference, I’m afraid. It was harder on Burgundy Lace; she was used to bossing me around; it hurt to end up on the other side for a change.” Blue Pearl smiled. “She’ll get over her pique and be sorry that she said what she did.”

Garnet returned the smile, but she felt empty inside her heart. She was slowly regrouping her family but finding in the process that family matters were more complicated than even she had imagined. It was not the happily ever after ending she had begun to hope for.

By the time Garnet and Wigwam made it to the police station, Garnet was having her own doubts about maintaining her parents innocence; and after talking with Convoy, those uncertainties only increased.

“I approached Blackcap and Sassy solely to question them,” Convoy explained to both Wigwam and Garnet, “but Sassy faked a fainting spell to make a diversion. It didn’t work, but Blackcap did make an attempt to escape. That’s why I’m confining them here. Why would he have tried to run if he didn’t have something to hide?”

“I don’t know,” Garnet said feebly. “Can I see my parents?”

Convoy considered the proposition some moments; it was only after a barely perceptible nod from Wigwam that he okayed Garnet’s request.

“I’ll give you ten minutes.”

Grateful to be given the opportunity to talk to her parents, Garnet regained some of her usual energy. She left Wigwam with Convoy while Bobby guided her to the room where her parents were waiting. Their reunion was warmer than their encounter at Dream Valley just a few days back, with hugs exchanged all around with no reserve; but when Garnet stepped back to look her parents in the eye, they could tell that she was harboring doubts.

“We didn’t rob the restaurant in Riverside,” Blackcap assured her. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say we were set-up.”

“What about your escape attempt?” Garnet asked reprovingly. “Mom, you went along with it!”

“Force of habit,” Sassy shrugged.

“It was my fault,” Blackcap admitted. “I signaled your mother, and she trusted my decision. It was just that it dawned on me that the cops seemed pretty confident, so I knew they thought they had a sure thing. So even though Sassy and I had done no more than spend the night- and a short one at that- at that motel in Riverside before coming to see Lamplight, I figured they had something that was solid enough to hold us.”

“Why did you come here?” Garnet asked.

“All our talk of the family while we were with you made me a little homesick to see the place,” Sassy admitted. “We didn’t have any commitments back in New Pony and we had our casino winnings in hoof, so we just took off where the road led us... which was to Riverside on the wrong night.”

“And you, girl, weren’t completely honest with us about your relationship with my sisters,” Blackcap looked condemningly at his daughter.

“I just didn’t give you all the details,” Garnet defended.

“Well, I guess I’ve been guilty of withholding the truth a few times in my life,” Blackcap smirked... or was it a grin? “There’s hope for you yet, Garnet.”

Garnet rolled her eyes. “Never again- I’ve washed my hooves of that cycle of deception that you two taught me.”

“Never say never, girl. You don’t know what life may throw at you yet. And it’s not deception- not if the other party has their eyes wide open.”

The door opened and Wigwam came in. “Your ten minutes are up,” he announced, “but Convoy said he’ll extend the time if I’m present.” He looked at Blackcap. “We haven’t met; I’m Wigwam, the owner of the casino in Dream Valley.”

“I’m Blackcap and this is Sassy,” responded Blackcap, cautiously accepting Wigwam’s extended hoof.

“Where’s Wishbone?” asked Sassy, wearing the same confused look that Buck had the evening before.

“He stayed back in Dream Valley. Wigwam has had some training in police work, so he seemed the better choice to accompany me here under the circumstances,” explained Garnet.

“You’re Garnet’s boss, too, aren’t you?” Blackcap asked. Receiving an affirmative nod, he asked, “Does she do a good job for you?”

“She’s indispensable.”

“Shouldn’t we be discussing your problem?” asked Garnet of her father.

“Yeah,” snickered Blackcap. “Maybe we should concentrate on that for the time being.”

The four ponies sat down around the plain table in the center of the room and studied the events of the last few days and brain-stormed the possibilities that had not yet been considered.

“It seems strange that this robbery occurred the first time you came back to home territory in a number of years. How do you account for that?” Wigwam queried.

“Rotten luck,” scowled Blackcap. “It isn’t the type of thing we’d do.”

“Just coincidence?”

“Exactly. And because I have a record, the cops can only think one thing. The real crook is getting away while Sassy and I cool our hooves here.”

“Did you leave behind any enemies who might like to see you squirreled away for awhile?”

“Hey, we never make any serious trouble for anyone,” Blackcap was quick to repute this hint of suspicion.

“Bad feelings can arise from the smallest slight,” Wigwam replied. “It wouldn’t have to be anything major.”

Sassy spoke up. “I wonder whatever happened to Thorne.”

“Where did that come from?” asked Blackcap.

“It was just weird that you mentioned him several times at Lamplight, and now Wigwam asks about any enemies; I think Thorne classifies.”

“What’s this about?” Garnet asked, completely befuddled.

Sassy looked at Blackcap, but Blackcap turned away, so Sassy explained.

“When we were first married and living at Lamplight, Blackcap had a smuggling operation set up; the details aren’t important... what matters now is that a friend of his, Thorne, was his partner. They both knew that the police were suspicious of Blackcap, and that drew suspicion on Lamplight as well.

“Blackcap and Thorne decided to lie low for awhile until things cooled down. But Thorne went behind Blackcap’s back and continued to transport... things. The cops caught wind of a shipment coming in and raided the place; Blackcap was home at the time and ended up taking full blame; he never saw Thorne again.”

“You were using Lamplight as a smuggling center?” gasped Garnet.

“Not the night in question,” Blackcap growled.

“I don’t believe this!” Garnet said in disbelief. “Your ancestral home meant no more to you than that?”

Wigwam set a warning hoof on Garnet’s. “There will be better times to discuss this than now.” Then, of Blackcap, he requested, “Tell me more about this Thorne.”

“He’s long gone; never saw him again as Sassy said.”

“Why’d he double cross you?”

Blackcap and Sassy exchanged a glance. “Thorne wanted to marry me,” Sassy revealed. “But your father came along, Garnet; and I fell in love with him. Thorne didn’t take it too well.”

“But he and Dad still were smuggling partners?”

“He seemed to have gotten over his anger, and Blackcap knew... thought... he could trust him. Only too late did we realize that he was out for revenge.”

“Revenge...” mused Wigwam. “A good reason to tip off the police with a misleading clue.”

The door opened again, this time revealing Bobby. “The chief says the party’s over. Wigwam, Garnet, you have to leave.”

Garnet stood up, but Wigwam asked one last question. “What does this Thorne look like?”

“He’s a green stallion...” Blackcap started.

“Emerald green,” Sassy interrupted.

“With tannish hair.”

“Golden hair,” Sassy added, “and deep, brown eyes.”

Blackcap rolled his eyes and huffed.

“Thanks for the input, Sassy,” Wigwam grinned. “We’ll see what we can come up with.”

* * *

The end of the day found Garnet cloistered with her aunts, all three of them worried about the outcome of Blackcap’s situation but trying not to show it.

Wigwam was out; where, Garnet did not know. She had begun to pace the floor when the phone rang. It was Buck.

“Garnet, I’ve got a piece of information that Wigwam might want to check out.”

“Buck, what is it?”

“Don’t get excited. It may be nothing. I was talking to Whirlybird at the museum in Riverside earlier, and I asked her if she noticed anything peculiar that might tie in with the robbery at The Wharf; it turns out she’d left town when she got done with work that day, so she wasn’t even in Riverside when the theft occurred.”

“So what’s the point?”

“Well, she called me just now to say that she did remember something from earlier in that day. There was a stallion hanging around the museum that afternoon before the robbery. She’d forgotten him because he didn’t sign the registry. He spent most of his time just sitting in the lobby, reading the paper and watching out the window. When she asked him if she could help him, he said he was waiting for his wife; but as far as Whirlybird saw, no mare ever showed up.”

“Does she know where he went from there?”

“He asked where he could get a cheap meal, and Whirlybird referred him to the restaurant next door to the Hoof It Lodge. Whirlybird had the next couple of days off and had gone to Millville to visit friends. She just got back today.”

“Mom and Dad stayed at the Hoof It Lodge that night!”

“Yeah. Coincidence? Seems fishy to me.”

“What did this stallion look like?” Garnet held her breath.

“Whirlybird said he was dark green with caramel colored hair; she didn’t notice his symbol.”

“Close enough,” Garnet said. “Thanks a bunch, Buck. I’ll get back to you.”

To her aunts she called, “I’ve got to find Wigwam,” as she raced out the door.

Garnet did not have far to go; she collided with Wigwam at the back gate as he was coming through. Her words tumbled out as she explained to him what Buck had uncovered, and the two of them went straight to Convoy.

* * *

Morning dawned bright and sunny, suggesting to Garnet that this day might bring a resolution of her parents’ plight. She and Wigwam had done all they could; it was up to the police now to trace the green stallion and question him. But in the meantime, her parents were still the prime suspects.

Wigwam left early to spend the day at the police station; Garnet spent the time with her aunts, although Burgundy Lace seemed somewhat distanced; and Garnet herself found it difficult to forget some of the things that her aunt had said of Sassy yesterday.

So as not to be an unnecessary burden at Lamplight, Garnet offered to help Willy with some paperwork in the museum office; her training at the Binksville Museum now proved useful. When things were in order there, she took herself off to the highest point of Lamplight, the top level of the turret that soared above the rest of the house and looked down upon the river and the village and beyond to the meandering line of trees that followed the course of the waterway through a succession of small hills with tree-covered slopes.

Finding the spot a perfect place for reflection, Garnet sat on the plain wooden window seat that circled the space; she recalled her foalhood under Sassy and Blackcap’s tutelage; the several lonely years alone after she had outgrown her parents’ protection; her experience with Buck that had given birth to doubts about her cloak-and-dagger existence; her chance arrival in Dream Valley where she had- for the first time in her life- found friendship and compassion; and the specific friendship with Wishbone that had become the focus of her life and love.

Garnet smiled as she remembered Wishbone’s disappointment in not accompanying her to Bubbling Springs; if she closed her eyes, she could hear his voice: I love you, Garnet.

She frowned, however, when she remembered her reason for being here at Lamplight. Her parents were still under a heavy cloud of suspicion over the robbery in Riverside. Garnet’s encounter with her parents in Dream Valley so recently had awakened in her a desire to reestablish family ties that had for too long gone unattended. Yet her aunts, whom she had come to love dearly, were unwilling to let go of past hurts where Blackcap and Sassy were concerned. The road to family harmony was going to be difficult, at best.

A creak on the stairs brought Garnet’s attention back to the present reality, and she watched as pearly white hair announced that it would be Blue Pearl ascending the narrow steps from the floor below. She smiled at her aunt and patted the window seat beside her. Blue Pearl welcomed the offer, her breathing slightly labored by the many flights of stairs she had just covered from the main floor to the heights of the house.

“You’re still upset over what Burgundy Lace and I had to say about Sassy, aren’t you?” Blue Pearl said as soon as she had regained her breath.

“Not upset, Auntie... just disappointed. I was hoping that we could all be family again.”

“Ah, youth...” Blue Pearl sighed. “It’s easier for you to forgive and forget.”

“But it wasn’t easy,” Garnet argued. “I told myself that I never cared to see my parents again, but when they arrived on my doorstep- and after the initial shock- I found that I’d never really stopped caring for them.”

“Well, dear, you’ll have to give my sister and me some time to get over that shock, too. It’s been a lot of years since we’ve seen Blackcap and Sassy. Their visit here was more than a shock. It was a... a jolt.” She punched her hoof into the air to convey the immensity of it.

“Okay,” Garnet smiled. “I guess I’m expecting too much too quickly. But Burgundy Lace is so unyielding.”

“That’s her way, child.” Blue Pearl looked thoughtful. “I don’t know if I should tell you this; I know Burgundy Lace wouldn’t like it if she knew I was talking behind her back; but, under the circumstances, I think you should know.”

“What is it?”

“Your father resurrected a rather... hurtful... situation that Burgundy Lace had buried years ago.”

“Go on,” Garnet urged when her aunt fell silent as if recollecting her thoughts. When she started talking, her voice was soft and her eyes appeared to be seeing sights that were not available to Garnet.

“Well, you see, Lacey had made the acquaintance of a young stallion named Pinto; she was just out of school and had taken a job at the library. He was doing research on some project he was working on, so he was visiting the library quite often. He and my sister began to look upon one another as friends, and Lacey invited him to Lamplight for an occasional supper with the family. Over time, it became obvious that the two of them were very deeply in love.”

“What happened?”

“Pinto’s field of work took him many places; he traveled all over Ponyland and beyond, sometimes ending up away from home for months or even years at a time.”

“So he had to go away?”

“Well, that was what provoked the showdown. Pinto had gone to Father- as was proper back then- to ask for his permission to marry Burgundy Lace; it seemed that Pinto and Lacey had been making plans between themselves, and my sister was ready and willing to take up the traveling life that Pinto embraced.

“But Father, when he heard of it from Pinto’s lips, was furious; he told Pinto that the Lamplight family had been responsible for establishing Bubbling Springs as a viable town; and that left the remaining family with responsibilities to the community that could not be relinquished. He went on to tell Pinto that Burgundy Lace, as his eldest offspring, was to take over those responsibilities when he was gone. He, therefore, refused Pinto’s suit for Lacey’s hoof.”

“And Burgundy Lace accepted that?” asked Garnet in surprise.

“You have to understand, Garnet, just how proud our father was when it came to Lamplight and the town of Bubbling Springs. Both he and Mother had spent their entire lives here, and everything they had ever strived for centered here. They assumed that their children would take up where they left off. You can understand why Blackcap became such a disappointment to them, and why Father pinned his hopes on Burgundy Lace.”

“So Burgundy Lace gave up her chance at happiness with this Pinto because of her commitment to Lamplight?”

“Yes. Father convinced her to see things his way, even though Pinto pleaded with her to leave Lamplight behind and come with him. She was stubborn and he was, too; so they separated quite at odds with one another, and Lacey never heard from him again.”

Garnet digested all this information, then looked at Blue Pearl in shock. “Burgundy Lace gave up Pinto for Lamplight, and my dad took Lamplight away from her in the end, anyway!”

“That’s just it, dear. She made a huge sacrifice for Lamplight and Bubbling Springs, but Blackcap arranged affairs so that she lost everything. I lost Lamplight, but Lacey lost Lamplight and the chance at a happy marriage.”

“Dad couldn’t have known what he was doing!” Garnet whispered, shaking her head in negation.

“Oh, but he did, Garnet. Make no mistake. He even had the audacity to tell Lacey and I when he came here that it was for our own good, because we were too dependent on Lamplight. And, maybe... maybe he was right.”

“No!” Garnet flared. “No one could be that cruel!”

“Burgundy Lace and I succeeded in making a new life for ourselves in Frostmont. I won’t say it was easy, but we did manage. It was very difficult at first, leaving this elegant old house to live in an apartment in a town that was entirely new to us; but we were fortunate indeed that they needed a librarian and a school teacher. Over time, we both came to love the ponies of Frostmont.” She patted Garnet’s hoof. “I just wanted you to know why Burgundy Lace is having a difficult time forgiving your father. Her pain was much more acute than mine.”

“And here I’ve been feeling sorry for myself because she seemed so spiteful of Mom and Dad; I certainly can’t blame her for holding them responsible for upsetting her life so drastically.”

Garnet grew pensive. “I wonder what became of Pinto.”

“I’ve often wondered that myself,” admitted Blue Pearl. “And Lacey, why I don’t imagine there’s a day that goes by when she doesn’t think of him herself.”

Garnet turned her gaze out the window once more; she mourned for Burgundy Lace, worried about her parents, and wondered where Thorne could be.

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