Blind Rage
written by Sugarberry

All the talk about Vanguard and Sugarberry’s forthcoming trip to Birdsong was making Garnet nervous. She had never admitted to anyone that she was acquainted with the ponies of Birdsong; and, although she suspected that Wigwam was privy to that information because of his connection to Chief Tawny of the Dream Valley Police Department-- her file would, needless to say, contain that chapter of her life that encompassed Buck and his family-- she had not broached the subject with him, either.

But as the time grew nearer for Vanguard and Sugarberry to leave for Birdsong, it became increasingly clear to Garnet that there was a strong possibility that the couple, while at Birdsong, would at some point mention Garnet’s name in connection with some happening in Dream Valley which would bring startled glances to their faces as the Birdsong ponies would gasp and say, “You’re acquainted with that deceitful mare?” And once they found out that Garnet was dating Sugarberry’s boarding college student, Wishbone, they would be aghast. Sugarberry would surely see her in a different light once the story that the Birdsong ponies would reveal about her had been told.

Garnet’s only consolation was that when she had returned the goods that she had stolen from the Binksville Museum, she had asked Binksville’s police chief to notify Buck that she had cleared her name; but even that fell short because she was not sure if that news would soften Buck’s impression of her after she had not once, but twice, betrayed his confidence.

Chocolate Chip found the red mare one afternoon-- the two ponies had both had some time off work and were relaxing after a shopping spree at the mall-- staring at the painting of Birdsong that hung on the wall of Sugarberry’s living room, the very painting that Vanguard had presented to Sugarberry on his arrival in Dream Valley as a memento of their chance meeting at the popular and homey resort.

“This place where Vanguard and Sugarberry are going is beautiful,” Garnet commented, casting a quick glance at Chocolate Chip.

“It is, isn’t it? It was too bad about last year’s tornado.”

“A tornado? That’s not possible! I was...” She bit her lip to stop her flow of words.

Chocolate Chip looked at her sharply. “You were what?

“Nothing... nothing. It’s just such a pretty house; no one was hurt, I hope.”

Chocolate Chip found Garnet’s eyes bright and noticed that her hoof was trembling. “No one was hurt, but the roof was blown off.”

“Oh, that’s good... that no one was hurt.” Garnet was visibly relieved; she turned back to the picture, remembering the warm welcome she had received from Buck and his family, if under false pretenses. None of them had been injured, of that she was grateful.

“The house has been repaired,” Chocolate Chip said, looking at the painting with a smile. “It’s so romantic that Sugarberry and Vanguard are going back there for their first anniversary; that’s where they met in the first place. Vanguard came from Binksville and Sugarberry from Dream Valley for simple vacations; and they met and fell in love, just like that.”

Garnet groaned and dropped into a chair.

“What’s wrong?” Chocolate Chip questioned anxiously.

“My past won’t leave me alone,” she lamented.

“Care to talk abut it?” a slightly confused Chocolate Chip asked, patting Garnet’s hoof and wondering what had caused this abrupt change in the conversation.

“When I stole the jewelry from the museum in Binksville, I arranged it so Buck Birdsong would be blamed.” The red mare hung her head dejectedly.

“You know the Birdsong ponies?”

“I worked with Buck at the museum; he was such a sweetheart, but I used him to take the fall for me while I made my getaway.”

“He’s the one getting married,” Chocolate Chip mused. “So what happened?”

“It was soon enough that Buck was cleared-- as I knew he would be-- I’d never have done it otherwise.” Her violet eyes pleaded with Chocolate Chip for understanding, and she was relieved to see that there was no accusation there.

“No lasting harm was done then,” Chocolate Chip smiled reassuringly.

“There’s more.”

Chocolate Chip sat down. “What else?”

“I stopped at Birdsong last spring-- obviously that was before the tornado hit, because everything was fine then.”

“How did that go?”

“Very well; but... you see... I told Buck then that I’d returned the jewelry, and he thought there was no more trouble; if he had known that I was still being sought by the police, he would have felt obliged to turn me in. So I lied to him and let his family think I was a true friend of Buck’s.”

“I see.”

“Buck’s mother let me stay in one of their guestrooms; everyone was so nice to me; Buck even took me out to dinner...” She grew pensive, thinking of the kiss he had given her upon her departure.

Chocolate Chip noted the introspective look on Garnet’s face, and the brown mare’s heart lurched. Did Garnet have feelings for this stallion who was soon to be married? And what would that do to Wishbone, who was crazy about Garnet? “You were in love with him?” she asked, her voice cold.

Garnet jerked her head up to face Chocolate Chip. “No! No! That’s not it at all! He was someone I could trust, that’s all. I think he may have liked me, but that was beside the point.” She smiled to think of the fire in Columbine’s eyes when that mare had suspected Garnet to be after Buck’s affection. “There was a mare working at Birdsong who knew more about Buck’s heart than he did; she’s the one Buck is going to marry.”

Chocolate Chip drew a deep breath in relief. “So, there’s no problem.”

“That’s what I keep telling myself, but what if my name should come up in conversation between Sugarberry and the Birdsong ponies? She knows part of my background, but not all; and it will be worse if she hears that I pulled my scam on someone whom she knows personally. If she finds out about what I did to Buck, she won’t think me a suitable friend for Wishbone... or anyone else, for that matter.”

“But you’ve made up for everything you did, Garnet; surely the Birdsong ponies will know that.”

“Knowing it is one thing; will they be able to forgive me?”

“Sugarberry thinks they are wonderful ponies, so I can’t imagine that they would think of you with nothing less than kindness.” Chocolate Chip smiled at her seriously doubtful friend. “And, anyway, all you have to do is explain it to Sugarberry before she and Vanguard leave; then you’ll be assured of a champion of your name comes up.”

“Tell Sugarberry?” Garnet squeaked. “I haven’t even told Wishbone!”

“Told me what?” asked that young stallion as he came into the room from the kitchen, a cookie in his hoof. He winked at his sister as he sat next to Garnet. “I’m all ears.”

Before Garnet could answer, the front door opened and in walked Sugarberry and Vanguard, home from work. “Hi, everyone!” Sugarberry greeted them with a smile.

Garnet sank back into the chair and tried to become invisible, but Chocolate Chip, with Garnet’s best interests at heart, cast her a bracing grin and announced, “Garnet has something she’d like to tell you all.” She leaned to pat the mare’s hoof and then made herself comfortable in a chair close by.

* * *

“You’re disappointed in me, aren’t you?” Garnet asked of Wishbone as he walked her home later that evening. The stallion had been quiet since they had left the house even though he, Vanguard, and Sugarberry had heard Garnet’s story and had assured her that she had nothing to worry about.

“How could I be disappointed in you?” Wishbone replied, but his voice was flat and he avoided her gaze.

“Be honest with me, Wishbone.”

“Honest?” he asked with a touch of irony in his voice. “How many more surprises to you have from your past, Garnet?”

“I told you my past life was nothing to be proud of, and you said you didn’t need to hear any of the particulars!”

“How many other stallions did you lead on like you did Buck?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It was a simple enough question.”

Glaring at the stallion, Garnet felt rage course through her body. Was this the same stallion who had assured her when she had decided to settle in Dream Valley that all was forgotten in regard to her past, and that he trusted her explicitly? “It’s a question that does not merit an answer!” she spat, turning away from him and setting off on her own.

Wishbone quickly came to her side. “I think I deserve an answer, Garnet,” he said, grabbing her hoof to force her to stop.

“You want an answer? Well, here it is. There were too many to count. I’m good at smooth-talking a stallion into doing what I want him to do-- oh, how easy it was to convince Buck that I was a dedicated museum worker who would never be involved with anything on the shady side!-- and I have often used that talent to my advantage.” She jerked her hoof from his and set off once more but stopped abruptly when she heard Wishbone call out her name.

“Garnet! What about me? Am I just a part of some scheme you’re working on?”

The red mare could not believe the words, nor could she believe the contempt with which they were uttered. Her violet eyes blazing fire, she burned one last look into the stallion, then ran into the night.

* * *

Busy with the final preparations to leave town for the week-long anniversary vacation to Birdsong that she had looked forward to with such enthusiasm, Sugarberry did not notice the surly demeanor of Wishbone; and not having another chance to visit with Garnet, she had no idea that something had caused a rift between the two ponies.

Sugarberry and Vanguard visited Tabby and Thomas the evening before the departure to Birdsong with the express purpose of delivering to the soon-to-be one-year-old Faline a special birthday gift, as they would have to miss the gala celebration of that occasion, a party that Agatha and Hubert were hosting on Sunday.

“For you, little angel,” Sugarberry said as she offered the wrapped gift to the pink and precious foal.

Faline, gurgling her delight, had immediately removed the bow and tried to gain access to the gift inside, when Tabby intervened. “Maybe we should save this for the party.”

“No; I’d really like to see Faline’s reaction to it,” Sugarberry stated.

“Okay,” Tabby said agreeably, quickly changing her mind. She did want to see what was inside herself.

Meanwhile, Faline had already regained control of the package and ripped off the paper, exposing a brightly covered book with a brilliant red cardinal on the cover and the title, Our Bird Friends, prominently displayed. Faline cooed and pointed with her hoof at the picture of the bird while fluttering the other hoof through the air in a flying motion.

“A children’s book? A children’s book?” Tabby’s eyes grew increasingly large. “Sugarberry! You know how I feel about feeding my daughter such mindless drivel!”

“But Sugarberry wrote it,” Thomas pointed out, having picked up the book to study the beautiful artwork.

What?” Tabby snatched it from him and inspected it herself. Sugarberry was the author! But she gasped as she flipped through the pages and noted the text. “Sugarberry! This is-- this is-- treason ! You are trying to brainwash Faline!” Faline, though robbed of her gift, was still greatly enjoying the drama being enacted out before her. Tabby recited a passage from the book. “ ‘No, no, little kitty, don’t eat the bird.’ Lies, all of it lies!”

“I wanted to impress upon her at an early age not to support the... actions of cats... towards birds,” Sugarberry put in.

“But it’s the natural order of things, Sugarberry! No, Faline cannot have access to such propaganda.”

“She can at least enjoy the pictures, can’t she?”

Tabby considered this. “Okay!” she said cheerfully. “I’ll just block out all the text with a marker. La la la...” Apparently all was forgiven as Tabby trotted off in search of a marker.

* * *

Sugarberry and Vanguard’s journey to Birdsong was uneventful, and they arrived at the gracious bed-and-breakfast by lunchtime on a picture-perfect day. Their walk from the nearest town had been a panorama of green landscape dotted with fragrant wildflowers and decorated with flashes of the colorful birds that abounded in the area. As the path had inched upward through the trees that ranged across the hillside on which the house stood sentinel, the canopy overhead was the source of snatches of happily sung melodies from the feathered occupants, and the two ponies took advantage of a clearing with a picnic table and benches and an old-fashioned pump to rest and quench their thirst.

Sugarberry’s eyes sparkled as she surveyed the surrounding foliage and identified not less than three bright orange orioles and a cornucopia of other species. “This is better than I remember,” she breathed contentedly.

Vanguard’s gaze, however, was not focused on the feathered creatures overhead but on the face of his wife. “It is much better,” he agreed, “because this time I have no uncertainties about my future.”

“You came here the last time to decide on whether to take a position at Pony Pride or stay with your alma mater at Binksville,” Sugarberry reminisced.

“That was the reason I came here; but once I met you, the only thing I could think about was whether or not your heart was already claimed by someone else.” He gazed down into her face with a love that had grown steadily stronger since their accidental meeting here at Birdsong; he slowly met her lips in a soft kiss.

“It was obvious to me that I’d saved my heart especially for you,” Sugarberry murmured as she nestled her head against his shoulder.

The couple was satisfied to savor the peaceful surroundings in their comfortable isolation with only nature for company when their solitude was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a young black stallion with green hair; his thoughts seemed to be elsewhere and he probably would have passed through the clearing without seeing the couple on the wooden bench if Sugarberry had not heard his hoofsteps and called out.


The stallion turned his head in the direction of the voice and a grin quickly suffused his face. “Sugarberry! Vanguard! Welcome back to Birdsong!”

“It’s great to see you again, Licorice,” Sugarberry smiled. “And I do believe you’ve grown!” She hugged the youngest of Lilac’s sons who merely smirked and winked at Vanguard over her shoulder.

“We are all happy that you two could finally make it,” Licorice stated, having been prompted by his mother to extend a sincere welcome. “As it is, Mom was getting worried that you wouldn’t make it in time for lunch, so she set me off to find you in case you needed some help.” He grinned at Vanguard. “But I see that you were doing fine on your own,” causing a pink blush to creep up Sugarberry’s cheeks.

“We haven’t yet seen any signs of the storm damage,” Vanguard said as they started up the path again.

“You will when we get to the crest of the hill,” the stallion replied, and soon the visitors were faced with the evidence of the destruction caused by the tornado that had roared over Birdsong the previous spring. The storm had cut a path through the trees of the forest, laying them to waste in a jumbled mess. “We’ve been busy with the house and haven’t had time yet to clear out some of the downed trees,” Licorice explained as Sugarberry gasped at the horror the scene brought to mind.

She was relieved to find upon approaching the spreading Victorian mansion that it had been restored to the meticulous condition that it had been in when she had first seen it. “The tornado was lifting by the time it got the house,” Licorice related, “so we only lost the roof and some trees.”

Shuddering slightly, Sugarberry envisioned what could have happened if the storm had taken on Birdsong directly; Vanguard, noticing her trembling, put a foreleg around her for solace.

But the memories of the tornado were forgotten as soon as Licorice conducted Vanguard and Sugarberry into the copious entry of Birdsong for Lilac and her husband, Trendy, were waiting for them with smiles and words of welcome. Hovering behind the couple was a filly whom Sugarberry had not met before, but one whom she could well imagine the identity of.

“You would be Columbine,” Sugarberry smiled warmly as she approached the pale yellow pony. “Lilac has sung your praises so poignantly that I feel I can already count you as a friend.”

“I have looked forward to meeting you,” Columbine smiled in return.

At that moment, a sea green stallion came in through the front door. “Sugarberry... Vanguard... you made it! Welcome to Birdsong! And have you met my bride as of twenty-four hours from now?” Buck was obviously looking forward to his wedding day on the morrow.

“You’ve chosen well, Buck,” Vanguard said, shaking the stallion’s hoof.

“A beautiful bride,” agreed Sugarberry. “And if this weather holds out, you’ll have a gorgeous day for the wedding.”

Lilac laughed. “I hope you two haven’t brought the rain with you that we had when you both first visited.”

“Oh, please don’t mention rain,” Columbine frowned. “We are to be married outside in the flower garden,” she explained to Vanguard and Sugarberry.

“How perfect!” Sugarberry purred. “It will have to be a lovely day.”

Another filly came in from the direction of the kitchen with the third son of Lilac and Trendy at her side. Tramples made the introduction. “This is Hollyhock, from a neighboring farm; Hollyhock, this is Sugarberry and Vanguard from Dream Valley, our anniversary couple.”

“It’s very nice to meet you,” Hollyhock said shyly. “And if everyone’s ready, lunch is ready to be served.”

* * *

The family of Birdsong enjoyed a leisurely lunch that encompassed not only Sugarberry and Vanguard as guests but also other family members who had arrived early for the nuptials. Also present at the table was a couple that Vanguard and Sugarberry had met on their wet vacation of three years ago, a rather opinionated Audrey and her soft-spoken husband, Popcorn. By the time the meal was finished and the ponies had gone to their duties in preparation of the wedding celebration that would soon be upon them, Vanguard and Sugarberry were escorted to their room by Buck who pointed out the repair work that had to be completed after the tornado to make the room sound again. The workmanship was so well done that it would have been impossible for anyone not familiar with the damage that had occurred to notice the repair work.

Sugarberry was enthralled with the turret windows that gave a sweeping view of the surrounding area, although she shied away from concentrating on the swath of downed trees that they had passed earlier on their way to Birdsong. Other than that scar, the landscape was vibrant with the beauty of Birdsong.

Having accomplished his obligation to the visiting couple, Buck remained as if he had something on his mind other than their well-being under the roof of his parent’s establishment. After an awkward pause with Sugarberry and Vanguard eyeing him curiously, the soon-to-be groom took a deep breath. “I hear that a friend of mine, Garnet, has settled in Dream Valley.”

“Yes, she has; and she’s become a very good friend, too. She seems quite satisfied with her life now.”

“I’m glad that she’s found a place where she can put down roots.” Buck hesitated. “Are you aware of how our paths have crossed?”

“Yes. Garnet has been open about what her life was like.” Sugarberry could not help but recall Garnet’s worried face as she explained her connection to Buck and his family and the fear that she felt not knowing if they would find forgiveness impossible.

“There is something...” Buck was saying, but Vanguard stopped him with a wave of his hoof.

“Garnet has been honest with us, Buck. She has the right to some privacy.”

Buck looked uncomfortable. “This is something that I think even Garnet isn’t aware of.”

Sugarberry and Vanguard exchanged a puzzled glance. “Is it something important to Garnet?”

“Yes. I think it is. But I don’t know how to handle it.” He suddenly looked very young.

“Sit down, Buck,” Sugarberry offered, indicating the window seat that encircled the turret. “It sounds like you have a story to share.”
When the three ponies were comfortably seated, Buck began. “At the time that Garnet got involved with the museum theft in Binksville, a neighboring town-- Bubbling Springs -- was gearing up to renovate an historical house called Lamplight. It just so happened that the two mares who had once lived in Lamplight had spent some time here at Birdsong, so I helped them when it came time for them to move into Lamplight to supervise renovations.

“The mares told me that the reason they had left Lamplight was due to their brother’s producing papers that gave the house to him; he sent the two mares on their way and moved into Lamplight with his wife. The mares were so distraught by the situation that they never came back to Lamplight until the chance opened up for them to become involved with its renovation.”

“And what does this have to do with Garnet?”

“After Garnet had made off with the jewelry from the museum, the police chief told me about Garnet’s past-- who her parents were. And wouldn’t you know... her father was the same stallion who kicked the two mares out of Lamplight.”

Sugarberry stared at Buck. “That would make these two mares Garnet’s aunts. But she says that she has no family other than her parents and siblings... and even those she has no contact with.”

“These two aunts don’t know about Garnet, either. They never heard anything from their brother over all these years; they never really cared to, I imagine, after what he had done to them.”

“When you first found out...”

“When I found out, Garnet was gone; Burgundy Lace and her sister were so happy to be back in Lamplight, and they had so many responsibilities to face that I couldn’t bear to tell them they had a niece who was wanted by the law. Then when I saw Garnet last spring, even though I was under the impression that the whole fiasco with the museum was cleared up, I couldn’t find the right words to tell her about these two lovely mares. And then the tornado came through and wiped the problem right out of my thoughts.” He grinned sheepishly. “When I started to worry about it again, I convinced myself that it wasn’t my place to break the news to them; I wasn’t sure how they’d react. What if neither side wants to know about the other? It might open up some complications that would only make their lives unhappy over the entire situation.”

“But they need to know,” Sugarberry said softly. “They’re family.”

“That’s why I’m telling you this. Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl will be here tomorrow; could you get to know them and see what you think would be the best route to take with this? You know Garnet now, too, and maybe have some intuition that I’m lacking.” He looked at Sugarberry hopefully.

“Getting to know them would be one thing; who is going to tell them the truth about these unknown relatives? Garnet has siblings, you know.”

“I don’t think she ever mentioned any brothers or sisters,” Buck mused before coming back to the matter at hoof. “You and Vanguard are going to be here for a week; maybe you could visit Lamplight and... work it into the conversation,” he ended weakly.

Sugarberry grimaced. “I can understand why you haven’t said anything yet. How do you tell someone about family members they don’t even know exist?”

“Will you at least talk with them about Lamplight and discern how they feel toward their brother? I don’t expect you to blurt out the relationship between them and Garnet unless... I don’t know. Maybe something will just work out that makes it easy. And if not, then I will take the responsibility of telling them once Columbine and I are settled.”

“I’ll look forward to meeting Garnet’s aunts,” Sugarberry smiled, remembering Garnet’s unhappiness over not having any contact with her parents and beginning to see this as a perfect solution to the red mare’s isolation from her family. “And a trip to Lamplight sounds like a good outing. Don’t you agree, Vanguard?” She turned a dazzling smile on her husband whose face appeared doubtful, then looked back to Buck. “We’ll see what we can do, Buck. And please, don’t let it worry you any longer. You have a wedding to prepare for!”

* * *

The morning of the wedding day found Birdsong in a frenzy of activity, and all the guests threw themselves into the spirit of the day by helping in whatever capacity was needed. Sugarberry worked with Hollyhock and several Birdsong cousins at arranging bouquets of flowers to decorate the tables throughout Birdsong for the reception that would be held at the house and overflow out onto the grounds.

The weather had cooperated to perfection. The sun was shining, the breezes were at a minimum, the temperature was comfortable, and the general mood around Birdsong was one of deep joy and anticipation for a beautiful beginning to the married life of Buck and Columbine.

For the bride, the day was a fairytale come true, having met her prince the first day of kindergarten and recognizing in him her soulmate. “We will be friends forever,” she had informed the shy colt that day. She had been correct in her prophecy and had never wavered in her resolve to one day be his wife. Now that the day was here, Columbine looked into the mirror as Flossy, her maid-of-honor, was adjusting her veil before they left the house to begin the wedding ceremony and found herself trembling.

If Flossy had not been so intent on the folds of the veil and the placement of the floral crown, she might have noticed the more important fact that the pony wearing the veil was looking rather distraught, if not downright teary-eyed. As it was, Flossy gave the bride’s apparel a thorough last inspection and declared her ready to walk down the garden path to meet her groom. “You look splendid!” she concluded. “And it’s time to go; Buck will be getting impatient.”

Flossy headed for the door of the dressing room, but turned back to see that Columbine was still standing before the mirror. “Am I doing the right thing?” she asked in a near whisper.

The last thing Flossy expected from Columbine was doubts, and to hear the anxiety in her friend’s voice at this stage of the game almost caused her to swoon. But she managed to shake off the feeling and return to stand by her friend. Their eyes met in the mirror, and Flossy was dismayed to see the tears sliding down Columbine’s face. “Columbine, you of all ponies should not be in a quandary over your decision to marry Buck; you have dreamed of this day since you were a foal!”

“But have I made it impossible for Buck to do anything but marry me? It suddenly hit me that I never gave him space to make up his own mind on the matter.”

Being in no mood to listen to this drivel, Flossy assumed a manner she often used when chastising her younger sister. “You ninny, Columbine! It’s obvious to everyone else that the stallion loves you. Now, you’re just having some wedding day jitters-- it’s perfectly natural. But you have to get a grip on your emotions, because Buck will wring your neck if you back out now!”

The threat did succeed in snapping Columbine back to reality; her eyes met Flossy’s. “I love him so much, Flossy.”

“And he returns that love, Columbine.” The mare grabbed a tissue to dry the tears that sparkled like dew on the lashes of the bride, then nodded toward the door. “Your father is the one who will be losing his resolve if you make him wait any longer to walk you to your destiny; you’d better get moving.”

“My destiny...” the bride whispered, and with a deep breath she took the first step toward meeting it head-on.

* * *

Buck had never felt so confident, so happy, or so proud. Today, in a very few minutes, in fact, he was to marry the love of his life. If there was one thing he could change, it would be that Columbine was already standing at his side this moment and they were repeating their vows so he could bestow a kiss on her. But as there was no sign of the bride, he could only whisper to his best stallion, Willy: “What time is it getting to be?”

“Ten minutes past the scheduled time,” Willy whispered back. “Maybe Columbine realized what a poor bargain she was getting,” he added with a grin.

“If she’s having second thoughts, maybe I should...” Buck’s voice stopped short as he finally saw Columbine take her place beside her father at the other side of the garden, down the path that was lined with blossoms of every variety that could be expected to bloom on this day. He had never seen her so beautiful, he realized as their eyes met; and he returned a bracing grin for her tremulous smile.

As the music flowed, he watched as Columbine and her father began this momentous march; his eyes concentrated on his bride, drinking in the exquisite sight she made. He thought of how he had dug his hooves in while away at college in an attempt to deny his feelings for her; and of how grateful he was now that she, in her total dedication to their friendship, had stood calm and steady through his own stormy times.

It was only as Columbine drew closer that Buck noticed that her usually good humor seemed somehow subdued and for a moment-- but only for a very teensy moment-- he wondered if she had doubts about this marriage. This was a mare who knew her own mind and had the power to influence his as well. And his mind at this moment in time wanted nothing more than to declare his love for her and take her as his wife.

As Buck accepted Columbine’s hoof from her father, he felt as if only now was his life worthwhile-- he was complete. He smiled at his bride, squeezed the hoof he now held, and winked at her so devotedly that Columbine felt all the weight of her earlier doubts slip away; and the dazzling look that encompassed her face at the realization that yes, this was indeed her destiny, took Buck’s breath away.

* * *

“I was so afraid that she was going to refuse you when her father presented her hoof to you; she was so distraught before the service,” Flossy laughingly told Buck as the newly married couple took their place at the head of the receiving line that formed across the immaculately manicured lawn under the protection of a white canopy.

“You silly goose!” Buck said to his wife, using his unorthodox term of endearment for her. “After all these years of your preaching to me about how compatible we are, you had doubts?” His voice was severe, but his eyes twinkled.

“I can only plead temporary insanity,” the bride replied demurely by way of explanation.

“No more second thoughts?”

“None whatso...” Her words were lost in his kiss.

* * *

Sugarberry and Vanguard were well occupied making the acquaintance of the many friends and relatives of Buck and Columbine but none so fascinating as the two aunts of Garnet. Buck had made a point of introducing the Dream Valley couple to Burgundy Lace, a take-charge and out-going mare, and Blue Pearl, quiet and gently by nature. Once being led into conversation concerning the family home that was now a museum showpiece, the two ponies were quite willing to chatter about the architectural points of the house and the ongoing efforts to complete the restoration of the once temporarily abandoned edifice.

It did not take long for Sugarberry and Vanguard to realize that Buck had not been entirely open about Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace’s coming home to the ancestral Lamplight as the two mares revealed that if not for Buck’s intervention in the affair, Lamplight would probably have been razed to the ground in lieu of a modern apartment building. It became apparent that Buck was the guiding force behind the restoration, and Sugarberry could not have been prouder of the young stallion who had put himself out to protect the legacy of Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace.

And beyond Sugarberry’s joy over the life that the two ladies now experienced as caretakers of their childhood home, she was also thrilled to realize that these two mares were Garnet’s aunts. What better family could Garnet hope to find than the energetic and caring Lamplight sisters? She was sure that they would embrace Garnet with all their love and only regretted that they had already missed out on so many years of family experiences. The only problem that Sugarberry foresaw was the same as Buck’s dilemma-- who was going to enlighten them and how was the matter to be approached.

Another highlight of the day for Sugarberry was to be reunited with the family that had shared her living quarters at Birdsong when flood waters had ravaged the river valley, forcing ponies with homes in the low-lying areas to seek haven on higher ground. Creampuff and Sugarberry met with squeals of delight and a warm hug while Jingle and Vanguard shook hooves and chuckled over their mates’ noisy reunion.

Sugarberry pulled back from Creampuff, a look of wonder in her eyes. “You are expecting, aren’t you?”

Creampuff grinned. “In August; and by the size of me, I won’t be surprised if it’s twins again.” Her eyes sparkled. “And you, Sugarberry?”

“November,” she replied, her face aglow. “I have never been happier.”

Further talk was negated as the five youngsters of Creampuff and Jingle demanded their share of attention. The youngest set of twins, Winkie and Blinkie, babies three years ago, were as frisky as colts as they had been as toddlers and they hugged Sugarberry with all the enthusiasm of their dynamic personalities. Wiggly and Jiggly, several years older than the foals, had reached an age of polite behavior, although Wiggly did seemingly hold a restraining hoof on her twin brother’s actions. The oldest sibling, Angela, the pure white pegasus, was less shy and more charming than ever.

By the end of the day when Columbine and Buck had set off on their wedding trip and Birdsong slowly became divested of many of the ponies who had come to celebrate the happy occasion, those guests who were staying at Birdsong for varying lengths of time came together in newfound or renewed friendship. Sugarberry and Vanguard, Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace, Willy and Honeybee, and Audrey and Popcorn, gathered with coffee and leftovers as the darkness settled over the joyous day.

As plans were being discussed concerning Willy and Honeybee’s departure the following day in the company of Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace, Vanguard mentioned that he and Sugarberry were interested in visiting Lamplight. Audrey, always one to plan other ponies’ lives because no one could do it better than she, pointed out that Blue Pearl looked completely exhausted-- although Blue Pearl emphatically denied it-- and the mare should not attempt to travel back to Bubbling Springs until she had rested another day or two at Birdsong; and if Sugarberry and Vanguard were planning to visit Lamplight anyway, they could then accompany the Lamplight sisters back to their home at a more leisurely pace.

Burgundy Lace quickly assured everyone that she and her sister did not expect to put anyone out, but the younger ponies all agreed that Audrey’s plan made perfect sense; so it was soon decided that Willy and Honeybee would return to Bubbling Springs as scheduled the following day, but the others would remain at Birdsong until Monday.

“The museum is closed to the public on Mondays anyway,” Willy said, “but as I have a couple of business appointments concerning some of the work still being contracted at the museum, I have to be there Monday morning; but you two,” and he grinned at Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace, “can enjoy another day off.”

* * *

Sunday being the day of their anniversary, Sugarberry and Vanguard after church were treated to a special luncheon at Birdsong and enjoyed a long walk through the wooded hills surrounding the house during the afternoon hours. That evening, they walked into Riverside and had a romantic dinner at The Wharf and enjoyed a very slow walk home in the company of a nearly full moon smiling approvingly down upon them.

* * *

“This is Lamplight!” cooed Sugarberry as she approached the magnificent house in Bubbling Springs where it stood gracefully overseeing the surrounding town. “It is awesome!”

“Impressive!” agreed Vanguard. “But I’m afraid that after Birdsong and Lamplight, Sugarberry’s going to find our own home quarters rather cramped.”

Blue Pearl shook her head. “That she’ll be grateful that she doesn’t have to clean all that space is more to the point.”

“It takes quite a crew to keep Lamplight looking like a showplace,” Burgundy Lace acknowledged, remembering how run-down the old house had looked when Buck had saved it from total destruction.

“Oh, the flower beds are magnificent! Who takes care of them?” Sugarberry breathed as she moved her eyes from the facade of the imposing structure before her to the lawn encompassing it.

“We have dedicated volunteers right here in Bubbling Springs that design the beds, plant the flowers, and watch over their upkeep,” answered Blue Pearl as Sugarberry admired the closest array of orange day lilies that followed the line of the tall, wrought-iron fence that set off the Lamplight land. She noted banks of lilac bushes that would have been fragrant mounds of lavender blooms earlier in the year and breathed deeply as if she could still smell their delicate scent.

They moved up a wide walkway; Vanguard was impressed with the corner turret that dominated one side of the grand structure both in size and height. “The view from the top story must be unbeatable.”

“You will see for yourself later,” Burgundy Lace assured him. “We’ll have to go in through our private entrance as the museum is locked up on Mondays; but after we’ve had some tea and a rest, we’ll give you a private tour of the house.” She led the way to a side door that fed into their select suite of rooms.

“The house is so big that most of the ponies who visit the museum aren’t aware that they didn’t cover all the rooms,” smiled Blue Pearl. “And, as you can see, we have plenty of space for the two of us.”

Sugarberry and Vanguard agreed that the two mares had a very comfortable home in their snug corner of the wonderful house, but Sugarberry couldn’t help but wonder how the ladies felt when they looked back on their early years when their family roamed the entire structure.

As if reading her thoughts, Burgundy Lace said, with only a touch of sadness, “You should have seen the activity around this house when we were fillies, what with all the servants and the company that would stay for days on end. It was a home of laughter and happy times until...”

“Until our parents died,” Blue Pearl finished for her sister. “That was the end of our carefree life.”

“I believe you said you were a librarian after you left Bubbling Springs, Burgundy Rose, and Blue Pearl, a teacher,” Vanguard said gently, lifting their thoughts to a different phase of their lives.

“Yes, for many, many years,” Burgundy Lace replied. “Blue Pearl still misses her students some days, and I miss my books.” She looked thoughtful, then shrugged her shoulders. “Lamplight is accumulating quite a collection of period books, and Blue Pearl lives for the days when classroom tours take place.”

“And you must spend a great deal of time with your quilting,” Sugarberry grinned, gazing at the needlework on both sides of the settee where geometric patches of material were blooming into colorful patterns.

“We finished the crazy quilt for Buck and Columbine just in time,” admitted Burgundy Lace. She looked at Sugarberry with a sly smile. “We could start on a crib-sized quilt next.”

“How’d you know?” asked a surprised Sugarberry. She had only shared her exciting news with Creampuff while they had been at Birdsong.

“You just have that look,” Blue Pearl said matter-of-factly.

* * *

Willy stopped by as the ponies were finishing the tour of Lamplight and invited Vanguard to accompany him on an errand across town, and Sugarberry settled down for a comfortable coze with the two Lamplight mares. Never far from her mind was the fact that these mares were Garnet’s aunts, Blackcap’s sisters. Burgundy Lace had mentioned her family’s names as they had toured the home: the distinguished parents, Edwin and Cora Lamplight, and the rogue brother, Blackcap. This had made those ponies more real in Sugarberry’s mind.

Garnet had mentioned her father’s name on Mother’s Day; and when Sugarberry had heard it mentioned again here at Lamplight, it had seered the knowledge in her mind that had up to this point only been a flitting piece of information-- this grand old home had been the birthplace of Garnet’s father, a pony who (seemingly by choice) was no longer a part of his daughter’s life; and that knowledge unnerved Sugarberry. The two ponies with whom she was now having a cup of coffee were an unknown to Garnet buy yet a tie to that family which she had lost. No wonder Buck had procrastinated!

Knowing that she could not ignore her promise to Buck to ascertain the best way of reuniting Garnet with her aunts, Sugarberry used her time with them to fish for information that might prove useful. “Does your brother-- Blackcap, was it?-- still live in the area?” she asked, feeling like an undercover agent, yet reminding herself that she honestly did not know where he lived.

“He stayed here at Lamplight for several years after his marriage, but... well... he and his wife, Sassy, moved on; and we lost track of them over the years,” Blue Pearl offered.

“Huh!” snorted Burgundy Lace. “Blackcap kicked us out of our inheritance and moved that hussy in, then between the two of them they threw away all the money our parents had saved, and then got in trouble with the law and had to go into hiding. No one knows where they are, I suppose, and I-- for one-- don’t care.”

Sugarberry blushed from embarrassment, while Blue Pearl reprimanded her sister. “There’s no sense hanging out our dirty laundry.”

“If we hadn’t mentioned the facts to Buck, we’d not be here today!” Burgundy Lace defended. “Besides, it’s true; Blackcap was... is... the black sheep of the family and Bubbling Springs is fortunate to be rid of him!”

Blue Lace hung her head as if she had been properly chastised, and Sugarberry felt like a reprobate in having brought up the subject. But she also knew that now was the time to find out what she wanted to know. “You wouldn’t know then if Blackcap and Sassy had any children?”

“I’ve often wondered...” Blue Pearl mused. She shook her head and said sadly. “We’ll probably never know.”

“And who would want to know!?” spat Burgundy Lace. “With a father like Blackcap and a mother like Sassy, what chance would those foals have?”

“They wouldn’t be foals any longer, would they?” reasoned Blue Pearl with a distant expression on her face. “Why, we could meet them on the street and have no idea that we were related.”

“You’re getting sentimental, Blue Pearl. If we met them on the street, they’d grab our purses and run.”

“That’s too harsh!” Blue Pearl dissented. “Blackcap may be a scoundrel , but that doesn’t mean any offspring of his would necessarily follow in his hoofsteps.”

Burgundy Lace grew pensive. “Wouldn’t it be something if he had foals and one of them turned out to be somebody?”

How Sugarberry wanted to tell them that Blackcap did have foals, four of them; and one, at least, had turned out to be a wonderful and charming somebody; but she held her tongue. She could not say the words. She was not brave enough to be the one who could possibly shatter the steady lives that now were quite comfortable for the two mares; she could imagine the shock and surprise on their faces if she were to enlighten them with the facts she had learned; what would it do to their physical health to absorb such an announcement at their age? How would she react to such a piece of news delivered unsuspectingly if she was in their place?

When Vanguard and Willy returned, Vanguard looked at his wife questioningly, but she discreetly shook her head. It was only much later when they were shown to the guest room for the night that Sugarberry could unburden her uncertainty as to what to do in the current situation, and Vanguard kept to himself the annoyance he felt at this moment toward Buck for burdening Sugarberry with this quest while Buck himself departed on his honeymoon with his new bride.

Vanguard drew his wife into his embrace and advised her as best as he could. “Leave it up to Garnet; you’ll have to tell her when we get back to Dream Valley, and she can make the decision for herself.”

* * *

It had been days since Garnet and Wishbone’s quarrel, but Garnet could still hear the words they had exchanged echoing through her head. It was not blind faith that she asked of Wishbone, but she did expect him to show an unprejudiced attitude as he had earlier in their friendship, an attitude that favored forgiveness over condemnation.

She had not mentioned their argument to anyone and she had buried herself in her work in a futile effort to forget the hurtful things Wishbone had said to her. She had avoided Chocolate Chip, knowing that the brown mare would be torn between loyalty to her brother and to her friend; and as Wigwam had informed Garnet that Chocolate Chip was putting in longer hours at Bushwoolie Bargain Books because of some problems at the Bushwoolie holes, no one suspected that there was any overriding problem.

Wigwam looked at her with worried eyes as he watched Garnet try to drown herself with jobs at the casino, but she could not unburden herself to him without causing him to feel responsible to patch things up between her and Wishbone. So she kept her peace, if the lost and forlorn feeling that ate at her could be called peace. And now Wigwam was hinting that maybe she should take a few days off because she was going to burn herself out if she kept up the pace at which she was going. If she had time to think, she would explode!

It was in this depressed state that Garnet dragged herself home late one night and found a letter from Sugarberry, posted from Riverside. She delayed opening the envelope, wondering if Sugarberry was sending some motherly advice to sooth the troubled waters between Wishbone and herself. Garnet was in no mood to be told to turn the other cheek, however, and she threw the letter on the table while she warmed up a stale donut in the microwave.

As she picked at the none-too-tasty pastry, she studied the envelope again. She had avoided discussing her problems with anyone simply because she was not yet ready to forgive Wishbone; she honestly did not know if she could. She knew her friends would push for a reconciliation between them once the word was out that they were no longer seeing one another; and Garnet could not guarantee that her temper might only set others against her; so until it became general knowledge, she would keep her mouth shut.

In her loneliness, it struck Garnet that even if she found Sugarberry’s words offensive, she could vent her frustration to her heart’s content long before Sugarberry and Vanguard would return from Birdsong, at which time she would have her emotions under control. Convincing herself that her plan made sense, she slit open the seal and read:

Dear Garnet, I know you felt some trepidation concerning the reaction of the Birdsong ponies to your past involvement with their family, and I wanted to let you know that you have no reason to worry. Buck was nothing but caring in your regard, and Lilac assures me that you would be welcomed at Birdsong with joy by the rest of the family-- even Columbine, Lilac added-- I suppose you know what she meant by that! Vanguard and I are enjoying our stay here immensely and hope that all is well with you at home. You might do me a favor by reminding Chocolate Chip to feed the cats and Wishbone to water the flowers on the front porch. Love, Sugarberry

So, Garnet calculated, either Sugarberry did not know of the rift that now existed between herself and Wishbone, or she chose not to get involved. And she was compassionate enough to want me to know that the Birdsong ponies did not consider her an inveterate miscreant. Why couldn’t Wishbone trust her as explicitly as Buck or Wigwam? Why did Wishbone have to believe the worst of her?

Pacing across the room as if in a frenzy, the mare made a decision. Wigwam had been urging her to take some time off, and Birdsong beckoned as a place of sanctuary while she collected her thoughts and feelings; she would take Wigwam up on his offer of a few days off and fly off to Birdsong. Maybe she could even confide in Sugarberry about the problem between her and Wishbone if she was away from Dream Valley and the memories that tore at her. Maybe she could see things more clearly herself.

* * *

One week... it had been one week since Garnet had revealed a little more of her history and he-- Wishbone-- had responded in an angry huff. He had stayed away from any contact with Garnet because he was so consumed with mistrust of her actions. Were they really the best of friends, or was she merely setting him up to pull some kind of fraud before leaving town?

Wishbone was not proud of his reaction to Garnet’s admissions. He had told her more than once that her past was of no interest to him, and she had believed him explicitly. So why did he act in the reprehensible manner in which he had? He had hurt her badly, so badly that she had not bothered to try to talk with him all week. And with each passing day, he had slipped further into the doldrums because he missed her so.

“If she can get along without me, I can do just fine without her!” the young stallion muttered even as his hooves carried him to her apartment. He knocked on the door to no avail. No lights appeared in the windows, either. Maybe she was working late tonight.

When he entered the casino on the outskirts of town, he found his sister and Wigwam seated cozily at a table deep in conversation. “Is Garnet in the office?” Wishbone growled, striding past them.

“No, she isn’t,” Wigwam drawled, casting a curious glance at the stallion.

“Where, then?” Wishbone stopped abruptly. “She’s not at her apartment or at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.”

“I would think you’d have a better idea than either of us,” Chocolate Chip said in surprise, completely at a loss to understand her brother’s tense mood and apparent loss of Garnet. Wigwam, however, briefly shook his head to silence her.

To Wishbone, Wigwam said, “She’s gone.” Chocolate Chip started, and Wishbone’s mouth narrowed to a straight line.

“Gone?! Again?! Just like before?”

“She didn’t just disappear; she asked for a couple of days off, and I gave them to her.”

“Where did she go?”

“She didn’t confide in me.”

“You let her go off without knowing where she went?”

“I trust she’ll be back on Monday.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Wishbone!” Chocolate Chip interrupted. “What’s the matter with you anyway?”

“Nothing’s the matter with me!” Wishbone angrily replied. “It’s Garnet you should be worried about!” With that, he turned and stalked out of the building.

* * *

The days at Birdsong were heavenly for Sugarberry since she and Vanguard had returned from Lamplight as the weather held and the hours of each day were filled with tranquil and companionable pursuits ranging from quietly sitting in the woodlands watching for birds or taking on Tramples and Licorice in games of badminton. Sugarberry did her share of helping Lilac in the kitchen, and Vanguard apprenticed at pastoral pursuits with Trendy.

On one particular day, Sugarberry and Vanguard had wandered off to the gazebo after a morning of berry picking with Honeysuckle, Licorice, and Tramples, glad to be divested of the hot, scratchy job of roaming the countryside for the fresh fruit yet looking ahead with anticipation for the pies that Lilac was even now busily baking.

Vanguard was the first to see the pony coming down the path toward them. “Look who’s here,” he said, nodding his head toward the red mare.

Sugarberry looked in the indicated direction and gasped. “Garnet!” she called, standing and waving her hoof in the air. As Garnet came up the steps to the floor of the gazebo, she was hugged by Sugarberry. “This is a surprise!” Then assuming the worst, “Is something wrong back in Dream Valley?”

“No, no,” Garnet assured both ponies. “Wigwam got sick of me at the casino and gave me a few days off; and your note about Birdsong seemed to propel me here.”

“It’s wonderful to see you, but I would have thought Wishbone wouldn’t have let you out of his sight.” She looked beyond Garnet, still expecting to see the stallion on the path; then she looked back to the mare in time to see a pained look in her eyes.

Vanguard had seen the look, too, and quickly excused himself. “Trendy said something about needing help mucking out the barn,” he said, making his retreat.

“Come and sit down,” Sugarberry invited, gesturing to the wooden bench built into the perimeter of the gazebo. Garnet walked to the periphery, but seemed to prefer standing; she gazed out to the woodland that edged the clearing in which the gazebo was situated.

“When did you arrive?” Sugarberry asked to break the silence.

“While you were out picking berries,” Garnet smiled. “Lilac and I had a nice visit before she showed me to my room; I asked her to let me announce myself to you and Vanguard.”

Sugarberry looked at the mare closely. “Something is not right by the looks of you.”

“Am I that transparent? I must be losing my knack for subterfuge.”

“Your eyes are sad.”

The eyes under question became sadder yet. “Oh, Sugarberry, Wishbone won’t talk to me since I told you all about my using Buck to carry out one of my schemes. He doesn’t trust me to be honest with him.”

“Wait until I get my hooves on him!” Sugarberry said with uncharacteristic harshness. “He should know better!”

Garnet had to smile, albeit briefly, at Sugarberry’s sudden temper. “I guess I can’t blame him, really. How’s he to know what I might do next?”

“He should know what you wouldn’t do; that should suffice.” Both mare were quiet for a time, considering the problems at hoof. When Sugarberry spoke again, she was much calmer. “Well, maybe it’s for the best anyway; nothing happens without a reason.”

“You think our separation is a good thing?” asked Garnet in obvious disappointment, jumping to the conclusion that Sugarberry believed that Wishbone would be better off to keep his distance.

Sugarberry stared at Garnet, further adding to the young mare’s trepidation. Finally, Sugarberry began. “Garnet, there’s something I have to tell you.”

Garnet sat down as if her legs would no longer support her. “Wh... what is it?”

“It’s nothing to upset you; it’s quite a happy piece of news; yet it is difficult to know how to tell someone...” She stopped to take a deep breath.

“Just say it,” Garnet murmured in a small voice, her eyes riveted to Sugarberry’s.

“Because of contacts here at Birdsong and at Binksville, Buck found out some interesting information about your family, Garnet. You see, Buck met two elderly mares here at Birdsong; and, in the course of the investigation into the museum robbery at Binksville, he realized that those two mares were... are... your aunts.”

“I have no aunts,” Garnet whispered, her eyes dark with emotion.

“Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl are the sisters of Blackcap Lamplight who married a mare by the name of Sassy; they were raised in an elegant home bearing their family name in Bubbling Springs.”

A buried remembrance leaped to the forefront of Garnet’s thoughts. “This home...” She closed her eyes, forcing the memory into vivid detail. “Have you seen it? Was it a very ornate home with a magnificent corner tower that seemed to dominate the house?”

“Y... yes,” admitted Sugarberry, wondering how many other homes that description fit.

“With a black wrought iron fence surrounding it? And a river at the base of the hill?”

Those facts were more definitive. “Yes. You’ve been there then.”

“Only once, when I was just a foal. I was on a ‘business’ trip with my dad when we went through a small town, and Dad stopped outside this lovely house and seemed to be lost in his thoughts; he had such a sad look on his face, but I thought the house was the most wonderful house I’d ever seen, especially the turret. I could imagine myself a princess in such a place. I never understood why me dad was so depressed when we continued our journey.”

“He never told you that it was his birthplace?”

“He never said a word.”

“It’s a museum now, owned and operated by the town of Bubbling Springs; however, your aunts were allowed to return to Lamplight and assume possession of a few rooms in the house in return for their help in restoring the house and in maintaining it. Buck saw to that.”

“That’s so like Buck.” The mare puzzled through the information that Sugarberry had shared. “You said they were allowed to return; why did they ever leave such a home?”

“Maybe you should ask your aunts that question.”

Garnet looked at Sugarberry searchingly. “You know the answer. Please, tell me.”

Sugarberry sighed. “I’ve been told that your father produced inheritance rights to the property, and the two sisters found it imperative to move elsewhere.”

“He kicked them out!” Garnet read between the lines.

“They are delightful ladies, Garnet, and they hold no strong animosity toward your father, although they’ve had no word with him in all these years; they’ve had time to work through their disillusionments, especially since they’ve returned to Lamplight. They don’t know about you or your siblings, of course. They are quite content to be directly involved with Lamplight again and obviously enjoy the opportunity to share the beauty of Lamplight with the world.”

“You’ve met them?”

“Buck introduced us to them at his wedding, although not as your aunts, of course. And then several days later, Vanguard and I visited Lamplight.”

“If Buck has known about my aunts all this time, why didn’t he tell me?”

“When he first was told of the relationship, he had no way to contact you; and as time went by, he found himself at a loss to approach you with the information. I fully understand his hesitation,” Sugarberry admitted with a smile. “He knew something had to be done, and he asked for our help when Vanguard and I arrived.”

Garnet got up and paced across the gazebo. When she came back, she stood before Sugarberry with a troubled look on her face. “Will they be pleased to find out about me, Sugarberry?”

Sugarberry stood up and hugged the young mare to her. “They will be delighted, Garnet.”

* * *

Garnet was nervous approaching Lamplight. Licorice had accompanied her to Bubbling Springs as she would not inconvenience Sugarberry and Vanguard any further than they had already been on her behalf. She had also dismissed Licorice as soon as they had reached the town; she preferred to meet her aunts alone.

The house was as she remembered it and that helped to calm her apprehension somewhat. She spent considerable time admiring the flower beds trying to strengthen her resolve and determined that if she spent any more time in that occupation, the museum would be closed for the day; she was just summoning up the courage to go up to the main entrance when she heard hoofsteps behind her. Turning, she recognized Willy, Buck’s friend from the Binksville Museum.

“Willy. Hi.” She was unsure of what his reception of her would be.

“What a pleasure, Garnet.” The stallion seemed to be sincere in his greeting.

Garnet wondered how much Willy knew. Did he know that she had been cleared of her part in the Binksville robbery? Did he know that the two mares with whom he worked here at Lamplight were her aunts? She felt at a disadvantage facing him with incomplete data. “I heard that Lamplight is a must see tourist stop.”

“Your information is correct. Let me show you around.”

Willy guided Garnet up the front steps and to the door, educating her all the while as to the architecture of the structure, its age, and the renovations that had already been completed and were still to do. He did not act as if he were in the presence of a villain, so Garnet relaxed on that score; and if he knew that Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl were her aunts, he would certainly have left the history of the building for them to tell. Garnet relaxed and began to enjoy his tutelage.

Having encompassed the first floor of Lamplight, Willy and Garnet had recrossed the entrance foyer to begin their assent up the stairs when voices and hoofsteps came to their ears from above. Garnet looked up to see two attractive mares just beginning their descent; her heart skipped a beat as she realized from Sugarberry’s description of her aunts that she was about to meet those two relatives.

She and Willy remained at the foot of the stairs, watching the mares make their way down the gracefully curving steps. They were in animated conversation; from the words Garnet could catch, they seemed to be discussing the available choices for curtains in the upstairs bedrooms. As the two mares neared the bottom of the stairs, they became aware of their audience; and welcoming smiles lit their faces.

“Willy,” said Burgundy Lace, “we think we have the problem figured out. We can go ahead with the order for the fabric immediately.” Having taken care of that, her gaze moved to the young mare at Willy’s side. “And who do we have here?”

“This is Garnet; she and I and Buck worked together at the Binksville Museum when Buck and I were still in college,” Willy revealed. “Garnet, these two wonderful ladies are the chief administrators of Lamplight: Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl.”

“Nice to meet you,” Garnet murmured, looking at the two mares with hungry eyes, searching their faces for some common feature that would tie her to them and to her father. All she could see, however, were two gracious and warm ponies.

“Willy, why don’t you and I buckle down and write up that order; Blue Pearl, you can show Garnet through the rest of the house.”

“That’s a good suggestion, Burgundy Lace. Garnet, we’ll have lunch together before you leave.” Willy smiled at Garnet before disappearing through a side door with Burgundy Lace.

Left alone with Blue Pearl, Garnet and the mare were soon touring through the upstairs rooms that fed off the main hallway; Garnet listened to the mare’s recollections of her life growing up in these very rooms and tried to imagine her own father as one of the occupants. She found Blue Pearl to be a very unassuming mare, gentle and perceptive.

Blue Pearl seemed to sense that Garnet was trying to recapture the moods of the ponies who had once walked these halls, so she allowed plenty of time for the red mare to quietly peruse each room, watching the mare as she ran her hooves across the counterpanes, opened doors, and stared out of the windows.

Garnet and Blue Pearl had returned to the main floor via the back staircase and were crossing to the front of the house to find how Willy and Burgundy Lace were doing with their paperwork when they heard excited conversation between the two ponies. When Garnet and Blue Pearl came across them, they were gazing upon a portrait that was leaning against the stairway, their bodies blocking the subjects of the picture.

On hearing the hoofsteps behind them, Burgundy Lace swung around, a delighted expression on her face. “Blue Pearl, the portrait is back, and the restorers did a wonderful job on it. Come and see!” She reached out and pulled Blue Pearl to her side.

Willy stepped back, and invited Garnet to come forward as well. “This is a family portrait of the Lamplight family,” he informed her. “Cora and Edwin and their beautiful daughters, Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl”-- he grinned at the two mares-- “and the only son, Blackcap.”

As Garnet gazed at the picture before her, she found herself faced with something she had long missed-- a family. Her eyes were drawn to the parents, to the kind eyes of Cora and Edwin, her grandparents. Cora, she noted, was of a similar build as Garnet, but her hair was styled in a upswept and elegant fashion that gave her a noble look that Garnet had never achieved. Edwin was handsome and authoritative. Blue Pearl was retiring and Burgundy Lace confident.

The last pony in the picture was the one Garnet was most familiar with, or at least had been, until she had been old enough to make her own way in life. The very dark, very assured stallion, was Blackcap... her father.

This one moment when Garnet had need to dissemble, she found it impossible. The sight of her father surrounded by such a loving and caring family destroyed any ability to disguise her feelings. “Father!” she groaned under her breath. “How could you have left all this behind?” She felt her legs turn to jelly and would have fallen if Willy had not put his forelegs around her to support her.

“What’s wrong, Garnet?” Blue Pearl asked worriedly. “Are you not feeling well?” She hovered over the red mare with concern.

Burgundy Lace, a mare of action, ordered Willy. “Bring her into our private rooms; the poor thing must need some nourishment; it’s way past lunchtime.” She scuttled off to fetch Garnet a glass of orange juice while Blue Pearl guided Garnet, still supported by Willy, to a couch in the sitting room. As she sat sipping on the juice, Garnet became aware of the three pair of eyes watching her and forced a reassuring smile. “I’m fine. I just... was... overcome... for a moment.”

Thinking back, Burgundy Lace asked, “You mentioned your father before you grew faint. Is there reason for you to be worried about him?”

Garnet’s thoughts for a moment were with Buck and Sugarberry and the torment this moment of revelation to the two aunts had been for them, and she experienced the same hesitation they had shown. She glanced at Willy who took it as a dismissive gesture, and the stallion stood to leave; she appreciated his realization that she preferred privacy and waited until the door closed behind him.

The two mares were watching the red mare with increasing concern, and Garnet met their looks with a flutter of fear. Maybe it would have been better if Willy had stayed in case one or both of the mares did not take well to this news they were about to hear. But just as quickly, Garnet chided herself. They had a right to know what had become of their brother and that he now had a family of his own. Garnet took a deep breath.

“Blackcap is my father.”

* * *

The determined young stallion marched down the lane as if on a mission. Wishbone had no idea where Garnet had gone, but he was at wits end and could not remain in Dream Valley a moment longer without doing something to locate her. After thinking things through, he had decided that she had probably returned to the same place she had escaped to last fall when she had needed to get away; and he had set out for the quaint little farming operation of Pepper and Rainbow Star, chiding himself that he had not thought of it sooner. Garnet had taken him to meet the family that had befriended her when she was in need of support, and he and Garnet had become common visitors to the homestead. Today, however, Wishbone made the journey alone.

He took the shortcut that Garnet had shown him through the pastures rather than the longer route around the hill following the road and found himself enjoying himself amidst the calming influence of nature. By the time he reached the rambling house set against the hillside and found the three foals playing in the front lawn, he could genuinely smile at their excited yelps of welcome.

“Where’s Garnet?” asked Freckles, the older of the two colts, as Tasha, the oldest of the three foals, brushed grass off of her body-- a grass fight had obviously been the cause of their passionate playtime-- and Palette peered around his brother shyly.

“I’m alone today,” frowned Wishbone, knowing that Garnet was not here if the foals expected her to be with him. “I just stopped to say hello.”

The front door opened and Rainbow Star came out of the house. “Wishbone!” What a nice surprise!” she greeted the stallion, making him feel very self-conscious, knowing that he was here under false pretenses. “Garnet’s not with you?” The mare looked disappointed as it dawned on her that Wishbone was alone.

“I was just passing by and thought I’d stop in to say hi.”

“Well, I’m glad you did,” Rainbow Star recovered her warm disposition. “Come on in and have something to drink.”

Remembering the delicious fresh spring water that the family took for granted, Wishbone readily accepted. He was soon surrounded at the table by Freckles, Tasha, and Palette-- who knew that any friend of Garnet was a friend of his-- a plate of cookies between them.

“Why’s Garnet not with you?” queried Tasha openly.

“She’s out of town on her own for a few days,” Wishbone responded.

Rainbow Star looked at him covertly, hearing something in his voice that spoke of heartache. She did not want to pry but felt that something had drawn Wishbone to visit them; maybe her husband could learn the reason. “It’s time for the foals to take their father a snack out in the fields,” she said. “Maybe you could accompany them and say hi to Pepper; he’ll be glad to see you, I’m sure.”

Finding the family a good cure for his vagrant thoughts about Garnet, Wishbone readily accepted the task. Tasha carried a basket of food and Wishbone carried Palette while Freckles gamboled along beside them. They cut across the pasture and then forded the river at a convenient and shallow crossing before coming to the field that Pepper was working in, busily gathering hay for the barns.

“That looks like hard work,” Wishbone called as he and his group approached.

Swinging his head to the sound of the voice, Pepper brightened. “Hello.” Straightening up to relieve his aching muscles, he grinned at the foals. “You three are a sight for sore eyes; and the food basket looks pretty good, too.” Then he peered at Wishbone. “Garnet’s with Rainbow Star, I suppose.”

“Garnet’s out of town and I was just passing by,” Wishbone explained yet again.

“Well, be sure to tell her we missed her,” Pepper said, eyeing the food Tasha was setting out for him.

“Yeah, I will.” If I ever see her again, Wishbone thought to himself. And if I do get the chance, I’ll tell her how much I missed her, too.

While Pepper ate his lunch, Tasha and Freckles took Palatte with them to explore the surrounding fencerows for any interesting creatures, plants, or rocks; the two stallions discussed current events, sports news, and the weather before Wishbone lapsed into his own wistful thoughts.

Pepper finished up the last of the lunch that had been supplied for him and studied Wishbone’s somber face; he realized that he had never seen Wishbone in such a mood before, and he had the uncomfortable feeling that something was not right in the young stallion’s life. And as he had never seen Wishbone before except in Garnet’s company-- at which times he was always quite happy-- it did not take much to decipher his present melancholy.

“Are things okay between you and Garnet?” Pepper asked as he gathered the empty dishes into the basket.

“I came today hoping that she would be here,” Wishbone revealed. He looked shamefacedly at the stallion. “I was a numskull and blew up at her for no good reason.”

“That’s easy enough to correct,” Pepper observed.

“If I can find her.”

“Don’t worry about Garnet. She’s like an angel, showing up when you need her most. We’ll be forever in her debt for the way she helped us out last fall. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that she’s helping someone else right now.”

Those words grated on Wishbone’s conscious. Why had he been so unfair as to allow himself to get hung-up on Garnet’s past, so much so that he had ruined his present and possibly thrown a wonderful future away? His hoof pounded the ground next to him in complete misery.

Pepper chuckled. “What you need to do is expend some energy. Why don’t you spend the afternoon helping me here in the field? It looks like the foals are going to keep themselves occupied for awhile.” He peered across the field to where the three young ponies were contentedly playing.

Considering his options, Wishbone agreed that some good hard work was just what he needed to clear his mind and pass the time.

* * *

Willy was worried. It had been over an hour since he had left Garnet alone with Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl, and he was becoming concerned that the personable young mare might somehow be ingratiating herself upon the older mares’ unsuspecting and compassionate natures. He had tried to overlook his memories of the ploy Garnet had used at the Binksville Museum, but he was now starting to doubt his naive acceptance of her change of character. Hadn’t she already duped Buck a second time, using her persuasive wiles to cover a multitude of misdeeds? And Blue Pearl and Burgundy Lace were so innocent and trusting, they would be easy marks for Garnet’s treachery. As he thought about how unlike the mares were-- Garnet with her worldly sophistication, the two older mares guileless to a fault-- he realized how wide a chasm separated the style of their lives. He could stand it no longer; he went to the door, took a firm grip on the knob, and stumbled into the room as the door swung open from the other side.

“Willy!” exclaimed a glowing Burgundy Lace. “I was just coming to look for you. We have some fascinating news we can’t wait to share!” She looked toward Garnet with such a look of elation that Willy wondered what scam the red mare was pulling now; it must sound good, he reasoned, to have drawn the two mares so completely into her maze. Indeed, Blue Pearl was so overcome by whatever nonsense Garnet was pushing that she had tears running freely down her smiling cheeks.

“What’s going on here?” snapped Willy, frowning heavily at Garnet.

“You’re never going to believe this...” Garnet began.

“Garnet’s our niece!” finished Burgundy Lace, at which words Blue Pearl began crying all over again.

Willy was aware that the look on his face surely presented him as a complete idiot, but he was astounded and could not cover that fact. The audacity of Garnet to take advantage of two gullible and defenseless ponies, especially now when they were so happily settled at Lamplight, floored the stallion. Willy glowered across the room in Garnet’s direction. “May I have a word with you?” he growled.

Burgundy Lace and Blue Pearl were so ecstatic about their newfound niece that they did not notice the threatening note in Willy’s voice, but Garnet was acutely aware of his displeasure. She patted Blue Pearl’s hoof and smiled warmly at Burgundy Lace, however, before she followed Willy from the room.

“How can you be so unfeeling as to pull such a trick on those two?” Willy lashed out as soon as the door closed. “I thought you had changed, even though I had my doubts when Buck told me that you had worked things out. Once a thief, always a thief.”

“Willy, I really...”

“I will not be taken in again by your lies, Garnet, and I will assuredly not let you spoil the peace that those two mares have found here.”

The stallion glared at Garnet as she glared back at him. Was this what her life was to be, she wondered. At this rate, she might as well go back to her life of deception. She flung a foreleg through the air as if wiping away all the hurt she was feeling and turned to leave this hateful scene behind. As she crossed to the main door, however, she caught sight of the portrait still leaning against the steps; and she stopped to stare at it. Her father’s face stared back at her, all the conceit and pride in himself and contempt for others obvious in those arrogant eyes. Is that the way she wanted to turn out?

Her gaze moved to the two sisters beside her father in the picture, all gentleness and humility and love. That was what she had found in her two aunts, and it had felt so good. Garnet slumped to the bottom step and groaned, “Blackcap really is my father, Willy; for good or for bad, Blackcap and Sassy are my parents.” She looked up at him with pain-filled eyes. “I can’t change that.”

For a brief moment, Willy was sickened to see Garnet play her part so well; but when her eyes met his and he saw the anguish that resided there, he could no longer doubt her words. “Dash it, Garnet. I’m sorry. I’m a dunce; surely you remember that from when we worked together.” He came to her and offered his hoof.

Garnet accepted his apology and sighed. “Not to worry, Willy. You are in very good company.” How could she resent Willy’s reaction when he barely knew her? Wishbone, she reasoned, should have known better.

* * *

Sugarberry and Vanguard had arrived home from their Birdsong vacation on Sunday evening, and Wigwam received a call from Garnet the following morning informing him that due to unforeseen complications, she was staying a few more days with some new friends she had found; no one was to worry about her, and she would be home by Wednesday evening at the latest. Wigwam asked no questions, and Sugarberry honored Garnet’s request that she not tell Wishbone where she was or what was keeping her.

Wishbone, however, was inconsolable; he knew he had made a major mistake when he had allowed his pride to interfere with his feelings for Garnet. He realized that he had to make things right between them; he would beg her to forgive his blind rage that had blocked his sensibility and had thrown him into an abyss of despair. He could not wait until he could rectify the matter.

But where was Garnet? Sugarberry would not tell him, although she had received word from Garnet before she left Birdsong that the red mare was happily settled somewhere; Wishbone was sure that Sugarberry knew more than she was sharing, but she would not reveal anything further. He knew that she was disappointed in him for hurting Garnet and did not want to press his luck by incurring greater displeasure. Once he had received Wigwam’s latest message, he had to admit defeat and wait-- but never patiently-- for Garnet’s return.

Wednesday came and crawled along with agonizing languor; Wishbone threw himself into his work at Pony-Mart yet found himself constantly turning at every hoofstep to see if Garnet had returned and had looked him up. By the end of the day, his nerves were so tense that he could not sit down to Sugarberry’s supper but wandered the streets of Dream Valley, searching for haunts that Garnet might gravitate to once she was back. That mission proved futile as well.

To make matters worse, the weather had been threatening all day; but now as evening was coming on, a light rain began to fall; having assured himself that Garnet was not yet in Dream Valley, Wishbone returned home and weaseled out of Sugarberry the direction in which Garnet would be coming back to Dream Valley so that he could set off to meet her. Vanguard pointed out that he would get soaked, to which Wishbone huffily replied that Garnet would, too. He dashed from the house before Sugarberry had dug an umbrella out of the closet; she looked at Vanguard with a grimace and shrugged her shoulders.

Before having gone more than a mile out of Dream Valley, Wishbone found that the rain was falling harder and the wind was howling in the trees over his head. He shivered. If it wasn’t so cloudy, the sun would still be up; why did it have to rain today? Wishbone continued to hurry down the path, peering through the raindrops for a sign of the red mare. He became conscious of a pelting sound coming now from the west and soon found out what it signified as hailstones the size of marbles began to hit his body. “Good grief!” he groaned, thinking of Garnet alone in such a storm. As quickly as the hail had started, it ended, leaving a deathly quiet except for the still falling rain.

Moving quickly down the path, Wishbone raised his head once more to scan the distance from which Garnet should be appearing, when to his delight, he sighted the red mare as she came around a sharp corner in the path. He was just about to shout a greeting and had raised his hoof to wave when a devastating boom crystallized the air as a lightning bolt made contact with an exceptionally tall tree some distance ahead and to the side of the path. Sparks flew through the air like fireworks, and the sickening sound of tearing wood screeched through the woods as the old tree succumbed to the powerful force that had rent it.

Wishbone had watched the light show in the brief second that it played out, and his gaze returned to the spot where he had seen Garnet. She was still there, mesmerized by the show of nature. From where she was standing, Wishbone realized, she was not aware that the split tree was falling, one half away from her to perish deeper in the woods, but the nearer half coming straight in her direction. Wishbone, to the side, could see the danger developing and he took off toward the mare as fast as he could run, grabbing her hoof as he met her and pulling her along with him as he made a dash to put as much distance as possibly between them and the falling tree.

“Wishbone!” he heard Garnet splutter, but there was no time for an exchange of pleasantries at this exact time; he did take time to look behind them to check the progress of the falling tree and was shocked to see how much bigger the tree appeared as it came down to the earth. He realized that there was no way they could completely escape the net of branches and leaves that was soon to overwhelm them so with one final burst of energy he thrust Garnet ahead of him and as far forward as he could muster. Beyond that, he knew nothing as a side branch of the tree struck him sharply on the side of the head.

* * *

“Wishbone!” Garnet screamed as the flailing branches of the tree enveloped her, scraping her body and showering her with wet leaves and raindrops. She was pushed to the ground and lay there panting as the branches swung to and fro in the aftermath of their downward flight. “Wishbone!” she called again, straining to hear a responding call; but her ears were met with only the creaking of the swaying branches and the snapping of smaller branches from the tree as they succumbed to the increased pressure on their fibers, each break causing a further shudder throughout the remains of the tree.

Garnet fought her way to a standing position. What had happened to Wishbone? Her heart had leaped when she had first seen him running toward her. She had been engulfed in a wave of happiness that he had cared enough to come to meet her, but the ensuing race for their lives had obliterated any vocal expression of her gratitude. Now she had to find him to tell him how much she had missed him. She refused to let herself contemplate the possibility that he was not answering her frantic calls because he was hurt. She pushed through the branches in the direction she thought he should be, ignoring the scratches being inflicted on her by the rough bark of the tree, until through a wet blanket of leaves and twins she spotted a patch of rose red that was recognizably Wishbone.

She found him prostrate on the ground, unmoving. Shifting aside the smaller branches that covered him, she was relieved to see him still breathing. Further inspection located a bloody wound on the side of his head and other smaller lacerations over his body. “Wishbone!” she whispered as she patted his cheek. “Can you hear me?”

The only answer Garnet got was a piercing creak from a hefty branch that slanted over them. She looked up to note that the tree was still not stable, and the offending branch was seeking terra firma before it would be satisfied; and if it came down, it would trap Wishbone under its awesome weight.

Panic seized Garnet for a moment as she stared in horror at this deadly predicament; but then rising to the need, she wrapped her forelegs around the unconscious stallion and dragged him away from the menacing danger. To her utter dismay, the tree gave a groan and in one violent shudder slid closer to the ground. Garnet closed her eyes and clung to Wishbone’s inert body waiting for the inevitable, but nothing happened other than a showering of more leaves and water; she had succeeded in pulling Wishbone far enough to avoid the heaviest of the branches.

Her attention was soon claimed by the stallion as she heard a faint groan. “Wishbone, wake up!” she urged, brushing off the leaves and twigs that had covered him again. This time she was gifted with the languid opening of his eyes.

“You okay?” he muttered, his eyes staring vacantly and his hoof wildly seeking hers. “Garnet...”

“I’m fine,” she assured the stallion, kissing his forehead. “And you will be, too, once someone comes along to give us a hoof.” She tore the white ribbon out of her mane and used the wet thing to dab at his head wound; assuring herself that it wasn’t anything too serious, she bound the ribbon around his head, jabbering to him all the while. “You saved me from getting squashed under that tree, Wishbone! What were you doing out here anyway? I was yearning to get to Dream Valley and finding you high and dry, but you don’t know how happy I was to see you here when I needed you. But now you’re hurt because of me. Oh, Wishbone, I’m so sorry.” She finished tying the makeshift bandage and sat back to survey her work.

“Garnet,” Wishbone breathed, lifting a hoof into the air.

“I’m right here,” replied Garnet, taking his hoof into hers. “I’ve got you patched up; now we have to wait to get rescued. There should be other travelers coming along this way soon.” She surveyed their predicament. As far as she could tell, they were still on the path which was, of course, blocked by the fallen tree; but any ponies coming from Dream Valley would come to this spot. If only it would be soon! The air was already chilly; and she did not want Wishbone to have to lay on the wet, cold ground any longer than necessary.

As if in answer to a prayer, the storm clouds broke and a ray of sunshine from the west slanted down the path turning the surrounding rain-drenched leaves into sparkling jewels and the forest around them into a shimmering fairyland. At the same time, voices were heard coming in their direction. “Help!” Garnet called succinctly, standing to wave her forelegs through the branches. “Someone’s been hurt. Please help!”

Wishbone attempted to move, and the effort caused him to groan again. Garnet dropped to his side. “Lay still; help is on the way.”

“They’ll never find us in the dark,” Wishbone whispered, his eyes staring unfocused over her shoulder.

The dark? The words hit Garnet like a slap for the world was bathed in a splendid display of brilliant sunlight. A shiver ran through Garnet’s body as a terrible fear hit her. “Wishbone, look at me,” she commanded.

Raising his hoof to his eyes, the stallion hit Garnet in the face in the process. “I can’t see you; maybe someone will have a lantern.”

The snapping of branches at her back and the sound of concerned voices approaching alerted Garnet subconsciously that help had arrived, but she could not move, could not comprehend. “Dear God, no; not this!” she wailed.

The red mare had never felt so numb and so helpless in her life as she did in this one blinding moment.

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