written by Sugarberry and Tabby

A waxing moon softened the shadows as Sugarberry lowered herself into one of the easy chairs that graced the turret section of the bedroom. “Why can’t I sleep?” she sighed wearily, rubbing her hooves against her temples. She and Vanguard had mingled with visitors from Vulcanopolis the evening before at Agatha and Hubert’s mansion, and it had been a late night. Sugarberry had thought she would sleep soundly; but now- at three in the morning- she was wide awake, yet terribly exhausted.

A slight tightening of the muscles of her mid-section caused her to drop her hooves to that area. The foal had been calm of late, she realized... not nearly as boisterous as he had been when the punches from his tiny hooves had been quite a distraction. She smiled into the indefinite darkness. The baby was due to be born soon, and then she could hug the little one to her and kiss his soft cheeks and look into his trusting eyes. She closed her own eyes and leaned her head back, savoring the anticipation of meeting her and Vanguard’s foal for the first time face-to-face rather than very present but yet hidden.

Her reverie was interrupted by another pain that crossed her abdomen, and the mare altered her position. Could these be labor pains? But if they were, they weren’t nearly as intense as she had expected. Of course, that would come later. Dr. Toby had assured her that he anticipated no problems with the delivery, aware of her nervousness over this first birthing experience.

This led Sugarberry’s thoughts back to her and Vanguard’s wedding day when Tabby had introduced Faline into the world almost during the exchange of vows. And what a darling Thomas and Tabby had been blessed with! What would it be like to hold a foal that was so uniquely special? Only vaguely aware of the twinge in her muscles this time, she marveled once more over the miracle of new life.

She was so completely immersed in her private pondering that she was oblivious to the fact that Vanguard had awaken to find her gone from his side, and she only surfaced when he laid his hoof on her shoulder. “Are you okay?” The concern in his voice was apparent.

“Just couldn’t sleep,” she assured him, taking his hoof in hers. “I think I partied too hard with our friends last night.” She smiled at him through the weak moonlight.

“Nothing to do with the foal?” he asked, still not convinced.

Shaking her head, the mare responded. “There are some mild pains, but nothing worse than the preliminary contractions that I’ve been feeling for weeks now... and those, Toby says, are perfectly normal.”

“They’ve never gotten you out of bed before,” he noted.

“I just plain ate too much,” insisted Sugarberry. “And there are so many thoughts rambling around inside my head after seeing our friends again.”

“It was good to be with them,” agreed Vanguard, sitting himself down.

“Hydrangea and Pacificus’ little one is a sweetheart.”

“He certainly seemed comfortable- I don’t think I saw him with his eyes open once.”

“It was his first long trip- Hydrangea hasn’t been back to Dream Valley herself since she quit her job at the Café Carousel and moved back to Vulcanopolis.” Sugarberry grinned. “Back then, no one knew she was Giorgio’s sister.”

“Many things have changed since those days.”

“Yes, I love you more than ever.”

“I was going to say that!” Vanguard leaned to his wife and kissed her to prove his point.

“Enrica is glorying in her new grandson; what a wonderful thing it is to have found her long-lost daughter in time to see the next generation make its debut. And Grandpa dotes on little Dante- he won’t make the same mistake with his grandfoal that he made with his own son.”

“He and Enrica are definitely the doting grandparents. And with Giorgio and Clare’s foal so close to delivery, they’ll soon have another little one to love.”

“Mooncurl was beautiful as ever; she and Nello seem to be happy, don’t you think?”

“Very. And I’d be happier if I could be sure you shouldn’t be in touch with Dr. Toby. How do you feel by now?”

“Trust me; if I thought I was in labor, you’d have been the first to know. Now, help me up; maybe some of this night can be salvaged yet.”

* * *

Sitting on the edge of the bed with the darkness outside the windows just beginning to be fringed with the arrival of the new day, Sugarberry yawned and stretched and resisted the temptation to return to the warm blankets. There was something about this day that she had been looking forward to... that was it!

Tonight was the big charity fashion show and dinner that had brought a number of Vulcanopolis ponies to Dream Valley. That enlightenment succeeded in opening the mare’s eyes- literally- but she was still engaged in another all-encompassing stretch when Vanguard appeared from the bathroom, his wet hair signifying that he had just showered. He grinned at her as he saw her sleepy appearance and met her with a kiss on her forehead.

“How are you feeling?”

“I’m rallying,” she yawned.

“Any more pains?”

Sugarberry sat still, thinking. “Nope, nothing.”

Vanguard looked doubtful. “Maybe you should stay home from work, just in case.”

“What? And miss the big party tonight?” She flashed him a smile that dispelled the haggard look around her eyes momentarily. “A shower will fix me right up.” She reached out and patted his cheek. “Trust me.”

The mare stood with only a little boost from Vanguard and made her way to the shower while Vanguard stared after her with a smile. His graceful wife had become a bit less light on her hooves with the addition of the foal’s weight; but in his eyes, she had never been more beautiful. He almost envied her these past months, however, as she experienced first-hoof the growth of the foal within her and felt that first stirring of movement; it was a moment-by-moment bonding that occurred between the mother and the foal as they shared every detail of each day. One of these days, he would have his chance to shower a father’s love on the foal, too; and as the anticipation of the blessed event was beginning to rattle his nerves, that day could not come soon enough.

Vanguard had coffee waiting by the time Sugarberry entered the kitchen; Chocolate Chip was not far behind, and Wishbone soon came up from his basement rooms. The talk was not of an impending birth, however, but of the splendid event that was promising to be a highlight of the Dream Valley social scene. What could one expect when the most sought after fashion designing firm, Clare’s Creations, and one of the richest entrepreneurs of the current times, Guido Casale, were backing this extravaganza?

* * *

There were very few inhabitants of Dream Valley and the surrounding area that were not aware of Guido Casale’s radical change of direction since the unexpected and mutual jilting that had occurred in June on the day of what should have been the most spectacular wedding of the new century. Whether it was nerves or insight, Guido, at the last minute, had seen Tiffany for what she really was... a materialistic-minded mare who could see no further than her next costly purchase. And the white pegasus princess had gotten a good look at her prince... and found that he had scruples. The wedding had been canceled at the very moment when the guests were filling the church, and Tiffany and Guido had gone their separate ways; and if Tiffany was to be believed, she- for one- never gave her ex-fiancé a thought.

Guido, if he himself ever thought of Tiffany at all, had learned something from the experience and had come to realize that the jangles he amassed were worthless if they were not being used for the benefit of his fellow inhabitants of Ponyland. Overnight, it seemed, he aligned himself to every worthy charitable organization that was in need of a wealthy patron, even going so far as to create several foundations that he thought were needed to fill the gaps. And whether it was his name, his reputation, or his dashing good looks, the stallion had evoked a tremendous response to his efforts. And that was what lay behind the fashion show and dinner that was being held tonight in Dream Valley.

As stated, very few ponies were unaware of the underlying purpose of the jangle-raiser and who the ponies were behind it; yet Princess Tiffany, once hearing that Clare’s Creations was involved, listened to no more- her mind immediately began planning her wardrobe needs for the coming season. She was, therefore, only one of a hoof-full who was unaware that Guido Casale was to be an honored guest at the evening’s gala.

* * *

Still uneasy over the dark circles around his wife’s eyes and her sluggish gait on the way to work at The Vet Clinic, Vanguard made another effort to glean her true condition.

“Sugarberry, you will have to admit that you’re not feeling up to par; I’d feel better myself if you’d either go home to rest or call Toby concerning your restless night.”

“I’m here now,” reasoned Sugarberry, looking over the day’s schedule. “And I do feel fine, even if I look a little wan.” She looked up at Vanguard with a positive countenance, but he did not miss the motion of her hoof to her abdomen that signaled another pain. Before he could say anything, she sat down. “But maybe I should call Toby just in case.”

The good doctor wasn’t in his office yet, but his telephone nurse was quick to assure Sugarberry that, unless the pains became stronger and more regular, they were probably not real contractions; she should, however, take it easy and stay off her hooves as much as possible. Sugarberry, hanging up the phone just as the first customer of the day came in, smiled at Vanguard.

“Nurse Pill Bottle says, too, that I have no need to worry; so, you, my darling, have no excuse not to get to work yourself.” As for resting, she thought it best not to share that with Vanguard. She could get as much of that here while still being useful as long as she stayed tied to her desk.

“If I don’t hear from you before then, I’ll call you at noon,” Vanguard said, touching her cheek. “Take care of the two of you.”

“I will,” the mare smiled.

* * *

“Sugarberry, do you know where those samples of cat food we got a day or two ago disappeared to?” asked Tabby, coming out of one of the examining rooms. “I can’t find any.”

“Sure, Tabby; they’re in the storeroom. I’ll bring you some right away.” Sugarberry went off to fulfill her errand, noting with some irritation that the food samples had been set out of reach on the top of the cupboard. Sighing, she moved a chair across the room to the proper vicinity and was just about to climb up on it to reach the samples when Thomas came into the room. He took one look at her and scowled.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.

“Tabby needs those cat food samples,” responded the mare, making another move to climb up.

Thomas restrained her with a hoof. “I’ll get them for you. You’re in no condition to be climbing up on chairs.” He swiftly retrieved the box for Sugarberry. “In future, ask for help... please.”

“I don’t remember you curtailing Tabby’s activities when Faline was on the way,” Sugarberry grouched.

“That would be an impossibility, wouldn’t it?” grinned Thomas. “But you look a little peaked, Sugarberry; and I wouldn’t want you to overwork yourself, for the foal’s sake as well as yours. You’ve gotta think of Vanguard, too. This is a harrowing experience for the father as well.”

“Yeah, I’ve been noticing that,” Sugarberry rejoined, leading the way out of the storeroom.

* * *

Meanwhile, Faline had wandered into the main room after her mother, and so both were present when the door opened shortly to admit a distinguished-looking yellow stallion. “Why, Guido!” Tabby exclaimed in surprise. “How unexpected to see you here!”

“Hello, Tabby,” Guido said, smiling charmingly. “I see you’re looking well. And this must be your daughter!”

“Indeed yes,” Tabby said cheerfully, placing a hoof on Faline’s head. “Faline, do you know who this is?”

“Mmm... no,” Faline said emphatically after studying the stallion carefully.

“Well, he is someone you should definitely meet! This is the very guy, Faline, that tried to break up your father’s and my wedding! Isn’t that interesting?”

Faline nodded knowingly. “Ooh! Hewwo,” she directed at Guido, waving her hoof. “Wu... Wuido,” she tried out the name.

“I’m very pleased to meet you, Miss Faline,” said Guido, bowing for her benefit.

Giggling, Faline moved onto the next order or business. “Do ‘ou have any kitties?”

“Ah, no, no kitties... their fur would make too much of a mess on my furniture,” Guido explained.

Faline wrinkled her nose. “Oh.”

Tabby laughed delightfully. “Oh, now you’ll have to work to get on her good side... but in any case, what are you doing here, anyway?”

Stepping back into the main office area, Sugarberry and Thomas were both surprised to find Tabby and Faline entertaining Guido Casale, apparently all enjoying each other’s company. Guido had bent down to better converse with the little unicorn.

“Good morning, Guido,” Thomas said, his voice somewhat hollow. He had always found it difficult to like this stallion who had... interfered with his marriage to Tabby several years ago.

Guido turned his head and sprang up, a huge grin on his face. “Thomas! Good to see you!” The bright yellow stallion pumped Thomas’ hoof vigorously. “What a gorgeous little filly you have for a daughter; she has her mother’s eyes.”

“Undoubtedly,” Thomas muttered under his breath, then asked, “And what brings you to the clinic today, Guido?”

“Why, to see Tabby.” Guido stated that short phrase as if it was a perfectly obvious and eminently permissible reason. “And to meet Faline, too, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Hee hee!” Tabby only smiled brightly at her husband’s censorious look.

* * *

“The ice blue cape or the emerald green shawl?” queried Princess Tiffany as she posed before the entry hall mirror. Princess Dawn had just returned to the Royal Paradise from an afternoon volunteering her help in one of the kindergarten classrooms, and her mind was not presently on Tiffany’s fashion problems.

“Ask Princess Royal Blue,” Dawn suggested, making a beeline for the stairs and the sanctuary of her room.

“No one else is around,” moped Tiffany, draping the shawl in a cascade over her shoulders.

“It is the day Queen Serena asked us all to do something positive for our neighbors,” Dawn reminded her.

“Well, I’m sure she didn’t intend for us to neglect preparations for the fashion show tonight!”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “Everyone will be back in plenty of time to dress.”

“You know... now that I think of it...” Tiffany grew thoughtful.

“Have you conceived of some way to make someone’s day better?” asked Dawn hopefully, mentally berating herself for assuming that Tiffany had no time for anyone but herself. She need not have bothered.

“Yes... mine! I just realized I have a golden weave mantle that has a matching toque that I’ve never worn; it would be perfect for this evening.” She threw off the shawl and headed up the stairs.

Picking up the discarded drapery, Princess Dawn threw it around herself. She had not yet given a thought to what she would be wearing tonight. “Not bad,” she murmured as she looked at herself in the mirror, smiling as she thought of Perry’s eyes resting on her. But she shrugged it off and disposed of it over the back of a chair as her stomach growled. It would be hours yet before the elegant dinner would be served in conjunction with the fashion show; a glass of orange juice should tide her over. She made a quick exit to the kitchen.

* * *

“Thanks,” Sugarberry smiled at her husband as he presented her with a glass of orange juice. She was seated in a comfortable chair in the living room, just where Vanguard had directed her to sit- and rest- when they had arrived home after work.

“This was in the mail,” Vanguard informed her, holding out a thick envelope.

“It’s from Mom!” the mare enthused, taking the letter and ripping it open.

Vanguard chuckled and pulled a chair up closer to Sugarberry. “I assume there are photos of the foals.”

“Oh, yes!” assured Sugarberry, handing him a close-up of the newest addition to Gooseberry and Grapevine’s family. Loganberry’s blue eyes peered out of the picture while one tiny hoof cradled his cheek.

“He’s almost three months old now, right?”

“He was born the twenty-first of August,” calculated Sugarberry. “Yup. Three months on the twenty-first.”

“And here we have the twins,” sighed Sugarberry. Raspberry and Driftwood’s two little ones were sound asleep, curled up side-by-side, Custard making a negative image of his sister. “They’re three weeks younger than Loganberry.”

“They’ve all grown since we visited,” observed Vanguard, taking the next picture that Sugarberry was giggling over. “What have we here?”

“A group shot.” Wineberry, Huckleberry, and Baby Gooseberry were each holding one of the infants, although Baby Gooseberry’s charge was apparently slipping from her lap, necessitating Gooseberry to reach into the shot, effectively blocking Huckleberry’s face and Custard on Wineberry’s lap.

“This one’s better,” noted Sugarberry, revealing a pleasant picture of all six foals.

The quiet pastime was interrupted as a clatter of hooves was heard crossing the kitchen floor, and Chocolate Chip and Wishbone scurried into the room. “Hi!” Chocolate Chip greeted. “It’s getting rather chilly out there!”

“The weather pony says it might snow tonight,” concurred Wishbone. “Wouldn’t that be something?”

“The first snow of the season is always the prettiest,” mused Sugarberry.

“It’d be a fitting display for tonight’s party,” grinned Wishbone. “Sort of a romantic touch.”

Sugarberry eyed the stallion with a motherly smile. “Garnet has been good for you, Wishbone; this engagement is bringing out a side of you I’d never thought to see.”

“I think he’s finally growing up,” Chocolate Chip winked.

“Maybe it was the hit on his head,” joked Vanguard.

“It simply takes finding the right mare,” wisely responded Wishbone.

* * *

Chocolate Chip and Wishbone had just left for Garnet’s apartment where, along with Wigwam, they were meeting before heading to the convention center where the evening’s fling was taking place. Vanguard came to Sugarberry where she still sat resting, moved a chair to face her, sat and claimed her hooves in his, and captured her gaze.

“Now, my love, I’m curious as to why, after looking forward to this night on the town for weeks, you remain sitting here when you should be getting ready to go.”

“There have been what might be contractions since we arrived home.”

“When was the last?”

“While you were talking with Wishbone at the door.”

“Let me know when the next one comes.”

Sugarberry procrastinated. “The foal’s not due for a week yet.”

“Toby told us it could be early.”

Sugarberry looked down at their linked hooves and was silent for a moment before she looked up into her husband’s face once more. “I’m scared, Vanguard. This is the most wonderful thing in our lives, but I’m scared.”

“This is no help; but I am, too,” Vanguard squeezed her hoof.

“Please, just hold me.”

Vanguard drew the mare into his forelegs and held her close until, with a wince, Sugarberry pulled away. “The contraction... it’s harder this time.”

* * *

Arriving at the crowded convention center, Garnet, Wishbone, Chocolate Chip, and Wigwam were led to a waiting table close to a lavish autumnal display of riotous leaves, orange pumpkins, assorted bright berries, and more of nature’s bounty which made a brilliant backdrop for the table while providing a certain amount of privacy, although this did limit the amount of the ballroom that the ponies could peruse.

“Why am I reminded of our last visit to Rainbow Star?” quipped Wishbone, smiling fondly at Garnet while remembering the occasion of their engagement amidst the wild splendor of the colorful landscape that had set the scene for that special moment.

“Who were Van and Sugarberry coming with?” asked Wigwam, scanning the tables in their vicinity and exchanging nods with acquaintances and friends like Toby and Fern but not finding the couple in question.

“They were going to meet up with Tabby and Thomas,” offered Chocolate Chip.

“They must all be on the other side of this giant cornucopia,” shrugged Wigwam.

“Why so disappointed?”

“Van has been so edgy lately... it’s entertaining to torment him,” Wigwam grinned.

“Even I’m getting nervous,” admitted Chocolate Chip. “But Vanguard and Sugarberry seemed very laid back this evening before we left; this fashion show has served to get their minds off the impending birth, I suppose.”

“Well, it’s high time for me to rattle Van’s cage then,” responded Wigwam. “I’ll catch him later.”

* * *

Across the room, Tabby and Thomas were enjoying the company of Elaine and Alan; talk revolved around the new publishing firm that had recently set up its offices in the new complex built by both the Fairfax and Monk dynasties. Alan, the stallion in charge of publicity at Dream Valley’s much talked of printing house, was telling of some of the glitches encountered in getting the presses to operate while Elaine looked on in fond satisfaction as she now had the light of her life living locally after nearly a year of long-range courting from Forest Brook where they had met the previous Christmas when Thomas, Tabby, Faline, and Elaine had returned to their ancestral home for a visit.

“After more than a month of operations, we’ve conquered the worst problems,” summed up Alan. “Thank goodness!”

“Have you succeeded yet in getting Sugarberry to sign on with you?” Tabby directed at Alan, leaning forwards with gleaming eyes.

“Well, no, from what I overheard Macarius saying. She’s still rather attached to her current publisher.”

“Pity,” said Tabby. “Sapphire said he wasn’t very persuasive, though, and that she would be trying to reason with Sug.”

Elaine giggled. “Macarius and Sapphire are always putting each other down. Sometimes I wonder if it was wise transplanting them both to the new plant.”

“If you ask me, they couldn’t bear to be seperated from one another,” Alan put in mischievously.

“You mean... there’s a romance brewing?” Tabby breathed, wide-eyed.

Alan shrugged noncommitaly. “Just remember, you didn’t hear it from me,” he grinned.

“By the way, where are Vanguard and Sugarberry?” Elaine asked after a pause. “I thought they’d be joining us.”

“I imagine they got swept into the group from Vulcanopolis,” rationalized Thomas as he scanned the crowded conglomeration, grateful that he and Tabby were nowhere near one of the ponies from that city.

* * *

All available seats were nearly full before Princess Tiffany made her appearance accompanied by Queen Serena. The princess was delighted- having chosen a late arrival to ensure an audience- while Queen Serena frowned, hating to make such a dramatic entrance at a non-political event. The queen was met, however, by Guido Casale himself. He bowed to her elegantly and expressed his appreciation at her presence. It was only after he and the queen had exchanged all the proper pleasantries that Guido turned his attention to the princess.

Tiffany, struck speechless by this unanticipated meeting with her former fiancé, stood as one transfixed. A wave of nostalgia washed over her as she watched the exchange between Guido and Serena, her surprise so complete that her mouth hung open... and she even forgot to draw breath. When the yellow stallion finally looked her way, it was with such a cold, withdrawn look that Tiffany felt as if she was encased in a clear sheathing of ice.

“Princess Tiffany,” was all the stallion said.

“Guido,” Tiffany responded with equal frigidity.

Guido gazed at the princess for several seconds, his eyes dark and devoid of emotion. He then turned his attention back to Queen Serena and offered her his escort which the queen accepted with unfeigned pleasure. Tiffany was left to trail along behind until Guido nodded to an attendant who quickly came to the stallion and received a whispered instruction.

The lackey then offered his foreleg to Princess Tiffany, gesturing to a spot at a table somewhat removed from the head table; he conveyed the princess to a waiting chair and helped her to be seated, then bowed slightly and left her to adapt herself to the company of several other of the princesses and their companions. Guido continued on to a spot amidst the movers and shakers where he ensconced Queen Serena at the place of honor beside him.

Silently fuming, Princess Tiffany responded to the pleasant snippets directed her way from her dinner companions, but her mind was reeling with the effects of the snub that Guido had directed her way. Of all the dastardly things to do! He had relegated her to the position of an expendable non-entity... and in front of all of the ponies of Dream Valley and beyond. She, Princess Tiffany, should have been accorded the honor that was her due! She should have been included in the highest rank of guests! She should have been at Guido’s side!

Realizing what that last thought implied, Princess Tiffany allowed her rampant temper to enter a simmering state. There was nothing left between her and Guido; she had thrown that chapter of her life away at the moment when their commitment to one another should have been carved in stone. What had taken place was regrettable, she now realized with a twinge of anguish, but it was also irreparable. And she had no intention to allow that... that Italian stallion... to see her at a disadvantage. Summoning up her inner fortitude, the princess adopted a self-assured smile and graced her table mates with several witty comments and then settled back to enjoy the fashion show.

But she could not enjoy the activity around her when there was only one pony to which her attention was drawn. Why was Guido involved in a charitable fashion show anyway? She knew well enough that giving money was not Guido’s style unless he received something in return... and with interest. The only thing that might motivate the stallion to grace such a gathering would have to be some female interest; but who among this throng of ponies was the one who had caught Guido’s eye since she and he had parted ways? It surely was not Queen Serena; even Tiffany would have seen the hoof-writing on the wall if that were the case. Guido had once been close to Clare, but Clare was now married and about to become a mother. Tiffany perused the other faces in close proximity to Guido, but could not make a connection. She became immersed in the puzzle of the moment.

A hush fell over the assemblage as Clare welcomed the ponies who had paid dearly for the privilege of attending the fashion show and dinner that would bring in jangles for several projects that would benefit the disadvantaged. She thanked everyone for their overwhelming response and issued a very special thanks to Guido Casale whose backing and organization had made such a venture possible. She then turned the floor over to the fashion show which would run simultaneously with the dinner, promising that the evening would be filled with surprises.

For Princess Tiffany, there had been surprises enough.

When did Guido become a philanthropist? Tiffany glanced at the stallion whom she had known only as a cool, calculating business tycoon with an eye for the profits that would benefit him. This was extraordinary for the princess to see him enjoying himself in a scenario in which he was providing the cash for no personal gain. He was helping ponies just as Queen Serena was always prodding the princess ponies to do for the other inhabitants of Ponyland. Princess Tiffany found that information disheartening. How could she find the time to promote a better life for others while still maintaining her own level of comfort?

The problem presented an interesting dilemma for the pure white pegasus, and she sat in thoughtful silence as the panorama of fashion delights and culinary morsels unfolded before her.

* * *

Under Vanguard’s escort, Sugarberry arrived not at the prestigious and embellished convention center but at the maternity ward at the hospital. An addition to that edifice had included a modern birthing center that combined the comfort of home with the medical efficiency of the matchless facility. Sugarberry knew she would be in good hooves and found herself relaxing as she placed herself in the care of the professionals.

No so Vanguard. The stallion was not pleased to find that Dr. Toby was not available this evening, that it was young Dr. Neil who would be responsible for the delivery of the world’s most precious foal. He was further disconcerted because he knew where Dr. Toby was- blithely enjoying an evening of revelry and merriment at the fashion show while he- Vanguard- was to face the most earth-shattering event of his life without the aid and experience of the stallion who had been assuring Sugarberry and him for months that he would be on hoof to ensure a safe and painless- for Vanguard- delivery.

Sugarberry smiled at her perturbed husband between contractions. “Dr. Neil’s familiar with my medical progress and is perfectly capable of delivering this foal,” she assured her husband.

“I was counting on Toby to be here,” Vanguard frowned.

“Dr. Neil will do...” She stopped as her attention was taken by more pressing matters, her hoof finding Vanguard’s for support. “... fine,” she finished when she could again speak.

It suddenly struck the father of the foal that the time for arguing was past. He buckled down to offer what assistance he could to Sugarberry, realizing that some things could not be perfectly ordered.

He was soon to see perfection itself, however, in God’s wondrous design.

* * *

Events were proceeding smoothly at the convention center when Clare received a confidential message that an important phone call was awaiting her. Hearing the name of the pony responsible for the call, she immediately excused herself; and, with a discreet motion to her husband to accompany her, followed the attendant to a private antechamber where she accepted the phone and grinned at her puzzled husband.

“It’s from Vanguard.”

The dawning realization of what that meant hit Giorgio, and he grinned at his wife in return as Clare announced her presence to the stallion on the phone.

“Vanguard! You must be at the hospital!”

“I hope you don’t mind my interrupting your big night, but I had to share the news with someone other than our families; everyone locally is at the convention center.”

“So share!” an impatient Clare responded.

“It’s a boy!”

Clare’s eyes met Giorgio’s. “It’s a boy!” she repeated for his benefit. “That’s wonderful, Vanguard. And how’s Sugarberry?”

“She’s exhausted but very happy.”

“I can’t wait to see both mother and foal... is the foal cute?”

“Sugarberry says he is.”

“And you don’t? What’s... Oh!” Clare laughed. “I know. He looks just like you, and you’re too modest to say something flattering. Am I right?”

“Country blue with sea green hair and my symbol; but he does have a thin strip of his mother’s red hair just behind his right ear.”

“He sounds precious,” the mare remarked, winking at Giorgio. “I’ll put my husband on the line; he’s impatient to talk.” Handing the receiver to Giorgio, Clare began pacing the floor in cheerful contemplation.

“Van! Congratulations!” Giorgio bellowed. “This is great news!”

“I have a son,” Vanguard stated as if just fully realizing that fact.

“Awesome, huh?”

“That only begins to cover it, Giorgio; it was...” Vanguard’s voice cracked as he found himself at a loss for words. “You’ll find out soon enough,” he finally managed, rubbing a tear from his eye.

“I hear ya, Van,” Giorgio said in a softer tone. “Clare and I’ll stop in to meet this colt tomorrow. Give our love to Sugarberry.”

* * *

Having received this sunny piece of news, Clare was in no frame of mind to keep it a secret. At the first opportunity, she confiscated the microphone from the narrator and waited until the curious crowd was silent before she made her announcement.

“We have received word from Dream Valley General Hospital that Sugarberry and Vanguard have delivered their foal; Mom and Dad are doing fine... as is Baby Vanguard. I’m sure you all join with me in wishing the new family well.”

The guests at the dinner broke out in spontaneous applause; and Clare returned to Giorgio’s side, quite satisfied with her broadcast. The stallion, however, looked confused.

“I didn’t know that they’d named the baby yet,” he confided to his wife. “You never mentioned it and neither did Van.”

“Vanguard didn’t say anything about the foal’s name, but what would you call your first colt if it looked like you?”

Giorgio made a face. “Not Giorgio.” The stallion was named after his own father and had found it a confusing state of affairs.

Clare giggled. “Well, time will tell, won’t it?” She gave the stallion an enigmatic smile and turned her attention back to the festivities.

* * *

The dinner and fashion show had come to a successful conclusion, yet many of the ponies were adverse to leave the jovial setting, breaking instead into small groups to discuss highlights of the evening with friends and to renew old acquaintances. Wishbone and Garnet were wending their way through the crowd to catch Petal and Caravel who were making their way to the exit. Wishbone had just looked back to make a comment to Garnet when he ran into another stallion; looking up, he found himself eye-to-eye with Giorgio.

“Great party,” Wishbone muttered, still feeling somewhat overwhelmed by his former mathematics professor who had made his first semester at Pony Pride somewhat difficult.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it, Wishbone,” Giorgio smiled benevolently, his gaze shifting to the red mare who stood at Wishbone’s side. He found something oddly familiar about those eyes...

“Oh, you don’t know Garnet.” Wishbone nodded toward the mare and made the introduction.

Giorgio’s eyes twinkled as the younger stallion amended his name with the telling words, Clare’s husband; he was becoming resigned to being known only in relationship to his illustrious wife. He was also pleased to hear that Wishbone had found a settling influence on his life in the form of a fiancee. “My congratulations to you both.” He studied the mare’s face for several moments. “Forgive me, but there is something about you that seems very familiar...”

Wishbone cleared his throat. “Um, well, Garnet is Sable’s sister.”

The look that Giorgio flashed at Wishbone was proof that the mention of Sable was disturbing, but the stallion was quick to regain his composure. “And how is Sable doing these days?” he queried.

“My brother doesn’t take the time to write,” Garnet said, discounting the unexpected and brief meeting with him a month back as insignificant even though it had stirred up a plethora of memories. She was aware that Wishbone, through Wigwam, had recounted the event to Chief Tawny as the books were not yet closed on Sable’s involvement in some shady dealings that he had been involved with in Dream Valley several years ago, dealings that had been orchestrated by Giorgio. Garnet was intrigued to meet this pony who had shared her brother’s predilection for intrigue and double-dealing, for Giorgio had managed to extricate himself from the past and forge a wonderful new life for himself. She doubted that Sable would ever be that fortunate.

“I haven’t heard from him myself,” admitted Giorgio. “I’ve a basis to be grateful for his absence, while I’d imagine you must miss his company.”

“Actually, I’m not that close to any of my family.”

“Not even your parents?” Giorgio’s left brow rose in disbelief.

“There’s no reason.”

Giorgio shook his head. “Now there, young lady, I must disagree... and I’m speaking from experience. The relationship with one’s parents is vital to a pony.”

“Not in all cases,” disagreed Garnet. “My parents washed their hooves of me long ago.”

“Don’t sell your parents short, Garnet,” Giorgio returned. “Maybe it’s time that those years that have been lost need to be regained and built upon.” He saw the flame in her eye and added, “At least, think it over.”

Garnet had no chance to reply as they were joined by none other than Clare and Giorgio’s own parents, all of whom were delighted to meet the lovely mare who had captured Wishbone’s heart. It was only when Wishbone and Garnet were once more alone that Wishbone added his own appeal to Giorgio’s.

“We’ll need to get in touch with your parents before the wedding next summer, Garnet. They have every right to witness it.”

“I think they waived those rights years ago, Wishbone,” Garnet replied with a toss of her head.

“The decision is yours to make, but be forewarned that Mom and Sugarberry are both probably going to push you toward reconciling with them.”

“Let them push,” Garnet muttered. Spotting Petal and Caravel, she relegated this uncomfortable discussion to the back of her mind and tugged Wishbone along to meet up with their friends.

* * *

Elsewhere in the convention hall, Princess Tiffany was comparing notes with several other of the princesses over the fashions that had been presented that evening when she caught sight of Guido among the throng of ponies still gathered about the room. She fully intended to ignore the stallion, but a vision at his side made her look again.

It was a white mare like herself except that this specimen was adorned with pastel blue hair. Did Guido have a thing about white mares? Tiffany wondered. She knew who the pony was... the lithe mare had been obvious enough throughout the fashion show as she was Clare’s Creations’ top model, Mooncurl. The thing that upset Tiffany was the fact that Mooncurl was hanging on Guido now that the business portion of the evening was over. It should not have bothered Tiffany, but it did.

“Do you have something on your mind, Tiffany?” queried Royal Blue of the distraught princess.

“Ah, what?” Tiffany responded to the vaguely heard comment.

“I was just saying,” responded Royal Blue with a knowing look at the others in their circle, “that you seem rather preoccupied this evening.”

“I was simply debating my wardrobe choices,” Princess Tiffany countered, forcing herself to propel her gaze away from Guido and Mooncurl. “I especially liked that faux fur cape lined with silk and all the matching accessories.”

“That wasn’t your style, Tiff,” advised Princess Taffeta. “The white satin would be stunning on you, however.”

“Maybe I should just get them both,” deliberated Tiffany with a toss of her mane. No one was paying attention to her any longer, however, as all eyes were honed to a point over her left shoulder. Turning to see what the draw was, Tiffany came face-to-face with Guido.

For a moment, the mare and the stallion maintained a steady gaze; but Guido turned his attention to the other princesses.

“I’m delighted to see royalty so well represented here tonight,” the stallion smiled, arcing his gaze to each of the princesses in turn. “I hope you enjoyed the evening.”

“We assuredly did,” Princess Primrose assured Guido. “It was a splendid way to donate to a good cause.”

Guido turned to Mooncurl. “Have you met these Dream Valley princesses?” At the model’s negative response, Guido presented Royal Blue, Primrose, Tiffany, and Taffeta. By the time he was through, Princess Dawn and Perry had joined the group as well.

“Everyone smile!” a voice said, and all heads turned to the speaker, a vanilla-colored stallion with an expensive camera which marked him as one of Clare’s photographers. A bright light flashed. “Lovely,” the stallion grinned. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

“Nello,” Guido remarked, “you’ve been behind that camera all night. Why don’t you abandon your duty and enjoy what’s left of this evening?”

“Can’t stop yet,” Nello retorted. “There are still a number of guests I haven’t captured on film.” He sent a warm smile and a wink in Mooncurl’s direction before he continued his picture quest.

“Do you document all your charitable functions so thoroughly?” asked Perry of Guido.

“Only when Clare’s involved as well so that she can pick up the tab,” joked the wealthy stallion.

“That’s sound business sense,” laughed Perry.

Throughout this banter, Tiffany remained remote and silent, still smarting from Guido’s casual introduction of her along with the others as if she was a mere acquaintance and not the mare who had once been accorded a place of distinction in his life. That was over now, of course; but Princess Tiffany ranted to herself anyway, wishing that Guido would show some sign of regret, realizing that she could not snub him if he did not give her an opportunity.

* * *

Nestled at his mother’s side, the newborn foal, washed clean and well fed, was fast asleep while his parents feasted on the sight he made. “He’s wonderful,” Sugarberry breathed, gently caressing the soft cheek closest to her.

“You’re pretty wonderful yourself,” Vanguard said, taking his wife’s hoof in his and looking at her tenderly. “You did a good night’s work.”

“Truly a labor of love,” Sugarberry smiled. “I do love you so much.”

A kiss was exchanged, followed closely by a soft knock at the doorway. “Mind if we come in?”

The new parents looked agreeably at the visitors, but Vanguard assumed a gruff voice. “You’re a little late.”

Dr. Toby grinned. “No one called me.” He came into the room accompanied by Fern. “I’ve spoken to Dr. Neil, and he tells me everything went smoothly for Mom; and baby is perfectly healthy.” He looked at Sugarberry with a practiced eye. “Do you have any complaints?”

She shook her head. “None.”

“Sugarberry, he’s beautiful!” Fern trilled, coming around the bed to get a clear view of the tiny infant.

“Yes, he is, isn’t he?” Sugarberry agreed, winking at her husband while accepting a hug from Fern.

“He looks to be a fine young colt,” Toby concurred, lifting the sleepy foal to verify for himself that all was right with the newborn. “And he’s going to grow like a weed,” he assured them, finishing the exam with a smile of approval.

“May I hold him a minute?” asked Fern, coming up to her husband as if in awe of the little creature he held.

Toby glanced at Vanguard who nodded, and Toby laid the infant in Fern’s forelegs. “Hi, sweetheart,” she cooed as the foal opened his eyes for a moment before gracing them with a yawn and returning to his slumber. She continued to cradle him as Toby delivered a message to the parents.

“Wishbone and Chocolate Chip and their consorts are in the waiting room; they’d love to meet the foal but don’t want to bother you if you’d rather get to sleep,” he relayed, his eye on Sugarberry.

“I’m anxious for them to meet him, too,” Sugarberry admitted. “Wishbone and Chocolate Chip are going to be like his big brother and sister.”

“We just won’t let them stay too long,” added Vanguard with a concerned look at his wife.

Fern retained her hold on the foal; but as soon as Chocolate Chip entered the room, the brown mare scooped up the little bundle from her friend and surveyed him head to hoof. “What a cutie!” she grinned. “Not that seeing him is any surprise... after Clare informed us of the arrival of Baby Vanguard, we were fairly sure of his coloring.”

“But that’s...” Sugarberry began to say.

“What’s it like to have a miniature of yourself, Van? At least it made naming him an easy choice,” Wigwam interrupted, fascinated by the diminutive size of the foal.

“But we didn’t...” Vanguard began.

“He’s not an exact duplicate,” pointed out Garnet. “Vanguard doesn’t have that red streak in his hair.”

“Close enough,” rejoined Wishbone.

“This hadn’t happened before in your immediate families, had it?” wondered Fern. “I mean, neither of you were ever a Baby Sugarberry or a Baby Vanguard, were you?”

“Neither is...” attempted Sugarberry.

“There’s a first time for everything,” Wigwam commented.

“Excuse me,” broke in Toby with some authority; he had seen the foal’s chart while discussing the birth with Dr. Neil and was privy to a piece of information that the others were unaware of. “I think Sugarberry and Vanguard would like to say something.

Chocolate Chip, Wishbone, Wigwam, Garnet, and Fern all stopped their discussion and centered their attention on the new parents.

“The foal’s name is not Baby Vanguard,” Vanguard stated.

“His name is Banderol,” Sugarberry enlightened.

“Banderol?” chorused the astounded ponies.

“Yes, Banderol,” Vanguard repeated emphatically. “Sugarberry and I agreed that we didn’t want to saddle our foal with my name prefixed with Baby. Baby Falling Leaves is proof against it; she’ll never be able to lose that designation as long as she lives in Dream Valley with her parents.”

“And Giorgio has always said that it complicates life dreadfully to share a parent’s first name, so we decided to give our foal a name that referred directly to his symbol,” added Sugarberry.

“But Banderol?” queried Wishbone, aghast.

“What does it have to do with Baby Vanguard’s symbol?” Chocolate Chip added.

“A banderol is a long narrow forked flag... exactly what appears on Banderol’s hip,” Vanguard explained, stressing his use of the foal’s name.

Chocolate Chip shrugged. “Well, it’s your choice.”

“Now that that’s settled,” Toby took command, “I think we should all clear out so that Sugarberry can get some well-deserved sleep. That goes for you, too, Van.”

Chocolate Chip, relinquishing her hold on the foal to his mother, whispered softly, “Good night, Baby Vanguard,” before she kissed the contented little colt. She caught the pique in Sugarberry’s eye, and Chocolate Chip grinned mischievously.

* * *

Tiffany, impatiently waiting for Queen Serena to end her conversation with the Vulcanopolis ponies, stalked off to the powder room to assess her make-up and hair; she almost withdrew immediately when she saw Mooncurl primping before the mirror, but with a toss of her head, she crossed to stand beside the attractive model, noticing as she did so that the mare’s eyes were following her in the looking glass.

Rearranging a lock of mane, Tiffany patted it into place, then sent a sideways glance in Mooncurl’s direction. “Have you known Guido long?”

“For a few months,” Mooncurl said, freshening up her cologne with a generous spray of Ambrosia. “He and Clare have been working together since his wed... um... since June.”

“What do you think of him?”

“Of Guido? Oh, he’s very pleasant. He’s always ready to show a mare a good time.”

Tiffany sniffed. “He is, is he?”

“Oh, yes. Like tonight... he’s been so considerate and polite and entertaining.”

“And he’s so rich,” muttered Tiffany, adding a touch of gloss to her lips.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. I was just thinking how much easier it is for a stallion with loads of jangles to impress a mare than it is for a less affluent pony.”

“That’s one of the things I like about Guido, though; he never lets his prestige interfere with his amiability.”

“He doesn’t?” queried Tiffany, remembering countless evenings over dinner spent listening to Guido’s endless dissertations on the importance of wealth. She had always concurred with his opinions, of course.

“His financial worth means nothing to him except as a means to help others.”

Tiffany turned to face the mare head on. “This is Guido Casale we’re talking about, isn’t it?”

“Why yes!” Mooncurl looked at Tiffany as if the princess had suddenly sprouted a second head.

Tiffany looked away. “Are you and Guido... serious?”

“Serious?” Mooncurl giggled. “You mean romantically?”

“Of course I mean romantically!”

Giggling some more, Mooncurl cast an impish glance at Tiffany. Was the Dream Valley princess still interested in the stallion she had frivolously scorned? If so, it might be fun to rile her a bit. “I dare to dream; his attentions tonight were definitely particular.” She did not go on to explain that since Nello was occupied with his photography chores, Guido had volunteered to escort Mooncurl for the evening. Mooncurl simply exited the room with a satisfied look on her face, leaving the fragrance of Ambrosia to taunt the princess.

Tiffany nearly choked on the scent, she was so provoked.

* * *

Sugarberry had just settled down when the door to her hospital room suddenly flew open; and Tabby stood framed in the doorway, a look of impending doom on her face. “Sugarberry!” she charged her friend. “I was quite horrified that, even after all your protestations that you would never burden the child with such a name, you still decided to call him Baby Vanguard!”

Sugarberry put a hoof to her mouth and urgently gestured towards the sleeping foal, but Tabby was too incensed to stop. “I was sure we’d convinced you that naming him after a parent would be confusing at the best and disastrous at the worst. What will you do when he gets older? He shan’t always want to be Baby, you know. And then what a time you’ll have of it!”

“Tabby!” Sugarberry tried to get a word in, but Tabby silenced her.

“Well, in any case, I might as well see him.” Tabby strode across the room and peered downwards. “Hmm. Interesting. ‘Tis a remarkable resemblance. But still...!”

“His name isn’t Baby Vanguard,” Sugarberry finally managed to get out. “It’s- “

”Hello, Baby Vanguard!” Failing to elicit a response, Tabby turned back to his mother. “He’s not very talkative, is he?”

“His name,” Sugarberry said with emphasis, “is Banderol.”

“Really!” said Tabby. “And what reason did Clare have for lying at the party, pray tell?”

“She was just misinformed...”

Tabby still looked skeptical. “What is a banderol, anyway?”

Sugarberry, for what seemed like the millionth time, explained yet again the meaning of banderol. “We had considered the name Bandy Berry,” she finished, “but it didn’t seem necessary, since he really takes the most after his father.”

“Ooh! You could have called him Vanberry instead,” Tabby suggested. “Look! He’s waking up. Hello, Baby Vang- I mean, Bander-whatever!”

“Isn’t he precious?” Sugarberry beamed.

“Potentially,” Tabby said, narrowing her eyes. “Say! I know what to give him as a present now. I’ll wrap up all the baby toys you got for Faline.”

“And I thought they were so nice,” Sugarberry sighed.

“Exactly, and now you can see your own son playing with them. Shaped blocks and rattles just don’t suit Faline.”

“You have a most unusual way of raising a foal,” Sugarberry commented.

“You think so? Everyone keeps hassling me about it, but I truly do not understand what they’re so scandalized over.”

At that point Nurse Nightingale stepped into the room. “I thought I heard... oh, it’s you, Tabby. Visiting hours were over long ago. How did you get in here, anyway?”

Tabby dismissed the question with a wave of her hoof. “I’ve got to get going anyway; Thomas is waiting outside... he thought it was too late to barge in on you, Sug, but I thought that was just silly. Whoever writes these rules is so stuffy!” She threw up her hooves in despair. “Good night, Sugarberry; and you, too, Baby... Banderol!”

* * *

Finding the surroundings unbearable, Tiffany, ignoring her friends, made her way out of the convention center and found that the brisk night air was a refreshing change from the overly warm atmosphere inside. She breathed deeply as she walked slowly along the promenade that fronted the building, pledging to give Queen Serena five more minutes before setting off for Royal Paradise alone. Reaching the corner, she turned and retraced her steps, happy to see the door opening. She hurried to meet Serena only to find a yellow stallion instead.

“Guido!” she said mindlessly and a little breathlessly; her heart began to thump uncomfortably as well.

“Did I frighten you?” Guido asked, a hint of a smile playing about his mouth.

“You... I... I thought it would be Serena.”

“She saw you leave and asked me to detain you; she’ll be out shortly.” He smiled at her almost gently. “How have you been, Tiffany?”

“I’ve been fine. It’s you I would be worried about.”

“Oh? And how’s that?”

“For one thing, your latest lady love wears way too much fragrance; and for the second thing, you’re entire persona has changed so drastically that I fear you are suffering from some grave psychosis.”

“Okay,” said Guido, taking the princess’ foreleg and guiding her to a cold and uncomfortable bench that would give them a measure of privacy. He was no longer smiling, but Tiffany could see the sparkle in his eyes as she sat down at his command. He continued to stand, making her feel vulnerable; but his voice was silky. “Now, your first point concerns my lady love. Do you mind telling me who that is?”

“As if it wasn’t obvious to everyone here this evening,” Tiffany sniffed.

“I’m sorry, but I’m feeling especially benighted concerning this. Which mare in particular did you have in mind?”

Tiffany sent him an abasing glance. “The white model.”

Guido laughed, his deep voice echoing off the walls behind them. “I beg you not to let that rumor get spread around, or Nello will throw down the gauntlet.” At Tiffany’s puzzled expression, he went on. “Mooncurl is head over heals in love with Nello, and he with her. I was merely providing escort while he went about his obligations for Clare.”

“Oh,” said Tiffany on a sigh.

“What about you, Tiffany? Have you found anyone to take my place?” He asked the question with a certain softness in his voice as if he really cared what the answer would be.

Looking up into his face, Tiffany for a moment was mesmerized by the look she saw there. The stallion still had feelings for her, she realized in sudden awe; and a wave of tremulous excitement washed over her.

But then she remembered her earlier intention to take this stallion down a peg or two, so she reined in her emotions; it was not from her heart that her answer came. “Someone as wealthy as you? No.” She did not admit that there was no one, wealthy or otherwise, who claimed her affection, but she did add, “You are a different pony now, Guido, not at all as I remember you.”

“Ah... the personality change that you referred to.” He sat down on the bench next to her. “I’d like to think that it’s for the better.”

Tiffany waved a dismissing hoof through the air. “You’re wrong, very wrong. I cannot like this attitude of yours... that your jangles are best when given away. I’m surprised your mother condones such a thing.”

“I’ll admit that she was disturbed at first, but she is coming around to my way of thinking.”

“And your father?”

“He respects my decision.”

“But I don’t. I can only be grateful that things worked out the way they did between us; I wouldn’t have liked the competition for your largess.”

“That’s all it ever was, wasn’t it, Tiffany? All for the money.” His eyes closed slightly as if finding the sight of her too painful to bear.

Something within Tiffany tried to warn her not to tread too far down this dangerous path she had chosen, but she could not stop herself now; she wanted to hurt him as he had injured her with his curt dismissal in front of Queen Serena and his unfeeling introduction to Mooncurl. “I like what jangles can get a pony,” she proclaimed emphatically. “Things are more dependable than ponies, I’ve found; they hurt less.” She tossed her mane for emphasis.

Standing, Guido stared into her eyes for a moment as if searching for something, some sign of compassion, some inkling of a heart. Not finding any, he shook his head. “I had hoped...” he began, but the sound of voices rang out as a group of ponies exited the building. He turned to watch them for a second, then turned his attention briefly back to Tiffany. “I wish you well, Tiffany.” His voice was hollow as if he did not expect his wish to have any success; it also echoed with a note of finality that struck Tiffany like a thunderclap.

Guido left her there on the bench, her core as cold as the night and as lonely as the one silent snowflake that glided past her cheek to settle on the area over her heart. She looked at it blankly and noted that it did not melt. Was she really as cold-hearted as that?

* * *

Morning broke across Dream Valley with a sunrise that greeted the new-fallen snow that had settled with a hush over the darkened land; the kiss of sunbeams erupted a sparkle of jewel-like luster that brought a smile to many a pony’s face that day.

The smile on Vanguard’s face as he entered Sugarberry’s hospital room was broadened as he laid eyes on his wife who made a charming picture as she held their foal in the comfort of a rocking chair. It had not been that many hours since he had left them to their rest, but he felt as if they, as family, had been separated for days. He would be happy to have them home.

“Good morning, my love,” he greeted Sugarberry. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m too happy to feel anything,” admitted Sugarberry. “Just look at Banderol, Vanguard. He’s too beautiful for words.”

The proud father could not deny that point. Drawing up a chair to face mother and child, he drank in the joy of the moment. Gone was the prickling uncertainty that had tormented him when he had been alone, the worry over the responsibility that was now his, the doubts about his ability to assume a father’s commitment. This little bundle was part of the wife he loved dearly and part of himself; what could be more natural than to love and protect and nurture this new entity that evoked all the paternal instincts within him?

As Sugarberry transferred the blanket-wrapped foal to his father, she grinned. “He’s clean, dry, and fed, but that can change at any moment.” The foal’s forelegs stretched from the confining blanket, but he continued to sleep.

“He’s so small,” Vanguard noted, finding that there was very little to hang on to.

“Isn’t he though? Small, yet perfect.”

The two ponies sat admiring their offspring for several more minutes before Vanguard cocked his head and grinned slyly. “Nurse Panacea informed me that another birth is anticipated shortly.”

“I heard voices in the hall earlier, but with the door closed I couldn’t tell what was going on,” Sugarberry admitted. “I can’t think of anyone who is due now, except Clare; and then not for another couple of weeks.”

Vanguard’s grin widened. “Banderol was early, too.”

Sugarberry looked at her husband with wide eyes. “Are you saying...”

“Clare broke water this morning and is in a birthing room right this minute.”

“You wouldn’t tease me about something like this...”

“Nope, I wouldn’t. I actually ran into Enrica and Giorgio, Sr., as I came in; I’ve never seen that stallion more discomposed.” Vanguard looked cocky, forgetting how nervous he himself had been such a short time ago.

“Oh, my,” Sugarberry breathed. “This wasn’t part of their plan for their stay in Dream Valley; they were to fly back to Vulcanopolis this afternoon just to avoid such an occurrence.”

“Well, the foal obviously had other plans.”

Sugarberry and Vanguard linked hooves, offering a prayer for this latest delivery.

* * *

“Oh! What an absolute angel!” breathed Sugarberry as she gazed down at the foal so lovingly cradled in Clare’s forelegs.

Beaming, Clare agreed. “She is, isn’t she?” The petite little filly’s eyes were open as if surveying her audience, her lavender mane curling around her face.

“Her name’s Calla,” Giorgio said, his face nearly aglow with delight. “She has a beautiful calla lily for her symbol,” he went on to explain, the foal being wrapped in a blanket.

“It doesn’t look like it hurt her a bit to be born in Dream Valley rather than Vulcanopolis,” noted Vanguard with a grin.

Clare giggled. “Enrica is ecstatic that Dr. Toby was on hoof to deliver her granddaughter.”

“While he missed Banderol’s delivery entirely,” Vanguard intoned dryly.

Laughing, Giorgio turned his attention to the little colt snuggled in his father’s forelegs. “This guy didn’t need the esteemed Dr. Toby to make his entrance into the world; he did quite well with the assistance of a mere subordinate. He’ll forge his own path through life.” The stallion sent a private wink to Sugarberry.

“Not entirely his own path,” Sugarberry dissented. “Banderol’s and Calla’s paths are fated to converge- just as ours have and our parents’ paths before us.”

“Are you suggesting that their destinies are already entwined?” asked Clare, a pensive expression on her face.

“They’ll be good friends, of course,” Vanguard said, “but beyond that, who knows?”

“I’d like to think that these two will have a future together,” stated Giorgio, scooping up Calla from her mother and turning to Vanguard. “Let’s see what they think about each other.”

The two stallions held their offspring side-by-side as Clare and Sugarberry looked on with curious wonder. Calla, feeling disturbed by the sudden transfer, jerked her forelegs outward, effectively punching Banderol in the nose; the colt screwed up his face to let the world know that he would not lie still for such treatment, at the same time sending his own forelegs into the air. His right hoof accidentally met Calla’s left hoof, and his intended cry became a silken gurgle instead. As if on cue, both foals yawned, their eyes scrunching shut at the effort, and they fell asleep, their hooves still resting companionably together.

The parents looked at one another in amazement: Giorgio shook his head, lost for words; Vanguard chuckled; Sugarberry appeared stunned; and Clare concluded, “There you have it... soul-mates.”

Calla and Banderol simply slept on.

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