A New Wind a Blowin' Part One
written by Sugarberry

“Feels good to get your hooves in the dirt, I suppose,” stated Wigwam as he watched Clever Clover removing earth from around an artifact. Digger, Buttercrunch, and Ages were working nearby in the cramped quarters of the tunnel that was being excavated; it led from a spacious cave-like room hollowed out of solid stone that Native Ponies from a long ago generation had labored over, leaving behind a record of sorts of their life and times. Paintings on the wall existed now- to the wondering eyes of those who visited this out-of-the-way site- as a vivid history of pony development. The earliest painted pictures represented ponies without symbols, while the relatively newer pictures sported simple rump patterns.

“I can’t wait to get deeper into the hill,” Clever Clover replied, brushing away the debris he had loosened. “I won’t have a lot of time myself to work here, however, with everything else in my life right now.”

“You mean like Belle Star, Morning Glory, and Minoko?” asked Digger with a grin.

“If you’re willing to take them off my hooves, be my guest,” huffed Clever Clover.

“Why isn’t Belle Star here today?” asked Buttercrunch. “I was counting on having her help with my project here.” The creamy yellow mare with caramel colored mane and tail was recovering a spear-point from the packed earth.

“She’s off with Minoko; they wouldn’t tell me where they were going, so I suppose I’m in for an unpleasant surprise when I get home.”

Wigwam chuckled. “Minoko was in the casino one night; she’s got quite a temper.”

“Tell me about it,” mumbled Clever Clover.

“Hi, Wigwam,” Memoria said, coming into the tunnel. “Clever Clover said you’d be showing up today; there’s something around the hill that I’d like to show you.”

Wigwam greeted the history professor from Pony Pride and followed her down the passage so laboriously excavated by the professional archeologists and their student helpers until they were out in the open cave; from there, they exited into the sunlight beyond, through the gash in the hillside that had first opened up the hidden cave when a wet spring had unleashed a landslide down the hill several years earlier.

The two ponies stepped clear of the Native Pony setting that had a haunting quality about it and out onto the hillside that was littered with large boulders. The striking thing about the hillside, however, was the black vein of obsidian that snaked its way down the slope like some evil slithering serpent. That, too, had been uncovered by the landslide that had taken out the side of the hill, rewriting the facts of Native Pony weaponry.

Memoria and Wigwam headed away from the obsidian, however, making their way around the side of the hill until they stood at a point almost directly opposite the cave opening they had just left. Her eyes glinting with excitement, Memoria pointed out a barely visible arch in the stone exposed at this point; a bramble of bushes masked all but the top curvature of what appeared to be another closed-off entrance into the hillside.

“This is so fantastic, Wigwam; it was you and Clever Clover and Fetish that said there should be an entrance on this side of the hill. I thought the three of you were spouting off absurdities that day in my office; but when I talked to Van and he agreed with your theories, I came to take a look for myself.”

“So Van’s word is worth more than the word of Clever Clover, Fetish, and I all together,” Wigwam stated with a smile.

“Well, he is a fellow teacher, after all,” Memoria smiled back, then continued. “The strange thing is that all four of you talked as if you remembered being here; it’s as if you were all Native Ponies and have now come back to investigate your own history. It makes me feel as if these hills could still harbor ponies from all those years ago.”

His attention having been caught by what appeared to be one of those ponies Memoria was just talking about, Wigwam stared up the hillside to the east. Memoria took one look at his face, then followed his gaze and gasped.

“Why, Wigwam, it’s a spirit!”

Wigwam was willing in that moment to agree with Memoria. The morning sunlight was washing over a ledge of granite that projected away from the incline of the rock slab that formed the bulk of the hill, and on that ledge stood a mocha unicorn mare in profile; she appeared to be intently studying the distant horizon... or communing with an unseen entity. Her long tangerine mane was being wafted on the wind that carried upward, adding to her ethereal presence.

Wigwam and Memoria stood as if spellbound by the apparition... until the beautiful vision tossed her head and began her descent from her lofty perch. The clip-clop of her hooves echoed off the stone heights around her just as it would for any flesh and blood pony; and as she worked her way down, she caught sight of the two onlookers staring at her and smiled.

“Oh, my; I haven’t gone where I wasn’t supposed to, have I?” she asked, her voice as musical as her fluid movements.

“Not a chance,” said Wigwam, shaking his head dumbly. This mare could go wherever she wanted.

Giving the stallion a scowl, Memoria replied with a bit more reservation. “This area is under study by the Dream Valley Historical Society under the direct supervision of Pony Pride University. Nothing should be tampered with in any way.”

The mare came to stand before the steely-eyed mare and the starry-eyed stallion. “I didn’t interfere with anything,” she said, her smile flitting to Memoria but lighting on Wigwam. “My sister lectured me quite sufficiently on that point.”

“Your sister?” Wigwam found his voice.

“I’m here at the invitation of my sister and her husband; they’re around somewhere.” The mare scanned the hillside, then waved her hoof. “There they are... Dreamcatcher and Fetish.”

Memoria and Wigwam looked in the direction indicated by the mare and saw an orange unicorn and a pale green stallion making their way up the hillside between the boulders, skirting the patches of snow that still remained in protected areas. Memoria’s disapproval evaporated like the morning dew, while Wigwam’s euphoria did the same.

“Dreamcatcher’s your sister?” he asked in apparent disbelief. He and the Native Pony mare were not the best of friends, although their animosity had mellowed over the years since they had first met.

“My older sister,” clarified the mare. She grinned as Dreamcatcher and Fetish arrived.

“I see you’ve met Bittersweet,” Dreamcatcher said.

“Bittersweet,” repeated Wigwam. He studied the unicorn’s face and realized that a pony with this face of sweetness could indeed prove to be bitter as well if she shared Dreamcatcher’s unyielding convictions; but he was willing to find out which characteristic had the upper hoof. “My name’s Wigwam and this is Memoria.”

“It’s nice to meet you both,” Bittersweet responded. “I assume that you are both involved with reclaiming the Native Pony heritage evident here?”

Fetish provided the facts for his sister-in-law. “Memoria is head of the history department at Pony Pride; she and a number of her students do hooves-on work at the site. Wigwam is the one who stumbled over the site on a visit here and notified the proper ponies of its existence and the need to research and protect it.”

“And we’re going to need more volunteers,” Memoria piped up. “I’m sure this cavity behind us is the main entrance into the hillside tunnel that leads back to the cave already excavated.”

“No doubt,” said Fetish; and Dreamcatcher nodded her head, too, a far-away look dimming her eyes.

“I’d be glad to help when I can,” offered Bittersweet.

“You’re here to help me,” Dreamcatcher reminded her sister.

“Surely you’ll allow me some time for myself,” Bittersweet grinned.

“We’ll see,” said Dreamcatcher, eying her sister sharply.

“Where’s your little guy?” queried Wigwam.

“Sugarberry’s watching him,” said Dreamcatcher.

“More to the point, she’s running after him as he pursues the cats,” grinned Fetish.

“Dreamcatcher, I’d like to do some more exploring along this hillside; would you and Fetish like to come with me?” Memoria asked.

“I’ve been wanting to go further up this side,” stated Fetish. “There’s something about...” His voice trailed off, and the stallion started up the trail that Bittersweet had so recently come down. Dreamcatcher and Memoria followed him.

Finding himself alone with Bittersweet, Wigwam waved a hoof to a shelf of rock nearby. The mild weather promised an early spring. “Would you like to sit down?” he asked. “Or we could go back to the cave and find some work for you to do.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to sit and talk awhile,” said the unicorn, suiting her actions to her words. “Do you spend a lot of time out here?”

“I plan to now that the weather is opening up,” Wigwam said, taking a position on the rock from which he could easily watch this intriguing pony. “I have to keep the casino running, but I’ve got capable help there.”

“The casino in Dream Valley?”

“Yes.” This was it; this was where the bitter side would rail out at him. Wigwam unconsciously stiffened in expectation.

Bittersweet, however, merely giggled. “I won’t give you a lecture, if that’s what you think. Dreamcatcher and I are miles apart when it comes to our philosophy on how best to live the Native Pony culture.”

Wigwam relaxed. “And what is your philosophy?”

“To respect and value what went before, but to study and embrace that which came after... if it’s worthwhile.”

“How come I haven’t met you before?”

“I was away at college; I graduated in December but didn’t find any job that appealed to me. So when Dreamcatcher asked me to come help her with her business, I jumped at the chance.”

“You’ll be working with her Native Dreams shop at the mall?”

“Yup. Dreamcatcher’s been having a hard time taking care of things since Tamarack has become such an energetic toddler... even with Dyani’s help. Dreamcatcher’ll still be in charge of purchasing, but I’ll take over the actual management of the shop.”

Making a mental note to visit the mall more often in the future, Wigwam asked, “You’ll be living with Fetish and Dreamcatcher?”

“For the time being,” Bittersweet responded.

Both ponies fell silent, their thoughts taking divergent paths. The mare was looking forward to making friends in a new city, and Wigwam seemed to be one of her first. She was confident in her abilities to do well for Dreamcatcher’s business; it would be an added bonus if her personal life could blossom as well. She stared openly at Wigwam and wondered why the stallion had such a sadness in his eyes that even her presence could not fully negate.

That sadness, if she had known, was caused by the impending departure of Chocolate Chip in less than two months to a new life in Hayton or New Pony, depending on which of the job offers the chocolate brown mare decided to accept. Wigwam was not putting any pressure on the mare to convince her to stay in Dream Valley; but he hoped that she would see that her life was meant to be with him, not in some far off municipality where she would become rich and maybe famous but assuredly not happy. At least, that is how Wigwam saw it.

He had lost his bid at making her his wife when she had turned down his proposal in lieu of making a life of her own- a life carved out by her own merits and her own struggles. She had no desire to remain with him in Dream Valley, nor did she want him to follow her wherever her quest took her. Wigwam had lost his bid and could now only stand back and watch the one mare that he had loved for what seemed like forever turn away from him and disappear from his life as she searched out her own version of happiness miles away.

Wigwam shook his head and, looking up, saw Bittersweet’s eyes on him.

“Come on,” he said, standing and directing her to follow him. “I’ll show you the pride of this site.”

“The cave?”

“Yes. You’ll be impressed.”

And Bittersweet was. She stared in rare rapture at the simply-drawn paintings of ponies in earthy tones of brown and orange and red and yellow, following the mural from its earliest beginnings with the non-symbol ponies to the powerful representation of the two fighting stallions that framed the tunnel doorway. She studied the torch holders carved in the wall of the cave and envisioned primordial ponies gathered in this space with the natural domed ceiling overhead reflecting back their movements in the shadowy vault.

“It’s so intense,” she breathed, glancing at Wigwam. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

Wigwam grinned. “You insinuated that you’d be willing to help with the restoration. Let me introduce you to some of the workers.”

The stallion led her into the tunnel where Clever Clover and the others were still hard at their labor. Introductions were made, and Buttercrunch soon had Bittersweet making her first tentative efforts at uncovering the treasures that awaited their unearthing while Wigwam helped by moving loose debris. He was dumping a load of assorted rocks when Memoria, Dreamcatcher, and Fetish showed up.

“You haven’t lost my sister, have you?” queried Dreamcatcher.

“Not at all. I put her to work,” responded Wigwam with a wink.

“Just so she remembers that her purpose in coming to Dream Valley was to help me,” Dreamcatcher reiterated drolly.

“Fetish, show Wigwam what you found,” Memoria prodded.

The Native Pony stallion held up what appeared to be a rock; but Wigwam, taking it into his own hooves, soon saw that it had signs of shaping that were done by a tool carver in a long ago time. As he held it, the simple device seemed at once foreign and familiar; he turned it end for end and rested it in his left hoof.

“It’s a chisel of sorts,” Wigwam said, going through the motions of using such an implement.

Memoria beamed. “That’s exactly what Fetish said and did. I tell you, you Native Ponies have some tangible hold on your past that is nearly...” She shivered. “...uncanny.”

“There is a strong presence about this place,” agreed Dreamcatcher softly. “It still harbors the spirits of our ancestors.”

* * *

As the days went by, Bittersweet settled into her new life in Dream Valley. After her day at the Native Pony site, however, she had been allowed no time in which to go back to continue her education in archeological practices. Dreamcatcher was anxious for her sister to become familiar with all aspects of the business venture that had originally drawn Dreamcatcher to Dream Valley, and Bittersweet was equally anxious to convince her sister to modernize and upgrade. When not at the mall selling Native Pony crafts or on the road searching out new products that fit Dreamcatcher’s exacting expectations, the two mares were at the log cabin in the Dark Forest discussing future plans while enjoying the antics of the ten-month-old Tamarack.

One evening as the two were closing up the kiosk for the day, Bittersweet had a proposal.

“Why don’t we go out on the town tonight, Dreamcatcher. Fetish won’t mind having Tamarack to himself for a little longer.”

Stifling a yawn, Dreamcatcher argued against that idea. “I don’t know. I’m awfully tired as it is, and I have to get up early to meet Red Fox in Friendship Gardens. Maybe tomorrow night.”

Looking downcast, Bittersweet begged. “I’ve been here a week and I haven’t seen any of the fun spots in Dream Valley. Couldn’t we at least stop by the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe?”

“I’m not up to it,” admitted Dreamcatcher, but she had an idea. “There’s Chocolate Chip; maybe she’s headed that way.” She called to the chocolate brown mare who seemed to be deep in thoughts of her own.

Hearing her name, Chocolate Chip raised her head and smiled when she saw Dreamcatcher. “Hi! Are the two of you on your way home?”

“I am,” Dreamcatcher explained, “but Bittersweet wants to see some of Dream Valley’s night-life. Would you be going for ice cream so that she could tag along?”

“Sorry,” grimaced Chocolate Chip. “I’ve got some studying to do, plus I have to talk to Garnet over at the casino.”

“The casino?” queried Bittersweet, her interest piqued. “Why don’t I walk with you over there?”

“I can’t stay... only long enough to get some notes Garnet was going to have ready for me.”

“That’s okay. I’ll be fine on my own once I get there. You go on home, Dreamcatcher. I’ll see you later.”

* * *

With an eye for business, Bittersweet watched the proceedings at the casino with interest to see what she could glean about Wigwam’s venture. She had liked Garnet on sight, and the two mares had shared an interesting exchange of life histories before Garnet had gotten swept away to solve some problem or other. Bittersweet had edged her way around the gaming room, an intrigued spectator of the diversions at hoof. She was so caught up in the excitement of the ponies actually playing that she did not notice Wigwam until he spoke.

“It’s even more fun if you put some jangles down,” he said.

“Wigwam! Oh, I’m sure that’s just what you want me to do.”

“You can do as you please... which is what I’m sure you’ll do anyway.”

Bittersweet looked at the stallion with a twinkle in her eye. “Right now I’d like to find something to eat.”

“I can help you out there.” He nodded toward a nearby doorway. “The buffet is that way. Are you here alone?”


“Then if you’re willing to wait for a minute, I’ll be free to accompany you... if you’d like.”

“I would like.”

“Okay, then. I’ll be right back.”

Wigwam crossed to one of the tables and spoke with the pony in charge, then returned to Bittersweet. “This way,” he said, guiding her to the dining area where a splendid array of food stuffs was available. Bypassing the cashier, he informed Bittersweet, “It’s on the house tonight.” He offered her a plate.

“Why, thank you, Wigwam.” She smiled at him. “What are your favorites here?”

“It’s all good or it wouldn’t be on display.”

“That’s a cop-out if I ever heard one.”

“You asked for it.” He took the plate back from her and proceeded to load it with a variety of dishes, giving her a running commentary on the style and ethnic ingredients of each. “Here,” he said when it was laden to capacity.

Bittersweet eyed the overflowing victuals, then looked at Wigwam. “Two forks and we should both be set.”

Chuckling, Wigwam grabbed two wraps of utensils. “Coffee, milk, soda, tea?”

“Coffee will be fine.”

Wigwam gestured to a waiting server to bring a carafe; Wigwam and Bittersweet were soon seated at a table with a view of the gazebo and the lake sparkling under the outside lights. The plate of food rested between them.

Taking a tentative taste of one of the more intriguing looking offerings, Bittersweet closed her eyes to savor the flavor. “Wonderful,” she said. “You have a good chef.”

“Several of them, as a matter of fact.”

“I’ll have to scout them out for my parents.”

“Don’t even think it.”

“You’re not eating,” Bittersweet noted.

“Better things to do,” replied Wigwam, his eyes feasting on the comely unicorn before him; but he unrolled his napkin and retrieved the fork from within and took a bite or two. “You and Dreamcatcher have the same smile, except you use yours more.”

Unable to hold back that smile, Bittersweet responded, “So which one of us sisters do you like better?”

Saved from an answer by the arrival of Hawkley, Wigwam gratefully included the stallion in the conversation. “Hawkley, have you met Bittersweet?”

“I haven’t had that pleasure,” said the denim blue stallion, extending his hoof to the unicorn.

“Nice to meet you, Hawkley,” the mare purred. “Would you like to join us?” Her gaze dropped to the plate of food in Hawkley’s hoof.

“Why, thanks!” Hawkley immediately set down his dinner and slid into a chair near Bittersweet. “What brings you to the casino?”

Before Bittersweet could respond, Wigwam supplied some background information on the mare. “Bittersweet is Dreamcatcher’s sister; she’s in town to help with Native Dreams at the mall.”

“You’ll be living here then?” asked Hawkley, his eyes expressing approval.

“If my sister and I don’t let too much contention build up between us,” Bittersweet replied honestly. “We’re as different as night and day... except for our smiles.” She favored Wigwam with another.

“Are you here for the gaming or just for the food?” Hawkley said in an effort to regain the mare’s attention.

“Just out of curiosity. I had a choice between the Café Carousel, the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe, or here; and as Chocolate Chip was headed in this direction...”

“Chocolate Chip is here?” asked Wigwam, his head swiveling to catch a glimpse of her.

“She was, but she only picked up some research information from Garnet and then she left.”

Wigwam leaned back in his chair and looked disappointed, while Hawkley grinned.

“She was too busy to stay... something about a project due,” offered Hawkley, then felt obligated to explain. “I ran into her as she was leaving.”

“She never has a spare minute,” said Wigwam, pushing back his chair. “And I should get back to work, too. No need to hurry, Hawkley; I’ll cover for you. Good evening, Bittersweet; I hope to see you again soon.”

“Certainly, Wigwam... and thanks for dinner.”

Watching the stallion depart, Bittersweet turned to Hawkley. “Did I say something I shouldn’t have?”

“You? Oh, no. Not a thing. It’s just... well, the fact that Chocolate Chip was here and didn’t bother to look him up probably rankled a bit.”

“Oh? And why would that be?”

“It’s no secret; so I guess no one will consider it gossip if I tell you. You see, Wigwam proposed to Chocolate Chip, but she turned him down. He hasn’t really made his peace with her decision.”

“So Wigwam is in love with a mare that doesn’t return his affection,” mused Bittersweet.

“I’m not sure that even Chocolate Chip knows where she stands; she turned him down, but she doesn’t seem too happy with things the way they are now, either. But she graduates this spring and has been really busy, so I suppose that explains her mopes.” Hawkley hoped it did, for he had tried everything he knew to try to brighten her spirits and make some headway with the mare for his own benefit, to no effect.

Bittersweet was silent as she pondered this information, then she smiled at Hawkley. “Well, Hawkley, if you were to advise me as to which of the tables to take my chances on, which would it be?”

Hawkley swallowed down the last bite of his food. “Come on; I’ll show you.”

* * *

“You were late getting in last night,” Dreamcatcher said to her sister as Bittersweet came into the kitchen the following morning. Tamarack was in his high chair, eating oatmeal as his mother fed him.

“You sound just like Mother.”

“It’s not a good idea for someone new to the area to be walking alone in the Dark Forest once the sun sets.”

“Manitou was waiting at the old pine tree; I don’t think I have to worry with him by my side. But as it was, Hawkley walked me home anyway.”

“Hawkley? You met him at the casino?”

“Yes... him and several other interesting stallions; I also met Garnet, and of course Wigwam was there.”

“Did Chocolate Chip stop to talk with Wigwam?”

“No. He didn’t even know she was there until it came up in conversation later.” Bittersweet helped herself to a glass of orange juice.

“I worry about that girl.”

“Why? From what I heard, she dumped Wigwam.”

“And who did you hear that from?”

“It doesn’t matter who told me. Is it true?”

“In a way.”

Bittersweet raised a curious brow. “Explain.”

“Why are you so interested?”

“Because I like Wigwam, and I don’t want to see him looking defeated when he has so much going for him.”

“Don’t get your hopes set on that stallion,” Dreamcatcher warned.

“And why not?”

“Because... because Chocolate Chip may change her mind yet.”

“And Wigwam is supposed to wait for her to decide?”

“He’s waited a long time already; but that’s just it... Chocolate Chip may find that she’s expected too much of him this time. Even so, I don’t want to see her get hurt if it can be avoided.”

“What about Wigwam if she continues to ignore him? He’s hurting enough already.”

“I’m just letting you know what you’re getting in to if you go chasing after Wigwam; it’s a volatile situation with him and Chocolate Chip, and anyone caught in the middle could get the worst end of it.”

“And for your information, sister dear, I’m not chasing after him,” Bittersweet clarified. “He made a point of noticing me... he likes my smile.”

Fetish came into the kitchen. “Who likes your smile, Bittersweet?”

“Wigwam. And now I’m going to work.” She flashed a look at her sister, turned, and left the house.

“What was that all about?” asked Fetish of his wife as he tousled Tamarack’s mane.

“Bittersweet seems to think that Wigwam needs her tender loving care. If she gets between him and Chocolate Chip, one of them is going to get hurt.” She stuffed another spoonful of oatmeal in Tamarack’s willing mouth.

Taking the spoon from Dreamcatcher’s hoof, Fetish set it on the tray of the high chair. Then, he pulled his wife to him. “You’re worrying needlessly; and when you worry, you don’t smile. Have I ever told you that I like your smile?” Dreamcatcher shook her head, but was unable to restrain an upward turning of her mouth in response to the compliment. “There. That’s what I like to see,” Fetish approved.

And while his parents were busy with other things, Tamarack busied himself with the spoon that his father had so conveniently left for him to play with. It was very entertaining, the foal decided, to watch the spoonfuls of oatmeal hit the kitchen floor the way they did. And Mommy and Daddy did not say a thing.

* * *

“Wigwam! Welcome!” greeted Sugarberry as she found the orange stallion at her back door. “How’d you know that breakfast was ready?” She swung the door wide to admit him into the house.

“I followed the aroma of muffins,” he said after a quick glance at the kitchen table. “Hi, Van.”

“Good morning. You’re fortunate to get here before Wishbone’s up, or there wouldn’t be any muffins left.”

“That lazy bones is still in bed?”

“He worked late himself, what with Garnet at the casino,” Sugarberry said, pouring some hot coffee for the stallion. “Orange juice?”

“No, thanks. I was hoping to catch Chocolate Chip.”

“She’s gone already... some group project.”

“At this hour of the morning?” Wigwam raised a questioning brow.

“It was the only time they could all get together,” Sugarberry stated.

Sighing, Wigwam crossed to where Banderol lay contentedly batting at some colorful plastic butterflies hovering over his cradle. “What’s up, Bandy?” He lifted the foal into his forelegs. “This kid’s getting heavy,” he noted as he offered the small colt a partial bottle sitting nearby.

“He never turns down food,” Vanguard admitted.

“Obviously,” said Wigwam as Banderol emptied the bottle. Having fast learned the rudiments of foal care since the birth of this precious little one, Wigwam proceeded to pat Banderol’s back to prompt a burp. “Good job, brat,” he commended the foal.

Sugarberry rolled her eyes. “He’s not a brat.”

“You talking about me again?” queried Wishbone, arriving on the scene from his basement quarters.

Brat would be too mild a connotation for you,” Wigwam intoned. “And try as I might to convince Garnet of her folly in marrying you, I’m having no success.”

“So that’s why you’re scheduling her for all these late nights,” Wishbone griped, taking his place at the table.

“Hey! Better now than after the wedding,” Wigwam pointed out. He, Vanguard, and Sugarberry grinned as Wishbone’s rose-red cheeks grew even brighter.

“Speaking of the wedding,” Sugarberry said, shifting the stallions’ attention, “is everything lined-up for the dinner?”

“The casino will be closed for that grand occasion with the dining room serving the finest culinary repast that my chefs are capable of,” Wigwam stated impressively. “And the north room with accommodate the dance.”

“That’s a very special wedding gift for the young couple, Wigwam,” Sugarberry said admiringly.

“Garnet’s a very special mare; and Wishbone...” Wigwam’s eyes rested affectionately on the stallion. “... well, Wishbone’s not so bad... I guess.”

“That’s high praise, coming from Wigwam,” giggled Sugarberry as she patted Wishbone’s hoof.

“What was the final outcome of the arrest of Thorne the other night?” Vanguard wanted to know.

Wigwam let Wishbone answer the question as it concerned his future in-laws.

“It seems this Thorne had an old score to settle with Garnet’s parents; he’d been in love with Sassy before Blackcap came along and won her heart. And it just so happened that he was in Riverside specifically to rob The Wharf, knowing that establishment would have a larger than normal amount of jangles on the premises due to the fund-raiser, when who should he see but Sassy and Blackcap registering for the night at the motel. He thought fate had smiled down upon him, putting him in a position to pay back Garnet’s parents for what he still considered a spurned love.

“He went ahead with the robbery as he had intended; but afterwards he watched the motel to see what Blackcap and Sassy’s plans were. When he saw them pull out so early in the morning, he put it to good use. He waited until the robbery had been discovered, then put in an anonymous call to the police telling them that some suspicious looking strangers had been seen before dawn leaving town heading north. After that, he headed south and ended up in Dream Valley. All the cops had to do was question the motel owner who gave them an accurate description of Sassy and Blackcap, and wham!... they’re suspected of the crime.”

“It was Kyrene’s clever thinking that foiled Thorne’s plans here,” continued Wigwam. “Once he was in custody and his goon spilled the beans on him, he didn’t have much choice but to come clean. Blackcap and Sassy were delighted to be found guiltless, but Garnet said they hightailed it back to New Pony where things would be quieter for them.”

Everyone laughed at the inconsistency of New Pony being quieter than Dream Valley.

* * *

Once Wishbone and Vanguard had left the house, both heading for Pony Pride, Sugarberry refilled Wigwam’s coffee cup and took the now sleeping Banderol off to his own room; when she returned to the kitchen, she found the stallion staring out the window, lost in some gloomy reverie. The mare knew Wigwam well enough to understand his need to talk to someone about what was troubling him; and she could well guess the cause of his distress.

Gathering up the dirty dishes and running water into the sink for the chore at hoof, Sugarberry commented, “Chocolate Chip is driving herself too hard these final months of school; I wish she’d give herself a chance to step back and take a breather.”

“She won’t, you know.” Wigwam picked up a dish towel. “She’s isolating herself from all her friends even while living in the midst of us.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but you’re right. She doesn’t confide in me anymore, and I know Dreamcatcher is as worried about her as we are. Garnet and Fern and Chocolate Chip used to be close, but I haven’t seen the three of them together for ages. Even Banderol cries when she picks him up because she’s around so seldom.”

“I blame her parents,” Wigwam said, drying a plate with a vengeance. “If they’d valued her when she was growing up, she wouldn’t need to prove herself now.”

“Surely she knows how much we’ve valued her since she’s been with us in Dream Valley,” Sugarberry argued.

“That doesn’t seem to matter to her, does it?”

“Of course it matters to her! It’s just that she’s so caught up in doing the best she can in this final semester of school so she can land the perfect job that she doesn’t have time for fun and friends anymore.”

“Where do you think she’ll end up?”

“There have been several important looking letters from New Pony recently.”

Wigwam ran a hoof through his mane. “If she went to Hayton, at least she’d be close enough that we would be accessible if she needed help. New Pony’s a different world.”

“You took some college classes in New Pony at one point in your life, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did. And I came back to Dream Valley.”

“Chocolate Chip could do that, too, you know. Let her go free...”

“... and I may never see her again,” Wigwam finished morosely.

The doorbell sounded from the front of the house, so Sugarberry reached for a towel and left the kitchen to Wigwam’s ministrations while she answered the summons. When she opened the door, she found an unfamiliar stallion standing there with soft blue coloring and a white mane and tail. “May I help you?” she queried, uncertain of the visitor’s purpose.

The stallion smiled. “I was told by a reliable source that I might find Wigwam here.”

“You might,” hedged Sugarberry. “But first, I’d like to know who you are.”

His smile broadening to a grin, the stranger looked Sugarberry over carefully. “Well, I’d guess you made a bigger impression on me than I did on you, although I must admit you were just a filly when last I saw you.”

Sugarberry looked at the stallion closely, searching her memory; it was only when she noticed his symbol that it dawned on her who he was. Her eyes widened. “Teepee!”

“Right, my pretty lady. Now, may I see my brother?”

“Please, come in. This is such a surprise... does Wigwam know you’re in town?”

“No... and as I’ve been away for untold years, he may not remember me either.”

“I think he’ll know his own brother; I, on the other hoof, never had much contact with you. You graduated from high school while I was still back in eighth grade.”

“Yes, but I remember the pretty strawberry-covered filly while you had no recollection of me,” he teased.

Finding no suitable response, Sugarberry escaped with the comment, “I’ll get Wigwam.”

That stallion had taken it upon himself to finish washing the dishes that Sugarberry had left behind and was now drying them.

“There’s someone to see you,” Sugarberry informed him, her eyes dancing. Then, seeing Wigwam’s face light up for the wrong reason, she added, “It’s not Chocolate Chip.”

Wigwam glowered at Sugarberry. “Who would come here looking for me?” He stepped quickly to the doorway, the muffin tin and a towel still in his hooves, and went on into the living room with Sugarberry following curiously behind. When he saw the pale blue stallion, his face first registered surprise, then delight. “Teepee!” he bellowed. “What rock did you crawl out from under?”

The two stallions faced each other, both searching for all that was familiar in the other. After a moment, they came together in a boisterous hug with much back slapping, the muffin tin having been relegated to Sugarberry’s care. As the brothers stepped back, Teepee grinned.

“You’ve become rather domestic.” He eyed the muffin tin and the dishpan hooves.

“Sugarberry was kind enough to feed me breakfast; helping with dishes was the least I could do.”

At that moment, the wailing of a foal in need of his mother could be heard from upstairs; Sugarberry excused herself to take care of Banderol, leaving the two stallions to enjoy their reunion alone.

Teepee seemed overwhelmed. “A charming home, a beautiful wife, and a baby? I never expected to find you in such a state.”

“And you probably never will,” said Wigwam. Then, seeing the confusion on his brother’s face, he realized what Teepee was thinking. “None of this is mine... the house, the mare, or the foal.”

“So what are you doing here like the lord of the manor?”

“I came for breakfast, like I said.”

“The last time I talked to Mom, she said that you were serious over someone; when I saw Sugarberry, I thought...”

“You thought wrong. And I don’t have anyone in my life right now.” Wigwam’s tone allowed no questions. “So what are you doing back in Dream Valley anyway?”

“I got homesick, I guess. I’ve been on the road too long.”

“What have you been up to?”

“A little bit of this and a little bit of that.” Teepee grinned. “It would take a month of Sundays to tell you everything I’ve done over the years, so just suffice it to say that I’ve seen enough of the world to finally realize that Dream Valley isn’t so bad after all.”

“There’s someone I’d like you to share that thought with,” Wigwam muttered.

Raising an inquisitive eyebrow, Teepee stated. “There’s a mare involved in that statement somehow.”

“Like I said, there’s no one special in my life right now. Although...” He grinned at Teepee. “... there’s a new mare in town that you’ll have to meet.”

Teepee shook his head. “No, thanks. I’ll be a party to no matchmaking attempts; I like to do my own pickin’ and choosin’.”

“Well, stallions are still at a premium in Dream Valley; things haven’t changed that much.”

“Then I made the right choice to come back.”

The two stallions ended their discussion upon hearing Sugarberry’s hoofsteps on the stairs, and the mare made her appearance with Banderol. After Teepee had made the requisite comments on the size and cuteness of the foal, Sugarberry offered her guests coffee; but both of the stallions seemed in a hurry to be on their way. Sugarberry saw them to the door and then settled down with her little son.

* * *

“The casino looks prosperous enough,” commented Teepee as the two stallions approached the building. “I suppose you don’t need another helping hoof around the place.”

“You’re asking for a job?” asked Wigwam in surprise.

“If I’m going to settle in Dream Valley, I’ll need some source of income. By the way, I left my backpack on your porch.”

“Does that mean you’re planning on taking advantage of my hospitality?”

“It’s either that or camping out.”

“I’m sure Mom and Dad would take you in for awhile.”

“I’m not that desperate yet,” Teepee grinned. “A steady job is my first priority.”

“What are your qualifications?” queried Wigwam.

“You name it, I’ve done it; but I prefer not to be cooped up all day- I like to have my space.”

“Well, let me show you around; then we’ll talk about it.”

Upon entering the office area, Wigwam and Teepee came across Garnet and Hawkley in a heated discussion with a delivery pony concerning a lost parcel; the besieged delivery pony took advantage of the arrival of the stallions to slink out of the room, his ears red from the chastisement that had been dispensed so eloquently by Hawkley. Garnet looked curiously at Teepee while Hawkley still smouldered over the delayed arrival of some rather important papers for which he was responsible.

“Teepee, I’d like you to meet two of my managers, Garnet and Hawkley. And contrary to what it appeared when we came in, they keep things running smoothly around here. Garnet, Hawkley, this is my brother, Teepee.”

Garnet, her violet eyes sparkling, held out her hoof to the stallion. “This is a pleasure.” She glanced at Wigwam. “I didn’t know you had a brother.”

Wigwam shrugged. “He’s been gone for years and never bothered to keep in touch, so what was to mention?”

“Nice to meet you, Teepee,” greeted Hawkley, regaining his composure. “What brings you to Dream Valley?”

“The wandering life was getting old,” Teepee simply stated.

“So you’ll be resettling here?” queried Garnet.

“That’s the plan.”

Hawkley looked at Wigwam. “I thought you were going out to the dig site today.”

“I was, until Teepee showed up begging for a job. I thought I’d show him around here, then take him out to the site; he can decide for himself if he’d rather be involved with the casino or the Native Pony project.”

“What’s this all about?” asked Teepee. “I’m lost.”

“We made an interesting discovery a couple of years back- the remains of a Native Pony complex out in the hills northwest of town.”

Teepee’s eyes lit up. “I’ve done some excavating down around Painted Rock.”

“Where’s that?” Hawkley wanted to know.

“Way south of here.” Teepee turned his attention to Wigwam. “Let’s get moving; I’m impatient now to see what you’re working on in the hills.”

Chuckling, Wigwam looked at Hawkley. “Well, I guess your job is safe.”

Hawkley grinned, but he worriedly asked Garnet when the two brothers had moved on, “He wouldn’t dump my experience for one of his relatives, would he?”

Garnet gave it some thought. “To be on the safe side, you’d better track down those missing documents.” The mare flicked the stallion’s mane as she turned to resume her own duties. A satisfied grin crossed her face. Now Hawkley had the obligation of wasting his day in chasing down the wayward contracts rather than expecting her to handle it. The day was going to be much more satisfying than she had anticipated.

* * *

As the stallions entered the valley which would funnel them to the rise of hills in which the cave was located, Teepee began sending furtive glances behind him; Wigwam put up with this nervous behavior until they reached the point where a pony would need to scale the steep slope of the hill or take the natural stairs that provided a hidden but convenient route to the ledge at the top. He stopped before guiding his brother around the barrier to that rise and asked, “What’s bothering you? You’re all fidgety.”

Teepee stole another look behind him. “Something’s following us.”

Wigwam laughed. “Oh, that’s it. Well, for your information, it’s only Manitou.” Whistling, Wigwam brought the wolf from the shadows. The beautiful animal came out from behind a concealing boulder and made his way to Wigwam, although his eyes never left the blue stallion who was still an unknown entity to him. “Manitou, this is my brother; you can trust him.”

Looking doubtfully at the beast before him, Teepee wryly asked, “But can I trust him?”

“As long as you don’t give him reason to doubt your motives... which at all times should be of the highest caliber.”

“I’m in trouble then.” Teepee noticed further movement from the direction in which Manitou had come. “There’s another one!” Teepee took a step backward, and Manitou moved closer, his yellow eyes gleaming.

“That one’s Halona, Manitou’s mate.” Noting Manitou’s movement, Wigwam gleefully explained, “He’s just making sure that you don’t try anything.”

Watching the second animal approach cautiously, Teepee asked, “Are there more of them?”

“Their offspring might be around somewhere, but they usually keep their distance.” Wigwam patted Manitou’s head and whispered something in his ear. The wolf moved off to where Halona waited, and both of the magnificent animals melted away into the underbrush dotting the hillside. “We’ll see them later at the top of the hill,” Wigwam informed his brother with a grin.

“You’ve got some explaining to do,” Teepee growled.

As the two stallions made their way up the rough, stair-like incline to the summit of the hill, Wigwam explained his dream quest and the wolf cub who had joined up with him at its conclusion. When they reached the flat ledge that marked the end of the incline, Teepee looked at his brother admiringly.

“That’s an incredible story, Wigwam. It almost makes me wish I’d done something like that.”

“Well, it’s never too late to try,” Wigwam observed.

Standing on this high point, the two stallions took some time to look out over the valley and enjoy the expanse of countryside that lay at their hooves. The river sparkled on its course across the valley floor that was dressed in its somber attire, awaiting the birthing of spring. Even though snow lingered on the cold northern hillsides, the southern exposures were clear; if one looked closely, one could almost discern a tinge of pale green beginning to show through the brown stubble of last year’s growth.

For Wigwam, the prospect before him caused his heart to contract; for it became painfully obvious that all too soon, Chocolate Chip would be gone from his life, possibly forever.

The panorama laid out before him disappeared, and all he could see was the ending of the vision that had come to him in his last hours of his dream quest- the brown mare moving toward him in a fluid motion, her eyes intently fixed on his. She had been so substantial that Wigwam had expected to be able to reach out and touch her; but when he had opened his eyes to the reality around him, she was gone. In a moment of clarity, Wigwam realized that he may have misinterpreted the dream... that losing the mare was the final outcome, not the finding of her. Either way, the quest had come true. He had found the vision of his dream in Chocolate Chip and had lost her when she had said no to his proposal. It did not make the losing any easier, however.

“I saw her with the eye of my heart,” he whispered. “How can I purge that memory?”

“What was that you said?” asked Teepee, noting his brother’s anguish.

Shaking his head, Wigwam tried to cover the emotional turmoil he was experiencing. “Old ghosts... lost dreams. Nothing, really.” He turned quickly away from the view of the valley in an effort to quell the memories and led his brother back around the curvature of the hill to the secluded location of the Native Pony cave.

* * *

“I feel like I’m being reborn,” Teepee stated as he stared at the ancient artwork on the cave walls. “This is awesome!”

Wigwam, in his pensive mood, found the ambiance of the cave healing. “I needed to come here today. There’s something about this place that really roots a fella’.” He could feel his despondency take flight.

“Oh,” said a feminine voice. “There is someone here; we thought we were hearing ancient spirits.” Buttercrunch came into view from the tunnel, Bittersweet soon appeared behind her.

“Hi, Wigwam,” Bittersweet said, smiling at the stallion. Her attention then switched to Teepee; she looked him over carefully, then turned back to Wigwam. “There’s a decided family resemblance... I’d say brothers.”

“Very observant,” Wigwam acknowledged. “Bittersweet, Buttercrunch, allow me to introduce Teepee.”

Buttercrunch looked from one to the other of the stallions, a puzzled expression wrinkling her brow. “Why does Wigwam have teepees for a symbol and Teepee have wigwams?”

Both brothers broke out laughing. “It’s a very convoluted story,” Teepee admitted. “Some night I’ll take you to the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe and explain it,” he winked, causing Buttercrunch to blush. Teepee turned to Wigwam. “The Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe is still viable, I hope.”

“Oh, yes. It’s still the hub of Dream Valley, although the clientele seems to be getting younger and younger.”

“All of us should gather there Friday night,” remarked Bittersweet. “It would be fun to have a chance to get better acquainted. We can get the message out so that everyone involved with the site could be involved.”

“Planning a party, Sweetie?” asked Digger, coming out of the tunnel to check on the mares. “I thought you and Crunchie were going to finish your area by noon.”

Rolling her eyes, the unicorn mockingly curtsied to the paleontology student. Before she returned to her work, however, she verified the get-together at the ice cream shop. “Let’s say seven-thirty, Friday night. Don’t forget!” With a wave of her hoof she disappeared back down the tunnel with Buttercrunch in tow.

Digger remained behind, allowing Wigwam to introduce Teepee to yet another new acquaintance. Then the two stallions meandered back outside where they found Manitou and Halona waiting for them. Teepee found the wolves much less intimidating as they sat side-by-side on the hillside, and he was able to summon the courage to scratch Manitou behind his ear, although Halona shrunk away from the stallion’s touch. The she-wolf would only permit Teepee to stroke her pearly grey coat after Manitou had reassured her with soft whining and a gentle touch of his nose, and Teepee moved on with a newfound respect for the wonderful creatures of the forest. The stallions explored the vein of obsidian that stretched down the hillside and walked amongst the tumbled boulders that littered the area, talking as they went about the lives of the ponies who had once lived here.

“The cave must have had some sacred or ceremonial significance,” Wigwam stated. “As we uncover more artifacts and find out what other wonders are hidden further along in the tunnel, we’ll be able to put together a better idea of the culture that made its home here.” Wigwam gazed down into the valley on this side of the hill. “The main village was down there,” he said, pointing to the level depression between two hills.

“You’ve found evidence of that already?”

“No. We haven’t had the time or the pony-power to get that far yet.”

“Then how do you know the village was there?”

Wigwam looked at his brother strangely. “It’s odd sometimes. I just know. And I’m not the only one who gets these insights; it happens to Fetish and Clever Clover among others. It’s weird.”

“Maybe I’ll get them too after I’ve worked here awhile,” said Teepee. “From what I’ve seen so far, I definitely want to be involved with this project.”

“I was hoping you’d say that. I’ll put you in touch with Memoria at Pony Pride; she and Tarkington are in charge of the day-to-day operations of the site because most of the volunteers are Pony Pride students. But Domino is in charge of long-term planning. I think you should talk with him first; he might be willing to negotiate a paid position so that the work out here will move along faster.”

“Is this Domino the same pony who used to taunt you and Sprinter mercilessly when you two’d follow us around our haunts on Saturday nights?”

“The same. And it wasn’t only Domino doing the taunting.”

Teepee grinned. “Punk colt!” was all he said.

* * *

It was very late when Teepee left the casino; Garnet and Wigwam were taking care of the final business of the day, and Teepee had found it to his advantage to escape. Wigwam had shown him every facet of the operation this evening, and he was ready to leave all the details behind; he knew that he had made the correct choice in opting for work with the Native Pony site. Once out in the night, he let his hooves take him where they would as he reacquainted himself with the nighttime look and feel of Dream Valley.

His penchant for his wide open spaces lead him to the city park; here he slowed his paces until he came to the small pond that often was visited by ducks and geese and various water- loving fowl. Tonight the watering hole was deserted and Teepee found a park bench near the water’s edge close to a clump of bushes. Sitting down, he drew a relieved sigh. He had made the right decision in coming back to the town where he had grown up; he felt it in his bones.

As Teepee sat enjoying the quiet night with just a bare minimum of light reaching his position from the scattered lighting throughout the park, he was suddenly aware of the sound of hoofsteps somewhere nearby. Stiffening, he was debating between making his presence known or sinking deeper into the shadows to maintain his anonymity when he heard a heart-rending sigh followed by an angrily uttered explicative after which something small splashed into the water. For a moment, all was silent.

Teepee held his breath, wondering if he had just imagined what to him had sounded like a very angry pony sending something into the depths of the pond, when he heard something else. This was unmistakable. It was the soft sobbing of someone who was very unhappy.

* * *

Chocolate Chip had been going full tilt all day, starting with her early morning meeting with a group finalizing plans for one of the class projects soon due, then attending the regular classes at Pony Pride, working her shift at Bushwoolie Bargain Books (her lunch with Dreamcatcher had to be cancelled because of a rush of customers at that time), then research at the library until late in the evening. She had just finished there when she ran into several classmates who urged her to accompany them to their apartment; that gathering mushroomed into an impromptu party with a number of students present.

The get-together proved enjoyable to Chocolate Chip until some of the guys started harassing the girls about the beauty who was currently the diva in the fashion world for the college crowd, with the preferred colors of ponies became a spirited discussion.

Having been robbed of her mother’s love because she had been born so ordinary made the observations on the prettiest hues a sore point for Chocolate Chip even though the opinions being offered were all in fun. It took Chocolate Chip back to those days when her mother would sigh as she combed her daughter’s brown mane and begin a tirade about the variety of potential colors that Chocolate Chip could have been but was not.

Twilight Jewel had harped on the subject so often and so vehemently that Chocolate Chip had grown up feeling somehow at fault for lacking the pastel colors so prevalent in the world of little ponies. Her own self-worth had suffered tremendously. She had lived under her mother’s depressing dissatisfaction until Chocolate Chip had run off after graduating from high school in an effort to escape the humiliation that had become a normal part of her psych.

It was only after she had arrived in Dream Valley and had been lovingly accepted by Sugarberry and Tabby and the rest of the residents of this charming town that Chocolate Chip had begun to shed the cocoon she had wrapped around herself as a barrier to the real and perceived insults of the world. Her college classes and her work at the book store had further reinforced her value in her own eyes so that she began to find pride in her unorthodox appearance.

When Wigwam had focused his interest on her, Chocolate Chip had blossomed. When that interest had grown into love, she had returned it in the knowledge that in was an unconditional love... a love that accepted her for what she was on the inside as much as for what she was on the outside. The hardest thing she had ever done was to reject his marriage proposal. The reason for that was as unclear to the mare as it was to the stallion.

Burning within Chocolate Chip was a desire to prove to her mother just how wrong she had been in labeling her daughter a failure and a disappointment. In her labyrinthine thoughts, Chocolate Chip determined that a happy marriage was deficient in what she truly wanted to accomplish with her life in this regard. Her mother would see marriage only as a default, falling far short of the dreams that Twilight Jewel now held for Lollipop, Chocolate Chip’s younger and prettier sister. In Chocolate Chip’s mind, therefore, she must accomplish something above the ordinary, something that would bring her the respect and the admiration of a part of society that was itself above the ordinary. And since she was a young filly, Chocolate Chip had seen New Pony as that charmed place where even a pauper could become a princess.

So embroiled in her thoughts that Chocolate Chip had transcended the current argument of her friends, she was brought back to reality when the stallion next to her, Loper, punched her foreleg.

“What?” asked a startled Chocolate Chip, blinking to dissipate the otherworldliness she was feeling.

“You’re the most unique, I said.” As the mare continued to stare at him without comprehension, Loper rephrased his statement. “Because you’re so different from the rest of the mares, you win the prize.” He held out a Hershey’s kiss in his hoof.

“It’s appropriate,” giggled Parsley. “Chocolate Chip’s too busy to ever receive a real kiss.”

“Too plain to ever receive a real kiss, you mean,” someone at the edge of the room whispered in a waspish voice.

“Not at all.” Loper sprang to Chocolate Chip’s defense, brushing her cheek with a brotherly token of affection. “There’s no one else I’d rather have on my team.” Loper was one of the members of the group project that was currently taking so much of Chocolate Chip’s time.

“That’s because she’s smarter than you,” someone joked.

“Granted,” grinned Loper, spoiling the effect of his earlier protection.

Fortunately for Chocolate Chip, the party had broken up quite soon after that.

* * *

The unhappy mare was one of the first to leave the apartment, the offending piece of candy that mirrored the chocolate chips on her hip still in her hoof. She was grateful to get away from the high-spirited crowd; she swiftly left them behind, making her way to the park where she could put the episode behind her... for she knew that sleep would be impossible.

How badly she wished never to feel the ostracization that had been her lot in life since her birth when her father, after one look at the mud-colored foal born to him, had dubbed her Chocolate Chip! Her mother had offered no challenge to the title, forever relegating her common color to be accented rather than played down. A name like Meadowsweet or Charming Chip or Sweet Delight might have given new acquaintances a better connotation of her in their minds’ eye. But Chocolate Chip left nothing to the imagination.

Chocolate Chip, approaching the pond in the park, crushed the offending candy kiss, sighed deeply, and with an accompanying utterance of complete contempt, threw the confection with a vengeance into the black pool of water before her. It brought a brief moment of relief to purge herself of the reminder of the words so blatantly uttered so short a time ago, Too plain to ever receive a real kiss, you mean. Chocolate Chip dropped onto the conveniently located bench near her and released her pent-up frustration in a bout of tears.

* * *

“Excuse me, but is there anything I can do?”

Teepee had come around the clump of barren bushes to find a mare sitting on another bench directly opposite where he had been sitting. Chocolate Chip looked up in surprise, her tears stifled.

In the pale light that filtered none too clearly to this niche, the mare could not see distinctly who had spoken to her; but the voice had the familiar timbre of Wigwam’s, so she was not afraid. However, as the stallion stepped closer and the light glanced off his pale blue body, she realized that this was a stallion she had never seen before. She got slowly to her hooves. “Who are you?”

“Just another pony who sought out the park to do some thinking.” He saw the recently shed tears shimmering on the mare’s cheeks, although her color was impossible to make out as the shadows of the bushes effectively curtained her. Teepee found himself wanting to protect her from whatever problems had brought her here in the middle of the night. “I couldn’t help but hear your distress.”

The sound of his voice, so much like Wigwam’s, had a soothing effect on Chocolate Chip; she smiled. “Not distress really- more like exasperation.” She sat down on the bench again, allowing space for the stallion to join her if he wished.

“Whatever it was you threw into the pond, I hope it wasn’t something you’ll regret losing when morning rolls around.”

“Oh, no,” Chocolate Chip said with a giggle. “It was only a ruined piece of candy.”

“And what will the fish think of that?”

“They’ll fight over it, I’d imagine,” Chocolate Chip stated. “Tabby’s crayfish goes into ecstasy when he gets his claws on chocolate.”

“Tabby. Now there’s a filly I’d like to see again... although I guess she wouldn’t be a filly any more.”

“She’s married and has a daughter of her own now,” Chocolate Chip informed him, then asked curiously. “You’ve been away from Dream Valley then?”

“Yeah... for too long.” Teepee eyed the empty portion of the bench. “Mind if I sit down?”

“No, I don’t mind.” Chocolate Chip intuitively trusted this stallion. “I warn you, however, that I won’t be very good company.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Teepee responded as he took his place. A companionable silence followed as they watched a rabbit hop down the slope to the water’s edge for a drink of water.

When the lagomorph had bounded on its way, Chocolate Chip asked, “Have you ever been to New Pony?”

“Yeah, a time or two. Did I meet you there? I have to admit that I can’t see you very clearly in this dark corner of the park.”

Chocolate Chip was pleased that he could not see her clearly; he would not form an opinion of her based on her drab appearance. That appealed to the mare and she found herself more open with this stranger than she would have been under normal circumstances. “No; I’ve never been to New Pony myself. But I’m going there soon to interview for a job... I’ll be graduating from Pony Pride in May.”

Teepee felt a sense of loss as Chocolate Chip relayed this piece of information. He had only just met her, yet already he felt that there was a bond between them. “Going off to the big city, are you? I’ve been a lot of places, but I didn’t find a spot that could hold me for long. Now that I feel the need to put down some roots, Dream Valley seems to be the best spot in Ponyland to do that.”

“You sound like... my friends. But I have to see some of the world for myself before I can make that determination, and I have to test my knowledge in the real world. I want to do something worthwhile, to put my talents to the best possible use.”

“Very noble ideals.”

“No, not noble at all. Very selfish, actually. You see, I want to prove my worth... to prove that I can make a difference in the world regardless of my... of my... background.” Chocolate Chip stuttered to a halt, realizing that she had almost divulged the one thing that she did not want the stallion to know... that she was a non-pastel misfit.

“And what of your background?” asked Teepee, wanting to know everything he could find out about this mare.

“Well... it’s just... I come from such a small town, and no one expects anyone to really accomplish anything with their lives other than to get married and settle down at some boring job that they’ll have to tend to for the rest of their lives.”

“It’s a good thing we’re having this talk, for that’s exactly what I was aiming for,” laughed the stallion. “I’ll have to put some more thought into this plan of mine; maybe I’ll hit the road again, too.”

“What kinds of things have you done in your life?”

“Nothing spectacular. I did factory work in Hayton, was greens keeper for a golf course in New Pony, painted houses in Grayton, taught skiing at Evergreen, even went to Calimadad Island for a taste of pirating.”

“After all of that, you decided to come back to Dream Valley?”

“Does that surprise you so much?”

“Yes, it does. It sounds like you could have done anything, anywhere.”

“As of yet, however, I’ve never been truly satisfied. I always knew I’d end up back here.” Teepee stared through the space between him and Chocolate Chip and wished he could see her without the mask of the murky night; he wanted very much to become better acquainted with this mare. “We’ve been talking like old friends, and I don’t even know your name.”

The last thing Chocolate Chip wanted to reveal was her name. Her coloring remained a mystery to the stallion... so must the name that implied everything that was unimaginative and dreary.

“My name’s... C.C.,” she responded.

“CeeCee,” the stallion repeated with a grin. “And I’m Teepee.”

“T... T... Teepee?” Chocolate Chip whispered back. Wigwam had a brother named Teepee; he had told her stories about their foalhood after she had seen a family picture at his parent’s house. “You... you’re... a Native Pony then?”

“Y... yes.” Teepee wondered why the mare was shrinking back from him.

“And you have family in Dream Valley?” Her voice could barely be heard.

“My parents have a farm outside of town. And my brother, Wigwam, runs the casino.”

“You’re Wigwam’s brother?” The mare almost choked on the words.

“You know him?”

“Why... Y... yes,” Chocolate Chip struggled to sound natural. “He’s the author of a book on Native Pony tales.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“You haven’t read your own brother’s book?”

“No, I haven’t. Should I have?”

“Yes, you should. He did a fantastic job on retelling the old stories; his book is still very popular.”

“You’re quite a fan, I see.”

Chocolate Chip was glad the stallion could not see her cheeks deepen in color. “I respect his talent.” Suddenly wanting this evening to end, Chocolate Chip yawned. “I really should be getting home.”

Teepee agreed. “It’s very late. I’ll walk with you.”

“No!” Chocolate Chip declared, then moderated what must have sounded like a sharp answer. “Thank you, but no. I still have some thinking to do, and I need to be alone for that.”

“Let me at least see you out of the park.”

The seeing part was what bothered Chocolate Chip. She had not wanted the stallion to see her true color; now it was imperative he not know who she was. He must never make the connection that the mare he had shared this tete-a-tete with in the park was the one who had captured his brother’s heart... and then broken it. She had to protect her identity at all costs.

“You go on,” she said. “I do my best thinking here.”

“I don’t approve of leaving you here alone at this time of night.”

“I often come here,” Chocolate Chip explained airily. “It’s perfectly safe.” She attempted to explain her actions. “I’m glad we had the chance to talk, but right now I’d like to be left alone.”

There was not much Teepee could say if the mare truly wanted him to leave. “I hope we meet again,” he said hopefully.

“I’ve been very busy with school and see no let-up before graduation; then I’ll be on my way to New Pony. But I wish you all the best, Teepee.”

So that was how it was to be. The mare did not want to further this acquaintance. Teepee stood and bid her a cool goodnight and left her to her solitude.

* * *

Domino was pleased to hear of Teepee’s interest in the Native Pony site and admitted that plans were in place to hire a pony who could oversee the operations at the site full-time so that the project could proceed more efficiently. It was only a matter of days before Teepee was given the title of Operations Manager and granted office space adjacent to Domino. Teepee immediately called together the ponies most closely involved with the project- Memoria, Tarkington, Clever Clover, Wigwam, and Fetish- and organized a plan of operation that would best benefit all phases of the work needed to be done. The stallion was kept so busy that he was grateful when Friday night rolled around, and he could escape his newly acquired responsibilities at the scheduled function at the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe.

One of the things Teepee was looking forward to was the hoped for appearance of CeeCee at the ice cream shop; after all, it was the focal point of Dream Valley society. And even as busy as he had been with the Native Pony site, he had found it hard to forget the pony from the park; often he would try to fill in the details of the mare’s face that had been so elusive under cover of the play of the limited light and the surfeit of shadows at the park that night. He wondered if he would recognize her if he saw her clearly. He knew that she was not one of the soft pastel shades or she would have been more visible; so his gaze always searched out the deeper toned mares in an effort to put a face to his fleeting encounter with CeeCee.

Bittersweet had done her work well, and the Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe was crowded with ponies interested in the Native Pony work outside of Dream Valley. Many of those at the shop were students at Pony Pride who volunteered their free time to working on the project like Buttercrunch, Ages, Digger, Rocky, and Gene. Clever Clover and his friends attended as did Domino, Memoria, and Tarkington.

Fetish and Dreamcatcher, along with Vanguard and Sugarberry and a number of the other young couples, were absent, tied up with Princess Tiffany’s plans to put her choice of charitable action into effect- a project inspired by her Christmas exposure to Pampas, Sunny, and Mesquite- which involved the education of new parents with the information they needed to respond to the needs of their foals in a capable manner. The princess was meeting with as many new parents as she could gather at the Royal Paradise to discern their problems, needs, and desires so that the informational newsletter that she was organizing would be as comprehensive and practical as possible.

Arriving in Wigwam’s company, Bittersweet was in a party mood. Her recent arrival in Dream Valley had been better than she had expected. Dreamcatcher had allowed her freedom in managing the shop at the mall once she had determined that Bittersweet would indeed stay loyal to the Native Pony traditions that it had been founded upon.

In her private life, Bittersweet was not unaware that Wigwam found her attractive and enjoyed her company; and Bittersweet was equally impressed with Teepee, although that stallion seemed to be more interested in his new responsibilities than in cultivating a social life. She found herself walking a fine line, therefore, in an attempt to coax Wigwam to forget his former feelings for Chocolate Chip and to kindle in Teepee some degree of regard. It was a game she relished playing, so much so that by mid-evening she had both stallions at her table in lively conversation; she could hardly ignore the fact, however, that both stallions kept casting discreet glances in the direction of the door. It was not difficult to determine that Wigwam was hoping that Chocolate Chip would show up, but who it was that Teepee was expecting was beyond Bittersweet’s power of conjecture.

When Buttercrunch slipped into a chair next to Teepee once it had become vacant, the filly prodded Teepee to fulfill his promise to explain the story behind his and Wigwam’s names. The two brothers groaned to be put on the spot this way, but Teepee obligingly began the tale.

“When I was born, Dad was away for the day helping a cousin on his farm. Mom was home alone, but she did manage to get word to the midwife in time for her to help with the delivery. Now, this gal knew what she was doing when it came to birthing, but she was a little scatterbrained when it came to some other things. She properly took down all the information she could concerning the date and the time and my parents name and even my weight. And she had Mom sign a form to cover all the legalities, one of which was the name of the foal. Tecka told Mom that she’d make sure it got properly recorded and all, and Mom never gave it another thought. When Dad got home and saw me, he promptly named me Wigwam because of the round, domed houses that were my symbol.”

“But you’re not Wigwam,” argued Buttercrunch.

“I was for the first couple of weeks of my life among my family,” continued Teepee. “When a copy of the birth certificate was received, Mom and Dad found that Tecka had listed my name as Teepee. When approached about it, she could only remember that she wrote down the symbol in the space for the name because Mom had said the name would be decided later. Of course, she forgot that important detail and turned in the paperwork on my birth as it stood.”

“But your symbol is of wigwams,” Buttercrunch again disputed. “So your name should still have been registered correctly.”

“You would think,” conceded Teepee. “But when Dad asked Tecka what an arched, dome-like Native Pony house was called, she answered, Teepee. So there you have it. Mom was exasperated, but Dad thought it was funny.”

“Dad has a strange sense of humor,” said Wigwam in an aside.

“After a certain amount of arguing- or so we’re told- Dad finally convinced Mom that it was easier to go along with the official record and start calling my Teepee than it would be to fight the red tape to change my name.”

“So when Wigwam came along...” mused Bittersweet.

“When I came along,” interrupted Wigwam, “with conical teepees as a symbol, my Dad said the only thing he and Mom could think to do was to call me Wigwam. And although neither Teepee or I had anything to do with the naming, we’re the ones stuck with explaining the discrepancy between our names and our symbols. And as you’ve all heard it now, I’d appreciate never having to explain it again.” He glowered at Buttercrunch who merely grinned back at him.

* * *

Teepee found himself walking through the park at odd moments of the weekend in hopes of running into CeeCee; he even spent several hours on Saturday night, after a long day of searching out the appropriate apartment to house him and his meager accumulation of possessions, warming the bench on which he and the mare had carried on their first and only conversation. All it had gotten him was soaked when a near freezing shower had dumped a fair amount of moisture on the soon to be budding landscape of Dream Valley.

On Monday evening, Teepee decided on a trip to the mall to purchase some needed items for his apartment. In passing the bookstore, his curiosity to see his brother’s book got the best of him; he turned in to the shop and was faced with an enormous array of books that would take hours to peruse. He spent several minutes scanning the different categories, then opted to ask for help from the mare that was at this time on a ladder straightening books on the top shelf of the cookbook section.

Weaving his way to the foot of the ladder, he asked, “Could you tell me where I would find a copy of Native Pony Tales?”

Laughing, the mare began her reply before looking down. “As if you didn’t...” At this point, her gaze fell on Teepee, and her laughter abruptly ended. “Oh, I thought it was someone else; I’ll show you where the display is.”

Busy watching her step as she came down off the ladder and filled with fear that Teepee would somehow recognize her, Chocolate Chip reached the floor and cast a shrouded glance at the stallion. What she saw told her that her worst fears had been realized.

The stallion was standing in mute shock, staring at Chocolate Chip as if he had seen a vision.

In an effort to get the stallion’s mind back to his true purpose for being here, Chocolate Chip motioned to Teepee. “This way,” she said, taking a step to lead him to Wigwam’s book.

But her forward progress was impeded by Teepee’s extended forehoof blocking her way. “You’re the mare in the park,” he said, searching her eyes. “You’re CeeCee.”

For one brief moment, Chocolate Chip contemplated outright lying to the stallion; but she knew that the truth was already visible on her face. “You recognized my voice,” she said instead. What would Wigwam say if he ever found out that she had sat in the park conversing with his brother when she refused to exchange so much as the time of day with Wigwam? Her heart dropped to her hooves.

“I’ve been trying to envision what you looked like ever since I left you sitting on that bench. The reality is more beautiful than any of my daydreams.”

He found her beautiful? That was a first. No, Chocolate Chip reprimanded herself. Wigwam had often told her that she was beautiful, but she had dismissed that assessment as the ravings of a stallion in love who quite easily overlooked the obvious faults in the mare he was besotted with. Oh, Wigwam, I love you so! her heart cried out within her in a blaring moment of honesty.

Noting the distress on the mare’s face, Teepee took full responsibility. “I’m sorry if I was too forward. It’s just that I’m so happy to have found you again.”

“I was surprised, that’s all,” said Chocolate Chip, sidestepping the stallion. “Wigwam’s book is right over here.” She rounded the corner to a tastefully done display of not only Native Pony Tales but other books concerning the history of the Native Ponies and some artifacts supplied by the historical society. Chocolate Chip left Teepee by himself to peruse the book while she disappeared to the checkout counter.

Teepee was displeased with the aloof demeanor of CeeCee, not at all like the open and friendly mare in the park; yet, undoubtedly, she was the one that had caught his fancy. He spent a great deal of time not only looking over his brother’s book but also examining a number of other books from a variety of genres while other customers came and went. He set on the plan to remain in the store until CeeCee closed up, then induce her to accept his company to the ice cream shop or a movie or the casino or simply a walk in the park.

It was not until Chocolate Chip had dimmed the lights in warning and lowered the grating partway across the store’s entrance that Teepee brought his purchases to the counter. He was silent as she tallied up his bill and the jangles were exchanged; but when she handed him his package, he did not take it right away. Instead, his eyes captured hers and he said, “Name any place in Dream Valley that serves a decent meal, and I’ll treat you.”

Lowering her gaze, Chocolate Chip demurred. “There are lots of chores I have to do once the store is closed.”

“I could help,” Teepee offered, smiling his most appealing smile. “You’d get done in half the time, and we could still have dinner together.”

The seconds ticked by as Chocolate Chip studied her options. Number one, she could not accept a clandestine meeting with Wigwam’s brother; she was intrigued by him, but only because his voice offered her a piece of Wigwam without the danger of yielding all her well-laid plans of a future in New Pony. Number two, if any of her friends saw her with Teepee, word would get back to Wigwam; that was an unthinkable complication. Even though she had refused to marry Wigwam, she did not want to make his life any more miserable. Number three, she could give Teepee her most frigid rebuff right now, but the stallion did not deserve such treatment. Number four, she could stall for time and come up with a better excuse later.

Realizing that she still held his package of books, Chocolate Chip offered them once more to the stallion. “It would be against company policy to allow your help, Teepee. Why don’t you take your purchases home while I finish up here; we could meet at the park in one hour... I’ll pick up some burgers and fries and we can have a picnic.”

His eyes hooded now, Teepee queried, “One hour at the park where we met before?”

“Y... yes.” Chocolate Chip verified, realizing with a plummeting feeling that she now could not get out of this rendezvous.

“Okay. I’ll take you at your word, CeeCee. Later, then.”

* * *

The aroma of the fries from the parcels she carried succeeded in dispelling most of the gloom that Chocolate Chip was feeling so that by the time she reached the park, she was not nearly as downcast as she had been when Teepee had first made his date with her. She realized that she had not eaten since breakfast, and the mere thought of food cheered her tremendously.

As she neared the bench where Teepee had first come upon her, Chocolate Chip could make out the bulk of the stallion as he stood waiting for her. He came to meet her and rescued the two sodas that were perilously close to tilting out of their tray. He preceded her to the bench flanked by the bushes and swept his hoof forward to call her attention to the arrangements he had been busily seeing to.

In front of the bench, close to the water’s edge, he had spread a picnic cloth, a ghostly white square on the dark ground. On one side of the cloth stood a stocky candle, its flame casting a circular glow which revealed two place settings clustered cozily side-by-side. Chocolate Chip heard the click of a button, and soft music came from a point nearby. It was so much like some of the surprises that Wigwam had arranged for her during their courtship that Chocolate Chip could not restrain a tear from slipping down her cheek. Not wanting to offend Teepee, however, she quickly brushed it aside and laughingly expressed her pleasure.

“What a grand setting for our burgers and fries! You’ve been busy since you left the shop.”

“Yes, and I’m starved. Shall we eat before our food grows cold?”

“Yes, please; my stomach has been complaining since I left the restaurant.”

Teepee threw down several rugs on which to sit and the two ponies took their places, Chocolate Chip distributing the offerings on the two plates while Teepee carefully searched out a level enough spot for the sodas. Chocolate Chip began her feast by munching on some of the fries, finding a contentment in her surroundings that she had not experienced for months.

“This was an excellent idea,” she said to Teepee. “Thanks for thinking of it.”

“It was your idea to come to the park.”

“But you supplied the ambiance,” pointed out the mare. “This simple repast tastes like gourmet food because of your well-laid preparations.”

“I’m glad it’s pleased you,” said Teepee, turning so that he could enjoy the play of the candlelight off Chocolate Chip’s face.

“It feels so good to be away from all my responsibilities for awhile; it’s like stepping back into a fairytale of some kind.”

“A romantic one, I hope; where the prince gets the beautiful princess in the end.”

“And live happily ever after?” frowned Chocolate Chip. “I don’t think that ever happens.”

“Why would you say that? Surely you know some ponies who have made a good life for themselves.”

“I’ll admit that a number of ponies are currently living satisfactory lives, but what will the future bring? They could lose all their comfort and happiness in a second.”

“They’d have their memories.”

“Doesn’t that make it worse... knowing what you had taken away from you and having to settle for less?”

Teepee contemplated the mare before him. What had happened to her in her young life to make her so bitter? He grinned at her, trying to lighten the mood. “I don’t want to spend our time together arguing. I want you to put aside all your cares and concerns and just enjoy the evening.”

“I want that, too,” admitted Chocolate Chip. After chewing on a bite of her burger, she asked, “Where are you living now that you’re back in Dream Valley?”

“Wigwam put me up for a few days, but I found a suitable apartment over at the Riverbend complex.”

“I hear that’s a nice enough place.”

Chuckling, Teepee asked, “Do I detect a note of disapproval in that remark?”

“Oh, no; certainly not. It’s just that I’m used to a real house; apartments seem stifling somehow.”

“You won’t have a choice when you get to New Pony... unless you’re an heiress of some renown,” Teepee teased.

“I realize I’ll have to make some changes in my expectations, at least at first. But give me five years and I’ll be able to show you the beginnings of a self-made heiress anyway.” She smiled to temper her bragging.

“Your dream will come true,” Teepee said softly, not able to find any true joy in this mare going her own way to New Pony but not wanting to burst her bubble either. “You have the determination it takes to be a success.”

“Thanks for saying that. I appreciate your vote of confidence, even though I realize that you don’t know me well enough to make such a pronouncement as of yet.”

“Will you let me get to know you better?”

The question was asked in all seriousness, but Chocolate Chip could not let this friendship get out of hoof. She answered vaguely.

“I doubt we’ll see much of each other before I leave for New Pony.”

“That’s not until May.”

“Right... a month and a half. But I’ve got so much to attend to... interviews, studying, working, and as you’ve pointed out, apartment hunting. It all takes so much time. My personal life will have to be put on hold.”

But was not it already on hold, and had been ever since Christmas Eve when she had said no to Wigwam’s proposal? In this moment, she knew that if it were Wigwam next to her in this isolated place, she would throw her plans to the winds and tell him that yes she would marry him and settle down here in Dream Valley. That was why she had to maintain such a painful distance between them or her resolve would falter.

Their conversation stalled at this point, Chocolate Chip losing her appetite as she contemplated the fact that she was throwing away the one definite chance at happiness she had by spurning Wigwam’s attention. Even as comfortable as she was in Teepee’s company, she knew she could never think of him as more than Wigwam’s brother. And what if she failed in New Pony? Sure, Wigwam had said he would wait for her to change her mind; but what if someone else came along to win his affection, and she returned to find his feelings otherwise engaged? The mare was so engrossed in her problems that she released a sigh that spoke volumes to the stallion.

“You’re thinking of depressing things again; that wasn’t supposed to happen tonight.”

“I’m sorry,” Chocolate Chip said, her voice low and sad. She suddenly began gathering the disposable items from their picnic into a bag, then stood up, Teepee following her action. She shoved the garbage in his direction and he took it without thinking. What the mare said next, however, gave him plenty to think about.

“If you have any feelings for me at all, Teepee, promise me that you’ll not seek me out ever again... and if we meet accidently, you’ll not acknowledge our acquaintance.”

“That’s it? No choices?”

“No choices. If you attempt to see me, I’ll only cut you off.”

“Why? Am I so distasteful?”

“My heart belongs to someone else.”

“Is that the reason you’re so set on going to New Pony?”

“Yes and no. But that doesn’t signify. Promise me that you’ll forget I exist.”

Teepee looked at the mare for a long minute before he unwillingly agreed. “I won’t seek you out.”

“Thank you, Teepee.” She turned to leave him, but turned back for one last thought. “When you find the right mare, treat her to your nighttime picnic in the park; I guarantee your success at winning her heart.” With a forced smile, she hurried down the path leaving Teepee with the remains of the picnic.

“And how will I know the right mare when I see her?” grumbled Teepee as he set to work gathering up his ambiance.

* * *

“Teepee, how many of these holes do we have to dig?” complained Bittersweet, pushing her wet mane off her sweating forehead and knocking her broad-rimmed hat to the side in so doing.

“As many as we need to,” replied Teepee, throwing another scoop of dirt out of the hole he was digging.

Bittersweet looked out across the valley floor where she, Teepee, Clever Clover, Buttercrunch, and Fetish were digging three-meter-deep holes in the area where Wigwam said the Native Pony village had once existed. Dreamcatcher was also there with Tamarack; her job was to record any findings that were made in these preliminary holes and to map out their location.

Bittersweet was working on only her second exploration into the dirt, but her unaccustomedness to this kind of work had her hooves already blistering. If she was not trying to impress Teepee, she would have thrown down her shovel and marched off into the sheltering shade where Dreamcatcher sat with the foal. As it was, she sighed over her sore hooves and kept on working.

The sigh reminded Teepee of CeeCee’s sadness when he had last seen her; it had been difficult for him to adhere to the promise he had made, but he had stayed away from the mall so that he would not further aggravate CeeCee’s scorn.

He looked at Bittersweet with a discerning eye. Had this vivacious mare bitten off more than she could chew by volunteering so confidently to help the more seasoned ponies in this day’s endeavor? He noted that she was favoring her right hoof as if it was in pain. He smirked, recalling her impassioned plea to be included in the foray for the village- that she was stronger than she looked and would have no problem in holding her own- and returned to his own digging.

When he next looked her way, however, her discomfort was apparent. Teepee stopped his work and went to the mare. “Let me see your hooves,” he commanded.

Bittersweet, taken by surprise, looked up at the stallion and held out her two sore hooves. Teepee took her hooves into his own and looked at the open blisters that were now tainted with soil and shook his head. “Why didn’t you do something about these sooner?”

“Because you would have thought me a total weakling.”

“I knew you wouldn’t get far when we started this morning, but I thought you’d have the sense to quit when you realized your limits,” Teepee retorted.

“I’ll be fine,” sniffed Bittersweet, pulling her hooves away from the stallion’s grasp.

“You will not be fine until you do something about those blisters. There’s a first aid box under the trees near your sister.” Having enlightened the mare with that information, he next pulled her along with him, none too gently, in that direction.

“I can take care of her,” Dreamcatcher offered as she saw what the problem was.

“No,” said Teepee, “I’d rather do this myself. It’s payment for allowing this insufferable female to finagle herself into this expedition against my better judgement.” He then poured some water from a canteen over the afflicted hooves, impervious to the pain it caused the mare. When she winced, he shook his head. “Tsk, tsk, Bittersweet. Keep a stiff upper lip; it’s going to hurt worse before it gets any better.”

Drying her hooves, he next applied a greasy ointment to the open sores. Bittersweet clenched her teeth to avoid letting him know how much it stung. When he had finished, he led her to Dreamcatcher who had to hide her smile as Bittersweet was none too gracefully forced to sit next to her.

Teepee directed his next statement to Dreamcatcher. “You’ll have two to watch now, but I’m sure you can handle it.”

Bittersweet glared at the stallion, disgusted with his rough treatment of her and incensed over being relegated to Dreamcatcher’s care as if she was no more than another foal of Tamarack’s tender age. “I hope you fall into one of your stupid holes,” she spat as he turned to leave.

“Temper, spitfire. I’m the one in charge here.” Teepee flashed a wink in Dreamcatcher’s direction which Bittersweet missed because of the hat brim; the stallion completely ignored Bittersweet’s chagrin.

“That stallion has no feelings whatsoever!” Bittersweet ranted when Teepee was out of hearing range. “I don’t understand what I ever wanted to be near him for!”

Dreamcatcher could have told her sister I told you so, but she refrained from adding to her sister’s indignation. “The salve should take the soreness of your hooves away quite soon; your discontent over Teepee, however, may take longer to heal.”

“You warned me away from Wigwam because of Chocolate Chip, and I never get a chance to talk with Teepee unless it’s about this dig... and you saw how much he wants me out here.”

“There are other stallions around.”

Bittersweet gaped at her sister. “You’ve told me a zillion times that I should marry a Native Pony; how many of those do you see?”

“Maybe it’s time I let you do the purchasing for the shop; that way you could assess a wider field.”

Assuming a pouty look, Bittersweet looked over to where Teepee was finishing the hole that she had started, then down at her hooves. “Any more like Teepee, and I’ll need a hospital room.”

Laughing, Dreamcatcher relegated Tamarack’s care to her sister as she herself prepared to appraise the continuing work of the other ponies. “The dinner party Sugarberry’s giving for Teepee is tomorrow night. Maybe you’ll have a better chance with him in that setting.”

Bittersweet brightened. “Chocolate Chip and Wigwam will both be there, too; if nothing else, I can see for myself where that romance stands.” She flashed a smile at her sister. “Maybe Wigwam will be in the running yet.”

* * *

The night of Sugarberry’s dinner found Wigwam and Teepee walking to her house together. Wigwam had been poor company at the onset, but Teepee knew that it was only the forewarning of some serious conversation ahead. When Wigwam finally cleared his throat, Teepee glanced at his brother expectantly.

“Mom told you I was serious over a mare, and I told you it was a thing of the past. I wasn’t exactly truthful because I still love her to distraction, but she won’t have me. The reason I’m telling you this know is that she’ll be at the dinner tonight, and you should be prepared for any uncomfortable vibes between the two of us.”

“Why did Sugarberry invite her if you two are estranged?”

“I asked her to,” Wigwam admitted. “Chocolate Chip won’t talk to me nor will she let me get close enough to talk to her. Besides, she rooms with Sugarberry and Van.”

“Chocolate Chip... that’s the mare’s name?”

“Yes.” Wigwam remained silent for a moment. “She means everything to me, Teepee. You see, when I experienced my dream quest, it culminated in a vision of a mare. That mare was Chocolate Chip; but I hadn’t met her yet at that time. It was like destiny when she walked into my life... but she decided to walk out of it again. Marriage wasn’t in her grand design.”

“I’m sorry; it sounds like she threw away a good thing.”

“That’s the rub. She still has my heart.” Wigwam purposefully shook off the melancholy in which this discussion had shrouded him. “I usually use the back door at Sugarberry’s, but I suppose beings this is a more formal affair, we’d better show up at the front of the house tonight.”

When the stallions had been admitted to the convivial atmosphere within the turreted house on Fifth Street, they found that many of the guests were already assembled. Most of them Teepee had already met- Garnet and Wishbone, Dreamcatcher and Fetish, Bittersweet, but others needed an introduction or re-introduction. Teepee remembered the outspoken Tabby but was new to her husband, Thomas. Agatha and Hubert were included in the group as well, and Teepee was intrigued to meet Hubert for the first time and hear his fascinating tale of a large portion of his life which had been spent far from his home and family.

Teepee was very curious to meet the mare that had spurned his brother, but there was no Chocolate Chip in the bunch. The stallion imagined that she would be a sassy-looking thing more along Garnet’s lines with flashing violet eyes and a brilliant coloration, for were not most heartbreakers rather flamboyant in their appearance?

Drawing Wigwam aside, Sugarberry showed him a note, then left him alone; Teepee saw the exchange and observed that his brother’s hopeful expression turn to one of defeat. He excused himself from the group he was talking with and went to his brother’s side. “Bad news?” he asked.

“Chocolate Chip offered her regrets... again... about how busy she is with school and work and interviews and graduation. She won’t be here.”

All those words hit Teepee like a replay of his conversation with CeeCee, so he was able to commiserate over the situation with his brother.

As he stood beside Wigwam, Teepee’s attention was drawn to the note that Wigwam still held; he did not read the message, for his eyes were drawn to the bottom of the page where Chocolate Chip had signed her name.

The mare, in her on-going effort to purge her dreary (as she saw it) appearance, had adopted a very distinctive signature that was rather showy, especially in the manner in which she scribed the two beginning C’s of Chocolate Chip. When Teepee saw those aggrandized letters, the double C’s flashed through his mind like an epiphany: His CeeCee and Wigwam’s Chocolate Chip were one and the same pony !

“As I won’t get to meet his mare,” Teepee drawled, “could you at least describe her to me?”

“She’s a chocolate brown color with a brown mane and tail,” Wigwam responded. “Her name reflects her symbol.”

“I’ve seen a mare of that description,” admitted Teepee innocently. “She was working at the bookstore at the mall when I bought a copy of your book.”

“Yeah. That’d be her.” Wigwam looked his brother directly in the eye. “What was your impression of her?”

“She was a real beauty... nice enough, I suppose, but she seemed distant.”

Wigwam sighed, a sound that Teepee was becoming accustomed to hearing; but before anything else could be said, the two stallions were confronted by an exceedingly subdued Bittersweet.

“Excuse me,” she gently smiled, every hair in place and her eyes almost bashfully lowered- quite a contrast to the last time Teepee had seen her- “but Sugarberry would like everyone to take their places in the dining room.”

Wigwam and Teepee, both fighting demons within, saw the arrival of Bittersweet before them as the appearance of an angel. As one, they each offered her a foreleg and escorted her to the table.

Both stallions were smiling.

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