My Little Pony Monthly Issue 72 (March 1, 2003)


My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
Established June 1997
This Newsletter is Safe for All Ages

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Issue 72
March 2003
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Index


1. Letters to the Editor

2. Contest!

3. Survey!

4. The Flight of the Stallions (by Berry Brite)

5. A New Wind a Blowin’ Part 1 (by Sugarberry)

6. The Crystal Princess: Part III (by Berry Brite)

7. Chapter #7: Disaster Strikes! (by Melody)

8. Moonlite by Moon Part One (by Emily)

9. “I walked a mile with sorrow...” (by Starre)

10. And This, Too, is Fate (by Sugarberry)

11. Victory (by Clever Clover)

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Letters to the Editor


[email protected]:

Thanks for the great prize in January; if I ever get around to doing my site, I’ll be honoured to display it!

Jaye



[email protected]:

I have such a hard time making time to read or write anything for the MLP monthly! But, with the house to myself and no big sister to tease me about ponies (“you’re sixteen, for crying out loud!”) I have free reign! Bwahaha! And somebody do tell Melody I loved her “Ponies on the Brain.” It was awesome. Great job, Melody. I love poetry. In fact, I wrote some for this month’s newsletter. I would also like to formally apologize to everyone whose stories I have not read, and for not having continued “The Crystal Princess”. I will be posting some of that this month too.

And finally, Tabby, Sugarberry, and all the other authors here, you put a lot of effort into this Newsletter, and I hope to see it continued, even if I don’t have a whole lot of time to read it. Keep doing a great job!!

BerryBrite



[email protected]:

Wow! . . . Wow! That was soooo – long! And there was such variety! Oh my gosh! It’s just like it used to be! Wow! *sigh* but it’s made me a bit guiltyish feeling . . . I suppose I’ll have to go write about Ella now. Though I’m sure she won’t be nearly as interesting as . . . blunt objects . . . LOL That was really great, Tabby :)

Rissa



[email protected]:

Hi! C. Alan Loewen here. I have a story I think you’ll enjoy.

In 1987, I made up my mind that one of my goals in life was to become a published author and I started writing and submitting stories to magazines. I collected the first round of rejection slips. And more rejection sips. And more. And more. I used to joke I could wallpaper an entire room with my rejection slips (and I wasn’t far from the truth!).

Eleven years later, discouraged and wondering if I should just give up on the whole idea, I wrote a My Little Pony story for my two nieces and in February 1998, I sent the story to Tabby, the editor of MLPMonthly and, lo and behold, it was accepted!

Though a “non-paying” market, just the knowledge that *somebody* liked one of my stories enough to share it with other people was just the uplifting encouragement I needed. I’ll never forget my delighted surprise when I saw Issue #12 of MLPMonthly in my e-mail box with the first installment of All the Pretty Little Ponies.

Bolstered by the encouragement I received from Tabby and those who wrote to me to compliment my story, I developed a relationship with the editor of PawPrints Fanzine. Over four years, they published four stories. Beauty From Ashes Poetry Review accepted a poem. And I continued to submit stories to MLPMonthly. And though they were all non-professional, non-paying markets they all played an important role in my development as an author. Tabby’s and all the other editor’s comments, grammatical corrections, and editorial suggestions were carefully studied and learned from.

And on Valentine’s Day, 2003, I received a letter from the editor of GateWay S-F Magazine, a professional, paying market. My story, The Substance of Things Hoped For will be published in their Fall issue. :-) And in November I travel to a writers’ convention to meet with other publishers about my book-length manuscripts! :-D

So a sincere thank you to Tabby and the readers of MLPMonthly who encouraged me over the last four years. I don’t know if I could have done it without you.

And to the other writers whose work grace these pages, just remember that if it happened to me, it can happen to you.

Write on! :-)

C. Alan Loewen @ Gettysburg, PA ><>



From the Editor
(or, Miscellaneous Ramblings)


We are all so very happy for you! What a lovely, encouraging, uplifting story for all of us! We are honored to know that MLP Monthly helped keep you from dropping out of the writing scene, a presence that would have been sorely missed!

And, to all our other contributors to the newsletter, remember not to get lack of feedback get you down! Keep working! Write, write, write!

And one more unrelated thing: our subscription number keeps DROPPING! Gasp! Horrors! Got any friends that aren’t a part of MLP Monthly? Please, please feel free to invite them to join us! Just give ‘em this e-mail address: [email protected]

Oh wait! I have one more plug to make. Collectors of the new ponies from 1997 onward are suffering because there are so few French pony sellers and we can’t find the newest releases! It’s terrible! Please help us! Go to http://tabbymlp.tripod.com/NewPonySellers.htm

Oops, sorry, one other thing. Barnacle wasn’t inspired enough to complete his next chapter of the Xtreme Pony saga. E-mail him and hassle him about that, ‘kay? I can only nag him so much on my own: [email protected]

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Contest!


Better, better! There were two more contest entries made this month than last month, making the total 11 winners! Incredible!



Baby Jedi ([email protected])

Berry Brite ([email protected])

Bow-Tie ([email protected])

[email protected]

Jaye ([email protected])

Lil’ Whiskers ([email protected])

Melody ([email protected])

Moonstar ([email protected])

Rainbow Dash ([email protected])

Steamer ([email protected])

Violet Star Shine ([email protected])


The romantic of the MLP cartoon series was, of course, Heart Throb.

Now, come on, eleven is good, but I know we can do better! Let’s get some new names on the winner’s list (though there’s no problem with entering multiple times)! Don’t be shy! This month... let me think...



What did Scorpan change into at the end of “Firefly’s Adventure”?


Tell me the answer by e-mailing [email protected] or entering through the form at



http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm
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Survey!


Well, no one wrote in any of their opinions on the new-new ponies last month, so for this month’s survey I’ll ask something simpler, but related to the third MLP release. First of all, if you haven’t been there already, go to http://www.mylittlepony.com! It’s the official Hasbro site! Besides the ponies mentioned there, there is also rumored to be a pony by the name of “Tink-A-Tink-A-Too” in the works.

So now the survey question!



What do YOU think the symbol for Tink-a-Tink-a-Too will be? And WHAT were her parents thinking when they named her?


Tink-a-tink-a-too, tink-a-tink-a-too, tink-a-tink-a-too... it’s a FUN word! Mwahaha! So, anyway, go here to enter your thoughts:



http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm
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The Flight of the Stallions
by Berry Brite ([email protected])


Blackened hearts, pounding rain

Strength of flesh and tail and mane

Stallions ride across the plain

To their doom.



They know not to where they go

They battle wind and fire and snow

But how they get there, they don’t know

Roads are hard.



Fairy dust and magic lights

Take away the death and frights

A land of hope is in their sights

To there they ride.



On they canter, with their hope

O’er foreboding plains they lope

O’er mountain and valley slope

Ride on, stallions.



I will find you in my dreams

Where childhood’s last light still gleams

How far away and dim it seems

Land of magic.

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A New Wind a Blowin’
(A Continuing Story - Part 1)
by Sugarberry ([email protected])
(Readers may want to read earlier stories, “A Wild Time” and “The Cave”, to which references are made in this story.)


“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?”

“Yes.”

“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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The Crystal Princess: Part III
by Berry Brite ([email protected])


Synopsis: The story set in ancient Ponyland continues. The terrible wolves have kidnapped the pony fairy, “Ice Crystal”. Mountain Soul has resolved to save her as he is descended from some of the other pony fairies (Ice Crystal is the only one left). He takes his wife, Spindrift, who refuses to stay behind. He also takes his brother-in-law, Springstrength. An orphan boy pony, Silvershod, talks Golden Glitz (Mountain Soul’s daughter) and her cousin Firesong into following them to help save the “Crystal Princess”, as Ice Crystal is called.



“This was a stupid idea,” Firesong shivered under a pine tree. “We didn’t bring anything to eat or anything to keep warm with.”

“I second that,” said Golden Glitz. “Let’s go back. Aunt Lightning Bolt will be worried sick.”

“Aw, you’re just a bunch of sissies,” said Silvershod. “The idea is to follow them until it’s too late for us to go back alone. Then we join them.”

“This was a stupid idea,” repeated Firesong.

“We’ve only been out here for thirty minutes!” cried Silvershod. Then he shivered violently. “Well, o-o-o-kay, it is a lit-little chilly.”

* * *
“This was a stupid idea.” Springstrength sat by the fire. “We should’ve waited until morning.”

“No,” said Spindrift, “we shouldn’t have. We needed to get a head start.”

“Oh, some head start,” replied her brother curtly. “All forty minutes of it.”

“It was your idea to rest!”

“MY idea?”

“Yes!”

“You liked it!”

“ENOUGH!” Mountain Soul’s voice echoed off the rocks and trees. “Spare me your bickering!” He turned around. “We have to go on. But we can’t beat this weather tonight.”

“No, we can’t,” said Springstrength.

“But we must. Put out the fire.”

“What?”

“I said, put out the fire.”

“Springstrength,” said Spindrift, “do as he says. I know he’s right.” She tried to smile. Trying to look encouraging, she continued, “Mountain Soul knows what he’s doing, Springstrength. We must trust him.”

* * *
Mountain Soul, Springstrength, and Spindrift continued on through the wickedly cold night. They pushed through the snow and fought the bitter cold. Springstrength cracked a smart remark at every opportunity. Mountain Soul and Spindrift ignored him. Finally, the snow subsided and a bitter cold wind took on speed. They pounded on until their hooves were covered in snow and ice. Spindrift began to shiver harder. She was a strong mare and forged on beside her beloved uncomplainingly. But she worried about the road ahead, and a dark foreboding filled her very heart.

Eventually, the night subsided and dawn came. The sun warmed their hearts, and they seemed forgotten. After Mountain Soul could no longer abide Springstrength’s complaints, they stopped to rest. Spindrift made a fire and cooked some breakfast. After they had all eaten, they sat and talked about the roads ahead. Suddenly, Spindrift said, “Quiet!” Springstrength, for once, was silent. Mountain Soul looked at Spindrift with surprise and curiosity.

“What is it?”

“Listen…”

They all listened.

“I hear absolutely nothing, sister...” said Springstrength.

“That is because you talk too much!” cried Spindrift. “Now be quiet!”

“Always bossing me around...”

“No, wait!” said Mountain Soul. “I do hear something.”

“You do?”

“Shh!”

This is what they heard:

* * *
“Do you think we’re far enough here?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t find my way back to the village.”

“Quiet! They’ll hear us!”

“Oh... that looks so good.”

“Stop thinking about your stomach, Silvershod!”

“Oh, you shut up!”

“You!”

“You!”

“Be quiet! They’re looking this direction!”

* * *
Mountain Soul, Springstrength, and Spindrift all exchanged looks. Mountain Soul looked grim, Spindrift slightly amused, and Springstrength, murderous.

“FIRESONG!!!!!!” he screamed. “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?!?!”

“Golden Glitz,” said Mountain Soul tensely, “come here this very instant.”

The two cousins sheepishly came out from behind the trees. They looked ashamedly at their fathers. Springstrength proceeded to read Firesong the riot act. Mountain Soul drew Golden Glitz aside and spoke to her gravely.

“Golden Glitz, you have disobeyed me by coming here.”

“I know,” said Golden Glitz.

“Why did you come?”

Golden Glitz hung her head and did not answer.

“You know that now you have no choice but to follow.”

“Yes, Father.”

* * *
Eventually, Silvershod stepped out, too, and confessed it was his fault. He’d talked the girls into going. Springstrength yelled furiously, “I always knew you’d end up a troublemaker!!”



(cue the dramatic music) To be continued (dum dum ba dum!!)



Ha ha, I know this story is somewhat silly. You can see I’ve all but abandoned the whole middle-English style. That just doesn’t fit the whole MLP thing. But anyway, I’d like to see some comments on this, any comments. Whether you readers are liking it or not. :) I don’t mind flattery, either, you know... (ha ha, I’ve got such a bad case of narcissism)

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Chapter #7:
Disaster Strikes!
by Melody ([email protected])


Bright Eyes didn’t realize how much she had to do. There was the kitten, whom she had appropriately named Amber. Amber would have to be taken to the vet, fed, cleaned up after, and Bright Eyes had to search for her real owner. Then there was the Clean Up Ponyland group. Its regular weekly meetings were fun, but long. Of course, the report on Ponyland was due in a week; and on top of it, there was nightly homework. Plus, Bright Eyes was still working on her market stall project. Lastly, there was the club she wanted to join at school. The poster she had seen the day before had advertised a club for saving the environment. It met at lunchtimes, and it was mostly information on Bright Eyes’ favourite environmental topics. And, of course, there were her friends.

Lately, Bright Eyes hadn’t spent much time with Melody and Patch. She planned to meet all six of her friends at the Ice Cream Shoppe that afternoon and catch up on the latest gossip. Maybe she would tell her friends about her crush on Lancer. She smiled secretly. Or maybe not! After school, Bright Eyes ran home. On the way, she met Melody and Patch.

“Bright Eyes!” they cried.

“Hey!” Bright Eyes called. She ran over to her best friends.

“Where have you been lately?” asked Patch.

“All over the place,” grinned Bright Eyes.

“Want to play with us in the snow? Afterwards, we can grab an apple pie from the Ice Cream Shoppe and work on our reports there,” said Melody.

“The others will be there too, of course,” added Patch.

“Sure! I’d love to! I’ll just go tell my dad. Meet me at the park in about five minutes,” said Bright Eyes.

When she reached home, Classy showed up at the door. “Your cat has an appointment with the vet in ten minutes. I arranged it this morning,” he said.

“Oh, darn!” Bright Eyes cried, disappointed at losing an afternoon of fun with her friends. Reluctantly, Bright Eyes picked up Amber and walked to the vet.

“Bright Eyes?” The vet poked his head around the door. Bright Eyes carried Amber into the room and set her down on the table. “Oh dear,” said the vet, whose name was Mr. Terry.

“What’s wrong?” asked Bright Eyes worriedly.

“Just look at the state of the poor thing. There are no more appointments after you, so what say we get cracking and clean this cat up?” said Mr. Terry.

“Sure!” said Bright Eyes. First of all, Mr. Terry took Amber outside to the Hydrobath. He used special cat soap and washed her thoroughly. Amber clearly did not enjoy it and tried to escape from the bath. Bright Eyes smiled and held her back. Next, Mr. Terry toweled and blow-dried Amber with a mane drier. Once she was warm and clean, Bright Eyes was assigned the task of brushing Amber with a cat brush. Amber was now warm and furry and smelt of peaches. Mr. Terry straightened Amber’s whiskers, then gave her some flea treatment for the flea colony that was growing in her fur.

“Can you check her all over?” asked Bright Eyes. “I don’t want her to be sick,” she added.

“Of course,” said Mr. Terry. He discovered that Amber’s teeth were not so good and gave Bright Eyes a food plan and some teeth care essentials. Bright Eyes was relieved when she left the vet surgery.

“Thanks, Mr. Terry,” she called over her shoulder.

“No problem!” Mr. Terry replied.

Bright Eyes stopped off at the Ice Cream Shoppe before she got home. It turned out that all her friends minus Starlight, who worked there, had gone home. “Bright Eyes!” called Starlight, beckoning her to sit at a chair at the counter so the two girls could chat.

After Bright Eyes had ordered a slice of hot cherry pie, she and Starlight talked for an hour or more. Amber curled up on Bright Eyes’ lap as she worked on her report. At last, it was dark and bright stars dotted the night sky. It was past closing time at the shop, so Bright Eyes had to leave.

Bright Eyes and Classy stayed up late that night. Classy kept Bright Eyes company while she looked for pictures to go with the report. At last, Bright Eyes decided it was time for bed so she carried Amber upstairs and collapsed into bed.

Again, she just couldn’t get to sleep. There were too many things on her mind. As the clock struck 5:30 am, Bright Eyes finally drifted off. At 7:00, Classy was interrupted from his coffee by a loud scream from his daughter. He raced up the stairs and stared. Bright Eyes’ room was a mess. Her beautiful crafts for the market stall were littered in broken pieces across the floor. The report was fortunately in one piece but her homework wasn’t. Her environmental essays were ripped and on top of it all sat Amber. Bright Eyes just sat on her bed and cried.

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Moonlite by Moon
Part One
by Emily ([email protected])


Starshine looked up into the sky. “Moonlite is coming, by full moon, I can feel it,” she said.

Pinwheel’s eyes faded, and she looked down at her hooves. “When’s the next full moon?” she asked.

“Tomorrow, tomorrow, it will happen...” Starshine’s voice trailed off.

“What will happen?” Pinwheel questioned.

Starshine didn’t answer.

* * *
The next morning, Starshine had accidently blurted out to the baby ponies about the legend.

“What does it mean, Pinwheel?” asked Baby Gusty curiously.

“It means if we don’t leave Cascade Falls behind, we will be trapped here forever!” Starshine cried.

“No!!” Baby Lofty cried.

“And then we won’t be able to travel to Dream Valley,” Baby Ribbon said.

“That’s true,” Starshine said. Tears dropped from Baby Gusty’s eyes. “We must pack up and start to journey off to Dream Valley!” Starshine announced, and with that raced out of the Baby Playhouse and flew off to where all the other pony cottages were.

“Beachball, Sundance, Wind Whistler, you have to believe me!” Starshine exclaimed.

“Why should we?” asked Wind Whistler. “We’ve been here for two full months– in other words two full moons have passed– so why would this so-called Moonlite come now?”

“Beachball, you believe me, don’t you?” asked Starshine.

Beachball looked away and finally answered. “Wind Whistler, look at the facts; as far as we know, it could be true” she said, her shining purple eyes glistening in the sun’s light.

“Alright then, if you say so, Beachball,” Wind Whistler said with doubt in her voice.

Starshine sighed deeply.

“I’ll go help the baby ponies pack!” Sundance said and galloped off toward the babies’ cottage.

“Alright then, so it’s decided; we leave by late afternoon,” Wind Whistler said.

“No! It’ll be too late by then,” said Starshine.

“No, it won’t,” Wind Whistler said.

“Yes, it will be; Beachball, we need to leave by noon, latest by 2:00 p.m.; otherwise it will take too long to get over Cascade Falls, which will take three hours to get there at gallop speed, and then getting over it will be....” Starshine trailed off.

“We’ll discuss how to get over later,” Beachball continued.

“Alright then, Starshine, go help Sundance with the baby ponies; Beachball and I will tell the other adults,” said Wind Whistler.

Starshine nodded her head and flew off to the cottage where the babies were with Sundance. Beachball winked back to the valley, and Wind Whistler flew to where the others were. They gathered all the ponies and told them the news and what was going to happen.

Whispering struck out after they had told them the whole story and that they had to start the journey at the latest by two o’clock.

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“I walked a mile with sorrow
And ne’er a word said she;
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When sorrow walked with me.”
by Starre ([email protected])


Author’s Note: Yay Sugarberry! The one and only (once again) to correctly guess the quote– or guess at all, for that matter. Anyhow, to refresh your memory, it was “There was the door to which I found no key / There was the veil through which I might not see”, from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. This month’s quote is rather difficult, and so I shall give you a huge clue: http://www.giga-usa.com/index.html If you travel to that web page you should have an easier time tracking it down. I know, for I’ve found it on there already. Hint: look under the alphabetical listing of topics near the bottom of the page. As I promised, this is the Arthur story, which is explaining his point of view on the whole thing. It isn’t exactly long, or even much of a story, but there’s been some interest in just what became of him, so I thought I’d oblige you dear readers. Please tell me what you think! I love to hear from you: [email protected]



“Then, as you have indeed made it quite clear, I will take your advice, Ella. I am sure most any mare is more worthy of my affections,” Arthur said in what he thought was a very pitying tone. With one more glance to Ella– who was scowling quite darkly at him– to that strange old stallion– who was also scowling quite darkly at him– Arthur swept disdainfully out of the Athenaeum, leaving Ella to repent over her hasty snubbing.

Or so he thought, anyway. He, Arthur Lovejoy, who had been “born great, achieved greatness, and had greatness thrust upon him” was not very well acquainted with rejection. Ella would come to her senses eventually and realize her mistake; but by then it would be too late.

Little did he know that Ella was currently feeling quite triumphant having finally gotten rid of him. In fact, Ella was enjoying a pleasant walk home with a certain Mr. Sheffield. Thoughts of repentance or remorse were far from her soul.

At the moment, Arthur felt no sorrow or loss over these circumstances, either. He was very offended that any mare would dare to snub him– especially a Fay. It was obvious that they would make a wonderful match. The rich, in both jangles and tradition, Fays and the enterprising Lovejoys. Everyone was expecting their engagement to be announced any day!

Well, that apparently would not be happening. After all, as it worked through Arthur’s mind, he decided that Ella was at a greater loss then he. Not only was she passing up a rich, handsome, and charming stallion, she was passing up a chance to devote all of her time to her writing. Instead, she was stuck working at a dingy, green bookshop and living with two old spinsters. Now, Arthur had any number of other mares who would be delighted to be noticed by him. He ran the renowned Ponyland Gazette and lived with the greatest luxuries jangles could afford! The nerve of that silly little mare, passing him up, was horrifying!

Wait... where was he? Oh dear, it appeared Mr. Lovejoy was so caught up in his raging torrent of thoughts that he quite passed his street. Coming to notice this, he spun around with such a fierce look upon his face that an innocent little colt who was walking home was compelled to run screaming in the other direction. Mr. Lovejoy did not lower himself to notice this, however, as he didn’t trifle with such small matters as foals.

* * *
As it turned out, Arthur was not left alone with his thoughts long enough to approach any symptom of regret. That very day, his parents in Hoofton sent an invitation his way for Christmas. Well, it wasn’t exactly an invitation. It was more of a demand that he spend the holiday at home. Of course, Arthur packed his bags and set off at once, subconsciously needing to put as much distance as possible between himself and our dear Miss Fay.

It was with expectations of great sympathy that Arthur stepped off the train to meet his parents. Sympathy he did not receive. For a moment, his parents smiled in welcome, but then Mrs. Lovejoy looked about confusedly.

“Where is Ella, dear?”

“Ella?” Arthur was rather stuck for words. What about him? Did the world revolve around that silly mare? Yes, it appeared the world did revolve around that “silly mare”.

“Yes, of course. Didn’t you read the postscript? We asked you to bring that dear filly with you! We’re holding a Christmas party in honor of your engagement!”

Oh dear. This certainly was a less than pleasant predicament.

In the course of the next hour, a multitude of things happened. For starters, Arthur was brought home. There, he told the entire story of Ella’s lack of sense. Of course, the entire Lovejoy clan was in a complete uproar. Some poor little upstart refusing our dear Arthur? Impossible. And as soon as the Lovejoy clan heard this, so did most of the rest of Hoofton, including the Fays.

Mrs. Lara Fay immediately wrote Ella a letter expressing her opinion on the matter. Ella never saw it, for Mr. Robert Fay promptly took it out of the mailbox and tore it in two without his wife ever knowing. He was pleased, of course, for Arthur was a silly, flighty, arrogant sort. Mrs. Fay was just as furious as the rest of Hoofton, for Arthur was rich, handsome, and an eligible bachelor.

But we’re straying from the main character of the story. As a means of soothing their maltreated pride, Mr. Lovejoy senior and his wife decided to do the only thing one can do in such a situation. They threw an enormous Christmas party and on the invitation list were all of the single mares of Hoofton.

* * *
Push less than one week ahead, and we come upon a large room with an excessively high ceiling in the Lovejoy mansion. There were no less than twelve Christmas trees lining the walls, all decked out in such an assortment of baubles and bangles that the lower branches were permanently bent earthward. The atmosphere was exceptionally lively, and there were dozens of pretty, young mares sauntering about.

Arthur was standing off to one side chatting with a bright white mare. So white, it hurt one’s eyes to look at her. “Sooooo, you live in Hoofton?” Arthur asked abstractedly.

The mare giggled and nodded effusively, “Yes.”

“Really... er, so do I...” he stated obviously as the mare continued to nod over- enthusiastically. “Well, what do you do? I’m the editor of the Ponyland Gazette, I’m sure you know.”

“Do?” the mare echoed uncertainly, her bright blue eyes looking rather confused. “I like to shop... and sometimes I go to the beach... and I go to parties– this is a very nice party. There’s so many ponies!”

“You don’t have a job? There’s nowhere you work?” Arthur asked quizzically.

“Work?” The word was completely foreign to this mare’s vocabulary. “Why, I don’t work. Why should I? My parents pay for everything.”

“Really...”

“Oh yes, we’re really rich!” She giggled again for no apparent reason.

“In your spare time you said you go to beaches and shop... what else do you do? Have any hobbies?” Arthur fished around for what to say. Those wide blue eyes were extremely distracting.

“Oh, I go to parties...” the mare said, nodding vociferously some more.

“So, you don’t like to write... or read or anything...?”

“Read?” The mare seemed genuinely perplexed. “You mean, like, books and stuff?” Arthur nodded vaguely. “Oh, no... Father says I shouldn’t strain my eyes. I’d look ugly if I needed reading glasses.”

Arthur tried to picture this mare with glasses and found it was rather beyond his visualization skills. There wasn’t an intelligent thought that had ever gone through her head, as far as Arthur could see. And going to beaches and parties and shopping... well, she didn’t look suited for anything else, frankly. Not a bit like Ella... could anypony be like Ella?

Suddenly, Arthur looked around him. Every last one of the mares in here were... the same! Startlingly so. There wasn’t any apparent individuality. They all giggled, and nodded, and went shopping and to beaches and parties. They all had more money than they knew what to do with– and they had all grown shallow and rather dense consequently. And, most horribly of all, none of them were light lavender fillies with expressive, intelligent yellow eyes!

And then it hit him. He was the one who was too late, not Ella. And her grandfather, Avery Fay, wasn’t just some old stallion but a dear friend to Ella. A kindred spirit. Someone just like her, with kinks and quirks. Perhaps... just maybe... roses weren’t the answer to everything after all.

He needed out.

“Excuse me...” Arthur muttered distractedly and left the white mare. Forcing his way across the room, he managed to escape and fled up to the balcony off his bedroom. And he thought. More than he had ever thought in his life.

He looked back on his life of arrogance and superficiality almost as one would read a biography of some stranger. Deep down, in a secret chamber of his heart, he knew he wasn’t the same stallion. He was changed. But there was no use in going back to explain to Ella. He was too late, and he knew it.

Now the regret came, and he laughed bitterly over his parting remarks to Ella. “I’m sure most any mare is more worthy of my affections,” he had said. Perhaps a more truthful statement would have been “I’m sure most any stallion is more worthy of your affections.” What a fool he had been!

And yet, changed though he was, he knew he still wasn’t exactly one of what Ella called “kindred spirits”. There was something still hidden from him behind a curtain of thought. Every once in awhile, the curtain would rustle slightly and he would catch a glimpse of what was on the other side. Ella happened to be on the other side. Ella, and her grandfather, and probably that strange stallion that had been in the Athenaeum.

There was something intangible about it all. Something strange and different about Ella that he couldn’t place, and probably no one could. Not even Ella herself, if she even recognized that there was something foreign in her spirit.

As soon as he could, Arthur left Hoofton. In fact, he didn’t even stay to Christmas. He spent his Christmas morning traipsing the strangely quiet streets of Dream Valley, enjoying the solitude. Somehow, he found himself in the old section. How had he gotten there? He couldn’t quite recall, but he decided he’d just walk by Evermoor for old time’s sake. Less then a month ago, he had still made a pilgrimage to the dear old mansion nearly every day to see Ella.

Running, laughing, and screaming through the front yard were Ella and that strange stallion. Arthur suddenly wished the little stone wall around the mansion were a bit higher as he stood awkwardly hiding behind one of the massive stone unicorns.

Maybe... no. And he turned and walked silently away.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And This, Too, is Fate
by Sugarberry ([email protected])


Sitting in his office, the stallion stared absently at nothing, his hoof drumming a staccato beat on the wooden surface of the desk. Correspondence needing his attention cluttered the space ahead of him; charts and files were piling up to the side, proof that he had been keeping himself busy day and night, taking on a workload that would snap a less-driven pony. For the moment, however, the stallion seemed not to notice the paperwork calling for his attention.

With a sigh, Tribute leaned back in his chair and rested his head against the supportive cushion. He had been brutal with himself in an effort to get Chiffon out of his mind, but he was finding that the more he involved himself in the business of doctoring, the more his own sensibilities needed the healing touch of something... or someone. He groaned. What was there about that provoking female that had gotten under his skin and was now eating away at him like some unstoppable plague? If he could find a cure, he would soon be a millionaire... of that he was sure.

As it was, he seemed to be incurably smitten with a sickness that was fast turning him into a deluded halfwit. He could do fine as long as he had a patient’s needs to concentrate on; but as soon as his mind had the chance to relax, it conjured up the face of Chiffon with her soft green mane temptingly curling around her features, her snapping eyes successively smiling, glaring, taunting, leading...

“No! She shut me out! Just forget about her!” The stallion jumped to his hooves in complete exasperation.

His office door opened and the pink Prissy stood there, her delicate wings softly fanning the air; she looked about the confines of the office, her confused gaze coming to rest on the disturbed stallion. “I thought I heard you arguing with someone.”

“No... no.” Tribute picked up the top file on his desk and began to flip through it as if it contained the most intriguing information.

Prissy was not fooled. She crossed the room and came to stand so close to Tribute that he could feel the wafting of her wings on his side.

“Tribute, you haven’t been yourself since you went out to visit Blake’s clinic. What happened out there?” The question had been asked not only out of concern for the stallion; the mare had been curious for days.

“He tried to convince me to join him.”

“In Woodlawn?” Prissy scoffed. “You’d be wasted there!”

“Sick ponies are the same all over, Prissy. It doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re helping someone.” As he said the words, he realized that he actually was coming to believe them.

“Very noble, but you’d get no prestige in that back-country village. Here you’re valued and respected for your capabilities and your expertise.”

“But what good are we doing here as individuals? There are any number of ponies involved with the Grayton medical centers; it’s places like Woodlawn where we can really make a difference, pony to pony.”

Prissy frowned, a wrinkle marring her soft forehead. “You need a change of pace, Tribute. Why don’t the two of us go off to the mountains for some skiing this weekend?”

“A change of pace would be good.” Tribute agreed. He turned to Prissy. “But not to the mountains, Prissy. I need to talk to my father.”

Prissy snorted in an unladylike fashion. “You’re really thinking about taking that job Blake offered you! What’s gotten into you? It will kill your career, your reputation. Think of all you’ve worked for!”

Tribute did not hear this tirade nor did he see Prissy stalk out of the office. He was already on the phone, calling New Pony to make sure his parents were going to be home when he got there.

* * *
Ribbons ‘n Lace had joined her eldest son and her husband at dinner but then had immediately set off for a meeting of one of her philanthropic enterprises, leaving father and son alone in Andrew’s orderly but comfortable den.

Andrew was seated in his favorite chair with a beverage at hoof, but Tribute stood staring out the window into the blackness beyond. Neither stallion spoke for what could have been an awkward length of time, but both father and son were of similar enough personalities that they did not find the silence reprehensible; neither would attempt to fill the void with useless drivel.

For Tribute, this was a difficult interview. As much as he needed his father’s advice, he found it difficult to broach the subject that now bedeviled him. It was not his nature to discuss such personal emotions with anyone, not even his family. Yet, he had to start somewhere. Turning from the window, he jumped in.

“Dad, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”

Andrew let out a long breath as if he had been holding it in suspense. “I thought you were quieter than normal. What’s bothering you, son?”

Tribute sat himself in the chair facing his father. “I’ve been offered a new position.”

“I’m not surprised.” Andrew settled back, relieved to hear that the problem on Tribute’s mind was nothing serious. “I read in the paper that Grayton is going to open a new facility.”

“It wouldn’t be in Grayton, Dad.”

“Where, then? I haven’t heard of any openings in New Pony for someone of your caliber.”

“Nothing around here; it’s further west... Woodlawn.”

Andrew leaned forward now and looked startled. “Woodlawn! That town’s smaller than Toby’s Dream Valley. What kind of medical facilities do they have?” Andrew searched his memory for all he could remember about that area of Ponyland.

“There’s a clinic and a hospital in the town; it has the capabilities to handle the day-to-day health problems and minor surgeries. You remember Blake, don’t you? I brought him home from med school a couple of times. Well, that’s where he’s settled.”

“Of course, I remember Blake... a very respectable young stallion. So he’s in Woodlawn, is he?”

“Yes. And the medical center is looking to expand– to offer more services locally; most of the major surgeries are referred to Hayton. Blake hasn’t been able to entice anyone to settle in a small town environment.”

“He’s off his mark with you, Tribute. He can’t expect you to leave your post in Grayton.” Secretly, Andrew wished Blake would succeed in convincing Tribute to relocate; he and Ribbons n’ Lace both had long hoped that Tribute would find a job that could answer to his compassion as well as to his determination to succeed.

“That’s what I told him,” Tribute said, swallowing the drink his father had given him and moving to stare out the window again.

“So it’s settled, then? You turned it down?”

“Blake wouldn’t take no for an answer... said he’d call me tomorrow to see if I’d changed my mind.”

“And is there reason for you to change your mind?” Andrew asked softly, almost afraid to ask for fear of earning Tribute’s anger. Tribute had made it no secret in the past that he thought Toby was throwing away his talent in a town like Dream Valley rather than building up a noteworthy reputation in a prosperous city like New Pony or Grayton.

Tribute did not respond for a long while. When he did, his words could not have shocked Andrew more.

“Dad, I think I’ve met a mare I can love.”

Andrew was speechless.

Tribute looked at his father. “Funny, isn’t it? I never wanted to leave the city and I never wanted a wife. Now I can’t think of anything else but this mare and her country setting.”

“Who is she?” Andrew finally found his voice.

“I met her in Dream Valley at Christmas... Chiffon, Vanguard’s cousin.”

“Chiffon.” Andrew tried to sort out the many mares who had been in and out of Sugarberry’s Christmas gathering. “I’m sorry. I can’t place her.”

“It’s no wonder; she spent the afternoon hiding from me.”

Andrew laughed. “Am I missing something here?”

“She doesn’t like me, Dad. In fact, I think she despises me.”

“Now, why would she feel that way?”

“Because I’m– and I quote– ‘arrogant and abrasive’.”

Unable to contain a chuckle, Andrew responded. “Well, she’s got you pegged right. You can’t blame her for that.”

“You’ve nothing to laugh at. She thinks you’re arrogant, too...” Tribute grinned. “...but approachable.”

“I like this mare. I wish I could remember her.”

“She’s blue, with pastel green hair...”

Recollection dawned. “And she spent some time with Wigwam that afternoon, close to the Christmas tree.”

“Yes. That’s her.”

“She appeared to be quite independent.”

“You could say that.”

“You’re sure she dislikes you? She’s sensible enough to see beneath that shell you hide behind.”

“She’s like a wasp when she’s around me... always looking for a chance to sting.”

“And you give as good as you get.”

“I’m an amateur compared to her. She put me in my place when I was out there to talk to Blake and tour the facility.”

“Well, if that’s the case, I guess there’s no future for you in Woodlawn.” Andrew sounded disappointed.

Both stallions remained in thoughtful silence until Tribute said, “I think I’d still like to give the opportunity a shot.” This statement surprised even Tribute. He tried to explain himself. “Somehow, Grayton doesn’t seem as fulfilling as it once did. Blake has his hooves full; he’s got more to do than he can handle, but he’s happy. He’s needed! I’d like to experience that.”

“And what of Chiffon? Do you think you can change her mind about you?”

Tribute grew reflective, then shrugged. “Maybe if we have a chance to get to know one another on a day-to-day basis, she’ll soften her impression of me. And if not... well, I’d have plenty to do to keep me busy at the hospital if Blake’s projection is correct.”

“It sounds to me like you’ve already made up your mind.”

Tribute grinned. “Yeah, maybe I have.”

* * *
A springlike softness had begun to infiltrate the atmosphere of Woodlawn when Chiffon awoke to the anticipated pleasure of a slow and peaceful weekend. She went through her morning ablutions at an unhurried pace and affixed a pert bow in her hair before descending the stairs and making her way to the kitchen. Her parents, Velvet and Charger, were already there.

“Good morning, Mom... Dad,” the blue mare trilled, dropping a kiss on each of their cheeks as she sat down. “I smell a hint of spring in the air... of course, maybe it’s just the smell of the pancakes, Mom.” She grinned at her parents as she took a delicately browned specimen from the platter and proceeded to butter it and smother it in maple syrup.

Her smile was so vibrant and her mood so gay that Velvet and Charger exchanged a worried glance, for it had not escaped them that their daughter had not been in the best of spirits for some weeks now; and they also knew that the one incident that had occurred before she had been plunged into this withdrawn, introspective spirit was the visit of the stallion from Grayton.

Charger cleared his throat and began tentatively. “Well, the temperature is definitely milder than we’ve been having, but we could still get plenty of snow dumped on us.”

“Now, Dad, don’t be a spoil-sport. I’ve been so looking forward to a change... of seasons.” A dismal look crept across Chiffon’s face for a moment as her guard fell.

Velvet softly patted her daughter’s hoof. “The snowdrops are up on the south side of the house; they surely know that spring can’t be far away.”

“And they usually end up buried under the snow,” Chiffon admitted, unable to regain her earlier enthusiasm. She busied herself in cutting-up the pancake, but then seemed to have lost her appetite. She took a sip of the black coffee her father had poured for her and sat in silent contemplation of things her parents could only guess at.

The ringing of the telephone drew Velvet to the phone, and after a quick acknowledgment of the caller, she motioned for Chiffon to take the receiver.

“Hello?” Chiffon intoned rather listlessly.

“Chiffon! It’s Arabella! Have you seen the paper?” This best friend of Chiffon’s was truly excited about something.

“No; I just...”

“Well, hurry up and look at it!” Arabella commanded. “I’ll call you back later.”

Completely dumbfounded, Chiffon looked at her dad. “There seems to be some breaking news story in the paper, according to Arabella.”

“Oh! Nothing serious, I hope,” Velvet immediately began to worry.

Shrugging, Chiffon smiled. “Maybe the school burned down over night.”

“Don’t even joke about that!” Velvet reprimanded her daughter as if she was still a juvenile.

Charger calmed his wife as Chiffon went to the front of the house to fetch the paper off the porch. “We didn’t hear any fire sirens, now, did we, dear?”

On the porch, Chiffon picked up the folded paper, breathing deeply of the earthy smell in the air from the melting snow and the exposed patches of rotting leaves, dormant grass, and black soil. Yes, the smell of spring was surely in the air! She took a moment to enjoy the beginnings of rebirth in the scene around her, then turned her attention to the newspaper. A visible portion of the headlines read: POSITION WITH LOCAL HOSPITAL.

“Ah, so that’s it,” said the mare to herself as she unfolded the rest of the journal. “We have a new doctor, I bet.” She wondered at Arabella’s excitement, however, until she was able to discern the entire message blaring across the page. GRAYTON PHYSICIAN ACCEPTS POSITION WITH LOCAL HOSPITAL. Even more eye-catching was the accompanying photo.

Chiffon gasped in disbelief as she stared at the haughty demeanor of Tribute gracing the front page of the Woodlawn Herald.

* * *
Charger and Velvet were beginning to wonder at Chiffon’s delay in returning with the paper; but just as Velvet was going to set off in search of her, Chiffon came back into the kitchen. She slipped into her chair and laid the paper so that both of her parents could see it at once.

“Woodlawn has a new physician,” she summed up the news.

Velvet, aware of a mortified look on her daughter’s face, was temporarily distracted from the paper; it was Charger’s whistle that brought her attention to the news.

“It looks like they enticed a high-caliber physician to join our ranks,” Charger commented, truly impressed by the qualifications of the new doctor. He had not met Tribute the night of his visit almost six weeks earlier, so he was not aware that the face peering disdainfully out from the newspaper was the same stallion who had been responsible for Chiffon’s unnaturally moody spirits of late.

“Why, Chiffon, this is the one...” Velvet began, then abruptly stopped. Of course, Chiffon knew who this was. She turned her attention to her husband. “This is Tribute, the stallion Chiffon first met in Dream Valley and again in Grayton... and here in Woodlawn when he came to the house that night.”

“Oh,” said Charger, trying mightily to follow that explanation. “Oh,” he said again, as it finally all meshed. He looked at Chiffon’s distraught face and sighed. His fatherly instinct told him that the road ahead was going to prove unsettling.

“Did you know about this development?” Velvet asked of Chiffon.

“No, Mother,” Chiffon stated, her eyes smouldering. “He told me that he was simply visiting Dr. Blake, a friend from medical school. He conveniently overlooked the fact that he was interviewing for the job here.” Standing suddenly, Chiffon headed for the back door. “I’m going for a walk; when Arabella calls back, tell her I’m... running errands.” She gave her parents a tight little smile, and walked out.

* * *
When, as a foal, life had delivered an unwelcome punch, Chiffon had escaped to the park that was an integral part of the neighborhood in which she lived. The little stream that bubbled through the acreage had always been a soothing presence; and the arched stone bridge that crossed it had been for Chiffon and her cousins and all the foals on the east side of town a haven of sorts. How many times she had joined Icon and Vanguard and Stillwater on dreamy summer days when they had nothing better to do than explore the banks of the river and carry on fantasies of pirates and explorers and fair maidens being rescued by handsome and courageous knights, although her cousins had often found their exploits more entertaining if the fair maiden was devoured by the dragon. Chiffon had quickly put an end to that male deviousness by bringing a strong and determined attitude to all her portrayals.

Now, in real life, she needed to bring that determination to the fore once again.

Standing on the bridge, Chiffon leaned on the protective stonework to watch the water gurgling underneath, already fighting free of the once confining ice cover. The fluid motion beneath her was dark and cold yet comforting to the heated emotions that riled within her.

She had parted from Tribute with the understanding that he had visited her in Woodlawn merely out of a need to gain further ammunition against her as a country-bred mare who could not compete with the aristocratic ponies of Grayton with whom he was familiar. She had been deeply hurt by his seeming disinterest in the lives of ponies in a small but companionable town like Woodlawn– especially when she realized that underneath his arrogant trappings, Tribute was a stallion who could touch her heart.

Now, however, to add to his arrogance, she found that he was untruthful. Okay, maybe he had not lied to her outright, but he had held back a very important truth in not telling her his real reason for being in Woodlawn. And if he found Woodlawn as tedious as his expression showed that night at Hood’s Place, they why in Heaven’s name did he wish to settle here? Wouldn’t it be a dreadful lowering of his majesty to affiliate himself with the town? It made no sense to the usually sensible mare.

“What’s up?” asked a voice at her side. Chiffon jumped to find Icon leaning on the balustrade beside her with Splotch just beyond him.

“I’m looking for signs of spring,” the mare prevaricated.

“Yeah, sure,” Icon grinned. “We were at Mom and Dad’s for breakfast, and we saw the paper.”

Chiffon sent her cousin a burning glance. “So what of it?”

“I guess it explains what he was doing in town that night,” Icon said in a noncommittal tone of voice.

Turning her gaze back to the running water, Chiffon sighed. “Yes, I guess it does.”

“Did you know that Tribute had accepted the job?” queried Splotch as the three ponies stood with their heads hanging off the side of the bridge. It had a feeling of deja vu to Chiffon– as if she was a foal again– and any problem could be resolved with the aid of her friends; it helped her to put her doldrums behind her.

“No. He didn’t confide in me,” Chiffon answered truthfully. “I’m surprised, though, to learn that he thinks he’ll be comfortable with small town living after a lifetime of the big city.”

“Toby handles it well enough,” observed Icon.

“Yes, but their father is a top-notch physician in New Pony; surely one of them would want to follow more closely in his hoofsteps.”

“Not necessarily,” chimed in Splotch. “Look at me... born and raised in Happy Hollow where my parents still abide, but both Lattice and I ended up elsewhere; I couldn’t be happier than where I am now.”

“You have Icon,” Chiffon noted with a smile. “Although what you see in him...”

“Now, now, cousin dear,” Icon shook his hoof in warning although he could not hold the serious expression that he tried to maintain. “I think you saw something in this Tribute, too, if you’d be honest with yourself.” He grinned in malevolent jest.

As a revealing blush burned her cheeks, Chiffon turned her attention back to the creek. “He was nice enough... when he wanted to be.”

“Do you have plans to see him?” asked Splotch.

“No,” responded Chiffon. Of that, she could be sure.

* * *
In the ensuing weeks as winter once again gained the upper hand in the battle against spring, Chiffon did not see Tribute; but she heard enough about him that she seemed to be constantly faced with the presence of the stallion anyway. Arabella had met him at the grocery store one evening, and they had exchanged pleasantries with Arabella inviting him for supper to meet her family; Dr. Blake was included, too.

“Chiffon, you’d be welcome, as well,” Arabella had offered her friend hopefully, but Chiffon had declined.

Chiffon later learned that Arabella was gaining a certain amount of prestige in the community because of her admittance that she had breakfasted with Dr. Tribute on her last visit to Grayton; now with his acceptance of a dinner engagement at her home, everyone knew that Arabella had a special connection with the new doctor.

Others, remembering that Chiffon had been seen at Hood’s Place in the company of that same doctor, questioned her about the circumstances of her acquaintance with such a celebrated newcomer; Chiffon politely acknowledged that she had met the doctor, but was not nearly as close to him as Arabella. When rumor of these innuendoes reached Surefire, Arabella’s husband, he was not pleased. Chiffon only snickered; it was no more than Arabella deserved for consorting with the enemy.

But it was difficult for Chiffon to consider Tribute the enemy when everyone who had a chance to meet the doctor came away with a positive experience. No one grumbled about his arrogance; no one complained because he was abrasive; no one found him unaccessible; no one expressed dismay because he considered himself better than other community members. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Keystone commented on how interested Dr. Tribute was in the happenings at the city council meeting, Maypop practically went into ecstasy over his smooth manners, Morning Dew raved over his professional interest in Dewdrop’s sniffles, and Bonanza found him an enthusiastic player in the bowling league. Chiffon began to wonder if there was an imposter in Woodlawn. She was soon to find out.

* * *
Under the harmonious cover of the church on Sunday morning, Chiffon was sitting with her parents while Arabella, Surefire, and their two foals were in the pew ahead; as usual, the church had filled with many friends and relatives. Chiffon was wrapped in the comforting, peaceful feeling that worship evoked.

At the Sign of Peace, she hugged her parents and Arabella and shook hooves with Surefire and the foals as well as a number of other ponies within easy reach, then turned to extend her hoof to the ponies behind her. Her hoof was caught and held by an apple green stallion with brilliant blue eyes that searched her own orchid ones apprehensively.

“Peace, Chiffon,” Tribute said, his gaze unflinching.

“Peace,” she whispered back, her strength draining out of her, leaving her feeling unsteady. She could not move her eyes from his until a gentle nudge from her mother brought her back to the moment and she retrieved her hoof and offered it to the next pony down the line, conscious of the fact that her parents were now shaking Tribute’s hoof in their turn. When she turned forward again, she could feel Tribute’s gaze drilling into the back of her head; she could barely breathe.

As the announcements were read before the congregation left the church, Arabella and Chiffon slipped out of their places along with several other ponies; there was to be a social held in the parish cafeteria immediately following the last hymn, and Arabella and Chiffon had managed the preparations and now had to oversee the successful outcome of the event. With all her heart, Chiffon wanted to stay behind to have a word or two with Tribute, but her responsibility could not be shirked.

She had no need to worry.

Velvet and Charger were not meddling parents; their daughter was old enough to take care of herself, after all. But they were not adverse to lending a guiding hoof when the opportunity presented itself; and so Velvet, with her husband’s backing, invited Tribute to sit with them at the social for coffee and donuts. The doctor graciously accepted and found himself surrounded by friends and relatives of Chiffon and her family.

Busy in the kitchen, Chiffon was unaware of her family’s adoption of the new doctor until she delivered a fresh tray of baked goods to the serving table and looked across the vista of the room to see Tribute in the company of not only her parents, but also Whirlpool and Floral Breeze (Floral Breeze being Velvet’s sister); Morning Dew, Stillwater, and Droplet; Icon and Splotch; and enough other relatives to make it a mini family reunion. She cringed to see Morning Dew plop the young Droplet on the doctor’s lap; what would Tribute think to be treated with such familiarity? She sighed and lowered her eyes, writing off any ground gained by the brief encounter between her and Tribute in church. How Putter and Prissy would laugh to see the small town folk treating Tribute with such cheekiness!

Tribute was not unaware of Chiffon’s whereabouts even though his attention seemed to be taken up with the chatter that was going on in this companionable atmosphere. He watched the kitchen for any sign of her and noted with an unwarranted pride that she carried out her duties with an ease and efficiency that kept the proceedings running smoothly; she always had a smile for the other workers and for the guests. He could pick out the students in her class by the confidant way they approached her, assured of a thoughtful word or a gentle pat; even older foals who had most likely been in her class when they were third graders, seemed to gravitate to her to gain some acknowledgment of her remembrance. She looked to seek out the elderly and had a pleasant comment or a warm hug for each of them. Tribute intuitively knew that the mares he was accustomed to socializing with in Grayton would have shunned such a gathering and found himself wondering why it had taken him so long to realize what Toby had been telling him for years.

Floral Breeze and Velvet and other replacements finally came to the kitchen to shoo Chiffon and Arabella and the other dedicated workers out to take their turn with some refreshments, and Chiffon had the opportunity to face Tribute once again. With her pastry of choice in hoof, she made a beeline to her family’s table and was rewarded to see Tribute stand up to offer her his place while Icon scuttled another chair into the lineup to allow Tribute the position next to Chiffon.

The talk around them was flowing so thick and fast with all the ponies now on such a comfortable basis with Tribute, that Chiffon had not a chance to exchange one iota of meaningful conversation with the stallion. She ate her sweet roll and drank her coffee, listening to the varied bits and pieces of chatter carried on around her. She occasionally snuck a sideways glance at Tribute and noticed that he was relaxed and seemingly content. Maybe it was best that they could not talk privately... they would avoid antagonizing one another.

All too soon, the cafeteria began to thin out and the successful social wound down to its close. Chiffon joined the others in tidying up, impressed to find that Tribute was still making the acquaintance of some hangers-on who were anxious to meet the new doctor in town. She noted that he seemed to be holding up quite well under the undisguised scrutiny.

If Chiffon had only known of just how irritated Tribute was becoming, she might have gone to his aid at that moment. The stallion was chafing from the questions and the discussion of ailments (someone always wanted some free advice) not because he found the ponies annoying but simply that he wanted to have a few moments in which to talk with Chiffon. He had to keep reminding himself that he had all the days ahead to come to terms with the mare, but he was impatient to take that first step. There were some questions he wanted answered.

When Tribute finally escaped from the last of the inquisitive Woodlawnians, he searched the nearly empty room and discovered that the cafeteria was close to being deserted; and to his extreme disappointment, Chiffon was not one of those still chatting quietly in one corner. He felt like hitting something. The mare had walked out on him again.

* * *
Spending the rest of his afternoon silently steaming in the privacy of his apartment, Tribute was overwhelmed by the audacity of Chiffon to lead him on what was becoming a wild goose chase. She could be perfectly charming, almost beguiling, and then turn a cold shoulder on him in the blink of an eye. If he was not finding his work here satisfying, he would turn in his resignation to Blake right now and high-tail it back to Grayton.

But even if he could do that, what would he find there? Nothing that could compete with the life he was beginning to love here in Woodlawn where he could take a short walk and be lost in the wildness of a forest or make a phone call and be taken up in the activities of his new friends and through it all to know that he was important to these ponies, that he was making a difference in their lives by offering his medical knowledge to them. Grayton seemed cold and uncaring when compared to the entwined lives of those who lived here.

Except for Chiffon, who seemed to find some weird satisfaction in showing him her cold and uncaring side.

He was just on his way out to take one of those walks that he so enjoyed when the phone rang. He stood for a second or two debating on whether or not to ignore it, then decided to take a chance. It was a rather abrupt and lofty manner with which he said his hello, however, and the party on the other end of the line paused for a moment before identifying herself.

“Tribute? This is Chiffon.”

The stallion nearly groaned. Just the sound of her voice made him realize how badly he wanted to convince her that he was at least likeable; he forgot immediately that he had just labeled her cold and uncaring. “Chiffon! This is a pleasant surprise.”

“Did I interrupt something? You sounded... preoccupied.”

“No; I was just going out for a walk.”

“It’s going to be dark soon; you might get lost,” Chiffon teased.

“Would that worry you?”

The gentle tone of his voice caused Chiffon to shiver; she was grateful that he could not see the effect he had on her. “Yes. You’re too valuable to Woodlawn,” she retorted.

He found that he was not brave enough to ask if he was too valuable to her as well. “Woodlawn can’t get rid of me that easily,” was his spoken response.

“Your patients would be happy to hear you admit that. But, Tribute, the reason I’m calling is to invite you to supper; Mom wanted me to invite you at the social, but Painted Petals, our elderly neighbor, needed someone to escort her home; and I was the only one she’d trust for the job, so I had to leave without talking to you about it. Can you be here by seven?”

He wanted to say that he could be there in five minutes, but he restrained himself. He made a point of checking the time. “Seven... sure, I can make it by then. And thanks for the invitation.”

“No problem. Mom says you look like you need a home-cooked meal.”

“Well, thank your mom for me.”

* * *
It was Charger who opened the door and admitted Tribute into the house, settling him on the sofa in the living room. Velvet bustled in after a bit, a recently removed apron dangling from her hoof.

“How nice that you could make it on such short notice,” Velvet said, smiling at the stallion. “Chiffon’s tending to the gravy, or she’d have come to greet you herself.”

“Ah, so she can cook, too,” Tribute responded, a twinkle lighting his eyes.

“Passably,” amended Charger.

“It’s never been a priority with her,” explained Velvet. “Her time is best spent preparing her lessons.”

“Did she always plan on being a teacher?” queried Tribute, taking advantage of Velvet’s openness in discussing her daughter.

Charger chuckled. “She was set on being a bank president there for awhile in high school.”

“Before that she wanted to be a news commentator,” offered Velvet. “But by the time she graduated, she was set on teaching. The years have proven she made the right decision.”

“I noticed that the foals seem to think highly of her.”

“She’s very good with children,” noted Velvet.

When Chiffon made her appearance, she smiled at Tribute and wished him welcome as he stood to greet her. She was rewarded with a show of the dimples that accompanied his smile, and she felt her legs turn to mush. “Dinner’s ready,” she said, unable to take her eyes from the stallion’s face.

“Well, let’s get to it then,” Charger said, gentling guiding his daughter back out of the room.

Tribute shook himself from the trance Chiffon’s orchid eyes had cast on him and found Velvet watching him. The mare smiled.

“Come. Take your place at our table.”

The inference was clear; Tribute had met with Velvet’s approval.

* * *
The food was good, the company was enjoyable, and the meal was coming to an end when the telephone interrupted the cosy setting. Chiffon excused herself to take the call in the kitchen, and the other three diners continued their friendly discussion of local politics until Chiffon came dashing back into the room.

“Mother, call 911; Painted Petals’ said she’s having chest pains; I think she collapsed. Tribute, come with me.”

The table erupted as Velvet scurried to the phone and Tribute raced to get his backpack; Chiffon had already grabbed a key from its position hanging by the back door and was on her way across the lawn to Painted Petals’ house when Tribute charged out the door. He caught up to Chiffon as she unlocked the front door of the mare’s home, and he followed her into the quiet interior.

One single lamp glowed next to a comfortable chair in the parlor; the telephone on the nearby table was lying askew as it had been pulled along with the mare when she fell. Painted Petals, her face ashen, lay in obvious discomfort where she had landed.

“Pain... in my chest,” she gasped. “Forelegs... heavy.” Her eyes closed from the effort of speech.

“Does she have a history of heart problems?” queried Tribute as he checked the mare over.

“No, her only complaint was of feeling tired when I walked her home today; I should have realized something was wrong because she never admits to that under normal circumstances.”

“Get some pillows for under her head,” Tribute ordered, and Chiffon promptly obeyed.

Tribute rummaged in his satchel and obtained a pill which he slipped under Painted Petals’ tongue, then he and Chiffon made her comfortable with the support of the pillows. Tribute then held her weak hoof in his strong one as he talked to her in a reassuring manner while Chiffon stroked the elderly mare’s mane.

In a short time, the paramedics arrived on the scene and administered oxygen under Tribute’s watchful eye; and soon the mare was strapped to the stretcher and was ready to be transported to the hospital.

“Chiffon,” she murmured. “You’ll... stay... with... me?”

“Of course I will. Mom and Dad are here, too. You’ve got nothing to worry about except getting better.” Chiffon softly brushed the mare with a gentle touch as the paramedics raised the stretcher. “You’re going to be fine, Petals.”

Chiffon’s eyes searched out Tribute’s for reassurance, and the stallion met her worried glance with a convincing nod of the head before he took off with the paramedics. Chiffon and her parents followed the procession to the hospital at the south edge of town.

* * *
Once Painted Petals was stabilized and comfortably situated for the night and Tribute had assured the mare plus Chiffon, Velvet, and Charger that he foresaw no serious problems with Petals’ recovery– warning, however, that further tests would be administered to verify the extent of the damage– Velvet and Charger left for home with Tribute’s promise that he would see Chiffon safely home when she was ready to leave Painted Petals’ side.

“This is a good time for you to catch up on your rest,” Chiffon smiled at the mare as she straightened the blankets and arranged her pillows.

“How can I rest when I’m away from home?” grumbled the mare.

Chiffon patted her hoof. “Dad said he’d check it over tonight to make sure everything’s okay. And I’ll stop by on the way to school tomorrow if that’ll set your mind at ease.”

“I’m making a lot of trouble for you, Chiffon.”

“No trouble at all, Petals. What are neighbors for?”

“That new doctor... he seems nice enough,” Painted Petals said, a scheming look coming into her tired eyes.

“Yes. You’re in very good hooves. Dr. Tribute is one of the best,” Chiffon admitted.

“You might want to set your cap for that one.”

“And you might want to close your eyes and get some sleep,” admonished Chiffon.

“That’s an excellent suggestion,” said a stallion’s voice as Tribute came back to the room. Chiffon jumped, wondering how much of the conversation he had heard. But the doctor went to the opposite side of the bed from Chiffon as if doctoring was the only thing on his mind; as she looked at him, however, he flashed her a wink and smiled his dimpled smile before turning his attention to Painted Petals.

Chiffon inwardly groaned; of course he had heard.

* * *
The night air was chilly, but Chiffon welcomed its bracing effect as she and Tribute left the hospital; she was reminded of that night some months back when the two of them had walked through the snow to Hood’s Place. Obviously, Tribute’s thoughts were following the same path.

“There’s something I’d like to talk with you about,” the stallion began, giving Chiffon a sideways glance as he walked beside her.

“And that is?” queried Chiffon, sensing a tenseness about the stallion that set her guard up.

Tribute seemed to mull over the words before he voiced them. “That night at the ice cream parlor... what turned you against me?”

“You’re not holding back any punches,” Chiffon prevaricated.

“No, I’m not. And I’d appreciate it if you gave me an honest answer.” There was a touch of the old arrogance in the voice, and it set Chiffon’s nerves on edge. She spoke without thinking.

“You’re questioning my honesty now?”

Tribute set a hoof on Chiffon’s foreleg, halting progress for them both. “Chiffon, I just want an answer. I thought we were getting along rather well that night, and then suddenly you left me as if you found my company extremely unwelcome. I’d like to know where I stand, that’s all.”

The touch of his hoof had the same disastrous effect on Chiffon’s emotions as it had the first time he had reached out to her. Her eyes flew to his, and the nearest street lamp revealed the glimmering blue depths that threatened to engulf her. She swallowed, unable to speak until she had eradicated herself of his contact. As she stepped back, she found her vocal cords loosened.

“I was under the impression that you were the one who found my company unwelcome.”

“And what gave you that absurd notion?”

“The longer you were with me, the more distant you became; I imagined that you were storing up information to feed back to Putter and Prissy about just how inane I and my friends really were.”

“Chiffon, I...” He reached toward her again, but Chiffon stayed him.

“Don’t touch me!” she ordered, afraid that her feelings would suffocate her logic.

“You insufferable mare!” Tribute spat, losing all patience. “Would you listen to me... for once!... and stop trying to second-guess every word out of my mouth?” He was angry and would have preferred to throttle her right there, but how could he when she cringed at his touch? As it was, the two stood in the path glaring at each other.

How long that would have gone on is debatable. As it was, a couple of foals and their parents were coming toward them, and Tribute noticed their impending arrival. “You’re making a scene,” he muttered to Chiffon and motioned for her to resume walking.

I’m making a scene?” grated Chiffon under her breath as she continued down the path, putting on a pleasant smile as civilities were exchanged with the ponies in passing. Once out of hearing range, however, she turned on Tribute. “You are the most contemptuous stallion I’ve ever met!”

Tribute brushed the mane off his forehead in an exasperated motion. “Why do I even try?”

“That’s a good question. You go your way; I’ll go mine.” Chiffon set off toward home, leaving the stallion standing alone. He soon regained his position at her side, however.

“I told your parents I’d see you home, and I will.”

“I’m perfectly capable of seeing myself home.”

“Are you?” the stallion asked in his most disdainful voice. “You’re acting rather immature, if you ask me.”

Once more Chiffon stopped to face him and stomped her hoof on the ground. “I didn’t ask you! And I’ve never argued with anyone like this before, it’s just that you... Oh! Just stop provoking me.” She was close to tears and hurried to put as much distance between them as she could; but she could not lose Tribute.

The stallion passed her by, then turned in the path to force her to meet his gaze. “Will you listen to me for just a minute?”

Chiffon lowered her head to hide the tears that threatened to spill over; but she did not try to escape around him, so Tribute went on.

“You said I was distant that night at Hood’s Place. I’ll admit that my mind was elsewhere, but I wasn’t thinking of ways to hold Woodlawn up to ridicule as you seem to think. Is your opinion of me so low?”

Chiffon didn’t answer.

Tribute sighed. “I’ll take that as a yes.” He looked at her for a moment, then said, “Come on. I’d better get you home.”

Chiffon walked in silence; Tribute picked up the thread of his admission once more.

“What preoccupied me that evening was how I could get you away from all the ponies that held your attention, because I wanted to talk with you myself. Why? you might ask... if you were talking to me.” Tribute grinned at the sullen profile next to him, but got no response. He shrugged and went on. “Well, I’d have to admit that I very much wanted to explain to you that Blake had offered me a position in Woodlawn, and I wanted to hear you tell me that you thought I should take it.”

“You decided to on your own; you didn’t need my advice,” sniffed Chiffon.

“But it would have been a much simpler decision if I’d known that you cared... even just a little.”

Chiffon looked at him quickly. “What difference would that have made?”

“All the difference in the world... because the main reason for my coming here was you, Chiffon.”

They had reached the front porch of the house, and Chiffon stopped in her tracks, turning a puzzled look on Tribute. “What did you say?”

“I would like the two of us to be friends; and if we can manage that... well, we could build from there.” His eyes searched hers for an inkling of what her heart was feeling.

A smile touched Chiffon’s lips, but she moved up the steps to the door before she spoke.

“Thanks for helping Petals tonight.”

She was doing it again. She was cutting him off, just like before. He had bared his soul and she had ignored his words.

Tribute stared at her in disbelief but controlled his anger. “I’m happy I was here to help,” the stallion growled. He turned to leave.

He was half-way down the front steps when her voice came softly to him. “Tribute... I’m happy you were here, too.”

The stallion swung his head back to verify just what she meant, but the mare had already slipped away into the house. He refrained from ripping the door off the hinges to facilitate giving her a piece of his mind. Instead, he pounded his way home, promising himself that if he ever had the misfortune to be trapped in the same room with that indomitable mare in the future, he would take poison before he would attempt to be even moderately civil toward her.

And starting tomorrow, he was going to start a list of every eligible mare in Woodlawn until he found one that was capable of showing a stallion a little respect. Chiffon could fly to the moon for all he cared.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Victory
by Clever Clover ([email protected])


“All right, team, if we win this game, we’re going to the national finals in Grayton! Now let’s go out there and clean their clocks!”

“Yeah!” the Dragonflies cried out in unison.

“Minoko! I agreed to let you let you give the pep talk as long as you didn’t encourage fighting,” a chagrined Clever Clover said. “Now, team, we’re going to play fair and give it our best; and if we do that, we will be going to the finals.”

“And if that fails, we just gotta have Belle Star root for the other guys. Who are we playing against?”

“The Pythons.”

“That’s not good. She’ll never root for a python over a dragonfly, unless… I wonder if she knows that a python is a snake?”

“Minoko, don’t go lying to her about anything. It’s just a coincidence that she always roots for the losing team. And to prove it, I’ve asked her to cheer as loud as she can for the Dragonflies today. When you hear Belle Star’s voice cheering you on today, remember, she believes in you; but you need to believe in yourselves if you’re going to win. So do you believe in yourselves?”

“Yeah!”

* * *
The Dragonflies played a good game, but the Pythons matched them move for move. The last seconds of the final period were ticking away. The Dragonflies had the puck, but the Python defense was blocking every move they made on the goal. Suddenly, a Python player stole the puck and made a long shot on the Dragonflies’ goal. The goalie jumped to block the puck, just barely catching it on his shin pad, deflecting it from the goal just as the clock ran out. The buzzer sounded and the teams made for their respective benches.

“All right, Dragonflies, you’re doing great. The Pythons may be good, but I know you are better. You just need to stay focused. One more goal and the game is ours. I know you can do it.”

The Dragonflies took to the ice. The Pythons took control of the puck and drove for the Dragonflies’ goal. They shot for the goal, but the Dragonflies’ goalie blocked the shot and passed the puck across the rink to a Dragonfly waiting by the Pythons’ goal. The Python goalie skated between the Dragonfly and the goal. Belle Star was jumping up and down in the stands. “Go Dragonflies! Yeah! Wo-ho!” The Dragonfly passed the puck past the goal to a waiting teammate who shot the puck behind the goalies back for a score.

* * *
“We won!” Minoko slapped Clever Clover on the shoulder. “Ha! I knew we could do it!”

Clever Clover waved his cap in the air. “Good work, team!”

Belle Star was jumping up and down in the stands clapping and cheering loudly. The Dragonflies skated off the ice in a jubilant mood.

“All right! Grayton, here we come!” Minoko cried as she high-fived Clever Clover, almost knocking him over.

* * *
Clever Clover sat at his kitchen table. “You know, Minoko, I’m really impressed. You’ve become quite the assistant coach. Of course, after you won two games while I was away at the Isle, I should have expected it. I just wish you hadn’t lied to Belle Star about the names of the other teams.”

“Eh, whatever it takes to win. That’s my strategy.”

“Hm. Well, she won’t be going to Grayton, so it won’t do any good to lie to her anymore.”

“I was just toying with her. Mm, but this trip is going to be great fun. It’ll be the first time you and I went anywhere together.”

“Just remember that it won’t just be the two of us. We’ll have the whole team along, so don’t try anything funny.”

* * *
The next week was tense with anticipation. The Dragonflies trained hard for the big game in Grayton. On the morning of the day the team was leaving, Belle Star stopped by Clever Clover’s house bright and early to say goodbye.

“Oh, Clever Clover, I’m so excited for you! I wish I could go with you but I will be rooting for the Dragonflies!”

“Hey! We may have won the last game, but we shouldn’t push our luck.”

“Minoko! Cut it out. Belle Star is not a jinx. Sorry about that, Belle. She’s just excited about the big game. I appreciate it, and I appreciate your taking care of Pixie and Ryo while we’re gone.”

“It’s no problem. They’re so cute and cuddly!”

“Well, we’ve got to be going. Bye, Belle Star. See you in three days.”

“Bye Clever Clover, bye Minoko.”

“Yeah, whatever. See ya later.”

* * *
Clever Clover, Minoko, and the Dragonflies arrived at the crowded airport. “Alright everybody, stick together.” Clever Clover was trying to keep the rambunctious youths in line but with limited success.

Morning Glory called out to Clever Clover over the crowd. “Clever Clover! I’ve got something I need to discuses with you before you leave!” She pushed her way through the mass of ponies to reach the purple prince.

“Is it really that important? I’ve sort of got my hooves full at the moment.”

Minoko waved her hooves in the air. “All right, Dragonflies! Listen up! I want you in line and quiet! We’re a hockey team, not a bunch of hooligans!” The dragonflies jumped at Minoko’s orders and fell into line. “There you go, coach. The team is under control.”

“Thanks, Minoko. Now, Morning Glory, what is it?”

“Well, as you know, I have volunteered to assist you in your princely duties here in Friendship Gardens; and as this will be your first absence since I have assumed this role, I thought that we should discuses how to deal with any situations that might arise.”

“Oh, yeah, that. Usually when something is up, Raven or Foxglove send me a letter either summoning me to the Isle or explaining what to do. I assume they will let you know if anything needs to be done.”

“Yes, but what if one of our ponies in Friendship Gardens has some request or need?”

“Aside from you and me, the only Isle pony I know of in Friendship Gardens is Lady Moonshine.”

Minoko appeared between the prince and princess. “Hey, what about me? I’m an Isle pony. Just because I was banished doesn’t change the fact that I was born and raised on the Isle and I am one of your people.”

“Sorry. I know you’re from the Isle but you aren’t on the best of terms with the rulership. I didn’t think you really considered yourself to be one of us.”

“Hey, I may act tough and pretend to take things lightly, but I am proud of my heritage. I guess I’ve been an outcast so long I’ve forgotten what it’s like to belong. But now that I’m part of a team, part of the Dragonflies, I am remembering. I… I’m beginning to long for home.”

Morning Glory glared crossly at the pirate pony. “Are you through?”

“Oh, sure, I bare my soul and that’s the response I get, ‘Are you through?’ Sheesh, I should have kept my mouth shut.”

“Morning Glory, she is one of our people. You shouldn’t just brush her off like that.”

“Oh, all right. I’m sorry, Minoko. I’ll try to take you more seriously from now on.”

Minoko turned away from the princess. “Yeah right.”

“Well, if there’s nothing else, Morning Glory, we’ve got to be boarding our plane. Goodbye.”

“I guess not. Goodbye Clever Clover, and good luck.”

Minoko led the Dragonflies onto the plane and took her seat next to Clever Clover. “Well, nothing to do now but wait.” She leaned close to the prince.

“Hey, Minoko, did you mean what you said back there about belonging?”

“Of course. Did you think I was just making it up?”

“Well, no. I didn’t really know what to think. But I hoped you were serious.”

“Thank you.”

* * *
The plane landed in Grayton and the Dragonflies checked in to their hotel. “All right everybody, I want you to hit the hay right away. You’re going to need your rest for the big game tomorrow.”

“Great idea, get the twerps out of the way so we grown-ups can have some fun.”

“Minoko. We should be getting to bed also.”

Minoko threw her arms around Clever Clover’s neck. “You don’t waste any time, do you?”

“I meant we should each be going to our own beds and get to sleep.”

“Party pooper.”

* * *
The next morning, after a large breakfast, the team made their way to the rink to warm up for the game. The other team, the Bigfoots, was also there, warming up on the other side of the rink. The Bigfoots’ coach, a large pony named Billy, skated over to Clever Clover and Minoko. “Hey there! How’s it going?” Billy extended his hoof to Clever Clover.

“Hi. Everything’s good. We’re looking forward to a great game.”

“Well, don’t worry about that. My Bigfoots are gonna give it their all.”

“Yeah? Well, the Dragonflies won’t go down without a fight!”

“Calm down, Minoko. Remember what I told you about starting fights.”

“I didn’t mean that literally.”

Billy laughed. “Ha! If your team is half as determined as your assistant coach, this is going to be the best game ever!”

Clever Clover nodded. “Yep. They’re some great kids.”

“Well, I’ll leave you to your warm-ups.” Billy skated off.

“That was nice of him, coming over to talk to us like that.”

“Yeah, right, he was just looking for signs of weakness. Back when I was pirating I’d often engage a ship’s captain in ‘friendly’ conversation before I attacked.”

“Uh, Minoko, this is youth hockey, not piracy on the high seas.”

“A battle’s a battle, no matter where or how it’s fought.”

“The difference is that in a real battle there is a lot more at stake than a plastic trophy.”

“I guess. But I still don’t trust him.”

* * *
The warm up was over and the game about to begin. Clever Clover and Minoko gave their final instructions to the team before they took to the ice.

“All right Dragonflies, you’ve got to give it your best if we want to beat the Bigfoots. We’ve come this far, so I know we’ve got what it takes. All that’s left is for you to go out there and win!”

“And show no fear,” Minoko added. “If they see any weakness, they’ll walk all over you. Be strong and we will win!”

“Yeah!” the team cheered in unison.

* * *
The timer ran down and the buzzer rang, ending the game. Minoko’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “How could we lose? The kids were on fire, but we lost. What happened?”

“It’s just a game, Minoko. The kids had fun and hopefully will have learned something. We may not have had the high score, but we didn’t lose.”

The Dragonflies headed for the locker room somewhat crestfallen. Clever Clover tried to cheer them up. “Come on, guys, you did good out there. The Bigfoots are a good team and there is no shame in losing to them. And just think, if we face off against them in the finals again next year, it will be all the sweeter when we beat them.”

Billy came barging into the Dragonflies’ locker room. “Hey, coach! Great game! Listen, your team did such a good job today I’ve decided to treat them to pizza. It’ll give the teams a chance to get to know each other off the ice.”

“That’s awfully kind of you. Hey, Minoko, doesn’t that sound like fun.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

“Minoko, are you okay?”

“Sure. I’m…just…fine.”

Clever Clover turned back to Billy. “Why don’t you just take the kids. I think me and Minoko need some time to ourselves.”

“Sure thing. I’ll drop the kids off at the hotel later. Hey kids, you up for pizza!?”
“Yeah!”

* * *
Once coach Billy and the kids had left, Clever Clover sat down next to Minoko. “What’s wrong, Minoko? Why are you taking this so hard?”

“It’s nothing. I’m fine. You should have gone with the kids. I know how much you like pizza.”

“You’re upset. I couldn’t just leave you alone. You’ve got to talk it out. Why don’t the two of us go to a nice restaurant and we can discuses it over supper?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?” Minoko almost smiled.

“Uh, no, not really. At a time like now you need a friend.”

Minoko lay her head on Clever Clover’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

**My Little Pony Monthly Policy Statement**


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Our next issue will be sent April 1, 2003.

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