I'm very disappointed, because I thought it was a question every devoted My Little Pony fan would know the answer to write off the bat. I mean, who DOESN'T immediately know the name of the six-wheeled vehicle that lives in Optimus Prime's trailer? Oh wait... maybe that ISN'T so easy...
Actually, it was My Little Pony Monthly's April Fool's Joke on all her subscribers! It was completely spontaneous. Fifteen minutes before I sent out the April issue a conversation along these lines ensued:
TABBY: I need a contest question!
SPIKE: What is the name of the six-wheeled vehicle that lives in Optimus Prime's trailer?
SUGARBERRY: Well, it IS April Fool's Day...
TABBY: Hee hee! It is! Okay, I'll do it! It'll be funny!
And that's the story. Well, congratulations, Chekru, you won! Roller is the correct name of Prime's six-wheeled vehicle. And that means you are entitled to the lily-scented shower gel prize! E-mail me with your address so I can get it on its way to you!
This month's prize is a lipstick shade in anticipation of summer. Both Queen Sun Sparkle of Friendship Gardens and Baby Sun Sparkle of Ponyville wanted a chance to sponsor it, so to say, and I decided to give both of them the honors. So, here with me today, they reveal the May prize: Avon Miami Mambo lipstick in the Sun Sparkle shade! To get a chance at this lovely lip color, answer the following question correctly:
THE RULES! *ANYONE* can enter. That means anyone as in anyone. Even if you've already participated in the past, you can enter; in fact, I encourage you to do so. You don't even have to be a subscriber of MLP Monthly in order to enter. But if you're not a subscriber, you're probably not even reading this. ^.~
However, now that we've introduced *real* prizes, we will be putting a limit on how many times you can be entered in the drawing for that. If you've already been selected to win one of our prizes in the past, you can't be entered again- BUT, you can still participate and get your webpage graphic! So just because you've won something in the past doesn't mean you can't have any fun at all with our contests anymore. And, of course, if eventually all contest participants are ones that have won a prize, it's fair game for everybody again!
On the contest form at http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm, you will be able to select your gender so we'll be able to determine which prize you get. Or, if you'd prefer to be opted out of the prize drawing, you can select that on the form as well. You'll still get your webpage graphic, however.
Should the ponies have given up Dream Castle to the Grundles?
It always bothered me that they moved into Paradise Estate at the end of the movie. I mean, why would you give up a castle?! It would seem like a castle would have more room for more ponies, plus there's always a lot of history with castles.
Oh well_ Paradise Estate just gave Hasbro a good excuse to make a new playset!
I know we never see Majesty in any of the cartoons, but the fact that the other ponies just gave away her castle out from under her has always bothered me... It's a pretty big castle. Maybe she can give them some rooms and continue to live there. After all there are only (five? six?) Grundles. Come to think of it, if *all* the ponies were living in Dream Castle prior to moving to Paradise Estate, lots of ponies should have been consulted! I don't think the Grundles would want to impose if they knew they were displacing everyone.
And the survey question of this month is:
Do you think it is proper for the Bushwoolies to have been made subservient to the Princess Ponies?
"I must make a quick trip over to the grocery store for supper tonight," Caprice announced cheerfully, heading for the door. "I shouldn't be out above fifteen minutes."
"All right," said Tabby listlessly from the sofa. The birth of her second foal was approaching in just a week and she wasn't feeling that great. "Have more fun than I am."
"You poor thing," Caprice said sympathetically. "I know you feel miserable now, but just think when you have the foal to hold in your forelegs! It will all be worth it then. Only one more week!" She smiled encouragingly at her daughter-in-law and then turned to Cocklebur, who was playing My Little People with Faline on the floor. "Make sure Faline doesn't bother Tabby," Caprice said, patting him on the head. "And you're sure you can't stay for supper?"
"Nah, my mom wanted me home early for somethin'," Cocklebur shook his head.
"Swilly!" Faline chided him, swiping the My Little Person from his hoof. " 'ou have Shirley dancing with Trevor. She's Patrick's girlfriend."
"Sorry," Cocklebur mumbled, making the correct alterations to the ballroom scene.
"Well, I'll see you all shortly. Have a good time!" Caprice said, grabbing her purse and sweeping out the door.
* * *
Fifteen minutes turned into thirty as Caprice ran into her friend, Pink Parfait, in the produce aisle and the inevitable conversation followed encompassing the latest news on all the ponies in the two mares' acquaintanceship.
"Come over for supper sometime!" was Caprice's comment as she finally pulled her cart away, after the details of Vinca's engagement had been fully analyzed. She tossed the remaining items into the cart and finally headed for the check-out. With her ingredient-laden bags, she headed back to the mansion.
* * *
Cocklebur looked rather somber as Caprice came through the front door. "Why, whatever is the matter?" Caprice exclaimed in concern.
"It's Tabby," the colt said simply. "I think the baby might be coming early."
Caprice clucked her tongue after a precursory examination of her daughter-in-law's condition. "Oh dear. Well, this is unexpected, but I really must get her to the hospital." She helped Tabby up onto her hooves and herded her towards the door. "Would you be a dear, Cocklebur, and call Thomas at the clinic? Oh, and see if Elaine could take Faline in for a little while. Tah-tah! Oh, this is so exciting!" The door shut and Cocklebur was left with a lower-lip-trembling Faline.
"Where's Mwommy goin'?" she asked, wide-eyed.
"To the hospital, so she can have the baby," Cocklebur said succinctly.
"The hospital?" Faline whispered. "Will she be okay?"
"Well, of course she'll be okay. The doctors know what they're doing."
That didn't pacify her. "I want Mwommy!" Faline said adamantly, completely forgetting about the My Little People scattered on the floor, and started bawling.
Being the eldest of seven children, Cocklebur wasn't phased by Faline's tantrum and went to the phone. Dialing the number for the vet clinic, Cocklebur was not greeted by Patina's, the secretary, voice, but instead a strange electronic hum. "That's not a busy signal," he muttered to himself, and tried dialing again. The same thing happened. Frowning, he looked-up Elaine's number. Dialing that, he didn't get Elaine but he at least got an answering machine, on which he left a brief message outlining the situation. After that, he tried the clinic's number again to no avail.
Cocklebur looked down at Faline, who was truly distraught at having her mother gone away on a mysterious appointment at the hospital. "Well, I guess there's only one thing to do if their phone isn't working," Cocklebur said to himself. "Come on, Faline. We're going out to get your father."
* * *
"Isn't the phone working yet?" Marina complained, dialing her boyfriend's number for the umpteenth time that afternoon to be met with nothing but a weird buzzing. "I told Neil I'd get in touch with him hours ago!"
"Well, I hardly think you should be wasting time calling your boyfriend when you're on duty, anyway," Patina said peevishly. She was annoyed herself, not having had any new appointments to make for the past several hours with the phone being offline. The phone company had been informed but they, of course, were taking their time in attending to the matter.
"You'd understand if you had a boyfriend," Marina snapped, stalking off.
"Well, I never! What impertinence!" Patina huffed.
"Patina!" Cocklebur gasped, barging through the doors of the clinic after his vigorous run over dragging Faline behind him. "Where's Thomas? I need to see him!"
Patina looked down her nose at the youth critically. "Dr. Thomas is in the middle of analyzing some important tests on the Queen's pet gerbil," she declared in her top-lofty manner. "If you have a problem with one of your animals you'll have to schedule an appointment like everyone else."
"This is urgent!" Cocklebur insisted. "Tabby is-"
"Oh-" and Patina noticed her boss' daughter for the first time- "what are you doing here, Faline?"
"Mommy," said Faline soulfully, "is gone."
"Gone? That's preposterous." Patina rounded on Cocklebur. "What nonsense have you been filling her head with? Oh, just run along now," she shooed the colt away. "We're running a business here, not a nursery. Do take Faline back home where she belongs."
"If you would let me explain-" Cocklebur blustered.
"What seems to be the problem, Cocklebur?" Thomas said, emerging from a back room into the lobby. "And- Faline? Has something happened?"
"Caprice said something about the baby and took her to the hospital.."
Thomas was already out the door.
"Oh my," said Patina vaguely, hoping this wouldn't go on her record.
"Whaaaaaaah!" bawled Faline, now that both of her parents were out of her reach.
"The phone had better be working by now because..." Marina came on the scene and eyed the menagerie before her. "Uhh... what's up, everybody?"
* * *
Anyway, the delivery went quite smoothly. The second daughter of Tabby and Thomas was a little lavender filly with beige hair and the symbol of a butterfly. Tabby promptly decided on naming her Nymph.
Naturally, visitors abounded. Tabby was able to harass Sugarberry about running off to Vulcanopolis right away, just like she had done after Faline's birth.
Agatha, of course, had immediately flown in from Vulcanopolis when she had been notified of the news. She was horrified, of course, that her second granddaughter had had the effrontery to be born ahead of schedule so Agatha hadn't been with her from the first second.
Caprice met Agatha with a bit of trepidation; but Agatha, with her time spent away from Dream Valley, had perhaps mellowed a bit, and treated Caprice with surprising graciousness. Still, the jealous bridges were hardly mended between them.
Tiffany, who happened to be in Dream Valley at the time, along with her husband, was thrilled to be at hoof to see the newborn Baby Nymph.
"I think I will have fun with 'ou," Faline declared complacently, peering once again at her new little sister. Nymph just screwed up her face and started to cry loudly. Faline cringed and jumped back, covering her ears. "Or mwaybe not..."
While doing research for a story I came across a mention of a popular Victorian dish called Bubble and Squeak, basically a fancy fried mashed potato pancake enjoyed by the English during the time of the great detective Sherlock Holmes.
Suddenly, two little ponies jumped out of my imagination crowding the small office where I write.
"And who might you two be?" I asked in surprise.
"My name is Bubble," said one.
"And I'm Squeak," the other one said.
"And we want you to write our story," they said in perfect unison.
"Oh, no," I said with determination. "I don't write My Little Pony stories any more. I'm a serious writer...a published author...and all my nieces are all grown up."
They looked at me with sad puppy dog eyes. "No," I said with a wave of my hand, "that's not going to work. Not the eyes! Not the big, sad eyes! And stop with the trembling lower lips. Just stop it! I...am...not...writing...your...story!"
I held out for a whole five minutes. A new record for me.
(Author's note: This story takes place several months before the events depicted in the 1984 animated My Little Pony video that introduced Dream Castle (TM), Spike, the Sea Ponies (TM) and Megan.)
There is a land that you visit when you sleep. If you approach the Land of Dreams from the west, your path will lead you to Dream Castle and its ten magical inhabitants. At first glance you may be surprised to discover the castle is home to a herd of ponies though some have wings and a few have spiral horns on their foreheads.
Everybody knows the names of the most famous ponies in Dream Land: Cotton Candy, Moondancer, Bubbles, Applejack, Glory, Firefly, Medley, Bowtie, Twilight and Ember. However, the Dream Lands are home to more ponies than we can count and two of them are twins known as Bubble and Squeak.
Being earth ponies, they live in a simple English cottage with a thatched roof and surrounded by a fragrant garden of hollyhocks, tea roses, Bachelor's Buttons and other fragrant and colorful flowers. A path of closely trimmed thyme led to a small pond filled with goldfish.
Being twins, Bubble and Squeak both have rose_colored hides with manes of deep lavender. The only difference between the two lies in the streak that runs down each of their manes. The hair in Bubble's streak glistens a shiny Irish ruby red and Squeak prides herself in her streak of gold.
They have reputations of being lovely hostesses, but they also have the reputation of being somewhat silly. Yet grand hostesses they are and though they entertain many dreaming children from Earth, their most favorite and constant visitor is Maia.
* * *
Maia opened her eyes in a dream and found herself once again at the gate leading to the home of Bubble and Squeak. With a glad cry of hello, she flung the gate open and ran up the thyme path to the front door. Inside, Bubble and Squeak had their heads together in intense conversation.
"Shall I make the tea?" Maia asked. Lacking hands, the ponies greatly appreciated those who offered the use of their opposable thumbs and fingers in doing things like serving tea or building a cozy fire in the fireplace. There is little that can be done with hooves and the occasional use of lips and teeth.
"Oh, yes," Bubble said, looking up. "We pulled some fresh mint this morning. It's draining in the colander over there."
Maia poured fresh water in the pot and put it on the ring over the little fire in the fireplace. She got down the china cups from the cupboard and placed them on the table as the kettle came to a boil.
"What are you two talking about?" Maia asked.
Bubble shook her mane and said in a whisper, "We're thinking of finally doing something exciting!"
"Yes!" Squeak added. "We've lived in this cottage for years and we've decided it's time for a change."
The kettle began to whistle. Maia carefully retrieved it from its hook and poured it into a larger pot filled with fresh mint. Soon the little cottage filled with the sweet aroma of freshly picked peppermint. "And what have you decided to do besides live here in the cottage?" Maia asked. She sat the cups in front of the twin sisters. "One lump or two?"
"Two please," Squeak said. "Well, after a great deal of careful thought..."
"...and looking at all our options..."added Bubble sagely.
"...we've decided that we are going to become criminal masterminds!" Squeak said.
Maia sipped her tea thoughtfully. "I don't think that would be at all that nice," she said after a moment's pause. "You would have the sheriff and his men after you all the time. You would have to hide out in dirty places. And what would you do that would be criminal?"
"We would become cat burglars," Squeak said in a whisper.
Maia shook her head. "I can't see either of you stealing from other people."
"Steal from people?" Bubble said in shocked surprise. "Why, never!"
"But..." Maia began.
"Pinecones!" Squeak shouted triumphantly. "We will corner the market in pinecones!"
"I'm personally thinking of bottle caps myself," Bubble said. "You can never have enough bottle caps."
Maia shook her head with a smile. Silly ponies, she thought to herself. It took awhile, but eventually she convinced them that criminal masterminds went after more valuable property than pinecones and bottle caps and since Bubble and Squeak were well_behaved ponies, by the time Maia had to leave, they had given up on the idea.
The next night Maia arrived at the little cottage to hear Bubble and Squeak calling for help in the backyard.
Behind the little cottage, Maia stared up into a huge oak tree in surprise. Bubble and Squeak had somehow managed to climb to one of the highest branches.
"We thought we'd be birds!" Squeak called down.
"But we forgot that we don't have feathers," Bubble added.
"And we can't get back down!" Squeak cried.
It took Maia all night long to find a friendly giant to carefully put the sisters back on the ground.
That morning at breakfast, Maia's mother commented that Maia looked so tired that she wondered if her poor daughter slept at all.
"I spent all night looking for a giant to get some silly ponies out of a tree,"' Maia said with a yawn.
Maia's mother gave her a strange look and continued stirring pancake batter.
The next week of dreaming went by in a blur. One night the twins tried their talents at being great poets, but they couldn't make the rhymes work. They tried ballet, but their pirouettes reduced their cottage to shambles. They tried to be wise sages, but seeing each other with long, solemn faces gave them the giggles.
One night Maia arrived to discover the sisters had composed a list of possible new interests.
"We will become fine seamstresses!" Bubble said triumphantly.
"But you have no hands," Maia said quietly.
"Carpenters?" Squeak asked.
"You still need hands and fingers," Maia replied.
Maia just sadly shook her head.
The next night, to her horror, Maia found the twins standing dejected outside their home, their coats, tails, and manes a matted nightmare of twisted brambles and burdock seeds.
Maia didn't even ask. She found a curry comb and started the long, hard work first on Bubble working out the tangles and dragging out the tough barbed seed heads.
"We're never going to amount to anything," Squeak wailed. "All we'll ever be are ponies that live in a little cottage."
Maia worked on a stubborn knot in Bubble's main. "And what's really wrong with that?" she asked.
Squeak looked at Bubble and Bubble looked at Squeak. "We want to lead interesting lives," Bubble said after some thought. "The other children don't want ponies who just serve tea in a little cottage."
Maia put the comb down and looked at the twins. "You two are very silly little ponies," she said, "But I love you just the way you are. I don't know about the 'other children' but I find drinking tea in a cottage just fine with me."
Squeak looked at Bubble and Bubble looked at Squeak. "You mean, we don't have to be exciting heroines?" Bubble asked quietly.
"No," Maia said, resuming work on a particularly difficult tangle. "I find you exciting enough. Really, I just want you to be my friends."
"Maybe we could be spacemen?" Squeak asked.
"No," Maia laughed. "Just be who you are...my friends."
It would be nice to say from that day on, the two sisters became happy with what they were best at, but there were times Maia would arrive at the little cottage in Dream Land and find they had painted themselves green or tried to glue unicorn horns on their foreheads or had some other misadventure.
Yet until Maia became a young woman, she enjoyed tea and some quiet adventures and the last I heard, Bubble and Squeak are still doing what they do best...being friends to the dreaming children of Earth.
"Are you responsible for this lovely day?" Sugarberry asked of Fr. Isaac as the guests at Bittersweet and Teepee's sylvan wedding mingled on the river bank in the Dark Forest. The knot having been tied, the bride and groom were smilingly accepting congratulations and best wishes from their friends.
Fr. Isaac chuckled. "I'd like to think it was my prayers that brought this delightful weather; but Jalap would disagree, I'm sure." He nodded toward the imposing shaman who stood solemnly at the edge of the gathering like a spirit-being, his grass-green color blending in against the fresh foliage of the trees and shrubs behind him.
"Clever Clover mentioned that this was part of the ancient Dream Vallian civilization."
"Yes, he explained to me, too, several possible explanations of the pavilion's existence; and I do sense a pervading peacefulness."
The peace was rippled as Banderol scampered up to Sugarberry, accompanied by Tamarack, with Vanguard, Dreamcatcher, and Fetish trailing behind.
"Hi, sweetie." Sugarberry grinned at her son and tousled his mane. "Are you and Tamarack having a good time?"
"Me and Bandy hungry," Tamarack relayed for the two foals. Turning to his own mother, he asked, "When eat?"
Glancing further down the meandering stream to a clearing where the wedding dinner was being organized, then to the lagging progress of the bride and groom talking with the wedding guests, Dreamcatcher smiled. "Be patient, little one; your Aunt Bittersweet and your new Uncle Teepee still have many friends to acknowledge."
Pouting, Tamarack reasoned, "Can talk later... while we're eatin'!"
"I suppose they could," Fetish placated. "But this is their special day, so we won't make them hurry."
The look Fetish sent his son served to quiet the plucky colt who now plopped down on the grassy riverbank to "find bug". Banderol immediately joined him, causing Sugarberry to roll her eyes.
"I hope they don't have plans to eat any."
* * *
For a wedding in the Dark Forest, the celebration lacked none of the amenities. White-clothed tables, heavily laden with food and drink, had been set up in a blossoming glade where spring beauties sprinkled the fresh grass with their tiny pink blossoms. The newly-budded trees that ringed the clearing filtered the warm springtime sunshine, casting dappled shadows over the space without inhibiting the light. It was indeed a lovely day.
Bittersweet and Teepee had finally reached the wedding feast and had taken their places.
at the table, much to the joy of Banderol and Tamarack. The trek to the forest and the surfeit of fresh air had given the colts a hearty appetite; but, once sated, the two were ready for more adventure. To allow Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher an opportunity to relax among their friends, Licorice volunteered to take the foals on an exploratory walk more deeply into the forest. Licorice's college classmate and best buddy, Snapper, accompanied them.
"Listen to what Licorice tells you," Sugarberry admonished her son, "and stay close to him so you don't get lost." She planted a tender kiss on the foal and turned him over to the care of the young stallions.
"We won't go far," Licorice assured Sugarberry with a grin. "Come on, brats."
* * *
The four explorers had gotten no further than the edge of the clearing when Snapper groaned. "Here comes Boxey." A vivacious creamy-yellow filly with an avalanche of lavender hair was definitely headed in their direction.
"I know she's your sister and all, Snapper, but Bandy and Tam are better behaved than she is." He grabbed a hoof of each of the youngsters and headed under cover in an obvious ploy to lose the approaching filly. Snapper was close on his heals.
"You're telling me? I'm the one who's had to live under the same roof with her for sixteen years."
Three years younger than Snapper and the baby of the family, Boxey was a hoyden. Unfettered by any preconceived conventions, she was often the instigator of activities that had landed Boxey and her older brother in serious scrapes with their parents. Snapper, now in college, tried to distance his sixteen-year-old sibling. Boxey, however, was not ready yet to relinquish a perfectly satisfactory relationship (from her point of view) with her brother; and her teasing, her goading, her scheming, and her laughter often trailed the stallion... and by association, Licorice.
"Wait up!" she called, waving her hoof in the air. "Where ya' goin'?" She arrived at their sides in a rush.
"We're taking the colts for a walk. What're you doing?" Snapper returned.
"Why, comin' with you, of course," the filly replied, flipping her mane over her shoulder and latching it into a ponytail with an elastic band that she had worn on her foreleg. "I don't know anyone here, and I need to do somethin' or I'll die of boredom. Let's go this way."
With a toss of her tail, Boxey took off into the forest, the colts scampering after her and Snapper and Licorice sharing a silent glance; then, with a shrug of their shoulders, they followed.
* * *
"This place was built and abandoned long before the Native Ponies moved into the area," Boxey lectured, her eyes sparkling as she surveyed the weathered stone-tiled pavilion where the wedding had taken place. Encroaching weeds had been removed to refine the space where the bride and groom had exchanged their wedding vows; but beyond that, the forest had been left untouched and natural. The trees that circled the pavilion were tall and protective.
"Why didn't Bittersweet and Teepee get married out at the Native Pony site in the hills?" Snapper wanted to know.
"It would have interfered too much with the work still being done there," Licorice noted. "And, besides, they figured it was too far from town. Bittersweet thought this place was terribly romantic," he added as an afterthought.
"Romantic!" scoffed Boxey with a grimace. "It's exciting!" She twirled across the uneven stonework. "Imagine the ponies who built this place and who lived and planned and fought and..."
Boxey was interrupted by a yelp from Licorice as he dashed across the stone tiles to rescue Tamarack who had begun to climb the wall that framed the courtyard. The black stallion grabbed the colt just as one of the rocks crumbled loose and dropped to the ground.
"This wall isn't safe," he explained to Tamarack and Banderol. "Let's move on."
"Me want 'nake," Tamarack pouted, pointing to the wall.
"You saw a snake?" Boxey exclaimed, rushing to investigate. "Where'd he go?"
Snapper, not sharing his sister's love of snakes, stepped back and searched the area around him cautiously. "I don't think..."
But Boxey had already uncovered the reptile, hiding under a tree branch that overhung the wall. "Look, guys! It's a bull snake!" The filly gently grasped the willowy specimen and held it up for all to see.
Both Tamarack and Banderol were mesmerized by the slithering creature whose red underside flashed brightly even in the shadowy forest, his chocolate brown top blending in well with the woodsy surroundings. As Tamarack reached out softly to experience the feel of the snake, the creature slowly transferred to the colt's foreleg, much to the fascination of both foals.
"Now, that's a fashion statement," Boxey laughed as the snake coiled itself bracelet-like around Tamarack's leg.
"Me, 'nake! Me, 'nake!" Banderol piped, patting his own foreleg.
"Hold your foreleg close to Tam's," instructed Licorice, "and let the snake make up his own mind."
At first, the snake's tongue was the only thing that moved as he checked out this new pony; then, slowly, he inched forward, transferring himself to Banderol's country-blue leg. The foal smiled widely with pleasure. "Me like 'nake," he said.
"And the snake likes you, too, as long as you never try to hurt him," Boxey instructed both the foals. "Now, though, I think it's time we let him get back to his own life." She returned the reptile back to the stone wall, and they all watched as he slithered more deeply under the protective tree branch where he was swallowed up in the shadows.
Licorice, Snapper, and Boxey laughed as the two baby ponies tried to mimic the snake's tongue action, and soon the colts had collapsed in giggles as well.
"Are you ready to go back to your mother's?" Licorice asked of them when they had settled down.
"No!" Boxey was the one to exclaim the loudest, with Banderol and Tamarack backing her. "They'll just be sittin' around talkin'. Let's explore some more." Without waiting for a response, she headed off with the two foals following her.
Heaving a deep sigh, Licorice fell in behind them. Glancing back at Snapper, he found that the stallion was not moving.
"I hate snakes," Snapper shuddered.
"Just walk loud," Licorice grinned. "You'll scare them away."
Looking doubtful, Snapper filed after the others.
* * *
It was a slow and meandering trail that the ponies took as Boxey found it necessary to follow every bounding bunny, examine every unfamiliar flower, identify every brilliant bird, and scale every twigged tree. Before her energy was even beginning to wane, Banderol and Tamarack were having a hard time putting one hoof in front of the other. Snapper and Licorice, who themselves longed for some of the leftovers from the dinner tables and a cool drink, took pity on the foals and hoisted them up on their shoulders.
With an unexpected show of authority, Snapper called to his sister who was already nearly out of sight ahead of them. "Boxey, we've got to go back! Sugarberry and Dreamcatcher will be worried about the foals."
Acknowledging that she had heard, Boxey turned and waved a hoof, although she did not stop or change her direction, and soon disappeared into the thickening forest. Snapper let out a growl of disapproval. "That little imp will get herself lost yet."
"If we all aren't lost already," muttered Licorice, looking back in the direction in which they had come. "Boxey!" He raised his voice so that it echoed through the trees. "We're leaving for the clearing in two minutes!"
The two stallions and the sleepy foals listened intently for any response from the filly, but none was forthcoming. "Boxey!" Snapper called again, but there was no sound from the forest, not even the rustling of a squirrel or the chirping of a bird. The Dark Forest had assumed a closed, intimidating atmosphere.
"This is pathetic," Licorice ground out. "That silly chit hasn't got a brain in her head!" He met Snapper's glance. "We've got to get Tam and Bandy back to their mothers, or we'll never hear the end of it. I'm assuming Boxey can take care of herself?" he queried.
"She always does," Snapper grimaced. "And it's not like we didn't warn her."
The explorers, minus one, turned and headed back toward the wedding party.
* * *
"Tamarack's birthday is in three days," Dreamcatcher mentioned to Sugarberry. "I hope you still plan to attend his party."
"Oh my gosh, yes," Sugarberry grinned. "Banderol wouldn't miss it for the world." Suddenly, she frowned and turned to gaze into the Dark Forest. "I wonder where our little troopers are? They've been gone a long time."
"They've probably lost track of the time," Dreamcatcher reassured the mare. "It's easy to do... the forest is so beautiful."
Sugarberry shivered, remembering some of the less than pleasant tales she had heard which involved the Dark Forest. Tabby's experience with the skeleton king and Dreamcatcher's own close call with the hungry wolves came to mind. As she stared at the march of trees, a small cloud passed in front of the sun, casting a dismal aspect on the forest; and she jumped when Vanguard placed a hoof on her shoulder.
Knowing her thoughts, Vanguard gave her a bracing smile. "Snapper and Licorice are coming this way along the river." He glanced at Dreamcatcher. "It appears that both foals succumbed to their afternoon naps. Fetish and I are going to meet them."
* * *
As Vanguard and Fetish approached the younger stallions, they became aware of the harried attitude of Snapper and Licorice. "Are the foals okay?" Fetish asked as they met.
"Bandy and Tam are fine," Licorice said as he relayed Banderol over to the colt's father. "It's the third foal we have to worry about, if she's not back with you guys."
Both Vanguard and Fetish raised a questioning brow. "It's m'sister," Snapper hastily explained. "We got separated. Have you seen her back here?"
"Boxey?" Vanguard queried, trying to remember any sign of the teenaged filly and coming up empty.
"She was dousing Bittersweet and Teepee with bird seed after the wedding," Fetish noted.
"She tagged along with us when we left with the foals," Licorice explained as they walked back to the reception area. "We went a lot farther than we'd planned on, and Boxey just kept going. The foals were tired, so Snapper and I turned back."
"You left her out there all alone?"
"We tried to get her to come back with us," Snapper quickly supplied, "but she wouldn't listen. She just waved goodbye and disappeared."
"We thought it'd be best to get the foals back to their mothers and then go back for Boxey," Licorice added.
"Check with your parents, Snapper, and make sure she's not here somewhere," suggested Fetish. "If not, we'll round up some volunteers to look for her."
* * *
"She's not even going to realize she's caused a problem," Licorice muttered as he and Vanguard, along with Wigwam and Whispering Birch retraced the route along the river by which the stallions had returned while Snapper led Remuda, Jalap, Fetish, and Dreamcatcher on the original path the ponies had taken into the forest. Other wedding guests had fanned out, calling Boxey's name, in an effort to direct the filly back in the right direction.
* * *
Meanwhile, Boxey, so intent on tracing down the flash of grayish-brown fur she had seen, was oblivious to the stallions' departure. Even though she had heard their threat of leaving, she did not respond because she did not want to frighten off whatever sort of animal she was tracking- although its coloring was close to that of the rabbits she had seen, it did not move with the hip-hopping motion of a lagomorph. Her wave of hoof to keep her brother and Licorice quiet had succeeded in silencing them more effectively than she could have hoped.
Now, however, the filly found herself in a predicament.
In front of her on a hillside sloping down to the sparkling river that curved in a loop around the spit of land, the small, furry body she had been following through the underbrush had disappeared. It was not until Boxey had crawled through a particularly spiky hedge of thornbush into an area of trampled ground that she realized that her prey had taken shelter in a den dug in the hillside.
As she stood and brushed the twigs and leaves off her body, Boxey took stock of her surroundings more carefully; it was then that she noticed a much larger furry shape than she had been following standing at the entrance to the hole which caused Boxey to cease all motion to the extent that even her breathing was arrested.
For the animal was a wolf... and not a particularly welcoming individual of that species. It's fur was bristling in hostility and its fangs were bared and its yellow eyes harbored deep resentment toward the intruder. It was a she-wolf protecting her pups. Boxey knew she had met her match.
In the next instant, her heart constricted even more tightly, for a deep, masculine growl came from the bushes behind her as well.
* * *
"Here's the spot," Licorice revealed to the rest of his cohorts as they came to the point where he and Snapper had emerged from the forest and began following the river. "W'd hiked for about twenty minutes due west from the place where Boxey disappeared."
"I suggest that we split up," Wigwam suggested. He looked at his sister. "Whispering Birch, you accompany Licorice back into the forest; he'll be able to get you back where they were. Van, you and I will follow the river north. If Boxey has any sense, she'll head for the river, too, knowing that she can follow it back to her parents."
Licorice grumbled. "If Boxey had any sense, she wouldn't be lost." His tone was derogatory, but the sobriquet, dumb girl, was left unspoken.
"The Dark Forest has never been easy to navigate," Whispering Birch defended. "Even growing up near here and traipsing through these shadowy depths time and time again, my siblings and I got turned around any number of times." She grinned at Wigwam as memories of several rather frightening episodes involving the two of them plus Teepee and their neighboring friends flitted through their minds.
Not convinced, Licorice made no response. He was only aware that Boxey had flaunted his and Snapper's advice on turning back; if she had listened to them, no one would have to be out scouring the forest for her now.
"Don't stay out longer than an hour," Wigwam warned. "If we haven't found her by then, we'll have to regroup and widen the search."
"Come on, Licorice. Lead the way," Whispering Birch ordered.BR>
Licorice had the sinking feeling that he was being put to the test.
* * *
During the first part of their trek northward, Vanguard and Wigwam were accompanied by the shouts of Boxey from Whispering Birch and Licorice which echoed their own calls; but soon they were separated by distance and the wall of trees so that only the natural sounds of the forest were heard.
"I've never been in this part of the forest," Vanguard noted, quickly surveying the surroundings as he and Wigwam followed the river's course. "I'd like to come back when its not an emergency situation. Are you familiar with every corner of this place?"
"This woods is expansive, which is part of the reason it has a bad reputation. Once a pony is off the marked paths, it's a simple thing to get lost. I'm not sure anyone has covered every part of the Dark Forest and all its terrains, Van. Some places are so thick with undergrowth that it's nearly impossible to get through; some areas are steep and dangerous. Most ponies look for an easier trail rather than tempt fate. The river, however, has always been a main thoroughfare, so to speak, through the forest; for those of us who grew up close to the land, it was a well-known route, although most today are more likely to take the smoother, safer paths."
Both of the stallions ceased the conversation as they marched onward, once again calling Boxey's name and listening for a response and watching for any signs of recent passage. So intent was Vanguard on his quest that he did not notice that Wigwam had halted until he heard the stallion's low-voiced command to stop. Vanguard looked at his companion to find that Wigwam was surveying the area where the river curved abruptly to the left to avoid a hillside, a frown marring his face.
Vanguard moved closer to him. "What is it?" he whispered.
Shaking his head, Wigwam said, "Nothing, really. It's just that... well, I've seen signs that Manitou and Halona are in this area. Even I'm not privy to where their den is located; but if Boxey stumbles on to it, I'm not sure how Manitou and Halona will react." He was thinking of the wolf who had been his companion for several years until Manitou had found a mate, Halona. Both wolves were frequent visitors to Wigwam's home under normal circumstances; but at this time of the year, they were in imposed isolation with their new family.
"You're saying that they will be more aggressive with their pups' welfare at stake?"
"It's a strong possibility," Wigwam admitted. He then began the ascent of the wooded slope before them.
The two stallions had not gone far before they heard ahead of them a choked scream followed by what sounded like a scuffle.
* * *
When Vanguard and Wigwam burst through the wall of bushes that encircled the den entrance, they faced their worst expectations. Boxey, laid out on her side, was under siege by two swarming, furry bodies, both of which seemed intent on...
The stallions came up short. Wigwam chuckled while Vanguard watched in amazement.
Giggling hysterically, Boxey's face was being licked voraciously by two wolf pups, one a deep grey, the other flecked with silver, while the two adult wolves sat off to the side with what could only be described as satisfied grins on their faces.
It would seem that the daring filly had overcome any objections of the parent wolves on her breaking into their sanctuary, and the two pups were ecstatic to meet a new friend.
Wigwam circled the tumbling bodies to reach Manitou and Halona, and placed a hoof convivially on both parents. "A fine pair of young ones... I congratulate the two of you." Halona responded by nuzzling Wigwam's hoof, and Manitou pointed his ears up with pride.
Boxey managed to extricate herself temporarily from the pups' sloppy kisses and sit up. "These guys are the cutest!" she said, a look of rapture on her face. Then, she was once more toppled by a joint charge from the two exuberant playmates.
* * *
Everyone was happy when the rescuers came back with Boxey in their midst, and the filly was soon surrounded by ponies curious to learn of her adventure with the wolves. She admitted to the fear she had first felt when she had found herself under close scrutiny by the adult wolves and her relief when they had sensed that she was harmless and that she had no nefarious motives for being so near their den.
At the edge of the clearing sat Licorice, purposelessly separating himself from the crowd around Boxey by offering to watch over the sleeping Banderol. Even the bride and groom were listening to the story with no regard for the disturbance Boxey's disappearance and subsequent recovery had caused in their wedding festivities while Licorice brooded.
It was bad enough that Boxey had invited herself to accompany the stallions, but then to get lost while under their protection... It was mortifying for Licorice. It also did not help to have been under Whispering Birch's eagle eyes and having her point out to him his earlier path through the forest. She had deliberately bated him time and time again, he was sure.
Snapper came to join his friend.
"What? You're missing your sister's performance?" Licorice growled.
Chuckling, Snapper sat down. "I'll hear the story any number of times as she yaps of it to her friends." He cast a sideways glance at Licorice. "What's up with you?"
"I'm keeping an eye on Banderol," the young stallion responded, nodding toward the sleeping foal nestled against his side.
"I can see that," Snapper snapped. "What I mean is, why do you look like a storm cloud over the horizon?"
"Why? Because your little sister is a bratling, in the truest sense of the word. She runs off into the Dark Forest by herself, not heeding our warning to the contrary, and yet she gets the royal treatment now that she's back while ponies look at us as if we were too bird-witted to keep track of her. If you ask me, she should be grounded for a month for causing such a fuss."
"I know what you mean, pal. But it's obvious that you don't have any sisters of your own, or you'd understand that the female of the species can get away with a lot more than the male."
"If that's the case, I'm glad I never had a sister," muttered Licorice, thanking the Lord for two older brothers instead. Putting a protective foreleg around the foal so peacefully asleep, he added, "And I hope, for your sake, Bandy, that your folks have a long string of boys."
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