My Little Pony Monthly Issue 88 (July 1, 2004)

My Little Pony Monthly
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Issue 88
July 2004

There were three Soft Sleepy Newborns, not four! Congratulations to our winners!

BabyDibbles (
Bow_tie (
Chekru (
Darksun (
Garej (
Jaye (
Lil Whiskers (
Moonstar (
Sweet Tooth (

And which of you gets the prize...?

Bow-tie! The pineapple lip balm is yours! E-mail me with your address and I'll get it on its way to you!

Masquerade is here with us this month offering a (prepare yourselves, it's a long one) AVON Beyond Color Nutralush Plumping Lipstick with SPF 12/Skin Protectant. The shade is called Masquerade, of course, and it's an awesome purple color. Masquerade highly recommends it. Answer the following question correctly to get entered in the drawing for it!

What is the name of the prince from the first My Little Pony Special (Firefly's Adventure, Rescue From Midnight Castle, etc.)?

Tell me the answer by e-mailing mailto:TabbyMLP@aol.comor entering through the form at

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 name in the newsletter! 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, 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.

What pony would subscribers most like to find for a quarter at a rummage sale?

Moonstar ( says...
Starshine. I have been looking for her for years and she is really not as common as you would think.

Lil Whiskers ( says...
Well, aside from the obvious ones like Rapunzel, or the TAF babies, I'd really like to find a good condition Flutterby. She's the last Rainbow Pony I need from that set.

BabyDibbles ( says...
hmm... a pony?. i'd love to find a MIB dibbles/nibbles. As for a single pony.... probably a seaside baby or candy baby or jewelry baby.. too many!!! I hardly ever find ponies at tag sales! : (

Jaye ( says...
Any that I'm missing! Okay, seriously. I'd love to find Baby Sugarberry in a situation like that, just so I could make collectors gasp when I told them the story. :_)

Sugarberry ( says...
I would like to find any of the European big brothers for such a deal.

And the survey question of this month is (courtesy of Friendly):

Do you want to see Hasbro make new Bushwoolies?

Go to the following URL to give your opinion:
Tabby's note: It's almost 9:00 and I'm working on a computer with a really yucky monitor, but Sugarberry thinks I should look up some links to lead readers back to previous stories concerning Brightblade and Marshmallow. Foof. Well, anyway, go to for Marshmallow's origin and for Brightblade's original saga.

Brightblade and Medley Get Married
by Clever Clover (

The warm spring breeze blew through Dream Valley. Brightblade and Medley's wedding was days away. The bride to be still hadn't chosen her wedding gown. She and Marshmallow (the maid of honor) were spending every day at Bobbin's Dress Shop, trying on every dress they had (most of them more than once).

"What do you think of this one?" said Medley, striking a pose.

"Hm, not bad. I still think number seventeen is the best."

Medley picked up a clipboard and perused the list of dresses. "Seventeen, huh? Well, it's in my top five. But I think this one is better."

"Maybe if you tried on seventeen again you'd see it in a new light."

"All right. Now, where is that dress? Bobbin! Have you seen number seventeen?"

"Oh yes, I'll have it for you in a minute." The dressmaker pranced off and rummaged through the racks of dressed. "Ah, there it is."

Medley changed into the dress. "Hm, it's kind of old-fashioned."

Marshmallow shrugged. "Well, I am fifty years behind the times."

* * *
Meanwhile, at the Sweat Lodge, Brightblade, Sitting Bull, and Breeks sat in the sauna, relaxing after a hard workout.

"So, Little-Blade, having any second thoughts yet?"

"Sheesh, you won't be satisfied until the vows are said, will you, Bullhorn?"

"Kraaw!" Breeks the raven crowed. "Can you two not give it a rest and relax? Kaw!"

"Little-Blade, why'd you have to invite that filthy bird into my once-respectable establishment?"

"He was hanging out here before I'd even heard of it, and I don't think this place was ever respectable."

"Kraw, Kraw, Kraw!" Breeks laughed.

"What have you been tellin' him, bird?"

"Kaw? What, me?"

"Some day that big beak of yours is gona git you into trouble!"

"Oh, it's already done that, more than once."


Brightblade stood up. "Well, this has been fun, but I've got to be going."

"Wha'! So early? You don't have to walk all the way to Dream Valley today. You could spend the night at my place!"

"I've got a lot of preparations to take care of for the wedding, and I need to get started bright and early tomorrow morning. See you guys in a couple of days."

"Sure thing, Little-Blade! I wouldn't miss this for the world!"


* * *
On his way home, Brightblade stopped by Medley's house. "Hey honey! How was your day?"

"Brightblade, you're acting like we're married already!"

"I'm just getting some practice. Have you picked our a dress yet?"

"Well, I couldn't decide on just one, so Bobbin is making a custom dress. It'll be tight, but she promises it will be done in time for the wedding."

"I'm glade your father's paying for it; having a custom dress made from scratch must cost an arm and a leg."

Marshmallow came bounding out from the living room. "Yeah, but it'll be worth it!"

"It's that nice, eh?"

"Well, you'll just have to wait and see, now won't you?" Medley said, coyly.

"I guess. Now I've got to be getting home." Brightblade kissed Medley. "See you tomorrow."

* * *
Brightblade was up bright and early the next morning. He had to meet with the caterer, florist, organist, and priest to finalize arrangements for the wedding. Tomorrow would be the rehearsal and the next day was the big event. The day's business went smoothly. Medley met him at the caterer's and accompanied him through the rest of the day. After the last meeting, with the priest, Medley gave Brightblade a kiss on the cheek and said, "I've got to be going to Bobbin's for the final fitting of my dress. See you tomorrow."

"I'll be looking forward to it."

Just then Shoreline, Brightblade's neighbor, came running up. "Brightblade! Brightblade! Your lawn has been overrun by gypsy vermin!"

"Well, it looks like you'll have your hands full," called Medley over her shoulder as she pranced off.

Brightblade smiled. "I guess I'll have to look into this."

* * *
When he got home, it looked much as Shoreline had reported. There were two dozen rats pitching tents on the lawn. As he neared the rats, one of them stepped forward.

"Hey, Ramon! Long time no see! Glad you could make it!"

"Yes, it has been too long," replied Ramon.

"I would have liked to have come and visited, but my life kind of got the better of me. Is Cassandra with you?"

Ramon smiled and nodded. "She's with the baby. Come here." The white rat led Brightblade to the one tent that was fully erected. He opened the flap and Cassandra stepped out holding a tiny baby rat.

"Ramon, I didn't even know the two of you were married!"

"Yes, we wanted to invite you to the wedding, but we didn't have any way to get you the message. Breeks stopped by the village every once and a while, but not with any regularity."

"I hadn't even seen Breeks again till about half a year ago. But I'm glad he was able to get my invitation to you. I'm surprised that he didn't tell me about you two! What's the baby's name?"

"Roberto," said Cassandra.

"It's nice to meet you, little Roberto."

* * *
The time to the wedding seemed to just disappear. Brightblade strolled down the lane toward the church. In just a couple of hours he would be a married pony. He wasn't at all nervous; after the challenges he had overcome in the past, marriage seemed rather mundane. It almost seemed too good to be true. There were no monsters or evil spirits, and the fate of the world wasn't at stake... just of two ponies, him and Medley. Hopefully it would be that way for the rest of their lives together.

But as Brightblade rounded the last bend before the church, a strange odor met his nose... an odor that took him back to his quest for the Warrior's Horn. It was on the edge of the Pack Lands, near the Lands of Death, when he had been accosted by the strange, mangy wolf. It was the smell of death. A sound from the bushes along the lane caused the pony to start.

"Not so brave without your horn, are you Warpony?" came a raspy voice. The wolf from so long ago, now even more mangy and decrepit, limped out from the bushes. "It has been too long, Warpony. My master has been curious about how you were doing, so he sent me to find you. I would have been lost had I not happened upon the village of the rats just as they prepared to make the journey to Dream Valley for your wedding."

"What do you want from me?"

"My master wants to send you his best wishes for the future."

"I find that hard to believe. Last time, he wanted me to join him."

"My master doesn't hold a grudge. Though he would request a favor of you..."

"You can tell your master that I am not interested."

The wolf shrugged. "Very well. He will just take her instead."

"Her!? Who?"

The wolf tried to laugh, but it came out as more of a cough. "Marshmallow. She was in his service once, and he still has some influence over her. But he will release her, if you agree to his favor."

"Wendigo was another of your master's servants?"

"Aye. Long before I entered the master's service, Wendigo was his greatest warrior. I had hoped to meet him, someday. Perhaps I shall have the opportunity to meet his most recent host, though."

"No. Tell you master, whoever he is, to leave Marshmallow alone!"

"You're accepting his offer then?"

"What does he want me to do?"

The wolf smiled. "For the time being, nothing. He just wants your word that when the time comes, you will not refuse him."

"All right. You have my word, as long as Marshmallow, and the rest of my friends, are safe!"

"Excellent. I shall take word to the master of your decision."

"And tell him this: if you, or any of his lackeys, come anywhere near any of my friends, if any of them even catches a whiff of your stench, the deal is off and I'm going to hunt down this master of yours and make him regret ever having heard of the Warpony!"

The wolf paused a moment and then nodded. "Fair enough." Then he disappeared into the bushes.

* * *
Brightblade arrived at the church shortly after his encounter with the wolf. Sitting Bull, Breeks, and Ramon were waiting for him.

"What took you so long!?" bellowed Sitting Bull. "And what's with the long face? You're not having second thoughts, are you?"

Brightblade shook his head and forced a weak smile. "It's nothing. Just some old memories that have been bothering me lately. But now's not the time to talk about it. Today is about the future, not the past."

"Are you sure you don't want to talk about it?" asked Ramon. "It might not be a bad idea to get it off your chest before the wedding."

"We'll talk about it later. For the time being, don't worry yourselves with it." Brightblade strode into the church and took his place by the alter to await his bride.


July 2004
The Vulcanopolis Chapter
Nesting Place
by Sugarberry (

In a Vulcanopolis town house of pink stucco, Sugarberry put the finishing touches on dinner just as Vanguard came in the door.

"Something smells good," he said, sniffing the air. He grinned at his wife. "Something looks good, too." He hugged the strawberry-patterned mare and was intent on kissing her when Banderol tugged on his father's foreleg.

"Me need 'elp," the foal demanded several times before Vanguard released his wife with a sigh.

"What can I help you with, Bandy?" he asked his son while noting that the colt had a bundle of sticks clutched in his hooves.

"Me wanna make bwdie nes'," the colt replied, holding up the work materials.

"Ahh," Vanguard voiced, casting Sugarberry an accusing glance.

The mare laughed. "Don't blame me. We visited Hydrangea this afternoon, and there is a turtle dove nesting in a tree off her patio. Banderol expects to construct a nest to attract his own bird. He and Dante hunted up the nesting materials."

Looking at the pile of sticks his son had dropped onto the table, Vanguard picked one up, then said to Banderol, "A bird's nest is quite a special home. Only the parents know how to build it so that it's comfortable for their babies."

His small hoof patting his father's foreleg, Banderol trustingly replied, "Daddy pawent... Daddy buiwd nes'."

That vote of confidence caused Vanguard to sit down and rake his hoof through his mane. Drawing the foal onto his lap, he attempted to illustrate the problems involved with nest building. Setting out some of the sticks in a circular pattern, he asked Banderol, "Do you think these will stay together out in the wind and the rain?"

Touching the sticks and watching them collapse, Banderol thought hard. "Gwu," he decided, slipping off his father's lap and running to his activity box to retrieve a bottle of glue. Returning to Vanguard, he crawled up on the chair next to him and began rebuilding the nest.

Sugarberry, in the meantime, had set the food out on the table and now intercepted Banderol's project. "Come on, sweetie, and eat your supper. You can work on the nest afterwards." She gently settled the foal on his booster chair and filled his plate.

The foal whined at first, but soon found the supper his mother had prepared too tempting. He ate heartily while his parents shared events of the day.

"Hydrangea suggested that we all get together and take the foals to the park for a picnic on Saturday," Sugarberry informed Vanguard.

"And just who is 'we all'?" the stallion asked.

"Well, besides us and Hydie and Pacificus and their boys, there'd be Clare and Giorgio with Calla, Iveta and Giles with Jacopo and Trent, and Mooncurl and Nello with Baby Sunsprite. She's a month old already, which means we've been over here nearly that long."

Mooncurl's little daughter had been born only four days ahead of Sugarberry and Vanguard's arrival in Vulcanopolis for their year's stay while Vanguard temporarily assumed Giorgio's position at Leonardo University and Sugarberry worked on a fashion industry book for Monk-Fairfax Publishing. Clare's number one model, Mooncurl had abdicated her position in the public eye in lieu of motherhood, although she still maintained an advisory position with the fashion house which took up much of her time. Her photographer husband, Nello, was an indispensable part of Clare's Creations as well.

"Saturday sounds like it'll be a busy day," Vanguard commented.

"Aren't they all?" Sugarberry sighed.

Since their arrival in Vulcanopolis, the days had sped by. Having opted to live in the town house that belonged to Giorgio so that she and Vanguard would be close to their respective jobs, Sugarberry had spent several days acquainting herself with the three-floor space and in renewing her acquaintance with the friendly mare next door, Iveta, who was kept running by her three-year old, Jacopo, and her seven-month-old, Trent.

The first week had also encompassed the stay of the honeymoon couples from Woodlawn, Icon and Splotch along with Chiffon and Tribute. The two couples had been gifted the use of the country home of Giorgio, Sr., and his wife, Enrica, so they had a delightful living experience with all the amenities, including the housekeeping services of Prisca and Donato, but had made the time to explore some of the scenic places in and close to the city with Vanguard and Sugarberry. Enrica and Giorgio, Sr., had also held a reception of sorts in their own villa to introduce the newly married pairs to their family and other close friends.

One day, Clare, the chic owner of Clare's Creations, the fashion house that Sugarberry was using as the basis for her book, had invited Sugarberry, Chiffon, and Splotch to her office and given them the grand tour of the company, showing them every level of fashion planning and treating them to a lavish lunch at Coppoli's along the river-front. The day had proved so stimulating that both Chiffon and Splotch were envious of Sugarberry's opportunity to work on such a glamorous assignment.

However, it also brought the scope of Sugarberry's commitment fully to her mind, casting her into a jittery state of combined anticipation and dread as she tried to see the project not only through her own eyes, but through those of Macarius, the editor-in-chief. Sugarbery was so preoccupied with her responsibility to Macarius that she was able to see the Woodlawn ponies off with nary a tear, even as Icon teased her about birthing so far from home that the foal could only be considered alien.

Personal friends with Giorgio and Clare as well as work-related peers, Sugarberry and Vanguard spent time with them outside of the office sphere, allowing Banderol and Calla to cement a friendship that had begun within hours of their births, as Calla had made her entrance into the world the morning following Banderol's arrival while Giorgio and Clare were in Dream Valley to promote one of Princess Tiffany's charitable extravaganzas. The petite yellow filly and the country-blue colt had bonded as soul mates from the start.

The social whirl was enhanced by other friends Sugarberry and Vanguard had made on previous trips to Vulcanopolis: Angela and Gabriel; Carlo and Primula; Eugenia and Federigo; Guido and Tiffany, when in town; plus Agatha- who spent most of her time recently in Vulcanopolis- and Hubert.

Sugarberry had also made the time to see Dr. Trinci, who had received her medical history from Dr. Toby, in preparation for the coming birth of her and Vanguard's second foal in the fall.

Once Sugarberry had commenced gathering information for the scheduled fashion book that Macarius had a driving interest in, her time became compressed into segments of gleaning information at Clare's Creations, caring for Banderol and the town house, attending and hosting social gatherings, and keeping current with Vanguard's involvement with the university as interim head of the mathematics department. The mare, in an effort to please everyone all the time, was having a difficult time keeping sane.

"I thought the pace of our lives would be slower over here," Vanguard admitted, reaching across the table to take Sugarberry's hoof in his. He had foreseen quiet, intimate evenings at home and rambling, peaceful walks through the parks, not this frenzied activity that all too often separated the two of them or thrust them upon well-meaning but over-zealous friends... or put them under the control of the urgent demands of a precious foal.

"Momma, Daddy... buiwd nes' now!" Banderol declared.

"We'll wash the dishes while your mother relaxes for awhile, and then we'll all go to the store to buy some lumber to build a bird house," Vanguard informed the foal, looking to Sugarberry for approval.

The mare smiled her consent, grateful for the chance to sit in relative peace and quiet for a spell. It would give her a chance to organize her most recent notes on the fashion industry gleaned from her time spent so far at Clare's Creations. Plus she had to make a shopping list for the supplies she would need for Saturday's picnic and write some letters to the ponies back home. Oh, and there was that recipe she had promised to write-up for Iveta... and the phone call to Macarius to assure him that things were progressing on schedule.

Sugarberry rubbed a hoof across her forehead. "So much for relaxing," she muttered as she set to her tasks with a wistful glance at Vanguard and Banderol who were already up to their elbows in sudsy water. Washing dishes never looked so fun.

* * *
"Well, what did you think?" Clare asked Sugarberry as the two mares left a weekly planning meeting of the designers who worked for Clare's Creations.

"My mind is boggled trying to remember that the things you are discussing now won't be in the stores until next spring. You have to plan so far ahead."

"We do have to be able to foresee the future," Clare smiled. "And sometimes we miss the mark. Here, let me show you."

The orchid mare led Sugarberry to the elevator where they went down several floors before exiting, and then traversed a long hallway, eventually coming to a large storage room where boxes of ready-to-ship merchandise perched in orderly stacks. Clare preceded Sugarberry to a back corner of the room where a number of cases sat in isolation.

"These," Clare said, pointing to the forlorn boxes, "were slated to be last spring's hot new item. However, it proved to be less than exciting by the time it hit the shelves... and downright wearisome in retrospect." She opened one of the boxes and grinned as she lifted out a ragged bandana. "My only consolation is that Mirabella's dingy denim flopped as well."

"Thankfully," Sugarberry winked.

From behind them, a male voice intervened. "So this is where you're hiding out. I thought we had a lunch date."

Clare swung to meet her husband's gaze, an affectionate smile softening her pretty face. "Giorgio! I was just showing Sugarberry that all my decisions aren't necessarily wise."

"Some skeletons are best left in the closest," he grinned at his wife, then turned to Sugarberry while escorting the two mares back to the front of the building. "How goes the book?"

"Clare's giving me free rein here on the premises is making my job easy now, although it's all so intriguing that I'm afraid I'm going to have a difficult time later cutting my notes down to size."

"So you're enjoying yourself? I'd hate to think that I had upset your life by asking Van to help me out over here."

"I've been too busy to be homesick," Sugarberry admitted; and as they had reached the main lobby, she prepared to part from her friends. "Have a lovely lunch."

"You could join us," Clare offered.

"Thanks, but Iveta is going to hold the foal's lunch until I get there." After a quick glance at the clock, she grimaced. "And I'd better hurry or Banderol and Jacopo will be starving." With a quick wave, she darted toward the door.

* * *
Working at his desk at Leonardo University, Vanguard was immersed in paperwork when a soft tap sounded at his door. Looking up, he was pleasantly surprised to see an attractive olive mare standing there, her peach-colored mane falling over her left shoulder in soft waves. The spectacles perched on her nose only highlighted the color of her aquamarine eyes. Her competent and self-assured manner had Vanguard on his hooves in no time.

"May I help you?"

The mare smiled as she moved toward his desk. "If you are Giorgio's temporary replacement, yes, I suppose you can help me." She extended her forehoof over the desk. "My name is Lyssa Monti, and I'll be joining your staff for the fall semester."

Having been informed of the hiring of a new teacher due to begin her duties in September, Vanguard was not surprised; yet, he had not expected to meet the mare this soon. He smiled his welcome, however, and verified his identity, then gestured for her to have a seat as he himself sat.

"I've reviewed your file and was most impressed," he confided. "You'll be a valuable asset to the university."

"I look forward to teaching here," Lyssa replied, assessing the stallion before her. "I had other options, but Leonardo seemed to hold the most potential..." The mare removed her glasses. "... especially now."

Those last two words were said with such a seductive warmth and with a look that conveyed such a blatant invitation that Vanguard was put on his guard. "Leonardo University always maintains the highest teaching standards, and the students are of top caliber," he offered in his most business-like voice. "But I'm sure you know that."

Lyssa sniffed, granting that round to Vanugard. "From what I know of Giorgio Guardini, I would expect no less."

Vanguard looked pointedly at the clock on the wall. "Is there anything in particular that I can help you with today?"

A cat-in-the-cream look crept over the mare's face. "Well, as to that, I merely wanted to take a peak at my office and familiarize myself with the campus; however, seeing it's time for lunch, I could use an escort... my treat, you understand." A deliberate flutter of painted lashes punctuated the offer.

Vanguard ignored it. "I'm sure Bea, our office assistant, can show you around. As for lunch, the cafeteria has a tolerable menu." Vanguard spoke as he crossed the room. From the doorway, he motioned to Bea. "Ms. Monti would appreciate your guidance over our facilities for the next hour or so; and as she knows this will interfere with your lunch break, she's kindly offered to take you to Pietro Commons to eat. Does that sound acceptable, ladies?" He looked from one to the other of the mares, registering Lyssa's frown and Bea's happy grin.

"I will see you later," Lyssa said, slipping her glasses back in place and riveting Vanguard with a challenging gaze.

"Of course. We'll be sending out letters outlining the time and place of the first faculty meeting for the fall semester," Vanguard assured her. "You can verify your address with Bea before you leave." With a polite smile, Vanguard ushered Lyssa out of his office and closed the door behind her.

* * *
"There, how does that look?" Vanguard asked of Sugarberry and Banderol who were supervising the placement of the newly-finished birdhouse in the ivy that crept up the stucco walls of the town house. The second floor balcony off the home office and the comfortable living room had seemed an appropriate and convenient location for the nesting box, a location that Banderol could monitor often.

"It looks comfortable and inviting," Sugarberry approved, assessing the rustic-looking home crafted of aged lumber colored in various shades of gray. "What do you think, sweetie?" she asked of her young son.

"Where's bwdies?" queried the foal, waggling his front hooves in the air as if to lure in some homeless avian. "Me want bwdie!"

"It may take some time for the birds to find the house," Vanguard informed the impatient little boy. "It'll take a few days for the smell of newness and ponies to be replaced by the natural smells out here in the open air."

Banderol took a deep breath. "Me smell fwowfers," he said, looking at the potted roses that graced the balcony with their showy, fragrant blossoms. Pale pink clematis peaked over the wrought iron railings, having climbed the trellis from the ground. In the opposite corner stood a severely pruned evergreen, its artificial form softened by a variety of flowers at its base. "Bwdies wike fwowfers, don't dey, Mommy?"

"I can't imagine any living being not liking flowers, Banderol. I'm sure all the bright colors will attract some tenants soon."

"Bwdies, Mommy... not twenants," Banderol clarified with a shake of his head.

"Yes, birdies," Sugarberry grinned.

"And now, Banderol, it's time for you to get ready for bed," Vanguard said, noting the time.

"And for me to get some writing done," Sugarberry sighed. "Macarius wants me to e-mail him some solid copy. He's not satisfied with the vague outlines I've been sending him."

"You've only begun to research the topic of fashion design," objected Vanguard. "Surely he knows that!" The stallion sighed in turn. "But I know you want to keep him informed. I'll give Banderol his bath and read him a story. Then we can have some time to ourselves." He kissed her lightly on the nose.

"Hmm..." Sugarberry's eyes sparkled. "I like the sound of that."

* * *
Having watched his son play in the frothy bath with a pair of plastic crayfish (Where did Tabby find these unusual tub toys, anyway?), Vanguard towel-dried him and delivered him to his mother at the computer for a goodnight kiss- Vanguard got one too... a long, lingering one- then carried him to his bed and tucked him in before sitting down at the edge of the bed and retrieving the storybook that rested on the blankets.

He had not gotten far before Banderol voiced a concern completely unrelated to the plot of the simple story that was unfolding. "Do bwdies sweep at night?"

"Most of them do. Some, like the owls, however, do their hunting at night."

Banderol's eyes widened. "Owws find house 'night?"

"The owls would be too big for the house we made; the birds that move into it would have to be smaller. And they would be asleep already so they could get up early to start their house-hunting."

That hint sunk in. "Me sweep, too, Daddy." The foal obediently closed his eyes with thoughts of getting up with the birds.

Vanguard went back to the story and, when he had finished, found Banderol deep in dreamland already. He spent several minutes just looking at the sleeping foal, so much like himself- country blue with seagreen hair- and with one lock of his mother's bright red hair to tie him to both of them. What a joy this little pony was! Vanguard brushed the colt's mane back from his closed eyes and gave him one more tender kiss before turning out the light and retracing his steps to his wife's side.

"How's it going?" he queried.

"I think even Macarius will be satisfied with this," Sugarberry replied happily. "Just give me a minute to send it off, and..."

The phone interrupted, and Vanguard answered, a smile crossing his face as he listened to the voice on the other end of the line. "And Raspberry's doing well, too, I presume?"

Sugarberry swung around to face her husband at the mention of her sister's name. "The baby came?" she asked impatiently.

"Driftwood, I'm going to give the phone to Sugarberry so you can tell her the news yourself." He matched his words to his action.

"Driftwood?" Sugarberry trilled. "What's the good word?"

"A little girl, Sugarberry. A regular trooper, if her first hour in the real world is any indication," the proud papa answered.

"And Raspberry?"

"She's right here tending to our sweetheart and she looks great. She says a single birth is a piece of cake."

"Who's taking care of your twins?"

"Your folks have Custard and Cream at the moment. Mine will be arriving tomorrow to meet their newest grandfoal."

"And what's the name you've chosen"

"This one's Vanilla."

Sugarberry rolled her eyes. "Custard, Cream, and Vanilla. I'm getting hungry."

"The name is perfect, Sug. Vanilla looks like... well, ice cream."

Closing her eyes, Sugarberry said, "I'm picturing her all white then."

"You've got it."

"You could have called her Angel."

"Ah, but then who would now her father is the great chef who owns and operates The Berry Patch?"

"Vanity, vanity..."

"Make snide remarks if you want, Sugarberry, but I'm flying too high for you to shoot me down."

Driftwood finally passed the receiver on to Raspberry and the two sisters had a pleasant conversation centered around motherhood before the needs of Vanilla ended the long-distance conversation. Sugarberry shot her husband a teasing glance as she hung up the phone.

"Driftwood says to tell you that you're falling behind, three to one-and-a-half."

"We haven't gotten to the finish line yet, now, have we?" Vanguard drawled, the glint in his eye promising Driftwood a future run for his jangles.

* * *
Banderol was up early the next morning. Sugarberry found him in a chair in front of a window overlooking the balcony. "No bwdies," the foal pouted.

"We knew that we'd have to wait awhile," Sugarberry replied, silently wondering if the birds would ever find the little house tucked in the ivy, but not about to voice that uncertainty to the little colt. "Now, what shall we fix for breakfast?"

The thought of food effectively diverted Banderol's thoughts, and the news that he now had another cousin further lightened his mood. On the visits to Berryville, he was inundated with relations, three of whom had been born within several months of himself. Playtime was a rowdy affair, and one more little pony added to the mix could only mean more fun.

"What's your schedule for the day?" Sugarberry asked her husband as he came down the stairs from the third-floor bedrooms, following the sound of his family's voices. His hair was wet from his shower.

"Nothing as interesting as yours," he smiled. "This is the day of the fabric hunt, if I remember correctly."

"The fabric fair," Sugarberry corrected. "Clair is looking for new ideas for next year's fashions. The best part is that Banderol can come with me, as Clair is taking Calla with her. She says the fabric manufacturers set up a relatively informal display that allows for some amount of fun amidst the business. Giorgio will attend, too."

"Giorgio? I'd think he would be busy with his work for the city," Vanguard huffed, referring to that stallion's sabbatical from the university, a year in which he was going to be in charge of upgrading and enhancing the municipal computer system.

Try as he might, Vanguard could not entirely dismiss his jealousy of the influential son of Vulcanopolis' city administrator, although he admired and respected the stallion for his intelligence and ability to command the mathematics department at Leonardo University. Vanguard's job was comparatively easy, thanks to Giorgio's competent settling of affairs before turning the reins over to Vanguard for the year. And he owed the stallion the use of this house that was home while in Vulcanopolis.

Vanguard could not easily forget, however, the time Giorgio had spent in Dream Valley stalking Sugarberry; nor could he ignore the mutual admiration that Giorgio and Sugarberry had come to share. Try as he might to banish the jealousy that haunted him, it still reared its ugly head upon occasion, even though his outward manner toward Giorgio was all that was friendly and polite.

"Clare has come to place some value on her husband's fashion sense," Sugarberry giggled. "She maintains that he has an unerring eye for quality." Sugarberry preceded Vanguard and Banderol down the carpeted stairs to the first floor living area that encompassed the kitchen, dining room, and parlor. "I bought some pre-made pancakes that Iveta recommended... anyone game?"

As Iveta's expertise in the kitchen in no way equaled Sugarberry's, Vanguard was dubious; but Banderol set-to the pancakes with gusto and tempted his father to follow suit. Vanguard had to admit that the flat cakes were acceptable, especially considering the minimal amount of time involved and the dish washing they negated.

Having consumed his stack of flapjacks, Vanguard left his wife and son behind for a day of meetings and appointments at Leonardo.

* * *
Banderol and Calla were both safely perched on the chair in front of the balcony window as if watching a real life television screen, waiting for the arrival of a house-hunting bird, while Giorgio and Sugarberry sat back with glasses of lemonade in hoof as they relaxed after a rather hectic day at the fabric fair.

"I'm certainly glad you were there to watch the foals," Sugarberry said. "Those two have unbounded energy when they're together."

"They're quiet enough now," Giorgio noted, looking toward the two whose heads were nodding even as they kept watch. As close in temperament as they were in age, Banderol and Calla seemed to share an affinity that melded them. "So, what did you think of my choices today?"

"I have to agree with Clare's assessment that you have an superior sense of fashion. What's your secret?"

Giorgio chuckled. "I imagine Clare wearing something made out of the fabric in question; if I get goose bumps, I know it'll be a hit."

It was Sugarberry's turn to laugh. "Past sales seem to verify your method, doubtful as it seems. I'd question its veracity simply because Clare is so beautiful that anything would look good on her anyway."

"She's not the only one." The stallion narrowed his eyes. "I see the mauve silk on you."

"Yards and yards of it as my foal grows and grows," Sugarberry shot back with a grin, patting her mid-section. "And if you say you got goose bumps imagining that, I'll evict you from the house right now."

"This is my house, Sugarberry."

"Ah, but you told Vanguard and I to consider it..." Sugarberry was saying when Banderol's animated voice came from the window.

"Mommy, Mommy, bwdie! Bwdie!" Calla was wide awake now, too, adding her own voice to the chant.

Sugarberry and Giorgio hurried to the window to share the foals excitement and looked out to see a small blue-gray bird clinging to the clematis vine. It had a light orange belly and a distinctive horizontal black stripe which ran from its bill, across its eye, and continuing on to its neck, reminding one of a rash application of eye liner. It seemed to have a beak full of mud.

"Oh, it looks kinda like our nuthatches back home!" Sugarberry whispered. "I've got to get my bird book!"

She turned to cross the room, but Giorgio stopped her with a hoof on her shoulder. "Don't bother," he said. "Even I know that it is a nuthatch... Vulcanopolis style."

Sugarberry grinned at him. "I'm impressed... very impressed."

"What am I missing?" queried a strained voice from the doorway as Vanguard made his appearance. The look he sent Giorgio was chilling, and Giorgio dropped his hoof immediately. Sugarberry seemed unaware of any tension as she was as thrilled over the bird as the foals.

"There's a nuthatch checking out the birdhouse; at least, he's on the balcony. You must have done a great job on it to pull in occupants so soon!" She held out her hoof to draw Vanguard into the viewing group. "Why the mud, Giorgio?"

"That I don't know," Giorgio admitted as the bird flew out of sight in the direction of the bird house.

"Out! Out!" called Banderol, clamoring down off the chair and heading for the door to make sure the bird was setting up housekeeping.

Giorgio gathered up Calla before she toppled to the floor and followed Vanguard as he accompanied Banderol to the balcony where they could view the bird house butted up against the outside wall of the town house. Sugarberry fetched the bird book that Giorgio's mother had given her three years earlier when Sugarberry and Vanguard had honeymooned in Vulcanopolis and joined the others outside.

"The book says it uses mud to build up a rim around the entrance hole." She grinned at her husband. "And if you left any cracks, the birds will fill them up with mud, too."

"They'll be busy," Vanguard drawled

Laughing, Giorgio complimented the stallion. "The house looks very appealing. I wonder what Clare will think when Calla wants to add mud to our doorway at home?"

"Don't even mention it!" Sugarberry said in an exaggerated whisper. "I can see Banderol and Calla attempting such a thing. What a mess!"

That mind-picture caused Giorgio and Vanguard to share a glance that melted away any antagonism that Vanguard might still have been feeling. He and Giorgio had once rescued their precious offspring from the grasp of a conniving kidnapper and had found the two confined foals happily playing with their dinner, which meant they were coated in applesauce. Never had they been so happy to see the foals in mischief as at that moment, so relieved were they to find them safe.

"Oh, and the nuthatch can have up to nine babies. And this would be her second brood of the season," Sugarberry shared from the book.

"Very busy," Vanguard and Giorgio said in unison, and all three adults laughed.


The Birdsong Chapter
Sister Troubles
by Sugarberry (

"I've really got to get home," Licorice told his friends. He had been helping on the neighboring farm, putting up hay in the barn, but now he was anxious to welcome Snapper who was due to arrive at his parents' bed-and-breakfast.

"Thanks for your help, Licorice," Bonanza, Tie Dye's father, called from across the farmyard. "Keep track of your hours."

"Don't expect me to bill you for something that I've missed doing while being away at college," retorted Licorice. "Besides, with my help, Tie Dye should be able to come back to Birdsong with me now, shouldn't he? I'd like him to meet Snapper."

Bonanza appeared to give that suggestion some thought. "We've still got chores to do... but I guess Calypso and Cameo can help out." His gaze fell on Tie Dye. "Don't cavort all night; tomorrow's going to be a long day."

"Yeah, Dad," Tie Dye agreed, grimacing as he did so. Offering an explanation to Licorice, he said, "Mom expects all of us to go berry picking with her. I'd rather spend the day in the hot hay mow rather than traipsing through the fields hunting up those prickly blackberry plants."

"Now that you mention it, I remember my mom saying something about berries, too. We're all in for it."

The rest of this present day was free, however, and the two young stallions set off over the hill for Birdsong. Not particularly close until the last several years of high school, Licorice and Tie Dye had stumbled on a common interest in role-playing, one activity that Snapper did not enjoy. Licorice's return to his home for the summer months gave him and Tie Dye a chance to renew their imaginary exploits when the time allowed.

The two ponies walked up the hill away from the farm and through an open pasture fringed with trees which took them to the cultivated cornfield that belonged to Birdsong. Following the fence-line to the far side, they had only to climb the hill on which Birdsong was built.

The lovely Victorian home painted a deep pink with purple trim topped the hill like a crown, the twin turrets pointing skyward. Refurbished and outfitted to offer a pleasant interlude for ponies who wanted to vacation in the country, Birdsong was a popular get-away. The enterprise kept Licorice's mother, Lilac, busy with the inside work with the help of her daughter-in-law, Columbine. Tie Dye's older sister, Hollyhock, was often on the premises as well, as she and Licorice's brother, Tramples, were engaged to be married.

The oldest brother in the family, Buck, had a new home deeper in the woods where he and Columbine lived along with their ten-month old daughter, Victorian Violet, Vicki for short. Buck was a teacher at the local high school and was also involved with the museum in Riverside, Window on the Past. During the summer he helped his father with the field work that needed to be done.

Licorice and Tie Dye headed straight for the front door of Birdsong, hoping to avoid being conscripted into helping with the chores currently taking place in the white barn that was situated behind the house and somewhat lower down the hill. They walked in to find that Snapper was there ahead of them.

"Hey, buddy, you made good time!" exclaimed Licorice as he and Snapper had a rowdy reunion. The two had formed a fast friendship in their early days at Pony Pride, Licorice providing needed tutoring to the slow-learning Snapper, and Snapper providing an out-going personality that helped keep Licorice from disappearing behind his books.

"How many times did you get lost?" Licorice taunted after introducing Snapper and Tie Dye.

"Not a problem," Snapper preened. "Boxey has an intuitive sense of direction."

"Boxey?" Licorice squeaked.

"Yeah." Noting Licorice's confused expression, Snapper hurried on to add, "Didn't you know? Mom and Dad were called out of town at the last minute, and they couldn't leave Boxey home alone because... well, because. Anyway, my mom called your mom and decided if my visit to Birdsong wasn't to be delayed, Boxey'd have to come, too."

"Your sister is here... at Birdsong?"

"She's upstairs now with your mom, settlin' in. Columbine's with 'em, too." Having met Lilac and Trendy along with Buck and Columbine when those ponies had come to Dream Valley on the occasion of Wishbone's graduation party which had encompassed a farewell for him and Garnet as well as for Sugarberry and Vanguard, Snapper was comfortable with the Birdsong family. His parents, too, had attended that gathering and had become familiar enough with Lilac and Trendy to presume on their friendship in allowing Boxey to accept their hospitality.

"Snapper, are you expected to babysit your sister all the while you're here?" growled Licorice. As Boxey was sixteen, she really did not need a keeper, but she did have a knack for landing in hot water. In doing so, she proved a nuisance to her brother and his friend.

"She's promised to be on her best behavior." Snapper looked apprehensively at Tie Dye, then continued. "She got herself in trouble with Mom and Dad... that's why they wouldn't let her stay home alone."

"What kind of trouble?"

"Nothin' much, really. She and some of her friends stole off one night to go down by the river. She says it was to spy on a family of raccoons that feed by the swimming hole, but the folks caught her comin' in all wet and tousled and weren't too happy to find she'd spent half the night out with Skittle and Catkin. She got quite a scold." Even Snapper had sympathized with his frisky sibling who oftentimes, though unintentionally, found ways to worry her parents to distraction. Her buoyant nature could not allow her to see beyond her own quest for adventure.

Licorice rolled his eyes. Even though he could commiserate with the filly's desire to observe the animals in their natural habitat- he had grown up experiencing that first-hoof- he could not condone her recklessness. "Just imagine the mischief she'll get into here."

"She knows better than to annoy your folks."

"Dreamer," Licorice drawled.

* * *
Boxey maintained her chastised demeanor for the remainder of the day. She was polite to Licorice's family, obedient to Snapper's suggestions, cordial toward Tie Dye, and pleasant to the other guests currently in residence. She entertained Victorian Violet and helped Lilac in the kitchen. When Tie Dye had left and Columbine, Buck, and Vicki went to their own home and the rest of the family retired, she said goodnight and went to her room on the guest floor, crawled into bed, and slept like a log.

By the time the sun rose in the east, Boxey was up and ready to leave behind her sedate attitude of the previous day. After brushing her teeth, washing her face, and combing her hair, she scooted down the stairs and headed for the barn, for she had seen from her window that Trendy- Licorice's father- and Tramples, at least, were already at work.

"'Morning, Boxey!" Trendy greeted her when she came through the barn door into the stanchioned area where the milking was taking place. "Ready to try your hoof at this?"

Boxey watched as machines extracted the milk and carried it in overhead pipes to the cooling tank, then shook her head. "It's all so... sterile."

Trendy chuckled. "Most ponies want their milk that way."

"I thought you'd milk the old-fashioned way out here... streaming it into a bucket with cats sittin' around waitin' for a taste."

"All this equipment might not be very romantic, but it's quicker and cleaner."

"Is anything done on the farm like it used to be?" queried the filly.

Tramples, coming in on the conversation, grinned. "Here, I'll show you a hooves-on job." He beckoned Boxey to follow him down the barn aisle to the far corner where a door led into another section where young calves were housed. The area was divided into stalls holding different age groups; and in one of these compartments, Licorice was hard at work with a shovel mucking out the... waste.

Boxey wrinkled her nose, as much out of amusement as offensiveness of the smell. "Hey, Licorice. Whatcha up to?"

Hearing the filly's voice, Licorice looked up in surprise. His raven-black coloring obscured any blush that might have shaded his cheeks, but he looked embarrassed at being caught at such a menial task. "You're up early," he said, casting a dark look at his brother who only laughed and left the two alone with the job at hoof. Being the youngest in the family, Licorice often ended up with the dirtiest work.

"Who can sleep on such a beautiful day? Anyways, I thought I could make myself useful."

"There's another shovel over against the wall."

Turning in the direction indicated by the stallion, Boxey was soon earning her keep. As with all new ventures, it took her awhile to get into the swing of things; but she was soon carrying her fair share of the load. Licorice looked at her approvingly when they had finished.

"Not bad... for someone who's probably never been in a barn before."

"It was fun..." Boxey looked down at her messy hooves and grimaced, "...kind of."

"Will you show up again tomorrow?" Licorice teased.

Feeling the wet tongue of a calf licking her hind leg, Boxey jumped, then patted the black and white head affectionately. "To get a chance to see this cutie, of course I will."

She was soon surrounded by inquisitive bovines and laughing happily over their nudges and wet, sticky tongues. Licorice could not help but think of her escapade with the wolves in the Dark Forest and how Vanguard and Wigwam had found her frolicking with the pups like it was an everyday occurrence with no danger involved. He wondered if even now she had any idea of how a kick from one of those hooves would smart; but as he watched her pleasure in making friends with the calves, he had to grin. She might be troublesome at times, but she certainly was a good sport.

* * *
When the crew from the barn entered the house for breakfast, they found Snapper sitting at the kitchen table holding Victorian Violet while Lilac and Columbine gathered together a substantial breakfast not only for the family but for the guests as well. Snapper was startled to see his sister, thinking she was still abed.

"What have you been up to?" he questioned, suspecting the worst after noting that she looked as if she had just scrubbed herself with a brush... which she had.

"I helped muck-out the calf pen," she gloated.

"And she fed the baby goat," Tramples added.

"And gathered some eggs," grinned Trendy.

"Mom and Dad warned you not to get underhoof." Snapper frowned at the filly.

"She really was helping us," Licorice noted fairly, coming to Boxey's defense. "The animals seem to like her."

"You must be hungry," Lilac interjected, bringing a platter of pancakes to the table. She eyed the filly with a motherly inspection. "Did you sleep all right last night?"

"Splendidly!" Boxey enthused. "And I awoke to the robins serenading the new day right outside my window. It was beautiful."

"I heard something howling about midnight," Snapper said, turning the purple foal over to her mother. "What was that?"

"A coyote," Tramples informed him. "They can get kind of noisy."

"And I missed it?" asked Boxey, disappointed.

"You were tired after your journey," Lilac appeased. "Maybe you'll hear it tonight."

"She'll sleep the sleep of the dead after today," Trendy teased. "You are going berry pickin', I understand."

"It's a perfect day for it," Columbine enthused. "It's too bad Buck had to go into Riverside to work at the museum."

"Several of our guests are interested in helping; we'll set them to work on the patch behind the barn where they can't get into any trouble," Lilac planned. "The rest of us will fan out across the pasture and scour the edge of the woods." She bustled from the table, anxious to get started on this berry-picking expedition that would supply them with enough fruit to replenish her frozen supply of pie fillings.

"Well," grinned Trendy. "I wish you all the best." He leaned back in his chair with a smug smile on his face, as this was one day when he was responsible for the internal workings of the bed-and-breakfast as Lilac had determined early in their married life that her husband did not have a gentle enough hoof to pick berries that were not smooshed before they hit the bucket. Whether his hoof was heavy by nature or he had learned early the best way to avoid a hot, itchy day amidst the prickly bushes was anyone's guess.

"Victorian Violet shouldn't be any trouble for you," Columbine assured her father-in-law. "She'll be ready for a nap by the time we leave."

"She and I'll do just fine," Trendy agreed. "Won't we, little darlin'?" He picked up the foal and raised her high in the air, causing the toddler to giggle hysterically. Being the father of three boys had denied him the joy of nurturing a daughter, and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience now with his granddaughter.

Under Lilac's determined guidance, it was not long before the ponies were ready to begin their trek. Trendy was in charge of setting the guests to their task in the closest berry patch while Lilac led her troops to those farther afield. Boxey had attached herself to Columbine, finding the mare to be genuinely interested in her hopes and dreams; they undertook a lively exchange of ideas and opinions that carried them the distance to the first plot of wild berry plants that followed the fence row.

Tramples kept his mother company while Snapper and Licorice loitered behind, hoping to forestall the day's duties as long as possible. Once Snapper saw the luscious berries, however, he set about determinedly to fill his bucket, although a fair amount of the fruit went from his hoof to his mouth. The rest of the ponies, too, took frequent taste-tests of the warm, ripe, darkly-colored fruits.

Throughout the rest of the morning, the troupe moved deeper into the uncultivated acres of Birdsong, ever following the haphazard growth of the berry-bearing bushes, leaving behind the filled containers for later retrieval.

As tasty as the berries were and as good as the conversation was, Snapper and Boxey, unused to so much fresh air and heavy exercise, found themselves drooping. Draining the last water from his canteen, Snapper found himself wishing he was back home where cold sodas waited in the refrigerator and the swimming pool was only a short walk away. He remembered a river when he came to Birdsong, its water looking cool and refreshing, but it was on the opposite side of the farm from where they were now.

Wiping the sweat off her brow, Boxey was thinking similar thoughts and looked to Lilac hopefully when that mare began to speak.

"You've done really well," she praised her crew, "and I'm sure you're tired."

Boxey and Snapper smiled at the mare, anxious to be dismissed. But Lilac instead pointed to a distant spot across another field. "We've only got one more patch to take care of."

Exchanging tired glances, Snapper and Boxey sighed; but they set out dutifully for the green, arching brambles indicated by the mare, Boxey noting the red stains on her hooves and Snapper suffering from the numerous scratches he had received from the brambles.

"My gosh, Snapper, this patch is bigger than any of the others!" Boxey moaned quietly as they neared the laden bushes. She felt guilty over her lack of enthusiasm as Lilac, Columbine, Licorice, and Tramples appeared undaunted and carried on a merry conversation.

At that moment, however, Boxey noticed another pony across the fence that separated Birdsong land from that of Bonanza and Shamrock. This was a light pink mare with yellow hair that Boxey had not seen before, but the mare obviously was on familiar terms with the local ponies as she waved merrily in greeting. When Tramples jumped over the fence to meet the young mare with a hug and a kiss, she realized this must be Tie Dye's older sister, Hollyhock. Soon, Tie Dye himself appeared from behind a stand of berry bushes, and one-by-one the rest of the family, except Bonanza, meandered in, all carrying berry buckets that were practically overflowing.

"This patch overlaps our two properties," Lilac explained to the bewildered filly, "so we try to end here so that we can..."

Just then, a loud hallo echoed from behind them and Boxey turned to see Trendy and four of the current residents of the bed-and-breakfast coming toward them loaded with picnic baskets, and if the way they lugged them was any indication, the hampers were bursting with food. Trendy laughed as he turned Victorian Violet over to her mother. "She can't wait to taste her first berry."

Boxey felt sick. After eating so many berries, she was in no mood to face another. The buns and platters of cheese and salads and deviled eggs were another story, however. She even found the energy to help lay out the picnic cloth and dispensed the eating utensils.

By this time, Bonanza came on the scene, carting a barrel of ice-cold lemonade that had been cooling in a nearby spring. Listening to the chatter around her, Boxey came to realize that this had become an annual celebration of the two families that was much looked forward to. It was a riotous but enjoyable coming together of the two neighboring households, shared by any of the guests who were up to the hike to this distant spot where Birdsong and Veiled Valley land marched side-by-side.

Having enjoyed every moment of the reprieve from berry-picking, Boxey was shattered to learn that once the picnic had been wrapped-up, it was business as usual. Tie Dye noticed the filly's crestfallen expression and invited her to accompany him to a scenic location not far away.

"See that rocky area over where the fence ends? There's a deep ravine there, and the berries that grow at the edge of it are bigger than any others. We can fill a bucket real quick."

Licorice, overhearing Tie Dye's invitation, stepped forward. "Rattler Ravine is no place to take Boxey," he chided his friend.

"Rattler Ravine?" queried the ever inquisitive Boxey.

"It's just a deep, rocky hole in the ground," Tie Dye shrugged.

"It's more than that," Tramples intervened. "Years ago, rattlesnakes lived down in that ravine."

"Not any more," Tie Dye defended.

"Well, maybe no one's seen one since Buck was a colt," Tramples admitted. "I've never seen one. But that doesn't mean they aren't there."

"Have you ever seen one, Licorice?" Boxey asked excitedly.

"No; and you won't either, because you're not going any closer than you are now," the black pony declared. "Everyone with any sense at all avoids it."

"Come on, Licorice. You've been..." Tie Dye began.

Licorice silenced his friend with a scowl. "Zip it, Tie Dye," he said under his breath. Then more loudly, "There's no reason for Boxey to take a chance."

"Chance at what?" asked Calypso, curious as to what was going on. His question caught the attention of the adults and they, too, turned to listen to the answer.

"Boxey wants to see Rattler Ravine, that's all," Tie Dye answered, a bitter edge to his voice. He had confided in Licorice last night when the two had been alone that he found Boxey to be a charmer, and he now found his friend's interference in getting the filly to himself to be a blatant attempt on Licorice's part to muscle in. "But Licorice is making a big deal of it."

"And I'm only trying to protect Boxey for her own sake; if there is a rattlesnake within a thousand miles of Birdsong, she'll find it," Licorice retorted, his glare intensifying.

"Well, now," Bonanza stepped in. "No need to argue. I've been meaning to check out the fence over that way anyway. Trendy, why don't you and I go with the kids? See how the fence to the west seems to be sagging? I'll bet that last batch of thunderstorms eroded out the post."

Finding Bonanza's assessment logical, Trendy agreed; Calypso and Cameo begged their father to join the excursion, and Bonanza consented. None of the others, however, seemed up to walking that far.

Boxey was eager to get going, and she set out with Calypso and Cameo while Tie Dye sent Licorice a glance that said in no uncertain terms that he was angry at the stallion's interference. He tossed his mane and then set out after the others with Bonanza and Trendy bringing up the rear.

Licorice nudged Snapper. "Don't you think you should go with your sister?"

"What? Me? Walk into a rattlesnake den?"

"Actually, I was thinking you'd be protecting her from Tie Dye."

Licorice and Snapper exchanged a glance, then both chuckled. Tie Dye didn't know what he was in for.

* * *
"We'll just go as far as the bushes on the nearest end. Even Mom goes over there when she needs more berries," Tie Dye assured Boxey as they walked, the two younger ponies running ahead and Bonanza and Trendy somewhat behind.

"Please tell me I don't have to pick any more berries!" Boxey complained. "I'd really rather hunt up a rattlesnake."

"Chances are that there are none anymore."

"You didn't kill them all, did you?"

"No, although both Dad and Trendy tell stories of how their dads would hunt them up if they got too close to the farmsteads."

"So they know they're safe as long as they stay in the ravine. All we have to do is find one."

"Boxey. You're not just going to walk up and see a rattlesnake sunning himself. For one thing, they're camouflaged with that pattern they have; and for the other thing, they now we're coming and will have gone into hiding already."

The filly's expression became a pout. "That sounds like something Licorice would say."

Not wanting to be compared to Licorice at this moment, Tie Dye pointed to a tumble of boulders and large rocks that edged a particularly steep section of the ravine. "If we're going to find one, I'd say that's the best place to look."

With renewed energy, Boxey headed straight there.

Ahead of them, Calypso and Cameo had already reached the berry bushes and were picking the fruit with a vengeance, having made a bet to see who could pick the most. Behind them, Trendy and Bonanza were concentrating on the fence that indeed appeared to have suffered from the summer storms and paid the youngsters no mind.

* * *
"This is way cool!" breathed Boxey, balancing on top of one of the boulders and peering over the edge into the ravine. "If I was a rattlesnake, I'd never leave this spot."

The land broke off sharply at this point, dropping into an almost mystical jumble of green vines, lush ferns, and outbreaks of dark rock that melded together, obliterating the floor of the oversized ditch. Here and there, bright blue flowers of a variety that Boxey did not recognize added some color. Several large trees loomed up from the depths and a variety of shrubs and small trees ringed the perimeter for all except this one barren area that was too rocky to support growth. Rattler Ravine was a wild and primitive place.

"Watch your step!" Tie Dye said, hating the fact that he sounded like Licorice again, but feeling nervous over the filly's apparent disregard for her own safety. "Here, grab my hoof."

"But I haven't seen a snake yet," reasoned Boxey. "If they heard us coming, where would they hide?" she pondered.

"Deeper in the undergrowth," Tie Dye ventured, shrugging his shoulders.

Ignoring the proffered hoof, Boxey nimbly climbed off the large rock and moved off to the left where the ground was rich enough to support a virtual garden of greenery. Tie Dye followed, breathing a sigh of relief to have her off her precarious perch. The stallion also noted that they were presently out of sight of the other ponies, which was what he had hoped for when he first made the suggestion to bring Boxey here. He reached up a hoof to touch her braided locks. "Boxey, I think you're..." he began in his most tantalizing voice, but the filly was paying no attention.

"Tie Dye! I just saw something move... a mouse or ground squirrel or something like that." She darted further into the underbrush in pursuit. "Maybe there's a snake out looking for din..."

The rest of the word was lost as Boxey disappeared over the edge of the embankment.

* * *
The hair-raising scream that rent the air caused Lilac and Shamrock to stiffen in alarm. The telltale sound of branches snapping carried quite clearly as the squeal died down, then total silence.

Licorice responded immediately. "Someone went over the edge," he barked, dropping his bucket of berries and racing to the cart that Bonanza had come with; he grabbed a rope coiled along the side and took off toward the ravine at a gallop.

It was only later that Lilac wondered how her son could be so positive of what had occurred, and she recalled times when Buck, Tramples, and Licorice, while growing up, came home from their frequent outings when all three visages held a certain subdued, almost frightened, look that often went unexplained. At those times, she never questioned them, for she knew that Buck, as the oldest, took a proprietary interest in his brothers' welfare and made them toe the mark. The thought would occur to her in retrospect that one of her boys had at some point gone down into the ravine as suddenly as Boxey.

What Licorice found when he reached the site where the scream had come from was his father leaning over the precipice, calling, "Boxey! Are you okay?"

There was no reply, no sound from the ravine, just an impelling silence.

Tramples and Snapper were close behind Licorice, and they turned to Trendy for direction while Tie Dye ran his hoof through his mane in an agitated manner. Calypso and Cameo stood on the edge of concerned ponies, their eyes wide with fright. Licorice took stock of the situation, noting the broken bushes where Boxey had fallen, and immediately went to the edge of the ravine.

"Attach the rope to a sturdy tree," he ordered, as he tossed it to Tramples. "I'm going down; we may need the rope to get Boxey back up to safety."

"I'm going with you," Tie Dye said, feeling responsible for Boxey's accident.

"Me too," added Snapper, putting his fears behind him.

"Let's go!" said Licorice with a grim smile as he began a dangerous slide down over the embankment. Bonanza and Trendy's admonition to be careful was lost in a mini-avalanche of tumbling dirt and rocks that accompanied the stallions.

"Let's hope she's all right," Trendy whispered as Licorice, Tie Dye, and Snapper were lost from view.

"Boxey and all of them," Bonanza added.

* * *
The one thing that worked in the rescuers' favor was Boxey's creamy yellow coloring that showed up even in the dimly lit bottom of the ravine. They found her lying at the base of the ravine in a direct line from where Tie Dye had seen her disappear. Her still body was semi-buried in the plants and soil that had broken loose from the slope due to her weight on an already eroded overhang which had carried her along with them until they had come to a sudden standstill. Boxey's head was butted against a deeply furrowed, ancient boulder.

Unsettled by the sight of the unmoving filly, the three stallions were making haste to reach her side when Licorice hissed, "Don't move!" His hooves invariably shot out to stall Tie Dye and Snapper, and the forward motion of the three stopped short of the unconscious Boxey. "The rock..." Licorice whispered. "Look on top of it."

Tie Dye and Snapper had to strain to see what Licorice was referring to, but once they spotted the object of his concern, they both had to stifle a gasp of dismay. For on the summit of the boulder, looming over Boxey, was a coiled and agitated timber rattlesnake.

The heavy-bodied rattler, his broad head staring intently at them, was wrapped into a loosely woven pile of muscular beauty. His rust-orange body with dark brown crossbands was tense, and the rattle at the end of his tail was lifted and was vibrating out its warning sound. The snake was majestic and powerful and potentially deadly. The three stallions would have been duly impressed if not for the tenuous position of Boxey.

"What do we do with the snake?" Snapper said in a smothered voice as his eyes flicked over the short distance between his sister and the reptile.

"He's been frightened by the landslide," Licorice correctly observed. "Otherwise, he'd be long gone. Maybe he was scared out of his den by the commotion."

"We don't need a nature lesson," Tie Dye grated. "We need a plan!"

"It shouldn't be too difficult to scare him away," whispered Licorice. "Snapper, there's a rock by your hooves. Reach down and grab it... slowly!"

Moving in frustratingly slow motion, Snapper gained possession of the rock. Again, Licorice assumed command. "Tie Dye, you have the most accurate pitch of any of us. Throw the rock to the right of the snake. If he's going to strike, let him strike at it."

Snapper transferred the weighty stone to Tie Dye while none of the stallions took their eyes off the serpent. With studied precision, Tie Dye launched the rock to hit the boulder on the side of the snake away from Boxey. The snake watched the trajectory, his head held high, but the heavy thud next to him gave him no reason to strike. Quite the opposite. He turned the other way and slithered off the boulder, directly over Boxey's senseless body.

The three stallions inhaled as if one body and held the breath until the yard-long snake had crossed the yellow filly and continued on his way into the underbrush that had escaped the avalanche of dirt from above. As his rattled tail disappeared from sight, the ponies erupted into action, crossing the distance to Boxey and dropping to her side.

Snapper reached his sister first. "Boxey," he pleaded, patting her cheek with a trembling hoof, "wake up." His effort was rewarded by a flutter of eyelashes and then the sudden opening of the filly's violet eyes which appeared very dark against her pale skin.

"Wh... what happened?" She immediately tried to sit up, but dropped back as her head retaliated with a spinning sensation.

"You fell into the ravine," Snapper explained, caressing the filly's forehead. "Are you okay?"

"Just... just a little light-headed," Boxey said. "Help me up."

While Tie Dye and Snapper eased the mare upright, Licorice scowled at her. "Did it ever occur to you that we issued those warnings for a reason, Boxey?"

"So I fell. It wasn't the first time." She brushed at the dirt and leaves that littered her body. "It's not like I was bitten by a rattlesnake."

The stallions exchanged a bemused glance, which Boxey caught and questioned. "What? I wasn't... was I?" She began examining her skin for a paired puncture wound.

"You think we'd be standing here jabbering if you had?" grated Licorice. "You weren't bitten, Boxey, but you did strike your head on that boulder and were unconscious while a rattler did keep guard over you... and used you for a pathway to make his escape when he saw we meant business."

Boxey's eyes widened and she struggled to her hooves. "You guys saw a rattler? Where is he? Don't tell me I slept through my first rattlesnake sighting..."

Tie Dye grinned, Snapper shook his head, and Licorice turned his back in disgust. The filly had not been tamed in the least by her adventure.

* * *
"He was really shaking his rattle?" Back at Birdsong, Boxey was still keyed-up over her close encounter with the snake. Lilac had bandaged her head where the impact with the boulder had caused a bloodied abrasion and commanded her to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea to sooth her nerves. Snapper was keeping her company while the others carted the day's harvest back home.

"Yup... He held it up and shook it and it made a... rattly... sound."

"And he was how close to me?"

Snapper held up his hooves to show a comparable distance."

"Oh, Snapper, I wish I had seen him!" Boxey whispered, her eyes alight.

"It's a good thing you were unconscious or you would have been bitten, most likely," Snapper warned.

"Oh, but I missed such an opportunity!" the filly sighed, leaning her head back against the cushions.

"Here, drink your tea," her brother commanded. "Lilac said it would make you sleepy."

"But I don't want to sleep!" Boxey jerked upright. "I want to..."

"How's the patient?" queried Tie Dye, coming into the room. He came to the sofa and sat next to Boxey. "You gave us a fright," he grinned at the filly.

"I'm sorry I caused you all so much trouble," she said, her gaze taking in not only Tie Dye and Snapper but also the others who had now come into the room. "I hope I didn't ruin your berry-pickin'."

"Not a chance," Trendy reassured her. "Lilac says she's never seen such a crop."

"You'll get to taste them in a pie tonight," smiled Tramples.

"If you're awake," added Licorice. "You look beat."

The truth be told, the day was catching up to Boxey; and she did now feel like a nap might not be such a bad idea. With a wry grimace, she admitted, "Maybe I'll close my eyes for a bit."

Tie Dye picked up a light blanket draped over the sofa back and tucked it around Boxey. "I'll come over and see how you're doin' tomorrow." The ponies shared a private smile.

This cavalier attention on the part of Tie Dye was duly noted by Licorice.

* * *
Not one to be kept down for long, Boxey was her usual self by morning. Tie Dye did arrive to spend some time with her, and it was then that she learned of the fair that was coming to the nearby town of Riverside. Offering to take her to the festivities on Friday night, Tie Dye was pleased to receive an enthusiastic and affirmative answer, after which the filly rushed off to find Lilac and verify that it was okay for her to do so. She came across Lilac and Columbine in the kitchen, baking bread.

"Tie Dye invited me to go to the fair with him Friday night," she enthused as she danced into the room. "Is it okay if I do?"

"Well, it looks as if you've recovered from yesterday's mishap," Lilac responded, smiling at the filly's exuberance. "I don't see any reason why you can't go."

"I'll keep a close eye on her so she doesn't fall off the roller-coaster," Tie Dye promised, following Boxey.

"I heard Licorice and Snapper talking about the fair, so they'll probably be there, too," Columbine said rather wistfully.

"You and Buck might as well go along, Columbine. Trendy and I'll watch Victorian Violet," offered Lilac. "You've hardly been off the place other than to get groceries for weeks now."

"Oh, Lilac, that would be great! Boxey, we'll have such fun!" Columbine now looked as delighted as the filly, although Tie Dye appeared just a bit crestfallen to have his date with Boxey turned into a family affair.

"What's all this talk of fun?" queried Tramples, coming into the kitchen to grab a quick snack.

"The fair!" exclaimed Boxey. "We're going Friday night."

"Cool! Hollyhock and I might as well join up with you guys."

Tie Dye's smile faded even further. All it needed was his big sister.

* * *
"You aren't afraid of it... are you?" Boxey taunted Hollyhock as the Birdsong ponies stood staring at the most acclaimed ride at the fair, a dizzying roller coaster that was new this year and attracting a goodly share of attention from the local ponies.

Hollyhock shuddered. "Yes," she stated honestly. "There's no way I'm getting on that."

Grateful to hear Hollyhock's refusal, Tramples turned to Buck and Columbine. "What about you two? Are you goin' to brave it?"

Exchanging a sparkling glance with her husband, Columbine grinned. "Of course! Why come to the fair if not to live dangerously?"

Snapper, however, opted to sit out this ride along with Tramples and Hollyhock, so Licorice invited Dreamscape, a fellow graduate of Riverside High School, to brave the roller coaster with him. Tie Dye, of course, was paired up with Boxey, over whom he showed a proprietorial interest

The ride proved to be as exciting as Boxey had anticipated and as heart-stopping as Hollyhock had foreseen. While Boxey's thrilled squeals came back to them, Hollyhock buried her face against Tramples shoulder, unable even to watch the others enjoying the ride; and Tramples took advantage of the situation to guide her to a vacant bench where he could hold her close against his side. Snapper, finding himself alone, took himself off to the nearest caterer to purchase some nourishment.

While enjoying his triple-scoop double-chocolate ice cream cone, Snapper heard his name called from the milling crowd; turning, he saw a familiar face from Pony Pride and shivered uncontrollably. It was Tessa.

The young, blueberry-blue mare had also been a local classmate of Licorice's; and like Licorice, she had chosen to continue her education at Pony Pride. Although Tessa and Licorice still maintained their friendship and had been enrolled in some of the same classes, their personal lives did not often cross. Therefore, Snapper was aware of her existence, but not especially comfortable to be faced with her alone without Licorice's backup. He had classed the pretty mare as someone beyond his reach, a prima donna in the ranks of students. He now found himself tongue-tied...with a tongue that had just taken a hefty lick of the delicious ice cream he was holding. He swallowed, coughed, and stuttered, "T... Tessa. H... Hi."

The blue mare smiled and broke away from the group of ponies with which she was hanging out, causing Snapper to panic. What was he going to say to this beauty without Licorice next to him to carry the brunt of the conversation? Snapper groaned inwardly. He was going to make a perfect fool of himself in front of the prettiest coed at Pony Pride.

"What are you doing at Riverside?" Tessa asked as she came to a standstill in front of Snapper. She looked around as if expecting to see someone. "Visiting Licorice, I suppose."

"Yeah." Snapper lowered his head as if he was unworthy to gaze into the mare's warm brown eyes. "He's on the roller coaster ride." Hopefully, the mare would head in that direction.

But Tessa made no move to leave. "That ice cream looks mighty tempting," she hinted instead.

Snapper looked up as if seeing the confection- the ice cream- for the first time; and he only remotely noticed that it was beginning to melt- a dissolution he was sharing under Tessa's sultry gaze.

"I'd like some myself, except in vanilla," she prodded more directly.

"You want an ice cream cone." Fortunately, Snapper's mind began to function.

"That would be nice," the mare responded, deftly turning Snapper back toward the food booth.

Not quite sure how he accomplished it, Snapper soon saw that a tasty vanilla cone was delivered into Tessa's hoof. He smiled, proud that he had pulled it off without a hitch, when he became aware of a wet, sticky, chocolate substance running down his foreleg. "Napkins!" he called to the vendor. Snapper had been so caught up in his errand for Tessa that he had forgotten his own cone.

As he cleaned off the rivulets of ice cream, Snapper was relieved to see Licorice and crew approaching, although he also noted a smug expression on Tessa's face as she greeted the hometown crowd. Having never had the pleasure of making Boxey's acquaintance in Dream Valley, Tessa was now introduced to her, after which she excused herself and went in search of her earlier companions. Snapper watched her as she walked away enjoying her ice cream treat.

"The least she could of done is thanked me for the cone," grumbled Snapper. "The prices here ain't cheap."

"She maneuvered you into paying?" chuckled Licorice. "Well, you've learned a valuable lesson."

"And just what's that?" asked Dreamscape, overhearing.

"Never trust a pretty face," winked Licorice.

"But Snapper trusts me, surely," pouted Dreamscape, eying the stallion through flirty lashes.

Snapper was thoroughly discomposed. He could not disavow it, or he would be insinuating that Dreamscape was not pretty... which she was. But he was also too shy to admit openly that he found her pretty. "I... um... I..."

Licorice took sympathy on his friend. "Snapper knows that any friend of mine is a friend of his," he said. "Come on, guys." He motioned to the others. "Let's get something to eat." He eyed Snapper's pathetically drooping ice cream cone and punched the stallion in the shoulder. "Maybe you can trade that in for a fresh one." While his companions laughed at Snapper's dismayed realization that his once delectable dessert was now no more than a soggy shell, Licorice advised so only Snapper could hear, "Forget Tessa, buddy. Dreamscape thinks you're cute."

Snapper's green complection visibly paled, then reddened, and he stuttered, "Sh... she... d... does?"

"She admitted it," Licorice whispered, grinning at his friend's discomfort, then adding conspiratorially, "If I were you, I'd make my move now... while the fire's hot... so to speak."

Paling again momentarily, Snapper suddenly squared his shoulders, dropped his ruined cone in the garbage, and looked Licorice in the eye. "I think you're right," he agreed and moved off to engage Dreamscape.

He left Licorice speechless.

* * *
Tie Dye had found the evening much more enjoyable than he had earlier envisioned. None of his and Boxey's chaperones had gone out of their way to inhibit a good time, and he had found the younger pony equal to any of the challenges offered by the fair. In fact, if she had one fault, it was that she was too... energized. Tie Dye himself would have liked to spend some quiet time with the fresh-faced filly and found it to his satisfaction when the rest of the group decided it was time for a ride on the towering but unpretentious Ferris wheel.

As Snapper was now paired with Dreamscape, Licorice was left to his own pursuits while the others boarded the Ferris wheel. He fell into conversation with some of the local ponies who had not seen him since his return for the summer to Birdsong, so he was not bored. Meanwhile, Tramples and Hollyhock, Tie Dye and Boxey, Buck and Columbine, and Snapper and Dreamscape, among others, were happily ensconced on the high-circling ride.

The first revolution of the machine carried the ponies higher and higher until they crested the arc and came back down; Boxey, with Tie Dye sitting close beside her, found the ride soothing and did not object when the stallion claimed her forehoof. In fact, she was grateful for the chance to sit quietly and let the cooling evening air brush her warm skin. She had been enjoying the rides- she and Tie Dye had not missed a one- and now she realized that she might have pushed herself past her limit. She definitely should not have eaten that last ice cream cone, for her stomach was now uncomfortably churning.

As the motion of the Ferris wheel carried her up toward the sky, Boxey settled against Tie Dye, grateful for someone solid to lean on. The stallion draped his foreleg around the filly, and nuzzled a gentle kiss against her ear. Boxey did not notice. She was feeling more miserable by the second and could only look forward to the Ferris wheel coming to a complete stop.

Which it did, all too soon.

With a grinding of its gears, the monstrous wheel came to a sudden halt just as Boxey and Tie Dye's car dangled at the precipice of the downward arc. What at any other time would have been a dream come true for Boxey was now a nightmare. Whether it was the result of too many hot dogs and too much cotton candy or the fact of being suspended in the air with nothing beneath her, the combination of sensations froze Boxey. She cried out in alarm when Tie Dye removed his support from her and leaned forward in the seat to enjoy the panorama of the fairground; she clung fearfully to the edge of her seat and closed her eyes. "Tie Dye," she whispered mournfully, "I'm goin' to be sick."

The stallion looked at the young filly in mortified surprise. "Sick?" he croaked, realizing in a flash of insight that Boxey had been unnaturally quiet since boarding the Ferris wheel... and obviously not in anticipation of a stolen kiss or two. "Boxey, you can't be sick... not now!" He jerked away from the filly, causing the car to lurch crazily; Boxey felt as if the whole universe was reeling around her.

"Don't move," she pitifully begged, her eyes now staring into unending nothingness and her head held rigidly against the back of the seat. "I'm goin' to die."

Tie Dye reached out to touch her forehead with the back of his hoof as his mother had done innumerable times with him and his siblings. "You feel clammy."

As Boxey now felt as if her body was on fire while a cold wind buffeted it, she was not about to argue the point. "You're tellin' me," she whispered, closing her eyes again, only to be treated to a burst of brightly colored fireworks behind her shuttered lids. "Oh, no, I'm goin' to..."

* * *
From his position on the ground, Licorice could not see Tie Dye and Boxey, nor did the time between the Ferris wheel's unscheduled stop and its subsequent start-up after a quick repair of the problem seem long; but when the machine finally brought Tie Dye and Boxey's car to the unloading port, the look on Boxey's face plainly spoke of a long and difficult torture.

"What's wrong now?" he grated, taking the burden of the weakened Boxey from Tie Dye and helping the filly to a nearby bench where she sat heavily and dropped her face into her hooves.

"She was sick," Tie Dye explained, grateful that someone had stuffed an empty popcorn container under the seat they had been on. He quickly disposed of it in the closest garbage receptacle and brushed his hooves off distastefully.

"Boxey, are you okay?" Licorice asked, sitting next to the filly and brushing her mane in a comforting gesture.

Moaning, the filly shook her head. "I'm so embarrassed!"

"Licorice, what's wrong with Boxey?" queried a worried Snapper as he and Dreamscape hurried up after exiting the ride.

"She cast up her accounts," Licorice grinned. "Too many rides and too much food, I'd guess," he added as he left Boxey's side to allow Snapper to sit by his sister.

"You poor dear!" Columbine coddled as she and Buck joined the ponies. Hollyhock, too, commiserated with the filly; and Tramples asked if she was up to walking home or if they should take her to Columbine's folk's house to rest a bit.

The loving kindness was too much for Boxey who could not believe that her tough constitution had been defeated by a Ferris wheel. "Just dump me in a ditch and forget all about me," she wailed plaintively. "I'll never hold my head up again... ever!"

* * *
Sleeping later than normal, Boxey awoke with her stomach settled. She could even laugh over her misadventure with the rest of the ponies. Tie Dye, however, sent his regrets with his sister, telling Boxey that their plan to go fishing in the river was for nothing because his father had decided that today was the day they would repair the fence by Rattler Ravine. Boxey was suspicious that the stallion was making an excuse to avoid her until she heard Lilac telling Columbine that Licorice and Tramples had gone with their dad to work on that same project.

Tie Dye told Licorice that he was sorry that he could not take Boxey fishing as planned, but he did not divulge the fact that he had decided that Boxey was too young and immature for him. After the Ferris wheel ride, he could no longer look upon the filly with the same lovelorn feeling that he had previously felt toward her.

Lilac and Columbine made sure that Boxey was occupied for the rest of her visit with more feminine pursuits like a shopping trip and a visit to the museum and helping at a church fund-raiser.

It would not have done Tie Dye's ego any good to know that Boxey laid awake at night thinking not of him but listening for the bark of a coyote; more than anything else, she wanted to add the Canis latrans to her list of personal sightings. However, all too soon, it was time for her and Snapper to return to Dream Valley; and Boxey realized that her chance to see a coyote hinged now on this one last night at Birdsong.

Having sat by her bedroom window until nearly midnight waiting to hear the cry of the coyote, Boxey had fallen asleep with her head resting on her forelegs braced against the windowsill. It was almost two o'clock in the morning when an eerie wail jerked her awake.

The filly smiled to herself. She would not have to leave Birdsong without seeing the coyote after all.

* * *
Boxey was not the only one who had been awaken by the animal's howl. Licorice was brought out of a vibrant dream; and he sat up, rubbing his eyes, trying to separate fact from fantasy. That was one thing about role-playing... it planted seeds in the subconscious for some awesome imaginings.

Just as the stallion settled back in his bed, he heard the creaking of the back stairs- the third riser from the bottom, he knew from experience. Someone was up and about in the middle of the night. Not unduly worried because even the guests had been known to raid the kitchen at all hours, Licorice buried his head in his pillow; but a thud and a rattled umph! brought him upright again. He had no doubt as to whom that voice belonged. It was Boxey; and at this time of the night, she was certainly up to no good. As he slipped out of bed, he heard the back door- latch click, and knew the filly had left the house.

Licorice was concerned, and it had nothing to do with the coyote. He had been aware since the night at the fair that Tie Dye had been unable to visit Birdsong and therefore had not had a chance to see Boxey. Any invitation extended to Tie Dye had been met with the excuse that his dad needed his help on the farm; and as it was a busy time of the year, Licorice saw no reason to doubt the validity of that statement.

However, knowing that Tie Dye had been highly interested in the young filly, Licorice had expected his friend to manipulate situations in which he could spend some time with her. With Boxey and Snapper leaving in the morning, this would be Tie Dye's last chance to see her. Therefore, Licorice expected Boxey to be on her way to a scheduled rendezvous with Tie Dye; and as his parents were responsible for Boxey while she was at Birdsong, it was imperative that this clandestine meeting not take place. With that in mind, Licorice made his stealthy way out of the house with the intention of intercepting Boxey.

* * *
More than one coyote was yipping, Boxey realized once she was clear of the house, and the sound was coming from the general direction of the gazebo that sat in a clearing of the woods west of the sweeping front lawn. A full moon hung over the trees and cast its magical glow over the countryside, lighting her way as she quickly but quietly made her way across the yard and under cover of the trees where a meandering path directed one to the hospitable wooden shelter perfectly located for personal reflections. Boxey glided along like a shadow of the wind, keeping her presence hidden from the clever coyotes. So intent was she on what lay ahead that she did not realize that she, too, was being stalked by Licorice.

Just before breaking cover from the woods, Boxey stopped under cover of the trees' shadows and peered through the blue-tinted night toward the gazebo, for that was where she determined the coyotes' calls had been coming from. Now, however, the night was devoid of any sound at all, except for her own racing heartbeat.

That peace was suddenly interrupted when another series of yelps and howls erupted from the open space ahead of Boxey; straining her eyesight, she was finally able to discern three shapes on the grassy clearing, two sitting and one standing and all three engaged in a chorus of enchanting melody. The moonlight glinted off their tan fur and caught the glimmer of their dark eyes. Boxey held her breath as she listened to this canid concert held under the smiling lunar orb overhead.

As suddenly as it had begun, the coyote chorus ended; and the three animals pricked their ears in Boxey's direction before turning tail and slinking off into the night. Boxey stood mesmerized, storing up all the impressions that pervaded the scene she had just witnessed. So lost was she to these memories that the touch of a hoof on her shoulder felt like a lightening bolt, and she jumped accordingly. Barely able to discern Licorice's dark coloring against the backdrop of likewise darkly-colored tree trunks, Boxey was about to scream when Licorice's voice brought her reassurance.

"You should have had your brother come with you."

"Snapper?" scoffed Boxey. "He'd be scared."

"I think he'd have put his fears aside to protect you from danger."

"What danger? The coyotes aren't dangerous."

"I wasn't talking about coyotes."

"What then?"

"Tie Dye."

Boxey's mouth gaped open. "What's Tie Dye got to do with anything?"

"You're out here to meet him, aren't you?"

"I'm out here to see coyotes, which I've done." She glared at Licorice. "And now, I'm going back to bed."

"Hold on," Licorice ordered, blocking the path. "Can you honestly tell me you aren't here to meet Tie Dye?"

"I've already honestly told you that! Why would I bother with Tie Dye? He thinks I'm a puky little brat."

"That's not what he told me."

"Was that before or after the Ferris wheel?"


"Well, whatever he told you changed that night."

It was Licorice's turn to look surprised. "He actually called you a... what you said?"

"He probably thought I was moaning too much to hear him, but, yeah, he did." The filly grinned. "Why, what did he tell you?"

Licorice, realizing the lateness of the hour, directed Boxey down the path leading back to Birdsong. "Let's just say that he thought you were kissable."

Boxey wrinkled her nose. "Then I'm glad I got sick." She glanced sideways at Licorice. "You've never really liked me much, have you?"

"I've never had a sister, so I didn't know what to expect from a puky little brat."

Boxey socked the stallion in the shoulder. "You're worse than Tie Dye."

"At least I don't find you kissable."

"That's a plus! I'd like to consider you another big brother, like Snapper, beings the two of you hang out together so much."

"I guess that wouldn't be too bad, as long as being your big brother gives me the right to put you in your place when you become obnoxious."

"When have I ever been obnoxious?"

"How about the time you switched channels on us at the crucial point in the big game?"

"You'd promised me that I could watch my program at eight."

"And the time you broke your mom's coffee mug and blamed Snapper?"

"Mom never comes down as hard on Snapper as she does on me."

"Then there was..."

Tired of being on the defensive, Boxey changed the subject. "Weren't the coyotes beautiful? I wish you wouldn't have scared them away."

"I didn't scare them away. They caught the scent you're wearing."

"For your information, I'm not wearing a scent."

Licorice made a show of sniffing the air. "Maybe it's time you showered, then."

"As if you and Snapper smelled like roses when you came in from haying."

"We had an excuse. What's yours?"

He may not have had any experience with a little sister, but Licorice learned quickly that one was loads of fun to torment.


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