My Little Pony Monthly Issue 93 (December 1, 2004)
My Little Pony Monthly
A publication of Nematode (Electronic) Publishing
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Letter to the Editor
Subj: Re: [My Little Pony Monthly] ~Part 3
Date: 11/1/04 10:51:49 PM Central Standard Time
From: [email protected]
Got a question for the newsletter. If you were into Kim's MLP chat, you would know me as Quicksilver... I have been pondering on creating a Neverwinter Nights modular... Why ask about it here? Well I was thinking of putting a MLP theme in it.... I can do the programming and world creation; I need a 3D modeler for this task. If anyone is out there who is into My Little Pony and has CAD experience for a few mods like ponies (of course), the Smooze, the witches, and so forth I'd like to get in contact with them. Experience with Bioware's NWN toolset is a major plus. I cannot pay but will give paying job referencs.
Snow'el, Mistletoe, and Marshamllow Coco are the three Winter Series II ponies at Target. Here are our winners!
Beckie (d[email protected])
chekru ([email protected])
PikaCheck ([email protected])
Posey ([email protected])
Sweet Tooth ([email protected])
And our prize winner is Beckie! You have won Gingerbread's lip balm! Please e-mail me your address and I'll send it off to you right away!
Prom Queen Sweetheart Sister Cha Cha is here with us offering the prized for January. This is really awesome stuff from Avon, glitter eye gel with blue sparkles named, naturally, after Cha Cha. I adore this stuff. It's gorgeous. It's sparkly. It's so easy to apply! For a chance to win this stylin' Avon product (or, for you Big Brothers out there, we have Wild Country talcum powder), answer the following question correctly:
Which pony has been designated by Hasbro to be the youngest of the G3 set?
Tell me the answer by e-mailing [email protected] mailto:[email protected] 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 http://mlpmonthly.tripod.com/Contact.htm, you will be able to select your gender so we'll be able to determine which prize you get. Or, if you'd prefer to be opted out of the prize drawing, you can select that on the form as well.
Is Hasbro putting out too many ponies for you to keep up with? Here's what you thought.
Posey ([email protected]) says...
What bothers me is when Hasbro re_releases a pony in a different pose with pony wear. I would rather each pony be unique, not several poses of her, and buy the pony wear separately. I'm selective in my purchases because of the great variety; I couldn't afford to buy them all when they first come out!
Sweet Tooth ([email protected]) says...
Too many! :( I can't keep up at all... Just getting the ones I think are the cutest. There don't need to be so many, especially when some of them look so much alike, with the same hair and body color and just a different symbol. I favor quality over quantity; just make sure they all look pretty, Hasbro! :) Any while you're at it, release some unis, pegs, and boys! Actually if they were doing that, and there was more variety, then maybe there wouldn't be too many, but with so many similar ponies, then I think they should cut down a bit.
PikaCheck ([email protected]) says...
When they first came out with the G3, I bought them all. But as MLP has become an established toy within the market once again and they keep releasing new ones, my paranoia of them being yanked from the shelves has diminished_ and I find myself being much more selective in the ones I buy now. Especially since I have to find space to store all the new ones!
by Clever Clover ([email protected])
"Clever Clover! I am talking to you!"
"Yeah, and I'm ignoring you. Now, why don't you just go away? All your nagging is getting on my nerves."
Morning Glory shook her head. "I'm not giving up on you! You may have lost your memory, but you still have responsibilities!"
Clever Clover sighed. "You're not leaving?"
"NO! I'm not leaving you."
Clever Clover stood up. "I'm not going to get anything done. I'm going for a walk." He stomped toward the door.
After a moment, Morning Glory followed him. "Well, at least that's like the old you."
Clever Clover paused at the door. "I just can't win with you."
"You can't fight your true self. I'm just reminding you of that."
"I can try." Clever Clover exited the house, closing the door behind him before Morning Glory could follow. "I wish I lived in town; it's easier to lose oneself in the city streets than out in the middle of nowhere." He trotted off toward the nearest stand of trees, in hopes of evading Morning Glory.
When he reached the trees, Clever Clover looked back toward the house. There was no sign of Morning Glory. "I guess she finally gave up." He sat down under a tree. "I might as well take a nap since I've got a moment of peace and quiet."
* * *
Back at the house, Morning Glory stood staring at the door. She took a deep breath. "He is so difficult. Why is he fighting me so hard? Doesn't he understand what I'm doing is for his own good? But he always has been stubborn; maybe the best thing I can do is just give him some space. Besides, I've been meaning to check on Belle Star and see how she's been handling this."
Morning Glory strolled into Friendship Gardens where Belle Star's apartment was. She climbed the steps to the third floor and knocked on Belle Star's door. There was no answer. She turned to Coral's door, across the hall, and knocked, but there was no answer there, either. "I suppose Coral took her out to try and cheer her up."
She then went down to the superintendent's office. "Excuse me, do you know when Belle Star went out?"
The superintendent shrugged. "A couple of days ago."
"A couple of days? Doesn't that seem a little odd?"
"Not for Belle Star. But that other one, Coral, she's usually here every night. But they both payed their rent to the end of the month, and told me to re-let their apartments if they didn't get back by then."
"What? Do you know where they went?"
"No. And as long as I got my money, I don't really care."
Morning Glory turned to leave just as Minoko was coming in. "Oh! Minoko! What are you doing here?"
"Looking for an apartment."
"You can't get an apartment without money, you bum!" interjected the superintendent.
"Yeah, yeah. No problem. I've got a job now, so money's not a problem."
"A job!" Morning Glory gasped in disbelief.
Minoko glared at the princess. "Yeah, a job. You got a problem with that!?"
"Oh, no. I'm impressed, but I wonder why?"
"Why? So I could get an apartment, that's why."
"Did Clever Clover throw you out?"
Minoko hung her head. "No."
"But... the two of you had been getting along so well lately."
"Yeah, I guess we were. But it just didn't feel right. Especially since he decided not to coach the Dragonflies this year. I enjoyed spending that time with him at the rink. It was the one thing we really had in common. Now..."
"Oh... I wish you well, Minoko." Morning Glory solemnly walked out of the building.
"What is happening to us? We didn't always get along, but we were still friends. It was Clever Clover who brought us together, and now we seem to have lost him. I wish I knew where Belle Star has gotten off to. We're going to need to work together if we're to have any chance of bringing him back."
* * *
Meanwhile, far from Friendship Gardens, Belle Star and Coral hiked across the rolling hills. Belle Star stopped and looked back, longingly, the way they had come.
"Belle! Don't look back. After what he did to you, you need to get away from him for a while. Give him time to regret what he did, and time for you to decide if he's really worth it."
Belle Star hung her head. "I... I feel like I'm abandoning him when he needs me the most."
Coral shook her head. "Abandoning him!? What do you call what he did to you?"
"He... didn't abandon me. He has amnesia."
"Stop making excuses for him. You had the ring; everyone knew the two of you were engaged. Even though he forgot, there was enough to remind him of the truth. But he refused to accept the truth. By tuning his back on you, he turned his back on who he used to be. He chose to be a new pony, someone you don't even know."
Belle Star was silent. No matter how much she wanted to believe in Clever Clover, Coral's arguments were very convincing. And, as Clever Clover was unable, or unwilling, to offer a counter argument, she found herself always being swayed by Coral.
Coral put her hoof on her friend's shoulder. "If you really want to go back, I'll back you up. But if you do, you'll never know the truth. How he feels for you, and how you feel for him."
Belle Star hesitantly turned away from Friendship Garden. Coral nodded and silently led her friend into the unknown.
* * *
Morning Glory wandered the streets of Friendship Gardens, looking for someone who might have seen which way Belle Star and Coral had gone, but to no avail. Having failed to find Clever Clover's one time fiancee, Morning Glory decided to visit the amnesiatic prince once again, to see if she could talk some sense into him. She knocked on his door and waited, but there was no response. "This is getting old," she mumbled, as she turned the doorknob. To her surprise, the door was locked.
"Well, I guess he was rather irate when I last saw him. He must not have calmed down yet. But I do need to talk to him." She knocked again, more forcefully. "Clever Clover! If you are in there, answer me!"
This time there was a response, of sorts, the sound of someone moving about inside. Shortly, the door opened. "I was trying to sleep!" Clever Clover bellowed.
"I'm surprised you can sleep, considering what you've done."
"Huh? What'd I do?"
"What!? You drove away the ponies who were closest to you! You've fought against all efforts to help you regain your memory! You've shirked your responsibilities as regent!"
"Oh, that. If you don't have any other complaints, I'll get back to my nap."
Morning Glory slapped Clever Clover in the face.
Clever Clover took a deep breath. "What was that for?"
"Your friends may have abandoned you- you've even driven away your fiancee- but I will not abandon you. I am a Princess of the Isle Ponies! It is my duty to see to it that you carry out your duty as regent, no mater how distasteful I may find your company of late!"
Clever Clover was silent for a moment. "Fine. If it'll get you out of my hair, I'll do the regent thing... tomorrow. Right now, I'm tired. Come back in the morning. Or better yet, tomorrow afternoon. Okay?"
Morning Glory nodded. She stood on Clever Clover's doorstep for several minutes after the door was closed. Finally, with a tear in her eye and a heavy heart, she turned from the house and slowly walked back to Friendship Gardens.
by Clever Clover ([email protected])
Clever Clover searched the blackness for his parents, but to no avail. There was no sign of any other pony, nor any sign that there ever had been. All there was, was blackness. "If this wasn't a dream," Clever Clover mumbled, "I'd be afraid of getting lost."
Then a familiar scent reached his nose, the smell of the sea. He looked around, but all was still blackness. The sound of water lapping on the shore broke the silence. Clever Clover could see the faint shimmer of moonlight on the waves, though there was no moon to be seen. A lone figure stood knee deep in the surf, a midnight blue unicorn mare. Her coat was wet and matted.
"Who are you?" the prince asked.
"My name is Datura."
"Do I know you?"
The unicorn shook her head. "You do not know me, but we are very close."
"What do you mean?"
"My little Toadstool. I'm very proud of her, you know."
"Who is Toadstool?"
The mare smiled. "You ask a lot of questions. So did she, when she was little. She overcame such hardship." The mare's smile faded. "Such a hard life, you can't blame her... for being a little rough around the edges."
The apparition began to fade. "If you see Sanjiro, tell him I always loved him..."
Clever Clover was once again alone in the blackness. "That was... strange. But I guess in a dream..."
by Sugarberry ([email protected])
"Any calls?" Adriano asked as he entered his office on the campus of Pony Pride.
Mattie looked up from her computer screen and smiled. "It's been very quiet here." That was the truth, as far as it went.
"The campus cleared out quickly. Everyone's gone home for Christmas."
"Do you regret your decision to stay in Dream Valley for the holidays?"
"No... no... not really." A note of sadness- wistfulness- crept into his voice.
"What are your plans for Christmas Eve?"
"I'm... I'm not sure."
"Well, why don't you come with me to the living nativity at the park? Everyone will be there, and I'm going to meet some friends for some Christmas cheer. We'd love to have you join us."
Adriano did not answer immediately. Instead, he walked to the window and stared out, not really seeing the snow-covered lawn around the campus buildings or the powder-draped branches of the evergreens. The shoveled walkways were barren, however, of both snow and ponies... as barren as Adriano's heart.
The Vulcanopolis stallion had met lots of ponies since coming to Dream Valley to head the mathematic's department in Vanguard's absence; of those ponies, many were, of course, students and faculty; a few were speaking acquaintances by choice rather than necessity; and several of them had become true friends. There was one, however, who had connected with Adriano's soul; and he doubted if she even knew it.
His eyes settling on a building across the way, Adriano wondered if Heidi was still in her office, wrapping things up for the semester break. He had thought that by coming to Dream Valley and escaping his mother's apron strings, he would have an idyllic life free of all complications. It had never occurred to him that he would simply fall under another mare's sphere of influence.
"Adriano? Shall we plan on including you in our party?" Mattie pressed. "No one should be alone on Christmas."
"Alone? Oh, no... not alone," Adriano said softly, as if speaking to a spectral vision. It seemed there was not a moment in the day when his awareness of Heidi did not haunt him. Then, coming back to the reality of Mattie's question, he looked at his office assistant guiltily. "Not alone at all. Sugarberry and Vanguard will be back for the holidays. Already invited me to join their festivities."
"They'll have a big gathering; our small group will be more... relaxing." Mattie moved closer to the stallion. "You'll come... won't you?"
The mare batted her lashes, and Adriano heard himself acquiesce. "Of course, I'll come." He blinked as Mattie smiled brilliantly at him.
What had he done?
* * *
"I'm so glad you're still here to help me with this cleaning," Caprice told Licorice as the two ponies moved the sofa back into place after Caprice had vacuumed... an unnecessary chore, Licorice thought, knowing full well that Caprice had kept the house spotless in Sugarberry's absence. That, and she had kept both him and Adriano well supplied with cookies and other desserts as well, so Licorice complied with the mare's wishes.
"Mom and Dad wanted to see the new foal, so they decided to come and then escort me home... as if I need it." The young stallion grimaced, not entirely agreeing with the idea that he was unable to make his own way home.
"You'll be glad of the company," Caprice chided, "especially if the weather turns bad... although the forecast is for sunny skies."
"Yeah, I suppose so," Licorice granted. He was looking forward to seeing his folks and spending the holiday back at Birdsong with his brothers, Tramples and Buck. His niece, Victorian Violet, at fifteen months, would find the season a magical time. With Columbine expecting again and Tramples to be wed to Hollyhock in the spring, the Birdsong family was growing.
"It's too bad Snapper can't go with you."
"If it wasn't for his brat of a sister, he'd have been able to come. It was her idea for the two of them to go ice fishing."
Caprice shook her head. "The poor boy, to take such a dunking. He's lucky not to have pneumonia."
"He's sick enough as it is... and, to top it off, Boxey gets all the credit for pulling him out. She's the one who should have gone in!"
"I thought the two of you were getting along better," Caprice noted.
"We would be, if she'd use her head," Licorice grumbled.
"Well, she's young yet. And Snapper should have known better himself."
"Have you ever tried to talk sense to Boxey?"
"No," Caprice admitted. "And neither Thomas or Elaine were difficult children." The mare grinned. "I'll bet Agatha had her hooves full with Tabby, though." Her daughter-in-law was spirited, to say the least.
The sound of hooves on the front porch drew Caprice and Licorice's attention. The door opened to admit Adriano.
"Ah, Caprice. The house looks great." He shared a wink with Licorice as both stallions were aware that Caprice would never stand for anything less than a spotless environment.
"Why, thank you, Adriano. Licorice has been a big help. Put the vacuum away, dear," she directed Licorice, "and we'll all have cookies and milk in the kitchen. "
As if on cue, the two feline residents came out from hiding, Fluff from the top of the stairs and Raptor from the direction of the study. The roar of the vacuum always sent them scurrying, but the word milk had a magnetic pull. Fluffy steered around Adriano but wrapped his fluffy body around Caprice's legs. Raptor went to the kitchen door and sat patiently waiting.
"What's that wonderful smell?" Adriano asked, sniffing the air.
"There's a roast in the oven," Caprice said as she got the milk from the refrigerator. "I want a good meal ready when Sugarberry and Vanguard get here." Her eyes grew thoughtful. "Banderol will have grown, and the new baby..."
Caprice's words were cut off as commotion was heard coming from the front of the house. With a questioning glance at Licorice and Adriano, she went to investigate... and squealed with delight when she found the aforementioned travelers on the doorstep. "You're early!"
"I miscalculated the time difference," admitted Sugarberry, her voice muffled as Caprice embraced her and the blanketed bundle she carried.
"It's so good to see you!" Caprice purred, moving on to hug Vanguard and scoop Banderol into her forelegs. "How's my boy doing? Why, you've grown so big!"
Banderol soaked up the mare's attention while Adriano and Licorice greeted the new arrivals until Sugarberry, bursting with pride, cleared her throat. "Caprice... Licorice... Adriano... we'd like you to meet the newest member of our family." With a loving glance at her husband and a tender smile for Banderol, she drew back the blanket that covered the foal's sleeping face. "Everyone, may I introduce you to Coppice."
The gathered ponies gazed down upon the now nearly six-week old colt, admiring his apple green color and the tawny curls that framed his chubby face. As if sensing the attention focused upon him, the foal opened blue-green eyes, gazed at his audience, screwed-up his angelic face, and let out a plaintive wail. The ensuing laughter of the adults only succeeded in further upsetting the foal, who sought consolation in his mother's familiar warmth.
"Oh, sweetie," Sugarberry cooed, gently rocking the fussing baby, "these ponies are all part of our family, too. You'll learn to love them soon enough." Little Coppice, hearing his mother's voice, slowed his crying to listen, his eyes fastening on hers as if to a lifeline.
"What an angel," Caprice murmured, gently stroking a soft wisp of hair off his cheek. "Come to Caprice, little darling." Sugarberry transferred the now docile colt over to the mare, and Caprice headed for the rocking chair to become acquainted with the new addition.
Banderol tugged at his mother's foreleg. "Me hugwy, Mommy."
"As always," Sugarberry rolled her eyes. "Licorice, have you left any crumbs in the cookie jar?"
"Better than that," Licorice grinned. "Come on, Bandy. We were about to have some cookies and milk when you arrived." He hoisted the two-year-old up over his head, causing the colt to giggle in delight, and carried him to the kitchen.
"Well, Adriano, have the Pony Pride students been on their best behavior for you?" Vanguard asked.
"Most of them have," Adriano admitted, "but there are a couple of problems I'd like to discuss with you when you have the time." He smiled. "And I'll be interested in hearing of your experiences at Leonardo."
"A number of students asked me to wish you a Merry Christmas." Vanguard's voice faded into the other room as he and Adriano joined Licorice and Banderol, leaving the mares with the foal.
"Another of God's miracles," Caprice said, nodding at Coppice who was intently engaged in surveying her purple hair.
Sugarberry pulled up a chair to sit next to Caprice and gaze at her son as if she would never get her fill of looking at the child. "Each little one is a blessing," Sugarberry agreed. "I'm sure you're enjoying all three of your granddaughters."
"Oh, yes. Faline is as precocious as ever, and Nymph can't wait to do everything her big sister does. Alanna is three-months-old now and as gentle in disposition as Elaine ever was, but with Alan's coloring."
"I can't wait to see them all!"
"Well, I think you'd better rest first; I've got supper in the oven for you, so you won't have to mess with any cooking your first day home. Then you better get to bed. I'm having a buffet luncheon at my house tomorrow so you can catch up on what's been going on."
"Caprice, you're too good to us! I can see that you've kept the house in excellent order; and from the brief view I got of Fluff and Raptor, you've taken good care of them, too. I can't ask you to play hostess for me as well."
"You didn't ask, dear. I volunteered. And it's been a pleasure keeping an eye on the place and making sure Adriano and Licorice were well fed. I've enjoyed every minute of it. Now," she said, rising, "it's time we got some of those cookies for ourselves before they're all gone!"
Laughing, Sugarberry hugged the mare. "My, it's good to be home!"
* * *
"I feel like I'm visiting a pre-school," noted Licorice the following day as Caprice led him to a vacant chair, his hooves full of food from the buffet. Faline was helping Banderol set up the Little People castle while Nymph waved a green plastic dragon through the air; Coppice and Alanna lay nearby, watching their playmates and listening to their chatter.
"Get used to it," Trendy, Licorice's father, retorted, referring to their own growing family. He and Lilac had arrived that morning from Birdsong and would accompany Licorice back home for the semester break.
"Having the grandfoals around will keep you young," Lilac reminded her husband.
"I'm not complaining, Lilac. I just want Licorice here to realize that with Victorian Violet running around the house, he may have to make some adjustments."
"Licorice is great with the foals," Sugarberry noted. "He and Banderol are true pals."
"Speaking of pals, Licorice, how is Snapper doing?" asked Lilac.
"His fever's down, but he's still got a bad cough and a sore throat," Licorice informed his parent. "Plus, he has nightmares about falling through the ice."
"The poor thing," commiserated Lilac. "And how's Boxey?"
"Boxey's fine; she barely got her hooves wet."
"Now, everyone, don't be shy about having seconds," Caprice reminded her guests. "There's plenty of food."
"Enough for an army, Mother," Thomas grinned.
"I made the bean casserole," said Tabby, looking over the plates of the ponies near her. "Alan, you didn't take any." She scowled at the stallion.
"Yes, I did, Tabby; it was just so good that it was the first thing I ate," Alan teased.
"Everything is delicious," Elaine added.
"Yes, it is," agreed Sugarberry. "Thanks again, Caprice, for such a lovely welcome home gathering."
"There were days while in Yeti confinement that I thought I'd never get to see my children again," confided Caprice. "Having the opportunity to entertain them and their friends is a gift I'll never tire of."
"That's the truth," Dietrich said, smiling at his wife. "We've got a lot to be thankful for."
From across the room, Agatha sniffed. "The Yetis, most likely, were grateful to see the last of them."
Hubert cleared his throat to cover his wife's spiteful words. "Tabby and I've been discussing a return journey to the island home of the Yetis."
"Tabby, you wouldn't seriously consider that!" Sugarberry admonished. "Think of your girls!"
"Faline loved our first visit there, finding her grandparents and all," Tabby responded brightly while glaring at her own mother. "Nymph needs some adventure, too."
"I wouldn't go out of my way looking for it," worried Elaine.
"We evaded the Yetis once; we can do it again," asserted Tabby.
"The sledding party for the foals is our next project, however," Thomas said, wisely changing the course of the conversation as everyone joined in, enumerating all the tasks that yet needed to be finished before Christmas.
* * *
The next day found Sugarberry, Vanguard, Banderol, and Coppice at a gathering of friends at Chocolate Chip and Wigwam's house. It was, again, a lively bunch accented by a plethora of foals.
"Licorice would freak-out with all these babies!" giggled Sugarberry as she watched Banderol playing with Tamarack and Baby Butch. Sugarberry herself was holding Coppice, and Dreamcatcher had Chenoa in her forelegs. Chenoa's twin, Paco, was with his father while Garnet and Wishbone's twins were in the care of Wigwam who was "practicing juggling two babies- just in case." Both little girls were currently asleep.
"Piece of cake," Wigwam said, grinning across the room at Wishbone.
Wishbone snorted. "Just wait until Amber Waves wakes up. You won't be smiling then."
Wigwam's smile grew wider. "We'll see, now, bantling, won't we?"
Garnet cast a sassy glance at Wigwam and winked at Chocolate Chip who was due in January. "I give him eight seconds... tops."
"Oh, you of little faith!" retorted Wigwam, cuddling both sleeping foals more closely to him. The motion- and the taunting and teasing voices around him- disturbed the twin's sleep; and Amber Waves- true to form- began a frantic crying. For one so small, the volume was intense.
Cradled in Wigwam's other foreleg, Amethyst Falls, normally of mild disposition, heard her sister's wail of distress and joined the melee. Wigwam now had two dynamos to control, and a curious gallery of onlookers watched to see how he would handle the dilemma.
A look of genuine dismay had crossed Wigwam's face over this unexpected barrage of vocalizing from his two charges, but he quickly took control of the situation. With the dexterity of one who had years of practice behind a dealing table at the casino, he shifted the two wailing bundles and began rocking slowly back and forth while crooning a haunting Native Pony chant.
The sound of the deep voice and the unfamiliar vocalizations caught the attention of Amethyst Falls who now focused on the orange stallion in fascination, one little hoof entangled in his mane. Dreamcatcher picked up a carved wooden flute that rested on the entertainment center and added her sweet melody to the song. Following her lead, Fetish took up a drum and began beating out a subtle undercurrent. Bittersweet joined her voice to that of Wigwam's, her honeyed tone softening the melody, and Bolivia's trilling followed suite. Teepee and Butch filled in the background by shaking rattles.
The crying of Amber Waves lessened as the musical sounds penetrated her senses, and soon her teary eyes were as concentrated on Wigwam as her sister's, although she continued to whimper. When the musicians shifted from their low-key lullaby to Red Nativity's powerful Three Shaman, the foal's tears ended entirely and she listened in rapt fascination.
When the song faded out, Sugarberry was enthralled. "That was beautiful, you guys! You should perform at the living nativity!" The others who had listened to their friends' impromptu performance agreed, but Wigwam ignored them and raised his voice above theirs.
"Well, bantling, your daughters seem perfectly satisfied in my care," he grinned a challenge at Wishbone.
The rose-red stallion, however, felt a new respect for his brother-in-law and looked at him in admiration. "Umm... well, now... about the three-o'clock feedings..."
Wigwam got to his hooves and placed the foals in their father's forelegs. "My job here is done," he said, punching Wishbone in the shoulder. "The rest is up to you."
Vanguard chuckled. Taking Amethyst Falls from Wishbone, he advised, "Just remember... they grow up way too soon." He settled the little filly, then caught his wife's gaze. "Every moment is precious... even those at three in the morning."
"I can't wait," sighed Chocolate Chip, sidling over as best she could so that Wigwam could join her on the couch. She rested her head on his shoulder. "I can't wait to see what our baby looks like."
"As beautiful as her mother," Wigwam stated, kissing his wife's cheek.
"Or as handsome as his father," Chocolate Chip returned.
"Argh!" Butch moaned. "This is getting way too sentimental for me." He shook the Native Pony rattle he still held. "Let's party!"
* * *
A gentle snow was falling, giving the town of Dream Valley a Christmas-card look. Although the sky was dreary, the lighted trees that adorned the lawns of many of the houses spread a radiance that reflected on the falling flakes of white creating a sparkling and peaceful setting for the holiday.
Inside Sugarberry's house, this comfortable scene was repeated. A bedecked evergreen graced the living room where the mare sat gently rocking Baby Coppice while music of the season softly sounded. Fluff was asleep on the couch; Raptor watched the motion of the rocking chair with half-closed eyes.
The only discordant note in the room emanated from Adriano who sat in a chair in a corner of the room across from Sugarberry; his hoof tapped the arm of the chair or raked through his mane in agitated gestures while the frown on his face and the sadness in his eyes tore at Sugarberry's heart.
"Is something bothering you, Adriano?" she finally broke the silence to ask.
The stallion jumped at the sound of her voice. "Bothering me? Nothing. Nothing at all. Perfectly splendid day." He stood and began pacing.
"I suppose you miss your mother now that Christmas is nearly upon us."
"Mother? Oh, yes, mother. Suppose I do... miss her." In fact, his neurotic parent had occupied very little of his thoughts of late.
"I'm sure she misses you, too," said Sugarberry, gazing at her newborn lovingly, before glancing at Adriano. "But don't worry about Imogene. She's adjusted to your absence quite well, I think."
"My mother... adjusted?" queried Adriano in disbelief. His duty-calls to her were always rewarded with sniping remarks about her ungrateful son and the agonies she was suffering without him there to wait on her.
"I met her several times; she's a very gracious lady."
Sugarberry giggled. "Yes, your mother, Imogene. She was at one of Agatha's parties, and then we met again when dining out at Agostino's; she was with Gino..."
"Gino?!!" Adriano spun around, aghast.
"A very cultured stallion who seems to have taken your place as your mother's confidant."
"How could she?" Adriano almost wailed.
Sugarberry looked at him in surprise. "How could she what?"
"That stallion... Gino... was in love with my mother before she married my father. How dare he take advantage of my absence... and my father's absence... in such a shoddy manner!"
"You misunderstood me," Sugarberry assured the irate Adriano. "It's nothing like that. They're just good friends who enjoy the same social functions."
Letting that information sink in, Adriano stood in deep thought. Suddenly, however, his face contorted. "Mother seldom left the house; too busy... being cantankerous. Always expected me to fetch and carry for her. Made my life miserable. And Dad's before that."
Now it was Sugarberry's turn to be lost in thought. Finally, she expressed her opinion. "Maybe your mother needed you to leave so she could find her independence again. She seems perfectly content..." Sugarberry grinned, "...although she does harp on Leandra- Your cousin, is she?- who seems to ignore Imogene and go her own way."
"All my life, I've been a slave to my mother's wishes. Do you mean to say that if I'd walked out on her years ago, I'd have been spared her demeaning attitude?"
"I don't know," Sugarberry admitted. "But she does seem to be doing quite well."
"Wonder... if Dad knows."
"She mentioned that he'll be back from his expedition early in the new year."
"What will he find waiting for him?"
Sugarberry chose her words carefully. "Maybe Imogene realized what she was doing to her family by being so demanding. Seeing first her husband and then her son abandon her because of her unpleasantness might have caused her to take a long look at her life. I'd like to think that she's decided to face life head-on rather than vicariously."
"And what of Gino?"
"He's helping her to find her place in society again. And if she makes her husband jealous in the process... well, maybe he'll be more likely to take notice when he does arrive back in Vulcanopolis."
"Do you really think so?"
"After what you've told me about how much your mother has changed since you left, yes, I think it is a possibility."
Adriano grinned at the mare. "I'd like to be there when Dad returns." Then he sighed and turned away.
Disappointed to see that she had not succeeded in lifting the stallion from his doldrums, Sugarberry prodded, "Now what's wrong?" She shifted the sleeping foal on her lap to ease the tingling in her foreleg.
"Like you, Sugarberry," Adriano said, glancing in her direction. "Easy to talk to."
"So, is there something else you'd like to talk about?"
Adriano crossed to a nearby chair, sat down, and took a deep breath. "There's a mare... teaches at Pony Pride... very nice... like her a lot..." Adriano stuttered over his confession, blushed, and came to a sudden halt.
Finding herself in the position to mentor the obviously love-stricken stallion, Sugarberry could not contain a wide grin... or her curiosity. "Who is this mare?"
"English Department... butterscotch colored... purple hair... name's Heidi."
Heidi... Heidi... Sugarberry called to mind her recollection of the trim, soft-spoken teacher. She immediately decided that the mare's friendship would be perfect for Adriano, gentle enough to allow him to blossom and steady enough to give him confidence in his newly-found freedom from Imogene's grasping love.
"I've heard only good things about Heidi," Sugarberry assured the stallion. "I met her only briefly at a writer's meeting last spring, but both Licorice and Wishbone have found her to be an excellent teacher. Have the two of you been dating long?"
Adriano's blush deepened and he shook his head vigorously. "No... no... not dating at all... just talked... both served on same committee... not dating... no."
"But you'd like to?" Sugarberry prompted.
The stallion's eyes met Sugarberry's directly. "Yes... like to."
"Well, then, ask her out!"
This time, Adriano's face blanched. "Don't know how... never had time to date... Mother always saw to that..." He gulped. "Wouldn't know what to say."
"Call her and ask her to dinner or a movie or whatever." Sugarberry's eyes lit up. "Invite her to go to the living nativity with you! You could..." Adriano's crestfallen look stopped Sugarberry's plans. "What is it now?" she asked almost brusquely.
"Thought she was going to ask me," he admitted. "Said she'd call me at the office. Didn't."
"Oh," said Sugarberry, wondering if Heidi had been nice to the stallion but without her heart being involved. But they would be perfect for each other! "Maybe something interfered with her calling you; that doesn't mean that you can't call her."
"Can't..." Adriano shook his head, sending his mane flying. "Told Mattie I'd go with her."
Mattie! Sugarberry was well aware of that little minx's wiles and would be eternally grateful that Mattie looked upon Vanguard as her boss and no more. Allowing Mattie to make the calls where Adriano was concerned would not go well for the stallion... not if he truly was interested in Heidi.
With Adriano sitting in front of her with a pleading look in his eyes that begged for her help, Sugarberry thought of a plan. With a smug expression, she patted Adriano's hoof.
"Don't worry about a thing. By Christmas Eve, you'll have a chance to impress your Heidi."
* * *
Sugarberry lost no time. As soon as Adriano went upstairs to his room, she got on the telephone, calling Mattie and inviting her to come to the house before the living nativity for an informal gathering with hot cocoa, caroling, and conversation. When Mattie tried to demur, Sugarberry purred out her desire to use this opportunity to thank the office secretary for her work for the Mathematics Department in Vanguard's absence and would not take no for an answer. Mattie had no choice but to acquiesce to Sugarberry's plan.
Successfully finishing that call, Sugarberry stood in meditative silence for a moment, her forehoof tapping her chin. With a sudden flash of inspiration, she called Heidi's number and profusely asked a number of grammatical questions of the teacher, siting her current work with the fashion book she was finishing as the basis for her need for information. After listening to Heidi's concisely correct guidance, Sugarberry channeled the conversation to the Christmas Eve celebration of the nativity at the park and ended by inviting Heidi to join their group.
When Heidi tried to beg off, saying that she would feel out of place in such a family gathering, Sugarberry put her on a guilt trip by explaining that since Heidi had been so helpful to her, she- Sugarberry- would be disconsolate if she could not do something in return; hence, before she knew what was happening, Heidi had agreed to come to Sugarberry's house for cocoa and cookies.
By the time Vanguard and Banderol had returned from their trek to Butch's cabin in the Dark Forest, Sugarberry had assured Adriano's future... or so she hoped.
* * *
Wringing her hooves, Heidi looked at the telephone. What had she done, accepting Sugarberry's invitation that way? Surely, Adriano would be at the house, too; and that meeting would be uncomfortable.
Hadn't she called Adriano's office like she had told him she would- and what had come of it? He had ignored the call. And when she had tried again, she had been informed by Mattie that Adriano would now be out of the office until after the holidays. Then the brazen mare had been cocky enough to suggest that Heidi would see him at the living nativity, because he had asked her- Mattie- to accompany him there. Heidi could hear the triumph in the little hussy's voice...
Brushing her hoof across her face in a concentrated effort not to lose her holiday goodwill, Heidi turned to more pleasant thoughts. The university teacher's committee that had worked to secure funds for the needy ponies of the area had succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, meaning that Christmas would be brighter, warmer, and merrier for a large number of unemployed families.
Heidi smiled. It had been a joy working with her compatriots for such a worthy cause, and everyone had entered the spirit of the enterprise full-heartedly. Why, even Adriano, whose ties were with Vulcanopolis, had responded with compassion and enthusiasm, delivering Christmas joy to those less fortunate in worldly goods. He always had a warm smile and a kind word; and the way his mane always fell across his forehead and into his eyes...
The rat had chosen Mattie over her! Oh, why had she ever met that insufferable stallion! Heidi sat down in the nearest chair and cried.
* * *
Christmas Eve arrived, the sky clear and sparkling with stars that seemed to be shouting the message of the angels: Glory to God! The air was cold but not bitterly so; the wintry winds had apparently taken the holiday off; the snow underhoof crunched loudly in the quiet nighttime atmosphere.
At the front door, Sugarberry greeted the latest batch of guests: Mattie, Buttercrunch, and Ages. She extended her brightest holiday greetings and ushered them into the house where Mattie snared Adriano before that stallion could duck out-of-sight. The tormented look he flashed at Sugarberry as he lost all hope of sharing this evening with Heidi caused Sugarberry an apprehensive few moments; but before she closed the door, she took one more look down the street and saw a lone pony coming in her direction.
Closing the door behind her, Sugarberry walked out onto the evergreen bedecked porch and waited patiently for the slow-moving equine to reach the sidewalk. Then, with an enthusiasm that she prayed was not noticeably overplayed, Sugarberry greeted Heidi.
"Merry Christmas! I'm so glad you could join us. Adriano would have been so disappointed if you'd decided not to come."
Heidi ignored the remark about the stallion. "It's my pleasure to be here, Sugarberry. My family is out of town with relatives in Grayton, so I appreciate your invitation."
The mare did not reveal the fact that she had been so lonely since Adriano had ignored her call that she had contemplated following her family east in an effort to forget about the stallion, yet she knew that her arrival in Grayton would only broadcast the fact that she had misjudged Adriano's interest in her; she had no intention of garnering her family's curious glances. Half of her relatives would feel sorry for her, the others would tease her mercilessly.
"Then I'm glad I called you when I did; I almost waited until after the holidays, but I was anxious to get my questions answered. I appreciate your guidance." Sugarberry looked toward the door furtively, then continued. "I'd also like to ask you for further help."
"Ask away, Sugarberry. I'm honored to advise a published author."
"This favor is of a more personal nature, Heidi," Sugarberry admitted, grateful that the only light on the porch was from the tiny Christmas lights that decorated the evergreen boughs so that Heidi could not read her nervousness over such blatant maneuvering of the mare. "You see, I noticed this evening that one of the mare's I invited has been making a nuisance of herself with another of my guests. I'd like you to rescue one of the stallions from an uncomfortable situation."
"Oh, Sugarberry, that kind of thing is out of my league. Ask me anything about proper composition, and I'll give you a knowledgeable answer; but to put myself forward like that..."
Sugarberry silenced the mare with a shake of her head. "I'm not asking you to do anything obvious," she assured Heidi. That was up to Hawkley, who was in on her plan, too. "All you need to do is approach Adriano..."
This time it was Heidi whose head moved in the negative. "No. I won't do it."
"But Mattie is taking advantage of Adriano's... inexperience... and he's not happy at all. Surely you don't want to ruin his Christmas, especially when he's so far from home."
"Adriano's... not happy?"
Sugarberry sighed in relief that Heidi was now at least interested. "He's very unhappy. You see..." Sugarberry could be nothing but truthful, "...well, to be perfectly honest, Adriano was hoping to share this special evening with you; but Mattie caught him off guard and finagled him into her clutches."