Ginseng and Sassafras Tea: Chapter One
written by Sugarberry


Nearly invisible amidst the dense green foliage of the bushes, a lone stallion stood stiffly with dark eyes glaring, watching the intruders in his domain. His family legacy had been plundered because of the infringement of these ponies-- oh, maybe not these particular individuals, but more of their kind, probably from the town. He silently watched as they passed his concealed position; then he melted into the underbrush with the stealth and furtiveness of a panther.

Chapter One

Anyone watching the aqua blue stallion coming down the forest path might have mistaken him for the Pied Piper as he was followed by a group of no less than six rambunctious young ponies of various ages. They all seemed to be having a grand time by the amount of laughter that echoed off the tall, stately trunks of the assorted maples, elms, cedar, and oak trees that decorated this region.

"Uncle Hood, are you sure that sprites live in these woods?" spoke up a petite rose-colored foal, her head turned up to catch the eye of her adult companion, causing her magenta mane to drag in the path.

"Well, Blush, I've never actually seen a sprite around here," admitted Hood, "but I've found signs of the little creatures often enough."

"What signs?" asked a little orange colt disbelievingly. Although there was no outward appearance to attest to the fact, he was Blush's twin brother.

Hood stopped, and surveyed the trees along the path before replying. Seeming to find his answer in their leafy canopy, he spoke. "Their caps, Crush. Their own midget caps."

Crush kicked at the blanket of twigs and leaves on the path and scowled. Uncle Hood had gotten the best of him more than once; he wanted to make sure there were no obvious loopholes now.

Laser, the oldest colt in the group surrounding Hood, grinned knowingly, remembering the day his uncle had baited him with this same piece of information. He kept his mouth shut, however. Let Uncle Hood weave his spell of magic for Blush and Crush and the others.

"Could you find one today, Uncle Hood?" pleaded Blush as she bounced excitedly. "Please?"

Seeing his big sister so enthusiastic, Puzzle-- a mint green toddler following close on Hood's heels-- began begging, too. "Sprite cap! Sprite cap!"

Lacewing, Laser's tomboy younger sister, demanded attention. "There are no such things as sprites." She frowned at her uncle. "You are just teasing."

At this news, Crush found verification of his doubts. "I knew it!" he cried. "You're making this all up!"

Smiling mysteriously, Hood quietly asked, "Would you believe me if I found one? A cap, I mean," he clarified.

"I believe you already," firmly stated Dewdrop, the only foal in the group not related by bloodlines. She was a delicate cream-colored beauty with a cascade of curly sky-blue mane. She gazed trustingly at Hood.

"Thank you, Dewdrop," Hood said formally. "You come up to the head of the group."

Turning to the rest, he directed, "Follow us. But watch your step. You don't want to squash a sprite!" To Dewdrop, he confided, "Think sprite-ish thoughts. That will help us to find a cap."

The now silent group moved cautiously down the path. Each of the young ponies peered intently at the ground, while Hood seemed more engrossed in the leaves overhead. After several minutes, he muttered under his breath, "Finally! An oak tree." Leading the still-entranced ponies past the trunk of the oak, but remaining under the spreading branches, Hood suddenly stopped and raised a hoof. Without a word being spoken, every motion ceased, and all eyes were on Hood.

"What is it, Uncle Hood?" Blush asked cautiously.

Hood's hoof went to his lips as he whispered, "Be quiet. I sense that a sprite has been close by."

Even Crush was drawn into the suspense; and Puzzle, young as he was, sensed the wonder in the air.

Slowly, Hood knelt in the decaying oak leaves scattered about and held out his hoof over them, moving it back and forth, as if honing in on some invisible signal. When all seemed right, he lowered his hoof and moved several oak leaves aside. Then, reverently, he picked-up a small, brown cap from the rich dark soil. Holding the cap in his hoof, he cast his glance on each pony one-by-one. Then, in a deep and sonorous voice, he said, "This, children, is the cap of a sprite."

Laser felt his skin crawl just like the first time he'd heard his uncle intone those words. He shook himself to shed the eerie feeling.

Lacewing stepped forward, breaking the spell. "Are you sure about this, Uncle Hood?" she asked suspiciously. "I've seen..."

But before Lacewing could finish, Laser clamped his hoof over her mouth, and wagged his head to keep her silent. Puzzle, meanwhile, stood in open-mouthed amazement.

"Can I touch it?" Blush asked.

"Yes, but gently," instructed Hood.

The foal bent close to the cap, and touched it quickly, then jumped back. "It feels wet," she worried.

"Of course it's wet on the forest floor," chided Crush. "No sunshine ever gets down there."

Dewdrop approached the diminutive cap and gazed on it quietly before asking permission to hold it. Hood placed it on her extended hoof where she cradled it tentatively.

Blush had been thinking things through, and asked curiously, "Why did the sprite leave his hat here, anyway?"

"Yeah," Crush added. "He'll be in big trouble with his mom for losing it!" This statement was made with the assurance of a colt who had been there, done that.

Solemnly, Hood enlightened his captive audience. "The sprites sleep under the leaves at night; oak leaves are their favorite blankets."

"Blankie," cooed Puzzle, who still shared a special attachment to a silky soft blue blanket that had comforted him since birth.

Hood smiled at his nephew. "Yes, Puzzle, these leaves mean as much to the sprites as your blue blanket does to you."

"So where are the sprites now?" queried Dewdrop.

"That's the sad part," declared Hood. "When they are asleep under the leaves, and ponies come along the path, the sprites run to escape being trampled, and lose their caps in the process."

"Oh, that's horrible!" sniffed Dewdrop.

"Poor sprites!" agreed Blush.

"How come I've never seen one?" demanded Crush.

"You're too noisy," said Blush. "They'd here you from miles away."

"Good point," smiled Hood. "Now, remember that your parents asked each of you to stop going into the forest alone?"

"That really stinks!" complained Crush, who loved to play pretend games in the cool confines of the shaded and magical forest. He had spent many a happy hour fighting dragons, finding unknown species of animals, and stalking villainous bad guys in this haven.

Hood patted the upset colt on his head. "The reason for that is to protect the sprites," Hood explained. "If you stay off the paths, the sprites will get their rest and feel better. As it is, they are getting cranky from lack of sleep."

Crush scoffed. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard!" But Puzzle yawned deeply, which gave Hood the chance to direct his troupe homeward.

Everyone was pensive as they continued on their way. Soon they left the forest behind for a meadow with only a scattering of new growth trees interrupting the expanse of grass and wildflowers. Queen Anne's Lace, Chicory, Spotted Knapweed, and Black-eyed Susan created a vibrant palette of color and a pleasing fragrance.

Beyond the meadow sat the village of Woodland where the ponies had their homes. As they neared the first house, the tired and hungry youngsters revved-up their trot. It would soon be lunchtime and Crush goaded his playmates to top speed. "Last one home's a rotten egg!" Puzzle squealed in dismay as the older foals ran on ahead, while his little hooves raced frantically to keep pace.

Laser, on the other hoof, held back to keep stride with his uncle. When the others had gained enough distance ahead so as not to overhear his conversation, Laser spoke. "The sprite cap story was as good as ever, Uncle Hood."

"And thanks to you shushing Lacewing, the littlest ones don't need to know for several years yet that those brown caps are nothing but the tops of the acorn seeds off the oak tree."

"But why did you add that part about us pestering the sprites so much that we have to stay out of the forest?" pondered Laser.

Hood didn't answer immediately. He sized up his nephew besides him and considered what amount of the truth to share with this serious-minded colt. When Hood finally responded, his words were spoken more seriously than Laser had ever heard him speak before. "There is a danger lurking in the forest, Laser, a danger that we don't yet understand. And until we do, the forest is off-limits to you and your friends. Do you understand?"

Laser looked up at his uncle with wide, round eyes. He intuitively knew this was a grave moment and that Uncle Hood was counting on him. "Yes, Uncle Hood. I understand."

Go Back to Novels Index
Go Back to Tabby's Dream Valley