• Published 31st Oct 2011
  • 1,396 Views, 14 Comments

Patchwork - Kegisak



Caramel runs away from Sweet Apple Acres, and finds a small village hidden in the woods.

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2
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 1,396

Chapter 3

Patchwork

Pt. 3

“And how are we this morning?” Powder asked with a more sullen tone than normal. Caramel lifted himself up with some difficulty, and smiled at the mare.

“Good,” he said, “My ribs and shoulder still hurt, but the rest of me isn’t sore anymore. How about you?”

“I’m fine,” she replied, “aside from a headache, but even if I could get rid of it, it’d be coming right back. I have to check on Cherry’s hoof again today. How bad are the ribs and shoulder? Dull ache? Sharp pain when you move? Any trouble breathing at all?”

“The shoulder hurts when I move it too far, and I get a sharp pain in my side if I breathe too deep, but most of the time it’s just a dull ache.”

“Sounds like you’re coming along well,” Powder nodded, “Let me have a look at you ribs.” She lifted Caramels hoof, and pressed his side gently. It stung, but Caramel could handle it without flinching now.

“It’s alright,” she said, “everything is healing nicely. Now, let’s get you on your hooves.” She helped him crawl out of bed and through the house, but Caramel found he had an easier time walking today - if only just. They stopped for a moment as Caramel rummaged through the saddlebags he had brought with him from Ponyville, slipping what he retrieved into his sling. Then, they were out the door.

“Don’t go too far from the village,” Powder told him, sounding for all the world like a mother worrying over her foal, “I don’t want you getting too tired to come back home, especially if you’re too far away to find. Alright?”

“Don’t worry,” Caramel told her, “I won’t be going far.“

“Good,” Powder nodded, “Come back here as soon as you start to feel tired. I’ll probably be making my rounds until about midday, so I’ll see you then.” Caramel nodded, and Powder set off, her head hung low as she made her way towards what Caramel assumed to be the blacksmith’s home. Caramel himself headed towards the forest, where he found Tack waiting for him eagerly.

“Hiya mister Caramel!” She said happily, bounding over to him.

“Hey, Tack,” Caramel smiled at her, sitting down, “You’re here awful early, aren’t you?”

“Oh, I always get up early,” she told him, “so I can check on the road before Papa needs me for work!”

“Always? So, does that mean you went to look at the road before I fell down?”

“Uh-huh! I found it when I was little, and I wanted to find out what it was, so I always got up early to go there and try and find out! Then you fell down, and now I know what it is!”

“Well, looks like I got to teach you something new, then, “Caramel said to the grinning filly, “And I’ve got something new to teach you about today, too, I bet.”

“Really? What is it?”

“I’ll bet you haven’t ever had one of these, have you?” Caramel asked, pulling a few caramel chews out of his sling, “They’re candies.”

“Oooh,” Tack said, taking one that Caramel offered her, “what are they for?”

“You eat them,” Caramel told her, popping one into his mouth, “Like this!” Tack did the same, placing it carefully on her tongue. Her face lit up, and she grinned nearly ear to ear.

“Wow,” she exclaimed, “I’ve never had anything that tastes like that before! Where did you get them?”

“I made them,” Caramel told her, “That was my job, where I came from. Lots of ponies made candies.”

“Really? Did you all eat candies all the time?”

“Not all the time,” Caramel told her. “They aren’t good for you if you eat them all the time, so we just had them as treats.”

“So,” Tack said, her tiny forehead scrunching up as she thought, “Where you come from, ponies get to choose what they do, even if you don’t really need it?”

“That’s right,” Caramel told her, “In fact, a lot of ponies end up doing jobs that aren’t really necessary, like styling manes, or drawing pictures - there are some ponies whose entire job is to learn new things, or tell other ponies things.”

“Really?” Tack asked him. Her face was lit up like a Christmas tree, and Caramel couldn't help but return the smile. He felt a twinge of sadness for her, but he told himself that, if he was right, he wouldn’t have to.

“So, how about you, Tack,” he asked her, steering the conversation, “How do you like cobbling with you Papa?”

“Weeell,” she said, some of the light fading from her face, “It’s okay. But it takes a long time, and you have to sit in one place while you’re doing it, and it’s really hard. But I get to spend time with Papa while he teaches me to do it, so it’s not so bad.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Caramel said. In fact, it sounded a bit like how he first learned to make caramel, working with his favorite Aunt. “So you like it, then?”

“I guess. I wish I didn’t have to some days, but Mama and Papa both say I have to, so I have to, I guess.”

“Do you know what you would do if you didn’t have to?”

“I dunno,” Tack said, “I never really thought about it... ’cause Papa started teaching me when I was really, really little. I never really had any time.” She looked past Caramel, and stood up. “I gotta go, now. Papa’s gonna come out looking soon, and he was mad at me for being late yesterday... It was nice talking to you again mister Caramel!”

“Yeah, it was,” Caramel said. The filly bounced past him, parting through the pathways and those few ponies that were already out. Caramel stood up, and started to make his way back to Powder’s house, but stopped. If he wanted to help Tack, he would need to get better soon, and that meant exercising like Powder wanted. So, he decided to circle around the village and try to see more of it. Which, as it turned out, was a bad idea.

After a few hours of walking, Caramel managed to lurch his way back to Powder’s shack. He leaned against the door to open it, revealing Powder sitting at her table. She quickly left the table, however, leaping up to help Caramel. Despite moving fast, all she had to say was a weary sigh, and an “I told you not to push yourself.”

“I did what you said,” Caramel told her, grinning sheepishly as she helped him back into bed, “I came back as soon as I started to get tired. I was just... on the other side of the village when I started getting tired.”

“Well...” Powder said, looking for a way to stay upset about him, “You could have asked somepony for help, or to come get me, at least.”

“I didn’t know if you were busy?”

“Caramel, you are by far my most important patient right now. Nopony else has anything worse that a mild cold. I can make time for you.”

“... Thanks, Powder.” Caramel said. He settled into his trusty mattress groove, and stared at the ceiling as Powder began writing notes at her desk again. He began mulling over words in his head, practicing putting them together in different ways. Finally, he spoke.

“Powder?” He asked. The unicorn mare looked up from her work.

“What’s the matter,” she asked, “Do you need something?”

“No, no,” Caramel shook his head, “Well... Sort of. But it’s not really something you can do for me. Actually, it’s something I can do for you.” Powder gave him a puzzled, and perhaps somewhat suspicious look, but he continued, “You’ve done a lot for me, Powder, and I want to make it up to you.”

“Is that all?” Powder shook her head, “I’m a doctor, this is what I do.”

“You’re a doctor for your village,” Caramel pointed out, “You do this for them, but not for me. You didn’t have to drag me all the way here.”

“So what, I should have just left you out there to die?” She asked, smirking at him. Caramel shook his head.

“Well, no, but - look, that’s not the point. I want to do something for you, but not just for you, either.”

“What do you mean?”

“I want... I ran away from home because I didn’t like doing what I was doing.” Caramel told Powder. He saw her eyes narrow for just an instant, and he knew exactly what she was thinking: that he was selfish, and stupid. He carried on, “But at least I had a choice in what I was doing. I was stupid, and I know it. You, and everypony here, you never got that choice. I’m... well, I was a flank-hole. But I want to make it up to you.”

“And just how do you expect to do that,” Powder asked skeptically. Caramel swallowed hard, and asked her the question.

“How long until my hoof heals enough that I can apprentice under the cobbler?”

Powder stared at him for a long time. Her expression seemed to be always changing, starting confused, then moving on to worried, and passing quickly through realization on to incredulity and finally settling into anger. She turned away from him, and went back to furiously scribbling her notes.

“Powder,” Caramel said, but she cut him off.

“No.” She hissed, “I’m not helping you do this. I don’t know what you think is going to come out of this, but all that’s going to happen is you’re going to set some poor little filly up for disappointment.”

“But what if it worked?” Caramel insisted, what if Tack got her cutie mark?”

“Yes, Caramel, what if!?” Powder shouted, whipping around to face him, “What if she got her cutie mark? I’ll tell you what would happen, she’d find out what she was meant to do with her life, and she wouldn’t. Be. Able. To. Do. It. Ev-er. Because she’s going to be the cobbler. That’s how things work here, Caramel. We do the jobs that we’re given, whether we want to or not!”

“But what if you didn’t have to?” Caramel shouted back, “What if she could go somewhere else? Do what she wants there?”

“And just abandon her family?”

“I found my way here, didn’t I? She could come back!”

“That isn’t what I’m talking about! Somepony needs to be the cobbler! Tack has a responsibility to her family and to the village. Brumby isn’t like Ponyville, Caramel. We don’t get to be happy, here. We get to live. We get one, or the other. Not both.”

“You have plenty of farmers, why can’t you let go of one to be the cobbler!? Why can’t her parents make their next foal their apprentice? Why should Tack have to be miserable, just because the rest of you are?”

“Why should Tack get to be happy when the rest of us are miserable!?” Powder screamed. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she turned away from him. “Just... drop it,” she said quietly.

“Powder... her parents would listen to you. You’d make it a lot easier to convince them. But I’m going to do this, one way or the other.”

“Drop it,” Powder repeated, “Please, Caramel, Drop it.” She stood up, and walked into the next room, pausing only to tell Caramel, “Call if you need anything.”

Powder and Caramel hardly spoke over the following days. Every morning and evening, Powder would ask him how he felt, and test his side and shoulder. She was always gentle, even in the beginning when she seemed angriest at him. As the week wore on, though, her demeanor turned less angry, and more just... sad.

Every day, Caramel felt a bit better. He was able to walk around the village a bit longer, stretching into the town’s lunch and the afternoon. He only spoke with Tack once or twice in the mornings, but when he was finally able to make it to lunch, he would often eat with her. Finally, a full week and a half after he first came to the village, Powder woke him up and made her routine inspection of him. She rubbed his back, gently running her hooves over his shoulder.

“Tell me if this hurts,” she said. She pushed down on his muscle in a few different places.

“A bit,” Caramel said, “But it’s just an ache. Not really a sharp pain.” Powder nodded, and smiled faintly.

“Your ribs still have a ways to go,” she told him, “But you shoulder is much better. In fact - “ Caramel felt his sling lifted gently by her magic, and the knot that held his hoof in the air came undone. “You should be able to walk normally now,” she told him proudly, “Try it out.”

Caramel put his hoof down gingerly. He felt almost nothing beyond the normal ache in his should when he stood on all fours. Smiling, he put more weight on it, just to see how far he could go, before Powder chastised him.

“Stop that,” she said sharply, “you’re going to hurt it again.”

“Sorry,” Caramel said, hanging his head. Powder sighed, and prodded his should gently.

“You know,” she told him, “I can think of a much better way to see how good it is. Better for you, too.”

“What’s that?” Caramel asked. Powder gave him a faint smirk, one that he couldn’t really place.

“The best way to help a muscle injury is to heal is to work it,” she told him, “Just a little bit at a time, just enough to make sure it stays about the same size while it heals. Walking is good, but it puts pressure on the muscle. An easy activity is much better - something that requires you to move your arms, but not too much...” She flipped open a book, and tried to look like she was reading it. A hopeful smile formed on Caramel’s face as he realized what she was doing.

“In fact,” she told him, “I’ve heard that shoemaking is good for the shoulder.”

“Yes!” Caramel cried, throwing his hooves around Powder’s neck, “Thank you, Powder!” The purple unicorn coughed sheepishly, but chided Caramel.

“Alright, alright, that’s enough of that,” she told him, “I still think this is a dumb idea. But...” She shuffled her hooves, and said, “I guess if it works, it’ll be worth it. Anyways, just because I’m helping you doesn’t mean that it will work. We still need to convince the cobbler.”

“Right,” Caramel said setting his hooves back on the ground, “right. So, um. How do we do that, exactly?”

“You were ready to go ahead without me, but you didn’t have a plan?” Powder asked, cocking an eyebrow at him.

“I had a plan,” Caramel insisted, “just, I didn’t think you were helping me, so I had a different plan.” It probably seemed like a thin lie, but Caramel had in fact had a plan. It wasn’t a very good one, he would admit - It involved little more than persistence and lies - but it was still a plan.

“Well, it doesn’t matter,” Powder said, “I’ll just try telling him that I want you to work for him, to exercise your shoulder. Simple enough.”

“And if he doesn’t go for it?” Caramel asked. Powder shrugged, and said,

“Then we drop it. Got it?”

“... Got it,” Caramel said. He made a note to keep his plan for backup. Hopefully, though, it wouldn’t come to that.

Powder led Caramel through town in their now usual silence. Caramel was nervous, now that he was this close to his plan. It lay as much in the hooves of lady luck as it did in his, or Powder’s, and all he could do was hope that Tack’s father was open-minded. That was the worst part, for Caramel. Soon enough, they had crossed the fields, and Powder brought him to a small shack. She knocked on the door, and they waited.

The door was opened by a slim looking colt, with a white coat and mane. He looked between the two ponies for a moment, before directing his attention to Powder.

“Morning, Powder,” he said, “I’m afraid you’ve surprised me... much as I’d like to say it’s a pleasant one, I’m a bit worried.

“Nothing’s wrong, Jute,” she told the colt, “Though I may want to see how your wife is coming along, since I’m here. May we come in?”

“Alright,” The pony called Jute nodded, opening the door for the pair. They walked inside, and Caramel could see their home was much the same as Powder’s, one room to serve as a workplace, and one to act as a living area. Tack, as Caramel had predicted, was nowhere to be seem. There was a mare, however, by the counter. Her coat was a deep, muddy yellow colour, accented by a thick brown mane, and she was heavy with foal.

“Good morning, Powder,” the mare greeted, “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Powder smiled at the mare, “I’ve been better, but I’m good. How are you, Cocoa? Holding together alright?”

“Oh, you know me,” Cocoa laughed, “I’m getting by. The dear’s going to be just like her big sister, I think - she was kicking up a storm, last night. Here, why don’t I find you a seat?”

“No, no,” Powder waved off the suggestion, placing a hoof against Cocoa’s belly, “I may as well take a look at you anyways...”

Caramel watched the two mares chat from near the doorway. He got the impression that the two knew each other quite well - they may even have been whatever the rough purple mare counted as friends. Jute came over and sat beside him.

“I don’t think I’ll be finding out what Powder wanted for a while,” he joked, “You’re her favorite patient, right? The one who fell down from the road? Eh...” He scratched his neck, “I’m useless for names... what was it?”

“Caramel,” he introduced himself, offering his hoof. Jute shook it heartily, introducing himself as well.

“Jute,” he said, “The town cobbler.”

“Yes, I think I’ve met your daughter, Tack,” Caramel said. Jute laughed.

“I’ll bet,” he said, “The filly’s the one who found you out by the road, I wouldn’t doubt she’d want to see you again after all that. I hope she didn’t bother you too much.”

“Oh, no,” Caramel said, “I like foals. She’s nice, actually. Pretty, um, chatty, but nice.”

“That’s a good word for her, chatty,” Jute nodded, “Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. So, Caramel, how are you liking our village, so far?”

“It’s... different,” Caramel answered. This wasn’t the first time he’d been asked that question, and he had a well-practiced answer by now. “You do things much differently here than where I’m from. It’s much more organized.”

“Is that so?” Jute nodded solemnly, “Well, I don’t know about organized, really. We just do things the way they’ve always been done here. It works for us, I suppose.” Caramel nodded as well, when Powder turned away from the pregnant mare to address Jute.

“I need a favour, Jute.” She said bluntly. The white pony cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Can’t imagine what I could really do for you,” Jute said, “But I suppose I could give it a try. What do you need?” Powder trotted over to Caramel, and patted his injured shoulder gently.

“Caramel tore his shoulder when he fell off the road. It’s healed a bit, but it still has a long way to go. Working it a bit will help it heal faster... I was hoping you might let him work for you. It would work his shoulder just enough to be helpful, so he’d recover much faster.” Jute blinked at the purple pony a few times.

“You want him to work for me,” he asked incredulously. Caramel tensed up, fearing that he would reject the proposal.

“For a few weeks,” Powder told him.

“Why me,” Jute asked, “And not somepony else?”

“You have the finest job,” Powder answered, “Anything else would work the shoulder too hard, and damage it again.”

“Hm,” Jute said, scratching his chin. “Hmmm...” Caramel’s heart pounded in his chest as Jute mulled it over. Suddenly, the white pony turned to Caramel and asked,

“You have much experience, shoemaking?”

“N-not really,” Caramel admitted. Jute carried on,

“Well, my apprentice right now isn’t far away from no experience. It’s fine work. Very detailed. Think you have a head for that?”

“Yes,” Caramel answered, “I did fine work back in Ponyville - I mixed candy. You need to watch all the ingredients, make sure they blend and boil just right, or it’ll come out bad.” Jute nodded thoughtfully, and continued to scratch his chin.

“Well,” he said, finally, “I don’t know what candy is, so I can’t say I know if you’re telling the truth or not. Still, though, things have been slow lately. Having a bad apprentice won’t hurt too much, if it’s only for a few weeks.”

Caramel breathed a sigh of relief. The hard part of the plan was over, now. All he would have to do is work for long enough for Tack to realize what she wanted to do with her life. His heart froze up again when Jute spoke next, though.

“But what’s Tack supposed to do in the meantime?” He said, “There’s hardly enough work for one apprentice, let alone two.” Caramel looked over at Powder, who didn’t seem to have any answers either. It was Cocoa who came to the rescue, saying,

“I’m sure Tack can handle a little time off, dear,” she laughed at her husband, “It’s not as if everything you’ve taught her will dribble out her ears. Look at how well she remembers things she isn’t supposed to know!”

“That’s what I’m worried about,” Jute smirked, “She’ll just run around, filling her little head full of everything she can shove in there, and knock out everything she’s learned.” Cocoa gave him the special sort of look that only a wife can give her husband, and he sighed.

“You’re right, you’re right,” he said, “It won’t hurt. Alright, Powder, I’ll take on your patient. But!” He added to Caramel, “Just because I’m taking on a patient, doesn’t mean I’ve got patience. I expect you to work hard and listen well, you hear me?”

“Yes, sir.” Caramel said from beneath Jute’s stern glare. The white pony broke his glare and laughed.

“Don’t you worry, Caramel, I’m sure you’ll do fine. You can just call me Jute, like everypony else.”

“Right,” Caramel said, “Thanks Jute.”

“No worries! Now,” he looked at Powder, “Unless you wanted him to get a bit more rest first, we should get started on today’s work!”

“No, no,” Powder replied, standing up, “You can have him. I need to get home and update my notes. Cocoa, you take it easy, alright? You’re pretty far along, I don’t want you getting to stressed out.”

“Oh, stop worrying about me,” Cocoa laughed, “Get on, you old nag you.” Powder shook her head and chuckled, and headed out the door.

“I’ll see you later tonight,” she told Caramel, and was off. Jute closed the door behind her, and led Caramel into the next room.

Most of the room was filled with shelves full of broken or half-finished shoes, but at the far end there was a large table cluttered with strange tools. Some of them Caramel could recognize, like a wooden model of a hoof, and a hammer and a pair of pliers, but many of them appeared alien to him. Jute sat down at the table, and beckoned for Caramel to sit on the stool beside him.

“Now,” Jute declared, “We’ve only got a few repairs to get through today, so don’t you worry about messing up at all. I can fix anything you mess up in only a little time, as long as you aren’t completely rubbish - and if it looks like you’re going to ruin the shoe, I’ll stop you anyways. So, let’s get started!” He pulled a shoe down from the shelf beside him. It was torn along the sole, and Jute passed it over to Caramel.

“This one’s a pretty easy fix,” he told the yellow pony, “See if you can guess which tool you’re supposed to use.” Caramel stared at the broad selection of tools before him. He could guess from the damage that it involved sewing, but there didn’t seem to be anything like a needle and thread there. He started looking through his options, mentally writing off the obviously wrong answers.

Hammer... no. Pliers... probably not... T shaped metal thing... His thoughts were interrupted, however, when Tack came crashing through the door.

“Sorry I’m late Papa!” She cried, skidding to a halt in the middle of the floor. Both Jute and Caramel turned around to look at her. “Caramel?” She asked, tilting her head quizzically, “What are you doing here?”

“Powder asked me to take him on,” Jute told her, “He’s going to be helping me out in the shop for the next few weeks.

“She said it would help my shoulder get better,” Caramel explained.

“So...” Tack said, tilting her head to the other side, “Caramel’s gonna be doing what I’m supposed to be doing?”

“That’s about right,” Jute nodded, “for a while, at least.”

“So what am I supposed to do?”

Jute scratched his chin again. Caramel saw Cocoa poke her head in the doorway, and she and Jute shared a few meaningful glances - and one odd eyebrow waggle on Cocoa’s part. Finally, Jute shrugged.

“Whatever you want, I suppose,” he said. Tack put on possibly the widest grin that Caramel had ever seen, nearly splitting her face in half.

“Really!?” She asked, hopping excitedly in place. Her father nodded, and she shouted with glee. “I’m gonna go outside, okay?” she asked, barely waiting for her mother to say it was alright before she dashed out of the small hut. All three of the ponies left behind shared a laugh at her joy.

“You boys call if you need anything,” Cocoa said, shutting the door on them.

“Now,” Jute said, turning back to the table, “Where were we?”

“Um,” Caramel said, picking up something that seemed to be a spike with a bulbous handle, “Do I have to use this thing?”

“Close,” Jute said, “Close.” He reached past Caramel and picked up a nearly identical tool. “What you’re holding is a pegging awl,” he explained, “And this is a stitching awl. Now, let me show you how this works, then you can give it a try.”

***

“... And that’s that!” Jute declared, setting the finished shoe down on the table, “Good job!”

“Thanks,” Caramel said, looking at the shoe. He had helped Jute put it together, but in truth the white colt had done most of the work on it. Caramel inspected the set of shoes that he had repaired himself. They would probably hold together, at least for a while, but Next to Jute’s they looked flimsy and shoddy, and he said so.

“They don’t look like they’ll hold together long, though,” he said. Jute inspected them as well, and shrugged.

“Well, they wouldn’t, would they?” He said, “But you did pretty good for you first time. And hey, most ponies wouldn’t be able to spot that they won’t last long. I think you may have a knack for this, colt.”

“You think so?” Caramel asked. Aside from his shoulder objecting whenever he tried to move his arm too much, the work hadn’t been very hard. He’d sort of enjoyed it, too. It was a lot like making candy, in a way. He had to pay very close attention to what he was doing, and it all had to be done just right, otherwise the shoes would turn out... well, like the ones that he had made.

“Well, that’s it for the day,” Jute said, getting up from his stool and stretching. Caramel did the same, though his side kept him from enjoying the stretch too much. Just then, to door to the workshop opened, revealing Cocoa and a very tired, but very happy looking Tack.

“Hey, girls,” Jute said, “What’s up?”

“It’s time for dinner, dear,” Cocoa said. “Caramel, would you like to come and eat with us tonight?”

“Um,” Caramel said, a bit taken aback by the offer. Still, it wasn’t like he had anypony else to eat with. “Sure,” he said, “I’d love to!”

Caramel walked out of the family’s home with them, circling around behind the house to the clearing where the villagers came to eat. As they lined up to receive their food, Jute recounted the results of the day’s work to his wife.

“Sounds like Powder’s colt is a bit of a natural,” Cocoa said, jostling the young colt carefully. Caramel smiled shyly, and shuffled his hooves.

“Naw, my shoes weren’t that great,” Caramel said, scratching his neck humbly, “I’m sure Tack’s much better than I am.”

“A bit,” Jute admitted, “But she’s been learning for a while.”

“Ooh!” Tack chimed in, “Maybe if you get better than me, you can be Papa’s ‘prentice, and I can just do what I did today!”

“I don’t think so, kiddo,” Jute laughed, “Caramel’s only working until his shoulder gets better, ain’t that right?”

“Right,” Caramel agreed. Of course, if he was lucky the truth would lay somewhere between the two. “So, Tack, what did you do today, anyways?” He asked as they were served their meals. Tack tried to speak around her bowl, but couldn’t quite manage it. She dashed off suddenly, leaving the three ponies to exchange a glance, and follow after the filly. When they caught up with her she had set her bowl on the ground, and was ready to launch into the no doubt epic tale of what she had gotten up to that day.

“I went aaaall around the village today!” Tack proclaimed proudly, “But I didn’t bother anypony, don’t worry. I just listened to a lot of ponies talk to each other while they worked!”

“Is that so?” He mother asked, “So, did you learn anything interesting?”

“Uh-huh!” Tack nodded vigorously, “I learned that the corn’s doing well this year, but the wheat isn’t, and missus Bess the cow isn’t feeling so good lately because the milk stallion keeps sneaking off to be with the head farmer in the fields - “

“Uh, maybe you shouldn’t go talking to Bess anymore, sweetie,” Cocoa said, “Those sorts of things should stay between the farmer and the milk colt. Did you learn anything else today?”

“I learned that Cherry’s hoof doesn’t hurt anymore!” she said, “but he keeps asking Powder to look at it because he likes it when she talks to him! And then I went and played in the forest for a bit!”

“Is that so?” Caramel asked, “I’ll bet Powder will want to hear about that.”

“You think so?” Tack asked. Caramel nodded, and she stood up happily. “Wait here!” She cried, darting off across the clearing. She returned not long after, not looking terribly happy.

“I don’t think Miss Powder was too happy to hear that, Caramel,” she said, “she looked awful mad when I told her... What’s so funny?”

“Oh... don’t worry about it,” Caramel said. He, Jute and Cocoa were all trying very hard not to laugh.

“I’m sure Powder is happy you told her, dear,” Cocoa explained, “But I imagine she’s less than pleased with Cherry at the moment.”

The little family chatted away happily as they ate their meal. The longer the night stretched on, the less Tack seemed to be able to talk. After a while she began to yawn, and eventually she propped herself up against her father, and began to snore gently. Jute chuckled gently, and Cocoa stood up.

“I think that’s our cue to head home, dear,” she said. She gently lifted the sleepy filly onto Jute’s back, who stood as well.

“Do you need any help getting back to Powder’s house?” The white stallion asked Caramel, who shook his head.

“No, thank you,” he said, “I think I’ll be fine.” Jute nodded.

“I’ll see you tomorrow then - try and show up about the same time you did today, if you think you can managed it. I know how much Powder likes her patients to rest, though, so don’t worry too much about it.”

“Alright,” Caramel said, standing himself, “I’ll see you all again tomorrow.” The ponies went their separate way, Jute and Cocoa taking Tack back to their little home, and Caramel making his way through the pathways to Powder’s little hut. He could see a small light glowing inside, and opened the door to see Powder at her table.

“There you are,” she said, “I was beginning to worry I’d have to go over to Cocoa’s and carry you home.”

“No, no,” Caramel said, “I was just having dinner with them.”

“Making friendly, huh?” she asked absently. Caramel took a seat across from her.

“What’s the matter,” he asked, “Cherry getting to you, or something?”

“No, I -” Powder said, pausing. “How did you know about that?”

“Tack told you about Cherry, didn’t she? I don’t think Tack can really help herself but to tell ponies about things.”

“Hm,” Powder chuckled, “You’re probably right about that. No, I suppose I’m just sort of wondering if this is the right thing to do, still.”

“What, you mean Tack?” Caramel asked. Powder nodded. “Why wouldn’t it be?” Caramel asked.

“Caramel, do we really need to have this discussion again? There’s just... I have no idea what’s going to happen if it works. I’m just worried we’ll crush the poor girl.”

“Powder,” Caramel said quietly. He reached across the table and put his hoof on Powder’s, “It’ll be fine. I spent too much of my life doing things half-way. I’m not going to anymore. If Tack gets her cutie mark, then I promise, I’ll see it through. I’ll make sure she gets to be happy. Okay?”

“... You mean that?”

“Absolutely.”

Powder stared across the table at Caramel. He couldn’t quite decipher her expression, but after a while, she sighed, and smiled.

“Alright,” she said, “Thank you.”

“No problem,” Caramel smiled back, “So... did you talk to Cherry, after all?” Powder’s expression fell.

“Thanks,” she said, “I had almost forgotten about that idiot. No, I didn’t say anything,” she grinned evilly, and added, “Yet. He never eats with his father... so I’m waiting until tomorrow to talk to him about it.”