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The Forfeit
written by Tabby


One fine August morning, Tabby came skidding down the grand staircase of her home and into the kitchen area. “Oh, it is so late! I’ll never get ready on time! Why didn’t you wake me up!” This frenzied speech was accompanied by much slamming of cupboard drawers.

“I did, but you obviously weren’t very conscious of it.” Thomas lowered the newspaper he was reading and eyed her critically. “And you know, a brownie isn’t a very nutritious breakfast.”

Tabby’s only comment was something mumbled about “no time, no time!” and she was about to rush out of the room again when Thomas grabbed her hoof to stall her.

“Wait, Tabby. Don’t you remember what today is?”

For the first time that day Tabby paused to think. What day was it? Well, it was August something-or-other. She never kept track of days. But there was a large bouquet of flowers sitting on the table, which was unusual. Tabby gave up and, cocking her head, stared at her husband cautiously. “Nooo... what is it?”

“Nothing too important, I guess,” he said, striving for a joking tone, but there was disappointment evident in his eyes. “Just our anniversary. Three years together.”

A strangled sort of cry came from Tabby as the full significance of this sunk in. Her face paled. “Our... anniversary?” She slowly sank on her knees down to the floor. “Oh, Thomas, I’m so sorry! I-I forgot. I’ve just been so busy and- oh, you’re mad at me, aren’t you!” Then her eyes started welling up with tears as they always did when she decided someone was mad at her.

Thomas just sighed and stroked her mane absentmindedly as she lay her head in his lap. “It’s all right. You have been doing a lot: helping Bolivia settle in, and working with Spike on the new museum exhibits, and digging in your flower garden.” He laughed, but it was a hollow sound. “I can see why an insignificant day like this would vanish into your schedule.”

“Oh, don’t talk like that!” Tabby said fiercely, grabbing his hoof and staring at him beseechingly. “It isn’t that I- it’s just that- oh, just tell me what I can do to make up for it! I’ll do anything! Just- just stop looking at me like that.”

Thomas shook his head and smiled wryly. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been so sarcastic with you.” He held her close. “I suppose it’s just selfish of me to expect to spend any time with my lovely wife.” Tabby started to protest, but he silenced her with a kiss. “Never mind. But I expect a forfeit from you for forgetting. After work we go off to be alone. Just you and me, for the rest of the day. No interruptions no obligations, only us. Agreed?”

“But I-“ Tabby started to say without thinking, but quickly corrected herself. Those engagements were hardly important enough to put off precious time with her husband. “Of course,” she amended with a quick kiss of her own. “With pleasure.”

“That’s better. I’ll be counting the hours until then.” Reluctantly Thomas released her.

Tabby backed off slowly, still a bit overcome with giddiness. “Well, I’ll get Faline ready,” she offered. “At this rate, we really will be late!”

* * *
Later on, Faline was happily settled in for an evening spent with “Aunt” Sugarberry and little Banderol. A picnic basket had also been prepared in advance, courtesy of the same Sugarberry after a call from Thomas that morning. And thus armed, Thomas and Tabby set off for the mysterious rendezvous point Thomas had alluded to.

“But where are we going?” Tabby demanded, as their path started leading into the Dark Forest.

“It’s a surprise,” was all Thomas would say. “You’ll have to wait and see.”

“But in the Dark Forest?”

“I thought you liked the Dark Forest.”

“Well, yes, for bonfires and stuff, but it just doesn’t seem... very...”

“Romantic?” Thomas supplied. “Well, we’re almost there. You’ll see soon enough. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in any case.”

“Ooh!” Tabby was suddenly struck speechless as they entered a forest clearing that was no ordinary forest clearing. Indeed, it seemed to contain remnants of a long-ago civilization which had mostly been overgrown and assimilated by the forest. What remained was a stone pavilion open to the sky above. There was a short stone wall built around the circular design; and at one end, a stone canopy formed a sheltering room. The area had apparently been used for open-air dining at one time, as the remains of the a stone table and benches remained. Upon further inspection, Tabby realized that a striking mosaic made out of colored stones decorated the floor, picturing ponies of long ago. A grassy slope off to the side led down to a quiet stream running further into the forest, and the ground was covered with wildflowers. Tabby fell in love with the spot instantly.

“This is the first time I’ve ever brought anyone else here,” Thomas finally broke the silence, draping a foreleg across her neck. “I came across it by accident shortly after coming to Dream Valley. Before the wedding I always snuck out here when I wanted to be alone.”

“And after the wedding I suppose I never gave you the chance to sneak away,” Tabby said coyly.

“Or I just didn’t want to.”

Tabby blushed slightly and set the picnic basket down on the rock wall. “Thank you,” she said simply. “For bringing me here, I mean. It is very lovely.”

Thomas looked at her as if to say he could think of even lovelier things than this, but instead just replied, “I’m glad.” The next instant Tabby found herself swept up in his embrace being kissed soundly.

“Oh,” she said, a trifle breathlessly after he had released her. “This is exactly what I needed, you know. To get away from everything for awhile. I’ve been so busy-“

”Yes, you have,” he agreed.

“And I’m afraid... I’m afraid I’d started taking you for granted. I have been treating you very shabbily.” She threw her forelegs around his neck and clung to him as if the world depended on it. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

“I was afraid you didn’t care anymore,” he said softly, holding her close again.

“Oh, no, never,” she smiled up at him. “I just needed a reminder.”

“If you ever need one again, just ask.”

“Oh, Thomas, I do love you,” Tabby sighed contentedly. “Believe me I do, even if I get sidetracked sometimes.”

“And I do love you, even if you’re a featherheaded ditz most of the time.”

“Mm,” said Tabby dreamily. “I love it when you call me that.”

“A featherheaded ditz? Then I’ll use it more often.”

“And do you suppose we could look for crayfish in that stream later?” Tabby looked up at him hopefully.

“Ditz,” Thomas laughed. “Very well. But first, why don’t we see what Sugarberry provided for dinner?”

“Okay,” Tabby agreed readily. They proceeded to enjoy a pleasurable meal out in the open.

After dessert Thomas brought up a topic of some importance. “I’ve been invited by a former colleague of mine to attend a veterinary conference in New Pony next month,” he broached the subject.

“But not me?” Tabby pouted.

“You were included in the invitation as well,” Thomas hastened to assure her. “Do you want to go?”

“Oh, yes!” Tabby said, going starry-eyed. “There would be so much lovely shopping to do in New Pony!”

“The main objective of any trip,” Thomas said dryly. “You might also be interested in the fact that this conference’s objective is to find out more about the magic injections.”

“But the recipe’s expired and stuff,” Tabby pointed out. “They can’t learn much from that. They’d need to go straight to the source, find out who created the magic behind it in the first place.”

“Steuben claims that another freelance veterinarian has been discovered who is currently making use of the magic injections, and says she has information on their origin and how they work,” Thomas explained. “The conference is to determine the veracity of her claims and whether or not her solution is workable in fact.”

“Sounds interesting,” Tabby said, eyes gleaming. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“You were busy,” Thomas shrugged. “I take your enthusiasm for a ‘yes’?”

“Most assuredly!”

“I’ve also been thinking,” Thomas said suddenly, “of upgrading our clinic to a larger faculty.”

“Oh?” said Tabby, prodding him for more details.

“Well, there are a lot of new families with pets moving into the area. The workload is getting quite heavy for just us alone. And perhaps an addition onto the preexisting building. Steuben has a new surgery unit at his place in New Pony. I’d like to take a look at that and get some ideas.”

“It sounds exciting!” Tabby said enthusiastically. “We can even do some scouting for potential future employees while we’re out there. Hunt up aimlessly wandering college grads and all, y’know.”

“Ah, yes, aimlessly wandering college grads. I can sympathize with them,” Thomas reminisced.

You were an aimlessly wandering college grad?” Tabby said incredulously.

“We don’t all have rich parents to help us open our own clinic,” Thomas said, flicking a flower at her.

“Ooooooh,” Tabby said, catching the flower and adding it to her hair. “I guess that’s true. Ooh, and I’ve got to see if there are any crayfish down there!” Thus terminating the current topic of discussion, Tabby scrambled down the streambank and eagerly watched for any of her beloved crustaceans to make an appearance. Thomas soon joined her, and together they succeeded in spotting several stream crayfish.

“You almost have him! Don’t let him get away!” Tabby squealed from the relative dryness of the streambank while she sent Thomas into the water to do the work of catching. It was a particularly large crayfish they had cornered under a rock, and Tabby was determined to bring him home with her to her aquarium. “Almost... almost- nooo!” The crayfish scuttled backwards as Thomas’ hoof came too close. Rather than lose her prize, Tabby jumped into the water after him. Together the two ponies had quite a chase to get their hooves on the crustacean, who was devious and wily in his escape methods. Only after all the other crayfish in the area must surely have been scared away by all the splashing of water was a firm hoof actually gotten on this slippery crayfish.

“Hello, little guy,” Tabby cooed, accepting the prize from Thomas. “Oh, but you’re a girl! How lovely! Riv will love meeting you.” The crayfish didn’t seem impressed with this bit of information, and twisted her claws around, trying to get a firm grasp on her abductor. Tabby just temporarily relegated her to an empty food container in the picnic basket.

By this time darkness had fallen over the Dark Forest. Thomas perched on the rock wall of the pavilion and gazed up intently at the stars. “Isn’t the night sky fascinating, Tabby?” he said.

“I don’t like it,” she said bluntly, joining him. “It’s very large and... intimidating. I get lost in it.”

“Considering you get lost shopping at the mall, that’s not surprising,” Thomas acknowledged. “But you must admit the constellations at least are incredible. Look, there’s Scorpius.”

“The ancient ponies had no clue what they were talking about,” Tabby insisted.

“Why, Tabby, you’re remarkably unromantic when it comes to the stars!” Thomas stopped and looked at her.

“Apparently, yes,” but she condescended to ask, “What others are there?”

After Tabby’s mini-course in astronomy was completed, it had gotten quite late and time to pick up Faline and head home. “This really was a lot of fun,” Tabby said, turning to Thomas after the picnic basket was re-packed and ready to return to Sugarberry (minus the crayfish, of course). “I have a lot to thank you for. It was a forfeit definitely worth paying.” So saying, she twined her forelegs around his neck and they shared a fulfilling kiss.

It was some time before the two set off down the forest path again, in harmony with each other once again.


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