Herd Life

Celestia is a growing filly within the herd, as she and many ponies struggle to just survive in their primitive times. Upheaval is soon to come, as new ideas clash with the old, when Celestia's parents join together in their struggle to move ponies into a new and unknown future, amid the dawning of the pony nation.
Contains: Stallion on Mare mating and impregnation. With lovemaking and experimentation later.
Online reading by: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9RpH3CFcO8&feature=youtu.be
I do not claim ownership of the cover art. It is publicly posted art. Artist for Celestia: alasou

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15. Chapter 15

Bell's limp was growing worse. Her ankle had only bothered her a little when they left the wolves’ den and started back for the settlement, but after steadily walking on it for nearly the entire way back, her ankle was now swollen and extremely painful to put her weight down on it.

The two pups were safely tucked away in her pack. After she finished nursing them, she had put them there to sleep off their full bellies. Thankfully, they had remained quiet during the trip back, but Bell didn't know how much longer that was going to last. She knew the other ponies wouldn't understand her saving the wolf pups, and she worried about what they would do to them if they were ever discovered.

She didn't even know how Dove or Strongbuck would feel about the pups. Considering that they intimately knew what it felt like to have wolves tearing into their flesh, and now here she was saving a pair of newborn wolf pups. There was no way she was going to be able to hide this from them—not that she wanted to. If she was to have any chance to save the two little pups, she was going to need their help.

After Dark's search teams found her, Bell brought Dark back to the wolves’ den to show him what she had found. As Dark and Hoof Strike carefully examined the spider’s remains, Bell kept herself as far back as she could from the vile thing. They poked and prodded at the disgusting creature for a time, even going so far as rolling it over to look at its underside.

The sight of its hairy, bulbous body rolled onto its back sent shivers down her body, and she had to look away from the sight as the two stallions excitedly talked to each other. Bell shuddered. No matter what age colts were, they were still foolish, immature, disgusting colts.

Dark decided to take the spider’s remains with them back to the settlement in order to examine it more carefully. He had Mustard Seed and Morning Sky carry it on a litter between them, telling them it was punishment for losing Bell. They didn't look very happy about it, but they didn't complain as they hoisted the corpse onto the litter.

Holding her injured leg up, Bell was forced to walk using her other three, which she found extremely awkward to do. Dark was worried for her and wanted her to be carried back on a litter as well, but Bell refused the offer and assured him that she was fine with walking. Besides, she didn't want to be seen being carried back. Thankfully, Dark accepted her request and let her have her way, though he didn't look too happy about it.

When the sight of the settlement came into view, Bell let out a relieved breath. Soon she would be able to lay down and get some rest. Not to mention, she wouldn't have to look at that disgusting spider anymore, which Morning Sky and Mustard Seed were carrying just ahead of her.

Not wanting to be cornered and endlessly asked questions about her discovery of the spider, Bell made sure she was the last one through the gate when they arrived at the settlement. She watched as many of the ponies gathered and gaped in fear and awe at the sight of the creature while it was walked through the hamlet to the longhouse.

Bell didn't follow the group into the longhouse with the spider's remains, but instead broke off midway from the group, to head back to her home. She thought she had gotten away cleanly without anypony noticing, but she only hobbled a short ways before Celestia and Ash suddenly dashed up to her.

"Bell!" Celestia exclaimed in worry at the sight of her holding her injured leg up. "What happened to your leg!? Did you fight that giant spider or something!?"

Bell smiled and shook her head. "No, nothing that grand. I just fell down a hole and twisted my ankle a bit, that's all," she assured them as they followed along beside her. "So, how did things go with Sky Twirl?"

"Oh, it went very well!" Celestia said happily. "They talked with her for a long time, and they asked her a lot of questions, but in the end they all decided that she was welcome to join us. Later today, they want to introduce her to the rest of the herd. Melodious has even asked Birch Bark to bring some yummy food from the storehouse, so the entire herd can eat together and welcome her with a good meal."

"Told him, more like it," Ash cut in, only to have Celestia shoot him a look.

Ahead of them, her hut came into view. She was almost home. "Sounds like it's going to be an interesting evening. I'll be looking forward to it, but, right now, I need to get off my hooves and get some rest, so I'll see you then." Bell said in parting, as she turned to go into her hut.

Just then, one of the pups let out a loud shrill bawl that made the two foals jump in startled surprise.

"What!?... what was that!?" Celestia asked stepping closer to the side of Bell's pack to curiously poke at it with her hoof.

Letting out a sigh, Bell shook her head. It wasn't ideal, but she needed help with them anyway. "Well, I'm surprised they stayed quiet this long." Bell said with a smirk. "Come on in you two, and I'll show you both what I brought back." With that, she stepped into her hut.

Bell crossed her empty hut as Celestia and Ash curiously followed behind her. Taking her pack off, she carefully set it down. "Now, what I am about to show you needs to stay a secret from the rest of the herd. They may not like what I am doing, and they may try to hurt them if they found out."

"We won't tell anypony. We promise. Right Ash?" Celestia said, turning to Ash to see him nodding in agreement with her.

Bell knew she could trust them. She just wanted to stress the seriousness of the matter with them. Reaching her muzzle into her pack, Bell felt around until she found one of the pups. It let out a little squeak as she nipped  back of its neck and lifted it out, setting it down onto the ground.

Celestia and Ash both gasped as they moved in closer to look at the squirming fuzzy little pup. "What is it? Some kind of gopher, or squirrel?" Ash asked, cocking his head to the side.

Taking the second pup out of her pack, Bell set it down next to the first. "No, they are not gophers or squirrels. They are wolf pups."

"Wolves!" Ash exclaimed as he stumbled back a few steps before he suddenly reversed himself and lunged forwards to place himself between Celestia and the pups. "Celestia! Get back, they're dangerous!" he shouted as he forced her to back away from the pups.

Celestia sputtered in confusion at Ash's crude actions, until she had finally had enough. Folding her ears back in irritation, Celestia lifted her hoof and soundly whacked Ash across the back of his head. "Stop pushing me, you doofus!"

"Ow!" Ash exclaimed as he rubbed the back of his head. "Why did you hit me!?" he asked, looking back at her with a slightly hurt expression.

"Because you're acting stupid, that's why," Celestia answered sternly, as she moved around him to get closer to the pups. "They're just babies. Look, their eyes haven't even opened yet," Celestia explained to Ash. "The only danger they pose is by being too fuzzily adorable!" she said as she nuzzled one of the puppies, only to abruptly sneeze from the dust that covered the pup.

"Oh, they're still a bit dirty," Bell said apologetically. "I found them half dead and buried in the dirt. That's probably what saved their lives."

"Buried in the dirt! How horrible!" Celestia exclaimed in outrage. "Ash, please bring over the water and help me wash the puppies," she requested over her shoulder.

Ash looked like he was about to argue the matter, but the level gaze Celestia was giving him as she waited for him to do as she asked seemed to make him think better of it, and he wisely stayed silent as he turned to do as she asked.

"They're hungry. I'll need to feed them again," Bell added, as she helped Celestia set out the largest gourd bowl they had.

Despite the pups’ continuous and loud complaints at being bathed, the process took only a few short moments, and the instant they were put to Bell's teats, they immediately quieted down as they greedily latched on to nurse.

"So what are their names?" Celestia asked, looking down at the freshly washed wolf pups.

"I have to admit, I've been worrying so much about other things, I haven't even thought about giving them names," Bell sheepishly confessed.

"Well, maybe we can think of names for them!" Celestia offered happily. Lifting her hoof, she started to tap her chin as her face scrunched up in thought.

Ash was sitting next to her, and he gave her, and the pups a quick glance. "Shouldn't you know if they are colts or fillies first, before you start naming them?"

"Oh, right!" Celestia said with a nod. Turning, she looked at Bell. "So, what are they?"

Bell realized that she had never even thought to check. Reaching her hoof down, she nudged a pup over so she could look under it. "They are... umm... I'm not sure," Bell answered with an uncertain look. She was finding that puppies weren't as easy to sex as foals. She could see a  small raised lump in the middle of it's belly just below the remains of its umbilical cord. Checking the other she found the same thing. "I think they are both... boys."

Celestia nodded and mused for a bit, before she clapped her hoof against her other one. "I got it!" She then pointed at one of the pups, "That one is a light gray and," she then pointed at the other, "that one is almost black. So how about Gray and Black?"

Ash sniggered behind her, "Naming them from their colors? How unimaginative," Ash said with a shake of his head. "It would be like naming one North and the other South, just because of the direction they were laying at the time."

Bell's eyes widened at his words when it came to her, "No, wait!" she exclaimed as a idea came to her. "The dark one will be Sentry for the ever watchful northern star, and the gray one will be Chaser for the ever wandering southern star."

"Why did you name the dark one Sentry instead of the gray one?" Ash asked curiously.

"Because that one is lying north of the other one," Bell answered with a smirk. She began to laugh at Ash's sudden, bewildered expression, with Celestia joining in soon after. Ash's ears flopped down at suddenly being the focus of their laughter, but after a moment, his ears perked up when he started to grin and laugh as he joined in.

"What's so funny?" Dove Song asked as she stepped in, followed by Strongbuck. When her eyes fell on the two nursing pups and her eyes shot wide in shock and alarm.

Bell's laughter abruptly cut off as she look at the two she loved and the sudden, hard gazes they were giving her. "I can explain this!" Bell hastily exclaimed as she tried to swallow her sudden sense of apprehension.

"I certainly hope so." Strongbuck replied in a stern voice that practically shouted that he was not happy about what he was seeing.

Dove drew her lips into a hard line as she sat her rump down. "Oh, I'm looking forward to this."

 

 

* ** *

 

 

    Ash listened to Luna lightly snoring in her basket next to him, with Celestia sitting on the other side of her. They were both watching over her while mama welcomed Sky to the herd and introduce her to everypony. At the moment, Sky was surrounded by a large group of young mares that were excitedly chatting with her and asking her questions. At one point, Sky showed off her wings by flying around the settlement a few times and giving all the ponies a good show by spinning and looping herself around in a fancy aerial display that amazed all those present.

Glancing about the gathered ponies, Ash still didn't see Bell Flower, Dove Song, or Strongbuck anywhere around yet. They must still be talking things through. It wasn't long after Bell had started to explain things to them, when Dove turned and asked Celestia and himself to give them some time alone.

The festive mood suddenly heightened when Silverglint, a mare who, due to a foalhood accident, couldn’t speak, lifted a set of reeds strapped together to her lips and started making sweet musical tones that soon had pones skipping around her in joviality. Others quickly came forward and joined her by tapping or beating sticks against logs to play along with Silverglint's lively music.

Laughter could be heard all around him now, as ponies talked and played. Birch Bark, with the help of others, carried in large, heaping baskets of food to be shared and enjoyed by all. Ash had never seen anything like this before. In fact, he was sure no pony had. It was likely the first event of its kind in all of ponykind. His hooves itched to run out and join the fun, but he held himself back. He didn't want to disappoint mama or papa when he had been entrusted to watch over Luna until mama returned.  

Just then, Meadowlark came walking back with Melodious following along with her. "Thank you two for your help," she said with a smile. Despite viewing the giant spider earlier that day, mama looked she had gotten over her shock and alarm at seeing it. Her mood now seemed much improved, and she looked to be enjoying the festive events that were taking place around them. "You two can go off now and have some fun."

Before dashing off, both of them paused next to Meadowlark so she could give each of them a kiss. Finally free, the two hurried out to find something fun to do. Moving through the crowd, Ash couldn't decide what to do first. There were just too many things to do. He saw fillies and colts lining up to have Vibrant Blush draw colorful patterns with the paints she had been making on their coats, and in the distance, he also noticed a group of colts gathered in the cleared out area near the gate, kicking a coiled ball made from tightly wrapped rope back and forth as they tried to get it between two sticks on each side.

Before he could decide, Celestia dragged him over to try some tasty food. Taking a sheet of bark, Ash and Celestia moved through the food baskets loading themselves up with as much food as they could. Suddenly, they came to something they weren't expecting.

"What is this?" Ash asked holding up what looked like a slice of shriveled apple.

"I don't know, it looks like they left it out too long and it's gone bad." Celestia answered, holding up what appeared to be a thin dried out piece of a strawberry.

"I assure you that they are perfectly fine to eat," a mare with a cutie mark of a basket full of various fruits, said to them as she walked up. "I've been testing ways to get food to last longer, and I discovered that if you slice up fruit and set it out in the sun to dry out, it seems to not go bad, well, at least not yet," she admitted with a shrug. "I'm still testing how long they can be stored before they go bad. Go ahead and try some. They're good, I promise."

Ash lifted the slice of apple and gave it a sniff. Not finding any foul smells, he tossed it into his mouth and chewed it. He found it harder than it would have been fresh, but it still tasted good.

Seeing Ash smile as he chewed, Celestia ate her slice of strawberry and blinked in surprise. "Amazing! It's still good!" she said, happily tossing another into her mouth.

When they finished, Ash and Celestia went to get painted by Vibrant Blush. Ash had spirals and swirls run down his neck and along his sides and legs in yellow and red, while Celestia had wings painted on her sides in black paint, which made them really stand out against her naturally white coat.

They were about to head off to join the ballgame by the gate, when they noticed Sky pushing a cloud in front of her as she flew down. Placing it on the ground, Sky smiled down as a group of foals all dashed inside. Once they were all in, Sky gave the little cloud a little kick which caused it to crackle. Squealing in laughter, foals dashed out with their manes and tails all sticking straight up.

"Oh, wow! That looks amazing!" Celestia exclaimed excitedly. "Come on, let's go try it!" she shouted happily as she hurried off.

Ash was about to follow when a large shadow fell on him from the low hanging sun. "There you are!" Dark said as nipped Ash on his crest and lifted him up and set him back down on his back. "Come on, I need you."

Dark trotted off so quickly, Ash had to wrap his hooves around Dark's neck to keep from falling off. "What do you need me for!?" Ash asked breathlessly as he was carried along.

Without pausing, Dark turned his head and looked back at the colt with a hard seriousness that was alarming. "I need you to help me defend my standing as the Father of the Herd." he answered.

Ash swallowed nervously. How was he supposed to help him with that!? He wondered. It wasn't long until Dark trotted out to where the settlement met the river where a group of stallions stood waiting, with a colt by each of their sides.

In the front, Birch Bark stood with his colt Mighty Oak. "I see you found him," Birch Bark said as Dark trotted up to him.

Hopping down from Dark's back, Ash looked over at the group of stallions and colts and noticed that every colt was standing with his sire.

"Are we all ready?" Dark asked, meeting Birch Barks gaze.

"We've been waiting for you, so whenever you two are ready, let's go," Birch answered with a sweep of his hoof.

As the stallions and colts moved forwards to a line scratched in the dirt a little ways off, Ash looked up at Dark. "Papa? What is going on?" He asked, as he followed along by his side.

"We've been challenged to a race." Dark answered with a smile. "All the stallions are pairing up with their colts to race together."

Ash abruptly stopped in place, while Dark continued a few steps before he noticed Ash was no longer following along next to him. Turning Dark looked down at Ash. "What's wrong?"

Ash looked up and shook his head. "But I'm not your colt... not really. My sire is Thunder Step."

Dark gazed down at Ash for a moment as he took a breath and let it out. Stepping closer, Dark softly set his hoof onto Ash's shoulder. "As far as I'm concerned, you're my colt." Dark said honestly, meeting the colt’s eyes. "Thunder Step had his chance to be your father and he walked away from it like it was a worthless thing. I made a choice that night when I picked you up out of the snow. A choice that helped lead me to getting my cutie mark. A choice to be a father to you."

Ash felt his throat tighten up as his eyes blurred with unshed tears. Dark may not have sired him, but that still didn't stop him from loving him like a real father. Ash suddenly found himself lunging forward to bury his face into Dark's chest, where he felt Dark wrap a affectionate hoof around him.

He loved Dark. He knew that. He also loved Meadowlark. She was the mother he had always wanted. A mother who had nursed him when he had been hungry, and who had held him close and comforted him when he had been in pain. Dark and Meadowlark had been a Papa and Mama in all things that mattered. What more could a colt ask for in parents like them?

When he was ready, Ash pulled back and wiped at his eyes. Dark smiled down at him. "You ready to face our foes together, as a family?"

Ash smiled and gave Dark a nod.

"Good, then let's get in our places. They're waiting," Dark said with a nod.

"The rules are simple," Sage Brush shouted out to the gathered stallions and colts, once Dark and Ash stepped up. "The colts will go first. They are to run west along the river to the wall and follow it along the inside all the way around the settlement until they come back to the river. They will then follow the river back up to the start point here, where they will touch their father. The moment a stallion’s colt touches him, he will run around the same course as the colts did, and the first to cross the line will be the winner."

Word had spread about the race, and already a crowd was starting to form. While Ash lined up with the colts with their fathers behind them, he could hear Celestia calling out to him and waving, while next to her, Meadowlark stood, smiling at him.

Off to the side, Sage Brush edged in with his colt, Summer Rain, as he appeared to be trying to join the racers with his little foal, but Melodious quickly moved in and nabbed the colt back before giving Sage Brush a sound whack across the back of his head, for his attempted idiocy.

Ash hoofed the line as he waited for the race to begin, his heart hammering in his chest with excitement and nervousness.

Smiling, Meadowlark stepped in from the side. "Are you all ready?" she called out to the racers as she lifted her hoof.

Letting out a snort, Ash lowered himself and dug his hooves into the dirt.

Meadowlark looked out over the colts and met Ash's eyes. Giving him a wink, she abruptly dropped her hoof down. "Go!" she shouted as she started the race.

Ash's hooves dug into the dirt as he bolted off the line. The race around the settlement was going to be long, so Ash kept his pace even and let the others pass him. Some of the colts followed his lead and kept a better pace, and by the time they reached the wall they were passing some of the first runners to tire themselves out.

Ponies were now lining up and cheering as they raced by, and as he drew closer to the gate, Ash noticed Strongbuck, with Dove and Bell by his side, waving at the racers. As he galloped past them, Ash was relieved to see they were all smiling, and laughing together as they shouted encouragement to the all the young colts.

The river came into view ahead of him and Mighty Oak was still with him, with many of the others falling further back. The only other colt keeping pace with them was Glum Drollery, who had stayed just behind the pair the entire race.

Occasionally, Ash felt Mighty Oak's shoulder bump into his as they both charged forwards at ever increasing speed. Racing around the turn, the stallions came back into view ahead of them. Letting out a hard snort, Ash pushed harder and slowly began to edge ahead of Mighty Oak. Step, by thunderous step, Ash increased his lead until Mighty Oak's nose was even with his flank.

Ash couldn't help but feel elated. He was going to finish first, and Papa and Mama were going to see! Suddenly, a elderberry colored colt surged past him. Blinking his eyes in amazement, Ash watched as Glum Drollery moved off just ahead of him. How can this be!? Glum had been behind him the entire time!

Lowering his head, Ash charged forward as fast as he could. His lungs were burning, and a painful knot was forming in his sides as he bound ahead as fast as he could. Slowly, he closed the distance until he was just even with him. Ahead of him, Papa stood waiting. Locking his gaze on him, Ash pushed himself as hard as he could until he shot past Papa. With a flick of his tail, Ash whipped it across papa's leg as he passed.

Almost immediately, Papa shot past him as he thundered off with Glum Drollery's sire, Happy, just at his side, while Birch Bark was forced to followed just behind the pair.

Huffing for breath, Ash walked off to the side as he looked around for Celestia.

"You were amazing," Strawberry Zest said, as she stepped up to him.

"Oh, ah, thanks." Ash replied sheepishly to the filly, as he rubbed the back of his head.

"I was wondering about something." Strawberry Zest said, stepping closer to Ash. "Later, we're all going to the longhouse to eat a large meal together to celebrate all the good things that have happened to us here, and I was wondering if you would like to sit with me?"

Ash blinked at her, not knowing how to answer her request. He had been planning to sit with Celestia and their family, but he was afraid that if he turned Strawberry down, he would end up hurting her feelings. Before he could come up with an answer, a pair of hooves suddenly wrapped around him and lift him up.

Ash nearly shouting out in terror as he was carried up into the air. Looking up, he found the smiling face of Sky looking back down at him, with Celestia leaning over her back.

"Don't fear, I won't drop you." Sky assured him as she flew higher.

"We're flying! Isn't this amazing?!" Celestia cried out to him as she leaned over to look down.

Ash had to admit, it was kind of exhilarating to see everything from high above. Diving down, Sky flew them over to the racers, where they saw Dark still fighting to stay in the lead. Happy was sticking close to his side, and Birch Bark was still hot on their hooves and looking like he was waiting to make his move.

Ponies now lined the way, and all were now cheering as the racers shot past. Kicking his dangling feet in excitement, Ash yelled down encouraging words with Celestia as they cheered for their papa. Rounding the turn to follow the river to the finish line, Happy lowered his head and smoothly began to pull ahead of Papa.

Papa wasn’t going to accept this and tore forward with a vengeance that just managed to match Happy stride for stride. Ash was now hollering so much Sky was struggling to hold on to him. Flying off ahead, Sky took them to the finish line where she landed next to Meadowlark so they could watch the racers as they approached.

Papa and Happy were neck and neck now, their hooves tearing at the soil as they hurtled forward towards the finish line. Birch Bark fell further and further behind as the two continued to battle for first. As they drew close to the finish, Happy suddenly stumbled as a look of pain crossed his face.

His left leg began to falter as the stallion struggled to keep from falling. Seeing his opponent floundering, Papa slowed and used his shoulder to help steady Happy, which allowed Birch Bark to shoot by and cross the line ahead of them. As Happy limped on his left leg, Papa continued to help him as they both crossed the finish line next.

Once through, Papa helped Happy moved off to the side, where four mares rushed forward to surround the scruffy stallion so they could take his care away from Papa. Relieved of his burden, Papa turned and approached his mate and foals as they moved in to hug him.

"You should have won!" Ash said with an angry pout.

Papa smiled and wrapped his hoof around the colt and pulled him in. "I did win. I have a wonderful family," he said before scuffing up Ash's mane.

Turning, Dark looked over at Birch Bark. "Hey! That was a good race. Let's do it again next spring."

Birch Bark smiled and gave him a wave. "You got it, and next time, hopefully Happy's trick knee won't give out again."

The day was late and ponies were starting to head to the longhouse for the big meal that had been planned. Tossing Celestia and Ash onto his back, Dark stepped in close to Meadowlark as they all walked together. Before going to the longhouse, they paused a moment to collect Luna from Melodious' daughter, Misty Valley, who was watching over a small herd of little foals. Set into a pile, Luna was deeply entrenched between the twins, Summer Rain and Winter Snow, with Misty Valley's daughter, Sparkling Brook, finishing off the end of the adorable foal pile.

It was a tricky process that almost ended in total disaster, but in the end they managed to collect Luna without any unfortunate mishap. With Luna back in their possession, they all made their way to the longhouse. Walking in through the large opening, they were met with the view of ponies sitting lined up in the newly finished building. The ground had been meticulously swept clean of leaves and debris, and set under each pony was a newly made woven grass mat.

Moving through the gathered ponies, they made their way to a reserved place at the far end of the structure, where they settled down onto their new floor mats. Not far off, Ash noticed Dove was sitting alone with Strongbuck. He guessed that Bell was off seeing to her new charges, and would hopefully return before they started bringing in the food.

Next to him, Mama got up and walked over to Sky Twirl and Dusty Stride, who were standing together nearby. After speaking for a time, Mama returned and sat down, with Sky and Dusty coming over and joining them.

Papa stood and raised his voice to be heard down the length of the longhouse. "Thank you all for coming," his booming voice easily calling attention to himself. "Today is a special day. Today we welcomed the first pegasus into our herd. I am proud and heartened with how open and warm you have all been to her," Dark said as he touched a hoof to his chest. "I also want to thank you all for your hard work. In the time we have settled here, we have faced and overcome danger, as well as gathered more food than ever before. Our stores are already full and we'll likely need to build a second storehouse for the food that is being grown by our talented ponies, like Greenhoof." At this Dark had to pause as many of the ponies started to cheer.

When things quieted down Dark continued. "Everyday ponies come up with new and ingenious ways to do, or make things that enrich our lives in some way. We now have homes where our families can be safe, plentiful food and water, and brave ponies that stand before danger and keep it at bay." A new wave of cheering interrupted him, but with a patient wave of his hoof, Dark soon had them quieted down. "We have grown in our time here, and we are learning the secrets of nature that have always been beyond us until now. We are no longer just mere ponies, we are Earth Ponies. From the land we will draw our magic, a magic that is ours and ours alone. The pegasi have sky magic, the unicorns have star magic, but we... we have earth magic. With it, we can accomplish anything! Even moving mountains is within our reach! We have a strength that we have only just begun to tap into, and there is no telling how great we will become!"

This time, every pony erupted in boisterous cheering. The sound of their thunderous cheering was overwhelming and Ash had to cover his ears. Never before had he ever seen such pride and passion in the the gathered ponies than he saw in them now. The fervor lasted a surprising amount of time, but when Meadowlark stood and patiently waited to speak, ponies soon began to quiet down.

"To all my sons and daughters gathered here, I want you all to know how proud I am of each and every one of you," Meadowlark said looking out at all the ponies. "Let us all give thanks for all the blessings that have come to us. Never before have we ever looked out to the future and seen the hope we now hold for it."

Turning, Meadowlark gestured with her hoof for Sky to come to her. "My newest daughter is in need of a mate to look after her and the foal she now carries. Is there a stallion here who offers himself to her?"

Dusty stood and walked up to Sky. Meeting her eyes, Dusty swallowed nervously before he spoke. "I Dusty Stride offer myself!"

Sky smiled and stepped closer. Reaching out, she kissed his lips. "I accept you as my mate and father to our foals."

The gathered ponies suddenly cheered at the union, while many of the younger stallions looked a bit jealous of Dusty. Sitting unseen, a lone mare stared out at the young couple with eyes filled with pain and betrayal. Letting out a sob, the mare turned and silently slipped out.

"Bring out the food!" Dark suddenly shouted, with a beaming smile. "Let’s all celebrate and give thanks!"

 
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