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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19. Chapter 19

    The heat of the summer sun beat down on Ash's back as he walked down a row of freshly turned soil. With every step, Ash would pause to reach into his grass-woven bag draped around his neck to take out a oat seed and plant it into the soil. For many days now, every available pony had scoured the area for any and all traces of wild oats so they could find and gather their precious seeds. Greenhoof believed that there was enough time in the season for one planting of the valuable food stock before winter descended back onto them.

A large area of land had been cleared just outside the east side of the settlement. It had been hard work digging out all the loose stones and turning the rich soil on such a large area, but Ash was proud to have been a part of it. Walking along with him were Mighty Oak, Toadstool Ring, Glum Drollery, and Hoof Strike's colt, Journey Stomp, as they all carefully planted the oats in line.

Reaching the end of his row, Ash stepped away to a large log that had a trough carved into it to hold water. Dipping his muzzle into it, Ash eagerly drank the cool soothing water that had been painstakingly brought up from the nearby river. Soon the others began to join him as they each finished planting their rows.

"Wow, it's been getting hot the last few days," Toadstool complained, wiping his hoof across his sweaty brow.

"And it’ll likely to get even hotter," Glum added, lifting his head from the water.

"Glum," Journey said with a sigh, "why do you always sound like you enjoy things more, the worse they get?"

The only answer Glum gave was a shrug of his shoulders before dropping his head back down for another drink.

"Well! You’ve all have been working hard haven't you?" Greenhoof said, walking over to them with a broad smile. She had been off helping Secret Glen with her crop of gourds. She's been attempting to grow them larger and often comes to Greenhoof's for her help with her work. Looking out, Greenhoof surveyed the field and saw that only a few ponies were still planting their rows. "It looks about ready for the next step."

Turning, Greenhoof looked up. "Sky! You about ready up there!?" she called.

Above them, Sky Twirl quickly stuffed a tiny tuft of cloud into a larger one she had been building since the early morning. Hearing Greenhoof, she quickly dropped down and landed nearby. "Yep! It's all ready. The cloud pickings today were rather slim, and I had to range out pretty far to find enough for what we needed," she said with a exuberant nod.

After Sky got over her initial shyness of Greenhoof, she eagerly jumped in and started to help out as best she could. She quickly discovered that she had a talent for working the weather to help with the crops. She now had a cutie mark of a yellow flower with a little rain cloud sprinkling onto it. She had been so happy when it appeared on her flanks. For half a day, she flew all over the sky doing loops and rolls in jubilant glee while Dusty tried to call her down.

"Very good," Greenhoof with a hoof pat to her back. "I think you can go ahead and start on the side the colts, here, have finished and work your way over to the other side."

With a bounding leap, Sky flew up to her cloud and quickly pushed it down into position over the field. Flying over to its top, she gave it a few bucks to get the rain going.

Ash never got tired of seeing that.

After checking that it was coming down nicely, Sky began to push the cloud along to evenly water the freshly planted field.

Not wanting to miss a good opportunity, Ash and the other colts quickly dashed out to run under the small downpour to get some much needed cooling. Greenhoof smiled as she watched the colts’ antics. She figured that they had worked hard and deserved a bit of a relief from the heat.

A short time later, the colts all stood watching as Sky worked her cloud around the field. The soaking they had received from it had felt amazing, but it was short to last. Already their coats were drying out and the heat was starting to press down onto them again.

"What should we do now?" Toadstool asked, sounding bored.

"We can play seek and catch," Journey Stomp offered.

Mighty Oak shook his head, "Nah, that's getting old."

"What about you, Ash? What do you want to do?" Toadstool asked, turning to him.

Ash thought about it for a moment. "How about we go and see what Brightstar is working on? I heard he was trying to make some kind of basket out of dried clay."

Mighty Oak made a face and shook his head again. "He doesn't like colts roaming around his workspace. He's been getting oddly protective of his fillies whenever we're around."

"Then what are we going to do?" Toadstool asked, looking around at the other colts.

Mighty Oak suddenly smiled. "Oh, I know! Let's get our spears and patrol the western woods."

Ash felt a sudden sense of apprehension twist at his gut. "We're not supposed to go over there. It's dangerous."

"What? The big wolf-slayer is afraid of going to the woods?" Mighty Oak taunted Ash. "What danger can there be there? Journey's father, Hoof Strike, has patrols ranging out all around us, and they haven't spotted anything more dangerous than some coyotes, and skunks."

"What about the giant spiders!?" Toadstool asked worriedly. “They’re still out there.”

Mighty Oak let out a scoffing laugh. "It's been almost four moons since Happy last spotted any trace of them. They probably moved off somewhere else," he said with a dismissive wave of his hoof. Walking over to the nearby stone-piled wall, Mighty Oak took up his spear that was leaned up against it. "Come on, it'll be fun."

Journey quickly snatched up his spear with Toadstool following just behind. With a look at Ash, Glum shrugged his shoulders before taking his spear and setting off to join the others. Seeing them all going, Ash struggled with what he should do. If he told on them, they would never trust him again. With a bad feeling in his gut, Ash dashed over and snatched up his spear before rushing off to catch up.

Walking around the settlement, the colts approached the western woods and looked into its depth.

"I don't know Oak. Maybe we shouldn't do this." Toadstool muttered. His eyes gazing nervously around.

Mighty Oak let out a snort. "Don't be such a foal. Come on. Let's go in and look around." Hefting his spear, Oak marched into the forest.

Ash watched as the rest followed after Mighty Oak. He felt his gut twisting into a knot. What they were doing was dangerous and irresponsible and he felt that they were taking this fun much too far. Gripping his spear, Ash rushed into the forest. The underbrush was thick and it took him a short search to find them again.

Moving around to block their way from traveling any deeper into the forest, Ash turned back to confront them. "This is has gone on far enough. We need to turn back now!" he ordered sternly.

"What's this? Is the great wolf-slayer getting scared?" Mighty Oak sneered. Behind him, Journey snickered openly.

Ignoring his taunt, Ash held his ground and met Mighty Oak's gaze. "Coming out here by ourselves was stupid and foolish. I'm giving you all this chance to turn around with me and go back."

"Oh, come on! What's the problem? We're only having a bit of fun," Mighty Oak said, moving to go around Ash.

Ash sidestepped and blocked Oak's way. Folding his ears back, Oak gave Ash an annoyed look that Ash met with a clear level gaze of his own. They stayed like this for a few moments as they confronted each other before Oak finally stepped back a step and gave in.

"Fine! You win!" Mighty Oak snapped out with a huff.

At his words, Journey suddenly looked disappointed while Toadstool let out a sigh of relief. Glum didn't seem to take notice as he was busily scratching his back against a tree.

Before they could start back, they heard the rustle of something approaching them through the woods. A look of alarm shot through group of colts at the unexpected, and alarming interruption. There was something out in the forest, and it was coming right at them!

"It's the spiders! Run!" Toadstool exclaimed in fright. Dropping his spear, he turned and bolted for the settlement in a panic.

Mighty Oak eyes were wide with sudden fear as he backed up a few steps before he managed to fumble his spear into place, somehow pointing the wrong end of his spear forward.

Journey Stomp looked excited as he moved up next to Mighty Oak. "Oh, I hope it really is the giant spiders!" he said with an eager smile.

Ash noticed that Glum Drollery had somehow slipped off at some point and vanished without any of them noticing. Strange. Ash didn't didn't think that he was the kind who would have run from danger. Setting his thoughts about Glum aside, Ash focused his attention toward the approaching sounds as he dug his hooves into the forest floor. He hoped that all it would turn out to be was a returning patrol or some innocent deer passing through.

Ahead of them, a bush parted as a turquoise mare stepped through. Seeing the colts standing before her with their spears out, the mare let out a surprised scream as five more mares stepped through behind her. Hearing the first mare's scream, the others stumbled back in alarm as they all looked about in fright.

One of them let out a startled squawk when Glum Drollery suddenly appeared from behind them and held his spear leveled at them, keeping them from fleeing. Ash was amazed at Glum's foresight to encircle around them.

"What is this!?" the turquoise mare exclaimed as she looked around at the colts. "Who are you!?

It took a moment for Ash to realize that Mighty Oak and the others were all looking at him to answer the mare. Looking their captives over, Ash noticed their oddly worn appearances and weary faces. Their hooves were caked in mud, and their manes and tails were disheveled and matted. It appeared they had been traveling for quite some time.

Realizing they posed no threat, Ash relaxed and leaned his spear back against his shoulder, "I am Ash Cloud, of the Earth Ponies. You have come onto our land. If you come with peace in your hearts, we will welcome you all as fellow Earth Ponies, but be warned, if you bring harm to a single pony here, prepare yourselves for our wrath, for we protect what is ours and what is precious to us. Do you understand?"

Mighty Oak and Journey Stomp gaped at him like they didn't know who he was. Ash himself was a little shocked at what he had just said. He had tried to think of what Dark would do, and the words had just seemed to flow out.

The mares nervously looked among each other. It seemed they were taking his words seriously.  "We... we understand.” The turquoise mare answered.

At this, Glum lifted his spear and stepped forward. Mighty Oak relaxed with a sigh and also lifted his spear, only to suddenly realize that he had been pointing the wrong end at them the entire time.

"My name is Mirage Shimmer. We... we've traveled far and are very hungry and tired. We lost our herd to an earthslide in the mountains to the west of here, and we had to set off on our own."

Ash felt his heart go out to them. They had obviously seen some hard times. Many of them had scratches and bruises throughout their bodies, and more than a few had ribs showing from hunger.

"Come. We will take you where you can eat and get some rest," Ash said, turning to show them the way.

Before he could take a step, Mighty Oak suddenly moved in close. "Don't you think it may be a bad idea to take them back with us? We're not supposed to be out here. We'll get in big trouble!" he whispered harshly in Ash's ear.

Ash leveled a look at Mighty Oak. "If you weren't prepared to face the consequences for coming out here, then why did you come? I fully intended to tell my papa what I have done. I won't hide my deed from him. I love him too much to do that to him."

Mighty Oak let out a sigh as he hung his head down. "Of course you would," he said in resignation.

Turning back to the mares, Ash gestured for them to follow him back to the settlement. Walking back the way they came, they soon stepped out of the forest into the meadow.

"What!?... what is this!?" Mirage Shimmer exclaimed, gazing about in dazed amazement at what was laid out before her and the other mares as they gathered around her to look out.

Set out before them was the full view of the settlement. Everywhere, ponies were busily working on their various daily tasks. Greenhoof was rooting around the small south fields for any weeds that might have crept in, while workers pulled large sleds filled with cut logs through the settlement’s gate.

"Welcome to the home of the Earth Ponies." Ash said, turning to look back. "There's nothing to fear. You’ll all be safe here."

"Ash!?" a voice called out. Walking along the edge of the woods, Dove and Strongbuck walked toward them. On Strongbuck's back was a basket that looked like it was filled with various plants and herbs they had been out gathering. Loping around the pair, Sentry and Chase happily followed along with their tails wagging.

Upon seeing the two wolf pups, Mirage Shimmer and the mares with her cried out in fright as they all bunched together. Sentry and Chase took no mind of the panic they were causing in the mares as they ran up to eagerly greet Ash and the other colts.

"Ash!? What are you all doing in the woods!? You all know you're not supposed to be in there," Dove said, looking the colts over with a disapproving eye.

Ash flushed and looked down, abashed. He knew he had done wrong, and it hurt to hear the disappointment in her voice. Before he could respond, the mares behind him started to squeal in fright as Sentry and Chase moved in closer to greet them with their tails wagging.

Dove shifted her attention from the colts to the gathered mares they had been escorting back. "Sentry, Chase, come." Dove ordered the wolf pups. Sentry broke away and quickly returned to Dove, but Chase continued to sniff curiously at the mares. After a second, more authoritative call from Dove, Chase finally obeyed and returned to her. Seeing the pup go, the mares all sighed in relief.

"Ash? Who are these mares with you? I don't recognize them," Dove asked, looking the group over.

Rubbing the back of his head, Ash gave a sheepish grin. "They were separated from their herd and we ah... sort of…”

“We captured them!" Journey Stomp cut in excitedly.

Dove jaw dropped in shock while Strongbuck let out a guffaw. Turning, Dove glared at Strongbuck, and he quickly straightened his face before he got into trouble.

"You... captured them?" Dove asked, before she shook her head. "No, you all can explain it later," she said to the colts before she turned to the mares. "My name is Dove and this is my mate, Strongbuck. I see some of you are injured. Come with us and I'll see that your wounds are treated, and get you some food. The Herd Mother and Father will also want to meet you all, and to hear what has happened."

"Thank you,"  Mirage Shimmer said in appreciation.

To make the mares feel more at ease, Dove had Strongbuck take Sentry and Chase back home. As they watched him leaving with the pups, Mirage Shimmer turned to Dove. "You ponies can command wolves?" she asked, her voice filled with awe.

"We’re raising them, now they're just like members of the herd," Dove answered with a smile, before starting down towards the settlement.

“Amazing,” Mirage Shimmer said in awe, before following after her.

They had to make frequent stops on their way into the settlement to answer questions that invariably came up about all the new things that they were seeing. The colts were happy to explain all about the farming they were doing now, but that came to an abrupt end when Sky flew by and shocked them all into a near stupor.

As Dove worked to calm their frantic questions about a winged mare flying about, Ash saw Bumblebee running over to him.

"Ash! I need you to stop Soft Step!" she exclaimed to him after hurriedly drawing him off to the side.

"What is it? What is she doing?" Ash asked in alarm.

"She's playing with something really dangerous!" Bumblebee answered hastily. "You need to talk to her and make her stop, she won't listen to me. She says I just don't understand the importance of what she was doing!"

Ash didn't know if would be able to make her listen any better than Bumblebee. He and Soft Step both had Thunder Step as their sire, so that made them blood siblings, but, other than that, they weren't particularly close with one another. He had heard that she had been growing very close to her new papa, Brightstar, spending a lot of time with him and helping with his work. What could she be doing that had Bumblebee so upset?

He wanted to stay with the group and see what happens with them, but Bumblebee's pleading look convinced him that he should at least go with her and see what he could do. Breaking away, Ash followed Bumblebee away from the group. Running a short way across the settlement, they approached the large building made with heavy log beams that Brightstar had made so he could work and study out of the elements. Next to it, looking tiny in comparison, sat their well made home.

Moving around to the back, Bumblebee lead Ash to a series of logs that had been leaned against the stone wall to make a small and rather well hidden shelter. As they approached, Ash noticed a pungent, woodsy smell coming from the small shelter, and, oddly, he thought he could see some kind of flickering light inside the opening.

Stepping up, Ash stuck his head inside and looked around. On the far side, Soft Step sat with her back to the opening. Just in front of her, hidden by her body, something definitely flickered with light. Whatever it was, it was much brighter than the glow-flowers they had been using to light up the inside of their huts at night. The air inside was filled with that strange acrid woodsy smell. He found it kind of pleasant.

"Soft Step?" Ash called out.

She gave a jump and whirled about to stare back at him. "Ash! What are you doing here!?" She asked hurriedly, her eyes wide. Suddenly she glanced behind him and a look of irritation crossed her face. "Bumble! You brought him here didn't you!?"

"I had too!" Bumblebee answered defensively, "you wouldn't listen to me! You needed to stop."

"Need to stop!" Soft Step cried out. "I discovered something that is amazing, and you want me to stop!?" Stepping to the side, Soft Step revealed what she had behind her. "Look at it! Look at what I created! Isn't it beautiful!?"

Ash felt a shock run down his spine. He recognized it for what it was. He remembered seeing it once before when a thunderstorm set it loose in the dry grass near where they were sheltering in some trees when he was really young. It had scared his mother and he remembered what his mother had called it when he asked her what it was.

Fire.

 

 

* ** *

 

 

Seeing that they were all growing dangerously overwhelmed, Dove called a halt to their endless questions. Strongbuck should have arrived ahead of them and notified Meadowlark and Dark about their guests by now. With the help of the colts, Dove managed to get the mares moving again. As they passed through the hamlet, ponies paused in their various tasks to look at the group and wave at them with friendly smiles. After a few times, some of the mares even began to wave back, albeit a bit nervously.

When they arrived at the longhouse, they found Strongbuck standing by the door, waiting for them. Meeting Dove's questioning gaze, Strongbuck nodded to let her know he had done what she had asked.

Pausing, Dove turned and addressed the group of mares. "This is our longhouse. We use it for gatherings and such. Inside you will meet our Herd Mother and Father, who have come to greet you. Please show them respect, because they are much loved by the herd," she said, gazing around the group, her face absolutely serious.

Stepping through the opening, Dove lead them inside. Along the sides of the longhouse, panels had been opened to let light in. Rowed up together on the far side of the room, several older mares from the Mares’ Circle, including Melodious, stood with Meadowlark as they waited. Next to them, Dark was speaking quietly with Birch Bark.

Meetings between herds wasn't uncommon, but it wasn't planned either. It occurred whenever herds happened across one another while on the move to new grazing lands. Meadowlark and Dark had been eagerly awaiting a time when a herd would chance upon the settlement. They were very much wanting to share their discoveries with others to help spread and promote a new way of life for pony kind. Today would be the first time they would meet with outsiders.

Meadowlark smiled at the gathered mares. "Greetings and welcome," she said pleasantly, looking the group over. "My name is Meadowlark and this is my mate-"

"Darkie!" Mirage Shimmer suddenly exclaimed, cutting Meadowlark off mid-greeting. Dashing forward, the turquoise mare suddenly leapt and tackled Dark to the ground and hugged his neck as she rubbed her cheek against his. "Darkie! Darkie! I thought I'd never see you again!"

"Mirage?..." Dark said in disbelief. His eyes wide with shock.

"Dark?" Meadowlark called to her mate. "I take it you know this mare?"

Dark tried to untangle the mare from around him, but after a few failed attempts he finally gave in and looked up at Meadowlark. "I ah... would like you to meet my little sister, Mirage Shimmer."

 
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