Drifting Down the Lazy River

This story is a sequel to The One Who Got Away

A frustrated young orphan colt with a talent for painting is determined to run away from his dead-end rural village for the distant cultural haven of Baltimare. All he needs to do is slip aboard a raft and drift down the river Fen until he reaches his destination. It’s a simple plan, and would have worked just fine except for one thing.




6. Seek and Hide

"It took away all the uncomfortableness and we felt mighty good over it, because it would a been a miserable business to have any unfriendliness on the raft; for what you want, above all things, on a raft, is for everybody to be satisfied, and feel right and kind towards the others."

— The Adventures of Buck Fin

Morning dawned.

Birds sang, insects droned, and the quiet lapping of the waves at the edge of the raft heralded the motion of another steam tug chugging up or down river with its load of barges.

Turpentine did not move.

The sun moved higher in the sky, covering the raft with golden light and illuminating the dim embers of the campfire to one side, while the last hoots of late owls faded and the butterflies once again began to flit over the water. The faint lapping of waves against the side of the raft grew until a larger splash sounded, heralding the arrival of a young seapony who poked her head over the edge of the raft. She had a tray held in her magic, which she produced and sat on the damp raft surface with a flourish.

“Good morning, Turpentine. Sen made me a breakfast but I didn’t want to wait to come out and get started this morning so I brought it with me since he always makes too much and are you awake yet?” Ripple peered at the immobile earth pony colt and nudged the tray closer to his nose before noticing just what was missing.

“Oh, no! Where did all of the food go? I had oatmeal and carrot slices and oranges and a bottle of hot cocoa because Sen liked it when I told him you were going to make me hot chocolate but it’s gone!” Ripple rummaged around on the water-covered tray and the few bits of soggy toast still clinging to it, lifting covers and checking underneath plates until she came to the obvious conclusion. The tray had all of the defining characteristics of a well-prepared breakfast with plates, silverware, and glasses, except for the critical ingredient of food.

Turpentine opened one eye. “Ow.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Ripple, moving the tray away from him. “Did I bump you?”

As a response, he coughed feebly several times until Ripple floated over a glass of water, which at least had remained on the tray, even though the contents of the glass most likely had been replaced several times during the trip. After a short drink and a skeptical look at the minnow in the bottom of the glass, Turpentine managed to say, “Everything hurts.”

“Did you get attacked?” asked Ripple, looking around the area with wide eyes.

“No. Yesterday. Swimming. Sore muscles. Lots of muscles I never knew I had.” He closed the one eye he had open.

“So are we going to move the raft this morning?”

Opening one eye again, Turpentine regarded the little seapony. She had put on the most mournful face, obviously guilty over causing him so much pain and wanting to make amends. Still, she was outnumbered by the vast chorus of aching muscles that had locked his body into near-rigidity. “No,” he managed to say without using his limited knowledge of profanity.

“Oh.” She drooped even further, then both ears perked up in a way that Turpentine knew was going to involve more pain.

* *  * *

The thunder of the small waterfall pounding Turpentine into the gravel bottom of the streambed made it almost impossible for him to make his protests known, but while he shifted positions with considerably less pain than before, he really could not come up with any reason to move. It was cold, but he had been sweating most of the evening anyway, and being underwater was starting to feel oddly normal. After several positional maneuvers to get the last of the knots out of his abused muscles, Turpentine eventually floated over to the edge of the pool and let the warm morning sun soak into his damp coat while laying half-in and half-out of the water.

The gravel-lined banks of the pool seemed hollow and empty, spread in a large arc around the wet cascade of cool water as if it were waiting for an entire school of seaponies to be lounging around, brushing their hair and filling the air with song. Even unoccupied, it was still beautiful, with sparkling mist drifting through the air and the sound of the falling water soothing to his ears. While waiting for Ripple to return, he got up and stretched his stiff legs by striding around the outside edge of the pool and checking on the dark green vines twining their way up the sides of the little stone-lined niche. He didn’t nibble on them, but he did tuck a few of the little sprouts into the stone walls so they would be able to continue their ascent toward the sun. It would make a beautiful backdrop for a painting, provided the subjects were painted with hooves instead of flippers in order not to endanger the shy seaponies.

The warm air of the beautiful grotto seemed to chill with a breeze that evaporated some of the dampness from his coat, so he returned to the warm rounded gravel beside the pool to drink in the last gasps of summer. Someday soon, winter would turn the surroundings to a skating rink and the river into an ice-choked mess, with the seaponies swimming around under it, most probably enjoying the warmth of their temporary home far more than the lightless depths of the icy ocean. Turpentine had just begun to draw a sketch of the watery grove with one hoof in the sand when Ripple surfaced.

It was a mark of how accustomed he had gotten to seaponies that he noticed the convulsive motion she made to expel the last of the water through the gill slits on her chest before taking a breath of air to speak. The spell-created gill slits on his own chest acted much the same way, with the spell somehow managing to embed the unconscious reflex of Ripple into it. It explained the problem she had with transforming her own flippers and thick tail into pony appendages, as she could not push those natural features to another pony, but had to manipulate her own internal structure without something to compare it to.

Maybe if I did a comparison study of hoof structure against her flippers, it would help her with the transformation spell?

He was still holding one hoof up in the air while deeply contemplating just what changes would be needed to turn it into a flipper and back again when he became aware of little droplets of water being flicked in his direction. Ripple was laying on her belly against the shallow bank of the grotto while watching him, although the sun had snuck forward an hour or so while he had not been looking. He blinked several times, placed his hoof back on solid ground, and asked, “How long was I out?”

Ripple shrugged and flipped a few more droplets in his direction. “I dunno. Maybe an hour.” She held her own flipper up in front of her face the same way. “It was weird, but kinda nice. You get this really, really, really serious face on when you do that, like you can see through things.”

Now it was Turpentine’s turn to shrug. “It’s a painting thing. The best way to show something is if you know it inside and out, the way it bends, the way it looks in the light and shadows, how it moves, and what kind of perspective you are looking at it with. I must have drawn a couple hundred noses when I started. All the ponies in the town started getting really squirrely when I would come around and stare at their faces.”

“Mister Baron Gaberdine says it’s a lot like that for transformation spells. You have to know where you start and where you end or you can’t find your way between, and you have to want what it is you’re trying to do.” She splashed a little more water at him before asking, “So, do you want to try moving the raft now?”

“No,” said Turpentine. “Everything still hurts, and I’m hungry. All I’d do is get covered in sand.”

“Ooo, I know,” said Ripple. She splashed her tail in the grotto and darted off into deeper water, popping up and calling over her shoulder, “Come on! I’ve got something I want you to see, and we can get lunch too.”

Turpentine rather stiffly trotted to the end of the gravel bar and picked his way down into the water. It seemed so natural now to feel the spell-created gill slits in his chest open up when he became fully submerged and the first breath of water pushed out his remaining air in a cloud of bubbles. Even through his sore muscles, he could not help grinning while he paddled further down, following the flick and swish and swirl of Ripple’s tail as she darted back and forth and all around, waiting on his slow progress.

They traveled underwater for a short distance, through a ragged opening in the underwater rock wall and up into a larger open area behind it with light filtering down through cracks in the rock walls and the uneasy rustling of bats somewhere on the dark ceiling. The cave was not as inviting as the outdoor grotto, but it had a mystic shadowy quality with the illumination of Ripple’s hornlight making reflections from the water surface dance across the walls and the drip of water echoing off the glittering damp walls.

“I wish I had my sketchpad,” blurted out Turpentine. “This is beautiful.”

“Yeah,” said Ripple. “I wish I could take Mister Baron Gaberdine here.”

“Why can’t you?” asked Turpentine.

“Well, he…” Ripple frowned and fidgeted, then vanished under the water with only a tiny ‘bloop’ of disturbed water. Turpentine followed while the little seapony swam down to the bottom of the shimmering cave and stopped at a number of pony-sized indentations in the pebble-covered cave floor. “This is my home,” said Ripple, pointing with one flipper at a smaller ‘bed.’ “I sleep here, and my mother sleeps there, and the rest of my aunts sleep scattered around here. It’s very nice and cosy, except when the thunderstorms make the cave rattle and boom and crash. Then it’s scary, if my mother isn’t here.”

It did not take much mental effort to imagine the cave filled with seaponies curled up in the little gravel indentations. It was vastly different than his former little bedroom, in particular due to a broken spear driven into the pebbly ground next to where Ripple’s mother slept. The spear had a long steel blade with a thick shaft, which ended abruptly in a cluster of tooth-imprints and splinters, much as if a monster had bitten it in half with one snap of its massive jaws. A set of thin mane ribbons were tied around the short section of shaft remaining, giving somewhat of a macabre floating air to the underwater sleeping chamber as the various currents caused the ribbons to undulate like tentacles. If he had thought about asking for a sleepover before, the idea vanished.

Still, sleeping underwater with the water breathing spell was a weird enough concept that he really did not think Ripple would have invited him over to a sleepover anyway, even if her skittish aunts would permit it. A deep rumbling reminded him of the second reason Ripple was showing him around, and he drifted toward several dark shadows at the bottom of the cave. The slow but steady stream of mineral-tasting water flowing out of the holes in the cave wall felt chilly after being out in the warm river water, much like standing in front of some strange underwater icebox.

“Is this where you store your food?” he asked while paddling forward until he could look into the dark passages.

“No, it’s a bunch of caves,” said Ripple while drifting almost effortlessly up beside him. “Sometimes, we play tag or hide and seek in there. The caves go back for hundreds of furlongs, all twisting together and branching off. There’s big domes and crystal formations, and a couple of spots where there was some collapsing, but no monsters,” she added before Turpentine could ask. “Just a few white fish and crawdads.” She licked her lips and looked up at him.

“Not a chance,” he said, backed up by a low growl from his stomach which sounded more than a little creepy in front of the dark cave entrance. “Can we find something to eat first, then go back to the raft and try to figure out how to unstick it? Slowly,” he added.

“Slow is boring,” said Ripple, making a quick loop around him.

“If I wanted the excitement of being pulled at high-speed through the water, I’d go water skiing,” said Turpentine.

That triggered a whole series of questions from the little seapony, who had never seen the speedboat from near Turpentine’s home and the family of unicorns who liked to race it up and down the narrow tributary on weekends. By the time they visited a nearby collection of pickerel weed, and then ate their fill on a huge bank filled with elderberry plants, Turpentine was feeling much better with most of his sore muscle pain replaced by a distended belly and a desire to just lay in the warm sand beside the tributary and relish the sticky feeling of purple juice smeared all the way up to his ears.

“I bet you could make elderberry jam out of this,” said Turpentine with a quiet belch. “Bottles and bottles of it for winter. Jam on hot bread right out of the oven is great.”

“Do you think they have jam in Baltimare?” asked Ripple, spread out on the sand next to him and looking a little flattened, only with a round lump around her middle much like his.

“Yeah, but Mother Windrow said city jam isn’t like country jam. They make it in huge factories with a bunch of frowning ponies checking each jar to make sure none of them taste any better than any others.” Turpentine picked at an upper tooth which had picked up a few extra seeds. “They take all the seeds out too. Does Baron Gaberdine have any servants to make jam in his castle?”

“Just Sen, and he’s old, like a hundred or something. He does say something about going into Gravel Flats to get some sweet sugar sometimes, but he doesn’t seem to bring much back with him.” Ripple stirred the tip of her tail in the stream and turned enough to be able to look at Turpentine with her sparkling green eyes. “After we get the raft to the castle, could you show Baron Gabby how to make elderberry jam? It sounds yummy.”

“There’s more than just elderberry jam. Mother Windrow showed me how to make gooseberry jam, but the season is already over for that,” said Turpentine. “And apple butter, and blueberry, and a whole bunch more. Maybe when I become a famous painter, I can come back occasionally and we can make jam.”

“We could do that now and you could be a famous painter later,” suggested Ripple with a little splash of her tail. “Winter is always so quiet and peaceful under the ice, but Mister Baron Gaberdine said he’d make a nice, warm snowsuit for me if I wanted to come to the castle and play.”

It made an interesting mental image. Odd, but interesting.

“First things first,” declared Turpentine, rolling onto his side and beginning to draw in the sandy streambank with one hoof. “We have to get my raft off the sandbar before Baron Gaberdine sends me back to Mother Windrow.”

“Is she really that bad of a mother?” asked Ripple, who had rolled over to face him on the other side of his sand drawing. “She sounds like one of my aunts.”

After finishing drawing the island in the sand, Turpentine paused with his hoof over the sketch of the raft. “No, not really. She likes me, but we’re so different. She never had foals of her own, so she talks down to me, and doesn’t let me make my own decisions.”

“Like taking a raft to Baltimare?” asked Ripple.

“Eh. Yeah, I guess.” Turpentine finished drawing the raft into the diagram, even though it was not quite to scale. “She must have been so scared.”

“I know,” said Ripple. “One night during a thunderstorm when I was hiding… I mean… Well, hiding is the right word, I suppose.” She splashed her tail in the water and frowned at the drawing of the island in the sand. “I was hiding in the castle during a thunderstorm and my mother came looking for me the next morning. She was scared of Mister Gaberdine and scared for me, but she was most scared for me. But it worked out. She woke up Mister Gaberdine and he gave her breakfast and they like each other now, so she’s hardly afraid of him at all any more.”

“Somehow, I don’t think that will work for Mother Windrow,” said Turpentine. “You know, I made a painting of her. I could show it to you and we could look at the raft instead of just trying to draw it in the sand.”

* *  * *

Every time Turpentine returned to the raft, it looked more dirty and plain instead of the vessel of adventure and excitement it had been several days ago. Several of the ropes tying the logs together had little tufts of cocklebur spines on them from the many and diverse population of burrs on the island, making laying down on top of the raft a somewhat chancy proposition. He decided instead to simply float around the outside edge with Ripple, ducking underwater to see if there was some sort of hidden spot to pry or tug on which would un-stick the quite stuck raft.

Nothing really looked obvious.

“What we need is a pulley out about here,” said Ripple, swimming a distance from the raft and splashing. “Then we can put another pulley on the raft and run a rope back and forth between them to get leverage.”

“All we have is this little chunk of rope here,” said Turpentine, holding up the tow rope, which was starting to look a little chewed on his end. “We can’t use all the rope from the raft, because it will fall apart.”

He paused, feeling like an idiot. “Well, that’s one problem fixed. I’m not sure if we can put the raft together again afterwards, though. The ropes are tied pretty tight.”

“We could float the logs downstream by tying them together in a long string, nose to tail like ducks,” said Ripple.

“What about my stuff?” Turpentine looked at the boxes and folders he had stacked up in the middle of the raft. It was not a lot of stuff by pony standards, particularly if he got rid of the camping gear and the scattered odd items he had thrown on the raft in the hopes they might be useful somewhere, but it was everything he held dear, including the paintings he was going to show off in Baltimare.

Ripple gasped, coming almost all the way out of the water and lunging up on the far end of the raft. “I know! We could bury it like pirate treasure and make a map and swear to come back next year and dig it back up and split it among our crew.”

He almost took her seriously, except for the impish sparkle in her eye and the quirky smile that crept onto her face. She splashed a little bit of cool water at him and waggled one eyebrow. “Had you going there for a minute, didn’t I, Captain?”

It was just so silly. Turpentine had to sit down before he fell overboard, without even a plank to walk. “River pirates,” he managed to get out between chortles. “Hoist the Jolly Roger and we’ll storm a barge full of brussel sprouts. Arr!”

Ripple joined in his carefree laughter, rolling backwards and making a quick jump out in the river which only splattered a little water back on the raft as she spun and danced over the sun-silvered wavelets. He remained sitting while being both entranced and bemused at the antics of the graceful seapony, taking the occasional faceful of water in stride as payment for the entertainment.

Eventually she ran out of giggles to fuel her acrobatics and surfaced at the edge of the raft with a sharp salute of one flipper against her horn. “Captain, what are your orders, sir?”

“Aye, First Mate Splashy,” he replied with a giggle. He jumped up on the tallest box in his collection of stuff and struck an appropriate pirate stance. “Raise anchor and hoist the colors. We’re setting sail!”

* *  * *

Admittedly, it was a lot easier to set sail in the books. It took most of the afternoon to carefully untie all of the wet knots and pick apart the raft, making sure not to cut or break any of the worn ropes. After all, it was going to take every scrap of rope they had in order to tie all the logs back together when they were done. The clever way the lumber ponies had tied the raft together left very little slack rope to spare, but as the sun approached the horizon, the new raft was bobbing at the end of a short rope, ready to be sailed down the river once more.

It could not have come quickly enough for Turpentine. The ache of splinters in the frog of each hoof was intolerable, and if he never tasted hemp rope again it would be too soon. He curled up on the edge of the New Horizons and alternated between splashing a hoof in the river water and trying to bite one of the many elusive splinters out from under his sensitive frog.

“Here, let me.” Ripple slipped up to the edge of the raft and lit up her horn, using her magic to gently probe the bottom of his ticklish hoof for the tiny fragment of wood. “Captain, you’re just lucky First Mate Splashy knows how to do ship’s surgeon stuff or we’d have to fit you with a peg leg.”

“I think I already have one from all of the splinters. I haven’t worked this hard in ever,” said Turpentine, trying to keep his face straight as the little seapony probed for the little bits of wood. “Everything hurts. Are you sure you know how to do that?”

“Mama did it once for Mister Baron Gaberdine,” said Ripple, looking very uncharastically serious under the pale green light of her horn. “He was cooking dinner for us when Mama smiled at him and he dropped a jar. Then he stepped on a little piece of glass when he was cleaning up. There was even some blood. She wouldn’t let me watch her take the glass out, though. Stop twitching.”

“I can’t help it,” said Turpentine, ruthlessly suppressing yet another spasm as Ripple’s magic touched him on the bottom of his hoof. “Ticklish. Kinda hungry too.”

“I’m starving,” declared Ripple while she plucked out splinters. “If you had a frying pan big enough, we could noodle some catfish and make fillets. Mister Baron Gaberdine showed me how to cook ‘em. Only we’d need some eggs too. And some flour. And pepper. And salt. You really need to soak catfish in salt water for a while before cooking it so it doesn’t taste as muddy as it does raw.”

“Noodle catfish?” Turpentine wrinkled his upper lip despite the tickling of his sensitive frogs. The thought of eating raw fish was weird and stomach-turning, but with as much as Ripple had talked about it over the last few days, it was less odd than whatever ‘noodling’ a catfish would involve, and it scratched at his curiosity itch. “How do you noodle a catfish?”

“I’ve never actually done it, but it’s a lot of fun to watch. Next.” Switching her ministrations to a different ticklish hoof, Ripple continued, “My aunts start by transforming a foreflipper into a hoof like they’re going up on land. Then she finds a catfish hole where they lay their eggs and kinda pokes at it until the catfish lunges out and grabs her!”

Turpentine frowned at the mental image. “Doesn’t that hurt?”

“Not a lot.” Ripple shrugged while probing for a deeper splinter. “Catfish don’t have teeth. She gets a little scraped up sometimes, but she gets her foreleg back through their gill slits and lifts the catfish out of its hole. It’s more for fun than eating, because they taste all muddy without proper preparation, but Mister Gaberdine is gotten really good at cooking them. He doesn’t even turn green any more when we dress them.”

Somehow, Turpentine did not think dressing a fish involved clothes. It most certainly involved knives, much like the one that Ripple removed from her mane and used to prod at the bottom of his hoof where the most painful of the wooden splinters had lodged. It was a slightly longer knife than the short single-edged blade Turpentine had in his luggage, and much larger than his pigment-stained palette knife. Unicorns did not need the larger grip an earth pony would use to hold it in his jaws, so Ripple’s knife was mostly slim and sharpened steel, tapered to an off-center rounded point and sharp all the way down to the short handle.

She wedged the tip under a thick wooden splinter and pried back and forth. There were little grating noises under his shoe and a sharp twinge in his frog as it popped free, and she ran the edge of the slim knife around the inner edge of his hoof in order to catch any more loose splinters. Switching to the next hoof, she sighed and tapped the long knife against his steel shoe while her stomach rumbled again.

“I wish we could at least steam some clams. I’m starving.” Cleaning out a few more minor splinters, she waved the knife and continued, “Normally, we just shuck ‘em out of their shell underwater and eat ‘em there, but I don’t think you want raw clams.”

“If you go get the clams, I can build up the fire,” suggested Turpentine, because his aching muscles did not want to move far from the campfire anyway, and there already was quite a bit of driftwood accumulated, even without the splinters he had gotten. He was not all that hungry, and clams did not really sound that tempting, but Ripple had shown him quite a few experiences he had never dreamed of in his life. Plus, time was getting short. When he would drift the raft down the river tomorrow, it could not be more than a day’s travel to the castle/steamship that Ripple seemed so enthusiastic about. Baron Gaberdine had promised to see him on the way to Baltimare afterwards, and it could be weeks or even months before Turpentine could return. It might even be winter by then, and the thought of swimming below the ice with her did not really appeal to him.

While Ripple darted out into the sun-drenched river for the main course, Turpentine arranged the campfire as best he could and soaked down the cattail reeds he planned on using as a grill. He had seen freshwater clams before in the creeks around home, ugly little brown things about half the size of a hoof, and with only about a mouthful of meat—

He shuddered and poked the fire with a thick dampened cattail to get it more level. At this rate, he would be growing his own tail by the end of the month and be a seapony by winter.

By the time the sun touched the horizon in smears of gold and orange, Ripple returned and dumped her findings on the sandy shore. The smallest of the clams she found was twice as big as the largest he had ever seen before, a ridged arc of shell he could not have covered with a hoof, and the largest…

“Are you sure that thing is good to eat?” asked Turpentine. The huge mollusk was the size of a pony’s head, and most probably had teeth.

“Um…” Ripple tapped the huge clam, apparently getting second thoughts now that she could see it in what was left of the light of day. “It’ll probably take forever to cook. I’ll just go put that one back. And… that one,” she added, picking up several of the larger clams in her magic before vanishing into the river again.

It took a little to arrange the damp cattail reeds over the fire, but Turpentine felt a little better about arranging the clams on their new ‘steaming’ rack once he realized the mollusks did not scream or thrash when he put them out on the thick mat of reeds. He almost had half of them arranged when Ripple came back, lunging up out of the water onto the sand at the edge of the water in a way that would have given him a panic fit a few days ago.

It still startled him into dropping a clam in the fire.

“Aren’t they done yet?” asked Ripple, adding her magic to the task of arranging the last of the clams across the damp reed mat. The last couple of clams she held back, getting out her knife and settling down in the light of the setting sun and glowing fire.

“I don’t know,” said Turpentine, unable to take his eyes off the silvery knife glittering in Ripple’s green magic. “Are you going to eat those raw?”

“Sure!” Ripple settled down with an intense frown and brought the first clam up to the blade. “You just gotta get the knife in between the edges, then go around all the way until it pops.”

There was something about the way she brought the knife up to the doomed bivalve that triggered a memory in Turpentine’s head, and he spoke out loud without really thinking. “Why then the world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open.”

“What?” Ripple looked over at him, seeming slightly confused although her slim knife did not move from its position next to the doomed clam.

“It’s something from the Merry Mares of Whinnydor, a book that the orphanage had in the library,” explained Turpentine. “I was bored, and it looked interesting. I was wrong. Go ahead.”

The magic-driven knife traced a path around the doomed clam and the top shell popped off, revealing a goopy lump of yellowish flesh. Ripple tossed the empty shell over her shoulder and into the river with a forlorn ‘plop’ as she continued to scrape the remainder together, then slurped it up in one gulp. “Yummy!”

“Ewww!!” declared Turpentine. He shook his head and swallowed once while Ripple got out the next clam. “I mean it’s neat and all that, but eww just the same. It’s not anything like what I expected from the books.”

“Maybe you’ll like the cooked ones better,” said Ripple just before slurping down another one of the slimy things. It was worth some thought, and as he thought, a few of the clams on the fire began to open up just the way the books said. Besides, Mother Windrow had always told him to try something before rejecting it, even cooked beets.

“Maybe one of the cooked ones,” he hesitantly offered over the objections of his churning belly. “Two at the most.”

After Ripple finished her snacking, she took the damp cattail reed Turpentine had been using to poke the clams and used it to poke the clams in the way she wanted to. He could not see any difference in technique, because one poked clam looked very much like another, but he would not have been able to lift one of the lid-opened clams off of the steaming reeds and float it over in front of him, as he lacked her magic.

The clam didn’t smell that bad when cooked, sizzling and popping a little from the fire. He retrieved a fork and poked it a few times in a forlorn attempt to pry the meat free while it cooled, but eventually gave in to Ripple’s clam-eating technique.

He shoved his nose into the hot clamshell and slurped.

It was all over before he realized it, in and over his tongue and down his throat where the steamed clam meat made a warm glow in his tummy. It was so quick, in fact, that he could not even tell what the clam had tasted like other than ‘vaguely clammy.’

“Good, aren’t they?” said Ripple before slurping another steamed clam down and sucking cool air over her tongue afterwards. “They’re even better hot.”

“Yeah.” Turpentine managed to slurp down another clam. “I think I’m full. Well, of clams.” He nudged a toasted cattail out of the fire and blew on the steaming root before taking a large bite. “Much better.”

Ripple sniffed the offered root and took a bite too. “Not bad. Needs salt.”

While the evening grew darker and the fire died down to glowing coals, the two of them settled down on the remainder of the cattails and watched the stars come out. From his time outside watching the stars with Mother Windrow, Turpentine knew a little about what stars went where, but it was at least one area of knowledge where he knew a lot more than Ripple. They watched the night sky and traced the lines of the constellations together with the lapping of the waves and full tummies contributing to a slow reduction in conversation, and ever so slowly, the two of them drifted off to sleep together under the stars.

In the quiet, with the night insects chirping away in the darkness, a faint green glow surrounded Turpentine’s wool blanket. With great care, it drifted over the two young ponies and tucked itself in while a pair of dark green eyes out in the river kept watch.

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