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Ginger Mint

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Getting up this morning had been a challenge. As much as Ginger Mint had ached after the Running of the Leaves, after a good night's sleep, her muscles cooled off, stiffened up and even the smallest movements felt like pulling a wagon full of bricks. She felt weak as a baby kitten, where even lazily batting at a ball of yarn might require a great deal of effort.

She felt lucky, at least, that she had been able to borrow use of Sugar-cube Corner's kitchen without any real hassle. Most of the heavy baking had taken place earlier in the morning, and she had been able to impress upon them that she was a professional and wouldn't break anything or make a huge mess, though she wasn't sure why saying such a thing would have made them laugh so much.

She'd made this recipe hundreds of times before, snickerdoodles were one of her favorites, but this time her aching limbs turned the stirring spoon into a hefty oar, every stroke a trial. She knew she was running behind schedule, but after yesterday, she was done with rushing.

If getting it right means taking my time, then I'm taking my time. Besides, there are some places where being a little bit late is expected.

Ponyville wasn't one of those places, and she knew it, but the thought comforted her as she waited for the cookies to come out of the oven. It helped distract her from the little twinge of anxiety she felt every time a customer entered the store. Sure, she'd peek her head out the door and check to see if it was anypony she recognized, but now she was almost hoping that someone would arrive before the cookies were done just so she'd have some company, and it would be better than everypony waiting for her to show up at the cafe.

I'm pretty sure I told them I'd be making cookies here before I showed up, I hope they're not wondering where I am...

There had been a brisk little breeze when she arrived this morning and she knew that as soon as the cookies came out of the oven, she'd need really push herself to get them over to the cafe before they cooled off completely. With that in mind, she tried singing a little tune while she cleaned up the remaining dishes.

"Fresh cookies, they're the best

warm and chewy, crisp or gooey

not to hot, not too cold

don't burn your mouth

don't let 'em get old

cookies, good with tea

good with milk

good with coffee, or anything else."

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Bramble Rose still couldn't believe he'd done it. Asked somefilly on a date after only a few minutes? Not cool. No wonder he was confused - now that another stallion was apparantly showing up. Was it a date? Just friends? Bramble didn't know. He'd never had much experience with this sort of thing. But one piece of advice from his father sounded true for his memory.

"Bramble, m'colt, fillies are confusing things. Don't expect to ever understand them. But there's one thing I've found almost always holds true: You can never go wrong with flowers."

Bramble couldn't fault that logic. Flowers were, after all, his special talent. The only trick was in figuring out exactly which flowers to bring. His automatic go-to flower was roses, of course - he loved roses, from their colors, their shape, their grace, to their connections with romance ... not that he really had much practice with romance, but he'd dreamed about romance plenty!

But no. Roses gave a specific message, at an event like this, and he wanted to be careful. Luckily, the cafe had hired Lily to do their flower delivery, and Bramble himself had hauled the wagon to deliver the flowers, so he knew what would already be there. It would do no good to bring flowers if the arrangement that was already there was better than what he brought! The cafe had daisies - both decoration and light snack for the ponies waiting for their food. Practical and pretty, not to mention easy - the fields around Lily's home and shop were filled with daisies growing wild. It was an easy thing for Bramble to deliver a fresh shipment every other morning.

So... carnations, he decided. And what to wear? Once, he'd not had to worry about that, but only because he had nothing nice to wear. Now, with his side job for Glitzen Glamour, he had a half a closet full! Most of them were too fancy, but for today... his horn glowed as he selected a fedora and a tie, letting the tie knot itself loosely round his neck, and putting the fedora on at a bit of an angle, carefully making sure they were both tidy enough that he wouldn't look formal, but instead just dashing. He nodded contentedly, and then went out to the shop to pick the flowers.

Carnations, he decided. Yellow and red carnations, with little sprigs of green ferns between them. That would be lovely. He carefully arranged a vase full of them, took down a box of his favorite clover crisps, his sire's recipe, and headed on out down the road.

Bramble Rose moved. Just the simple act of trotting into town seemed a trial - he had thought he was tired and sore after the race yesterday, but this morning was even worse. His legs protested every step, but after he got going, it seemed to get a little better. Working out the kinks, he supposed - and did his daily trips all over ponyville delivering flowers have an added benefit? Maybe that's why he'd done so well in the race! He pranced a little, his head held higher, as he thought that maybe he was still growing up a bit. He'd be a proper stallion yet!

The buildings of the town were soon around him - the market square, the book store, the fan shop, and Sugarcube Corner. Someone in Sugarcube Corner was happy! He rather liked one of the refrains, too, and found himself singing along before he realized it.

o/~ o/~ o/~

Not too hot, not too cold /

Don't burn your mouth /

Don't let 'em get old!

o/~ o/~ o/~

He stopped quickly, embarrassed. Goodness, what if someone had heard him? That would have been dire indeed!

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Douglas slowly rose up with the new day, his muscles felt stiff and he'd rather spend the morning in bed. He knew otherwise though, forcing himself to roll out of bed and onto his hooves. Slowly he moved about the room, gently stretching his body out over a course of steps throughout the room. While Douglas often pulled wagons that worked his muscles, it wasn't often that he just straight sprinted without anything to hold him back, the end result being a few sore muscles in places he forgot could get sore. "Ooh...pushed it a little hard at the end yesterday, Trotter!" He groaned gently as he ran his hooves under a sink, using them to wash his face and then slick back his mane. Content he looked awake and decent, Douglas slipped on four little cuffs around his hooves and made for the door.

Leaving the inn, Douglas began to wander around Ponyville. He remembered where a few buildings were, but most of the town remained relatively unexplored except for the main street and marketplace. It was with a little luck that he didn't cause any trouble with his aimless wandering. At one point he could smell the baked goods at Sugarcube Corner, but after a wrong turn he lost the scent. "Well this has become quite a task. Odds are they're already waiting for me" Douglas chided to himself. At least his wandering had gotten his muscles moving again and the soreness was fast fading away.

Douglas was beginning to grow a little upset at his lack of directions when he finally came upon the marketplace, it was bustling quite well. Still, it was a place he had moved through the times he had delivered in Ponyville so he relaxed a bit now that he was on familiar ground. Douglas waddled his way through a few crowds, pushing through the thick of the market with ease and now starting to feel in a more comfortable area as he moved down a few more streets. Douglas felt he had his bearings now and sure enough located a nice little cafe that he could only assume was to be the place the three ponies would gather.

Moving to one of the tables, Douglas took a seat and carefully looked around the at the other ponies enjoying tea and sandwiches and it started to make him feel a little hungry. Against his tummy's plea though, Douglas decided it would be better to hold off eating until Miss Mint could arrive with the Cookies she said she would bake. Although, he didn't know how long that would be. Just then a little menu was passed to him. He didn't even notice the waiter until he was standing over Douglas. "Oh, I'm waiting for two friends to show up. Can you hold off until they arrive?" Douglas asked, receiving a neutral look from the waiter before he nodded and left Douglas at the table. "Well then, it seems like I'm first to the cafe...or I found the wrong one. Either way, all I can do now is sit and wait for the others." Douglas thought, nodding slightly to himself. The thought of who would arrive second not to far from his mind as he leaned back in his chair and tried to relax himself.

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The timer hadn't gone off yet, though there were only a couple of minutes left on the dial, but Ginger Mint could tell the cookies were done. She didn't need to look, though she double checked to make sure they were reaching just the right golden brown color along the edges. All it took was a smell. The smell of sugar caramelizing was a gauge as accurate as any other, and she knew if she let it go on too long, burning was right around the corner.

Pulling the sheet of cookies out of the oven was a little bit tricky, as stretching out her neck caused her hind legs to involuntarily shake, and she groaned inwardly.

If its this bad today, I don't even want to think about what I'm going to be feeling tomorrow.

With a clank and a scrape, Ginger Mint removed the cookies from their sheet and arranged them artfully on a serving platter before draping a clean cloth over top of them. In theory, it would trap in heat but wick away excess moisture and prevent condensation while she carried them to the cafe. A few quick strokes with a rag cleaned up the last of her mess and, satisfied by a job well done, she let her hair down with a sigh of relief.

I really am running late now... I hope they understand. They seemed so nice, I'm sure it will all work out in the end.

She picked up the cookie tray with her mouth and headed for the exit, not trusting her sense of balance to carry them on her back today, and said some muffled thankyous through her teeth to the owners as she stepped out into the brisk morning air.

It didn't take her more than a few paces before he neck started to cramp up. The little tray of cookies felt like a bushel of apples, and she was reconsidering balancing it on her back when her legs started to tremble again.

At least I was able to smooth things over with the cafe's owner earlier, so if I can manage to get there in one piece, everything will be just fine. Yup, no trouble at all.

She'd had to promise the Cafe's proprietor a few cookies to make sure there wouldn't be any fuss about her bringing her own food, but bargaining had taken longer than she expected and it was just another reason why was in a hurry now. By the time her destination came into view, she was visibly struggling. Both of her new friends had arrived before her, but rather than feeling embarrassed, she was simply happy that she didn't need to search for a place to set the tray down.

*k-klank* The tray touched down a little bit more forcefully than she intended.

"Phew! I made it..." she said with sheepish grin, "I hope I didn't keep you waiting too long. I think I... um, might have overdid it yesterday. Maybe, just a little bit."

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Bramble Rose arrived at the cafe and looked around - huh. He seemed to be the first one there. That was new! He smiled, let the matre'de know it was a party of three, and settled down at a table. His horn glowed a soft green color as he floated the daisies on the table to join their fellows on the next table over, replacing it with his vase of great big red and orange blooms. He fancied they looked like fireworks, frozen in time. His telekinetic touch carefully settled several leaves into place, primped over the floral display, making sure it looked good, then he glanced around. All right, still nopony here. He could wait patiently. His hoof tapped nervously on the floor. It was just new friends meeting, no big deal.

He glanced up at the wall and froze for a moment, then glanced around quickly to make sure the other two ponies hadn't snuck up on him, yet. He jumped up and circled the table to the wall. There, in front of him, was an advertisement for Glitzen Glamour's shop. The advertisements were all over town, he could hardly keep ponies from seeing them, but he could try to keep from sitting underneath one of them. This one showed a picture of Bramble posing while wearing a stallion's formal saddle, a top hat, and ... good gracious, a monocle. He wasn't partial to saddles, himself, he much preferred jackets, but he didn't decide what to wear for the posters. Well, except that he'd put his hoof down quite firmly and refused the double pay to model filly wear. He quickly pulled the four tacks out of the advertisement and glanced around, looking for somewhere to put it. He spotted the stallion approaching the table, and his eyes widened. Panicked, he just turned the advertisement around and tacked it awkwardly back to the wall, so that it looked like somepony had clumsily posted a plain white sheet of glossy paper for some reason.

He hurried around the table and sat back down, waiting for the stallion, smiling up to him through his long lashes, a bright and disarming smile on his faec. "Ah, hello!" he said brightly, then paused, uncertain how to proceed from there. How did ponies do small talk, again? Weather. They talked about weather. Or sports. "Lovely weather we're having. The Cloudsdale crew did a good job today. Saw that lovely rainbow-maned one chasing down stray clouds earlier. Boy, can she fly."

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Just as Douglas had begun to feel he should begin looking for another cafe he noticed a pony turn around from a wall, having looked over something but Douglas wasn't sure what. The slender stallion was Bramble Rose, the friend of Ginger's that had suggested meeting for tea. The stallion sat before him and offered a gentle greeting. Douglas smiled, giving a nod. "Hello to you too, Mr. Rose. It's nice to know I didn't pick the wrong cafe." Douglas replied. Looking over the stallion, Douglas seemed to think Bramble was a little unsure how to handle talking to him when he began again. "The weather? I suppose it has been very nice lately, what with the fall breeze coming in. Those weather ponies do an amazing job." Douglas heard him mention a lovely Rainbow-maned mare but he had never seen such a pony yet so Douglas let it slide.

Douglas glanced around at the other tables, taking in the atmosphere around them for a second before letting out a light hum. "This is a very nice place, I can see why you suggested it. I hope Miss Mint isn't rushing herself, muscle aches can make even common chores a struggle if you're not careful." Douglas mused aloud, catching sight of the earlier waiter passing by. Douglas had considered seeing if they should at least order their drinks while they waited on Ginger to arrive. "Do you think we should place our ord--" just then a clank of a tray cut off his question as Ginger had arrived, laying her cookies on the table. "Miss Mint, you made it! I was just about to ask if we should order our drinks now." Douglas explained, listening for her to continue. "Oh, please. You're not that late, I just got here a few moments ago myself. Take a seat, relax!"

Everypony was here now and after a slight peak at the side of the tray he could see a few treats hanging out and they looked amazing. "Ginger, is it alright if I take one now?" Douglas asked, rather sure that it would be impolite to just grab hold of one and begin eating. Douglas was trying to ease himself down, while he didn't show it he was being way too strung with the way he referred to the others and wanted to stop that. Waiting for her reply with a smile Douglas saw the waiter beginning to make his way to them, he slowly started thinking of what he could have to drink.

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Not going to break out into a sweat, not going to break out into a sweat.

If Ginger Mint hadn't mentioned her reluctance to run another race any time soon, she was certain somepony might think she just finished another one, even if it was only a short trek from the sweets shop to the cafe. She forced herself to take deep, measured breaths in an attempt to get her heart to slow down a bit. The last thing she wanted was for her weariness to be mistaken as discontent, and at Douglas' insistence, she was all too happy to flop down into an open chair.

"Ginger, is it alright if I take one now?"

In her haste, the cloth she'd placed over the cookies had gone askew, and even though the treats were exposed for all the world to see, she figured it might seem like they were being kept under wraps for a reason still. In one dramatic sweep, she pulled the cloth away and even managed to stave off a little yelp as the muscles in her neck complained.

"Ta~da! Please help yourselves, they taste the best when they're still warm."

A cold chill ran down her spine as she realized she had forgotten to taste test them first, but it was too late to back down now, she'd already made the offer.

They smell tasty anyway, thats a good sign right? Why am I so nervous. Its not like I haven't baked these a hundred times before. Or maybe its just me being sore from the race.

Normally patience was a virtue for Ginger Mint, but she couldn't help looking around the room in an attempt to keep her mind off thoughts of cookies. The blank white poster on the wall helped quite a bit. She didn't remember it being there earlier in the morning when she'd come to check up on the cafe, and it was a little bit surprising to see a piece of modern art hanging in an unassuming corner of a place like Ponyville.

"Huh... I don't think I've seen anything like that since I went to the gallery in Manehatten. Reminds me of winter, but maybe thats just because it was winter at the time." She'd forgotten about the cookies entirely by this point and it took some effort on her part to realize that she was now spacing out. With a sheepish laugh she changed the subject. "Oh, um... speaking of winter, I hope it isn't scheduled to snow too early this year. I didn't pack anything warm to wear for the trip home. I meant to ask somepony, but I still haven't seen a single pegasus out managing the weather since I arrived. Well, except maybe during the race, but it was hard to tell what was going on."

Ginger Mint's eyes looked down as she braced herself for whatever possible criticism of her baking might come her way. Her first instinct was to try to strike up some small talk about some inconsequential thing or another as a distraction, but she quickly banished the thought. If she had made a mistake with the cookies, no amount of hoof waving would change it.

I just need to calm down, thats all. They're nice ponies so there's no need to be worrying so much.

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Bramble Rose smiled even more brightly to Douglas, his eyes shining happily as he tossed his long silver mane to one side. "Oh, I'm so glad you like it. I do often eat breakfast here, they have the most lovely clover muffins." He patiently listened to Douglas talk about the weather, too, reminding himself to keep eye contact and to nod encouragingly.

He paused, then, feeling slightly panicked. That about summed up everything you could say about weather, unless you were a professional pegasus weather-pony who knew how everything actually worked. How on earth did the weather constitute a subject of light conversation?! OK, don't panic, there's always sports to talk about.

He had tried dutifully to become interested in sports as a good, stalliony pursuit when he was a younger colt, but he always ended up feeling slightly bored after a while, and the rules frequently managed to confuse him. The players kept swapping in and out, and there were *so many* of them, he didn't see how some stallions were able to rattle off rosters and rule references like they were second nature. He did respect the strategy and memory involved, on a mental level, and the dedication to physical well-being. But how do you convert that into small-talk? Think, think, think.

He was relieved by the arrival of Ginger Mint, a bright white smile showing in his lavender face. "Ah, Miss Mint! How lovely to see you! I'm glad to see you again!" Whew. With her arrival, it was perfectly acceptable to reprise the subject of weather so that she could give her input as well. That would give him at least ... thirty more seconds of conversation to fill. Ooooog, he really hadn't thought this out.

He tensed up as he glanced up at the turned-around poster. Had he put it up right-side around after all? She was looking at it! But it was just white? What was she talking abou- understanding hit him, remembering when his dam had dragged him along to a series of modern art showings. She thought it was supposed to be that way! Now that was a subject he could spread some horse apples over!

"Oh, yes, interesting work," he said to Ginger, smiling in relief. "I think it's actually an emotional piece more than a seasonal piece. The, uh ... Emptiness of Self, very zen. Represents how we want people to see us as a blank slate, uncluttered by preconceptions."

He grinned slightly at his cleverness. That was all very true, after all!

"I don't think we need to worry about winter just yet, thankfully. Or else my poor autumn blooms would be in quite a state by the time I got home, I haven't moved them into the greenhouses yet. No, winter is usually scheduled to be sculpted at least a month after the Running of the Leaves, so we should have some time yet. There's still the Spooktacular traditions to keep, after all!"

He reached out at her offer, taking a cookie and biting into it. "Oh!" he said, surprised, looking down at it. "Oh, these are *very* good!" he said encouragingly.

He felt a need to add to the conversation. Be proactive, not reactive, his Sire had said! But weather and sports were done with... wait, think. Back in school, what had those other guys talked about when he'd hung out half-invisible nearby? He thought back. Well, they'd whistled at passing fillies, but that wouldn't work here. They'd talked about fillies, and sports, but rarely the weather... They'd talked about carts and wagons...

His dam had always said that the one subject every pony loved to talk about was their own cutie mark, whether student or professor. His sire'd said quite the same, whether lawman or shady varmint.

Right! He took a deep breath. "So, those are interesting cutie marks you both have! Plants, a favorite subject of mine, of course, and ... a wagon wheel? That is very fascinating! How did you manage to come by those lovely marks?"

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Douglas intently listened to his friends shift their conversation to the blank poster on the far wall. He looked it over as they spoke about it, listening to Bramble's explanation of the poster. He couldn't help but feel a little perplexed at it. He eyed it silently, thinking how it just looked like an empty sheet of poster. Shoot, if the cultured type of ponies are so repressed that they must look into something that isn't there than who was he to judge. "I must say, I've never been to a gallery or an art show. I just couldn't take interest in it, although I have seen some nice paintings." Douglas said, making sure to keep up with the conversation as it soon shifted to the on-coming winter.

Winter was a time of year he both enjoyed and loathed, if only because snow covered roads were a pain to haul wagons through. "Hm? Spooktacular? Oh! The Harvest festival!" Douglas said, catching Bramble's correction of season. They had of course only just brought in Fall with the Running of the Leaves, no need to get so antsy for winter just yet. Back to the festival though, it had been awhile since he last attended one and he was actually planning on helping out this year. "That reminds me, I agreed to work the Hay hop at the festival in Fillydelphia! It should be fun, don't be afraid to drop in and say hi if any of you are there." Douglas soon saw Bramble reach out for a cookie, slowly thinking he had waited enough to not be impolite he followed Bramble's motion and took one for himself. Happily he ate it with hum of approval. "It really is good! One of the best snacks I've had in quite awhile." Douglas spoke in agreement before deciding to let his two friends speak while he enjoyed the cookie for all it's worth.

As he finished his cookie he heard Bramble bring up their Cutie Marks, albeit with a sort of hesitation toward Douglas'. He was rather used to having a bland mark though, it gave it's own uniqueness to him. "Well the story behind it is more exciting than the mark itself, but I won't bore you with it. I'm a wagoner, simple as that. To put it frankly, I pull wagons for a living. Mostly for merchants or tradesponies, but every now and then I'll pull a carriage. It's rather liberating to always be out seeing the world." Douglas spoke, his eye's drifting off in nowhere particular as he listened to himself.

He knew the call of the road would be upon him soon enough, but that didn't mean he couldn't stop and enjoy the roses from time to time. "Although...some times it can be a down-right bother... Shoot, just trying to avoid ditches, lumps, sinkholes, or muddied ground can be right exhaustin'!" Douglas rambled, his voice taking a sort of annoyance at the many problems that plagued several of his trips. Clearing his throat, Douglas made sure to regather himself before finishing. "Ahem...Still, pays the bills and leaves enough left over to enjoy myself. Saw quite a few nice sights as well so's it ain't all bad."

He sat still for a moment after finishing, just letting his usual self slip in before he remembered it polite to return the question. "Oh yes, Mr. Rose how did you get your Cutie Mark, if you don't mind my prying?" Douglas chimed, letting himself finally relax in his chair.

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The white-on-white image on the wall was perhaps a little bit too much of an acquired taste for Ginger Mint, but that didn't stop her from being curious about such an oddity. Even if she couldn't understand it, understanding why others did had to be worth something. Bramble even seemed to enjoy talking about it, turning two shades more relaxed as he went. He didn't sound like he was sure of his explanation, but he had a genuine grin on his face. Douglas' lack of interest, however, was as clear as Celestia's longest day, so she contented herself to make a mental note to revisit Brambles interest in modern art later and move on for now. Bramble seemed to have picked up on it as well and followed along with the topic of weather.

Ginger Mint nodded in relief on hearing that the weather would hold out for a while longer. She might have known the weather schedules in Fillydelphia front and back, but elsewhere in Equestria she wasn't so sure.

"I guess I haven't witnessed any of this personally, but I heard that the farther north you go, the earlier they schedule winter. My brother told me that one time he had stopped in a little village near the griffins and it snowed during the Harvest Festival! If it were anypony else, I might not have believed it."

On the other hoof, she hadn't been spending very much time in Fillydelphia at all lately and she worried that she might be losing her touch. Her boss was getting in the habit of sending her on all sorts of errands, this current trip through Ponyville was one of them, so when Douglas mentioned the festival in Fillydelphia, she wasn't sure what to say. She absentmindedly pawed at the ground and tried not to let uncertainty get the better of her.

"I.. um.. I'm not sure what my schedule is. I don't know if my boss had a falling out with one of her suppliers, but she's been sending me on trips to test the quality of possible replacements... but I'd like to, that is... if I'm in town."

Cookies. They were eating her cookies and they were enjoying them.

Thank Celestia's unfaltering heart! ...and um, Luna's calming reflection too... Oh, I hope I get used to that someday, but for now, everything is going to be just fine.

Ginger Mint glowed with the complements and took them as her cue to dig in as well. They were her favorite cookies after all, that smooth buttery flavor with a little cinnamon kick carried with it a familiarity that helped put her at ease. And when Douglas started telling (or more precisely sidestepping) his cutie mark story, his apprehension didn't bother Ginger Mint. To her eyes, it seemed like there was something about that particular story he didn't like recalling for whatever reason, and since she was feeling on top of the world, she decided that changing the topic was better than pressing the matter. Bramble's plan caught her hook, line and sinker.

"I think I might know what you mean Douglas. I've been doing more traveling in the past year than I ever thought I would, especially since I'm supposed to be a barista. The roads near Canterlot are always well kept, but they can certainly get... um, patchy, as you get farther out. Thats something my brother never warned me about." Ginger Mint laughs softly at the thought before realizing it was an inside joke, "Oh! I mean, he travels around on one of those flying contraptions, so you can understand why road conditions aren't a common topic. Trade winds and cloud conditions on the other hoof... Well, everyone always says its because Gramps was a pegasus, but I don't think that makes much of a difference.

She couldn't help it as a big goofy grin plastered itself on her face as she approached her big reveal.

"As a matter of fact, even though he's two years my senior, I discovered my special talent before he did. Her big grin settled down to a comfortable smile as she continued, "My own story reminds me quite a bit of this, right here and now actually. Some colts and fillies might have dreamed of adventures in far off places, but for me, dinner time right at home was the thing to look forward to. Not just because of the food, though after a hard day's work it always helped, but because it was the one time of the day that everyone shared together. That is... well to me anyway, thats magic."

She paused for a moment, not entirely sure how to finish her story. Technically she hadn't even gotten to the actual event yet. She looked at her two friends, trying to see if she had lost their attention or not while she switched gears.

"My own cutie mark, though... I don't know if there was any one specific moment that I realized it. It was something that just grew naturally, but I guess there was one thing that pushed it over the edge... I had come home late after a particularly bad day at school. Its kind of funny, but I don't even remember exactly what had happened. Some of the other colts and fillies were being mean and I had to stay after school to make up a test, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was about. Anyway, I got home from school late, like I said, and I was in an sour mood. My mom made some of my favorite tea, but I just didn't feel like drinking it. She wasn't about to let me get away that easily though, and since I couldn't come up with a good reason not to, I had to take a drink and tell her what was wrong with it."

Ginger Mint looked down at the floor, blushing a little as she realized how melancholy the story must sound, and how out of place her smile must have looked.

"'Its just not the same.' Thats what I told her, and she scooped me up in a big old hug while I told her all about what had happened at school. By the time I was done, my tea was already cold, but it tasted better than ever." She caught herself rambling again and made a little sheepish chuckle, "Soooo... Anyway, a few days later, my dad was stuck fixing a broken plow all afternoon and I told my mom that I wanted to make him something special for dinner to help cheer him up. I won't tell you what I put in it, you'd be appalled for sure, it was that bad. He didn't complain, though everyone else certainly did. After dinner he took me aside and thanked me... said that I'd made his day... Thats when my cutie-mark appeared."

Finished with her story, Ginger Mint couldn't think of anything else to do but grab another cookie and wait, and as she chewed, she nodded in agreement with Douglas in hopes that Bramble Rose would share next.

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Bramble Rose smiled a gentle smile to Douglas' demuring about art, his eyes sparkling lightly. "Well, I must admit, art shows are more fun if you consider it a game to play with the other ponies there - finding the most interesting spin to put on the art. It's rather like a performance, in a way."

He listened, then, to Douglas' prevarication about his cutie mark, his green eyes intent on the stallion. "I find it hard to believe that it's as dull and boring as all that, Sir. After all, if you have it for a cutie mark, it must mean quite a bit to you. I rather am fond of the idea of travelling all over, I must admit, seeing all that Equestria and beyond has to see." Beyond that, though, the small unicorn declined to push the issue. He was curious why that cutie mark meant so much to Douglas, but he didn't want to push too hard.

Bramble listened then, politely, to Ginger Mint, enjoying another of the cookies, his gentle gaze turning to her instead. Her cookies had such a gentle flavor, and they were so delicate in the mouth. He had to take care not to eat too many of them - he did not want to be rude. But they were lovely, and wonderful with tea! He ordered a cup of clover tea, and settled in to listen to her story.

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that," Bramble Rose hastened to assure her, as she demured that a pegasus ancestry had no place in preference. "There are magical flows all over - and we tend to be more comfortable in places where our own internal resonance matches the external flow. Pegasus ponies tend to prefer the aerial flows, unicorns are more comfortable with the strong surges of the primary ley lines, and earth ponies are more comfortable with the solid, slow resonance of the earth. However, when family lines start to cross, that internal resonance doesn't necissarily match the external phenotype!"

His normal nervousness faded away as he spoke on the issue - his honors presentation had been on this exact subject - a subject he'd had a personal interest in. "For instance, a pegasus with unicorn ancesters might find him-or-herself drawn to Canterlot, and the studies of the stars, or of the primal flows. An earth pony with pegasus blood may find himself staring skyward longingly - because of that invisible, unheard, unseen resonsance that they can feel on a subconscious level."

"Take me, for instance. My sire was an earth pony - very traditional." Well, not entirely traditional - those romance novels were definately unicorn-ish. But still, Desert Rose had been big, powerful - a train puller, at one point in his life - an impressive figure of a stallion, that his dam had fallen in love with during a research trip, after she hired him to carry her instrumentation around. He was everything Bramble wasn't ... "Anyway, he named me in the earth pony fashion, and I had that earth-pony resonance with the ground. My magic doesn't manifest in the normal unicorn manner - instead, I resonate with earth magic. Plants, specifically. It's one of the reasons I was so keen to take part in the Running, this year. To test my theories."

He smiled a bit abashedly. "It's also how I got my cutie mark. It's ... um ... a somewhat embarassing story." He blushed, glancing up through his eyelashes at Ginger and Douglas. "There was a garden party my dam had gone to, and she'd brought me along. I was supposed to be a good foal, standing tall, behaving myself, like all the other little foals. But the estate we were at bordered a forest, and I got drawn away from the little fillies I was supposed to be standing by to go see what was over there. I was standing on the edge of a hill when the ground crumbled under me. I fell down the muddy hill and into a giant batch of wild rose vines. I got all scratched up and started howling fit for anything ... completely embarassed my dam, of course. Everyone at the party came to see what the commotion was, and that's when I yelled at the plants to stop hurting me ... and they did! The vines pulled back a bit, and made a little circle for me to stand in, and let me out of the thicket. That's when I got my cutie mark. Or at least, we found that out once we finally got all the mud and tree sap off."

He swallowed, and realized he'd been babbling on entirely too much. Oh no! He wasn't supposed to be talking about himself! "But, um ... now I am quite curious what you *did* put into that tea!" he said, lamely, trying to show some interest in the others.

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Douglas had carefully listened to Bramble explain the art show, it caused him to chuckle. "I admit, never saw it that way. Puts a whole new spin on tall tails!" Douglas said, keeping a nice smile beaming across the table. It was after that that he heard Ginger speak up about the odd weather further north, it was something he could attest too. "Oh, yes up there it does come faster, not to sure what's up with that. You grow used to it after awhile." He continued to listen to Ginger as she mentioned she had a brother who had a 'flying contraption.' Surely no better interest getter than that. Douglas could picture one he had seen before but he wasn't sure if it was the one she was referring too "Uh..big fan on top...you 'pedal' it with all four legs, right? I might have seen one before." He agreed, letting her finish before jumping back in.

"I suppose he wouldn't know the road conditions then, but yeah they get rough. When you start heading out towards Appleloosa though is where it really gets nasty! The roads aren't even roads, just paths where nothing grows from being walked on so much! You have rocks and wild animals aplenty, it rarely rains so the dry sand just becomes mush when it finally does. Ugh, I pity anyone who gets caught in a storm out there, they'll be spending the rest of the day covering only a smidgen of ground." Douglas exclaimed, feeling he finally had something he can relate to in conversation.

Soon Ginger Mint began to tell her story about her brother and how she grew up as well as her Cutie Mark story. He got a nice little laugh at her getting her mark first before her older brother, he could probably relate to her brother. It was a rather touching story and he was happy she was willing to share it, but now he started to feel like he was being a grump in the group. He took another cookie and couldn't hide his pleasure as he ate it, a hum of approval coming from him as he let his body shake quickly. Soon Bramble took his turn to tell the story of his Cutie mark, starting off with a humble blush at it's embarrassment. Once he began though, it was interesting to see him so riveted about it.

"That's a very sweet story. I feel a bit low for leaving mine out now. I suppose if the both of you are interested." Douglas spoke calmly, looking at the table before clearing his throat. "I didn't live in an honest home until I was well on my own. My father, like me, was a Wagoner. He was an old broad fella, but a little stocky like me. I suppose it's where I get my physique. Anywho, my mother was an old farm hoof that had left the farm to travel the world with my dad. They mostly worked with one constant merchant who was always moving something so they were in constant employ. Shoot, I was even born and raised on the open trails. Spent my time in one of the covered wagons with my mother and the filly of our wagon's puller. Whenever we'd stop for the night we'd circle the wagons and make a big fire to stay warm. Those was the few times I got to play with the other foals on the trail." Douglas let himself smile nostalgically as he took a nibble of a cookie.

"Course whenever we got too tired to run around we'd sit by the fire and listen to all the pullers talk about where they've been and where they want to go. That's probably where I got my love for traveling, those Stallions were so quiet or aggravated on the trail...to see them light up like a foal when they spoke made me want to see the world even more!" Douglas took a quick breather, making sure he didn't lose anypony in his story. Catching their faces, Douglas figured he stewed them enough.

"Like yer brothah' Ginger, I too was a late bloomer. In fact, I was probably only three years from Stallionhood with no Cutie Mark. I couldn't get it, I knew my mark was related to seeing the world. There was no way I could be tied down, but out on the open just didn't seem to get me my cutie mark. Or so I thought..." Douglas ended, his wry smile accompanied by a shifty set of eyes, oh had the hucksters of the west taught him to spin a yarn or what?! "One day out on the plains, the sky became darker than the darkest night Luna has ever graced us with. Some of the fiercest clouds started to roll in over top of our wagon train. Everypony was a murmuring with worry when just then..." He brought his hoof down on the table, with a stern clop. "Thunder and Lightning set the sky alive! Oh, had it poured! Sure enough, that dry sand turned to slop beneath our wheels!"

Douglas leaned deep forward on the chair, hanging over the table as he head turned slightly, his eyes locking with Bramble's as he lowered his brows. "It was terrible! Ponies were losing grip and wagons were getting stuck. There I was, old enough to help but too stupid to know where to go. Just then a loud clatter of objects echoed during the only moment of silence in the storm. The second wagon on the train was stuck, blocking the others. Everypony was too busy to lend a helping hand, 'cept fer me. I sunk my teeth into a spare harness and ran up as fast as I could to get strapped in. Whoo-wee, first real experience pulling a wagon and in the worst of weather, it wasn't looking good! My body was so tired, I slipped and slammed into the mud...that's when I heard a scream. I looked at the first wagon, the one my daddy was pullin' and I could'a swore that thing was doing a dance from how jerky it bounced around! His voice was in pain as he pulled that thin' by himself. Well I tell you what, I hated being in that mud just laying there while my dad did more than all of us were. So I dug my hooves into that mud, deep as I could send 'em and I tugged and I pulled, my body hurt, my head was screaming for me to stop...but I just couldn't, not with my one chance to make my daddy proud!"

Slowly Douglas sat up straight in his chair, a sly smile upon his face as he looked his friends over, gauging their interest. "The wagon learned then and there I wasn't going lay down and quit, she started jerking in the mud, the puller beside me coaching me when to pull as we worked that heavy thing through the storm! Well, once that mighty rain had stopped and we found hard ground we all climbed out of them harnesses and just dropped where we stood! Not a single one of us could go any longer. That is 'cept my dad, he walked right over to me and sat there, eying me up. Satisfied with his judging, he gave me a hard pat and said 'At'ta boy!' It wasn't till we washed off that I had my Cutie mark staring right at me."

His gentle look returning to his face, he let out a big breath before he sat back in the chair with a toothy grin. "Didn't waste too much time now, did I?"

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When it came time for Ginger Mint to order her tea, she knew exactly what she wanted. When she first plopped down on her seat, the smell of flowers caught her attention, and it had been a while since she had tea brewed along with flower petals. She ordered her drink with a smile.

"White tea with carnations please. And help yourself to a cookie if you like."

Ginger Mint had suspected Douglas might enjoy hearing about her brother's flying machine, and she made a little victory aha! in her mind when he asked her about it. She didn't want to mince words but she felt compelled to clarify since he did ask.

"Well, I don't know a whole lot about the, but I know there are a few different types. His has four pedals and a fan on the back, but the top half is like a hang glider. Supposedly its better at long distances that way."

As Bramble Rose's turn came up, something about his magic theory struck a sour note in Ginger Mint's mind and she furrowed her brow a little. She knew she was going to have to say something about it, not let that thought go unfinished, and as she settled back to listen to his cutie mark story, she hoped he wouldn't be offended when she did. It really was an interesting story, and with a little luck, she wouldn't dash the conversation into a million little pieces at the first chance she got. She was still feeling quite good about life in general.

No worries, everything is going wonderfully. Nopony is yelling or shouting or kicking tables at each other. This should be a piece of cake!

As Bramble finished up his story, Ginger Mint took a gentle sip of her freshly served tea and let a little bit of tension out with a sigh which, in return, made her chest muscles twinge a bit. Overall though, it was a zero sum deal.

"Thats quite a unique gift. Surely your dam wasn't embarrassed about your special talent specifically." It wasn't a question, rather a gentle reassurance. "And you may be right in a way... though I am not sure if everything is exactly as you say. I mean, I guess I've heard of the, um, internal resonance being switched around before. And you would know, of course, because it happened to you. I'm just not sure that its always the case. I mean, my brother got his cutie-mark while we were out sailing, if that makes any sense. He never could walk on clouds and he has to take extra precautions to stay warm but... oh, how did he put it?"

Ginger Mint lowered her voice a bit in a light hearted attempt at an impersonation, "Even a cottonwood needs to take flight before it can find some place of its own."

She tried to make a sweeping gesture with her hoof for added dramatic effect, but instead just waved her arm a bit before having to drop it back down to the ground.

"Its just that, it has been my experience that magic is everywhere and I think, perhaps, present in everything... and impressions from those things are left on it in return. Our actions effect the nature of magic just as its nature effects us, and I think perhaps a good cook can turn lemons into lemonade."

And with that, the urge was relieved. The topic addressed, at least for now. Unwilling to muck things up any further, she grabbed another cookie and took a big bite while she let Douglas pick up where he left off. By the time he got to the part about tall tales after a hard day's work, she was paying rapt attention. She even jumped a little at his make shift thunderclap.

"I must say Douglas, I don't think I ever want to get stuck outdoors in such dreadful weather, and yet you've managed to go and make it all sound exciting. I mean, I always liked thunderstorms the rare times they were scheduled, but only from the safety of my bedroom window." Then with a look of mild consternation, she had to ask, "That... that isn't a normal occurance is it? If it is, I think I might end up thinking twice the next time I try sending a package in the mail. Not unless its important."

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Bramble Rose leaned forward as Douglas told his story, his lips parted slightly, completely entranced by the tale. Now *that* was a tale of a true stallion! Guts and muscle, against the forces of nature! Hard work and loyalty and honor! Going out to see the world, to travel and have adventure, to know, really know, what all was out there! He wanted to do that! He wanted to do that as soon as he had the bits! But he did kind of like it in Ponyville... but to be out there, being a real stallion!

"That's ... an *awesome* story!" Bramble breathed, eyes alight. "I wish my cutie mark story was that amazing!"

His attitude just became more energetic as Ginger mentioned her thoughts on the philosophy of being. "Oh, absolutely!" he agreed. "That's the classic question - magic or mentor? Are our actions per-determined by the patterns of magic flowing through our being? Or is it something we create as part of ourselves, out of what we are brought up in, and our personality? There's been disagreements on that for ... oh ... hundreds of years!"

He leaned forward, putting one hoof on the table to represent one side, and one hoof on the table to represent the other. Then he brought them both together. "What so many ponies seem to miss is that it can be both. Sure, our internal resonance influences us with appropriate patterns, but that doesn't make choices for us. We make choices for ourselves, one way or another - and even led by our magical patterns, well ... lead some ponies to water, and they'll drink. Lead other ponies to water, and they'll look up and think, "Hey, I think I smell some better water over that next hill ... let's go explore!"

He grinned with enthusiasm. "We don't have to be determined by what we're born as, by our magical nature, by anything. We decide who we want to be, and we chase that. But at the same time, if we're going to make our choices in a knowledgeable fashion, we need to understand what's influencing us, so that we know what we're really choosing!"

Bramble settled back, blushing. "Ah. Well, anyway. That's what I think. I didn't mean to just ... go off like that. *^_^*"

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Douglas laughed about Ginger talking about holding up on her packages. "Please don't, it puts food on our tables. And I have to agree, having been in a thunderstorm both inside and out...inside is nicer." Douglas joked, taking a breath before continuing. "Beside, they aren't all that common, they're just... untimely? I guess that's the right word fer it. We don't get caught in storms often, or at least I don't, but when it happens we're usually durin' a big order. Luck as it were. That's not to say it's all bad, sometimes we get a little spring shower. It's a nice little change of pace and as long as the roads hold up we're usually fine." Finished, Douglas grabbed another cookie to snack on, giving it a hardly chomp.

Soon enough he was listening to Bramble's talk about upbringing, it was something he's heard only a few times in his travels. It was an interesting subject and soon enough Bramble struck a cord, "What so many ponies seem to miss is that it can be both..." That was something Douglas had to agree with. The few times it's been brought up it was always one side or the other, it was nice to hear there were other ponies who could see it from both sides and he listened intently until Bramble finished with a soft blush.

Douglas gave a quick tap on the table with his hoof. "It's nothing to be ashamed of! Tah speak so feverishly of something you feel strongly fer is 'bout normal a thing fer most ponies. And I'd have to say that I agree with you. It can easily be both, you could say that t'ere two sides of the same bit. Ya jus' can't have one without the other, it'll always leave something lacking." Douglas voiced, leaning forward a little bit. "Shoot, I've met enough ponies to know that fer sure. I've met the nicest of the humbled, the lowest of the spoiled and in reverse! Met vagabonds that see themselves on par with the Princesses and rich folk with a heart of gold."

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Ginger Mint wasn't entirely convinced by Douglas' nonchalance, but she figured she didn't have any other option but to defer to his expertise on the topic of wagon driving. After all, he was the pony at the table with the wheel for a cutie-mark, so she just politely nodded her head instead.

"Oh! I didn't mean to suggest that your job isn't worth a little hardship, I mean I'm sure it isn't just me sending things in the mail, a lot of ponies must depend on you to keep working no matter what. I know that back home, ships would occasionally set sail even when there were storms in the weather schedule, but they usually had some pegasi along to open enough of a hole in the storm for the ship to pass through. Clouds that move on their own though... How does anypony know how to deal with that?"

She took another sip of her tea and enjoyed sweet, vaguely fruity taste. It reminded her of being in school for some reason, but she couldn't decide if it was because she hadn't had carnations in her tea for such a long tim or if it was because the topic of conversation reminded her of some old debate. It didn't feel like a bad thing though. Bramble Rose hadn't been upset by her rebuttal at all, in fact it seemed to put an even bigger smile on his face. She listened to his excited reply while trying to ignore one of the hornet stings on her leg that had decided to start aching for no particular reason.

But at the same time, if we're going to make our choices in a knowledgeable fashion, we need to understand what's influencing us, so that we know what we're really choosing!

Ginger Mint smiled and leaned forward at that remark, she knew just what to say and she focused all her attention on trying to gracefully slip her own voice into the conversation. It was too good an opportunity to let pass by. Douglas managed to get a word in first, but it was thankfully on the same topic. She waited patiently and listened, wondering what other twists he might add to the discussion.

"Shoot, I've met enough ponies to know that fer sure. I've met the nicest of the humbled, the lowest of the spoiled and in reverse! Met vagabonds that see themselves on par with the Princesses and rich folk with a heart of gold."

This was her chance to seize the moment. Now or never Ginger Mint! Just don't overdo it... Ginger Mint knew she was grinning like a foal in a candy store, but she just couldn't help it, it was too good.

"I hope you realize, that you've just made your own argument a little bit more complicated. If you'll excuse the mixed metaphor, they may be two sides on the same bit, but if thats the case it might just be a bit with more than two sides. There is who we are, who we want to be, who others want us to be, the impressions or lack thereof from other ponies who pass us by, patterns, events that defy prediction and, well, a whole list of things really."

She cleared her throat and brushed her mane out of her eyes as she consciously tried to slow her tempo. She didn't want to rush through this and risk anything getting lost in the excitement.

"Somepony once said, 'In this life, there are destinies you must accept and fates you must overcome. The wise pony knows the difference between the two...' But I guess not even the wisest ponies can know for certain what might have happened if they took the other path. The possibilities are really... Wait, you've met vagabonds Douglas? Are they really as mean as everypony says? I mean... umm..."

Ginger Mint blushed furiously, silently scolding herself for getting so carried away that she derailed her own train of thought. There wasn't anything she could do now though, the question was already asked. So instead, she just reached out and grabbed another cooking, hoping somepony else might put it back on track.

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Bramble Rose shuddered at the thought of clouds moving on their own. It just seemed so ... unnatural! But he didn't want to think about that so much.

Douglas' reassurance warmed him, and he smiled up to the big stallion with a sense of fondness. He hoped that the larger stallion's reluctance to talk about his cutie mark, earlier, was just modesty and not truely that he thought it wasn't important. The big stallion seemed to be everything Bramble wanted to be - big, strong, able to dig in and do his part. World-travelled. Rough and rugged. It'd be a shame if he didn't really appreciate what he had, when he had so much!

He sipped at his tea, then ate a cookie, trying to think of something other than how everypony seemed to think he was some small, delicate little pony. Ginger Mint's comments on the subject gave him pause. "Well, true," he said. "A false dichotomy for the purposes of discussion never holds up, when you look at the larger picture... " He grimaced a little. "I know I am often subject to the ideas other ponies have about me, or what they expect of me. But I don't want to listen to that. I'll overcome fate, that's for certain." He gave a little grin. "But it's awesome to meet someone who understands."

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Douglas finally put in an order for tea and began to nibble on a cookie. He listened quietly to Ginger Mint's words as well as Bramble's counter point. It seemed they were quite enjoying the little discussion, even Douglas found himself interested. The most chatter he got on the plains was akin to the Joker being wild or not in cards. While he himself wasn't too used to the cultured discussion, he could enjoy the talk when he did pick it up and even had a little something to contribute himself.

Just then Bramble said something that had caused Douglas to look over him, eying him quizzically. "Then, Bramble...who do you want to be?" He started, using Bramble's first name for effect. "When ponies see you, what do you want them to assume about you? Why should you let those faceless noponies who hardly care to know the pony behind the cutie mark direct who you are? Or for that matter, those who only see you as the child of your parents' and not as your own Stallion? I can understand being coddled or raised a certain way as a foal, but if you come of age and realize that it's not what you want then you should have full say to refuse to be that pony!"

"I never aimed high, but what I found I wouldn't give up. Yes, It's manual labor! I'll probably break mah back day in and day out till ah can't work no more. Still, I feel richer than most despite the amount of bits to my name. The life I live is one I'm proud of, I can look back and say 'Yeah, I did that!' The things I see, I feel have enriched my life in ways most ponies only dream. Think about this, when I pass there will be only those in my family and those of my friends who will care or mourn. That is fine with me."

Douglas could feel himself getting a little off tangent, but once he started he wasn't likely to stop till he got out what he wanted to say. The waiter, having delivered his tea watched as Douglas knocked back the whole cup without a care before sending the slightly ruffled waiter back for a refill. "How many ponies would take one look at me and assume they're above me? That I'm brawn with no brain. Why should I let that effect who I am? Shouldn't I strive to be who I want to be, darn anypony who don't agree? Pardon my break in manners." Douglas cleared his throat, the tea surely wet his whistle but his non-stop talking was tuckering the usually quiet pony out.

The waiter returning with another cup of tea was rather eased to see Douglas calmly sip the tea instead of chugging it and left after Douglas offered his thanks. Feeling the gist of what he wanted to say, Douglas leaned back into his seat and let out a short breath. "Oh, the Vagabonds!" He spoke, remembering Ginger's question. "Hardly, I've met many nice ones. In fact, while I have a place in Hoofington it's very rare that I stay for more than a day or so. You could say I'm a Vagabond since I'm always running something around Equestria and I'm quite comfortable on the road."

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Ginger Mint smiled and barely avoided making a little "squee" noise as Douglas took the reigns of the conversation, so to speak. She was in her element, listening to Douglas talk about his hopes and dreams with a passion that most ponies reserved around strangers. Somehow, she'd managed to take three ponies who'd only just met and got them talking, and not just small talk anymore either, if her reading of the situation was right. It seemed like each had something to say that was of genuine interest.

Its gotta be the cookies, nothing like a sweetness to put a pony at ease. Well, most of the time anyway.

She might have gaped a little bit when Douglas drained his cup in one gulp, but she quickly recovered. It wasn't that unusual for somepony to just open up the hatch, but it always made her cringe a bit anyways. She was thinking about all the different ways she might have gone in life when Douglas returned to the topic of vagabonds.

"No no, I can't imagine you jumping anypony for the contents of their purse. I've heard all sorts of stories, but I suppose maybe I ought not to read quite so much fiction. On the other hoof..." Ginger Mint put a sly grin on her face, "If you feel comfortable on the road, doesn't that make it your home? I always imagined that not feeling comfortable anywhere was what kept a true vagabond on the move."

An attempt at a nonchalant shrug only caused her leg to cramp up and she winced painfully, he mind derailed into a litany of Ow-owowowowowOW! Some gentle massaging with her free hoof managed to ease the main enough to get her mind back on track, but she had something of a goofy grimace on her face as she continued.

"Well, ah-haha... Its just that you were talking about who you wanted to be, and it sounds like you want to be out on the open road. You've got something you're moving towards instead of something you're running away from. I mean, I don't know that many nobles either, but even as regal as they may be, I think even they know that one word from Celestia and some other pony could be doing their job, if she had good reason to anyway. Maybe some of them look down on everypony else because they're running away from what they're afraid of."

It made some kind of sense, but something about what she'd just said struck a dissonant chord with her the moment the words left her mouth. She might have tried to shrug her shoulders again, but her previous attempts made such a thought seem even more foolish than whatever it was that was bothering her, so she settled for just giving her head a little shake while she looked down at her hooves.

"Ah, I don't really know for sure though, it was just a thought. If the Princess can... I mean the Princesses can be so kind and generous, surely they know what they're looking for. Or maybe sometimes it isn't so bad to just take a chance on something or somepony, even if it isn't what you had in mind at the beginning. I guess a pony could miss out on an awful lot if they just stuck with what they know for sure."

Ginger Mint hadn't been going anywhere in particular with that last thought. She was rambling again, but she somehow managed to find her way to a point anyway, and when she realized this, she just lowered her head down to the table and blew the hair out of her eyes with a little sigh.

"I know I'd have missed out on a whole bunch of aching muscles I didn't even know existed."

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Bramble Rose was set back by the question. What did he want to be? He couldn't say for certain. He knew what he didn't want to be seen as. He didn't want to be seen as small, or girly. He didn't want to be seen as weak. He didn't want to be seen as ... ... out of place. Too earthy to fit in with unicorns, too small and magical to fit in with earth ponies. He didn't want ponies laughing at him, or jeering at him, or calling him names, or ... or assuming things about him.

But what did he actually want? A faint look of worry went across his face. He didn't even really hear much of what Douglas or Ginger Mint was saying... because the question just took him so by surprise. As they both ended up looking at him, no doubt waiting for a response, Bramble simply said, "I ... don't know, actually." He sounded terribly surprised. "I know what I don't want, but ... I don't know what I want."

He scratched at his head. "that must sound terribly silly. I mean, I guess I want to work with flowers, of course. That's my special talent." I want to be romantic. I want to be suave. I want ponies to look up to me, not look down at me. I want to be tough. To be strong, and stand up for something. But how do I say something stupid like that? He sat with his mouth open for several long moments as thoughts ran through his head, but nothing he could ever get to come out of his mouth. "I'd love ... to travel, I guess. To do something like Douglas is doing." It felt lame, coming out. His heart sank. And things had been going so well...

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Douglas sat still as he listened to Bramble speak, he could feel the air being let out of the poor pony's sails as he spoke. Douglas let out a sigh, mentally scolding himself for putting the Unicorn on the spot. He started to form up a response for Bramble, something to cheer him up. "So you don't know what you want just yet. You want to do something with flowers, but you want to see something other than the same old scenery? There's nothing silly about that." Douglas said, casting his gaze to the cookies. "Traveling is nice. You should really try it, better yet, make a plan. Put a few bits away for safe keeping and don't touch 'em, just let 'em build. Then...go on a trip. Ask for some time off and use the bits to pay for your trip."

Douglas looked back to Bramble as he sipped from his tea. "Maybe find some work related reason to travel? Shoot, it works for me!" Douglas said, with sly grin and wink. Douglas could only hope he was helping. He could understand Bramble's desire to try something new. And while he didn't specifically say what he didn't want to be seen as, Douglas could feel he knew what the pony meant. To say Douglas didn't see Bramble as feminine or soft wouldn't be entirely true, still he would be more than happy to help how he could. "Anypony can change, you just need the willpower to do so... or the ignorance not to know better."

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Ginger Mint was on high alert, her ears perked up and the little hamster in her mind was running furiously on his little hamster wheel. Everything was still awesome, but if it was going to stay awesome she felt like she had to do something. It simply wouldn't do to have one of her new friends in a bad spot.

This calls for decisive action, but saying 'think of something, think of something, think of something,' is certainly not going to cut it. Sooooo, think of something!

Her indecision gave Douglas the chance to take the lead and she was silently thankful for the opportunity to compose herself. Composure. Perhaps that was what Bramble Rose needed at the moment. She could tell his self confidence was fading fast, so as soon as Douglas was finished with his own solid advice, Ginger Mint slipped in behind him hoping to provide a little jolt of her own.

"Hey, don't sell yourself short now." Her voice carried with it a hint of disbelief, "You were able to find your special talent, even when it was something out of the ordinary, right? That's certainly not a weakness. It sounds to me like you've already got what it takes to make something happen, once you figure out what you want to happen."

Ginger Mint was skating on thin ice... downhill... with a rocket strapped to her back... possibly being chased by an angry bear of some kind. In spite of the delicacy of the issue, it felt exhilarating. She had to tell herself to slow down and not get too carried away, but unlike usual, she was thankfully not too carried away to take heed.

"Douglas is right, you don't have to rush into anything though." She had managed to slow down her own speech, putting on a gentle smile, "Maybe a little uncertainty is okay, if it means you're not forcing yourself into being something you don't want to be. If you don't know where you're going, maybe finding out the answer to that is a direction in itself."

Images of Bramble wandering aimlessly through the desert danced in her head. She didn't want to push him too hard -didn't want him to uproot himself and turn his life upside down if it all turned out to be a mistake. She just wanted to encourage him.

She'd have held her hoof behind her head sheepishly if she hadn't been so sore from the race, so instead her left ear just flopped around a bit.

"eh~hehehe, don't take my advice too seriously though." she said with another sheepish laugh, "It sounds to me like maybe you were already looking for the answer, even if you didn't know the question. Perhaps seeing new things will help you find what you're looking for. Or it might just give you a better appreciation for what you already have.

She looked over to Douglas, trying to gauge his reaction to all of this. With any luck, she'd be able to tell if they were still on the same page.

"Maybe it does sound just a little bit silly, but when you find the answer for yourself, I'm sure you'll look back and this will all seem a bit silly to you too." she offered to Bramble hopefully before leaning back and addressing both of her friends, "If you were to go on a trip somewhere, where would you like to go? Someplace warm perhaps? I hear the Gallopocous are nice this time of year, or maybe someplace cold?"

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Bramble smiled broadly. "Oh, goodness yes. I'd love to go to the Gallopocous, they're supposed to have just gorgeous flowers there. Gigantic blooms, not like you find around here. And I want to go to the desert, my sire always told me about the lovely desert blooms. I have a trip planning scrapbook at home, where I'm planning everything out by flowering season and the like, so I can make sure to see everything at just the right time of the year, once I've saved up the bits."

He blew over his tea, and took another sip, absently humming to himself, not too hot, not too cold, the song that he'd heard floating out of a window this morning. It was stuck in his head.

"I mean, there's tickets, and hotel rooms, and then I need to make sure I dress appropriately. And I'll want to make sure I see the sights. It's a lot of bits. I'm not sure how I'd travel for business..."

He paused, frowning. "Well. I guess ... maybe with my side job. But I'm not sure how much time I'd have for sight-seeing if I tried to do that ..."

He laughed softly. "Oh, my, but haven't I been rude, turning the conversation to me? Though, thank you *both*. It's... awfully kind of you both to be so nice to me. What do *you* guys want to do? There must be dreams there, too!"

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Douglas was happy to see Bramble cheer up as he listened to him list off about finding a way to plan a trip. "Well, just put a little aside and you'd be surprised how fast it builds." Douglas encouraged, as he took another cookie to nibble on. Letting the tastiness hold his attention, Douglas slowly droned out on the conversation for the time being. Washing the cookie down with a sip of tea, he cleared his throat and prepared to speak.

"Dreams of my own?" Douglas repeated, giving his chin a rub. "Hm, Well I adore traveling, seeing what hasn't been seen and all that. But I suppose to one day serve as a crew member on a boat." Douglas gave a faint nod to the idea, feeling sort of content with his words. He then gave a look over Bramble and Ginger's faces to make sure they understood him and figured some further explanation would be in order.

"I know it may seem odd to trade work for work, but I remember when I was young and our wagon train stopped in the port city of Hoofington. I had to sit in a wagon while my dad helped some sailors unload their shipment into our wagons. I had nevah seen a boat at that time so it was a fun experience. It might've even been what caused me tah move to Hoofin'ton. Anyway, I watched the boat rock in the waves as the sea air tickled at my snout. It was the...majesty? Yeah the majesty of the ship that appealed to me."

"To think that they went where even our wagons couldn't go, to go where you can't even walk was scary to me. That vast water seemed to go forever. Of course back then it seemed like a bore to me. I suppose I sees it as an a romantic kind of meanin' now. Some o' them ponies who worked the boats spoke with us. They was tough, they walked tough, they acted tough, shoot they even talked tough! Though they used language I wouldn't be keen 'an repeating around a lady." Douglas finished, giving a kind smile in Ginger's direction.

"I could easily just ride a boat as a passenger, but...well I just don't feel comfortable unless I'm pulling my weight." Letting out an exhausted sigh, Douglas took a sip of tea with a neutral look, waiting a few seconds after his sip before exhaling and smiling brightly.

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hi hi

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The moment Bramble started talking about the flowers of the Gallopocous, Ginger Mint was able to relax, but his little tune made her face scrunch up a little in confusion.

That tune sounds so familiar, I just know I've heard it somewhere before... but where?

That confusion carried over as Bramble started to talk about business and her brow furrowed even further. Ginger Mint was certain she'd missed something in the conversation, perhaps while she had been pondering the tune. As far as she could remember, Bramble hadn't said anything about a side job before, especially not something that might involve travel. She was just about to say something about her own experiences traveling for work when he shifted the topic.

I'll just have to remember that for later, just in case it comes up again.

As Douglas started talking about sailing, Ginger Mint closed her eyes and tipped her head down for deep sip of tea, savoring the taste as she imagined the sights and sounds of the sea. Sailing was a timeless memory from when she was a filly, something that never faded away or lost its luster with time. If she didn't know any better, she might have sworn she could smell the sea breeze right then and there, and she found herself craving something salty.

"Though they used language I wouldn't be keen 'an repeating around a lady." Ginger Mint couldn't help but smile and nod in agreement. She figured that the sailors in Fillydelphia weren't much different.

It took her a moment to try to pull herself away from her own memories and back to the conversation, but thankfully, Bramble and Douglas gave her that moment without carrying to discussion away too quickly.

"I don't think its that strange to trade work for work, I know I enjoy what I do, even if I sometimes wish that it could be a little bit more... more than what it is anyway." Ginger Mint strained to get her train of thought on track, "If you enjoy doing something, why not? And even if you can only work one job at a time, its healthy to enjoy different things, isn't it? I haven't done much sailing since I was a filly, but it was always one of my favorite things. My folks used to take us out on the weekends, every now and again. Sometimes it feels like a whole different world, but I, um... I guess I get that feeling a lot when I travel. Every place has its own personality is what I mean... But you shouldn't feel uncomfortable riding somewhere, those sailors rely on passengers just as much as teamsters rely on packages."

It would have been a good time to bring up her own experiences traveling, but in the back of her mind was a nagging feeling that she was dodging Bramble's question, and she didn't want to leave anypony hanging.

"As for my own dreams... I'm not sure I have it in me to go after grand things. I think, I think sometimes I wonder what it would be like to open my very own cafe. Its something I'm working towards, but other times I think its the little things that I enjoy more than anything. A cozy fire, a warm meal, good friends..." Ginger Mint smiled apologetically as she talked, "I guess thats not much of an answer is it? Who knows, maybe someday serendipity will strike and I'll be whisked off to some faraway place, but I guess if I saw it coming, it wouldn't be much of a surprise, would it?"

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