I felt slightly guilty as I walked back into town, for I knew that I had thought listening to Fluttershy would have been a waste of time. Nothing further could be from the truth, however, and as Ponyville’s houses and shops grew in closeness, I made a mental note to apologise to Pones. I knew that, were it not for his brilliance and his intense scrutiny of Fluttershy’s story, we might still be convinced that there was only a single perpetrator of the crime. Though perhaps with his earlier suspicions, he had assumed well before anyone else that there was a second present that night, and I wondered for a while how he might have arrived at that particular conclusion. Pones was a reserved character, almost devious in nature - his perseverance to keep his cards close to his chest at all times came off as less than agreeable at times, or at least I had learned as much in the brief time I had known him. But I felt that behind his well-masked personality, there lay a fragment of a very dark mind. It seemed he possessed a certain aptitude at thinking like a criminal, or at the very least there was some part of him that he used to see the extraordinary that I had not.
I passed back by the boutique, which was now evidently closed. The front door was shut and there were no lights on either upstairs or downstairs, and I assumed that rarity had retired early. My heart went out to her as I reached the top of the hill and looked back to observe the boutique in the evening light, for I became aware what a beautiful thing the building was. The vivid shades of mauve and rose that I had thought of as rather obnoxious had blended together with the ever-reddening sky. It was, I felt, reflective of her personality – seemingly brash, yet undoubtedly as natural and charming as it was possible to be, when put in the right light.
My approach to Ponyville was now downhill, and as the houses hemmed me in on my left and right, my mind came back to the task at hand. I paused, slipping a hoof into my jacket pocket for the address that Felicia had given me. On it was drawn a very rough map. I was thankful for this, for I still knew very little about the place, and using it I planned my route up a series of streets that led towards the east side of town. I began to walk once more, and my thoughts on the very strange day continued, as if they were a faithful hound, stopping and waiting obediently until I had begun my stride.
I had endeavoured as much as I could to keep up with Pones’ conclusions, but it seemed that I was merely his very mediocre student. He was a stallion of habit, but to a greater extent than I, and he appeared irritated by my lesser mind, which undoubtedly appeared to him to be slow. Still, I consoled myself as my hooves found the footpath of the town streets once more; at least I served as a whetstone for his mind. It seemed that my inquiry into each of his actions forced him to exercise his great brain as much as his extraordinary conclusions forced mine.
I rounded a corner, and found that in my absent mindedness that I had arrived back in the town square. Quite contrary to its casual laziness in the morning, the place was now alive with restaurants and bars to which there was a steady influx of visitors as the day drew to a close. I assumed, as I looked around, that Pones must be here somewhere, though I did not attempt to seek him out through the windows of the cafes and restaurants, for as much as his perusal of the unknown ‘Berry Punch’ piqued my interest, I had no time to waste. I increased my pace a little, and exited on the opposite side of the place, picking a path that ran right between two very crowded and equally as noisy bars, and up a street that wound its way in an easterly direction.
Eventually, I passed away from the bustling town centre, re-entering the endless avenues of houses and parks before arrived at the address to which I had been directed. It was a somewhat immodest manor built out of brick. I was somewhat taken aback, for though I knew Felicia well, I did not assume her to be particularly wealthy, even though I also knew that as rural doctor she must have been well to do. I opened the waist high fence and strolled through a delightfully prettygarden of tulips and daisies.
I knocked on the wooden door, and was answered almost immediately. Her familiar features approaching through the ornamental stained glass windows that stood either side of the doorway told me that she was expecting me.
The door swung in, and immediately she set upon me like she had not seen me in years, hugging me. Her overzealous affection was something I had always enjoyed, and it brought a smile to my features as we released our embrace, whereupon she spoke.
“You look well!” she said with some affection. I returned the compliment, though in reality she was far and beyond ‘well’. She had clearly gone to some lengths for tonight, as her mane– which I had rarely seen let out of its tidy bundle – flowed to her shoulders, a wave of strawberry blonde. She wore a modestly cut black dress that fit her perfectly; and a light necklace of gold around her neck, from which dangled a heart-shaped pendant.
She caught me looking her over, though, and I immediately confessed my guilt in the extremely sincere and childish way that I tended to do when I was somewhat nervous, apologising profusely. She laughed and shut the door behind her, turning a key in the lock before depositing it in a small black bag. I recognised it to be the one that she had worn at our last meeting.
“Oh, Trotson, don’t be so polite,” she said in her very straightforward fashion. I was confused by my own error, and wondered if she had meant to say formal instead, but immediately I found a pair of hooves resting on my chest, and her own silver-blue eyes to be very close to my own. Immediately my mind seized up, but again I had made the error of jumping to conclusions, as she then applied weight, giving me a friendly shove out of her doorway.
“Let’s go!” she said excitedly, cantering past me.
We walked back towards town along the way I had come, but we then followed a small dog-leg to the left so that we faced north. She led me up a few streets, and we chatted about our weeks. She seemed particularly interested about my impressions of Ponyville, of which she was five years in residence, and how I had got on with Sherclop Pones.
I was more than eager to talk about Pones, for thinking about him required me to draw on most of my logical faculties, which in turn distracted me from Redheart, who as we walked, leaned into me a little closer than I might have liked.
“Well, what can I say? He’s a very strange fellow…”
“Is that your usual polite way of saying something else?”
“No, I mean what I say!” I said. I was indignant, for her guess was correct, and had wounded me grievously, though I was too ashamed to admit it. She was quite intelligent, though all her forwardness and the way she possessed a certain zest for whatever (or whoever) was on her mind caused me to forget this fact, more often than not. In such a way she was similar to Pones, for he too possessed this unimaginable drive, though his was much quieter.
I told her about my first impressions of him, making a particular note of talking about his ability to seamlessly conclude just about anything, and she shook her head in amazement when I had finished.
“One would think you held him in as high a regard as that old stick-in-the-mud Lifeglow,” she said.
“If by that you mean that they were both extraordinary yet old-fashioned, then yes, I do,” I said with a trace of irritation. She had, in almost no time whatsoever, resumed her teasing, as she so often loved to do when we were together in college, bumping me out of my thoughts once more with a particularly hefty shove.
“Lifeglow was not extraordinary, he was dull.” She said.
“You wouldn’t know, you were asleep during half his lectures,” I shot back.
“Only because they were so boring!”
“As I recall, it was not boredom that kept you asleep, so much as successive hangovers.”
To this, she turned a tinge of pink in a mixture of embarrassment and irritation.
“Still in denial, I see?” I said, a triumphant grin on my face.
“Yeah, well, with the eyes of half the class on you, Mr. Perfect, I wouldn’t be surprised that you didn’t fall asleep,” she replied. “I know I can’t fall asleep if I’m being watched.”
“And what does that mean?” I inquired. I was confused, yet intrigued.
She scoffed at my bewilderment.
“Are you seriously telling me you never noticed?”
She sighed, and steered me left with a guiding hoof into another street.
“Well, you were always getting good grades, and plenty of people took their notes from you rather than him, so that was a big part of it. But, I’d say it was mostly because there were more fillies there with a crush on you than… Than I don’t even know!”
“I doubt that,” I said, unwilling to believe either part of her statement.
“Well I don’t.”
“Name three of these fillies, then, if you’re so convinced.”
She sighed, and began ticking off names, much to my dismay. She was not bluffing.
“Well, there was Daisy, for a start.”
I was mortified, and turned a shade of pink. Of course, I had noticed her attention, though admittedly I had misconstrued it. She used to catch my eye around the university, and I imagined at the time that her little waves and shy smiles in the corridors were nothing more than friendliness.
“What rubbish!” I cried. “We were just friends.”
“And who would know better?” asked Redheart with a tinge of satisfaction in her voice. She was certainly capable of toying with my emotions, though I did not enjoy it.
“Not you, that’s for sure.” Again, an unsteady comment to defend myself.
“Well what about Aloe?”
I paled, remembering the foreigner who had once given me a card on Valentine’s Day. “Oh, that can’t be right at all.”
I gulped. I remembered the Christmas get-together I had attended with her quite well.
“No, no, no…”
“Now who’s in denial?” she said victoriously. She had gained the upper hoof once more.
“Well I never noticed them,” I said defensively. I was sincerely telling the truth here – the idea of however many fillies idly daydreaming about myself froze my blood with horror, and I was more than keen to dismiss it as an oversight on Felicia’s part. But, the more I thought about the instances on their own, the more correct she seemed to be.
“So, out of all those girls you could have had, what made me so special?” she asked after a brief pause.
I cringed a little at the question. Damnit, I thought. She had checkmated me.
“Why clearly it was your ability to tease a pony to death,” I replied nonchalantly.
“Oh, I’m sure,” she said sarcastically, with a very characteristic roll of her eyes.
(NB: As an aside; I might apologise for the inclusion of the very tiring banter, but I feel that it is important to defend my honour from such undoubtedly baseless accusations.)
Thankfully, I was offered a reprieve from the relentless assault on my character by our arrival at the restaurant at which we were to eat. It was a very light-hearted place, and for this I was glad beyond description. The brightness of the place, combined with the jaunty tune that came from a fiddler, told me that the evening wouldn’t be romantic.
We were shown to a table by a very dapper maître de, and he seemed to know Felicia quite well, embracing her with a huge cry and kissing her once upon each cheek. He had a very strong accent that I couldn't place, and he led us both through the small tables for two towards the kitchen, where the larger groups were seated. He came to a table and stood beside it, beaming, and I thought at first he had made a mistake, for there were already a couple seated there - a lavender unicorn with a very dark indigo mane, and a crimson-coloured earth pony. They were busily chatting amongst themselves, and as such did not notice our presence till we were right beside them.
“Oh, Redheart!” cried the mare with surprise, pushing her seat away and rising to greet my companion.
“Twi, lovely to see you!” Redheart said with a smile, embracing the unicorn.
The other occupant of the table stood, and waited his turn behind her. When the two fillies had broken their embrace, he spoke out.
“Doc,” he said politely, nodding his head.
“Hello Macintosh!” Redheart kissed him on the cheek, causing him to smile.
“I’d like to introduce a friend of mine,” she said after he released her, to which she turned to me.
“Twilight Sparkle, meet Doctor Trotson. He’s a University friend of mine.”
“Charmed!” I said, quickly taking the opportunity to shake her hoof. As she accepted the hoof I saw that she had a stripe of deep purple and pink that ran along the breadth of her dark mane, which was quite long and meticulously cared for.
“Oh, another doctor?” she said to Redheart, her violet eyes widening a little. I saw a small twinkle of interest from them as she turned her attention to me.
“Yes,” I replied, “But don’t listen to her, she’s an awful gossip.”
"Well aren't you a charmer!"
I smiled and turned to the stallion, expecting Redheart to introduce me, but to my surprise he had already offered me his hoof, and I shook it. His grip was powerful, and indeed, he was an exceedingly large fellow, with a somewhat unkempt blonde mane, and I knew that he was no artisan or nobleman by the way he spoke.
“Big Macintosh. A real pleasure meetin’ you after all these words I’ve heard from Felicia.”
I smiled a little ingratiatingly, for his huge frame combined with very muscular features towered about half a foot over myself, and as such he struck a very intimidating appearance. He wore a very polite jacket with a loose collar, and I could see that his coat was very darkly coloured except for a few freckles on his cheeks, no doubt as a result of working in the sun so much.
“A pleasure indeed,” I replied.
“’Ere you are, Madame,” the maître de said, drawing out a seat for Felicia before I could. She smiled at him sweetly (I resisted the urge to scowl at him), and I took my seat opposite.
Admittedly, the fillies did most of the talking. I for one was more than happy to stay away from the spotlight, and Macintosh seemed quite content to do exactly the same, though we did exchange a few words throughout the night.
I discovered that she was the local librarian, and he was the owner of the apple orchard on the outskirts of town. A more curious mix of two ponies you might not have ever seen, for he was as big and burly as she was lithe and sleek, and though he was not uneducated, he paled in comparison to his more learned partner, who was busy talking about the recent goings on of Ponyville in a manner that might suggest that she was a bit of a know-it-all.
“Did you grow up here?” I inquired to Twilight, who looked over at me with some leisurely surprise. I imagine that she had thought me as mute as her partner.
“No, I grew up in Canterlot. I only moved here about two or three years ago,” she replied.
“So, I assume you were schooled in Canterlot?”
“Yes, and at a very high level – well, not to brag, but I am one of Princess Celestia’s protégés.”
I found myself amazed.
“You must be very talented!” I said, not hesitating to conceal my obvious surprise that such a distinctive student was sitting amongst us. She laughed nervously and ran a hoof through her mane in distraction, her eyes rolling in embarrassment.
“Oh, really, I’m just a very simple student,” she said, and I noticed her cheeks flushed with pleasure. “You know, element of magic and all that.”
“Really? You are a very skilled student of magic, then?” It was an obsequious question, for my eyes were already upon the floating glass in front of her. She seemed to notice my examination, though, setting the glass back on the table before speaking.
“Well,” she replied, “I do spend a lot of time on it. It doesn’t come naturally to me.”
“Oh, horsefeathers,” Macintosh said from my left, causing me to turn. “Your mark’s magic, you were meant for it.”
I noticed at this dismissal that he had a very strong southern accent, and that he must have been from far away originally.
“What kind of magic?” I inquired.
“Oh, all sorts of things!” Felicia said. “You should see it – conjuration, levitation, even teleportation!”
“Teleportation?” I cried incredulously.
“Well, only short-distance,” Twilight said, reddening once more. “And it takes a lot of focus to do. I haven’t got the hang of it yet.”
Eventually, the conversation turned to me, and Twilight engaged me in conversation, using her horn to levitate and sip at a glass of wine.
“So, what brings you to the smallest of small towns, Doctor Trotson?”
“Please, call me John, or Trotson, whichever so takes your fancy.”
“Very well,” said she. “You are a country boy raised though, or at least that’s what Felicia tells me.”
“Quite so,” I replied, and explained in brief how I had come to meet Felicia – a young lad in the country, and so on and so forth, including my University years and the time that I had spent travelling, working here and there as a labourer. Twilight was most intrigued in my travels, for she was a scholarly type who revelled in new places and experiences. Macintosh was mostly quiet, but as I finished he was curious. It seemed that now he had discovered I was not wholeheartedly a city-slicker, he was more open to speaking.
“Then what brings you here? Thinkin’ about finding a quiet place to settle from your travels?” He inquired.
“No,” I said, taking a drink of the glass of whiskey that I had ordered before replying. “I’m here with a friend of mine, who I currently share an apartment with in Woodrow, and together we’re investigating the burglary up at Carousel Boutique.”
Big Mac’s eyes widened and he looked rather surprised.
“Really, now?” He said, as if the revelation had caused him some interest.
“Indeed I am. Admittedly, I am little more than an accomplice to my friend, though.”
Felicia laughed from across the table.
“Oh John, don’t be so modest. Surely your companion is not as smart as you say.”
I was thinking of again describing his uncanny ability to deduce even the vaguest of conclusions from a single glance, but I noticed that Twilight had stopped mid-drink when I mentioned the boutique. I made sure not to let her notice, but I made a mental note of it all the same.
“He is as brilliant as it is possible to be,” I responded sincerely.
“What is his profession?” inquired Macintosh again.
“Well – that is rather difficult,” I replied, “for I have had some trouble pinning it, though he calls himself a detective.”
“So he works for the police?” Twilight said, and I turned casually to her, imagining that I had not seen her earlier slip.
“No, no, he is what he calls a ‘consulting detective.'” I explained what those where, and what they did. “It is strange,” I added as an afterthought, “for he only sees fit to investigate cases when he fancies. Such is the level of his skill.”
“And you are here assisting him?” asked Twilight. I could tell she was curious, though it was not the same sort of questioning that had come when the conversation revolved around me. There was no glimmer in her eyes that showed me that she was earnestly listening, and it appeared as if she had her mind on something else.
“Yes, I am,” and here I looked at her very seriously. “Though I am always his secondary, I have learned much from him.”
“What did you learn?” asked Macintosh. I turned to him, and was surprised to find that he was rather amused by the whole idea that I could be so enthralled by one pony’s skill. He struck a very different contrast to his partner.
“How to observe,” I said. I chose to repeat the tale in which he had analysed me in a heartbeat, knowing exactly where he was from, all the while keeping an eye on Twilight.
“And so, just by a single glance,” I concluded with a smile, “He knew just from my skin tone and my demeanour what I had been doing – just with a single glance!”
Twilight shifted uncomfortably in her seat, and in doing so revealed something that I might not have noticed. It was a very odd mark on her foreleg, black, and in the shape of a hollowed crescent-moon. She followed the trace of my eyes.
“Have you done yourself some injury?” I inquired, gesturing to it.
“Yes I did actually,” she said matter-of-factly, as if my question was very probing. “My Assistant Spike was handing me some heavy tomes on Equestrian history the other day, and it fell and hit me.”
The conversation was interrupted by the arrival of the main courses, and I allowed her to abuse the break in talk as we ate.
I don’t know what it was – call it Pones’ experience rubbing off on me – but the way she said it told me that it was obviously a lie, and internally I was unnerved. A bruised, magical unicorn of a light and lithe build, who grew nervous whenever I spoke of Pones (though not by name), with a companion of very large stature. If my conclusions were not much mistaken, I could be sitting at dinner with the two robbers themselves. But it seemed unlikely. She was almost too telling, and I was almost certain that there was some part of the equation that seemed wrong, though I could not pick what it was. All that I knew was that when I gazed over at Big Macintosh, who was hungrily eating and talking to Felicia, he did not appear to be fazed by what I had said. Felicia continued to eat obliviously, only looking back over at me to ask a few unrelated questions. Only Pones, Fluttershy and I were in possession of the knowledge that there were two burglars, and here the situation seemed so perfectly laid out in front of me – though for the life of me, I could not call myself convinced on the situation.
Surely, I thought, there was something missing, though as a pair of suspects the duo fit perfectly in the specifics that Pones had described. I settled into the dish that I had ordered, being careful not to act suspiciously. Naturally my intentions did not revolve around attempting anything – I could act later, of course – but I did want to try and work out this unknown kink that was in my mind before testing anything further.
Sadly, such an opportunity did not present itself as the night continued. My mind was, despite having plenty of time to work, unable to reach any sort of conclusion. I must have been very telling at this point, for I was often like this, only becoming aware that the gazes of the others had fallen on me during a very large lapse.
“Sorry?” I asked, assuming that I had been asked a question.
“No, it’s nothin’…” Said Big Macintosh, looking at me concernedly. “You just looked like you were a little out to it, if you know what I mean.”
“I’m just a little tired,” I said, thinking that I could use Pones’ habitual nature of rising at the crack of dawn as an excuse if I had to, but I did not. Big Macintosh shook his head.
“Used to work the fields myself, up early and asleep early, though since I inherited the farm I’ve had the liberty of setting my own hours,” he said, winking at me.
“Not anymore, sleepyhead,” said Twilight. “Your sister was all hot under the collar about how you slept till eleven the other day.”
Big Mac looked rueful, as if Twilight’s words had stung him into shame. “Well, to be fair to me, I was out late the last night.”
“With you as I recall,” said Redheart, which made the purple unicorn stutter a little in her reprimand.
“Well, all the same,” she said, adopting what was clearly a southern accent, “if ah see mah no-good brother lazin’ around again…”
The gigantic crimson stallion let out another deep chuckle.
“Eeyup. That does sound like her, all right,” he said. “All the same, we’ve taken on a whole load of new folk, and they’re all hard workers, so it takes a little off of me.”
“Well I’m not tired at all,” said Felicia pointedly, and Twilight agreed. I shrugged at Big Macintosh.
“I believe we just got outvoted,” I said rather cordially. He smirked and gestured across the table to Twilight.
“See her?” He murmured, half-whispering so as to irritate her. “You’ll never win any argument with her.”
“How strange!” I cried. “That’s exactly what I get from the good Doctor over here.” I looked over at Felicia. “Or rather, what I don’t get.”
“You’ll get an earful if you keep that up,” she said testily, and Big Macintosh chuckled to himself. It sounded like a grumbling bear, and Twilight giggled lightly.
I noticed that since the conversation had steered away from my doings without incident, she had relaxed considerably, and was now just as relaxed I had first met her. All the same, I thought, as Mac and I paid the bill and we departed the place; I would have to keep checking for any more of the obviousness that I had seen before.
“Business must be good, then?” I said to Big Macintosh as Twilight and Felicia took the lead, chatting quite obliviously in front of us.
“Ah, we’ve recently started a new label of cider.”
“Eeyup,” he said again, revealing his southern accent once again. “It were my old Granny’s idea an’ all, Celestia rest her soul.”
“Was business poor before that?” I inquired. To this, Big Macintosh seemed to adopt a serene look of thoughtfulness. He was quite the opposite of Pones, and not just in appearance, for his moments of pensive concentration did not appear to be a full body experience, as they were for Pones. Pones would pace, or play his fiddle, or show in his face the inner workings of his mind, but Big Macintosh was far too gentle for that. I sensed at once that he was a rather practical fellow, for his answers were often simple, though they occupied a great deal of thinking time.
“Not as bad as it could have been,” he said retrospectively, “though what with that new winery next door trying to compete with us, times got a little rough, but they're more then fine now. Things have improved lately. It started when I met her,” he said. I assumed he must be talking about Twilight, and I was correct. “She’s my good luck charm, and all.”
“So, how long ago was that?” I inquired.
“I’d say about three weeks to a month back now,” he said after another period of reckoning. He seemed fairly smitten with her, I thought at the time, though perhaps it was just his very relaxed nature with women set next to my own that made it appear that way.
“Yeah, she was in a real bad spot for a while, but we won’t talk about that,” he said.
“A bad spot?” I repeated curiously, though I saw through the darkness that now enveloped us the flash of his eyes as they darted to me. He then gestured to the two fillies in front of us. They were quite a way in front of us, talking amongst themselves. I for one would not have dared utter a syllable out of place within a mile of Felicia, for she had an ear and an eye for gossip that I felt would have put Cheerilee to shame, or any number of Pones’ countless acquaintances.
“Don’t you dare mention that to her now, y’hear?” he said rather menacingly, and I nodded hastily, for I had not meant to offend.
“Of course I won’t – but, it’s just that she seems quite happy as she is now.”
“Well suffice it to say, Doctor, that she was not once.”
Such an eloquent expression from the coarse figure I had not anticipated. I chose not to pursue the conversation. It appeared Macintosh had the same idea, for we both sped up a little to catch the fillies as we exited town.
The four of us arrived at Sweet Apple Acres, where we partook of a private tour and a sampling of this new apple cider that Macintosh had mentioned. It was, as he said, quite excellent, for though I am no expert, I found it quite delicious, and I was fascinated by Macintosh’s enterprising nature. He told us it was called Sparkle. To be honest, I thought that a bit of a hopeless cliché, but it caused Twilight’s cheeks to turn a such a brilliant shade of pink, that I had wondered for a moment if she had changed colour. In any case, his business sense revealed to me that he was a good deal smarter than he let on.
However, despite my pretension in enjoying myself, I could not help but scrutinise everything else that his partner Twilight said, and as the evening drew to a close, I felt disappointed. She had said nothing more suspicious, or acted guilty in any way. Incessant thoughts circled my head in quite a mix – an equal blend of positive affirmations that the two were criminals, and gaps in my logic. There was something about it that was not wholly innocent, but neither was it guilty, and I was quite sure that Pones needed to know.
In reflection, Twilight’s slip in the restaurant quite ruined the evening for me, though I was positive Felicia did not notice it or my focusing on her, for she chatted away quite happily about herself and I, and when we bade our goodbyes and left the orchard, she continued to talk to me.
“…Aren’t they just the most extraordinary couple?” She said.
I nodded, summarising my experience of the two quite well. “For their occupations, you are entirely correct. There is certainly something very intellectual about her, though as for him I cannot say.”
“Ah, he just never speaks a great deal, but he’s a little cleverer than he seems,” Felicia said quite dismissively as we turned back onto the road to town. I was inclined to agree, but the memories of what the two had said implored me to ask more of her, particularly about Macintosh’s words after leaving the restaurant.
“He did say one thing that confused me, though.”
“And that was?”
“He mentioned – swearing me to secrecy, of course – that Twilight had been in a bad way several months ago.”
“Oh,” Felicia murmured, and her pace slowed a little. “What exactly did he say?”
“Just that, and nothing more.”
There was a long pause from her. She appeared, though I could not make her features out very clearly, lost in thought, as if deliberating on something.
“Well, I suppose you should know,” she said after a while. She came close and took my head in both her hooves, and for a horrified moment I was under the impression that she might kiss me. Instead, she turned my head to the right for me. I could see Sweet Apple Acres in the distance, back the way we had came, though in the foreground there was a much more regal looking establishment. It appeared to be a vineyard.
“See that?” She said, and I did not nod, because I could not.
“That is Riesling Winery.”
The thought clicked in my head as I recalled what Big Macintosh had said earlier.
“Ah, this must be the new winery next door?”
I was somewhat taken aback by her clear-cut statement.
“You mean the owner of the winery once…?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she said, cutting off my sentence before I could repeat the strange situation. “His name is Riesling, and he was the last ‘special friend’ of Twi’.”
“I’ll wager that strained neighbourly relations…” I murmured, thinking of the big crimson stallion. Something in that glare that he had given him when he had warned me outside the restaurant gave me the impression that he was more than formidable.
“Too right it did. They don’t speak to each other anymore.”
“Macintosh said it ended badly,” I said with a degree of animosity. “I assume the neighbour is to blame?”
“Yes, though neither he nor Twi’ has ever told me why.”
“Not even you?” I was surprised. “You seemed like you were all very good friends.”
“I’m not even sure if she’s told anyone about it ever, Trotson,” she released me, and a grimace passed over her face. “Except for him, one would imagine.”
We resumed walking.
“The only thing I’ve ever heard is the rumour – she’s his good luck charm, and he’s her knight in shining armour. And that’s true, from what I can tell, because he really swept her off her hooves.”
“Depends who you ask,” said a voice from behind us. We both jumped, and I span, very reflexively raising a hoof.
Up behind us there was walking now a very dark-coated stallion.
“Riesling!” Felicia gasped.
“Sorry to eavesdrop, Doctor,” he said, coming a bit closer. “Bad time to go for a moonlight walk, it seems.”
His features were evident to me as soon as he came close enough to allow me to see him. His eyes were a deep shade of blue, and he was quite tall, yet not very broad at the shoulders, presenting quite a lean figure silhouetted against the dark sky. He was quite well dressed, and he wore a rather sincere smile on his face that was both simultaneously apologetic and forgiving. In fact, it was this very expression that made me less cautious.
He did not shake hooves with Felicia, but instead halted when he reached us. His pale eyes fell over her, and then me, and I was immediately struck with the impression that he was being quite honest, though I was still suspicious.
“Riesling,” he said, offering me a hoof.
“Doctor Trotson,” I said somewhat warily.
“Oh, another Doctor, Felicia?” He said to her with an attempt at a conversation starter. I was, for a moment, bewildered by the identity of this second doctor, but then I realised how stupid I was, and I tried to show some warmth. Redheart, on the other hand, was less than amused by his comment, and her face had been fixed into a glare of such intensity that I was glad I was not its recipient. To this, he faltered, but he still continued to speak.
“…Oh, still not speaking to me, I see,” he said, rather awkwardly.
“Not after what you did to Twilight,” she spat.
I felt a little sorry for the stallion. He appeared quite genuinely upset by the reprimand from my companion.
“Felicia,” I said to her calmly. “A little politeness never killed anyone.”
She did not respond, but instead continued to affix the stallion with the most vicious of glares.
“I don’t think I could blame her, Doctor,” Riesling said with a grimace. “She has only heard the half of the story from her friends out at the Acres.”
“I haven’t, actually," Redheart snapped at him.
“Well why do you dislike me then?” He asked. I looked over at Felicia, in partial agreement with the strange vintner. Felicia mumbled something nondescript, but I failed to catch most of it.
“Sneaking up on us like that…” I heard her say.
The vintner shrugged and turned to me, offering another equally as sincere smile, as if he was painfully enduring my companion’s spite.
“I live in the orchard, so this is the way I go to town.”
I was quite satisfied by this answer, though there was one element of it that irritated me.
“It’s very late to be going for a stroll into town, isn’t it?”
He shook his head.
“No, I’m going to the town square on business. I sell my products there, you see,” and to this he reached into a dark silken jacket that almost blended with his coat, showing me some receipts that looked important. At this, he tried most affably to show Redheart another apologetic grin.
“Ah, but of course!” I cried, as if the sudden misunderstanding might clear the air of the foul attitude. “You are a provider of wine, obviously.” Here I looked over his shoulder, and was slightly puzzled. “But, you appear to have forgotten your goods.”
“Oh, no,” he chuckled to me, “I’m only going in to get some clients worked out and post a letter or two.” His eyes glanced back to Felicia once more. “I didn’t expect to run into you.”
“We’ve been at dinner with Twilight and Macintosh.”
“Oh.” At this his expression faltered, and he cast a glance away, back over the orchards from whence we had come.
There was a terrible silence while the persecuted figure stood, and I decided then that I had had quite enough. It was unfair of her to treat him the way he did, I reasoned, and as she was not aware of the particulars to which she undoubtedly shunned him for, she had no motive to be spiteful.
“Felicia, don’t be so rude.”
“Excuse me?” she looked at me incredulously, as if she had misheard me daring to take a side other than her own.
Unfortunately, I was quite beyond her theatrics, so I put my hoof down in a manner that, upon reflection, was most unlike me.
“Now look here, he’s just going for a walk. You said so yourself that you don’t even know what the history was between the two of them, so there’s no need to be so offensive.”
Felicia was more shocked and indignant then I had seen her. There were traces of anger in her quite unlike the fake indignant attitude she was so fond of, but after a moment it vanished. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and did something that I had never had the pleasure of experiencing before.
“I suppose you’re right,” she conceded quietly. I could not have sooner been surprised if she had suddenly turned into a dragon, but all the same I did my best to not show it.
“Thank you,” I said politely, before turning back to Riesling. His face was somewhat livelier now that the hostilities had been dismissed.
I accompanied the kindly stallion into town, with Felicia travelling some way in front, presumably unwilling to speak to him out of embarrassment or anger. It gave me a good opportunity to talk to him about his work. I kindly neglected to continue the matter of Twilight.
“I bought the label about six months ago,” he said, trotting alongside me as we re-entered town. “I used to be a successful businesspony in Canterlot, and then I moved down here.”
“Why the sudden change?” I inquired.
He sighed and rolled his head from side to side, as if the matter caused him some dilemma.
“I suppose I thought I would like the countryside better, and sure enough most of the people here are quite wonderful and polite.”
“Do you still own the business in Canterlot?”
“No, I sold it.”
“That seems quite risky – why abandon your success?”
“I am, happily, quite wealthy enough to afford it,” he replied. “Twenty years as a stockbroker will give you more money than you can lay your hooves on, but the need for a change in the atmosphere becomes something even more essential, if you take my meaning.”
“So you don’t mind the competition from the neighbours, then?”
“Oh, not at all, I’m doing quite well for myself, actually.” He smiled proudly and tapped his pocket where he had kept the documents. “Recent financial upturn, you see. And, before you ask, no -- I find Macintosh to be quite likeable.”
“He does not seem wholly convinced of you,” I said delicately. I knew Macintosh was a good deal more intense about that, but I did not want to scare Riesling away from giving his half of the story.
“Well, between our shared business and one other matter, that is most likely.”
“Do you refer to what Felicia and I were discussing earlier?”
“May I be so bold as to ask what happened?”
Riesling looked surprised.
“She has not told you already?” he said, gesturing to the form of Felicia ahead of us.
“She doesn’t know the specifics,” said I.
He nodded, and began to explain. To me it seemed that he treated the whole matter of Twilight quite gingerly and delicately, as if it caused him great pain to discuss it.
“I had just moved into town, and I didn’t know a soul except for that lovely young fashion designer who lives on the other side of town."
"You mean Rarity?" I inquired, and he nodded.
"Yes, that's right. I've always ordered my clothes tailored from her. Anyway, I found myself wanting for a companion, though my fairly bookish nature did not permit me far from the library. To cut a very arduous story short, I met her that way, and I fell in love.”
“And did she love you back?”
“Yes, though it took some persuading. She is an awfully cynical filly at times, but she is easily convinced by flowers and wine – a bit of a hopeless romantic, you might say.”
I nodded my understanding, pressing with my inquiries. “So it was a harmonious thing?”
“Oh, yes, we were quite happy together.”
“It seems very odd then, that your departure from one another took place, and doubly so that it has been thrown under such a dark cloud.”
To this his winning smile faltered, and I saw from behind his face a glimpse of sadness.
“I often thought, Doctor, that she had eyes only for my neighbour.”
“Macintosh, you mean?”
“Yes, though I do not spite him for it.” He sighed a little before continuing. “I went over to his, for I had heard that his mother was ill, and he came to me, and I recognised the smell of her perfume on him.”
“So what did you do then?”
“I confronted her, and she admitted to it.”
“Alas! What then?”
“Why, I threw her out of my house!” He said quite viciously, and I was somewhat taken aback by his outburst. “I am a gentlepony and a scholar, but I will not be made a fool of. That little whore,” he said, these last words traced with barely restrained venom. I noticed that his hoof was clenched, and he glanced over at me, clearing his throat.
“I apologise. I let my anger best me.”
“Not at all – it must be a very sensitive issue for you,” I sympathised, though in reality my mind was far away. Could the shy and happy mare that I had spent the evening in the company of really be the lowlife of which he spoke? Such a refined gentlepony was he that I did not know who to believe, and his account seemed to speak true as to the attitudes of both Macintosh and Twilight at dinner – he uncaring, she nervous. While his story did not reveal the reasons for Macintosh’s fiercely resolute glare at me when I asked after Twilight’s history, I felt somewhat at ease over the issue. He was most certainly a cheerful fellow, though he did give the impression that he was carrying a very great burden.
At last, we came to the parting of our ways, and I shook hooves with him under the light offered by one of the wrought iron lampposts. There was nobody else about, save one poor drunken soul stumbling his way back up the other side of the street.
“I will bid you a pleasant evening here,” he said, taking my hoof in both of his own and smiling. “Thank you for your kind words earlier.”
I spoke my goodbyes (Felicia did not say a word, merely eyeing him aloofly as he strode away) and, after he left I went to re-join her.
“He seems kind enough,” I said. To be honest, I knew that Felicia did not want to speak about him – but I was merely testing the waters with one hoof.
They were, to say the least, most icy.
Redheart gave me such a cold and dirty look that it would have frozen me were it not for the high amount of alcohol in my system. For a while she simply watched me, her white face unchanging as she eyed me with contempt.
I sighed. “Felicia, please don’t.”
She turned and walked off back down towards her house, leaving my sincerity in her wake without so much as an acknowledgement. I did not go after her.