“Alright, I concede that, maybe, it wasn’t a good plan,” said Flam.
Flim and Flam were in a hideout in northern Fillydelphia, a five-room apartment that was full of various knickknacks that they’d picked up over the years. Flam set down his bag and poured out their latest hall, a nicely sized amount of bits that they’d grifted and stolen on their four-day journey back to Fillydelphia. “Still,” the mustached stallion said, “We had some fun, made a little profit, and now we have an opening with the Duke.”
“No we don’t,” snapped Flim. “The Duke’s going to have us arrested if he sees us.”
“So we wait a few months. Then we try again. We can even just say it was part of a long con. Can’t take down an Element all at once, right?”
“I suppose.” Flim rolled his eyes – he didn’t share his brother’s confidence. “But what if somepony else gets there first?”
“Then we steal the credit. That’s even easier than stealing an Element.” Flam laughed. “Come on. I bet you our favorite bar is still open.”
“You go. I’m going to rest.”
“Fine.” Flam poked around the cluttered apartment until he found a little box. “I’ll just get dressed up, and…” He began looking through it, throwing aside a few chains and other pieces of jewelry until he found one he liked. “Mind if I borrow this?”
“What?” Flim looked at the locket that Flam was holding. “It’s not mine.”
“What? It isn’t mine; I’d remember stealing something this expensive.”
Flim walked over and examined it. The locket was gold and platinum wounded together in a tight mesh, curved into the shape of a heart and on a string of threaded diamonds. It looked enormously valuable. “From that fake jewelry scam we ran last year?”
“No, nopony we dealt with could’ve bought it even at a ‘discount.’” Flam opened up the locket. “Hey, there’s writing.”
“Maybe it’s lost. Could be a reward.”
“'To my darling daughter, Fragrant Posey. May all your days be as pure as the moonlit sky.'” Flam frowned. “Posey? Name sounds familiar.”
“Isn’t she duchess of somewhere?” asked Flim. “Didn’t you date a duchess?”
“Not that one.” Flam shrugged. “Whatever. Next time we’re in Canterlot, we can play out the old ‘private detective’ scam.”
Flam grinned. “Royalty never remember the hundreds of servants they hire. We just say she hired us to look for her necklace, and we recovered it! We get the reward, plus any ‘expenses’ we can think up. ”
“She’ll think we stole it and got scared.”
“Not if we spin it right.”
Flim frowned. Something was nagging at his mind – something relating to the Duke. “You know, I was worried the Duke would come after us for failing him.”
“Good thing we ran so fast.”
“Yeah, but…” Flim blinked. “Wait. We’ve gotta get rid of that locket.”
“Just trust me, we—“
The door burst down. A phalanx of police ponies stormed in, wearing armor and bearing weapons. “THIEVES! SURRENDER!” roared the commander.
Flam reared up on his hind hooves. “Thieves? We’re not thieves, we—“
The commander, a unicorn, used telekinesis to yank the locket over to him. “Then how’d you wind up with the locket stolen from the Duchess two days ago, hmm? Sergeant, search this whole place! No telling what we could find in here.” He smiled grimly. “Stealing from a Night Court member could be considered treason. If you want any chance at leniency—“
“How could that be treason?” demanded Flim.
“If you intend to use your stolen jewels to influence how they vote, of course. Do you?”
“We would never!” said Flam. “We are honest and patriotic ponies, and—“
“Sir!” called the sergeant. He’d found a letter on a desk. “Listen to this! ‘We are aware that this locket is priceless, and we are not entirely without heart. We will return it to you, provided you ensure that the following measures are passed…’”
The commander chuckled as the two unicorns were marched outside. “You are never getting out of jail,” he informed them.
Flim and Flam looked at each other, but there was nothing they could do.
Meanwhile, in Ponyville, life had begun to return to normal.
“What’cha doin’?” asked Trixie, barging into Carrot Top’s home.
Carrot Top gestured at the paper she was scribbling on. “Working out if I actually made any money.”
“Didn’t you win a huge bag of bits?”
“Yeah, but then I’m deducting the irrigation system, the meal I took you and Berry Punch out for, the random incidental expenses like that bottle of dandelion wine we had to ship in from Canterlot, the TWF, train fare…”
“Trixie Whining Fee. That’s the amount I have to pay you so you don’t whine to me about me being ungrateful for all your help.”
Trixie laughed. “I’ll have Pokey make that an official code. I think we’ll be using it a lot.”
“I’m unsurprised.” Carrot Top returned to the paper. “So, adding it all up, it seems that…” she summed the figures, then frowned. “I’m down three bits.”
The farmer sighed, but she didn’t really feel bad. The new irrigation system was making her farming life a lot easier. It was making the lives of all the Ponyville farmers easier, for that matter. Plus, business was up due to the publicity from the whole competition. Not only had Ponyville ponies who had never before eaten her carrots tried them and liked what they tasted, but a few of the local businesses and restaurants wanted to be able to say they got their food from the third-place farm in two hundred plus applicants. And, finally, the lab results had come back, her carrots were certified to be pure and organic, and she would now be selling five barrels of carrot juice a week to Aloe and Lotus.
So, yes, there was still a lot of work ahead of her, but things were up.
“Well,” she said, “I’ll look at it as me buying an irrigation system for the whole town, me included, in exchange for three bits and one very chaotic week. More than fair.”
“Here,” said Trixie. She took the pencil and drew a little ‘/2’ under the TWF figure. “Now you’re in the black.”
Carrot Top chuckled. “Great.”
A pony knocked on her door, and then Berry Punch entered. “Hi.” She sounded pained.
“If you could.”
Carrot Top began to mix one up. “Thanks again for all your help.”
“I really appreciate—“
“Uh, sorry, but it kinda hurts to hear voices right now.”
Carrot Top smiled a little. “Oh, sorry.”
She mixed up the tonic and gave it to Berry Punch, who quaffed it in one gulp. “Thanks,” she said, sighing with audible relief. “You’re a lifesaver.”
“No problem. And no charge for you,” she said, as Berry Punch took out a few bits. “I owe you a lot for helping me out—“
“I already told you, don’t worry about it.” She put six bits on the counter. "Now, I heard something about a Farmer's Union?"
"Grape and Lily and I were talking. It'd be a shame if that cooperation we've all been sharing for this past week just went away now that the competition's over. We're thinking of making a sort of union so we can make group decisions, help each other out more. A bunch of the other small farmers would be interested too."
Berry Punch smiled. "That would be lovely."
"Just don't bet your farm for them again," said Trixie. "Okay?"
Carrot Top laughed. "Don't worry. I'm never doing that again."
Berry Punch said, “By the way, I talked to Big Mac. I told him that I’ll consider getting a new contract with them.”
“Thanks. I’m glad at least a few places are doing it.”
“Well, Applejack still has to sign off, but I think she will.” She shrugged. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you know they won’t go bankrupt even if nopony in town buys their apples, right? Applejack was right when she said they could probably make more money by shipping all their apples to Canterlot and charging top dollar to the wealthy ponies there.”
“I know. But… I mean, she’s a good farmer. I just wish we could all work together. And the only way she’ll ever consider it is if we can pound it into her thick skull that we don’t hate her. Forget money; if we can’t help her see that we’re willing to befriend her, she’ll always be sad and lonely, and…”
Berry Punch nodded. “Don’t ever change, Carrot Top.”
Trixie smiled. “Just don’t go too far. If I hear of you neglecting your farm to save her flank again, I’ll kick your butt myself.”
The farmer grinned.
Berry Punch said, “I’d still be willing to give you cooking lessons, if you want.”
“Sure, but can we wait a week or two? Honestly, I’m hoping to eat out a few times first.” Carrot Top laughed. “I’m kind of cooked out.”
“No problem!” Berry Punch turned to go. “Best of luck with the new water system.”
“It’s working like a dream. Thanks.”
Later, the other Elements showed up to congratulate her one last time. A few farmers showed up still later, Green Grape leading them, to talk about new business opportunities, the union, and to thank her again for the risk she underwent in order to help all of them. “This will make farming in Ponyville easier for every pony, except maybe the Apples,” said Grape. “Thank you.”
And still later, that evening, there was one last knock on her door.
“Hello, I – oh, hi Granny Smith. How can I help you?”
“You can start by invitin’ ma inside! Fillies these days, no respect…” But she was smiling, and it was clear there was no malice in her complaints.
Carrot Top let Granny Smith inside and poured her a cup of scented carrot tea. Smith put her saddlebag – filled to bulging with something – to one side, then drank deeply. Carrot Top sat across from her. “It’s good to see you. Is Applejack okay?”
“She’s gotten some sleep. Now she’s doin’ like she always does.” Granny Smith sighed. “Yar a good filly, Carrot Top, fer bein’ so kind ta her. Lotta folks would’ve given up by now.”
Carrot Top shrugged. “She’s… she’s under a lot of pressure. It’s not all her fault.”
Granny Smith shut her eyes for a long moment. “Well, ah’m glad somepony in town sees it.”
The older mare finished her tea, got up, and put the large saddlebag onto on Carrot Top’s table. “By the way, this is fer you, as a token of our thanks.”
Carrot Top opened it to find that it was full of bits. “What… but I didn’t…”
“Ya saved the fields from that there Farmslayer stuff! Would’ve taken old me all night to remember how ta kill it, an’ the Trust wouldn’t have gotten anypony out till the next day. Either way it’d be too late fer a quarter of those apples. Applejack an’ ah agreed, it’d be wrong not ta thank ya.”
“I appreciate it, but I don’t need all this—“
“Horseapples. Ain’t a friend ever done ya a real big favor, an’ ya felt like ya just had ta pay her back somehow or it wouldn’t be right? Well, that’s how AJ feels right now.”
“She thinks I’m her friend?” It was a weird feeling. Carrot Top honestly hadn’t thought she’d gotten through to Applejack that much.
Granny Smith smiled. “Yessums. Cause of what ya did fer Apple Bloom. It finally got through ta her that ya'r really concerned -- ya helped her even afta the competition, when there wasn't no other motive fer ya ta do it. An' now her sister ain't mad at her, an' she really appreciates that." She chuckled. "She wants ya ta be okay. She cares 'bout what ya’d think of things she’s doin’, what ya think of her. Ah’d say she thinks ya’r a friend.” She shook her head, chuckling a little. “She ain’t neva had many of those, ah’ll tell ya. Ya’r somethin’ special, Carrot Top.”
“I’m just trying to… you know, help her.”
“Ya’ve helped her. More than ya now, an’ more than she knows either. She’s wonderin’ now. Wonderin’ if it maybe ain’t right what she’s doin’. Wonderin’ if maybe she should care more ‘bout makin’ friends an’ helpin’ folks than stockin’ up fer some future disaster that might never come.”
“But she’s still 'stocking up.' She hasn't changed.”
“She can be stubborn as an old mule, but… ah think, if ya keep tryin’, ya’ll get through ta her. Ya’ll keep tryin’, right?”
“You can count on it.”
Granny Smith smiled. “Then – far as ah’m concerned – ya deserve every bit in that bag an’ more, besides.”
“Thanks.” Carrot Top looked out the window. “Oh. Sorry, Granny Smith, but I’ve got to put in the last batch of carrots for the night. I got kind of distracted, and—“
“Ah’ll help,” said Granny Smith, rising. “Don’t worry ‘bout a thing.”
“Uh, I can’t ask you to—“
“Hey, just ‘cause ah’m old don’t mean ah don’t know how ta farm! Ah raised carrots ‘fore ya were even alive!” said Granny Smith, a twinkle in her eye. “Sides, Applejack an’ Big Mac do all the liftin’ round the farm, an’ sometimes ah just want ta get back out there an’ show those plants whose boss. So c’mon! We got carrots to plant!”
Carrot Top chuckled and followed Granny Smith outside.
The old mare proved to be every bit as good a farmer as Carrot Top, and together they worked to dig and plant the carrots. “Hey,” said Carrot Top. “Is there any actual basis to that legend? The one about the famine?”
“Apple Bloom told me that, hundreds of years ago, there was a huge famine and only the Apples survived. All the other farms crashed, but the Apple farm was big and strong enough to keep going and feed all the remaining ponies. After that, the Apples were charged with, uh, preventing famine in the future or something.”
Granny Smith smiled. “That’s what she thinks? Well, color me pink, that ain’t it at all. You listen, young’un, an’ ah’ll tell ya how it really went down.”
“Hundreds of years ago, there were hundreds of farms around Canterlot, all feedin’ the city. But the nobles there, a lot of ‘em thought it’d be fun ta play a game an’ see if their favorite farms could beat the rest. So they turned all the farms against each other, tellin’ ‘em that this one had conspired with that one to ruin this other one’s crops, or that Baron such-and-such hated this crop and was going to shut down their farm if they didn’t do something fer him, stuff like that. An’ all the farms began squabblin’, until no two would even talk ta each other.
“One year, it got real bad. Market day in Canterlot was silent as the moon, cause no farmer would talk ta any other. Got so bad that the academics started readin’ there – quieter than the library, if ya can believe that. An’ ferget givin’ each other helpin’ hooves! If ya broke a spade or needed an egg, ya couldn’t go ta yar neighbor. Ya had ta walk all the way inta Canterlot an’ buy one.
“But then the blight came. Hit one farm at a time, like clockwork, but nopony could figure out when each one would get it. One time it’d be a little one, next it’d be a big one, but they always did just a little more damage than the farm could repair in a day. An’ once they hit a farm, they kept comin’ back till it was nothin’ but boarded up buildings an’ dead fields. Frightenin’ times.”
“Course, a bunch of the farms decided they had ta stand alone. They drove their neighbors out of business, bought up the dead farms, an’ fortified ‘em. Figured, if they could just get enough money or a big enough farm, the blight couldn’t beat ‘em. Didn’t work. Big farm, small farm, blight still tore ‘em up. Took a little longer fer the big ones, but what did that matter if a farm collapsed in a day or a week? Still collapsed all the same. That lasted all summer an’ fall, an’ folks were getting’ mighty worried ‘bout the winter. There were fears there wouldn’t be ‘nough food ta go round, an’ in fact there were already shortages, ponies movin’, panic in the streets. Nopony knew what ta do.
“But then the head of the very smallest farm, this teeny-tiny apple orchard smack between two of the biggest farms left, had herself an idea. She said that, if they worked tagether, they could stay alive. See, if the blight kept goin’, they’d wipe out all the farms. But if the farms helped each other, then they could all stay open an’ feed the ponies of Canterlot, not ta mention themselves! Course, most ponies were ‘gainst it, but ‘bout a dozen farms decided ta try. So they promised that they’d share all their resources, an’ if one of ‘em got hit, the rest would do whateva they could ta help. That very night, that apple orchard was ravaged by the blight. Apples all rottin’ away, trees fallin’ over – like the blight knew what they wanted ta do. But ya know what? Very next day, those other farms donated a few spare tools each. They chipped in a few bits an’ got a unicorn ta stand up the felled trees. Medicines fer the apples too. By noon, it was like nothin’ had happened.
“Blight tried again an’ again, but it couldn’t crack that orchard, not with all the help they had. And while it tried, the others were makin’ food ta stock up fer the winter. When the blight figured it out, it went after the other farms in the alliance, but whenever it hit one, the others set them right back up, an’ they couldn’t do any lastin’ damage. Got ta the point where fixin’ up a blighted farm was just another brief chore ya had ta do - -wake up, fix the damage, get back home. Nothin’ more than a mild inconvenience.
“There were a few that tried stickin’ it out alone, but they didn’t make it. The big orange grove next to that little apple orchard failed, an’ so did that huge rice paddy on the other side. But the orchard, and every farm in the team, survived an’ flourished. Cause they found out they could do much better if they were workin’ tagether, blight or no blight. Even when the attacks stopped comin’ so often, they still did their best ta help each other out. The blight just gave up one day… left an’ never returned… but the farms maintained their alliance. That was how much they knew it helped them.
“That winter, Princess Luna had been considerin’ institutin’ rationin’, ta conserve food. But instead, there was enough that they threw a big feast. And the head of that apple orchard was pronounced the savior of the city, and was told that, as long as her descendents upheld her ideals, Equestria would never starve again.” Granny Smith smiled, a tear leaking from her eye. “That was Apple Grove the Third. Applejack’s distant ancestor. She really did save the city an’ the country.”
Carrot Top smiled. “That’s… that’s a beautiful story.”
“Story? It really happened! Anyway,” and Granny Smith looked Carrot Top squarely in the eye, “That’s how Equestria survived that famine. An’ don’t let anypony tell ya different. Not even ma little Applejack or Apple Bloom.”
“Right.” Carrot Top nodded, then paused. “Hey, if the legend’s changed, how do you know it so well?” She replayed the story in her head. “You sounded almost like you were there when it happened. Are you…?”
Granny Smith smiled mischievously. “Keep talkin’ ta Applejack. Ya’ll get through ta her eventually. We’re all stronger tagether than alone, even if she don’t realize it.”
They’d finished the last of the carrots. Granny Smith said goodbye and walked off into the night. Carrot Top watched her go. She couldn’t really be that old. No pony lives for centuries, not even her.
Besides, it didn’t matter. She had to plan her schedule. There were carrots to grow, and carrots to sell, and she could use a few of those bits Granny Smith had given her to buy a couple other pieces of equipment that she needed. Plus, she had to talk to a few local business owners about ending the Apple boycott, say hi to her friends, take Berry Punch out for a nice meal to repay her for all her help, see if Mayor Scrolls needed volunteers for anything, and also talk to Applejack for a few minutes.
As she sat on her back porch and looked over her fields, she reflected on how generous she was being with her time. A week ago, she decided, she would have regretted those obligations and would have wished that she could just spend her time working her farm and earning more bits. But now she didn’t mind it. She was happy that she was going to be spending her time helping the others. It wasn’t even that it had paid off in spades – it was just the right thing to do.
“I got just the right Element,” she decided.