"Wait, what?" Princess Celestia asked, unable to believe her ears. "Run that by me one more time, Rose."
Rose Quartz, her major-domo, looked sheepish. "Like I said, the Jen & Berry Ice Cream Company is requesting your royal approval for their new line of themed popsicles based on your student Twilight Sparkle and her friends, to follow the success of their 'Wonderbolts' series of ice cream. They sent samples, too, for you to try..."
Celestia's pink eyes narrowed and her wings flared slightly. "Preposterous! This is the most blatant and impudent request I've heard since I had to veto the Worshipful Company of Dessert-Makers' attempt to create a three-story tall statue of Chancellor Puddin'head made entirely out of Hearth's Warming pudding as the centerpiece of Canterlot's winter market!"
"Yes, Your Highness. That was back in 871, if I recall correctly," the pink mare said carefully. "That is why they wished to assure that it would all be done in good taste, if you pardon the pun." The way the sunlight seemed to dim outside the throne room's windows suggested that Celestia did not appreciate the joke, so she quickly forged ahead. "This entire thing has been kept under the wraps, and the only ones at the company who know about it are Ms. Jenever and Ms. Frosty Berry themselves, and their chief designer, Mr. Sherbet. If you do not approve, they will bury the project entirely, and never bring it up again."
"At least they show some sense," Celestia said. "You can tell them that their request is summarily rejected, and that we are considering a new purveyor of ice cream and frosted delights for the Royal Court."
"Yes, Your Highness," Rose said, making a note. "Princess Luna will be disappointed, however..."
Celestia frowned. "Do not tell me that my little sister is a fan of their concoctions, Rose."
"As a matter of fact, yes, Your Highness. After her return, she did live for three months on nothing but their products." Rose paused for a second. "It is possible... uh, I believe that she may have suggested this idea to Ms. Berry."
Celestia checked herself, noticing how her major-domo was trying unsuccessfully to hide behind her day planner. "I'm sorry, Rose. I should not have yelled at you; none of this debacle is your fault," she said in a calmer voice, one that didn't rattle the windows. "Don't do anything about this until I've discussed the matter with my sister, will you?"
"Yes, Your Highness," Rose said, bowing deep. "Is that all?"
"I believe it is... No, wait. I guess I might as well try those damned samples of theirs. Have them sent to my rooms this evening, Rose. And make sure that my sister comes there as well, as soon as she gets up."
- - -
Celestia stared with distaste at the magical ice box sitting on the table of her evening drawing room. It bore the familiar Jen & Berry logo, with several red "Most Secret: For Princess Celestia Only" stamps and bright blue check-marks signifying that the Royal Guards had found it safe slapped all over it.
She ignored the carefully written note, signed by Jenever and Frosty Berry both, that had come attached; it contained nothing that she hadn't already heard from Rose. "Hmmph." A faintest flicker of her horn snapped the lid open, showing her the six individual cardboard boxes, each stamped with the cutie mark of one of her most trusted subjects and assistants.
Disgust and curiosity warring inside her head, Celestia opened the first box and levitated a popsicle out. It was bright orange, with a red stripe in its stick, and had an apple blazoned on it. She gave it a lick; it tasted exactly as she had expected.
"Apples for Applejack. How predictable," Celestia sighed. Still, it was surprisingly good; there was enough tartness to counterbalance the sweetness, and a faint, spicy hint of cinnamon that grew stronger as she progressed closer to the stick. With some surprise, the Princess realized that she'd devoured the entire popsicle!
The next one was half light yellow, half pink, and bore the sign of a butterfly. Having no idea what a Fluttershy-themed popsicle would taste, Celestia tried it with genuine interest.
"Dandelion wine and strawberries? Yes, that would suit her," she mused. It was a light, uncomplicated mix of flavors that brought images of childhood summers to the mind of any pony tasting it, but not simplistic.
There was no question about who the next popsicle was supposed to represent: it was striped with all the colors of the rainbow, coming very close to being as vibrant as Rainbow Dash's mane. A long, slow lick allowed the Princess to taste each flavor in turn.
"Red grapefruit... Orange... Lemon... Lime... Blue grapefruit?" It was zesty, even tangy, but with an underlying sweetness that tied the citrus flavors together, much like Loyalty tied the Elements together. It was becoming clear to her that Luna had to be involved in this. No one else could have guided the ice cream makers to such fitting results!
The next popsicle was almost pure white, with the deep purple stripe on the stick the only splash of color.
"Ah, vanilla. My favorite!" Celestia sighed with pleasure and took a bite off of the tip of the popsicle. They'd used some really good vanilla for this, she could tell. It was the kind of a thing a lot of ponies would bypass as something they'd tasted a thousand times before, but the discerning ones would be in for a treat.
On to the next one! The garish pink-with-pink-stripes look was very much like Pinkie Pie, even down to the yellow and blue stripes on the stick. Her first taste left Celestia disappointed; the mix of raspberry and strawberry was pleasant, all right, but after the last couple of ones, she had expected something more clever and insightful. Then her tongue hit a swirl of deeper red, hidden among the bright pink, and her eyes widened in surprise as the spicy burn of chili invaded her mouth.
"I take it back. They've got Pinkie Pie down pat," Celestia chuckled as she devoured the popsicle, the hot flashes mixing pleasantly with the chilly berry flavors.
Finishing the treat and letting the stick join others on the floor, she levitated the final one out from the box and over to her. Then she hesitated, looking at the deep violet popsicle with its dark stick, striped with pink and lighter violet in a way that captured the colorful stripes of Twilight's mane. She knew all too well the kind of sordid rumors about her and her faithful student that swirled around in the less reputable of Canterlot's bars, and suddenly the act of tasting this iced treat seemed all too much like the set-up of a bawdy joke.
The Princess hesitated for a moment longer. Then she started laughing. "Oh, Celestia, you silly pony!" she said, shaking her head and chuckling. "Sometimes a popsicle is just a popsicle!" She gave it a careful lick, not wanting to miss any detail of the flavors Luna and the mistresses of ice cream had put into it. "Hmm... Grape and cranberry, with a hint of lavender. Yet there's something more to it as well, a faint undertone of spices that I cannot recognize... Intriguing."
Her expression changed suddenly from thoughtful to mischievous, as she gave the popsicle another lick. "Oh, my beloved student Twilight, you have no idea how long I have waited for this moment," she said in a throaty, lustful voice suited to a bedroom farce. Then her voice changed into a passable, if parodic, imitation of Twilight's tones. "Oh, Princess! I'm so happy to be finally alone with you like this! Please, please lick my horn again!"
"I do not spy Twilight Sparkle here with us, dear sister," Luna said suddenly, right behind her.
Celestia let out a startled yelp, accidentally launching the half-eaten popsicle out of the open window at a speed that Rainbow Dash would have been hard pressed to match. Sighing, she turned around to glare at her sister, who stood there with an expression of exaggerated innocence on her face.
"I halfway believe you set this whole thing up just to put me in that situation, Luna," Celestia said a little crossly. Then she began to giggle in a most un-Princess-like fashion. "If so, allow me to congratulate you; it was a good prank!"
"Of course not, Celestia," her sister scoffed. "It was just one of the amusing side effects I predicted." Luna's eyes brightened. "Now, did you enjoy these delightful sherbets on a stick? I tried to capture some essential quality of each of your protégéés. Finding the correct recipe for Twilight Sparkle's namesake was a most subtle and vexing task, but I believe I succeeded at last."
"I couldn't really say," Celestia said, looking pointedly in the direction where her treat had vanished, before turning to smile at Luna. "Perhaps another round of tasting is in order?" she asked, levitating two more Twilight-flavored popsicles up from the box.