8 Months, 1 Day (Ibid.)
"It's freezing..." I complained quietly to myself less than a minute after leaving the train. I had deliberately allowed Clemency and her husband to leave the train before me, as I had no wish of getting into another hostile conversation with the stallion. He had loosely threatened me – it really was quite uncalled for – but it was hardly surprising given the locals of Manehattan. In the richer areas, especially the plaza district that Clemency had mentioned she was heading to, the ponies tended to be arrogant and possessive. I was glad that I would be spending no more time interacting with her and her crazy prison warden. I allowed for them to climb off of the train, both of them using magic to carry their luggage, and was most relieved when they set off in a different direction than myself. I fumbled around with the map that I had brought with me, my clumsy hooves almost tearing it whilst attempting to unfold it. It was one of those impossibly-folded maps that I would never be able to fold back up properly. I made a mental note of the location of Cleveland Street in relation to the station, and it was a good job that I did: no sooner had my careless hoof moved from the map had it blown away in the approaching Winter gusts. I watched as my map flew away, destined to become another example of litter in the legendary city. A lot of me didn't really care.
I took a right on Jutland Lane, walking along the cobbled road for a good twenty minutes. There were ponies everywhere, most of them absorbed in their own little worlds, marching in regimented units to their workplaces. They seemed to be the usual, up-market Manehattan types; dressed in fancy clothing and caring more about their appearance than the destination. One dress that I noticed reminded me of Rarity, but she carried herself with a degree of grace and humility that was sorely lacking in these ponies. Falabella Way, which had once been called The Old Fjord, was up ahead, and I patted myself on the back that I had managed to navigate the winding streets of Manehattan correctly. This long, straight road had been built during the very foundation of Manehattan, and had quite a bit of history going for it. Once it was an old mining route; in fact, beneath the road there were still copper and tin mines, although they had long-since been closed down. Manehattan had originally prospered as a mining city, with all manner of raw materials dotted about its geographical landscape. No longer was this the case – most of the mine shafts were now empty husks robbed of their jewels and wealth – but this particular route, which I would continue to call The Old Fjord for reasons of nostalgia, remained something of a tourist attraction. It was the longest road in Equestria, so I was informed in my youth, and it remains the only road in Manehattan that meanders through both the modernised area and the slums of Old Manehattan. Of course, I would be turning off before entering those slums.
It was a good fifteen minutes before I saw the sign for Cleveland Street. This road had once been a small cul-de-sac for worker amenities: a bakery, a tavern, a small tailor and so on. Now staring down it I could see all manner of modern shops, most of them with big corporate logos hanging above the doors. At least Ponyville still celebrated private enterprise; Manehattan had long since capitalised on big brands. I walked slowly in slight repulsion, for I had preferred when this street had had trees growing along the side of its path. The trees had long been cut down, replaced by ugly black posts with hanging lanterns. I'm sure at night time they would look pretty, but during the day I wanted to smell the aroma of fresh maple leaves, not the cold, lifeless metal of those contraptions. I actually walked by the Glass House the first time; I had to ask for directions after wasting nearly an hour trying to locate it, only to find out that it was a good mile-and-a-half back the way that I had come. When I eventually located the building, it was indeed different to how I had remembered it: for one, the 'Family Owned Since ____' sign was nowhere to be seen. Rolling my eyes, I approached the door; it opened by itself, perhaps working on some modern system of proximity.
"Good evening, sir," a refined stallion sang, approaching me before I could even smell what the interior of the shop was like. "How may I help you today?"
I looked at the stallion and raised a frown. "I'm just here to browse your range," I explained. "I remember as a colt that this place had some lovely jewellery."
"Ah, so it is a gift that you are seeking?"
He was a typical salespony. "Yes, a gift," I said, just to move the excruciating process along. "It's for a very close friend."
"Oh, of course it is!" the exuberant stallion beamed. "And is this gift for a lucky mare, yes-yes... or perhaps... a delightfully risqué treat for a special male-friend?"
I did not wish to cause any disturbance in this rather busy jewellers, and so I held my tongue. "It's for a female," I said quickly. "It's her birthday."
Whilst I did not in any way enjoy actually conversing with the insufferable pony, it was his job primarily to sell things. And seeing as my single act of business in being in Manehattan, possibly the worst place in Equestria, was to buy a gift and leave, we had at least a mutual interest in one another's company for the next five or ten minutes. If I explained who I was buying for he could point me in the right direction, vomit out some sales-talk, and then pocket my cash quicker than a thief could steal it from me. He smiled upon hearing that I was buying for a mare.
"Why did sir not say so sooner?" He giggled like a court jester, grabbing me by the hoof and pulling me to a glass cabinet. "This is our Many-Happy-Returns range. MHR, for short. They are immensely popular throughout the entire year. Can you guess why?"
I scanned the interior of the cabinet. There were golden pocket watches and diamond-encrusted rings; silver-and-emerald necklaces, and unparalleled shiny things. A velvet box of teal earrings, 4-carat, caught my sight, but soon my attention was transfixed by an amulet of pearly white. Before I could voice my unbridled amazement of this wondrous find, the stallion behind me had an idea unarguably more refined. It seems he had deduced the wealth that I do keep, and with that he moved me on to a glass-box twice as deep. Inside were many riches from across all Equestria; but none was more delicate and perfect, than an elegant, sapphire tiara.
"Sir has seen his item of mirth?"
"What's it worth?"
With a hoof he lowered my gaze to the price tag. That was over double what I had intended to pay. He was grinning inanely, convinced that he had sealed the deal. I did hate to play into the game that these ponies played... but the tiara was delightful. Rarity had always loved sapphires, especially of the baby-blue variety, and I knew that the contact that she had currently been commissioned by was looking for anything with that particular gemstone in it. If I gave her the tiara, my reasoning was that she would be able to incorporate it into some greater design. Therefore it wouldn't just be a birthday present; it would be another step in helping her fashion career. I bit my bottom lip, glancing to the stallion.
"Could I see the tiara?" I asked, and he smiled, producing a key and quickly unlocking the glass case. I almost reached for the tiara myself, but he hit my hoof away and withdrew a delicate white cloth from his waistcoat. He lifted the tiara in the cloth as if it was an ancient artefact. "It's beautiful," I commented, and although it was in his job description to agree, I'd like to think that there was genuine conviction in his approving nod.
"What kind of sapphires are they?" I asked.
"Baby-blue sapphires... the finest that money can buy," he responded. "Look at the milky hue; that is the sign of a good baby-blue."
Well, he was a pony that knew more about jewellery and fashion than I did. I couldn't really argue with the quality of the piece. I hoofed a large amount of bits over to him – to this day, that amount of money was more than I have ever spent on a single item – and he encased the tiara in a lovely ornate box. He claimed that the red ribbon that he had articulately laced the box in was a personal gift from him to me because this was a birthday present, but, having glanced around the shop floor, I could see several other identically-wrapped boxes. Either a lot of ponies were buying for birthdays or this stallion was full of shit.
"Thank you," I said calmly, carefully balancing the box on my back.
"Good day to you, sir," he responded. "Think of the Glass House for every occasion. Remember: 'if you are high-class, make sure to buy glass'."
I had a better slogan featuring the same words with a couple of choice letters removed. He slipped a pamphlet into the pocket of my heavy outfit, which probably served as a catalogue for the entire range. I discarded it the moment that I left the shop, curiously allowing it to blow away into the bustling street when a bin was within walking distance: only twenty or so feet.
5 Months, 14 Days
"Could you be a dear and dispose of something for me before the Third Act begins, please?"
I glanced over to the bin on the corner of the aisle. I'd have to squeeze by six or seven ponies to reach it. It was a good twenty feet away, and I was comfortable in my seat. Then again, I couldn't decline an offer from Rarity. I took her leftovers in my hoof and carefully navigated by the ponies, apologising with every step. I dropped the item into the can and then returned, which caused greater annoyance from the ponies sitting beside us in the audience. Luckily the Third Act had not yet begun, so it wasn't as if I was distracting them from anything. I flopped back down into my chair, getting comfortable once again and glancing across to Rarity.
"Thank you," she said sweetly. "Are you enjoying the performance so far?"
It was the Symphony of Seven Paladins, an apparently famous play about a King and his six loyal Knights. In the First Act the King had revealed that he was dying; he had only months left to live, and, lacking any heir or immediate successor, he had to give his Kingdom to one of the six. The First Act had mostly been about character development; getting to know the six Knights and so on. My favourite was Artemis Silver-Vine; whilst the other Knight-ponies all had their own reasons for wishing to rule the Kingdom, Artemis seemed calm and calculating, and the sort of pony that one could trust. When the King had initially revealed the terrible illness that had befallen him, it was Artemis that vowed to stay with him until the end.
In the Second Act, the Knights had begun to fight one another after the idea of power had consumed them. Even Artemis had shown a degree of weakness, leaving the King's side on several occasions to engage in her own affairs. Still, I imagine in that sort of situation that juggling time for others as well as one's own social life must be an incredibly demanding and difficult affair. The play was apparently a metaphor for political corruption with undercurrents of heretical behaviour, but that was just what one critic in the pamphlet had said: his name had been listed as Rose Thorn, but to me he seemed more like Pretentious Prick.
The Third Act, the final suite of the performance, was apparently going to be about the reconciliation of the King and his Knights. Rarity had already seen the play several times; in the last two months since seeing it for the first time at the Royal Canterlot Hall she had witnessed it on five or six separate occasions. This seemed over-indulgent to me, but I suppose she took more from it than I did: the music and the costumes and so on were very bombastic and precisely where Rarity's tastes now lingered. The most I could do was share the same interests as her; she had finally managed to get me a ticket so that we could go together. I had assumed, quite negatively, that other ponies that Rarity knew would be coming as well, but she had insisted that the two of us go alone. I was rather glad of that.
"Yes, I'm enjoying the performance," I answered happily. I was really just enjoying spending time with Rarity; the play itself involved a little too much of the Royal Canterlot Voice for me, and seemed noticeably lacking in raunchy feats of passion.
"Darling," Rarity said, shaking her head when I mentioned this, "this is a refined play. One needs to observe the language and sophistication of the performance. Uncouth pony behaviour is, and I am rather grateful of this, may I add, excluded."
So I sat through another hour or so of ponies bouncing between rhetoric and lyricism. To the performance's credit, the music was rather beautifully done: orchestrated arrangements that were clearly executed with technical precision. As the play reached its natural conclusion, Rarity nudged me slightly. "This is the conclusion of the play," she breathed into my ear, "listen carefully to Artemis' words to the King during the soliloquy."
"As the fauna of the realm doth quake beneath thy name,
And all the flora hath assembled to the same;
Should arrow fly to pierce thy broadest heart,
Would'st every-pony rise to depart,
And should'st thy reign cease to be,
Your canyon-torn world would rest on me,
And swear to thou by thy highest charter,
To die so young,
To be made a martyr."
A momentary hush befell the crowd and the lights of the stage dimmed. A rope was given a tug and the curtains were pulled across, which was the signal to the audience that the play had now finished. Some had already known that Artemis' speech was the end of the play, and had barely been able to stop their hooves from clapping at the floor. I joined in clapping my hooves against the carpet when Rarity began, the celebratory atmosphere of the entire situation having driven her to tears. A large stallion beside me joined in with the many ponies who were throwing roses towards the stage, and the talented cast were relishing the attention, the male who was playing the King demonstrating his natural showmanship by catching a rose between his teeth. Ponies began to rise from their seats a minute or two later, but Rarity remained where she was until the final rose was thrown.
"It looks liked you enjoyed that," I said, hinting towards her damp cheeks. "I've never seen you cry like that before."
"It gets to me every time," Rarity said softly. "Do you not believe that there is beauty in language?"
"I think that there's beauty in everything, to an extent," I responded, linking my hoof with her own as we made our way out of the theatre. "It's all a bit above me, I think."
Rarity frowned, nudging me with her hoof. "You have to stop thinking like that," she said. "You simply must be more confident when surrounded by the high-society of Equestria!" I chuckled under my breath, but Rarity wasn't slowing down: rather than heading for the exit we moved off towards a large, ornately-designed door nestled neatly between two pillars of equal decadence in the centre of the building.
"What's this? I questioned, but she hurried me through without responding. Upon entering it was quite obvious where we were: a ballroom that was clearly designed for the most noble performance-watching ponies to gather and discuss what they had just seen. It wasn't really my sort of place; these ponies were all dressed in fancy attire that overshadowed my own. And yet Rarity remained by my side as various guests approached us, sipping cocktails and laughing about things that I didn't find remotely amusing. I guess that's why they were funny.
"Oh, you simply must meet somepony that I know," Rarity exclaimed after helping herself to a drink from the bar. She pulled on my hoof before I had the chance to get a drink for myself, thrusting me in front of two regal-looking ponies. I had never seen the female before, but I recognised the tall stallion beside her; his natural posture was difficult to forget. It was the pony from the train that I had taken to Manehattan near the beginning of the Winter. I had never caught his name at the time, but he had been there with a mare... what was her name...?
"Rarity, wonderful to see you again!" the stallion chuckled. "And who is your friend here?"
She introduced me, and at the same time told me who I was speaking to. His name was Friesian Cross, or Mr. Cross to most, and he was an incredibly influential member of the Canterlot aristocracy. He owned businesses all over Equestria, including, not surprisingly, in Manehattan. What seemed most curious about his behaviour, though, was that he did not appear to recognise me. Perhaps I just wasn't as capable of making an impression as he was, but as we spoke he carried himself with an air of ignorance to our previous discussion on the train. I squinted my eyes together, assuming that I had made a mistake; however, when he produced a pocket-watch from his waistcoat, I knew for certain that he was the pony from the train – I recognised it as clearly as the day that I had first laid eyes upon it.
"Rarity, what say that you and Florence go and discuss feminine matters, hrmm?" Mr. Cross said after the topic of the conversation shifted to dresses. "I will show this fine fellow around the ballroom."
I did not want Rarity to leave me with this pony, who I deemed to be out of his mind, but I didn't really have time to object; Rarity was swept away by Mr. Cross' mistress, leaving me alone with the stallion. He watched the two women trot away happily together to get some food, still engaged in their conversation, before turning to stare down at me through bushy eyebrows. "So that is the delightful mare that you wished to impress," he said, and for a moment I did not really process his words.
"What do you mean?"
"You wanted a gift for a 'lovely mare' back in Ponyville. This would be over two months ago, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. The pony that you were buying a gift for was Rarity. What a small world this really is."
I stared angrily up at this stallion. I did not like his tone.
"So what is this? Intimidation?" I asked, plucking up the courage from somewhere. "You send off the girls so that you can talk seriously with me?" I stepped back from him. "What is it that you want?"
He fiddled around for something. I was probably expecting him to produce a weapon of some kind, but instead he pulled a small pipe from his pocket, which he placed carefully in his mouth. A steward noticed this action and approached instantly, lighting the pipe and bowing to Mr. Cross. He puffed the pipe relentlessly, clearing his gravelly throat as the smoke took its toll. "You seem to be a little... below... what I would have expected Rarity to associate with. I knew that she had friends in Ponyville, but I would not have expected her to bring somepony of your low-birth to a formal occasion such as this."
He blew a cloud of smoke into my face. I spluttered, withdrawing myself further from his intimidating presence.
"I know you," he resumed. "I recognise the name that Rarity provided. You are the pony that inherited the Morgans Estate several years ago."
"How do you know that?" I growled, feeling a resentment in my voice that I had never encountered before.
"Because, my dear boy, that was a prime piece of property that would have been mine, had your Aunt not left the entire area to you."
I looked around for Rarity. She was nowhere to be seen. Neither was the mare who had been with this stallion. What was her name? Florence?
"I think that it would be best for Rarity's professional career if you didn't attend another one of these balls," Mr. Cross resumed. "Wouldn't you agree? Being seen with the likes of you must be terribly damaging to her reputation."
I don't know what came over me at that moment. Perhaps it was because that meeting on the train had never quite left my memory, but the image of this bastard had been eating away at me for longer than I could remember. His wife, or whoever that pony on the train had been, had spoken of him in disgust and possibly even fear, and now I could see exactly why. I stamped a hoof down and lowered my head, my entire body shaking.
"What about your reputation?" I suddenly announced, my voice growing louder by the syllable. "Who was that mare you were on the train with, huh? Because the mare that you just sent scurrying away sure isn't the same one that I met. The one that said that you beat her."
He didn't like that. His puffed his chest out, spitting his pipe from between his lips and gritting his large teeth together. I imagine we had probably amassed something of an audience, given the animosity that now quite clearly existed between us. Had the girls not returned, we probably would have ended up fighting on the ballroom floor; as things happened, Rarity and Florence arrived back at that time, pulling the two of us away from each other.
"What has gotten into you?" I remember Rarity asking me, although I struggled to really focus on her; my attention was entirely directed at Friesian Cross. I didn't really predict what happened next.
"It's... quite all right!" Mr. Cross announced to the audience that had gathered. "It was entirely my fault. I got the wrong end of the stick; you know how it is! We are quite good friends!" That was enough to satisfy the other ponies present, I suppose, and they all resumed whatever they were doing.
"It was wonderful to see you, Rarity," Mr. Cross called to her, now keeping his distance from me. "For now, Florence and I have some mingling to do. You take care!"
I watched him go. It was only then that I focused on Rarity. She did not seem to know quite how to respond to the situation, but for the rest of the party she remained by my side, if a little less inclined to introduce me to ponies that she knew. We didn't see Mr. Cross and the mare that was with him for the rest of the evening; whether they had silently left or were deliberately avoiding us was left for us to guess. Rarity eventually grew tired of the ball, or at least suggested that she wished to leave before it finished. And so we gathered together our things – the hat that Rarity had removed and a warm scarf that she had chosen to wear for the trip home – and took our leave. Upon retreating from the theatre our hooves touched delicate snow that must have fallen during the performance. We walked for a little while without really speaking, until Rarity eventually deemed it necessary to discuss what had happened at the theatre.
"Do you mind explaining to me what you said to Mr. Cross?" she huffed, her pace of walking slowing down.
"What I said?" I coughed. "It was what he said!"
"What did he say to you?"
I couldn't just come out and say that he had tried to warn me off spending time with Rarity. He had utterly insulted me as being below Rarity and undeserving of her company, and I guess I feared that if I told her she would start believing it herself. "It doesn't matter," I insisted, shaking my head. "I just can't believe that you assume that it was my fault."
"I have never had a problem with Mr. Cross in the two months that I have known him," Rarity commented. "Tonight for the first time I see him in an absolute rage!"
A little while passed and we continued to walk through the snow. There was little that I could say to her. It wasn't me who had caused the problem. I had nothing to feel guilty about. Upon arriving back at Carousel Boutique, Rarity dropped her keys in the snow whilst fumbling with the lock; she seemed rather distressed. "Don't worry about coming in to help tomorrow," she said to me quickly. My heart sank, and before she could close the door I moved my hoof in the way, preventing her from shutting me out.
"Rarity, that's not fair," I said with a whine. "I'm sorry if I embarrassed you. I didn't mean to –"
"I'm going away for a week in two days," she said. "Whilst I was with Florence we bumped into the owner of a large department store. He wants me to go to Manehattan as soon as possible in order to help me make connections in the big city for selling my dresses to a wider market. So, I shall be needing the next two days to make my stock. The shop will remain closed during this time."
I lingered in the doorway for a moment, removing my hoof when I realised that I was still preventing her from entering her own home.
"I am not angry," she said. "I just want to be alone. I have work to do. Whilst I am gone I will be leaving the shop in your hooves. I will explain what I need you to do for me before I go on the trip."
She disappeared into the boutique, closing the door and locking herself in quite hurriedly. I sighed and turned, ready to head back to the tavern near the Phoenix Feather fountain. I felt wet patches forming on my cheeks, half-believing that they were my own tears; it had, in fact, started to snow again. I caught a flake on my hoof and observed it. Each flake of snow, I had been told as a colt, was unique and special in its own way. I blinked, blowing the flake from my hoof so that it merged with the thousands of others.
All that shit at the party.
Maybe it was me.