- - -
- - -
My fair Rarity,
The affairs and machinations of Canterlot have once again stolen you from me. Though I am a pony in a palace, looking out over the shining jewel of Equestria itself, I find that I am only alone, and that the only jewel I desire can be found in Ponyville. The company of Princesses reminds me only of what I am missing in being apart from you. I yearn to be done with my work here, to return to your embrace, but duty demands that...
No. Not that one.
My fair Rarity,
You would be most entertained, I think, had you come with me to visit the court of Duchess Desert Flower. They say there are no finer fabrics in all the four lands, in Kingdoms Old and New, than can be found in the dry, dusty marketplaces of this realm. I was warmly received, and though I missed you terribly, I did not forget to pass on your request for a ream of local silks and cottons. In the process, I was taken to the monastery where these worms are cocooned, and shown the lengthy process by which it is prepared. You would have so enjoyed the local fashions on display - far more than myself, I fear!
No, not that one either. That was Duchess Desert Flower.
My fair Rarity,
The light of my day was in receiving your letter. I know I have been terribly negligent, substituting proper company with these impersonal exchanges, but there is so much around me that I can no longer ignore. So much that I have overlooked. So much that I never cared to bother myself over but now feel I must set right. It is as if I have been given a new lease on life since the Gala. A breath of fresh air. When I think of it, I can not help but picture you by my side. The Gala has changed so very much for me.
You have changed so very much for me.
Not that one.
My fair Rarity,
I will be in Canterlot over the next month. You need but whisper it, and I will have a team of my finest stallions escort you to me in a chariot of wreathed gold and sparkling silver. I have been most miserable dealing with the Mosaic family. I was received coldly, and my efforts rebuffed. I can only conclude that I have galloped at cross purposes with another great and noble house, likely a pony of the Terre Rare clan. Few others would be so bold. I am weary, and though you know I have affection for Ponyville, I would have you join me at my home. I would have you with me, always.
Rarity slowly floated down the letter, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.
Memories of when she had gotten the letter for the first time came back. She had taken the Prince up on his offer, golden chariot and all, and had spent a wonderful carefree week in Canterlot. The thought of it brought a glow to her cheeks and nearly ruffled her composure, but it was quickly tempered by the reason she was looking through his letters in the first place. It was not to reminisce or lose herself in the whirlwind fantasy of their courtship. She was certain Blueblood had never mentioned a Baroness Antimony, but her family had been mentioned once or twice. Only in passing, however. There was nothing concrete.
"Nothing," she finally lamented. "Nothing else in any of these!"
Rarity had rolls of paper floating around her as she skimmed through letters she had read and re-read many times over. Blueblood's writing and taste in stationary were both distinct, and she had taken care to keep his correspondence with her intact and away from (uninvited) prying eyes. Sweetie Belle in particular desperately wanted to read the "love letters" her sister had gotten and Rarity had carefully exposed her to a select few.
Others... she was a little too young for.
Blueblood wrote little of the work he did except in general terms, assuming (rightly) that it would make for dry reading in most cases. He had been on a tour of Celestia's private reserves as Grand Veneur, a flurry of activity following the Gala. It had taken him across Equestria and raised a fuss in the papers. Most ponies had only limited knowledge of what their lords and ladies did behind closed doors. The fairy tale image was of endless parties and receptions, and these Blueblood did mention in his writings. However there was clearly far more behind the scenes that he did not share.
Who were they?
Carefully putting away the scrolls into their woven cases, each one tied with a blue ribbon, Rarity turned to a less reliable resort: magazines. From Pony to Fashion to The Canter, there had to be some mention of Antimony and her family somewhere. Some gossip. Some scandal. At least some pictures!
Stars alive, how could there be a hundred pictures of Sapphire Shores, and not a single one of an entire family of noblemares and stallions?!
"Ah-ha ha!" Rarity's eyes widened as she cheered, finally finding something.
It was an old issue of Pony, featuring a small article on the mare in question. Flipping through the pages, the fashionista was rewarded with a two pictures of Lady Antimony: one of her standing and addressing a small assembly in a richly adorned room, and another of her lying down on a méridienne - an elegant royal-purple chaise lounge. In the former she wore an intricate white dress, and in the latter, nothing. It accorded Rarity another look at her cutie mark: the mated crown and curious set of stars.
Eyes finding the article, she frowned, vaguely remembering it from more than a year ago. It mostly focused on the noblemare's role in promoting various charities, and in her governance of her realm. There was only a passing mention made of her family. 'Do you think your father the Duke will ever consent to an interview' - her answer being a polite but curt 'I think it unlikely.' To pour salt on the wound of her apparently being known for her charity work, she was also a great patron of the arts, particularly stone statuary.
The mare in the article spoke of underwriting a statuary garden in Pastern-sur-Mer and of the renovation of the great basilica there that dated back to the Founding period. There was no mention of a husband or an arranged marriage. Any of the gossipy questions had been very clearly vetted, removing anything truly informative and replacing it with vapid questions about her figure, other ponies' romantic affairs, and her tastes in music and theater. The interviewer did confirm for the readers that she was single and asked what sort of stallion she intended to look for in the future.
The Baroness's answer had been a dismissive: "All things, in time."
There was nothing else.
Not in that magazine, nor any of the others. The closest was a mention of the family with respect to castle construction and remodeling in Equestria. Nothing useful!
"Um. Excuse me?"
Rarity jumped, so absorbed in her hasty research that she failed, for the first time in recent memory, not to notice the familiar and comforting chime of her Boutique's bell. Somepony was at the door, and she hadn't even heard them enter. Flustered by that fact, and more than a little angry at herself - and at the newly discovered source of that distress - Rarity quickly turned and trotted over to greet her customer.
With a smile.
Always with a smile. At war with herself, she forcibly pushed her concerns down, if only for a little while. The Carousel Boutique had a reputation, one that both included and transcended her own. It was her life's work, her shop. Hers. It simply wouldn't do for her to impair it because some stuffy northern noblemare had decided to pick a fight with her.
"As his mistress, I'm sure you and I will grow quite close."
"Let us be as sisters."
The nerve of her!
"Welcome to the Carousel Boutique!" Rarity greeted the arrival, betraying none of her inner thoughts or turmoil. "Where all the designs are chic, unique, and magnifique!"
A familiar coif of wavy light blue and mint-white perked up from behind two display dresses, along with a unicorn horn. A surprisingly sharp horn. At the other end of the stallion's body, a cutie mark in the shape of a safety pin stood out.
"Oh, Miss Rarity, there you are!" Pierce, or Pokey as Pinkie liked to call him, lifted a hoof in greeting. His golden eyes darted around, clearly searching for something.
"Ah. I guess Pinkie Pie left already?" he guessed, not having found his quarry. "Unless...!"
He flipped over the helm of a dress on display, and groaned at not finding anything besides pink lining underneath. Few ponies could actually find Pinkie when she chose to hide away, mostly due to her ability to squeeze into spaces seemingly too small to normally fit her body. Somewhat like an octopus, really.
"I'm afraid she isn't here," Rarity replied, letting out a little breath she had been holding. It was just Pierce. Not a customer, which meant she could go back to her... problem. And dealing with it. "Pinkie left... I suppose it must have been a half hour ago or more?"
"Great. Well, I'll find her sooner or later," he grumbled, frowning and heading for the door. "Hopefully sooner. I just found out she hired some technobeat DJ to headline with the Heartstrings... half our guests will walk out if they hear that so called 'music' playing!"
Rarity almost let him go. Almost.
"Pierce. One moment?" she asked, and saw him pause and glance back over his shoulder in curiosity.
"Yes?" he inquired. "Oh, you found out about it, too?"
"I did. And I spoke with her about it," Rarity replied, and walked closer so she could lower her voice and still be heard. "Pierce, you've gone over the guest list, haven't you?"
"I don't have Pinkie's strange sometimes-eidetic always-erratic memory," he answered, nodding. "But yes. I know most of the ponies on the list."
Rarity thought so.
Pierce was a bit of a party lover himself, but not exactly like Pinkie Pie. The thin, dapper unicorn was originally from Canterlot and he still split time between there and Ponyville. A relation to one of the noble families, though not close enough to be titled or a noble himself, his great aunt was the last one to inherit and hold a formal position. This gave him 'old blood' - breeding - but not enough property to be powerful. A lifetime of mingling and a foalhood being around both rich and middle classes, he had been raised with formal parties and grown up to work independently to organize social functions.
This had led to his line of work: party supplies.
Pierce owned several stores in and around Canterlot specializing in both office supplies, stationary, and party favors. His specialty was pins and needles, which was how Rarity knew him. Pinkie's business had prompted him to rename the Ponyville branch of 'Pins and Staples' to 'Pierce's Party Palace.' She was his best customer, and on occasion, more than that. Depending on their mutual whimsy.
This time, for once, they were cooperating. Mostly.
Fighting, but cooperating. Sort of.
It was going to be a miracle if this art festival didn't literally blow up in their faces.
"Remind me... how many noblemares are we expected to attend?" Rarity asked, already having her follow up question ready and waiting. "Titled noblemares?"
Pierce took a moment to mentally recount. "I think... let's see... we have four positive replies, so far. One decline. Three or four pending?" He shrugged. "I think that's it, anyway."
"One of them is Lady Antimony, yes?"
"Oh, yes!" He nodded again in confirmation, and turned around fully to face her. "She hasn't responded yet, but I expect she'll attend. Lady Antimony is a patron of the arts, so this sort of get together is right up her alley. I'm sure she'll make a generous donation above and beyond what we collect during the dinner and auction."
Rarity couldn't help but frown, for just a moment.
"I'm sure she will," she replied, but asked, "What can you tell me about her? Or about the Terre Rare family?"
This time, Pierce gave her a suspicious look, like he was being tested.
"What do you mean?" He raised a hoof to his chin. "The Terre Rare family administers to the province of Two Rivers, and from there, they have domain over Prance and a dozen other places. They're powerful and they're rich. What more do you need to know?"
"Pierce," Rarity said, fixing him with a serious gaze. "Please. I just need some information on them. I've..." She bit her lower lip, hating to lie. Then again, it wasn't really a lie, per say. "I've heard some rumors, you see?"
"Rumors?" Pierce seemed to accept that, and sighed. "Miss Rarity, really?"
He sighed, but did as she wanted, and elaborated.
"The Terre Rare family is... a bit reclusive and a little eccentric, maybe, but they're perfectly harmless. The whole clan is very much in tune with the old ways, so they don't normally interact much with the lower classes. They're most well known for their patronage. The old Duke has some kind of thing for rebuilding old castles, financing museums and gardens... I guess he's a believer in beautification of the country and all that? Two Rivers is a lovely realm, by the way. You really should see it some time."
"And Lady Antimony?" Rarity pressed.
"It's funny you should be asking so much about her. I heard..." Pierce trailed off, and shook his head. "Well, nevermind that!"
He waved the notion off as mere rumor.
"I actually heard that she was here," he explained with a laugh. "In Ponyville! Not likely, not till the party, I'd think. Anyhow, she's the youngest mare in the family, which would normally mean she gets the tidbits, you know? But for once, her family broke tradition. When a Barony opened up, I guess... her father gave it to her. Or something along those lines. She's done quite well for herself and she's very well spoken of. She may even be a Duchess when her father passes on or retires."
A single, unmarried Duchess.
"It has already been decided."
Just what did she mean by that?
"...like her sister and her brother."
"Excuse me," Rarity interrupted, "What was that just now?"
"Her sister and brother," Pierce repeated, and as he shrugged, his wavy mane settled against the side of his face. "They both married into titles. Her oldest sister is married to the Duke of Connemara, and her brother married Marquesa Olive Branch. The two were also second cousins at the time. It caused a bit of a scandal, since he was supposed to marry into some other family. I forget which one. It doesn't matter - they're a good group of ponies, Miss Rarity. A little aloof, but well respected and much admired."
Rarity glanced away, considering what he had told her. "I see..."
"Now, if you'll excuse me," Pierce hastily added, and headed for the door to try and catch Pinkie Pie before she bounced off on yet another tangent somewhere. He nearly got there, only to stop, and speak over his shoulder a second time.
"Oh, one other thing," the departing stallion added, almost in passing. "I may be wrong about this, but your friend, Miss Sparkle. She'd probably know more, if you're really interested in the details."
He paused again, searching his memory. "That's right. Her father is Crescent Moon, right? She's part of the extended family."
- - -
Mister Shady had the coolest market stall in Ponyville.
It was almost as cool as hanging around Rainbow Dash.
Scootaloo hovered for a few seconds getting a good look at one of the glass displays on the main counter. The knives inside were very different than the ones used to cut up vegetables, and they were covered in gems and fancy marks and they came in pretty - but cool - looking cases that usually kept anypony from cutting themselves. Mister Shady had them on display, but Scootaloo had never seen anypony actually buy one. That didn't make them any less neat, though!
"Hey! Hey!" She used her hooves to hold onto the edge of the cart. "Mister Shady, what's that green looking stuff? On the handle and the case?"
"Eel-skin. And don't 'ang on that, you'll break something."
A dark maroon hoof gently swatted at Scootaloo's hooves, just enough to get her to stay on the floor instead of hanging from the edge of a table. That was the one problem with Shady's store: too much of it was above eye level! Filly-eye level anyway. The owner himself angled the case so she could see, just for a few seconds. Mister Shady was a pegasus, red coat and orange mane, but not much of a flyer from what Scootaloo had seen. His talent was in distance flying and finding odd things.
His store, Shady's Curiosities and Antiquities, was only open when he was in town and when he felt like working. It seemed like a pretty fun way of life to Scootaloo: less work than a weatherpony, the freedom to come and go whenever you wanted, and no boring apples or sofas to sell! Instead, there was just a hodgepodge of random stuff from all over Equestria! And a lot of watches. Why he sold so many gold watches, the filly couldn't begin to guess. Jewelry, too.
'Previously owned, already appraised' according to the cases.
"Eel skin?" Scootaloo made a disgusted face, sticking out her tongue. "Gross!" But cool, too! "Why eel-skin?"
Mister Shady put the case back as he replied, a little evasively, "Better grip that way when you hold it in your teeth. A customer wouldn't want to slip using one."
"How come they're shaped so funny?"
"'Aven't I explained this before?" he grumbled, strange foreign accent leaving his 'h's' almost silent. "They're shaped like that to go through... things."
Scootaloo quickly flitted around the cart's goods, looking for anything new, ignoring the shopkeeper's grumbling about her "going into debt for the rest of her life" if she broke anything. She'd learned over the last few years that Shady wasn't as grumpy as he liked everypony to think he was. Most of the stuff was kind of mundane: he had fancy looking rugs that were different than the ones at Rugs n' Ovens, Ponyville's rug store (and oven emporium). There were also lamps and pots and funny looking cups and stuff.
"Hey! Mister Shady?"
"What is it, kid?"
"Why's this so swirly looking?"
"It's graniteware. Don't touch it."
"What about this? What's this funny looking root?"
"That's ginseng. Don't touch it."
"Hey! What about this?"
"Antique scroll and carrying case. Very expensive. ...don't touch it."
"What about this thing?"
"Mammoth tail. Used for black magics. Don't touch it."
"Why is this floating in water?"
"That's a fire ruby. It grows when exposed to heat. Which means don't touch it."
"And this thingy?"
"That is a twig that fell from Yggdrasil, the largest tree in the world. Don't touch it."
It took a while, but a few circuits of the various items in display eventually wore out the hyperactive filly's desire to investigate anything that she hadn't seen before. By this point, Mister Shady was leaning over his table, giving her a cross look. Scootaloo pointed at him.
"What about that mask?" she asked.
He blinked, finally surprised for a second, and turned around. It took a full one-eighty before he realized she was referring to the mask on the counter. Holding it up, the salespony smiled a bit, a gesture that looked a bit strange on his normally frowning face. The mask itself was pretty scary, with black and white eyes and strange patterns like tattoos.
"This was a gift from Miss Zecora last time she visited," he answered, and quickly put it away behind the cart. "Not for sale."
"She gave it to you?" Scootaloo inquired, curious. Apple Bloom had mentioned running into Mister Shady at Zecora's hut a few weeks ago, probably making a delivery.
"Enough with the questions, kid." Shady growled, leaning forward over the counter. "You gonna buy something or what?"
"You bet!" Scootaloo flipped a trio of bits onto the counter. "The usual, please!"
With a gumpy snort, the seasoned pegasus traveler retrieved a brown paper bag. The moment it came out, Scootaloo could smell the sweet flavor of what was inside: candied flowers. Not that she wanted to be some lame cook or anything, but like any red-blooded filly, she loved candy! And this was a treat that only Mister Shady ever brought to Ponyville.
A pony could 'candy' or caramelize or preserve any old flower, of course, usually with some egg white and sugar. These were different. Different flowers from far to the south, roasted and crunchy and sugar-sweet and so-ooo good! Mister Shady always sold out when he returned with a new batch of them, but no matter when she came in, he always had at least one left.
"My last case," he told her with a put-on frown. "Looks like you got lucky, kid."
"Thanks Mister Shady!" Scootaloo wasted no time buzzing up, grabbing the bag, and opening the string tie. Soon she had a mouth-full of the roasted flower petals, hungrily munching away.
He reached over to hand her a napkin. "Try not to make a mess in my store, alright, kid?"
Scootaloo nodded, quickly wiping her mouth. Mister Shady wasn't a bad pony at all. He'd been a friend of her family for years, and he always had something for his friend's "little brat" whenever she came by. Never for free, but always at a discount.
"Nothing's ever free, kid," he had said once. "Sometimes ya get a good deal, though."
"What is it kid?"
"What's that up there?"
"That's an antique pegasus helmet." He almost forgot to add. "Don't touch it."
Before Scootalooo could find something else to ask about, a faint jingle sound came from the hollow beads that fell from the awning of the market cart. A mint green unicorn entered sporting a white and aquamarine mane. She glanced around for a moment before zeroing in on Shady.
"Miss Lyra!" He perked up, waving his front legs. "I've been expecting you!"
"Shady!" The musician pony greeted him, and then did the same for the other occupant of the store-on-wheels. "And... um..."
"Scootaloo," Mister Shady provided introductions.
"Hi," said filly said between munching on her candy. She knew about Miss Lyra, or at least the mare's name. She was well known as one of Ponyville's more eccentric types. She was also very pretty, at least according to Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo did figure she had a nice mane, at least.
Still, she wasn't cool.
"How was this last trip?" Lyra asked, quickly passing by the normal sets of items on display. "Find anything interesting for me, Shady?"
"As a matter of fact I did," he answered, ducking behind the counter for a few seconds. "An original, too! Not a reproduction like last time. 'Ave a seat. I'll be right out!"
"Should I ask where you've been?" the musician asked, pulling out a plain but functional sitting pillow from a set of them nearby while she waited. After asking the question, however, she took note of the filly in their midst, and seemed to hesitate on saying more.
"It's less where I've been and more where my friends 'ave."
"And where have your friends been?"
"Why, they've been all over Equestria, of 'course! Looking for... bargains..."
"None of this stuff is..." She trailed off, waving a hoof. "You know."
"I wouldn't keep it 'ere if it was. I'd use a you-know-what."
Scootaloo wasn't quite sure what the two were talking about anymore. It sounded like important - and strange - grown-up stuff. She watched curiously, but quietly, as Mister Shady retrieved a rough, dirty-brown rolled up blanket or sheet of cloth. She craned her neck to get a better look, but then he opened the roll of cloth on the ground to the side. Lyra's eyes widened as it began to reveal bits of gold and other metals.
The local Cutie Mark Crusader didn't quite see what the fuss was about. Mister Shady sold lots of gold and junk. What was so special about this stuff? As if to start to answer that, Lyra took another look at the filly, and posed the question:
"Shady, is it really alright for...?"
"Scootaloo's an okay kid," he grumbled, shrugging his shoulders. "As long as she doesn't touch anything."
"What are ya looking at?" the little pegasus asked, blinking.
"Antiques," Shady explained in all of one word.
"Is this real Etrotscan bronze?" Lyra asked, and the two adults soon began to quibble over details.
Still at least marginally interested, Scootaloo saw for herself what the pair were talking about. There was an old coin, and a small statue of a pony, and a really small ring and a weird looking plate. None of it looked like anything she had seen before in history class.
"Hey, what's that!" She finally demanded to know, no longer able to just sit back and keep quiet.
"A coin," Shady replied with a snort.
"Like a bit?"
"No, like a coin."
"The difference between a coin and a bit is the ratio of precious metal to base metal," Lyra answered, raising a hoof in the same sort of posture adults seemed to prefer when sharing their hard earned, worldly knowledge. "Bits were not used as currency until three hundred years after the unification of Equestria. This coin was made in imitation of those brought over from the Old Kingdom, but of lesser craftsmareship. See how it's lost it's luster and how poorly the details were impressed?"
Scootaloo blinked a few times in surprise. That had been... a rather more specific answer than she usually got. She pointed at the coin again.
"So it isn't a bit?" the curious filly asked. "Ya can't buy stuff with it?"
"It is valuable, but no, you can't really use it to buy anything," the musician answered, and smiled at the tentatively listening filly. "See that face on the front? That's Princess Platinum. The two wreaths around the sides represent peace, left with pegasi and right with earth ponies, and on the other side of the coin, you can see icons representing the movement of the sun and moon. Back then, the royal family still controlled the coming of night and day."
Scootaloo did see a somewhat faded face on the coin, cut or pressed out of the surface. The bumps along the edge had to be that other stuff about a wreath and peace. It was amazing Miss Lyra could recognize any of it. It was obviously a pony's face, that of a unicorn mare in profile, but there was no color or anything, and it was kind of vague and she wore a funny looking crown. Still, Lyra seemed to know what she was talking about.
"This is only a guess, but I'd say this coin was made between 100 BE and 200 AE," she concluded, sounding very knowledgeable indeed.
"Wow!" Scootaloo said, impressed. "You're pretty smart!"
Lyra laughed, eyes curving into happy crescents as a broad toothy grin graced her face. "Oh, I know a few things, that's all!"
"What about that one?" Scootaloo asked, pointing now at the statue.
"This? This is a bronze representation of Prince Star Caller," Lyra explained, levitating up the chipped and faded little statue. Despite the age, it was still very clearly a unicorn stallion, rearing up in anger, with a grinding wheel and star spokes for a cutie mark. He wore strange overlapping armor with his saddle. Part of the left front leg was broken off, but the base was intact and looked like it once had a metal plaque on the side.
"Prince Star Caller?" Scootaloo didn't recognize the name. The only Princes she knew of were the elder colts of the Blueblood family in Canterlot.
"He was Princess Platinum's cousin; he famously lead the invasion of Equestria by the Old Kingdom and fought against the First Triumvirate."
Scootaloo tilted her head, about to ask-
"Remember Hearth's Warming?" Lyra asked, and the filly nodded.
Sitting now, Shady sighed loudly, wanting to hear a lot less talking and more spending.
"After Princess Platinum, Chancellor Puddinghead and Commander Hurricane agreed to get along, they founded Equestria, but couldn't decide who was in charge, so they all tried to share power. The fighting had stopped among unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies, ending the Long Winter, but that didn't mean they were all friends. To decide what to do, the leaders of the three tribes formed a Triumvirate, which means 'three leaders.'"
Scootaloo began to get it, or, at least she figured she was close to getting it.
"So instead of two Princesses, they had three?"
"I guess that's one way to see it," Lyra agreed, nodding. "But even though ponies mostly didn't fight or hate each other so much, there was still a lot of... well, fighting... anyway... but just among those in power."
"The newfound friendship of the three leaders was finally put to the test when an army of unicorns arrived in Equestria from the Old Kingdom, lead by Star Caller. He offered to make Princess Platinum into a Queen if she joined him in defeating the local pegasi and earth ponies and building a new Kingdom. In the end, though, Platinum sided with her friends against him and using the power of friendship, they sealed his magic away. They were the two most powerful unicorns in Equestria, maybe even in the world, and she died stopping him. In gratitude for her sacrifice, all the other noble ponies in Equestria swore eternal fealty to Princess Platinum's bloodline."
"So what happened after that?" Scootaloo asked, staring at the statue for answers.
This Star Caller guy sounded kind of cool, in a rough 'take over the world' sort of way. Odd name, though. What, did he yell at the night sky for a living?
"Remember, things were different back then," Lyra reminded her, and quickly made clear why. "They say he was sentenced to be wrapped in a bag and trampled to death. But he survived, and so they tried to burn him with magic, but he still survived. According to legends, eventually he was bound with chains in the middle of a huge pit, and then a river was diverted to drown him under a lake."
Lyra floated the little statue through the air as Scootaloo's eyes widened in fright.
"Some say, even that couldn't kill him!" the minty mare remarked with a chuckle.
The little pegasus filly scowled, vigorously shaking her head.
"No way...! No way!" Scootaloo protested, eyes tightly closed as she tried not to let her naturally vivid imagination run wild. Discord and Nightmare Moon had been terrible enough! They didn't need more ancient evils waking up.
Mister Shady snorted again. "You know, ladies, this isn't a classroom."
"This statue isn't what I'm here for anyway," Lyra said, floating it back down onto the satchel. She carefully lifted out a tiny little ring instead. At least, Scootaloo assumed it was a ring. It was round like one, but too small for any pony to fit around their hoof.
"Look at this," the mint unicorn continued, holding the ring closer.
Scootaloo stared at it, but didn't see anything special. "What is it? "
"This is part of a torc," Lyra explained, and then explained some more. "What Princess Celestia wears around her neck?" She pointed at her throat.
"Oh!" Scootaloo nodded vigorously. "That thing! I thought it was... like a collar or a harness?"
"The part around the neck is a torc." Lyra then pointed at her horn. "Some torcs also have a matching segment for the horn. That's called a halo." She pointed at the ring again. "This is a halo for a horn."
"That's why it's so small?" the filly guessed, and then she remembered the weird looking plate. "That must mean that's the neck-part there?"
"That's right!" Lyra used a bit of magic to remove the larger neck torc. It was actually two segments, both recessed in the gold platter. What seemed to interest the musician was not so much the fact that it was really old jewelry, but something else...
"If you line these up..." The floating neck rings came together, like they wound around a pony's neck. There were two overlapping bits of metal with holes in them, as if something important had been pried loose. At first, it gave the impression of two broad leaves that would flank the left and right sides of the neck.
Looking closer, though, Scootaloo could see they weren't leaves.
"Those are hands!" Lyra declared, grinning madly and pointing right at one with her hoof. "Five fingers. A bit stylized, but they're definitely hands!" She then stared at Scootaloo. "Tell me, do you know any animal that has five fingers?"
"Um..." The little pegasus scooted back a bit and away from the suddenly intense unicorn mare. "Dragons?"
"Four fingers," Lyra stated, sounding cross. "Dragons have four."
"Oh. Um... ah...?"
"There aren't any!" Lyra declared, her face filling Scootaloo's field of vision. "But the five fingered hand shows up all over the ancient paleopony world! On stick figures in Diamond Dog caves in Prance! In the ancient symbol for knowledge! In Parallel B! The Neighzca Lines! The murals of Pochu Ponu!"
"Lyra. You're scaring her."
The musician pony pouted and went back to chatting with Shady.
"How much?" she asked, all but licking her lips. "I can't wait to show this to Twilight and have it dated and appraised!"
"If you say so," Mister Shady replied, deadpan. "But please don't scare my customers with this human stuff."
"Look. I'm not saying it was humans..." She glanced back at Scootaloo and whispered, "But I bet it was humans!" Levitating a bag of bits out of her saddlebags, Lyra chuckled happily, clapping her hooves together in excitement. "...and I'll prove it!"
Scootaloo just focused on munching on her candied flowers.
If nothing else, living in Ponyville had taught her that sometimes it was best to just hunker down and let the crazy pass you by. Either that or find a safe spot and enjoy the show. Both worked.
- - -
"Why aren't there any records of magic use before the first millennium BE? Then, all of a sudden, pony civilization develops? Where's the smoking pie, Twilight?"
Of all the silly metaphors she had to use...!
"Lyra," Twilight explained with a sigh as she floated two books from Spike's claws. "There is no record of magic before the first millennium, because our current written language evolved from the Tally script used for record keeping. Most of the syntax developed gradually over the course of centuries."
"Okay," the other unicorn conceded, sitting upright in a chair inside the library. "Then why are there earth pony remains that date back four to six thousand years, but no unicorns or pegasi?"
"Pegasi live in the clouds. Why would you find remains of them in caves?"
"Ah HA! But that doesn't explain the unicorns!" Lyra pointed accusingly.
"Unicorns probably... diverged from earth ponies..." Twilight argued, though not conclusively. Lyra was right in that there were no unicorn remains found dating back more than four millennia. "Besides, unicorns emerged from highland areas like mountains. It isn't that there are no remains, just that we haven't found them yet."
Lyra groaned, and the two mares were back at their usual loggerheads.
Honestly. Humans? Really?
Of all the mystical creatures and primitive gods in folklore, Lyra had to be obsessed with the most ridiculous. How a grown pony could buy into all those insane theories about ancient humans creating pony civilization and pony races and all that nonsense, Twilight just couldn't imagine. There were perfectly reasonable explanations for the mysteries of the past - and present! - without having to fall back on the old "a human did it!" excuse. Science and magic were about experimentation and validation of meticulously and exhaustively researched proofs, not about wild conjecture and fairy tales.
Yes, there were some very strange... and creepy... cave paintings.
Yes, when seen from a certain angle and height, some monuments and pony-modified landmarks did seem to make odd shapes or cast strange shadows.
Yes, there were deliberate gaps in the historical record. Princess Luna was living proof of that!
None of it meant that fanciful hairless sky pixies were visiting Equestria from the great beyond.
Flipping through the dusty eight hundred page tome ("A Tour of Torcs," a brief History of Neckware) Twilight focused on the facts at hoof.
The neck ring Lyra had just purchased a few hours ago was of Coltic design, very intricate, made of high purity gold. A dozen complex threads of metal were grouped into ropes and twisted around each other, giving the torc a unique, eye catching appearance. It could be divided into three parts: one was the halo, which was intact, the second was the upper torc and the third was the lower torc. Those two fit together snugly, clasping together to form the torc proper. It was much thinner and more delicate than the regalia that Princess Celestia wore, which was constructed along purely post-migration Equestrian lines.
It was so delicate looking, in fact, that Twilight had been a bit worried about manipulating it, even with her fine magic. Fortunately, it was much stronger than it appeared. It currently lay on a table next to a pile of books, on top of a white felt tablecloth. The designs on it were certainly fascinating from an academic perspective. The predominant use of abstract shapes and geometric lines, rather than the images or imprints of animals, places, or specific things, like branches or leaves... implied it was made in the Late Coltic style. Use of any iconography had been frowned on in the later Old Kingdom.
Then there were the... hands... as Lyra insisted on calling them.
"Lyra, look at this." Twilight was about to float the book over, but Lyra was already up and standing next to her, looking for herself. The student of magic pointed to a symbol on the page.
"The five shaded spade, or shield, is also the pictographic character for 'war,' 'luck' and 'magic.' We still use it as the basis for the modern escutcheon. This one is just made so the fifth grade is a little cut off. See? Look at all these examples. They aren't hands."
Lyra's expression remained impassive as she read the page, and the next. Finally she sighed and backed away, shaking her head.
"If that's the case," she argued. "Then why are the not-hands on this torc clearly holding something?"
"A lozenge is often placed at the center of a heraldic field," Twilight replied, smiling gently as she saw Lyra's resistance crumble in the fact of logic and sound research. It always did. This wasn't the first 'proof' Lyra had brought to her to try and test her crazy theories about ancient humans.
In the end, it never stood up to scrutiny.
That said, it was nice to be able to talk history with some other pony in Ponyville. Even if it was a conspiracy-theory, humans-built-the-pyramids slant on things. Poor Lyra didn't reply, instead looking down to paw at the floor. It wasn't that she wasn't a smart pony, not in Twilight's opinion. Lyra was probably one of the most intelligent mares Twilight had ever met! She just let her obsession with one or two topics cloud her judgment.
"If I could just..." She bit her lip. "Aww, nevermind."
"You know," Spike just had to chime in at that moment, looking at the torc for himself. "Those do look kind of like hands. No claws, though."
"They do look like hands!" Lyra bounced right back, clasping the little dragon on the back. "See? Spike agrees with me! And he HAS hands, so he knows better than anypony!"
Twilight nearly introduced hoof-to-face at that point.
"Anyway!" She decided instead to move on to the remaining facts. "The material, construction, and style appear genuine. The dating spell confirmed that it's very old and not just a very well made fake. I could check a few more books if you want, but at this point I'm fairly certain that it was made in the pre-classical period. Or by a pony well versed in pre-classical goldsmithing."
"At least I got my money's worth for once," Lyra grumbled, ducking her head to stare at the torc front-on. "What about the two holes? They probably had gems in them, right?"
"Probably," Twilight answered, carefully book-marking her page before flipping to another, this one with pictures and sketches of ancient neckware (it also had several very interesting chapters on the evolution of bracelet styles).
"Gems were much more valuable in the Old Kingdom than in Equestria," Twilight explained, and gave Spike a friendly jab. "Raising a dragon like Spike would bankrupt a pony ten times over."
"Like I eat that much," Spike objected, just as a knock on the door briefly distracted the trio of library occupants. "I'll get it! ...Since I'm being guilt tripped about my eating habits..."
Lyra and Twilight watched him go, the later with a proud smile.
"What about magic, then?"
"I didn't find any lingering spellwork," Twilight apologized, knowing that they had both been hopeful about a find there. "Sorry. I wish I had. There's so much that ancient unicorns like Starswirl could still teach us today."
Lyra's ears flatted against her head in frustration. "I can wear it for the art festival at least..."
It sounded like a distant second place to why she had purchased the jewelry, but at least there was a silver lining. Twilight could also guess that her initial assessment and debunking would only stick for so long before the other unicorn went back to believing in her own pet theories.
"Can you find out what the two original missing gems were?" Lyra asked, even as she and Twilight noticed who was at the door.
"That shouldn't take too long."
"Thanks a bunch, Twilight. Pay you back the usual way?"
Twilight nodded eagerly. The 'usual way' to pay her back was to find a book she didn't already have at the library and donate it. She loved helping ponies out, of course, and would do so without asking for payment, but this was also a really great way to help the library itself. All the recent talk about charity events over the last few months had given her some ideas about raising community awareness about the town library. It wasn't just her home, after all: it was everypony's contribution to the future!
"Rarity!" Twilight greeted her friend, waving her inside.
Poor Spike was still a-twitter, asking his supposedly secret crush if he could get her anything. Twilight felt a pang in her heart for her little dragon, her little brother in all but blood. He had only redoubled his efforts to get Rarity to notice him since the Gala, and not just as a good friend. The "friend zone" Pinkie had called it once, in a conversation that soon turned to speculation about a hypothetical "twilight zone." Whatever that meant.
Regardless, it had been an enlightening conversation. Twilight wasn't as knowledgeable about relationships as she was about... well, almost everything else... but she felt for Spike. Before the Gala, Rarity had been somewhat aloof but at least single.
Before she could think further on that, however, Twilight noticed her friend seemed a bit out of sorts. She thanked Spike, and took up his offer of a cup of tea. Outwardly, she seemed mostly normal, but there was an edge to the way she stood and composed herself. Like she had bad news, news she wanted or even needed to share, but that she was a little afraid to.
"I better head out," Lyra decided, giving Rarity a friendly smile. "Rarity."
The fashion designer remained polite, despite any internal stresses. "Lyra. We will have to meet up sometime. Do you have a dress for the festival already?"
"I'll probably just dust off the one I wore to the Gala a few years ago," the musician replied with friendly grin. "If I still fit in it after years of eating Bon-Bon's sweets anyway!"
"Nonsense, darling! You're in great shape!"
"The waistline test will decide that!" She gave one last wave before leaving. "See you tomorrow, Twilight!"
With Lyra soon gone, and Spike in the kitchen boiling tea, Rarity let her composure slip a bit around Twilight, and only Twilight. Collecting herself, she trotted up to her friend and looked the purple unicorn in the eyes. Twilight leaned back a little, raising an inquisitive eyebrow.
"Rarity?" she asked. "Is... something wrong?"
"You'll forgive me for being so forward and so rude," Rarity began, and glanced away to build up her resolve, or just not to see Twilight's face when the question was posed.
"Are you... " She finally asked, "Twilight, are you related to the Terre Rare family?"
Twilight's face scrunched up in confusion. Was that it?
"Sure! A little," she admitted. "I mean, the extended family is huge, but, yes, I guess I am."
"Do you know a pony named Antimony?" she asked, more accusingly.
"Antimony?" Twilight asked, stepping back. "No... unless you mean...? Lady Antimony?"
"I know OF her..." Twilight thought back to her family tree, which her parents had made her memorize years ago. It was pretty useless knowledge, but noble families loved to tout their lineage. "She's... my grandfather's mother's older sister's great granddaughter."
"We're third cousins," Twilight concluded. "I think. Bear in mind I have... something like twenty cousins in my extended family. In fact, I remember reading once that almost every unicorn in Equestria is related to every other unicorn by five degrees of difference..."
Rarity seemed both mollified and confounded by this.
"I'm sorry, Twilight," she finally said, lowing her eyes. "I didn't mean to sound so... so..." She bit her lip and fell dramatically to the floor with a sigh. "This whole situation is just terrible! Just terrible!"
"The worst possible thing?" Twilight asked, drolly rather used to her friend's choice in method acting.
"Twilight," Rarity looked up at her, tears held back by a steely resolve. "This really is bad."
It was... so plainly earnest.
"Oh, Rarity, I'm the one who’s sorry. I - well, I kind if thought..." Twilight lent a hoof to help her friend back up and walk her over to where the library had some throw pillows. "What's wrong? It must be something really distressing."
Finding a pillow, Rarity lay down with a groan, momentarily hiding her eyes behind her front leg. Though prone to flights of melodrama, as her portable fainting couch would attest, it was never something she couldn't really handle. Rarity was one of the strongest ponies Twilight knew: emotionally resilient, despite frequent hiccups and difficulties, and if one were being honest, she was probably the least likely of all of Twilight's close friends to have a genuine mental breakdown. As opposed to a harmless fit.
That list sadly including Twilight herself, from what she recalled of her 'tardy report' adventure.
"Lady Antimony came to my boutique earlier today," the fashionista explained, starting from the beginning. "I was helping fit Pinkie Pie for her dress, and she just came in. It was a surprise, and I had a bad feeling even then, but I mostly forgot about it while we talked shop. Then, before she left, she said: ‘I wish we could become fast, true friends.'"
"I didn't know what she meant by that, but then she told me that the reason she was in town... was to see Blueblood's mansion. The one he was building to be closer to Ponyville!" Rarity didn't cry, but she did get angry. "She said he was her husband. Her husband! Can you believe it?"
"But... he isn't?" Twilight asked, tentatively. "I don't think...?"
"There's no way they're actually married," Rarity assured her friend and herself. "It would have been in the news. Everypony in Equestria would know! She said it was 'decided' which means somepony arranged it!"
Twilight frowned, seeing the problem, or at least part of it.
"You don't think Prince Blueblood arranged it behind your back?"
Rarity shook her head. "No. I don't. But he's also been out of the country for weeks dealing with the griffins up north. Why would Lady Antimony only come now to let me know?"
"So she arranged it?" Twilight reasoned. "Or her family did. Only recently?" She lowered from sitting down to lying on all fours. "And when she said she wanted to be friends?"
"She actually said, after I asked her about it, that we should be like sisters." Rarity crossed her hooves in front of her, trying to keep some of the anger out of her voice. "She said she doesn't care if he's with me, as long as she's his wife."
Twilight blushed a bit, but didn't say any more. Where was Spike with the tea?
Rarity stared at her. "Darling, you see why this is so terrible, don't you?"
"Kind of?" Twilight asked, and shied back a bit by lowering her head closer to her hooves. "I guess not entirely. It isn't like you two can never be... close."
"Twilight," Rarity said her name like it hurt that she didn't understand. "I'd be his mistress. Not his wife! A dam!"
Twilight's first instinct was to ask how that was so bad. There were more than two mares for every stallion in Equestria, depending on where a pony lived. It wasn't as pronounced in big cities, but in the country, and in small towns like Ponyville, the ratio could be closer to three to one. There weren't close to enough eligible stallions for every mare to have a monogamous union and many ponies didn't want one to begin with.
From what she had learned in Canterlot, marriage was mostly meant to pass on property. Daughters always inherited from their mothers - usually the eldest daughter - and fathers were supposed to only pass on their property or titles to the child of their principal union. Their wife, in other words. The mares who had foals out of wedlock were dams, and the fathers of the children were sires. There was no prohibition about a sire spending time with a dam instead of his wife, only that legally he couldn't favor a dam's children over his wife's when the time came to bequeath an inheritance.
Many marriages in Canterlot were arranged: simple, practical political unions.
In fact, there were many rather popular bodies of fiction about courtly love between sires and dams, freed from the complication of family obligations and dynastic alliances. Her 'personal section' of the library had a few scandalous versions of those sorts of stories. Rarity probably had copies of her own, too, since she had been the one to introduce them to her!
"Twilight," Rarity said, pleaded almost, trying to make things clear. "Ever since I was a little foal, I've dreamed of meeting the one stallion who I could love and who would love only me. My father never had a dam, so maybe that colored by view of things... but it's always been my dream, Twilight. To fall in love and to be loved. My own very special somepony."
She buried her face in her front legs, choking back a sob.
"At the Gala... I was so nervous...!" She admitted, pausing to take a deep breath. "You can't imagine, Twilight. The Gala! Celebrities and nobleponies everywhere, and there I was, trying to fit in. When Prince Blueblood noticed me... when we danced and talked and..."
Rarity gave a raking sigh and turned to lay her cheek against her leg.
"It was a magical night, Twilight, and we connected on so many levels. It was like... my dream coming true. A Prince! And...!" The beautiful unicorn closed her eyes, preparing herself to say what came next. "Twilight, my family isn't exactly the highest rung on the social ladder. You may be distantly related to a noble family's main line, to actual noble titles, to an actual lineage, but I don't even know...!"
She frowned, depreciatingly.
"Twilight, I - I can't even trace my line back beyond my maternal great grandmother, the very mare I'm named for! My grandmother and great grandmother couldn't marry the stallion they loved. I don't know who half my ancestors even are," Rarity admitted.
"Isn't... isn't that pitiful...?" she sniffed, growing ashamed now of her thoughts. "I didn't want to be like that. I couldn't. I can't!"
She almost seemed about to say more on that topic, but buried her face again and switched tracks.
"Eventually, I thought it wouldn't matter," Rarity finally choked out. "Even though I didn't have a noble family line, I thought I could make it not matter."
Still not sure what to say, Twilight inched closer and lowered her cheek to nuzzle her friend comfortingly. She still couldn't entirely understand Rarity's distress, but she knew enough to see how it was hurting her friend. Twilight tried to imagine what she would feel, how she would feel, if Princess Celestia had been forced to take another personal student. She tried to imagine how she would worry, constantly comparing herself to this other unicorn under her mentor's wing, hoping that her place in the Princess's heart wasn't being eclipsed.
At some point, Spike had slipped in and left a tray of snacks, two cups of tea trailing steam into the air. Then he was gone, probably turned off by the sad vibes in the area. Or perhaps wanting to get involved in any "weepy girl stuff."
"I won't give him up," Rarity whispered, her mane a bit of a mess, but her determination restored and revitalized by sharing the burden with somepony.
"I won't give up on my dream!" she declared, more loudly. "Generosity or not, I refuse to bend on this!"
"I'll help any way I can!" Twilight vowed, draping a leg over her friend's shoulders. "Pinkie swear!"
Out of sight, but not out of earshot, Spike leaned against a doorframe. Closing his eyes, the little dragon crossed his arms, having heard every word. Pushing off with his tail, he silently return to the kitchen... to think.
- - -
Mayor Mare winced a bit at the tea.
The sweet tea.
Pinkie Pie being invited had come as a somewhat unpleasant surprise. Not that Pinkie herself was that much of an annoyance... normally. Everypony in Ponyville had come to first survive and then eventually embrace their party overlord. The problem - the dissonance - came when meeting and working with other non-Ponyville ponysonas. Especially important ones.
There had been that time at the Cakes, for example, with the Princess of all ponies...!
"Hey, are you gonna finish those?!"
And there went the remaining sweet cakes.
Amazingly, Lady Antimony seemed boundlessly patient and understanding. Having only eaten a little, spending most of the get together drinking tea and playing (or enduring) various games with her surprise host, Mayor Mare could only thank the stars that nothing had gone wrong. The Baroness was a powerful mare, even outside her domain. Rumor also had it that she was her father's favorite and intended heir, despite her youth, and there were few ponies in power who wished to cross that stallion.
"Miss Pie," the Mayor began to say, a little warningly.
"Pinkie," Antimony spoke up, placing her teacup on it's saucer with hardly a chime. "Would you like to go shopping later? I would like to see more of Ponyville."
"Oh! Shopping! That sounds like fun!" Pinkie hopped off the table, already planning out the itinerary. "We can start with the tastiest place in Ponyville, Sugarcube Corner! And then we can-"
"I don't need to hear where, Pinkie," Antimony cut the hyperactive element of laughter short. "I trust you to be an effective and efficient host. In the meantime, please take a seat and join us as a guest. Mayor Mare and myself have much to discuss and I'm afraid I'm a bit too tired to play around anymore."
Pinkie cocked her head in surprise.
"But... already? 'As a guest'?" Still, she seemed clever enough to know what the noblepony meant by that. "We didn't even get to play twister yet! Or charades!"
Rather than argue, the Baroness remained seated and silent. Mayor Mare's dark violet eyes shot from one mare to the other, curious as to what would happen next. Pinkie was notoriously irrepressible, so it was a little shocking when she sighed, resignedly, and flipped her mane. Licking her forearms, more than a little sloppily, she then wetted down her hair so it hung a little limp rather than stick straight up. Taking a seat by the low coffee table, she quickly cooled, adapting to the change in party mood, from hostess to 'guest.'
"It's your party," Pinkie said, in a much more reserved tone. "But as soon as you get your energy back, we're going back to having real fun."
Antimony smiled, not her normal smile, but a grin betraying a hint of smugness.
"There are many ways to enjoy oneself," the Baroness assured the party pony. Her half lidded eyes fell on Mayor Mare, bearing down on her like a pair of weights. "Did you know, Madam Mayor: I was most surprised to hear that a relative unknown had been picked by my intended to arrange the Ponyville Art Festival. At first, I wondered if he was intending to make it into... an amusement. But..."
Her eyes turned to Pinkie again, who had assumed a proper pose to drink some tea, even if she crinkled her nose at the bitterness. Even though it was sweet tea. Not sweet enough, apparently, given the fact that the pink pony was now dumping sugar directly into her cup in an effort to make the drink palatable.
"This one is more adaptable than she appears," Antimony decided. "It is a most valuable trait, adaptation, and I approve of my intended's decision. The festival should not only be enjoyable, but unique... a fitting venue, given the peculiar events of the Gala."
Pinkie, though forcing herself to be prim and proper, raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
"The Gala?" she asked. "Hey, and what do you mean your intended?"
"Prince Blueblood." The Baroness's smile seemed genuine, but her expression was otherwise so studied, it was hard to tell. "He is to be my husband. I forget, Pinkie, you were not there when I explained this to Miss Rarity."
"That's what you wanted to talk to her about?" the party pony realized, the gears in her head spinning as she tried to imagine how that conversation had gone. "Hey! But... he's Rarity's coltfriend! You can't just take him!"
"It is a decision out of both of our hooves," Antimony replied, folding her forearms together in a polite posture of calm disinterest. "It's unfortunate that she didn't take the news better. I still wish, one day, for us to become close family. I do not desire to be the mare who crushes another's dreams."
"Ohhh." Pinkie quickly focused on the problem, or what she had heard of it.
There was no doubt in the Mayor's mind that, having heard about the dispute between her old friend and her new one, Pinkie Pie would attempt to resolve it. Somehow. Lady Antimony, despite having known Pinkie for only a short time, must also have realized what sort of actions her words would provoke. It was the sort of headache Mayor Mare would have personally avoided were the situations reversed.
Having seemingly said what she wanted or needed to say, Lady Antimony soon moved the conversation from pleasantries to business over a deck of cards, but Mayor Mare just couldn't help but keep an eye on Pinkie as well. Against all odds, the party crazy pony seemed to be acting the part of a proper lady.
Minutes ticked by, and with every one, the Mayor had to wonder if Pinkie would suddenly throw her hooves in the air out of boredom and frustration. She certainly didn't seem to be enjoying herself that much, listening to the two older mares talk on and on and on about politics and Ponyville, though she did seem interested in the card game, even if it was only bridge.
All too soon, Mayor Mare got the impression that Pinkie Pie, her mane somehow transmogrified into a waterfall of hair from a cotton candy puff, was one anecdote short of snapping entirely. Curiously, if anything, Baroness Antimony seemed to be more and more amused by this fact every minute. She waited, watching, until...
"Pinkie Pie," she finally said, breaking from the discussion of local crops and administration of dues. "Would you be so kind as to do something for me?"
"Oh!" She instantly perked up a bit at hearing her name. "What is it?"
Antimony continued to smile. "A game."
"I love games!"
"As do I," the noblemare replied, always amiable. "If you please, could you bring out the chocolate and truffles? Then we can play another game. Whichever one you want. Think of it as my thanks for your patience. But you really should learn how proper mares play cards, so you won't have to sit out next time we have tea or coffee."
"That's no problem! I didn't mind waiting!" Pinkie insisted, hunching down to mutter. "...that much..." Before bouncing back up and off her cushion. "Oh! And I know just the game! Let me get my jam box! And the croquet bat! And the football!"
Pinkie dashed out, and as she did, Mayor Mare gave a small sigh of relief.
"For the life of me, I can't imagine what she intends for us to indulge in. I just hope it isn't too... eccentric," Mayor Mare remarked, quietly. She sipped her tea, savoring the peace and quiet.
"I rather enjoy her company as a change of pace," Lady Antimony admitted, pouring a cup of lemon camomile tea into her porcelain cup. "Tell me, Mayor Mare. Do you have many enemies?"
The question almost caused the elected official to choke on her drink.
"W-what?" she asked, sputtering. "Enemies?"
"Yes," Antimony repeated, "Enemies. Do you have many?"
"I don't..." Mayor Mare coughed, politely. "Well, I suppose I have a few. One can't become elected without making a few enemies at least." She reached up to flick back some of her naturally gray mane. "Do you...?"
"I have had more than a few," the Baroness confirmed. "I don't like to think of them as such, but from the day I was born, there have been obstacles to remove from my path, many of them other ponies. Those obstacles are always the worst, as I have the greatest affection for my fellow Equestrians, but if I can, I like to make a friend and ally for every enemy. If Miss Pie becomes a friend, then I will be pleased with the balance today."
"So you made an enemy today," Mayor Mare asked, reading between the lines and seeing where the conversation was headed. "You mean Miss Rarity."
"Oh yes," the noblemare answered with her ever present smile. "I expect she's thinking, even now, of how to stand in my way. She's probably making... desperate plans. I find it so unfortunate... when two ponies can not have what they both want. This may sound arrogant, but I really do regret that things have come between us."
"I simply hope this doesn't negatively impact the town," Mayor Mare broached her main concern. "Miss Rarity and the other Elements of Harmony are pillars of the community."
"Oh, I will be delicate, I assure you. Despite being a national hero, Miss Rarity's situation makes me very sad," Antimony said, sipping her tea. It was impossible to tell if she meant it or not. Her eyes were unreadable, and her smile never shifted. "Whichever one of us wins, Mayor Mare, will become your Duchess."
Your liege lord, in other words.
Ponyville was one of a few towns - enclaves really - that technically answered directly to the Princess of Equestria, relying on the local Duke solely for matters of security and trade, rather than taxation. It was a bit of an imposition on the noble lords, but the great old families were expected to indulge the regions Princess Celestia had vested interests in.
As the Duchess of Canterlot, a mare like this one would then have direct control over Ponyville's security and the freedom it enjoyed to trade and interact with the rest of the province. A Duchess could also be in a position to put a noose around the town, should she so choose, especially with Ponyville being adjacent to the hostile Everfree.
The Baroness's violet eyes, even half lidded, pierced the older mare. No more needed to be said. Whatever got in her way, she would push aside. She would remove it. Ponies. Enemies.
"Despite being one of Princess Celestia's special administrative regions, Ponyville seems to be in some financial trouble, Mayor Mare," Antimony observed, and the town official had to remember to blink as the noblemare's eyes bored into her. They were almost... hypnotic.
"Let us make arrangements, now, for what is to come," she continued, always with a smile. "You will find in me a powerful and generous ally... it would be a shame for another to so benefit from my largess."