“Now,” said Princes Luna, “if you’re going to stay up all night with Us, you can’t be so tired or you won’t have any fun. As it happens, I’ve a magic potion I can brew for tired ponies that makes them more awake.”
“You do?” asked Twilight. “Make a whole bunch! That way I’ll never have to sleep again.”
“Unfortunately if you take it too often your body will get used to it and then you’ll need to take it just to feel normal. But for once in a while it’s quite useful for a boost.”
Luna had gone to a small magic laboratory attached to her suite. She was crushing ingredients with a mortar and pestle while steam rose from a boiling pot. A delicious smell filled the room.
Twilight peered curiously at what the princess was doing. As a student of magic herself, even her fatigue could not dampen her lust for learning.
“Can you show me how you’re making it?”
“It is a simple recipe, but the ingredients are quite rare. This cherry grows only in lowlands in tropical areas, and its tree is quite tricky to care for. Then it must be placed very carefully in a fire and removed at just the right moment. Once that’s done you can store the cherries until you’re ready.”
“Cherry? Looks more like a dried bean.”
Luna chuckled. “You wouldn’t be the first to think so. After that it’s a matter of crushing the cherries—beans if you insist—into a powder. Then the magic happens. You have to combine the essence of the powder into boiling water without actually getting the powder itself in the water.”
The princess moved the mortar over the pot and cast a spell with her horn. The tempting aroma intensified.
“The potion itself never tastes as good as it smells,” said Luna. “According to legend, there was a unicorn named Eleanor the Excellent who figured out how to make it taste exactly as it smells. But then she drank so much of it, and became so awake that she started running, and ran so fast that she jumped right off of Equestria.”
“Did that really happen?”
“We do not think so. We tasted her version of the potion and it wasn’t that good. Here you are.”
Twilight took the goblet that Luna had passed to her and sipped. She made a face.
“As We said, it doesn’t taste that nice. But you can cut the taste with cream and sugar without losing its effectiveness.”
“Just like tea?”
“Yes, but tea is so. . . froufrou. A more fitting drink for Celestia. We night-dwellers need something stronger.”
As Twilight sipped, she seemed both to calm down from her earlier balky attitude and become more alert.
“Why not take your potion and accompany Us to the roof?” asked Luna.
“Yes. Sometimes if the night is clear and warm enough, We step up to the roof and look at the stars. You are interested in astronomy, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yes! I know all the constellations and patterns!”
The two ponies made their way up through a skylight, Luna by flying and Twilight by a combination of magic and lifting herself bodily along the rail. The sky had a glow that permeated the firmament and put the blackness into sharper contrast. All over Canterlot the lights had gone out, with only a few torches burning for the night watch-ponies, and a rare candle of some other insomniac. The quiet was like a sound in itself, something to listen to rather than ignore. A breeze blew, caressing the ponies’ cheeks like a cool hand.
“Now, if I read my charts right,” said Twilight, “we might be able to just see the Southern Cross along the horizon if we—“
“Twilight Sparkle, try something for Us. Don’t look at particular stars or even constellations. Lie back and see the whole sky. Feel the moment. Feel the connection between you and every pony who has ever looked at the night sky and contemplated its beauty.”
“It is awfully pretty, Princess. But don’t you find that it makes you feel awfully insignificant? I know that’s a cliché, but I do feel awfully small when I look at the stars. Being able to analyze their courses and constellations helps alleviate that feeling.”
“Why alleviate it? You’re an important pony, to Celestia, to your friends, to Equestria, and to Us. Don’t you want, once in a while, to not have to worry about it all? To know that, whatever we do there’s a whole rest of the universe out there that can take care of itself? We know that We take comfort from it, knowing that each one of those stars is raised and lowered by some other princess, and so are their moons.”
For a few minutes the two of them just leaned against the roof and looked at the stars. Then Luna spoke up again.
“One advantage, if you accept that insignificance can be a good thing, is that certain activities that would normally be proscribed can perhaps be de facto permissible, particularly when combined with the premise that the standard operating procedures of such functions as would tend to support a household such as this are held in abeyance, and there is an opportunity for those who would seize it to avail themselves of certain consumptive reliefs.”
“Huh? I didn’t get any of that.”
“Stripped of the fancy language, it means, ‘Do you want to go to the kitchen and sneak a midnight snack?’”
“Are you making fun of me, Princess?”
“No, We just tend to get a little flowery when planning something naughty like this.”
“Let’s do it!”
They headed down to the Canterlot Castle kitchen. It was empty and the lights were off, but a wave of Luna’s horn brightened the room.
“We should be careful,” said the princess, “to leave it immaculate when we’re finished. A kitchen is the domain of the cooks, and nopony, no matter their rank, should interfere.”
Twilight sat at a counter and watched Luna opening cabinets and drawers. She seemed to know where everything was, so Twilight concluded that she did this often. Bread, cheeses, and vegetables were laid out, and Luna magically began crafting a pair of sandwiches.
“I wouldn’t have thought that you were such an accomplished cook,” said Twilight.
“Often enough We have servants to cook Our meals, or eat at affairs of state, but We like getting our hooves dirty once in a while—not literally of course. It’s also the only way to get exactly what you want out of a meal.”
Luna passed Twilight a plate with a completed sandwich on it, but she hesitated. “Could I have a knife? I prefer my sandwiches with the crusts cut off.”
The princess took back the sandwich and sliced the edges of the bread herself. She looked it over and asked, “Should We cut it lengthwise or in triangles?”
“Lengthwise is fine, thank you.”
“We should have something to go with sandwiches,” said Luna as she opened a jar that contained home-made cookies. “Otherwise it’s not really a midnight snack, just a late supper.”
She moved two cookies onto her plate and was in the process of doing the same for Twilight when the unicorn spoke up.
“These cookies look awfully rich. Two is too many, even if we’re indulging.”
Luna removed one from Twilight’s plate, then floated one of hers in the air. It split in two and half landed on each plate. The two ponies’ eyes met, and Twilight understood the meaning of the gesture.
They munched away, sometimes chatting about idle gossip, other times just eating in silence. Twilight found herself relaxing for the first time in several nights.
“It’s quite tasty, Princess,” she said, “and sandwiches are convenient for reading too since you don’t need both hooves to eat them. But I do worry about calories.”
“Perhaps our next activity should involve a little exercise.”
“Exercise? What did you have in mind?”
Ripples spread across the pond, making the reflections of the moon and the stars shimmer and twist. Princess Luna eased her frame into the water, lazily making waves with her wings.
“Swimming? At night?” said Twilight, who still stood on the bank.
“Why not? The water is cooler than in the daytime, but it’s not so cold as to hurt. It’s nice.”
“Well, actually, the truth is. . . “ Twilight hesitated.
“You can’t swim?”
“I know the theory! I’ve read books about it and I think I just need to learn the muscle memory!”
“Then begin your training now. You don’t even have to go too deep. The bank is steep here, but you can keep your forelegs attached and just practice kicking with your back legs.”
Twilight haltingly stepped in and hung on to the bank. She began rotating her legs slowly.
“Don’t worry, Twilight Sparkle,” said Luna. “If you let go I’ll catch you.”
“I’m glad to know it. But what’s the appeal?”
“The appeal? That should be especially apparent to a unicorn or an earth pony. If you have no wings, you’ll never be able to know what it’s like to soar free, free to move in all three dimensions. But you can know it by proxy when you’re in the water. Swimming is a bit like flying in that way. All your weight is held by the water and you’re free to just let go and indulge yourself. It’s the sheer pleasure of being a pony. And as you said, we do need some exercise. But if all that doesn’t convince you, realize that if you immerse yourself here, you won’t need a bath tomorrow.”
Twilight kicked and pumped, enjoying the sensations, until she started to feel a tired aching in her muscles. She and Luna splashed and played, held contests as to who could hold her breath the longest, and generally enjoyed all the pond had to offer. Had anypony been around, they would have been surprised to see the normally dignified princess and the dedicated student letting go.
As they floated on their backs, Twilight said, “Princess, this night has been fun, more fun than I’ve had in a while, but I’m still having the bad dreams.”
“I thought we agreed that you’re not going to sleep again.”
“Come now, you know that was the insomnia talking. I’m going to have to at some point. And I’m still scared that the dreams will come back. What am I going to do?”
“Well, if it’s advice you want, let’s go back up to my apartments and talk there.”
They got out of the water and shook their coats dry. With wet manes they trotted back up into Canterlot Castle where Luna provided towels. Then, back in her bedroom, she had Twilight lay down.
“As a student, your approach is probably to gather all the information you can before making a decision, is it not?”
“Yes, but I’ve looked in dozens of books for a cure for bad dreams and found nothing! Come to think of it, a lot of times my books don’t actually have solutions for my problems.”
“Perhaps you need information direct from the pony’s mouth, as it were. Would you like to hear the legend of how bad dreams first came to Equestria?”
“You know that? Yes, tell me please!”
Luna sat in an ornate armchair and launched into the legend she spoke of. It was an old story, full of violence and evil, love and redemption, and is well worth hearing if you ever get the chance. Eventually she would write it down and call it “The Master of Shadows,” so you may be able to find it under that title. But that night Twilight Sparkle listened enraptured, interrupting with questions occasionally, and she felt that she was in her element as a consumer of content.
When it was all over, she asked Luna, “Is that story really true? Is that why I’m having the nightmares and can we fix them that way?”
“Perhaps. It might be true and finding the root of the problem is the solution. Or it might just be a nice bedtime story, and will do nothing. Maybe your dreams are caused by simple stress, and a relaxing night is what you need. Twilight Sparkle, it’s a lesson you’ll need to learn someday: that sometimes you have to act on limited or vague information, and that what makes a strong pony, what makes a fully grown pony, what turns a student into a scholar, is being able to act, and act boldly, in the face of the unknown.
“That is the best advice We can give you. If you need more, We will refer you to Celestia, because it is time for Us to lower the moon and for her to raise the sun. So if you’ll just wait here, I’ll send her in and you can pass the day with her.”
“Actually,” said Twilight, “I think I’m a little tired and I’d like to go to bed. Is there a guest bedroom I can use?”
“There are many guest bedrooms at the castle, but no, none that you may use. We shall find one of them, while you stay right here in Our chamber and Our bed, if indeed you wish to sleep.”
“Oh, but I couldn’t! I mean—“
“You can, and you wouldn’t insult Us by refusing, would you?”
“I suppose not.”
Then with motherly care, Princess Luna tucked Twilight into her own bed and gave her a kiss. Drawing the curtains against the sun that was shortly to rise, she softly and silently slipped out of the room.
Heading into the main hall of the castle she encountered Celestia, who was just preparing to raise the sun. “How is Twilight?” she asked. “Does she want to see me?”
“Actually, she is finally laying down to sleep. We have hope that her nightmares will not return.”
“What did you do for her?”
“Merely spent the night with her, cared for her. She’s been put on her own so soon in life, we all forget how young she is sometimes.”
“Perhaps you’re right. And you—do you mind always staying up at night and sleeping in the day?”
“Not at all, dear sister. To lie abed with the morning dew in Our nose, with the traffic of Canterlot as our lullaby, with the warm rays of your golden sun as our blanket, is the most restful sleep a pony could ask for.”