- - -
- - -
"Will that be all, my Lord?"
"Yes. I believe so." Prince Blueblood, Grand Veneur of her Majesty's realms, Great and Respected Duke of Canterlot, this and that and so forth and here-and-such, did consider one other request for yon lowly maid. He leaned a little closer to the parlormaid while motioning her closer with his hoof. The young mare inched closer in her black and white dress, looking unsure.
"I won't bite, come now," Blueblood reassured her, gesturing, and she came a little closer. Finally, she was within range for him to whisper into her ear. "Do warn me if my Lady returns unexpectedly, will you? Otherwise I do not wish to be disturbed. Vast and terrible arcane magics may be conjured within this room, portals into the infinite the likes of which could drive an un-initiated common-pony mad. Mad I tell you. Stark. Raving. Mad."
"T-t-truly?" the parlormaid recoiled, frightened. "My Lord-"
"If Rarity returns, you are to simply knock twice on my study door," Blueblood said in his most serious tone. "Then flee. FLEE! Understood?"
"Y-yes, my Lord!" The maid stammered, bowing her head.
"Good. Good." He started to close the door but snapped his hooves, remembering something. "I'll ring the bell if I require a late night repast or more chartreuse. Or... or reagents. Now, off you go!"
Gently closing the sturdy wooden door, it was followed by an audible click, and then another.
"Ah! Finally. Some time alone!" Blueblood sighed in anticipation and contentment as he crossed his personal study. Arcane magics! As if.
Theoretically, it was possible, but in the same vein it was possible Auntie Celestia would prance around the palace in a Prench Maid's outfit. He did have the requisite potion laboratory, orrery, antique astrolabe, and other suitably uni-corny knickknacks scattered around the place. The maps were real and of genuine use, as many came from his study in the Grand Palace in Canterlot. Much of the drafting equipment was functional and in use when he saw to his job as Veneur and Master of Equestria's Parks and Wildlands. Poring over maps and documents, for all their utility, was not very impressive or magical.
"Perhaps I should develop some sort of magical map?" he wondered as he approached several tidy shelves of books. "It would be less of a hassle... and I would not mind reducing clutter. Yes, a map on which one could impose multiple maps. If one could compress sheets of very fine, very thin vellum or paper..."
Tricky. Possible, though. He'd have to propose the idea to Right Angle.
"Now, for some real research," the Prince muttered, stealing a few wary glances about the study. Lanterns burned with a soft, magical glow, providing ample illumination. A window framed by tropical woods and goldleaf provided a view outside at the darkening hour. A small fireplace, elaborate but functional, sat beneath a carved lintel of pearl white marble. It was a peaceful, undisturbed sanctuary.
Trotting over to a bookshelf with a glass door, he used a spark of magic to float a small silver key over to the clockwork lock. Inserting it and then adjusting a trio of notched wheels on the side of the device to "zero-F-F" he turned the key. A click-clatter of moving gears followed and the magical glass door swung open, revealing the arcane tomes and secret knowledge within.
Skimming his hoof over the available shelves, Blueblood found the book he was looking for.
Die Metaphysik der Sitten und Magie
Or, in plain Equestrian, "The Metaphysics of Morals and Magic" - one of Kanter's densest philosophical tomes on ethics, history and astronomy. The Prince tilted it forward and along a hidden switch plate. It clicked soundly and he left the book to retract back into place. He waited a moment and then used a modicum of telekinesis to push-in a false-front of wood, ostensibly a decorative part of the bookcase proper.
It sunk inward, now that the locks were fully disengaged, and then slid to the side, revealing a bare patch of solid metal. Once again checking over his shoulder, then back to the door, and then over to the window, and then back again to the door, Blueblood listened intently. Nothing. Satisfied, the Prince lit up his horn. The metal face that had been behind the false wooden front shifted, turning ninety degrees. Blueblood then switched spells slightly, and the metal slid upwards instead of sideways, another ninety degrees.
At last, it clicked.
The metal surface opened, revealing the treasures within! Grinning, eager with yearning, the great Prince retrieved just one of the prizes he had so sheltered away. It was actually one of his newer acquisitions.
"I will have to thank Miss Dash," he said to himself, giggling as he saw the cover of 'The Erotic Adventures of Daring Do.' "She truly has excellent taste in smut!"
Tip-hoofing silently back to his couch and his flask of vintage chartreuse, Blueblood opened the book to where he had left off, tucking the white ribbon-bookmark to a random spot later in the novel. Blue eyes skimmed back to the middle of the second page in the chapter...
"Oh yes! The lovely Miss Do, cornered by the leather-clad dominatrix pirate Queen in her treasure trove. Whatever is to happen next?" He giggled, eyes squinting in guilty pleasure. "Some plundering, if I were to wager a guess! He he he he!"
He was just about to hop onto his plush reading chair when his ears fluttered.
"..." He quickly folded the bookmark back to the right page. "Can't you abduct me after I finish this chapter?"
Getting tired of waiting in the bag, Blueblood emerged, right eye twitching in irritation. His initial instinct had been to wait for an opportune moment during her escape to foil whatever nefarious scheme was ahoof, but... well, his would-be foalnapper had gotten distracted while making her escape! Which rather made it obvious who she was, nevermind that she had taken off her mask to make it easier to read.
"Ahem," he coughed into his hoof.
The mare-in-black continued to bury her nose in one of the books from the shelf.
"Hold on," the distracted foalnapper muttered, waving a hoof in his general direction. "Just a minute. I'm almost done."
"You'd best not lose my page, Miss Sparkle."
"I won't. I won't. I just-" She gasped, jumping clear off her hooves and spinning around to point at him. "You know who I am!"
"Ah... of course," he replied, deadpan. "You took off your mask."
Twilight reached up to her face and gasped again. "Oh yeah! Oh NO! You saw my face!"
For a long second or two, neither pony said anything.
... Then Twilight covered her face with a book. A naughty book about Daring Do.
"About your so called mask..." Blueblood recovered his senses again and held up a pair of rather sheer pantyhose. "Rather risqué lingerie for a librarian, isn't it? But you stretched these out. They aren't sexy at all anymore."
"I needed something to break up my outline while I was sneaking in," Twilight explained from behind the pornographic book perched on her nose. "And to disguise my identity."
"I see. That makes complete sense then." Prince Blueblood coughed into his hoof and raised an appraising eyebrow at her attire. "I must admit, I do like the outfit. Very black and form fitting."
Twilight looked down at herself and the cat burglar like outfit she had worn to visit. Perhaps 'visit' wasn't the right word. To be more exact, it was the outfit she had used to sneak into his manor without also alerting Rarity to her visit while planning to foalnap the Prince and take him someplace secluded to 'talk.' Only once he was firmly in her camp, so to speak, could Rarity be brought in to join them in taking over Equestria and rewriting of all its laws.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
"Uh, thanks..." she muttered, having cornered just the pony she needed to talk to: the only one in Ponyville who could help with the mythical hydra that was unicorn political scheming, especially ensconced as it was in the swamp of Canterlot. The plan had been to teleport out with him, but... but there were just so many rare and exciting books here! In mint condition! Nopony dog-eared Prince Blueblood's books. He was so lucky!
"Normally a pony looking like you are is here for the porcellana and the good silver," he said, levitating over a small vanity mirror to check the damage to his mane. Bag-hair. It was the bane of all foal-nap-ees.
"I know!" Twilight blurted out, having taken the tour a few weeks ago. "Like that eight hundred year old moon flask! You do have some really great antiques! Actually, if I was here to steal something, it... would probably be a book..."
Blueblood watched her with exactly no surprise.
"You would steal a book of all things," he commented, grinning even as he turned his vanity mirror to show her reflection. "But more importantly, you look like a mess."
"I do?" Twilight got a good look at herself in his mirror. Form fitting ninja-outfit aside, her eyes were bloodshot and she had chalk on her cheeks and forehead and her mane, well, it had seen better days.
"You're also wearing that catsuit inside-out."
"What? Oh my gosh! I am!"
Twilight facehoofed and in the process slumped down onto the floor, her chin meeting the quilted buffalo rug. Hooves covered her embarrassment, her chalk-cheeks, and her messy mane. What had she been thinking sneaking in? What had she been thinking even coming over?
It had made so much sense in her head back in the library. She couldn't just announce her arrival, not in case Rarity was there. It would just be too much right now to talk to her about her family's problems and... requests. It made the most sense to be discrete, and that meant getting inside unnoticed. A little teleportation and serpentine sneakery, convenient use of a cardboard box and a naughty magazine, and she had made her way from entrance to inner sanctum.
Prince-napping had been the next logical step, since she needed to convince him to help and, um, maybe - just maybe - drink some love potion. And then get Rarity to drink it, too. Maybe. She wasn't crazy! It made sense!
'Just like trying to become omniscient to understand Pinkie sense made sense. At the time. Sort of.'
"You are also aware of the fact that you are welcome here at all hours?" he inquired, snapping shut the cover of the mirror and looking down at her. "You didn't really need to sneak in?"
Twilight Sparkle moaned, wanting to facehoof again.
"Stupid! Stupid! I shouldn't have come at all!"
"Really. Why... are you here, Miss Sparkle?"
Looking up, Twilight slowly lowered her hooves so he could see her face.
"Do you..." she began.
"Do you want to marry me?"
Blueblood put a hoof to his chin in thought "Well, usually I get asked to dinner first?"
"ARGH! NO! That came out all wrong!" Twilight buried her face in her forelegs, deep enough to impress even Fluttershy. "I meant - I mean - what I meant to say was that my family... and..."
It only took two words to turn around Blueblood's entire demeanor.
"Your family?" he asked, eyes shaded as he looked away. One hoof, still clad in a frilly slipper, touched his chin. "I see. I guess it makes sense; she did say this could happen."
Twilight blinked, honestly surprised he had caught on so fast. "You do? Who did? She?"
- - -
Lyra wanted to kick herself for not realizing it earlier.
She blamed Ponyville and its notoriously imbalanced gender ratio, somewhere among the worst in the country for single mares. The years there had left her accustomed to seeing her gender everywhere. It was all just second nature. That had to be why it had taken so long for even this simple realization to sink in.
The Hanging Gardens - it was full of mares.
Not just in the sense that there were the Ponyville three or four mares per stallion. Not in the normal two to one ratio in most of the country. Literally, she could walk across the floating estate and see nothing but mares. Alpha Brass had an entire artistic community sequestered in his luxury villa, removed from earthly concerns: earth ponies and pegasi and unicorns all, but all mares. The only stallion she could remember seeing was the Manehattan politician from the dinner she played. Not a single one otherwise.
Even the guards - one of the few professions dominated by stallions - were all female! Lyra cautiously trotted by one even as she wondered just where they had all come from. The Marquis did not have a very affable looking bodyguard: the armored mare guarding an otherwise nondescript door was big and mean looking, like she could eat a small minty unicorn for breakfast and still have room for a big bowl of Wheaties. Her coal-black eyes followed Lyra like the eyes of a cat following a cricket: not entirely threatening or predatory, but alert and ready to pounce if only given the opporunity.
Mares. Mares everywhere.
"I was wrong. Maybe Bon Bon would actually like this place," Lyra snickered, gazing up at one of the vast murals painted into the domed ceilings overhead. It was a depiction of the Old Kingdom, but not in the new style, where the disharmony was rendered as a sterile dissatisfaction between the three great tribes.
In this mural, ships bristling with oars battled with formations of pegasi, the air thick with lightning and magic. Vast rows of pikes jutted out from the decks of the ships to impale low flyers and earth ponies hurled javelins up in volleys. The sky itself was dark and menacing, except for a tear in the heavens that revealed the moon and a single glowing eye. Realist art was not very popular among the Equestrian elite, and neither was realist music for that matter, but Alpha Brass seemed to enjoy it.
At least there were stallions up there.
"So," she wondered aloud. "He only invites mare up here? At least only mares when it comes to living here full time..."
Brass himself didn't exactly take tours of the estate to revel in the fact that he had a hundred or more ladies living under his roof. Everypony certainly appreciated his patronage, and he was undoubtedly a handsome - even beautiful - stallion by most mare's standards, but he seemed reclusive. Tartarus, if Lyra were in his shoes, with a hundred stallions waiting on baited breath for her to just appear, she knew she'd probably let them cart her around on a palanquin while hoof-feeding her grapes. Er... probably. That sort of thing would get old after a few days.
Actually, in retrospect, there was one exception. Lyra recalled Lady Yumi, practically unique among all the others in the estate, seemed to dislike Lord Brass's family. Certainly, she hated Lady Antimony, but she had not spoken terribly fondly of Lord Alpha Brass himself or his wonderful Gardens. Lyra had privately had to disagree. Gender exclusive it may have been - and perhaps that had been part of it's subconscious appeal - the Hanging Gardens were a wonderful and magical place. Never before had she felt so at peace in a place.
And Lord Alpha Brass himself...?
He had to be a great pony. To - to have organized all this, of course. It spoke of great wealth and resources and creativity and magic and organization. How many hundreds of thousands of bits had he spent, how many did he continue to spend, all to patronize the arts? To better Equestria? To beautify it? What was there to object to in such a stallion?
Lyra's heart raced as she thought about the letter she had found in her room.
'His Lordship requests the pleasure of your company on the eve of the party...'
She didn't notice the sound of soft hoofsteps further down the hall behind her. The steps paused as a regal alicorn glanced down the way, spying the retreating back of the Ponyville harpist. Eyes flashed, green beneath opaque white, unseen by the accompanying guardponies.
"Lady Cadance?" one of them asked. "Is something the matter?"
"No. Not at all," the Serene Princess Minor replied, smirking enough to reveal a hint of fang. "Merely a flight of fancy... but we mustn't keep Brassy waiting. He and I have so very much to catch up on."
- - -
"...and that's basically everything. I think it really only started to sink in once I'd looked up the problem in detail. Then I started looking at it from the outside, and more and more the idea made a kind of sense, but I just couldn't go through with it! It was like the more I learned the less sure I became of... of everything, I guess?"
Twilight buried her face into a soft blue pillow, hating how unsure and unhinged she sounded. It was bad enough hearing herself. She had to sound totally crazy.
"Does that even make any sense at all?" she asked, still not wanting to see anypony. "I'm just so confused! I don't know what to do anymore!"
She had been relocated to the manor library - a setting she had always found blessedly relaxing, even a little intoxicating - where a confused servant had immediately taken to brushing down and combing out her mane, washing her face and otherwise making her presentable. Objections to the treatment had been summarily dismissed, again, to her relief at length. The stress still ebbed and flowed inside the conflicted unicorn, but there was much to be said for a good comb-down.
It had given her time to think, to relax just a little, and to better compose her thoughts and her arguments, her concerns and her conflicts of interest. Somepony had even cleaned and ironed out her catsuit; it currently hung over the back of a couch in the den area of the circular library chamber. Given a choice of tea, the Princess's own student took her time explaining just how screwed up her situation had become, and how she hadn't been able to find some way to satisfy both the needs of her family while staying true to her friends.
The only option left that had appeared to make sense was to change the rules. Wasn't that what Princess Celestia had always said? If you couldn't win within the confines of the rules, then change them? Think outside the box... or inside the chimney, as the saying went? The only way to change the rules, then, was to rule Equestria and make things make sense from the top down. The only way to make everypony happy was to literally make everypony happy!
When her host finally spoke, however, it was not to say what she had expected to hear, namely: 'You are one crazy pony, Miss Sparkle.'
"I believe I understand," Blueblood told her, inhaling the scent of his tea. He seemed to enjoy it with milk and ginger. After getting his guest cleaned up, he had made the tea himself, pouring enough for the both of them. "You've been put into a no-win situation and it really isn't easy, trying to satisfy everypony at once."
"You could have years and not manage it," he continued, sipping from the ceramic cup. "Lifetimes, even, and this dispute between families has existed for several lifetimes already. Myself, personally, I'd dance in the streets if your father found some way to supplant Cruciger. I actually have no problem with you Canterlot Terre Rares. I've met your father, and I have great respect for him. And I've met your brother."
"And you have great respect for him?" Twilight asked, emerging from beneath her pillow.
"... I've met your brother."
"I bet you two would get along great!"
"I bet he'd try and spear me if he heard I was even in the same room as you."
"Yeah!" Twilight told herself. "You two probably get along great!"
"So," Twilight asked, straightening up. "You think we should fight it out with the main family?"
"Honestly? Probably not," Blueblood said, mentally adjusting a nearby bust of Commander Hurricane, the pegasus stallion staring out with a curly, classical mane. "Your father is a good stallion, but Lord Cruciger is not. You said you had researched the dueling history of your family, and you must have done the same for dueling in general. How often do duels go to the death?"
"Oh, that's easy!" Twilight merely dipped into her bottomless well of statistics. "Babbling Brook and Record Keeper published a study two years ago on gender trends among social strata. Dueling à outrance occurred in five percent of duels among mares and twelve percent of duels among stallions. There was also a bell curve correlation between wealth and willingness to duel, with the richest ten percent and the poorest ten percent of registered nobility being the most likely to accept duels. The study also showed that, contrary to expectations, less than half of all duels 'to the death' actually resulted in death, due to the presence of trained medical staff at the site and improvements in medical magic. The study was published in the Journal of Unicorn Sociology and..."
"I rather get the idea, Twilight Sparkle," Blueblood intervened there to keep it from turning into a full blown seminar. "It is also common sense. The ones with the most to gain from a duel are the poorer nobles and the ones out to make a name for themselves. The ones most likely to receive challenges and to train to defend themselves are the richest nobility. The majority, like most ponies, simply stay out of the way as the two groups bicker in the shadows."
Twilight nodded - she knew this.
"Your family fits into this middle strata. For you, duels are inconvenient and prideful, but for poor nobles they are a chance at glory and recognition. For the most powerful, like Cruciger and his heirs, it is a means of survival. The founders gave us a system in which a small number of nobility battles amongst itself so as to not disturb the greater body of society. It is our misfortune that your Terre Rare cousins take this to an extreme. You said you had attempted to compile their individual dueling records? Of the wins and losses, how many ponies actually lost their lives?"
"Again, easy!" Twilight stuck out her tongue as the recalled the relevant facts, gleaned from newspaper clipping and archives and family records. "Lady Antimony dueled Lady Wood Land seven years ago and she died of her injuries, and then five years ago, Lady Thorny Rose challenged her and ended up in an asylum, where she later died of a cardiac arrhythmia. Lady Polished Jewel received a challenge from Ser Leaf Cutter and they both ended up hospitalized. When she got out, Leaf Cutter challenged her again to finish the duel and died of her wounds. According to family records, all three of Lady Chalice's dueling victories were à outrance: Lady Slate Stone, Lady Bountiful Rewards, and Ser Downward Stroke."
As she came to the last of the family, Twilight turned sheepish. "Your father was, um... the first one... Lord Cruciger killed. There were about a dozen after that, over the years."
"Many of my father's friends and retainers were foalish enough to try and win back his honor," Blueblood said, and she knew details there were unnecessary. "Cruciger is merciless towards those who threaten or challenge him. Eventually there was nopony left and I hoped it would all fade into obscurity."
He pointed at his guest.
"Your father," he told her. "Your father has already rejected the summons to Prance. For a stallion like Cruciger, this is a declaration of war. Crescent Moon will be the first brought to challenge, to break this family schism. They will try to cut the snake's head off."
Purple eyes turned downward. "My dad can't win, can he?"
"No," Blueblood was blunt in his assessment. "Not against Cruciger who has both power and a willingness to use that power. Even if he survives the duel, honorably, your father will still be humiliated. He will lose the support he needs. But the axe cuts both ways. Take out Cruciger, and anything is possible. Probably Antimony, too, since she is next in line... I honestly don't know how far she'd be willing to go to keep the house whole and under the hoof of the main family. Another thing I don't know - that we don't know - is what your father learned from Wrathenow. It had to be something big. If you want my advice, I'd say: get all the facts first and then make the big, life altering decisions."
"And in the meantime, my father and brother and mother put themselves in danger?" Twilight didn't much like the sound of more waiting and planning and worrying.
Blueblood nodded, callously. "Yes. Remember, any duel, no matter how serious, can be delayed at least a few days. The trick is using the window of opportunity."
"How fast do you think the main branch will move?"
"I expect they have already. If, as your father suggests, Lady Antimony was the one who silenced Lord Wrathenow, then it would have been put in motion that long ago."
"Then what should I do?" Twilight asked, almost pleading. "You must know about something I can do. Something I can use! There has to be a way to fix all this! What about the Princess?"
"Actually," Blueblood began, floating out a small scroll with a wax seal. "When last I spoke to her, she gave me this, and told me to give it to you in a circumstance much like this one. Given what she-"
Mid-sentence, he realized she had already magiced the scroll out of his telekinesis and that there was an empty space in his star field.
"To my faithful student, Twilight Sparkle...!" said faithful student read the scroll aloud, purple eyes darting across the parchment. "Don't panic. Signed, Princess Celestia."
Blueblood blinked a few times, not quite sure what to say.
"DON'T PANIC!!" Twilight screamed, going ballistic right then and there. "What kind of advice is that?! WHO'S PANICING ANYWAY?!"
"It actually is good advice."
Twilight stumped back down into the couch, deflating like a punctured balloon.
"Don't panic, she says. Oh, Auntie. Really?" Blueblood picked the scroll out of Twilight's magical grip with nary a protest. The Princess's apprentice couldn't help but notice the stallion chuckle as he read it for himself, examining the scroll with rapt amusement.
"This isn't funny," she told him, working up the energy to sit straight on the couch. Don't panic. Celestia's advice, despite how ridiculous it was, was still Celestia's advice. It could probably have been 'jump on one hoof while singing the national anthem' and Twilight Sparkle would have at least tried it once. Or twice.
"I need a loophole," Twilight said, wracking her brain. "Something! Come on, Twilight! Think!"
"Yes! A loophole! A cheat! An exploit! A hack! A trick! A dodge!" Twilight did a little dance with her hooves. "You know! Up up, down down, left right left right, B-A?"
"That was... just something Pinkie said once..." she sat back down on the couch. "Nevermind."
"Hmm. I think I get it. You want a quick-fix? I'll tell you of one, then." Blueblood's cup met his saucer and he placed both down on the table next to the rolled up scroll. "Not long ago, I considered how to try and keep Rarity from dueling Lady Antimony. I considered renouncing my inheritance and my titles. I considered escaping with her in the dead of the night. I considered..."
The foppish unicorn Prince watched his guest with dark blue eyes.
"I considered having Lady Antimony assassinated," he admitted, and Twilight shrank back slightly at his frank admission. "I considered the possibility of turning Equestria into a battlefield to protect her."
Celestia's faithful student summoned up her courage. Because: "You didn't."
"I didn't, no. But I considered a lot of what you did, tonight, when you broke in here," he said, without a hint of malice. "I considered much worse than you ever would. I'm not like you and your friends, Twilight. If faced with doing something unethical to protect somepony I care about, I probably wouldn't look long for a perfect solution."
"If you thought about all this," Twilight reasoned, taking some time to relax around him again. "What changed your mind?"
Blueblood answered with a sigh. "Auntie did."
Contrary to her earlier exuberance, this time Twilight took the revelation with more calculated interest. "What did she say? Does she know what's going on?"
He replied after considering how to phrase it properly. "She wants things handled... delicately. Which is a surprise, given how indelicate she can be, but she also feels a measure of responsibility. Towards my family. Towards the Terre Rares. Towards Equestria and all her noble houses. The Bluebloods are called royal, but my blood is in many families including yours. You, Twilight, are her niece as much as I am her nephew."
It should have been reassuring. It should have been affirming.
To be Celestia's niece. It was true, too. Twilight knew her lineage, so she knew of the distant relation, but to hear it phrased by the one pony in all the land actually considered the Princess' kin? It should have filled her with wonder and delight and pride. It was tempered by the fact that it was not just Twilight Sparkle, Celestia's niece. It was Cruciger, Celestia's nephew. It was Antimony, Celestia's niece.
They were all one, big, stupid, feuding family, every one of them.
The thought made her want to cry all over again. "Then maybe... maybe I should just... maybe I have to..."
"Twilight." Blueblood tilted his head and gave her a long, serious look. "Look at me."
"What?" she had to ask, a little perplexed by his scrutiny.
"I know I'm a sexy beast and all the mares want me," he said with a straight face. "But you don't want to marry me."
"You have to resist my incredible animal magnetism, Twilight Sparkle!"
"Fight it! Fight the urges!"
"...consider them resisted."
"No lingering hunger for my stud-ly self?"
"It was a crit-resist," Twilight assured him, sipping from her cup of tea with a small smile. A big, stupid, feuding family. That was it exactly, and some were clearly more foalish than others. Or at least they pretended to be.
"You sure?" he pressed, waggling his eyebrows as he leaned in.
"I rolled a perfect natural twenty," she replied, amused at his resulting confusion.
"I'm not sure I understood that, but good," Blueblood continued, resting a foreleg against the back of his couch opposite her and across from the coffee table.
"Because," he explained, raising his other free hoof. "For a noble, the first rule of politics, like the first rule of marriage, is that the best partnerships have nothing to do with lust... or love. My mother used to say that the ideal pairing is entirely professional. I bring this up, because for most ponies this is abhorrent. Can you really imagine yourself in a loveless marriage, Twilight? Because that is what it would have to be."
It was a question that cut to the quick of her conversations, and her secret disagreements, with Rarity before. By nature, Rarity was a romantic. She probably always had been. Twilight Sparkle was not. Twilight Sparkle was a student, an academic, a researcher, and a lover of magic, science and reason. Not stallions. Not mares. Magic. If magic was a pony, she probably would be head-over-hooves in love with it. As it was, magic was a thing, and her affection for it was expressed in terms of curiosity and a thirst for knowledge.
When she thought of being married, like her parents were married, like her brother wanted to get married, she imagined it would probably involve meeting several stallions picked out by her family and giving one the rubber stamp of approval. The stallion would be handsome and smart, of course, and skilled in magic, and they could talk about magic together in a warm study while reading books or over dinner or tea. That was probably what mattered most to her: that her mate was intellectually stimulating, even if it was in a field other than magic.
That would be basically love, or love-like.
The things Rarity imagined, the things she spoke about: about stallions throwing themselves into danger for their mares, or about the emotions of unrequited or forbidden love, or about long, confusing, drawn-out courtly romances that take years...? When Rarity mentioned those sorts of things, her voice betraying the sort of awe and excitement that Rainbow Dash had when she talked about the Wonderbolts, Twilight usually just nodded her head. She could understand the appeal of it, simply because many mares felt that way, statistically, and so it made sense that her friends followed that species-wide trend. It was like Rarity's favorite color, violet. Twilight could understand the choice her friend made in favorite color, yet disagree.
Best color was clearly lavender, not violet.
Love was important, of course, but there were many ways to create love. It was just chemical reactions in a pony's brain, after all. Back when she was little, her foalsitter Cadance had been exceptionally skilled in love magic, or more specifically, she had the ability to alter brain chemistry in a very specific way. This chemistry was, in the vernacular, called love. Twilight understood the mechanics of it. It wasn't a mystery. There were even alchemical potions to do the job!
The assumption had always been that love would come later, after the more important arrangements were made. This was where family came in. It just made sense that one's family had a say in who continued it, just like a business had a right to determine who ran it based on who owned shares in its future and wellbeing.
Twilight wasn't a silly pony - she understood that there were class distinctions in Equestria when it came to this issue. Rarity, coming from a poorer strata of society, wouldn't have been raised to consider marriage as a means of furthering the interests of the family as a whole. It fit the demographic that she wanted a romantic match, and Twilight was happy for her because she had just that! The fight with Antimony had proved to everypony how Rarity felt. This was love for her. It had to be. Real love, not from a potion or a spell.
Twilight just... couldn't see herself in that way.
It didn't make sense.
"A loveless marriage? Of course not." Twilight put down her tea, game face on. "But there are ways to fix that."
"Fix it, she says, and with a super-intense face, too." Blueblood relaxed against his couch, staring back at her without betraying any of his supposed anxiety over her 'intense look.' "You have no idea how many couples in Canterlot see... marriage councilors... to patch things up with potions and magic. Despite the dangers and warnings of history. You'd be okay with that?"
"If friendship is magic, then magic can be friendship. Magic can be redemptive. Redeeming." Twilight held out her hooves, two of them, like scales on a balance. "Two mathematical expressions are naturally equivalent so long as they lead to the same result."
"You can tell a pony that a glass is half full, but you can't prove it, can you?"
"That's just a matter of precise measurement. A glass would be half full if you could prove that it trends towards being greater than fifty percent full."
Blueblood opened his mouth and raised a hoof to continue the debate, only to shake his head.
"Arguing with you is like arguing with one of my professors back in the Academy."
"... thanks." Twilight stifled a laugh at his dour put-out expression. "Your Grace, you are insufferably arrogant." Twilight saw him twitch. "And not nearly as 'stud-ly' as you think you are." Another twitch. "And you're obsessed with a lot of strange things..."
"And you use a mare's perfume."
"And you freak out at the idea of getting dirty."
"I'm hardly the only one who-"
"And have I mentioned your vanity?"
"Ah, yes, you have."
"And you read perverted books."
"You were reading it too!!"
"But, all that aside, I probably would." Twilight Sparkle, Element of Magic, crossed her forelegs over her chest as she examined Equestria's only Prince. "I probably would marry you, if it saved the lives of ponies, much less those of my family. You said you'd do questionable things to protect the ponies you love? I'd do the same."
She laughed again, rolling her eyes and tapping her hoof on the cushion.
"Maybe Rarity and I could roshambo for it?" she wondered. "Or draw straws? Or, like I said, we could all three of us just get-"
"Don't even joke about that," he growled.
"Who says I'm joking?" Twilight asked, watching him out of the corner of her eye. "Who says I'm entirely joking?" she clarified.
"I do so enjoy being the most expensive piece of meat in the country." Blueblood groaned. "Thank Celestia and the Heavens themselves that the package isn't available sliced or otherwise proportioned."
"Sorry," Twilight apologized, but also shrugged, helplessly. "Appeals to emotion won't really work with me. Besides which, this is about a lot more than what I want."
"Quite right. This is about what your father wants," he said.
"What my family needs me to do," she corrected. Twilight's horn glowed and the cup in front of her began to slowly spin around on its saucer. "I could do it."
"You could," Blueblood agreed.
"I could become Duchess," she elaborated.
"You could become Grand Duchess," he agreed yet again and went further. "First among all the peerage, a mare third only to Celestia and Luna! Part of the Royal Household itself! To sit at the left hoof of the Princess of the Sun! Your domain would be magic and secrets and all of Canterlot, the jewel of Equestria!"
"Think!" he exhorted, "Of all that power."
"That is the downside," Twilight admitted.
Blueblood laughed. "And that... is why I hate to admit that you may fit the bill. You and Rarity both."
"Not everypony who wants power should be barred from it," Twilight argued, even though she knew his comment to be meant as a compliment. "What kind of country would Equestria be if everypony with responsibility didn't want it?" She also considered how he had phrased his response. "Are you saying I should do it?"
"I'm saying you can do it," he clarified. "Should you do it is a philosophical question."
"You're so evasive!" Twilight threw up her hooves in aggravation. "I came here for advice! This is your life, too! Your future! Show some interest in it!"
Blueblood made a show of sitting back down and smoothing out his mane.
"If I was forced to marry you, I'd just make Rarity my lover instead of my wife," he said, bluntly. Then he grimaced. "Or I'd try to, anyway. She'd probably turn us both into pincushions."
"You think I'd care?" Twilight asked. "Not about the pincushion thing, I like my flanks un-pierced, but I'd be happy for the two of you!"
"Yes, right up until I call out her name while we're doing our professional business of making the next generation of Princes and Princesses. Then, bang, zoom, straight to the moon!" He even gestured up at the sky. "I've seen what you can do. I'd be in Low-Equestrian Orbit before you even knew what happened."
Twilight managed to both blush and pout, puffing up her cheeks and boring a hole into the floor with her eyes. "Probably... I wouldn't... I mean... I have better control than that..."
So focused on the floor was she, that she didn't notice his hoof gently cradling her chin and lifting her face up. Twilight's eyes grew wide as platters as she found herself staring into blue eyes. Eyes that grew closer and closer, lips almost touching-
"Let's have a threesome."
Blueblood ended up hindlegs in the air, bowled over the couch he had been sitting on. A faint trail of magical smoke wafted up from his sprawled form. Twilight glared at him through the barrier she had erected.
"Ahhh." His voice warbled as he rolled back and onto his hooves. "My poor mane. My poor, abused mane. Why must you suffer so?" With a wink, his vanity mirror reappeared, allowing the Prince to check his blasted countenance. "You made it all frizzy."
"It looks fine!" Twilight objected, pointing accusingly at him. "W-w-what was that about a threesome, anyway!"
Blueblood ignored her to focus on fixing a few burned hairs.
"You're crazy, but then again, almost all the mares around here are nuttier than one of Auntie's banana splits... and I'm not exactly normal myself either. Alright. Let me get serious for a moment..."
Blueblood straightened out the couch and rested his forelegs against the back of it, crossing them under his chin. "In order to make Canterlot and Equestria a better place for peace, harmony, and all ponykind, imagine you acquire the Crown your family needs. You would still expect your marriage, even one to me, born of political necessity, to eventually become one with love in it, right?"
Twilight nodded. "We could use magic," she suggested. "Hypothetically."
He nodded in return. It wasn't taboo. It wasn't even shameful. It was just magic, as she said.
"So, Grand Duchess Twilight Sparkle and I, we do what so many others do and turn on the love in our life, like striking a wonderful little rainbow colored match. But I still love Rarity and want to be with her. The you I'm speaking to may think this is just fine and dandy. The you I'm speaking to may even be happy for us, as you said. But..."
He raised a hoof to punctuate the point.
"The you who loves me will not be happy for us. The you who loves me will not want to share me, not even with a close friend, not even to make me happy. This hypothetical future you, recipient even of Cadance's love zap, will see me sneaking off at night to visit my dam, my mistress, and my family of bastard foals. The ones I picked to be with first but couldn't. You will see and hear about me doting on them, and, inevitably, you and Rarity will stop seeing each other as friends... and start seeing one another as competition. You'll ask yourself: which one do I love more? How can I prove it?"
"Don't try and predict the future like that. You don't know any of that will happen," Twilight told him, shaking her head in denial. "It's just as likely that we'll all get along fine. That we'll all understand one another and we can make Canterlot into what we want. We can make it better!"
She held out her hooves, pleading for him to be optimistic about the one chance she had to fix things. For everypony.
"We can show all the nobility that they don't need to duel or fight or try and one-up one another!" she insisted and he hung his head. "We can show them - we can prove to them that there's harmony! Not one being better than another! Real! Harmony!"
"That... would be nice," Blueblood admitted, still leaning informally over the back of the couch opposite her. He gave a rueful sigh. "But there is a good reason why, as my mother said, the best marriages are professional. Loveless. Which you don't want."
"But you're... you want to marry Rarity! For love!" Twilight accusingly pointed out the most obvious flaw. "How can you say that the best marriage is loveless when you're doing the exact opposite!"
"Because," Blueblood explained, smiling again. "I'm an idiot... and a silly pony. Why would I follow good advice?"
"Argh!" Twilight fell back, reclining the couch back and slightly of the floor. Staring up at the ceiling, she started to laugh. "That isn't fair, you know. Making sense while not making sense!"
"You were taught by Auntie, I thought you'd be used to it?"
The two unicorns laughed, digesting their own thoughts along with a cup of hot tea. Some time during that, Twilight Sparkle realized that she felt better: about the conundrum that still wasn't solved, about fears that even bringing this topic up with Rarity would drive a rift of suspicion between them, even about the threat to her family caused by the Terre Rare schism. She felt better. Maybe, it was just the laughter and the endorphins...
Maybe it was just blasting the Prince with some magic. That seemed therapeutic too.
However, that conundrum, those fears, that threat - there were all still there. The only difference was really that she had spoken to somepony about it. For a few minutes after sneaking in and confronting the Prince, Twilight had seriously considered running away again. It was just so embarrassing to even talk about all this. She had regretted even coming. Now, she was glad she had.
"Can I ask you something?" There was just - just one more thing she had to know before they went on. Something she wanted desperately to understand.
"I am a font of wisdom," the arrogant Prince declared with a grandiose flair of his right foreleg. "So go ahead."
"You mentioned your mother talking about proper marriage?" Twilight asked it with due caution, loaded as the question was. "You're a noblepony like me and you probably had a similar upbringing, so why...? Why is love so important to you?"
Why you, and not me?
Blueblood paused for a few seconds, collecting his thought and predictably mixing them with some improper observations. "Give yourself time. I have known quite a few mares, none of which I loved, before meeting my dear Rarity. Whereas, I suspect you, my sweet Lady Twilight, have never once indulged those virgin lips of yours."
"S-sure I have!" Twilight stammered, blurting out the first thing that came to mind to refute him. "I kissed my parents and the Princess lots of times!"
"You and Auntie huh? I can imagine it, but likely not in the way you suspect."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Pray tell, Miss Sparkle, what did my Auntie's heavenly lips taste like?"
"T-t-the lips!?" Twilight blushed a bright and candid crimson, her hooves finding a sudden urge to fidget. "I never - I wouldn't - I couldn't!!"
"As I said," he repeated with a smirk. "Virgin lips." Her frown did nothing to dissuade his laughter at her expense. "You haven't even had the chance to fall for somepony. At least, somepony who isn't my rather alluring Auntie. Reason would indicate that the more exposure one has, the greater chance of there being a chemical match of sorts, yes?"
"Oh! Yes, that makes sense! The more energetic a solution-"
Blueblood held out a hoof. "You see the point."
"I guess." Twilight huffed at being cut short in her exploration of that scientific analogy.
"When it comes to Rarity and myself-"
"Was it love at first sight?" The bookworm interrupted. "Rarity told me...!"
"It wasn't," Blueblood returned the interruption, and the answer clearly surprised the lavender bookworm. "Maybe for her it was something like that. Love at first sight. My circumstances... back at the gala... were different. Skewed. I can't really explain it, but it wasn't love at first, second, third, or even tenth sight. Rarity is a beautiful mare, but that isn't what's important. It's nice, mind you! I do love pretty mares and pretty mares love me. But it isn't what's important in the end. Waking up next to her, just being with her, I feel like I can live every day without regrets, like I can make every day perfect. I honestly can not imagine letting her go."
"So that's love?"
"That's my version of it. Cadance herself could work her magic on a dozen couples and they would all describe two dozen different ways they love their partners. There is no one answer and there never will be."
Twilight contemplated that, in silence.
Seeing her introspection, Blueblood tried to provide some perspective, "If it matters, for most of my life I did think like you do. I was rather more jaded, actually, since I knew from a young age that my colthood and my title made me a prize to be won. I had always expected an arranged, political marriage, hopefully to some pretty young mare who was willing to work much harder than myself. I never, ever expected to have affection and romance trump practicality and politics."
"And!" he added, leaning over the couch a bit more, his voice conspiratorial. "If you can keep a secret, I think I had a little crush on Auntie when I was younger, too!"
He used one hoof to cover up his right eye and the other to flow his mane back and away, adding a bit of magic to make it flow and shimmer in colors. "Oh, my little nephew, you have grown into such a handsome stallion! Why don't you come closer and let your Auntie Celestia get a closer look at you. Kissy-kissy-kiss!!"
"Your Grace!" Twilight gasped, covering up her eyes, fighting the scandalous image.
"I, your Princess, do hereby allow you to kiss my royal hoof. Hmm yes. Do not be afraid to use some tongue, my dear, for I assure you I am not! Yes, very good. Why not my royal throat as well. Hmmm! Kissy-kissy-kiss!!"
Peeking from behind her hooves at the ridiculous play Twilight sputtered.
"And here comes our faithful student Twilight Sparkle! At a loss for words as usual, but is she not comely as well, nephew? And so obedient! Come, faithful student, you may be of some use! Why not take some of this royal cake with royal frosting and smear it all over our perfectly toned and sculpted royal flanks? And are our wings not the most beautiful in the land? Would you like your Princess covered in sticky, gooey cake, my faithful and naughty student? Kissy-kissy-kiss!!"
The impact of pillow on face brought an end to the mimicry with a POMF!
"Kissy kiss," Blueblood concluded.
Twilight's magic already had another pillow armed and at the ready. "Princess Celestia is not nearly as perverted as you, your Grace!"
The Prince merely raised an eyebrow, floating up the rather expensive silk throw pillow she had smacked him with.
"As perverted as me?" he asked, and shuddered visibly. "I should hope not! If she was, I would fear for the safety of Canterlot itself! Then again, I did catch her staring lustily at our Captain of the Guard once-"
"Aha!" Pillow met pillow, sparing his royal countenance from another cushioned assault. "Blocked!"
"Next time I'll throw the couch instead," Twilight warned, levitating the pillows back to her couch. "Rarity was so right about you."
"In what way...?" the royal asked.
Rather than reply, the element of magic giggled.
"Fine!" he grumbled, indignant. "Keep your little filly secrets! Now I'll never tell you what we stallions do when we get together."
"You probably just watch pornography and gamble."
"We also smoke and drink."
The two nobleponies, their families bitter enemies, laughed together.
- - -
"Bye-bye, daddy! I love you!"
"I love you, too, Euporie."
"More than Eunomie, right?"
"I love you both equally."
Alpha Brass, the Marquis of the Equestrian colonies and frontier, and a Duke in all but name, smiled pleasantly as his step-daughter hugged him. He was not a mountain of a stallion like his father; those who knew the family would remark that he took mostly from his mother, the Duchess Twinkling Star Light. He had his mother's flowing mane and tail, but colored in gold, and he had her more lithe, muscular body and her large and expressive eyes. Even as a colt, many mares (and some stallions) had considered him beautiful. There had been much wailing when he had gotten engaged to a far older widow and become a step-father.
Next to the Marquis, Eunomie watched her sister and father with a level expression.
"I want you both to be careful down on the surface," he said, still smiling lovingly. "No killing anypony. That means you, Euporie. I expect you both to remember why you're going down there."
"Please leave it in our hooves, father," Eunomie assured him. "We will return with what you need."
"I don't like it!" Euporie growled, letting her step-father go and trotting angrily over to where her sister stood among the clouds and white tile. "But if you need it done, I'll help out."
"Thank you, Euporie." Alpha Brass touched a hoof to her wild blue mane. "It really is a relief for me, that I can always count on you both."
"Of course, father."
"Anything to get that bug-witch out of your bed."
"What was that?"
"Excuse me, brother..." The two siblings turned their eyes towards the intrusion, prompting one to smirk and the other to remain - as always - impassive. Chalice slowly trotted towards her closest family, head lowered slightly. She kept her eyes on her brother; Alpha Brass didn't so much as turn his head, not until she boldly pushed herself forward. Only then did one green eyes move to secure her, like a pin impaling a butterfly.
"My dear Chalice," he said, in a tone that was welcoming but not entirely warm. "Don't tell me? You want to go down to the surface, too?"
"This is important to - to our plans, right?" she asked, trying to ignore Euporie's intense stare. "Don't look so surprised. They're my plans, too, aren't they? Didn't you say that this was my chance? Brother?"
"Of course. Our plans." Brass held out a hoof; Chalice took it and he used the contact to straighten her up and adjust her chin so it held high. "I know these parties and orgies I host make you nervous, but as you know, things are as they need to be. Take some time to relax in Ponyville. It is a lovely little town full of happy little ponies."
"Speaking of the party, father," Eunomie interrupted, though she spoke quietly and politely. "I wished to ask you about Miss Heartstrings."
"I don't like her," Euporie chimed in.
"I have some concerns about the timing," Eunomie continued. "If we return early..."
"Oh, I wouldn't worry!" Alpha Brass chuckled, waving his step-daughter away and not to fret. "She's already coming along nicely. She simply doesn't know it yet. There are merely some things I need to do, and then we can retrieve her torc and put it back to use."
"How did she get it to begin with?" Euporie frowned. "Daddy, I can't imagine anypony would betray you! So how could we have lost a star key?"
"It is impossible for any of my beneficiaries to betray me, this is true." Brass' own facade of good cheer slipped, just a fraction, as his jaw clenched. "I am aware of the one who took this torc and gave it to the Princess. I know she continues to conspire with our enemies. I will find her. Concern yourself with finding Celestia's intermediaries in Ponyville and your other business. There will be no repeats of this fiasco."
"And the torc itself?" Chalice inquired. "Um, maybe we should just take it back...?"
"We must inspect it thoroughly first. What if it was tampered with? Or damaged? That sort of danger is best kept on the surface where it belongs," Eunomie explained, as if to a foal. "Please, Aunt Chalice, leave this to Euporie and myself. As father said, you need only relax and let us shoulder the burden of this endeavor. Isn't that right, Euporie?"
"That's right, Eunomie," her sister agreed with a vicious grin. "Just stay out of the way, Auntie. We'll call you if we need to destroy the town and everypony in it."
Chalice scowled, but nodded. She stood next to Eunomie while her niece charged her horn, preparing to teleport the three of them down to the surface of Equestria and through the Hanging Gardens' Barrier. A ring of magic formed in a circle around them, leaping out of the tiles on the floor, the animated sigils dancing in midair, spinning slowly as magic built up.
"Oh yes, and as for Lady Yumi?" Alpha Brass called to them. "Her situation is rather unique, having been here without feeling my influence. You know what to do with her."
"Of course, father."
"I can't wait, daddy! I'll do it! Pick me! I'll do it!"
"No," he told them, before they blinked out. "Chalice. When the time comes... you take care of it."
The small pink pony lowered her head.
"If you want, brother," she deferred. "I'll get rid of her."
With a snap and a blast of vapor, the three vanished from the Gardens' porte-cochère. Alpha Brass inhaled deeply, savoring the smell of magic lingering in the air. It had not been an exaggeration earlier: betrayal really was impossible, except where permitted by inaction or conflicting orders. To have that one mistake from that one horrible day threaten to ruin so much? It was unforgivable. It was simply unforgivable!
"Discord," he hissed, under his breath. "You bastard."
Alpha Brass spun around to return to the gardens proper.
"So many little thorns in my side." His lip curled as he paused at the threshold. "They're irritating."
- - -
"What I mean is... thanks for... listening I guess?" Twilight cracked a knowing grin at her host. "And for being an ass."
"That part comes easily to me," Blueblood replied, reclining lazily across his couch. "So your thanks are unnecessary."
"I feel better now. But," she cautioned. "I still need a solution to this mess. In fact!" The studious unicorn stomped her hooves down in place, albeit onto the soft couch cushions. "In fact," she repeated. "I'm not going anywhere until we solve this problem! And if we can't, then maybe I'll just have to do what I have to do! Even if that means asking Rarity to play along!"
"Which, as I said before, is a mistake." He facehoofed, and it was rather cathartic for Twilight to see somepony else doing it for once. "Worse than a mistake, since I can actually see her agreeing to it. It's a disaster in training. Especially since..."
Like a trap, his jaw snapped shut.
"Especially since what?" Twilight asked, and he avoided eye contact. "Especially since what? Blueblood? I'll zap your mane if you don't come out with it."
"Great. You know my weakness," he grumbled, but still didn't explain.
Twilight shot a few sparks from her horn, just as a little reminder.
"You're both Elements of Harmony," he finally relented and explained himself. "If a rift develops between any of you then it puts the entire country in danger, and playing around with emotional magic - especially love magic - is just asking for that to happen. Besides which... how different is this plan, really, from any other mare who wants to get her hooves on my family's Crown?"
"They want it for their family as much as you do," he went on, cutting off her attempt to defend herself. "They want it for the power to change Equestria, just like you do. Oh, the things they would change are different, and the families that would benefit are different, too... but the spirit is much the same. Rarity is really the only one... the only mare I've ever met... who doesn't care about the power and whose family doesn't have something to gain from it."
Twilight's response withered even before she tried to get a word in.
"I rather wish there was no damned Crown," the Prince whispered, just loud enough to be heard. Then, more loudly, "This world would be the better for it. I've been wondering if... well. Here. I guess you're back to being mostly sane, so see for yourself."
Without another word, he retrieved Celestia's scroll and floated it back to her. Confused, Twilight's eyes caught how he unrolled all the way, folding the top back and leaving only the very bottom facing her. There was something there. Something she hadn't read before.
"You understand, don't you?" Blueblood asked, and Twilight slowly lowered the scroll between them. "Auntie is our beloved Princess. We love her because she doesn't abuse her power and because she doesn't make sweeping changes to things. She is the steady rock, the very foundation of our world."
"The sun that rises every morning, without fail," Twilight agreed, and the scroll rolled up with an audible whorl. "She makes the ponies who make the changes."
The Prince of Canterlot leaned forward until he was balanced on his front hooves. "Are you that kind of pony, Twilight Sparkle?"
The quiet librarian focused on the scroll, and the broken wax seal it bore, still streaked by the rays of the rising sun. She shut her eyes, concentrating on the calming pulse of her heartbeat and the steady rhythm of her breath. It was impossible for her not to get involved, not when her family was in danger. The option her father had given her was to stamp on Rarity's dream, and no matter if Rarity herself felt pressured to agree to it, it would still be the end of her romance with the Prince she had longed to find. Finally, in her desperation, Twilight had imagined a third path: changing the rules, pushing herself, Rarity and Blueblood into artificial harmony.
There was a fourth path.
"I'll find a way to bring them together," she whispered, vowing it to the bundled scroll of her mentor. "The Terre Rare. All of them. I'll bring them together. But if I do..." Twilight Sparkle turned her eyes up, to Equestria's Prince. "I want something from you."
Blueblood didn't agree, not right away, but he did listen. "And that is?"
"The vow," she told him. "You'll honor it. You and Rarity will honor it. Our children will honor it."