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The sun rose over Canterlot, bathing the mountain in a gorgeous golden light. The rays spilled over the streets like a cascade, invading homes through windows as it went. Thanks the mountain the city stood upon, the morning always came just slightly late. Normally, the city was out and about before the sun began to peak over the summit. And so, everypony was awake to appreciate the warm glow, though many couldn't be bothered to even look up. All went about their business nonchalantly, having, in general, forgotten just how beautiful the sun could be. All but one.
Princess Celestia rose her head from her pillow, and smiled, mouthing a silent, "Good Morning." to her oldest of friends, and rose from her bed. Last night had been quite a long one, and though Celestia was a goddess, she still needed sleep. Just less often than most mortals. A deity could avoid sleep for days without suffering ill effects, and it was thanks to that fact that she could spend so much time with Luna. Of course, that time was mostly spent just being together while fighting the eternal, losing battle of attempting to clear the desks which were under constant assault by the endless hordes of bureaucracy. A good sleep was what the princess needed, and she was thankful for it. The princess was always a morning pony -- How could she not be, as a goddess of the sun -- And she stepped out onto her balcony as though she had been awake the entire time. The alicorn surveyed her domain with her normal stoic, mysterious smile, her eyes sweeping over the city where ponies bustled. "And good morning, my beloved children," she whispered to them. "I hope you slept well."
The noise of running water caused her ear to twitch, swiveling to the source. The bathroom she shared with her younger sister. Her smile only widened as she trotted over to the door. Luna hadn't slept, but it had only been two days and nights since her last rest. Likely, she was simply freshening up for the new day. Celestia opened the door, and almost got out her greeting before she stopped at the sight before her. Luna's mane was... Very poofy. That was really the only way to describe it. Celestia's mouth hung open, as her sister glanced over, a toothbrush hanging from her mouth. The moon goddess blinked, as if to ask, "What?" before going back to her brushing.
Celestia stepped alongside her, pretending absolutely nothing was wrong, as she got to brushing as well. "Well, sister, I... Erm... I find your mane... Nice?" Luna rolled her eyes and unceremoniously spat out the toothpaste into the sink.
"Our... My carpet is a traitor, and should be hung."
"It shocked you, I take it?" Celestia chuckled, and much more gracefully lifted a cup to her lips and swished the water inside her mouth, then spat out the mess into the cup so it wouldn't go all over the sink. "Perhaps you should stop shuffling your hooves over it."
"How else may I prank the maids, Celestia?" Luna smirked, and examined her teeth in the mirror with mouth wide open. "Ah an ot neegect kee-hing them on eir ooves."
"Try that again, Luna. I didn't quite catch it." Celestia smiled at her sister's antics. It had been two years since her return, and the sun goddess's heart was still light and airy from her presence. It was so very good to see her again.
"I must keep them ready in case of a major disaster, Tia." With a sweet smile that didn't at all fool Celestia, the younger alicorn reached with her magic for a hair-brush.
"Oh, of course. I'm sure they are quite sick of our jokes by now. One prankster princess was quite enough for them, I'm sure." She snatched the brush away from Luna, who gasped and glared, backing towards the door of her room.
"Tia, I am perfectly capable of tending to my own mane."
Celestia only returned the sweet smile she had just been given. "Oh, but I insist on straightening out this disaster. Perhaps some pig-tails? You would look ever so cute with them..."
Luna's eyes went wide as her hoof scrambled for the door's knob. "No! Stay back! Harry me not with thy wicked designs!"
"Or perhaps a twin braid, connected in the back with a bun?" Celestia advanced menacingly, holding the brush in a manner very similar to a murderer brandishing a knife. "Wouldn't you like that?"
"Away, foul knave!" Luna's hoof finally found the knob and twisted it, making her fall over onto her back, and roll. Remembering that she did indeed have magic, she quickly shut the door and held it as her older sister lunged. A thump resounded from the other side, "Should ye not be preparing to entertain a guest most important, Tia?! Cease thy vexation upon me, and go to plague some other unfortunate!"
The larger princess grumbled at her failure to seize the opportunity. "Very well, but don't you forget you have work to do, while I'm gone!" There came a loud, explosive sigh from Luna's room as the alicorn set about sulking as though she had just been grounded. Deciding not to support her foalish pouting with attention, Celestia simply went on her way. She steeled herself as she approached the door, knowing full well what awaited her on the other side. When she opened the door, lo and behold, her royal vizier, Sound Advice.
The grey unicorn with a black mane was examining the schedule at Celestia's door for who knows how long. His patience rivaled her own at times. "Good morning, your highness. Are you ready for the day's itinerary? We have much to do."
With a incline of her head, Celestia returned the greeting. "Good morning, Sir Advice. I have an important guest arriving today, and I was expecting to spend most of my time making her feel at home, today. All documents and appointments should be forwarded to my sister, as per my agreement with her," she replied in as level a tone as she could manage while keeping a straight face. Sound didn't need to know the agreement was actually a bet made over a game of badminton. Luna had lost that game. She was never very good at badminton.
Sound Advice raised a brow, and looked down at the schedule. "I fear, Princess, that this amount of work is simply unmanageable for a single pony, even an alicorn. I must insist that you at least complete some of it." Checking a pocket watch, he droned, "And your guest will not be arriving for three hours yet."
Celestia understood perfectly why royal viziers were always evil in the fairy tales. She hadn't informed Advice of her guest's arrival time for the purpose of avoiding work for just a short while. So much for that. "Very well, Sir Advice." With a sigh just loud enough that he could clearly hear her displeasure, yet soft enough that it could be mistaken for a small yawn, she opened the door wider, and stepped back to allow him in. And thus started three hours of paperwork, satisfying whining nobles, and tax discussions.
After an hour, she wished she was dead. After two, she wondered if she could justify sending her vizier to the moon.
Rarity couldn't be more excited about stepping into Canterlot. Oh sure, the last time she was here, she had made some... Mistakes. But thanks to the help of Fancy Pants, she'd mostly retained the reputation she'd built. She was a natural for higher society, it just went to show!
Of course, she was not looking forward to some of the bigotry she had witnessed on her last visit. However, the unicorn had reasoned that if Fancy Pants could cause those judgmental nobles to have some respect for the town of her birth, then surely once she gained enough influence amongst them, she could show them what a wonderful place it was!
No, she was not in denial, and it is very rude of you to think that, sir.
After roping some stallions into carrying her luggage (a few flutters of the eye lashes was all it took, as usual), the mare strode confidently down the lanes, nose slightly upturned and eyes all but closed, only open enough to see where she was going. Her display worked, as several ponies stopped to turn their gaze to her, wondering who this graceful, lovely unicorn might be. Turning heads wherever she trotted, Rarity headed inexorably towards the palace gates, letting nopony stop her, and nothing get in her way.
It was inevitable that she would come into the ritzy part of town, which suited Rarity just fine. She had to admit, she was somewhat nervous about what the nobles might think of her after that garden party, but she was determined not to show it. Keeping her expression and poise up, she nonetheless opened her eyes further, to allow the advance warning of incoming threats. And to avoid once more bumping into somepony.
Such an incident was completely unavoidable, however, and with a cry of, "Look out, madame!" a stallion's carriage careened around the corner. Rarity was able to jump back just in time, and the carriage barely screeched to a halt. "Oh good, you are unhurt! Terribly sorry, my driver-" The stallion stopped, and stared for a moment at Rarity, who adjusted her mane and was about to accept his apology, when she realized who was speaking to her. The unicorn's eyes narrowed.
"YOU." There, before her, was Prince Blueblood, who gulped a moment. His eyes darted around as Rarity slowly advanced onto him, and the stallion pointed with a hoof towards a side street.
"LOOK! A DISTRACTION!" Rarity, of course not fooled by this, crouched down to pounce the prince right out of his seat. The stallion had the good sense to know that being here was a bad place to be. His horn glowed, and with a puff of smoke, he disappeared just as the mare flew at him. Rarity landed gracefully on her hooves, and seethed very ungracefully for a moment, before settling with giving the cart a solid buck. The stallions carrying her bags gulped, and took a healthy step back when the wrathful mare turned to them.
"Well? Nevermind that cur! Let us be on our way!" She turned, and trotted off, followed hesitantly by her two little helpers.
It took quite a bit of complaining before the guards at the palace gates would agree to not search the myriad bags she had brought with her. It even took the intervention of Princess Celestia, who informed them that the mare likely wasn't smuggling any weapons into the palace, before they stopped questioning the nature of her luggage. Even then, no amount of convincing would make them allow the stallions into the palace. As the disappointed ponies took their leave, head hung and no doubt thinking about the one that got away already, two servants came to replace them, somehow the maids miraculously carrying the mountain between them. "The nerve! If I were princess, I am quite sure they would have never given me such a problem," the miffed mare huffed out, still a bit off kilter from her impromptu meeting with her hated and most certainly former prince charming.
"You would be surprised. Sometimes, I have a hard time making them listen," Celestia replied, following along behind the two servants, who knew exactly where they were going. She looked straight ahead for now, allowing Rarity to admire that mysterious, stoic smile on the princess's face. She sorely wished she knew how to smile like that.
"But who would dare deny you, your highness? You are, after all, a princess of Equestria!" Rarity spoke with genuine confusion in her voice. Her anger had left her as she watched the princess walk alongside her, though that made her envious of every graceful and careful move the alicorn made.
So when Celestia stopped and turned her gaze towards Rarity, the unicorn couldn't help but blush a bit from being caught staring. The princess knelt down to her subject's level, and gave her a stern look. "Rarity, what Equestria needs is far more important than what I merely want."
"Well... I..." She had leaned back a bit as the princess gave her that frown. It felt slightly like being stabbed in the heart. Rarity lowered her head like a scolded filly, and looked to the ground. "I am sorry, your highness. I simply thought you would know best."
"Not even I am infallible." Celestia rose up again, smiling once more, and continued on. "Sometimes I can be quite silly too!" Rarity watched for a moment, before trotting quickly to catch up. She was still confused, but when the mare reached her room, she shooed that perplexity away, and smiled brightly.
"Oh, it's quite lovely!" She looked about the guest room, which had been furnished in a lavish rose colored theme, complimented by hand-carved cherry-wood furniture. The room was as well made as the tower space she was in before, just a bit smaller.
"I'm glad you approve. I thought it would be easier for you to come and go from the palace if you were not so high up. Certainly more convenient." As the princess spoke, the maids set about unpacking Rarity's things, but were quickly stopped and shooed.
"I'll handle that, darlings. Never you mind, I'm quite sure you have enough to do already." The unicorn continued to admire the room for a moment longer, before she looked over her shoulder to Celestia. "Your highness, may I ask a question?"
"Of course." She already knew what Rarity was going to ask, but it would be impolite to not let her subject say it herself. Rarity preferred decorum, she remembered.
Rarity ignored the servants still standing by for now, and turned to face Celestia entirely after making some brief plans about where to put her things. "When last I was here, we barely had any time to socialize, your highness. And I was hoping that you might like to spend some more time together?"
"I have already made the time for that," Celestia affirmed, smiling just slightly wider at that. "I rarely have the time for company, so I planned in advance." There was no need for Rarity to know about her bet either.
For her part, the unicorn's confusion returned, but she shook it away and beamed. "Wonderful. Shall we have tea?" Finally noticing that the servants were still there, the unicorn apologetically waves a hoof. "Oh, don't let me hold you up! I will be quite fine!"
They nodded, but before they could leave, Celestia stopped one of them with a gentle hoof. "Would you please bring us some tea?"
The earth pony mare frowned, and canted her head. "But your highness, your diet...
"... Will be just fine. Just this once." The alicorn winked, and the mare smiled, shaking her head.
"As you wish, your highness." She quickly trotted away, leaving Rarity to frown after her. But that didn't last long, as Celestia entered the room, and seated herself on a cushion.
"So, Rarity, tell me how you've been doing. It's been a while since you sent a letter." The unicorn was quick to seat herself across from the princess, forgetting her bags entirely as she began to speak, gossiping for hours. Celestia, in her infinite patience, was more than happy to just listen to her.
Hours passed, and Celestia found herself chatting normally with Rarity rather than simply lending an ear. It was quite nice to be able to actually relax and let her guard down with somepony other than her sister, who was sometimes a bit too childish for her tastes, or Twilight, who was quite often just as busy as she was. But even now, the princess didn't feel quite comfortable. Rarity was, as usual, too focused on royal life, and Celestia could only offer her excuses and dismissive asides as answers, not wanting to crush her dreams of the glamorous life. But even Celestia's patience faded as time wore on, and her composure with it, to be replaced by a sad smile. This didn't escape the unicorn's notice.
"Your highness, what is the matter?" Rarity canted her head, a slight frown across her muzzle. Then she gasped, putting a hoof to her chest. "Oh my word, am I bothering you? My deepest apologies, princess! Why, I should be ashamed!"
The alicorn blinked, realizing what face she bore, and quickly smiled again. "No, Rarity, you are not bothering me. I am fine. I was... Lost in thought, for a moment." It wasn't a lie, persay. In fact, it was quite truthful. She just neglected to mention to what those thoughts pertained.
The fashionista, with her sharp attention to detail, was not to be so easily brushed aside. She knew that the topic of conversation was what brought the princess down. "Princess Celestia, I am a tad confused. Several times, I've noticed your servants talking back, not allowing your desires to come to fruition, and even demanding that you return to your tasks! Now, I know that you must have much work as one of the rulers of Equestria, but surely you are allowed time to yourself! And surely, having such an important job, you must have so many privileges, benefits! Why, then, are you so saddened by such questions?"
Celestia was dreading this question. The very thought of what effect her answer would have on the unicorn bothered her far more than speaking of her lifestyle. "Rarity... This may be a shock to you, but royalty is quite limited in what they may or may not do."
"But you are the princess! Nay, you move the very sun across the sky!" Rarity flourished over her head in an arc with a hoof, as if to pantomime the course of said star. Celestia's smile became completely genuine. There was something so charming about the unicorn's melodramatic ways. Perhaps it was refreshing. The nobles and royalty that surrounded the princess were always attempting to emulate her stoic, unshakeable ways. Instead, they simply came off as cold and unfeeling. Completely different from Rarity, who threw herself so readily into the chaotic tides of emotion.
"Yes, I am. And yes, I do. But you see, Rarity, much of my time is taken with work. Of course I work hard, but not even I am capable of handling all of the problems Equestria has. Now that my sister has returned, it has become far more easy, but there is still so much to do, so much that needs to be taken care of, some of which is centuries old!" Celestia took a deep breath. Before she closed her eyes, she saw the shocked look on Rarity's face. "I have no real time to myself. I have to plan even a small break such as this weeks in advance. Luna is my only real friend. Every other moment, I must wear a mask that keeps every other pony far away from me, to show no weakness that the nobles might prey on, weaken and mock me with. Being royalty is not fun, not privileged. I am less free than even a prisoner in the dungeon."
She felt a sudden warmth and embrace, and with a start the princess opened her eyes and looked down. The unicorn had wrapped her forelegs about the alicorn's chest (or as much as she could), to deliver a comforting hug. Celestia bowed her head, a grateful smile on her muzzle. "Oh, Princess, I had no idea. It must be so terrible, having not even had a single vacation in all this time!" Celestia chuckled. That wasn't entirely the point she had been getting at, but this was a reaction far better than the unicorn sinking into depression. Rarity slipped back, that smile on her face still so bright. Celestia sorely wished she knew how to smile like that. "And yet, I wish I could be royalty, if even for a day. Even if I must work so hard, such prestige, and glamor..."
The alicorn barely stopped herself from face-hoofing. How could she have so thoroughly missed everything I said? If she was royalty even for a few hours, she would- Celestia hesitated, which brought Rarity pause as well. The princess looked to a wall past her guest, and slowly smiled, wider and wider. The unicorn gulped a bit, and leaned back, filled with slight trepidation.
"Y-Your highness? Is... Everything alright?"
Celestia slowly turned her head back to Rarity. "I have a proposition for you, Rarity. How would you like to be princess for a week?"
Rarity's eyes widened to almost impossible size, and stars literally shown in them. "A princess?! Would I ever, your highness! Oh, it would be a dream come true!
Just like Blueblood? Celestia stopped herself from saying. "No, not a princess. The princess."
Rarity's eyes didn't change, nor did her ecstatic grin, but she slowly canted her head to the side in confusion. Celestia found that excessively disturbing. "Whatever could you mean, princess?"
Oh by the sun please stop looking at me like that, Celestia silently pleaded, and she hurriedly responded out loud, hoping her reply would make the unicorn stop doing that, "You are correct. I sorely need a vacation. And I believe that if you would serve to replace me while I did so, I would feel more comfortable than if I simply left my sister to all the drudgery."
"Oh, how wonderful! What an idea!" Rarity clapped her fore-hooves together, mercifully ceasing that horrid inclination of her head. The expression remained, however, though her mouth was now closed. Celestia was thankful for that. But in an instant, Rarity's face fell, and she sighed quite loudly. "Oh, but I've so much work to do myself. I have an order waiting for me when I return to Ponyville."
"I can perform that for you," Celestia offered, far more quickly than she had planned to. Am I really this desperate for respite from this? "I will do your work, and you will do mine. Luna can assist you and make sure that you don't stray far from procedure, and I have picked up quite a few tricks over my lifetime. I should be able to handle designing the dresses, as long as the plans are already laid out." Celestia had to admit that creativity was always Luna's strong point, not her's.
Rarity's face lit up again, and she let out a joyous squee, hopping into the air. Celestia couldn't help but laugh at the spectacle, though it was cut off by a soft "oof" as the unicorn half-hugged half-grappled her in the throes of her glee. "That is such a wonderful idea! And with your dear sister watching over me, not a thing could possibly go wrong."
Celestia hadn't the heart to correct her, so she instead gently pried her guest away. "Now, here is how we are going to do this, my dear pony..."
An hour later, Celestia retired to her room, a broad, almost dreamy smile crossing her face. When she entered, she was almost immediately set upon by an enraged Luna. "YOU."
Celestia blinked in surprise, and raised one brow. "Is... There something the matter, Prin- Luna?"
Luna didn't even notice the slip-up. "You know exactly what is wrong, Tia! The duke of Seaddle was blubbering on about how he could not bear the new tax tariffs on the fish trade to the gryphon population of Manehatten, and I could do naught but listen to his ridiculous posturing!" She waved a forehoof wildly in the space between the two alicorns, and the taller one leaned back to avoid being struck, seeming rather flabbergasted. "Why, my only ally in that was mayor Vintage! And while his snarky demeanor was quite amusing, it only served to exacerbate the whining! And then, as if I had not heard enough of gryphons... Why, who should enter the meeting hall but King Odin himself, who had his own complaints on the fish trade! Why, if I were to never hear a single thing spoken of neither salmon nor tuna, surely I would be most joyous for- Why are you smiling like that."
Celestia coughed softly, to the side. "Well, you see, Luna..."
The moon goddess's eyes narrowed. "Hold. You have just completed a visit with a guest whose presence you have been anticipating for near a moon cycle. You are smiling in such a manner that is reminiscent of a court jester. You are acting strangely..."
"I am not acting strangely at all, for you see-"
Luna cut her off again, pointing a hoof accusingly with a sudden smirk. "You have fallen for the unicorn Rarity, have you not?!"
Celestia sputtered for a moment, and in an outrage, stamped a hoof onto the floor. "Why, I never! Princess Luna, if you would let me explain for just a moment, I would-"
"HA! You have! You are hopelessly in love! Oh, I shall tell the night guard, and we shall be jubilant for weeks on end! The fun shall be-"
"PRINCESS LUNA I AM RARITY!" Luna jumped back with wide eyes, and peered at her 'sister', who was gritting her teeth, one eye twitching. "Celestia has decided to take a vacation, and I am princess in her stead." One of Luna's eye-lids twitched. "I shall be taking on her workload with your help, and we have decided it would be best to switch identities entirely, for the time being." Another twitch. "... Princess Luna?"
Luna could only find the presence of mind to speak but one word. "What."