By the time Celestia had resolved all the pending petty disputes between neighboring farmers, and some even pettier disputes between great nobles, the sun's rays slanted low into the great hall. There was only one case left, and no way of putting it off any longer.
Celestia sighed. "Bring her in," she called.
The guest, or prisoner, was escorted down the red-and-gold carpet, one very serious-looking guard on each side, eyeing her as if they expected her to bolt for the side door at any moment. Sometimes one's own propaganda caught up with oneself that way. But if the guards were hoping for excitement, the prospects seemed dim. With her head sunk toward the floor so that her white mane fell over one eye, and looking naked (half the ponies in the room were naked, but only she seemed self-conscious of it) without her cape and hat, the bedraggled sky-blue unicorn looked neither great nor powerful. She shuffled to stand in front of the dais and look mournfully up, not quite meeting Celestia's eye.
"So," Celestia said, "I meet the Great and Powerful Trixie at last."
Trixie blushed with shame and looked down again.
"Trixie. We are very cross with you." Celestia only ever used the royal "we" to indicate that she also spoke for Luna. "Do you understand why?"
The magician said, in a small, repentant voice, "Because I am a selfish and arrogant pony."
Celestia's lip curled in a bitter smile. "Then I should be cross with half the ponies in this room. No, Trixie. Try again."
Trixie risked a look up, and a look of worry crept into her face, which was more convincing than the repentance. "Because," she said experimentally, "of the damage that the Ursa did to Ponyville?"
"Closer." Celestia leaned forward in her throne. "Trixie, can you tell me what our rule of Equestria depends on?"
Trixie's legs bent backwards even as she bowed her head forwards, as if her rear half were thinking about bolting and leaving the front to fend for itself. "Power?"
Celestia shook her head. "No, Trixie. Not power." She calmly watched Trixie squirm and waited for an answer.
"That's very flattering of you to say so, but no."
"Ancient mystical rocks?" Trixie guessed with a weak grin.
Celestia shook her head in a disappointed fashion. "No, Trixie. Trust. Our rule depends on trust. I sit here on a throne in Canterlot, and govern counties so far away it takes days for news to travel back and forth. How do I know the ponies in all those far-off places are acting as they should?"
Celestia smiled. "Now you've got it! And, more importantly, why do the ponies in those far-off places obey the commands of a princess most of them have never seen—who might, so far as they know, not exist at all? Why do they not come stomping down to the castle in a mob, and make angry demands, or scheme silently against me in their distant secret places?"
"I'm... supposed to say trust, aren't I?"
Celestia snorted. "You think it's the guards, the army, and my terrible sharp horn. But it isn't, Trixie. It's trust. Trust makes Equestria go round." She stood up off her throne and took one step forward, towering over the much-smaller pony at the bottom of the steps, whose knees were beginning to tremble. "And when you lie to ponies, and you pretend to be something you aren't, it isn't a little thing of no consequence, Trixie. It teaches ponies not to trust. That makes it an attack on the foundations of Equestria. That makes it a threat to our peace."
"I didn't mean it like that!" Trixie protested. "I... I just wanted ponies to respect me!" Trixie glanced round her at the guards and the spectators, but found only stony faces.
Celestia let out a disdainful bray. To the shock of everypony, she stomped down the steps of the dias and stared directly into Trixie's face, their horns almost touching. "You wanted respect!" she spat. "You wanted admiration! What a despicable reason to deceive ponies!"
The guards standing beside Trixie backed away a few steps, giving up any pretense of guarding Celestia from Trixie, and glanced at each other nervously. Celestia paced slowly around Trixie, from her head to her tail and back again, never looking at the unicorn mare. "Do you understand what could have happened if you'd gotten away with it? More lies, more lies to cover up those lies, more respect. More unearned trust. More ponies depending on you to do things you can't, like those foals rushing out to find an Ursa because they were so sure you could fight it off."
The crowd of onlookers had fallen absolutely silent, staring open-mouthed at their princess. The guards looked to the old chamberlain, who had served the Princess since before they were born, and he looked back and shook his head as if to say, No, I've never seen her like this either.
Celestia's heavy hoofsteps echoed loudly as she began pacing faster. "You were building your own cage out of lies. If not for this Ponyville fiasco you might have gone on for years, building it bigger and stronger until you couldn't have gotten out of it if you'd wanted to. You don't know how lucky you are that you were caught so soon!" She came to a stop back in front of Trixie and glared at her, sides heaving, and now it was Celestia who was trembling.
"I'm sorry!" Trixie bawled. "I'm so, so sorry, I—"
Celestia spun around and looked away. "Escort her from my palace," she said, without looking back.
The guards snapped out of their daze, and saluted Celestia's hindquarters. They escorted Trixie out, and then the stunned audience gradually trickled out, until only Celestia, still staring into the back corner of the room and breathing heavily, and her guards remained.
"Get me Shining Armour," she called.
The captain of the guard galloped in minutes later and drew up before her, blowing his dark-blue mane out of his eyes with every breath as he huffed from running. "Your majesty?"
She set off immediately toward the private section of the palace, and he fell into step beside her. "Your shield," she said. "Have you managed to teach Purslane how to cast it?"
"He's working on it," the captain replied.
"I take it that means no?"
"Well," he said apologetically, "what with the wedding in a few days..."
Celestia came to an abrupt halt and turned towards the captain. "I apologize for keeping you somewhat in the dark about this. I did not wish to start a panic. But it is high time for somepony to start panicking. Allow me to explain. Are you familiar with vamponies?"
The captain pursed his lips, and said diplomatically, "I was under the impression they did not exist."
"They do not. They are merely symbolic representations of something too terrible to speak of in stories. Imagine, Shining, a being which drained you not of blood, but of love. A being which left you alive, but with no feelings for your fellow pony. All the feelings you had for your Cadence, for your parents, for your sister, would be gone, fodder in the belly of a monster to feed it for a day or two. You would live the rest of your days in uncaring selfishness, nothing more than a pony-shaped machine."
A shadow passed over the captain's face. "That would be a fate worse than death."
"Indeed," Celestia agreed.
He inhaled slowly. "We will not fear," he said. "We have faith in you."
Celestia looked him in the eye, and he looked back, his honest face full of admiration and trust.
"Teach Purslane the shield," she said.
She left the captain and hurried to the second-floor sitting room at the front of the palace. The sky was turning red as the sun sank toward the horizon. Celestia stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the courtyard. She smiled at the crowd of ponies, and a cheer went up. Many of them had travelled days just so they could say that one day they had watched the Princess raise and lower the sun. The pages standing at the corners of the balcony raised their trumpets and sounded them, and she aimed her horn toward the sun. It began to glow gold with magical energy, turning white as it grew more brilliant. She took a deep breath, screwed up her face in a look of intense concentration, and once again pretended to lower the sun.