Diplomatic Overtures

by Dave Bryant

Letter of credence

A confection of pink and purple trimmed with cream and gold greeted us, her voice nearly as youthful as Twilight’s. “Good morning and welcome to Canterlot Palace, all of you.” The tone was warm and slightly humorous in a knowing way. After all, I was the only stranger present; the other two were familiar faces and present or former habituées of the palace. “Please come in.”
This, then, was Mi Amoré Cadenza, the one princess I’d expected not to meet today. To an even greater extent than Twilight, she looked distinctly different from her counterpart, whom I’d met during my initial investigation after being assigned to ride herd on Sunset and company. Aside from the obvious equine-human differences, I realized after a moment’s scrutiny, she was more sharp-featured and less rounded.
In the formality of the moment, bows were exchanged, followed by more familiar greetings. Shining Armor and his wife did not touch, limiting themselves to sweet mutual smiles, before he and his subordinates arranged themselves to block the door as the rest of us passed. With everypony else’s eyes on me, I too bowed, more deeply than Twilight, less so than Sunset. “Your Serene Highness, it is a great and unexpected pleasure to meet you today.”
When I looked up again, her expression was impish and her eyes danced. “Especially the ‘unexpected’ part, I imagine.” Close up, I could see a latent tiredness in her eyes and hear it in her tone. No wonder, being only recently crowned a ruler and a new mother to boot.
I choked down a snicker, covering it in a clearing of the throat. “Your Serene Highness is most perceptive. I hope your daughter is well and thriving.”
She laughed delightedly. “Now that you’ve greeted me, just ‘ma’am’ is acceptable for a formal setting like this. And yes, thank you, Flurry Heart is doing fine; she probably is terrorizing the palace nursery even as we speak!”
I couldn’t help it; I laughed aloud, as did her sister-in-law. Even Sunset cracked a nervous smile.
Cadance stepped back and turned, leading us into the surprisingly modest chamber, dominated by a simple but beautifully crafted table, and allowing her husband to shut the doors behind us. Low cushioned stools with small rounded backs, better suited to equine fundaments than taller chairs, surrounded the table.
I looked to the table’s far end—and froze. There was no comparison between a pair of minor bureaucrats running a high school and the two . . . forces of nature seated in this room.
To the right of the table’s head, Luna towered over the three of us, dark and sober, midnight blue and jet black set off by moon-struck silver; stars and tiny nebulae spangled her flowing mane. Her eyes brimmed with spirit and determination, her small smile with melancholy and merriment, all tempered in the fires of a bitter personal journey to redemption. Here was the Walker of Dreams, the prodigal and returned, the warrior and guardian. It was all I could do to turn my eyes anywhere else.
At the head itself, Celestia loomed like a cloud, like the dawn, bright cumulus white and lambent pastels glowing in the promise of a new day sealed with the gold of the sun peeking over the horizon. Her eyes were patient and ageless. Her radiant smile encompassed the turning of centuries and all their travails and joys, witnessing and treasuring the generations as they built a vibrant, prosperous country under her guidance. She was the Mother to the Nation, the one who abided and at long last was rewarded for it, the conscience and memory. I was mesmerized.
Only when a sobbing Sunset flung herself forward did I snap out of it. Her former teacher stood, eyes suspiciously misty, as she galloped across the room, then slid to a halt and leaned against the great strong white arms. The phrase “I’m sorry,” repeated over and over in a choked voice, was barely intelligible, what with a face rubbing unabashedly against an upper arm and the words all but tripping over each other.
Not a one of us moved, or, I suspect, wanted to move. In a gentle, eerily familiar voice, Celestia murmured tenderly, “Hush, my dear wayward student. I know.” Her head lowered, and she nuzzled Sunset’s mane comfortingly as the filly—for such she was in this fraught moment—cried herself out, shivering with the intensity of it.
We held a respectful silence until Sunset fell back on her haunches, heedless of protocol, and blinked her eyes to clear them.
“Feeling better?” Luna then asked dryly but not unkindly.
Sunset’s eyes flew wide. “Omigosh! Princess Luna!” I was reminded she’d never met the moon princess before, having fled through the portal before Luna’s return. She scrambled up to bow hastily and not very neatly. I noticed her string tie and the dickey under it had come askew.
I wasn’t the only one. Celestia smiled and, with the golden glow I’d heard tell of, tidied Sunset’s garments, straightening the dickey and re-tying the tie. “These are lovely, Sunset, and very flattering.”
“Th-thank you. Rarity—the Canterlot High Rarity—tailored the suit I was wearing before we came through the portal.”
“Hmm.” Celestia eyed the clothing critically. “Yes, I can see the style. It does look like something our Ponyville Rarity might have created. How very interesting.”
It really was, but pondering it was a matter for another time and place. For now, all of us had more urgent considerations. Celestia glanced at her sister, who also rose, and they approached to face me from their intimidating heights.
At least the tearful reunion had given me time for my own recovery. I bowed deeply to both sisters. “Your Royal Highness. Your Illustrious Highness.” Celestia and Luna nodded gravely in return, one after the other, as I addressed them.
With that, I drew another deep breath and launched into the ritual of a diplomat meeting a foreign head of state for the first time—specifically, presenting my letter of credence. After a brief, and rather embarrassing, attempt to figure out how to levitate them out of my pannier, I resorted to stretching my neck back to fetch them out with my lips. My face burned hotly, but charitably none of the princesses took notice. Even Sunset, I saw out of the corner of my eye, bit her lip and held her tongue.
The first sealed copy I offered to Celestia, the second to Luna. The third, unsealed, copy went directly to Twilight, acting not only as a royal in her own right but as the de facto foreign minister. I had no copies for Cadance, and winced internally at the oversight.
Three different glows bore the envelopes to their recipients, and three different pairs of eyes read the contents. Most of it was diplomatic boilerplate, stilted and standard. Celestia looked at Luna, who nodded, and past me to Twilight, who also must have nodded, because she looked down at me and spoke.
“Thank you, Mister Cookie Pusher. We have read your letter of credence and accept it. You are accredited thereby as chargé d’affaires en pied representing your nation to ours.”
I nearly fell, weak with relief. I’d passed the first hurdle.