For Princess Cadence it was just another day in court. It had been enough months after her ascension to the throne of the Crystal Empire that there had been a comfortable routine now to hers and Prince Shining Armor’s royal duties - every morning after breakfast, Shining would go review the Crystal Army and Cadence would spend all morning until lunchtime on her throne, listening to the petitions and problems of her new ponies. So far the task of bringing the Empire into the modern day had been tough work and while the working class of crystal ponies had been willing enough, she and Shining had chosen to cut them a little slack after decades of back-breaking labor under King Sombra’s reign and bring in construction crews from all over Equestria to help and teach the Empire’s citizens how to build and maintain their new infrastructure.
Everything, despite being very hard work on all, was going as smoothly as could be expected until one day after a certain newly reformed villain had been released from his own prison…
“Morning - uh your Highness…*snicker*,” several crystal guard ponies greeted the Prince as he strode back from the barracks.
Prince Shining frowned briefly, but greeted them politely, “Good morning, Blackberry, good morning, Bright Spark. How are things in the city today?”
The two guards looked at each other, swallowing down their mirth but just barely. “Fine - fine - sir!” Blackberry couldn’t help himself and dissolved into strained giggles.
“We’re, yes, fine, everything’s fine, sir,” Bright Spark nodded as they passed the white stallion. “How are you?”
Armor shook his head as they were left behind him. “Fine, very amusing, apparently,” he added, turning towards the castle entrance. Behind him, as soon as they were out of earshot, the two guard ponies fell into several crystal bushes, laughing uncontrollably.
Meanwhile, back at the castle…
“Yes, well, everything looks in order, Quill Pusher,” Cadence said, handing the short stack of papers back to her crystal pony liaison. The two male ponies before her bowed, accepting the paperwork and left.
The next pony to stride up was a colorful character wearing a vest boasting pins, an outrageous brown moustache that curled up ridiculously at the ends and a hat with tiny, blinking lights. “Your Highness,” he greeted, bowing.
“My my, how festive you look!” Cadence couldn’t help but comment, breaking out into a smile. “We don’t have any tourist stores in the Empire yet. You must be back from travelling Equestria.”
“Oh yes, your highness!” Pin Pony beamed, pleased she had noticed his collection. “It’s my new hobby. Beats collecting and drying crystal berries, which was my old hobby. The leaves are crystal too, as you know, and they cut something fierce!” He lifted a hoof for her inspection, showing many old scars.
Cadence’s eyes widened at them. “Yes, I would say so,” she said sympathetically. “So, Pin, what brings you to Us this morning?”
“Well, your Highness, as you noted, we don’t have a tourist store in the Empire yet and I would like to petition for your blessings to open one.”
The Princess looked to her advisor and smiled. “Why, that is a wonderful idea! Would you be selling your pins as well?”
“Oh yes, your majesty,” Pin babbled, happy his new sovereign liked the idea. “Not my personal collection, no, but I do have many that I would like to bring in, as well as a local artisan to craft a special pin out of crystal depicting our Empire. I’m a bit of an historical buff and I have several ideas - “ he trailed off as the large, double doors opened at the end of the throne room, his and Cadence’s eyes going back in their direction.
“Announcing Prince Regent Shining Armor!” one of the guards called out as the white stallion entered. His fellow guard’s eyes widened and he coughed quietly but quickly resumed his stoic facade as his Prince’s eyes swung his way in curiosity.
By now Armor had become more and more irritated at the snickers he had been garnering on his way back from the barracks and training grounds and this poor guard was the last straw. “Something amuses you, guard?” he asked, getting up in his face.
“Uh, no sir, maybe sir,” the crystal pony said, coughing.
Shining shot him a deadly look to which the guard’s face magically lost all emotion and turned to stone.
“I thought so!” Shining snapped, resuming his walk up the carpet towards the throne. Cadence’s eyes widened as behind her husband, crystal pony after crystal pony was having a hard time holding back from snickering or outright laughing. Those whose presence was not immediately needed quickly left the room and could be heard laughing in the hallways before the heavy, soundproof doors closed completely.
“Welcome back, Shining,” the Princess of Love greeted.
Shining mumbled something unintelligible as he approached, his ears at an angle that showed he was less than pleased and a tad bit embarrassed. Pulling her attention back to her subject, Cadence resumed her talk with the touristy-looking crystal stallion before her. “So, Pin, I think it’s a lovely idea and would be happy to grant you permission to establish your store.”
“Oh thank you, thank you!” Pin beamed, watching Shining Armor as he came up to the step leading up to Cadence’s throne.
Shining eyed him suspiciously. “Well, aren’t you going to laugh as well?” he asked Pin, unable to keep the sour tone out of his voice.
“I’m a might tempted, your Highness-sir,” he drawled. “But you look as if you’ve had enough of our ponies giggles already.”
Shining’s bad mood relaxed. “Yes, thank you,” he said grateful. “I just don’t understand why the crystal ponies are finding this so amusing,” he added, looking down at the white and green knit sweater. “I don’t even know who left it for me, but when I came back from exercises, my regular court vest was gone and this was in its place in a wrapped box with a bow.” He raised a hoof absently, scratching at a spot the itchy wool was irritating on his flank’s hide.
“Shining!” Cadence whispered, taken aback by his manners.
“Sorry honey,” he muttered an apology. “This fabric is really itchy, but it was too cold outside to go without wearing something back to the castle.” He forced his leg back down, the itch satisfied for the moment.
“That’s rather peculiar,” the Princess said aloud in thought. “Who would take your uniform and leave a sweater? It is rather - seasonal, but - “ she drifted off.
Pin looked down at the ground, tracing circles in the patterns in the crystal tile, “Well,” he began slowly. “Knowing his Princeliness ain’t exactly a native…” he blushed. “It does seem like…” he gritted his teeth, wishing he had quit before he had said something.
“Yes?” Cadence asked at the same time Shining Armor said, “What?”
The moustached pony looked quickly around. All the day’s petitioners had gone, leaving only the guards at the door and the ones on either side of the throne. The two at the throne were Canterlot guards, the two by the door, crystal ponies. “Well...it seems to me it ain’t…” he sighed, wishing he could get out of saying, his embarrassment clearly evident.
The Princess came down from the throne to stand beside him. “You can tell us, Pin,” she said quietly. “Whatever it is.”
“Yes, please,” Armor added. “As head of the Royal Guard, it doesn’t look very good when my guards are laughing behind my back.”
“Oh, that’d just be the crystal guards, Shining Armor, sir,” Pin said quickly. “The other guards don’t know about Discord’s little joke on King Sombra…”
“I have a pulse!”
Shining Armor woke to the faces of Cadence, the Pin-bedecked pony, the castle medic, a mare called Healing Heart and all four guards. He wondered why they were above him before he realized he was on the floor looking up.
“Oh Shining, I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you earlier!” Cadence apologized.
“Your Highness, I - I thought you knew!” the Pin pony was babbling a mile a minute.
The Prince moved to get to his feet, but still felt woozy. “Ugh!” he groaned, putting a hoof to his head and electing to do no more than sit up at the moment. “What hit me?”
“You don’t remember what we were talking about, honey?” his wife asked him, concern for him in her beautiful eyes.
Shining shook his head, starting to get up. “The sweater...everypony laughing at me and - no, that part must have been a dream.” He laughed a little. “I thought Pin said you were King Sombra’s daughter, honey,” he glanced from Pin to Cadence. “And then you said - “
“I am - “ Cadence said, her ears flicking in a mixture of regret and resignation.
Shining never made it all the way up and the world went dark again.
“I am so, so sorry for this, your Highness!” Pin Pony said again for the hundredth time as Cadence came out of their bed chambers.
The love princess smiled, putting a hoof on his withers. “It’s all right, Pin,” she said as patiently as she had nine hundred, ninety nine times ago. “He just needs a little time to adjust to the news.”
Despite her assurances, his ears were still flat at the sides of his head in worry. “I guess we’re a little old-fashioned here in the Empire still. All our marriages are - were arranged by our parents, but we usually grew up around the pony we were betrothed to. King Sombra bein’ royalty and you bein’ his daughter and all, you were probably promised to some Prince at birth you never met.”
She smiled thinly, but nodded. “Something like that, Pin. But don’t worry about Shining. He’ll get used to the news in time.” She sighed, looking back at the doors. “And he’s only heard half of it, to boot.”
Pin’s eyes grew wide. “There’s more?”
“Who my mother was - is,” she nodded.
He thought about that a moment, coming up blank. It wasn’t common knowledge who the King’s dalliance had been with that had resulted in the pink princess.
“Who - “ he began to ask, but thought better of it. “Oh, pardon me, Princess. I shouldn’t be sticking my nose in where it don’t belong.”
“That’s all right, Pin,” she said, smiling tiredly, looking out the window at the noonday sun. “It will come out eventually, but We are not in a hurry to rush the news...”
Shining woke up for the second time and found himself in their chambers on the bed. Cadence was at her desk finishing up paperwork left over from court that morning.
The first thing he noticed was he was still wearing the sweater. Sighing quietly so as not to disturb Cadence’s concentration, he’d wished she had taken it off him while he had been asleep.
Thinking about what had made him pass out in the first place nearly made him black out again, but he steeled himself to remain conscious. How was he going to function as this Empire’s Prince Regent if every time someone mentioned Cadie was the daughter of their deadliest enemy, he ended up face first on the floor?
But how was that even possible, he asked himself. They looked nothing alike, not to mention their temperaments and very magical abilities were polar opposite -
“Oh...DAMN!” Cadence snapped, hitting the desk with a hoof. Shining thought he saw a small, quick misting of violet at the edges of her eyes, but it was gone before he blinked again.
Oh no, not again! he cringed, his heart racing. “C - Cadence?” he asked hesitantly, still feeling light-headed.
His wife turned around quickly, holding her hoof gingerly. “Oh, Shining, I didn’t mean to wake you!” she apologized quickly. “I got a splinter in under my hoof.”
Groaning, he sat up. “It’s all right. I was awake. And I intend to stay that way this time,” he declared determinedly. He glanced to her hoof. “Want me to take a look at it?” he offered.
“Oh no, that’s okay,” she set it back on the desk, out of sight. “It’s fine now,” she rose, using a handkerchief to wipe the blood away and came over to him.
She gingerly sat at the edge of the bed, concerned when her husband moved away slightly. “Oh, Shiny. I’m so sorry! I only recently found out from Aunt Luna,” she apologized. “I was waiting for the right moment to tell you.”
He sighed heavily. “There would never be a right time to tell me that type of news,” he joked.
She shook her head. “No, I guess not.” She paused. “Anyways, Celestia is due to arrive tonight - ”
“What? How is Celestia - “ Cadence asked, confused.
“No, Cady,” he said seriously. “How can you be Sombra’s daughter?” Then another thought occurred to him. “Wait, how does Luna know?” Then more questions, “And what does an ugly Hearthswarming Eve sweater have to do with Discord and Sombra?”
“You have so many questions!” she laughed. The Princess of Love shook her head and tried to put her hoof on his, but he drew away. “What’s wrong, Shining?”
“You mean other than the fact that the King of Shadows is - was my father-in-law and I just saw mist in your eyes like his was when we fought?” his voice rose. He struggled to get out of bed on the opposite side from his wife.
“Honey - “
Anger and fear were giving him strength to feel himself return to normal. “Don’t honey me, Cadence - if that’s who you really are.”
Surprise and a tad of impatience crept into her face. “Didn’t it feel like it was me last night?” she challenged.
“Yes, but that’s besides the point,” he argued. “You know what we - I’ve been through with Queen Chrysalis...or do you?”
She sighed, seeing his point. “Yes, I do, Shining. As to the mist,” she sighed again heavily. “Ever since I found out, I’ve found it a little harder to keep my temper and when I get mad, well, I guess the eyes run in the family,” she ended, joking.
Shining didn’t find it funny.
“Look, sweetie, what would it take to convince you that I am still me? Still the Cadence you love?” she pleaded. “If I wasn’t, don’t you think I would have taken advantage of you sleeping? Do you seriously think you would have woken up?”
He didn’t reply, just listened, watching her intently.
“I”m not my father,” she tried again. “Please, I - “ she turned away, her breath catching as she felt tears back up in her throat.
Shining crossed over to the door. “Look, I need some time to think about this,” he explained. “Maybe we need to, I dunno, maybe bring the crystal heart in here and just make sure you’re you and you’re all right.”
Ears laid back in sadness, Cadence lowered her head, nodding.
The Prince nodded. “I’m sorry, Cadence, but I’m not. I’m going to take a walk to clear my head. I think I want to talk to Quill Pusher too. Find out where Pin Pony lives and ask him about this - ,” he pulled the festive yet ugly sweater he was still wearing off and threw it onto the bed, then walked out of the bedroom.
Cadence didn’t follow. She couldn’t blame Shiny for his fear and nervousness. Snorting, she went to the window and stared out, towards the two most local mountains, Little Crystal and it’s jagged-toothed, larger brother, Sombra’s Maw. When she turned back to the bed, the hideous sweater was gone. “Dammit, dad!” she huffed.