A loud shriek caused me to bolt upright, horn blazing to light and ripping my rapier from it’s sheath as I sped to River’s room. As the door opened, I saw the filly staring at the wall from her bed, eyes wild and her face coated with sweat and tears. Looking in the direction she was staring, I didn’t see anything.
Setting my sword out of sight, I walked over to the young pony. “What’s the matter, sprout?” I asked as calmly as I could.
“I saw the monster again,” she sobbed, wiping her eyes. “She tried to eat me and she hurt you.”
My jaw tightened. River had been having nightmares ever since the incident with Chrysalis. Little did she know how true some of her nightmare had been. I was still dealing with some disturbing dreams of my own from the encounter.
“Oh, dear heart,” I said, sitting next to the bed. “She shan’t hurt you, not where she is currently.” I leaned down and rubbed noses with her. “Besides, if the dream gets too bad, Princess Luna will come and help you if I can’t. And if she doesn’t, I’ll have a go at her m’self soon as morning comes.”
She laughed weakly. I rose to pull the blanket up over her again when she reached out and grabbed my shoulder.
“Could I,” she started timidly. “Could I sleep in your bed tonight?”
I gave her a small smile. “Iffen it will help,” I said, leaning down again. “Of course. But no snoring, now, and I mean it!”
“I don’t snore, Ma!”
I tilted a brow at her as I felt the bit of warmth from within at how she addressed me. I also heard the slight lilt in her voice, a few words tilted like my own pronunciation of phrases. I knew she wasn’t consciously coping my accent, but it was touching in its own way.
As we climbed into the bed that normally housed both Gleam and I, I sighed, wishing momentarily for his embrace, but he was on rotation on the Saddle Arabian border for three weeks. We both dealt with our brush with death in different ways, I staying home and connecting with River and trying to forget and he spent less time out on rotation but they tended to be posts that needed more whipping into shape. I never thought of him as the stern drill instructor some of his fellow officers saw him as, knowing the marshmallow center he held.
“All tucked, sprout?” I asked as I pulled the blanket up. She nodded, and leaned back into the pillows before sitting up and looking at me.
“Are you sure Princess Luna will save me from the dreams?” she asked.
I reached out with a hoof and smoothed some of her mane back, smiling disarmingly at her.
“I promise you,” I said. “She will protect your dreams, as fiercely as I will protect you should anything try to have a go at you. No one will hurt my daughter without my having a say in the matter. You remember how things went with Grindstone, aye?”
“Just let someone or some bad dream try to hurt you,” I said. “And Celestia herself won’t be able to pull me off them. I love you, sprout, and I want you to know that.”
She smiled and snuggled into my side. I fell asleep stroking her mane that night.
“She’s still having some nightmares,” I said as I walked with the two Princesses down the halls of Twilight’s castle.
“Oh dear,” Cadence said. “I’m sorry.”
“Luna mentioned that she kept waking up before she could enter the dreamscape to help,” Twilight said. “She’s had her hooves full with everypony that’s having difficult sleeping since the Conjunction.” She looked at me. “How are you handling everything?”
I shrugged. “I’ll get by,” I said. “I’m concerned for River, though. She’s had a tough enough time just seeing the mad bug. I cannae think how’d she react if she knew that she had killed Gleam and I.”
“It was an alternate timeline,” Twilight said. “One Starlight managed to prevent.”
“Then why do I remember it?” I asked. “Why do I remember seeing Gleam lying there as I felt the life fade out of me?” I shook my head. “She can’t find out about that, she’s dealing with enough as it is.”
“Her appetite hasn’t changed, at least,” Cadence said as she glanced back at the room we had left, where River had a stack of books set to one side, her gaze enraptured by the pages before her.
“Beggin’ your majesties pardon,” I interjected. “But that’s where I have to disagree. If not for the fact that she is such a small pony, she’d eat me from house and home she will.”
Twilight laughed. “You make it sound so tough!” she giggled.
“You’ll understand one day, Twilight,” Cadence said. “You may have a foal yourself. It changes your perspective on what’s really important in life.”
“That is does,” I agreed. “That sprout is more important to me than any show I ever have or ever will play.”
Twilight frowned at me. “Are you serious?”
I laughed. “I may be possessing of a spot of a vagabond past,” I said with a wink. “But between her and Gleam, I’ve set some pretty deep roots here in Ponyville, and I hope that she has a good life here. She’s the driving force in life right now.”
Twilight was silent for a few minutes as we walked into the dining room and were joined by Fluttershy at the table with tea.
“You know, Twilight,” Cadence said with a sly smile. “You might be able to picture how we feel a little better if you consider how much you enjoy spending time with Flurry Heart. Imagine how you would feel if she were your foal instead of your niece.”
Twilight’s face went a little distant as Fluttershy looked at us a little curiously.
“What do you mean?”
I glanced at the Princess of Love and winked.
“We’re just talking about how hard parenting is,” I said.
“Harder than running a kingdom, hands down,” Cadence agreed.
“Try dating a princess,” Fluttershy said, throwing a look at her marefriend. “Who loses entire days when new books come in.”
We all laughed as Twilight ducked her head.
“There’s a lot of good stories in them,” she said meekly.
“Now that sounds like something River said the other day,” I said.
I looked on as she slept, her breathing gentle and her face calm.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
Luna nodded, horn dimming. “Her slumber tonight is filled with adventurous dreams drawn from what she read today,” she said. “I think that soon, her fears of that night will leave her completely.”
“Thank you, Princess,” I said, bowing.
“It is a welcome thing to see,” she said. “I find the dreams of many to be slowly easing back into peaceful repose as the time passes.”
I smiled. “Time shall heal all wounds, neh?”
“Not all wounds,” she said. “But many.” She moved towards the door. “How long do you intend to stand vigil over her?”
“Till I tire of the sight, I expect,” I said, smiling at the sleeping filly.
Luna smiled. “Then I shouldn’t expect you tonight in my rounds, then?”
I laughed. “Mayhap not,” I agreed.
Parenting is hard, but the rewards are oh so worth it to my mind.